Interviews with Sens. Durbin, Lieberman & DeMint

Interviews with Sens. Durbin, Lieberman & DeMint

By John King, USA - April 26, 2010

KING: Well then let's put the question to a man who helps with the vote counting on Capitol Hill. The number two Democrat from the leadership, Dick Durbin of Illinois -- Senator thanks for joining us. I know it's a busy day. I hope you heard a little bit of what Dana and Gloria were saying as you hooked up there.

The expectation is if you talk to Senator Dodd and his staff, Senator Shelby and his staff that when the Democrats and Republicans spend a few days in a room, they'll figure this out. They'll come up with the language. If that's the case and they're optimistic you can get 60, maybe 70 votes for this in three days or a week, why keep having these votes?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well I can just tell you why, because we face so many filibusters from the Republican side. You know, Chris Dodd made a good faith effort. He sat down with the ranking Republican Dick Shelby of Alabama. They spent two months. They couldn't reach an agreement.

He then said I'll work with Bob Corker of Tennessee, another Republican on the committee. They spent a month. They couldn't reach an agreement. Then Dodd said let's have a markup. Let's all come together in the room, Democrats and Republicans and discuss our differences, consider amendments.

The Republicans brought in 400 amendments -- that markup didn't offer a single one of them. So those of us who believe that we need to make things right on Wall Street so we don't get into another recession like this, believe that it's time to move forward. The filibusters have to end.

KING: Let me ask you a quick policy question then. So you wanted to have this vote as a statement that it was time to move forward and if you have objections deal with them with amendments on the floor. Do you agree that some of this language does need to be changed, that it is vague, that the Republicans at least have a credible case and say there are too many loopholes for them. They're not dead certain that you couldn't have another bailout and so you need to tweak some of the language.

DURBIN: I'm willing to listen to any constructive suggestion. What I'm not willing to do is to basically say we're going to change it and weaken the bill to bring in Republican votes. We want to make sure this bill is strong. We want the strongest consumer financial protection law in the history of America.

We want to make sure that the Wall Street interests and big banks that got away with murder in this recession and left the taxpayers holding the bag don't have that chance again.

BASH: But Senator Durbin, it is Dana Bash. What the Republicans argue is they agree with you, they have the same goal, but they don't believe that the legislation that the Democrats have crafted so far does that and that there are still lots of loopholes that leave taxpayers on the hook and that they want to close.

Let me just get specific with you. Goldman Sachs has been in the news. Do you fundamentally believe and can you promise your constituents that with your bill Goldman Sachs could not do what they are accused of doing? Obviously they've not been convicted of anything, but what your colleagues are saying that they play both sides and they really hurt taxpayers.

DURBIN: I think that this bill really strengthens the hand of the oversight agencies that would watch Goldman Sachs or any other company that tried to do what they're accused of doing. It's only an allegation, but it's a serious one, that they were playing both sides of the street, if you would, selling a product, then basically betting that it would fail.

And that to me is the wrong thing to do. It's the kind of thing that makes people so cynical and upset with what's happening on Wall Street. If we want to make that provision stronger, you bet. I'll join the Republicans in doing it. If they want to water it down for some banker or Wall Street interest, I'm not on board for that at all.

BORGER: But Senator, you said in the past, and this is a quote, "the banks own this place". So isn't that Democrats as well as Republicans you were referring to?

DURBIN: Absolutely. I can tell you, I found it in my bankruptcy bill. I lost a number of Democrats and virtually all the Republicans when I offered it to get tough on the banks.

BORGER: And so does it change with this, does it change with financial reform?

DURBIN: I think so. I think we're moving to the point now where even the Republicans believe we've got to do something really basic here to restore the public confidence and to make sure that people have some belief that their government's going to stand up and fight for them so we don't end up with another taxpayer paid bailout. KING: Senator Durbin, John King, one final question on another topic. There have been a lot of questions about whether President Obama's seat back in your home state of Illinois is at risk in this election campaign. I know that you have shared some of your concerns with the White House.

The Democratic candidate out there, his family bank was shut down just last week and there's an investigation of that, and, again, it's just an investigation, but there's a lot of questions that as of this day as we speak that Republicans would be favored to win that race. Do you think the Democrats need a new candidate in that race? And have you asked the White House to help you in that regard?

DURBIN: I can tell you that the bank that Senate candidate, Democratic-candidate Alexis Giannoulias family was involved in closed on Friday. We had seven banks close on Friday in Illinois and of course it hurt him. This is a bank his father started as an immigrant to this country.

But Giannoulias has been removed from that bank for over four years. Had nothing to do with it because he's our state treasurer. Had nothing to do with 90 percent of the loans that this bank had in its portfolio, so I think he has to answer the questions directly and honestly and he's done that and he needs to continue to do that.

And he really needs to bring it down to the basic issues. Congressman Mark Kirk, the Republican, opposes the Wall Street reform. Alexi Giannoulias, the Democrat supports it. Now there's an issue the voters really do care about when it comes to banks.

KING: Congressman Dick -- Senator Dick Durbin -- I'm sorry -- of Illinois. Senator we appreciate your time tonight and we know you're going to the floor to be among the Democrats who speak tonight. We'll continue to follow this one as it plays out. We appreciate your time, sir.

DURBIN: Thanks, John, Dana.

KING: Here's a quick look behind the numbers before we take a break. The Down industrials closed up less than a point, still it's another 19-month high. One highlight, on another quiet day, economic (INAUDIBLE) Caterpillar posted stronger than expected earnings and its stock was up four percent.


KING: So let's get the Republican perspective on this evening's big Senate vote against proceeding with the financial reform debate and the ongoing negotiations, hopefully, to get a bipartisan bill. Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina joins us from Capitol Hill and back again here in the studio, CNN's Gloria Borger and Dana Bash.

Senator, you have called this regulation without reform. Is it your take that the Democrats just want to regulate, regulate, regulate, or do you support at least some aggressive new steps to, what they would say is necessary, rein in Wall Street? SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well I am afraid this is another massive bill that doesn't keep the promises on the label. All Republicans want to fix what caused this financial mess that we're in. But unfortunately, the bill that has been presented does not address the key problems that created the sub-prime market and it expands regulations to community banks, credit unions and thousands of businesses that had nothing to do with the financial meltdown. So we're hoping the vote tonight will at least get the Democrats to work with us on fixing the problems and making sure that we just don't have another overreach of government power without really fixing the problem.

KING: A number of your Republican colleagues who are either vulnerable this year or who think that there are some merits to this legislation even though they want some tweaks have said they're willing to vote with the Republicans on these procedural votes maybe once or twice but they want to move this process along. Take us inside the caucus room because this is an issue where if you look at the public opinion polling, Americans do want something done. Are there any jitters with all the Republicans standing together at the moment to say no?

DEMINT: Well, all of us want a financial reform bill to pass. I mean, we clearly have some problems in our financial market. A lot of those were caused by bad government policy which we're not addressing. We certainly want to clamp down on Wall Street to make sure we get out of this too big to fail idea. Unfortunately, this bill actually has a fund for a special group of companies to either bail them out or liquidate them.

These are things that we can fix. I'm on the banking committee. We've worked with Democrats for several months to come up with consensus on many of the issues. So there's a lot that we agree on here except the major concepts of fixing the Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the subprime market, they are not allowing us to address it. So hopefully if we can shake them up like we did tonight and help them see they're not going to ram this down our throat that we can get a real bill that the American people can feel good about.

BORGER: Senator DeMint, Gloria Borger here. Can I just change a topic on you for a moment?


BORGER: Because one of the other controversies you've been dealing with today is the question of whether the Senate does immigration reform or energy reform, climate change. And your colleague from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, created quite a stir when he said, you know I want to do climate change first. He's been working on it. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, no, I'm going to take up immigration reform. What's your reaction to this as a Republican? Do you want to do immigration reform right now in the Senate?

DEMINT: Well I was just talking to Lindsey Graham about this. And no one can challenge his credentials on wanting to do something about immigration, but he is exactly where I am on immigration that there's no policy that makes any sense or will make any difference if we can't control our borders. We've got thousands of Mexicans being killed on the border because the federal government will not do its job to control our border and secure our country.

BORGER: But do you want to do climate change first -- do you want to do climate change either?

DEMINT: Well what I want to do is open up our own energy supplies in this country. And part of what Lindsey Graham is working on is making sure we follow through with opening our own natural gas supplies, moving to nuclear generation and away from coal. These things would clean up the air quicker than any of these cap and trade ideas. So I'm not sure that Lindsey and I agree on every point but certainly we can't bring up immigration reform until we control our borders and we need to focus on opening our own energy supplies. But clearly the majority leader, Harry Reid, is playing politics with immigration to try to show the people back home he wants to do something about it. But I think Lindsey Graham has taken an important stand -- is we're not going to go to immigration when we can't even control our borders.

BASH: Senator, it's Dana Bash. You say that Senator Reid, the Democratic leader is playing politics with immigration. But I want to read you a quote from your -- one of your leaders, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, in a meeting last Friday with Hispanic Republican activists.

He said "if we want to have a comprehensive policy that is uniform around the nation, then the federal government has got to step up. I look forward to our Republican leadership putting on the table good solid efforts to create the kind of reform that takes in mind first and foremost the family that recognizes that this is not a nameless composition." Sure sounds like the chairman of the RNC is calling for comprehensive immigration reform, at least when he is talking to Hispanic Republicans. Do you agree with him?

DEMINT: Well I agree that we need to address the immigration issue, particularly the illegal immigration issue. The only way to honor our heritage of immigration is to make sure we have a sensible and legal flow of people into and out of our country. Right now, we've created a disaster on our southern border because we're unwilling to take the measures that are necessary to control immigration. I don't think there's any legal immigrant in our country who wants an open border that compromises our national security.

KING: Any concern at all, Senator, about Latino voters in the midterm election year if all you do is border security this year at the federal level?

DEMINT: Well, we need to do everything we can to make sure that all the immigrants in the country, legal immigrants know that Republicans are taking a stand for the things that make a difference in their lives, for their families, for their jobs, for the economy. And every immigrant that I've talked to that has come here the legal way wants us to continue to work on border security and a workable worker I.D. system. All of us as Republicans want to move ahead with those kinds of reforms.

KING: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina -- Senator, we thank you so much for your time tonight.

DEMINT: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

Today Mississippi's Governor Haley Barbour told me this weekend's gigantic tornado left one car dealership roof (ph) pushed up like a beer can. We'll go "Wall-to-Wall" to see all the destruction next.


KING: In "Wall-to-Wall" tonight, the devastating tornado that hit Mississippi and Alabama over the weekend. You see some of the devastation here. The video and the aftermath, it is extraordinarily destructive. We can show you a little bit more just on the force of all this and what happened -- 12 fatalities reported so far, 10 of them in Mississippi, two of them in Alabama. Dozens of injuries, hundreds out of their homes.

The rating of the strength of this tornado EF-4, five is the maximum strength, 150-mile path of the tornado, maximum width 1.75 miles. Among those assessing the damage is the Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. In high school he played for the Yazoo City Indians. Yazoo City among the towns hardest hit, the governor was there today.


GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: It is the -- the biggest tornado I can ever remember and in terms of across, at times a mile across. Car dealership, windows blown in, roof just twisted up like a beer can. Several hundred people have lost their houses. There are a bunch of people though whose houses are not just uninhabitable, they're unidentifiable.


KING: Let me show you a map here -- I believe of the tornadoes reported so far in 2010 -- you see those red dots -- those are all tornadoes reported so far this year. Now we'll bring up some severe weather reports throughout the year. This includes wind and hail. We'll watch the rest of the numbers fill in here. These are severe weather incidents across the United States in 2010 so far. You see them swept up.

The red dots of course the tornadoes, blue is red -- is wind, excuse me, large hail storms are the gold dots. Now I want to take you over to the magic wall to take you through the path of this particular tornado that caused so much destruction. And you see the map through here -- let me walk across -- excuse me -- we'll fly you in to show you where the damage is. As we come on in, you come right into central Mississippi here.

You see the path of the storm going this way. First we want to show you is a bit of the video of this as it played out -- play this through. As you see this -- you'll see a windshield wiper going by. But you just see the power lines bending. You see some debris in the air.

It is hard to see of course in the graininess, but you can see destructive debris flying as this goes through and as we watch this out and come through, take you some of the photos as well. This is up in Durant (ph), tree just uprooted (INAUDIBLE) power of the storm bringing that over there. Come down closer here in Yazoo City, you see some of the destruction, the homes, the houses just ripped off, devastated, houses.

Governor Barbour told me hundreds of people without their homes tonight. Another one there -- the storm just taking the roof right off. And as you follow the path of the storm this way, two of the fatalities, 12 total, 10 in Mississippi, two in Alabama, and if you watch this, you'll see again some dramatic video. Watch the debris flying.

Again it's grainy footage. This sent in to iReport from storm chases. See as the wind blows up, debris just flying in the air. Remarkable destruction for a storm. When I spoke to the governor today, he said he grew up with tornadoes, never has he seen anything like this at all. Said the best news is relief efforts are there, people are volunteering. They believe they'll get federal disaster assistance, but we'll continue to track this destructive storm over the next coming days.

In a minute I'll go "One-on-One" with Senator Joe Lieberman. His work on a bipartisan energy and climate bill may be the latest victim of Washington's toxic political climate.


ANNOUNCER: It's time to go "One-on-One".

KING: In a town where everything is split by the Democrat/Republican divide, Joe Lieberman stands out. Officially he's an Independent. Technically he sides with Senate Democrats, but he's been quietly working with both parties on energy and climate change issues of vital important to everyone and Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut is here to go "One-on-One".

Thanks for coming in. A simple question at the beginning -- what happened? Lindsey Graham, your Republican partner on this energy and climate bill, he says they had a promise from the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that after financial reform, you would move immediately to this piece of legislation you've been working on. Is he telling the truth?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Yes, that's a simple question. On what happened it's not so simple an answer, but --

KING: Did Leader Reid make that promise after financial reform he'd move to climate change? LIEBERMAN: You know as recently as Thursday when the three of us (INAUDIBLE) Lindsey Graham and I met with Harry Reid, he said that he would take up the energy climate change bill as soon as we were ready. And he was still saying to people that could be during this work period before Memorial Day. Then there were leaks out of his staff that said no, it's not coming up and it may not come up at all.

And -- but Lindsey was really upset about another promise he thought he had, which was an immigration reform on which he is also the only Republican out front, would not come up this year. And he believes that the decision to bring it up is political.

KING: So then what happened? If you had this clear path on your bill, you had a Republican who was out there working the business community, you had the best coalition you've ever had on this issue.


KING: The House has already passed legislation --


KING: -- so you would have something to try to compromise with if you could get it through, why confuse things? Why not move to that and then if Leader Reid wanted to bring up immigration. They did that for a reason. You called them leaks from his staff. For some reason they decided to say maybe we'll do immigration first.


KING: Or we're going to do immigration. Why did that happen? Lindsey Graham says he thinks it's just partisan politics. Harry Reid is in trouble back home and needs to appeal to his Latino base.

LIEBERMAN: Well I don't know why it happened, but I don't think -- I don't think it was right. In other words, what John Kerry and I and others -- and I hope the White House will get involved in this -- have to do in the next few days is to come to a meeting of -- to bring about a meeting of minds between two people, Harry Reid and Lindsey Graham so Lindsey feels a separation from immigration reform, which will enable him to come back and be where he wants to be for this energy independence climate change bill.

KING: You know how -- you know how to do the math though. Do you think there is any chance, any chance in this tough election year of passing immigration reform?

LIEBERMAN: I happen to be for immigration reform.

KING: That's a separate question.

LIEBERMAN: But yes, I want to say that as a precondition to saying that I am therefore disappointed to tell you that I don't see a reasonable prospect of passing immigration reform this year.

And I think that one of the reasons for it is that the only republican who's come forward to say her work with democrats and immigration reform -- Lindsey Graham -- says, "I won't do it this year."

Also, there's not unanimous support on the democratic side.

KING: A lot of democrats don't want to take that tough vote in this election year. But if there's not unanimous support on the democratic side, and you know just raising the issue right now is going to cost you your only republican on another important issue -- this energy and climate-change bill -- why do it now?

The president is suddenly talking more about it. Leader Reid is suddenly pushing it more. And many do come to the conclusion, Senator, that they're looking at base politics. They need Latino voters to come out in the mid-term elections. Is that all this is about?

LIEBERMAN: I sure hope not.

I don't know what they're looking at, because I haven't been part of the inside deliberations on immigration reform. But I do know that Lindsey Graham is with us on energy independence, climate-change legislation.

I do know that we've got the kind of support from the businesses that will have to change as a result of our bill that we haven't had before, and that that can bring us both moderate democrats and some republicans.

In other words, I know that we can pass this energy-climate legislation this year. So to me, that's what we really ought to focus on. That ought to be first.

KING: Let me ask you to step back from the emotions of that particular debate at the moment. And the immigration debate. Where are we in town?

Everything is left-right. Republicans will vote "no," on the financial-reform bill today. And they say then they'll go negotiate.

Healthcare was left-right. We now see this playing out in the mid-term election year. And there are a lot of democrats who quietly say, "We don't want any more tough votes. We just want to go home and do our best at what is going to be..." and even you have said is going to be, "...a very tough year."


KING: For the Democratic Party.

What's the climate in town right now? It's not very pretty.

LIEBERMAN: The climate's bad. And what's worse -- and more important -- is the climate of attitude toward government out across America is terrible. Because they see people in Washington playing partisan political games that seem to be mostly related to the next election. Instead of to their lives in the next generation or the next period of history.

It's really bizarre and it's been going on for years, here, now. But it just seems to get worse. Both parties never stop campaigning. Party loyalty is put ahead of the national interests -- what's good for the public. For the people that are good enough to send us here.

And the net effect of that is that the American people have a lower opinion, less trust in their government, than any time in my adult life. And that is bad!

We've got big problems that we can always solve if we work together. And we're not doing that now!

KING: So then give some advice to the governor of Florida. You know him well. Charlie Crist. He's republican, but you know him from the McCain campaign.


KING: He's in a very tough primary right now. You lost a primary, and you decided to run as an independent. And you won reelection to the United States Senate. Charlie Crist faces that decision this week as to whether to file to run essentially as an independent. They call it something a little different in Florida.

If you were him, would you drop out of the republican primary and do that? Can you tell him, "You know what? It can be done."

LIEBERMAN: Well, I'm not going to offer republican ways to Charlie Crist. Because every campaign -- every individual -- is a different situation.

But I'll say this.

When I lost the democratic primary for reelection in 2006 in Connecticut, it was the most painful moment -- most disappointing moment -- of the my political career. Yet as I look back to it, and it sure didn't feel like that then, I feel like I was done a favor.

If I wanted to continue to serve and I didn't want to give up as a result of the rejection of the Democratic Party, I had to go forward and run as an independent.

My state laws fortunately allowed me to do that. That's not the case in Florida.

So being elected as an independent, God bless the people of Connecticut, I think put me in exactly the position I want to be in at this hyper-partisan, non-productive, divisive time in our politics. And it gives me the latitude to try to be a bridge on a lot of different issues, to make things happen.

Or sometimes not to be a bridge! Just to speak out and say what I believe. Whether it makes everybody on one party or another happy or not.

KING: So let me try this one last thing, closing, then.

You're up in 2012.


KING: You have said you're more likely than not to run again as an independent. Where you won last time.

Have you ruled out running as a democrat? You've said in the past you might possibly run as a republican.


Frankly, and this is what's great about being an independent. You're free to consider any and all possibilities.

So I would say that I feel good about being an independent at this moment in America's political life. And it's probably most likely I would run again as an independent.

But I wouldn't rule anything out -- and that is running on either of the other parties.

KING: We'll continue to watch that one, and we'll watch your negotiations -- delicate ones in the days ahead.

Senator Joe Lieberman, thanks for coming in.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, John.


John King, USA

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