Interview with Senate Candidate Joe Sestak

Interview with Senate Candidate Joe Sestak

By The Situation Room - October 7, 2010

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Standing by right now, a Democrat who helped prove that incumbents are on very shaky ground this election year. We're talking about the U.S. Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, Congressman Joe Sestak.

Here are some things you should know about our guest. He is a former -- retired, I should say, three-star vice admiral in the Navy and the highest ranking former military officer serving in Congress right now.

Sestak broke ranks with party leaders to challenge and defeat a veteran incumbent in the primary, the republican-turned-democratic Senator Arlen Specter. Sestak claimed publicly that the Obama White House had offered him a job to drop his challenge to Specter. The White House eventually acknowledged offering him an unpaid advisory position through Bill Clinton.

Right now, Sestak is trailing his Republican opponent, Pat Toomey, in the polls. Recent surveys put him anywhere from three to nine points behind Toomey. So the president and the establishment Democrats are right now circling the wagons around Sestak.

Let's go to Congressman Joe Sestak, he's joining us from Philadelphia. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Why are you behind in a state which is normally, should be pretty democratic at this point?

SESTAK: You know, Wolf, I have never been this close this far out. I was 20 points behind Senator Specter at this point and I was 23 points behind Congressman Weldon.

Now, we are in a dead heat, we know that, and this race is going to be different. Pennsylvanians are pretty cautious people, because we have all right wolf at our door. And you can see they are beginning to discriminate right now, as next door in Delaware, we have got Ms. O'Donnell all of a sudden there.

Now, Wolf, this race is going to come down to who do want on your side? Someone who actually believe we should take Social Security, as Congressman Toomey does, and plunk it into Wall Street where he came from to gamble? Or someone who stood up and bucked his own party and said I will always be on your side, even at the risk of my job?

I will fight for them, and that is the choice we have. So I feel very, very comfortable. BLITZER: Even though our little bit behind in these polls, the margin of error may show, you that still have -- what? -- three and a half weeks to go.

Arlen Specter, who was your opponent, he is the incumbent senator, he's going to be at an event with you, at a fundraising event, I take it the coming days. Do you feel that he is really trying to help you or is this just for show?

SESTAK: It is a very nice gesture and he has been gracious.

Look, when he called me the night of the primary, I mean, here I am a wet-behind-the-ear guy in politics, and he called me and said, look, Joe, congratulations, I'm going to support you. And frankly, he is coming to this event to do so.

Look, I want to work with everyone. I grew up in the military and we don't breed liberals or conservatives but problem solvers. And heaven forbid a Congress down there that Washington, D.C. just doesn't tend to work together. So I think that, as well as Senator Hagel, who is a Republican, as well as Mayor Bloomberg, who is an Independent coming in, kind of says, hey, let's have someone who is going to resolve our problems.

That is why you are going to see this election go the way, you know, god willing, that I am the senator for Pennsylvania.

BLITZER: Do you want President Obama to come in and campaign for you?

SESTAK: He is actually coming in this Sunday. And look, yes, I stood up and I will always remember what John F. Kennedy said once, sometimes the party asks too much. I'm not a yes man, but I do want to work with everyone and yes, I like it when people come in.

But at the end of the day, Wolf, in Pennsylvania, I mean, we are -- we're all sons and daughters of coal miners and steelworkers. We've all had the wolf at our door. For me, it was when my daughter's -- when she had, as you know, brain cancer and I was fortunate.

We are going to make a cautious decision here that will be the right decision in the end, and they will make it on me versus Congressman Toomey, someone who sides with, as he wants to, eliminate all corporation taxes or someone who is fighting for them.

So no, it's not going to be about outsiders coming in, it is going to be about a choice Pennsylvanians make.

BLITZER: Here is an ad, a little clip from an ad that former Congressman Toomey is putting -- is using in Pennsylvania right now saying you are basically 100 percent behind everything that President Obama and the Democratic leadership in Washington stand for.

I will play this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ADVERTISEMENT ANNOUNCER: It's sad what's happened to Joe Sestak.

He served our country well, then he went to Washington where he's voted in lockstep with the extreme agenda of bailouts, debt, government health care and job-killing energy taxes. He took an ethics pledge, then broke it.

Say it ain't so, Joe.


BLITZER: All right. Where do you disagree with President Obama?

SESTAK: Well, I disagreed with President Obama on a number of areas.

For example, I really do believe that what we should have done is had small business tax cuts and guaranteed community bank loans in the recovery bill. I argued vociferously for that now, and I would have had that within there because it is the private market, since small businesses lost the majority of all the unemployed, that would regain you and get you going again. It's --

BLITZER: He is supporting small business tax cuts now.

SESTAK: Yes, now. But remember, I also, as I put out in my first -- his first year, is I would have had a cap on discretionary spending of all the discretionary spending. I would not have the had any -- have any caveats, as we did for the pay-as-you-go requirement or mandatory spending.

Look, the issue is here, not just the policies but how you shape those policies. And that -- so therefore, in my first two years in Congress, I actually was -- passed more pieces of legislation than any other freshman member by working across the aisle on elder abuse, on the first funding for autism in 12 years.

The issue is my vote is in the middle of the Democratic Party.

BLITZER: OK, let me just be precise though, on these points in this Toomey ad, did you vote for the bailouts, the government health care, the Obama-proposed health care around the job-killing, as they call it, energy taxes, the cap and trade? Did you vote for those three pieces of legislation?

SESTAK: Oh, yes. And you know as well as I do, Wolf -- well, actually you don't -- but I, when I went to Congress, arrived the year of the recession. It reminded me my first job of warship on the Vietnam War era. I was damage control officer, I had to go and help control the damage. And we've been torpedoed by policies, by policies that Congressman Toomey and President Bush had actually implemented where they threw out window of pay as you go, to where Congressman Toomey shaped legislation that let Wall Streeters actually gamble their savings.

So, those were tough decisions, Wolf. I took them because they had to be done. But I have now voted to reput into place pay as you go. I think it should have been more stringent, as I said.

So I always take a vote as an Independent who happens to be a Democrat. But boy, you know as well as I do, we are losing 700,000 jobs a month when that first month of January happened, Mr. Obama came in. The previous six months, our GDP had gone minus 6 percent with 3 million jobs lost. I would take those votes because --


BLITZER: So you're proud of (INAUDIBLE) --

SESTAK: -- they were necessary.

Look, they -- it's what a public servant does. Regardless of their job, he does what's necessary. And as you know, Mark Zandi and other economists, John McCain's economic adviser said, we would have had 8 million more unemployed. But Congressman Toomey says we would have had a harder down if we had done nothing. What is a harder done than what we had?

And so, yes, leadership means actually doing what's necessary for the middle class, not Wall Street.

BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

SESTAK: Wolf, it has been a pleasure again.

BLITZER: Joe Sestak is the democratic nominee for the United States Senate from Pennsylvania.


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