Interview with Senator Tom Coburn

Interview with Senator Tom Coburn

By John King, USA - June 21, 2010

JOHN KING: And let's bring Senator Coburn into the conversation. Already I know I'll get complaints just for using the term, I said this gentleman. I was raised to have manners. I said this gentleman. When you do that with somebody like this who has said he pleads guilty to crimes like this you'll get some outrage from people. What does it tell you seven weeks from the incident to him pleading guilty now on all 10 counts. Is that a victory for the Justice Department or was this guy trying to make a statement?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well I think it's probably both. We don't have to go through a trial. But it tells you the complexity of what we're dealing with in terms of the fanaticism of certain aspects of Islam. And you know this is just one of many who will be attempting this.

KING: Do you worry more about Faisal Shahzad's than you do about grand scale takes like 9/11 now?

COBURN: I think you have to worry about both but I think the individuals are much more difficult for us. We have a tremendous team that's both in homeland security and our intelligence communities and our border patrol. But it's still -- it's difficult at best and it's not going to be easy for a long time.

KING: There was some criticism from the right about the handling of this case in the early hours, the Miranda right question, then, of course, he wasn't in court for a long period of time. And the Justice Department said yes after a period of time we did read him his Miranda rights, but he's cooperated fully. Any sense now that this has turned out that maybe they got this one?

COBURN: With one caveat I would say is we need to make sure when we have individuals like him that are intelligence agencies are brought in because information in context is much more important than information out of context, and that has happened to us in the past where we didn't have good contacts for the information we were receiving. So hopefully we'll see a much more coordinated response in the future.

We'll see the Miranda change for these types of individuals which there's been some talk of that and probably appropriately so. I don't believe we owe a Miranda warning to any terrorist that's trying to kill innocent Americans, and this individual happened to be, I believe was a U.S. citizen as well. So, you know, we're in a fuzzy area of law, which we need to have some clarification on. KING: And another area of the law that has been challenged, it was a big development just hours before this plea in the federal court of New York, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to uphold a provision of the Patriot Act that was challenged by groups that say if you want to give legal advice or organizing advice to a terrorist organization as long as I'm teaching you say how to communicate on the Internet or how to stage a peaceful protest that that should be legal as long as the advice you're giving, the help you're giving is legal.

The Supreme Court said no. If you help a terrorist organization out of bounds, this was one Bush administration case that the Obama administration carried before the Supreme Court -- significant?

COBURN: And rightly so because it's all fungible. If they are not spending money on those types of activities they're going to be spending money trying to destroy us or kill and maim innocent Americans.

KING: And the solicitor general argued this case. She will be before your committee next week as the nominee for a Supreme Court seat. Is her handling of the case like this is that something that you would look at and reflect on her?

COBURN: Probably not. You know, I'm of the feeling that the Supreme Court hearings really don't help us that much. What really helps us is what they've said and done before. And what the significant outliers are in terms of what the Constitution says a Supreme Court justice ought to be about in terms of enforcing our laws, our Constitution and our treaties.

KING: I want to make a turn to political matters in a moment. We're going to talk about some issues that are critically important to you about government transparency. But I want to ask you first about this whole debate about the BP oil spill fallout.

A Republican on the House side, Joe Barton, last week was chastised roundly by his colleagues, threatened to lose his position as the ranking Republican on an important committee because he twice apologized to the BP CEO Tony Hayward and he called this new escrow fund the result of a shakedown by the White House. He also said it would be a slush fund. Well a lot of Republicans criticized him, but today Rush Limbaugh came out and said it is the Republican leadership that's got this one wrong.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And it was a shakedown pure and simple and somebody had the audacity to call it what it was and everybody is running for the hills. All you have to do is look at the polling data and the media coverage and find out what they're going to do. This is not an issue that Republicans want to go to the mattresses on regarding the election.


KING: Rush right or is the Republican leadership in the House right?

COBURN: Oh, I don't know. I think it's the cynicism of our politics today. Nobody in either party wants to be vulnerable on any issue and where's the real leadership? You know what we lack is where is the clarity of purpose. Nobody disagrees that BP is going to be held accountable. The question is how and when and that's a small matter right now in terms of the problem that we have.


KING: Do you have any problem with the White House negotiating this deal?

COBURN: Well I'm not sure it's fair negotiations because you're dealing with one very strong party and one very weak party in terms of public relations. But you know basically holding them accountable is where we want to be and this is one way of doing it.

KING: Senator Coburn is going to stay with us. When we come back Senator Coburn is leading an effort on Capitol Hill for transparency. If the government is going to spend money he thinks lawmakers and you at home should have more time to study it. And if somebody wants to block a nomination, he says that shouldn't be secret. It should be right out in the open. He'll talk about that in just a moment.


KING: We're back to continue our conversation with Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Let's talk about secrets in this town. You're not a big fan of secrets in this town and one of the efforts you're trying to lead with an amendment to the pending financial reform legislation is to root out what you call the secret spending of Washington.

COBURN: You know John, 94 percent of everything the Senate passed, 93 in one Congress, 94 percent in this we passed without a vote without amendments. A lot of that is inconsequential, but there's a lot of consequential stuff that gets passed where the American people don't know it's passed.

There's no debate on it. There's no information. It's not listed. The costs of it aren't listed. Where the funds are going to come to pay for it aren't listed and I think that ought to be transparent for the American people. They ought to be able to see it.

They ought to have time to digest it. They ought to have time to try to influence us, their elected representatives and how we vote for that. And yet the vast majority of what we pass does not come to light in a way that would give the average American citizen input into that process.

KING: And in terms of getting that light you want, the sunlight, the transparency, the time and the rules that it all be posted, do you have the votes now? Financial reform is a pretty big issue to the White House? I know you don't agree with everything in the bill, but do you have the votes to get it?

COBURN: I have no idea. Don't know what's going to happen on it. But you know we're in a process now where the American people are really awakened to what Washington is doing because the time period is so critical in our history. Not just for us but for our kids and grandkids, especially our grandkids, the amount of debt and the obligations that we're going to be leaving them. The American people are keyed in.

And so they want to take a more active interest. And it should be there and be available to them so that they can make a decision about whether -- make a judgment about whether we were right or wrong. And they love reading some of these bills online. They love to see. They want to know what it's going to cost and they want to make a decision themselves on whether it's a priority or not.

KING: And another thing that is done in secret often is holding up nominees. If Tom Coburn is nominated for something or judge is nominated -- somebody is nominated for a judgeship in the Senate because of these rules that go back generations you can secretly go to the leadership and say I put a hold on that nomination. No one ever has to know. There's been a lot of (INAUDIBLE) recent years. This is the executive calendar of the Senate for today and there are a whole host of people in the back who have been nominated for various government jobs who have been reported (ph) out by a committee who are just sitting in this calendar because people have put holds.

COBURN: Well there's 60 of them that are sitting that they don't have a hold or they won't allow them to go through because Mr. Becker (ph) failed his first cloture vote and they want him. He's a negotiating platform.

KING: Right.

COBURN: So other than those 60 there are -- I'd make two differential points on that. If they are a judge for a lifetime appointment, there's no problem withholding them and really studying and make sure you want -- you know what you're going to do when you vote for them. On others if they are qualified and there's not a large problem with philosophy or intent, there's nothing wrong with publishing your holds and I do.

KING: To publish -- I want let you listen to one of your colleagues, Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri disagrees with you on many issues. She's left or center, you're right or center (ph), but she says on this one she has found common ground with you because whatever your objection she says put it out and plain for people to see.


SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: You know, even though Tom Coburn can be very frustrating to the Senate sometimes, he uses the rules to their full advantage to advocate the positions that he believes in. I respect him for that. But he doesn't need to do it in secret. He's doing it out in the open. I may disagree with him but I admire and respect him for doing it out in the open.


KING: She says she has the signatures now including yours to get this done, to get a new rule that you can't do this in secret. Why do people do it in secret?

COBURN: Well first of all, there's a lot of reasons. If it's not -- if it's a nominee, for example, if it's a federal judge, maybe you haven't made your mind up yet but you don't want to commit one way or the other. If you're forced to hold it, one of the things that's going to happen is a lot of judges aren't going to be held because you don't want to take the heat for holding somebody.

You know the whole idea would be to have an informed decision making process on your vote. The one area I have concerns with Claire's bill is on bills. You know if a bill comes out of a committee that I'm not on and all of a sudden it's getting hot lined to be passed and I say wait a minute, I want to check this out, well I can't get it checked out in 48 hours. So, what I'm going to do is put my name out there and I do all the time.

I've been beat up by every special interest group you can imagine. But it causes unnecessary pain for people in the Senate who are wanting to make a good decision and consequently if they hold it and it's published then they are going to be defending themselves while they are really just trying to ask some questions. So there are positives and negatives to the whole system. On nominations other than judges I don't think there's any reason by standing up and saying that -- or even on judges. I do. If I'm going to hold them I stand up and say I'm holding them and here's -- while I figure it out or here's what I have a problem with.

KING: Let me ask you before you go the president had a celebration of Father's Day over at the White House today and he also issued a proclamation about Father's Day. I want to read some of it. Some it will be like baseball and apple pie, but some of it is the first time a sitting president has said this.

"Nurturing families come in many forms and children may be raised by a father and mother, a single father, two fathers, a step-father, a grandfather or a caring guardian." He's the first sitting president to say two fathers in such a proclamation. Do you have any problem with that?

COBURN: Well I'm sure two fathers could probably add some benefit. I think they could add some negative as well. The key point is not the controversy about what he said, is we have hundreds of programs today because the family has broken down and I just visited this afternoon with a gentleman from Oklahoma who won the national award for the best big brother/big sister. And what we're seeing is we're having to try to fill the social programs the need for families because our families are disintegrating.

And so we need to go back and not treat the symptoms. We need to start treating the disease. And all these problems are because we have policies that are undermining family formation and family sticking together. And so I would address the real issue is not the controversy in what he said but how real the problem is in terms of keeping families together.

KING: Senator Coburn we appreciate --

COBURN: Good to be with you, John.


John King, USA

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