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Interview with Senator Mitch McConnell

Aired November 12, 2003 - 09:15   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is the legislative version some say of "Survivor." Tonight, Senate Republicans will launch a marathon 30-hour session. They are protesting Democratic filibusters that have blocked some of President Bush's judicial nominees. Among those who will take part in the talk-a-thon is Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and he joins us this morning from Capitol Hill.
It's nice to see you, senator. Thanks for joining us.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Good morning. Good to be with you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

I believe it was senator John Dingell who called you guys "a bunch of flinty-hearted bastards." Tell me why you're calling for this 30-hour session right now.

MCCONNELL: Gosh, I hadn't heard that.

What we wanted to do was, you know, drive home the point that the Democratic minority in the Senate is denying judges majority votes, in other words having the vote decided by a simple majority, for the first time in the history of the country.

President Clinton had 378 judges considered on the Senate floor. Every single one of them got what we call an up or down, or a simple majority vote. Only one was defeated. What they've done now four times, and apparently they have seven more victims in mind, there will be a total of 11 occasions upon which they will require the president's nominations to receive a super majority, that is 60 votes; unprecedented in the history of the country, great damage to the institution, and we think the American people should know more about it.

O'BRIEN: You think it's dirty politics at this stage.

But some people have said this might take two to three full work days. You're supposed to adjourn by November 21st. Do you think you could still make that target date?

MCCONNELL: Yes, we're right on schedule for adjournment. Most of the work going on now between the House and Senate is off the floor of either body, in these conference committees that are resolving the differences on the energy bill, the Medicare prescription drug bill, and of course the final appropriation bills.

We'll be out of here on schedule, November 21st. This will not interfere with that in any way.

O'BRIEN: So that's not going to get in the way of the work on those bills that involve health care and prescription drugs, things like that?

MCCONNELL: No, those have already cleared the floor, and both the House and Senate and they're in conference committees where the differences are being resolved. That doesn't happen on the floor of the Senate.

O'BRIEN: Stymied presidential judicial nominees, some people would say, well, you know what, senator, there are many more important issues that matter to the people in this nation than that, and you're going to spend so much time on that it's unfair.

MCCONNELL: Look, justice delayed is justice denied. Let me give you an example -- in the Sixth Judicial Circuit -- Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee -- 25 percent vacant. Why? Because the two Michigan senators won't let judges from their own state get to the floor of the Senate for a vote. We have a judicial emergency in the Sixth Circuit. It takes you six months longer than in any other circuit in America to get your case decided. I think that's a very serious matter. And of course its a particular serious matter if you've got a lawsuit that's important in your life.

O'BRIEN: Senator Reed of Nevada said he would describe this atmosphere like a carnival. Do you think that's fair?

MCCONNELL: Well, he's since apologized for that comment, and he should have.

O'BRIEN: But he said it.

MCCONNELL: He said it, but he apologized for it, because it really isn't inappropriate in any way. Filibusters have been going on for a long time, and extended sessions to point out problems are not uncommon in the Senate. And we think this is the only way to get the American public's attention to this great injustice that's being denied, which is having a dramatic impact on the rule of law in our country.

O'BRIEN: Senator Reed also said, Bill Frist is a rank amateur. I'm not sure he's apologized about that part yet.

MCCONNELL: He did. He apologized yesterday, and he should have.

O'BRIEN: For the whole thing.

Do you think that Americans will be frustrated by what they see as a sort of clearly ugly, nasty battle going on between their elected officials, might be perceived as people that they've sent to Washington, D.C. to get things done wasting time?

MCCONNELL: Well, what's ugly is prevent preventing fundamental fairness, and that is giving the president's nominees that make it out of a committee on to the floor of the Senate a simple majority vote. After all, this is a democracy. For 225 years, judges have been given the privilege of having a simple up or down vote, a majority vote, on the floor of the Senate, and never been subjected to a super majority.

The willingness to impose this new super majority standard, we think, needs to be pointed out to the American people. How else will they learn about it?

O'BRIEN: Well, after watching 30 hours of senators talking, I'm sure they will learn that. All right, Senator Mitch McConnell. He's a Republican from Kentucky. Thanks for your time, sir.

MCCONNELL: Thank you.


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