Sens. Webb, Udall, McCain and Rep. Pence on "John King, USA"

Sens. Webb, Udall, McCain and Rep. Pence on "John King, USA"

By John King, USA - January 25, 2011

When the president speaks tonight, the most immediate sign of how much Washington has changed will be over his shoulder. The Republican John Boehner will be in the speaker's chair. The new Republican majority says cutting spending is by far its top mission and already there are signs some Republicans want to cut even more than their leadership. Among them is Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana who gave up a leadership post because he wanted the freedom to speak more freely and the freedom perhaps to consider a run for president. Congressman it's good to see you on this night.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Thank you, John.

KING: You do not believe there's any room for new spending at this moment, correct?

PENCE: Well it's not just what I believe, John. I think the American people sent a deafening message on Election Day last November that they want a fundamental change of direction. They want us to end this era of borrowing and spending and bailouts and takeovers and turn this national government back into the direction of fiscal solvency and reform.

(CROSSTALK) KING: So what does the president have to do that he will call this a sputnik moment. He will say just like John Kennedy responded to the Soviets who were in space before us that if we don't invest in research and development, in new roads and bridges, in new science projects --

PENCE: Right.

KING: -- that we will fall behind China, behind India. Is that completely out of the realm or will you say, I will listen to you, Mr. President, if you show me first a lot of cuts.

PENCE: Well let me say we welcome the president of the United States to the House chamber today. He'll be given the respect that both he and his office are due, but, you know, I'm thinking back of the 1990s in the Clinton era when I think the word investment became a synonym for more federal spending. Not only are House Republicans onto that, John, I think the American people are on to that.

They know that we're running now multiple years in a row more than $1 trillion deficits, the kind of investment we should be encouraging is investment in America by Americans and by American businesses and, frankly, many of us are hoping tonight that the president will open the door to additional tax relief that will release some of those corporate profits, additional tax relief that will encourage investment by Americans in the city and on the farm in ways that will create jobs. Washington investment is not going to get this economy moving again. Getting the American people to invest and believe in their future again will.

KING: Tonight is in many ways the first act in a great new drama of divided government. And not only do you have how will the president and the new Republican House get along but you have in your own caucus in the House debates about the levels of cuts that should be necessary and you have seen this play out in recent days where I believe you are on the side of those saying the leadership so far is being too timid, needs to cut even more. You obviously only control the House of Representatives, so how far do you think the House needs to go, essentially for leverage when you get into the negotiations with a narrowly Democratic Senate and a Democratic president who won't do -- you won't get as much as you want and you know that.

PENCE: Well, look. I don't know that. I really believe that a minority in the Senate plus the American people equals a majority and House Republicans are determined to do two things. Number one, we're going to keep our promise to the American people. Our resolution today, we embraced $100 million in cuts this year. But as we move legislation forward in the coming weeks, you're going to see House Republicans say we can do more. We can -- we can find greater savings in every area of government. We're going to lay out both in a resolution, in the debt ceiling vote ultimately in our budget, as Paul Ryan will discuss tonight, a vision for really putting our nation back on a pathway toward fiscal solvency and that lodestar of a balanced federal budget. The American people know we have to do better. House Republicans are going to drive toward that and I believe with the American people on our side, anything is possible. KING: You mentioned the official response from Paul Ryan. Michele Bachmann will also give a response. It was originally set up as just to go to the Web site of the Tea Party Express. Now she has invited in cameras. And some see this as a little bit of a tug-of- war, little bit of a turf battle where the Tea Party Express still a bit suspicious of the Republican leadership of the Republican establishment. Do you share that suspicion and do you worry at all that it sends a mixed message to the American people about sort of who speaks to the Republican Party?

PENCE: I'm not worried at all about a mixed message. Paul Ryan is going do a terrific job tonight. He is a principled conservative and is going to present a winning and positive and substantive message and Michele Bachmann I know will do the same thing and look, the more voices we have in the public debate that are calling for fiscal responsibility and reform and putting our nation back on a pathway to growth, the better.

KING: You could be in a leadership position in this Congress. You decided not to run for reelection of that position to give yourself a little time to think, a little freedom to speak on issues like this, but also to decide whether you want to run for president or maybe for governor of Indiana. As you know, a number of conservatives have looked at some of the others thinking about running and they're not happy and they've started a "Draft Mike Pence" movement. Can you tell us tonight are you going to run for president?

PENCE: Nice try, John. Look, we're nearing the end of a process that began a couple of months ago and my little family and I are just trying to discern where we have the best opportunity to serve and to advance the conservative values that carried us into public life 10 years ago, but no decision tonight, but we'll keep you posted.

KING: You won't tell me whether you want to deliver a State of the State Address some night in Indianapolis or whether you'd like to give a State of the Union Address over there some night?

PENCE: I'll tell you some day.

KING: What's the biggest decision maker for you?

PENCE: Well the biggest decision maker for us is really where we can make the most difference for the values that carried us to public life. Look, you know, I was called into public service --


KING: -- hard for a House guy to win the presidency.

PENCE: I was called into public service to really stand for a set of principles. I've been very humbled by the encouragement we've received from people around Indiana and around the country to see some consistency in the way we've advocated the principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, traditional values, and a strong defense. And what our little family is trying to discern with some help from some good counsel is where do we have the opportunity to really make a big difference for those values in the years ahead.

KING: Congressman Pence, hope you'll stay in touch as you make that decision. We're going to head to break now. Congressman Pence may be running for president in the next cycle.

When we come back, the man who was the president's opponent in the last election cycle, with divided government you have gridlock or compromise. Senator John McCain joins us next to talk about what he sees around the corner.


KING: One of the big questions as we head from here into divided government is will there be compromise or (INAUDIBLE) gridlock. One person who has voiced a willingness, a willingness to talk to the president, to cooperate with the president is the man who was his Republican opponent in the last election. In a moment we'll introduce who John McCain will be sitting with tonight at the State of the Union.

But let's start first with Senator McCain. And Senator McCain, let me start that if the -- if you're willing to reach out to the president and work with the president on some issues, when he says new investments tonight and that America has a sputnik moment and must make some new investments to be able to compete in the global economy, are you willing to say I'll work with you on that or is that just out of bounds until we get big spending cuts?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well first of all, John, we have to cut the spending and that was the message of the election of November the 2nd and so that really has to be our first priority. But if there are things that pure research and development that the federal government can do better than anyone else, that's how we got the Internet, then I would certainly support those.

But if it's an increase -- just increases in spending like the stimulus package was, which, as you know, they promised eight percent unemployment, still 9.4 percent, that kind of thing can't be acceptable. By the way, I'm glad that he's going to call for a ban on earmarks. I'm with him all the way on that. In fact, I'd like to work with him on an enhanced rescission, which is sort of a constitutional version of a line item veto and so there are areas that I think we can work on. I also would like to say we're very grateful that he's going to honor the families of the -- the victims of the tragedy in Tucson tonight. That means a lot to all of us all over the country, especially Arizona.

KING: Are there other issues? Let's say, for example, I would expect the president tonight I'm told to say that maybe we can bring back the DREAM Act, which would help illegal immigrants who came into this country at a very young age, if they join the military, if they're on the college track, that they could be granted a path to citizenship. You would not work with the president on that in the lame duck session. The White House would very much like your help. Can they get it? MCCAIN: If we secure the borders and we can secure the borders. We have not secured our borders. If we don't have secure borders, John, then five, 10, 15 years from now we're dealing with another group of young Americans who were brought here illegally by their parents. So it's foolish to move forward with something like the DREAM Act until we get the borders secured and we can. And with people and surveillance and with fences we can do it. And by the way, as you know there's been a colossal failure and a waste of about $1 billion on a thing called SBI Net (ph) support -- secure border initiative. It's disgraceful.

KING: It's an interesting night, Senator, as we wait to hear from the president. It's always a big night on Capitol Hill. What's interesting tonight is this post Tucson effort at civility and bipartisanship on the floor, so I'm going to let you have a unique role here and tell me as we introduce your date -- I'll use the term loosely -- tell me why, why and your date is sitting here with me, so be polite and then we'll bring him into the conversation.

MCCAIN: He's one of the nicest people that I have had the honor of knowing. He and his cousin and his uncle was -- Morris Udall was one of the most decent men that ever graced the halls of Congress. And both Udall's are carrying on in that tradition of his father, Stewart Udall, who was a great secretary of the interior and both of them happened to have grown up in Arizona, as you know.

KING: Tom Udall is with me and how can we get more than just appearances tonight, pictures of bipartisanship. On what issues can you maybe nudge, pull, prod your friend Senator McCain to say, look, you're maybe too far to the right for my view on this, but let's make common ground. How can we come back in six months and say this wasn't just for show, it was actually for progress?

SEN. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: Well, one of the most important things I think is the symbolism to start with because we haven't done this in a very long time. We've been divided and we've seen the State of the Union speeches, and what ends up happening at those speeches, if it's a Democratic president, frequently the Democrats are jumping up and down and the Republicans sit on their hands.

And tonight we're going to be sitting with each other and sharing thoughts and conversation. I'll never forget going to Iraq with Senator McCain. He invited me on a codel with a couple of governors, a couple of House members and spending that time with him and being able to talk about the wars and where we were headed gives you an opportunity to find that common ground so that you can, in fact, work on ideas and move things forward. So there are many things I think we're going to visit about tonight, and I hope six months from now we're really at the point where we can work together constructively on specific proposals.

KING: It is --

UDALL: And the DREAM Act would be one for me, John. I know Senator McCain has been involved with that in the past and maybe there are some changes we could make to it and try to tweak that. KING: It is clear if you hear Senator McCain and Congressman Pence was with us earlier in the program, Republicans are very skeptical that the president's commitment to deficit reduction and spending cuts is genuine. Many of them see it as a post election messaging shift. They want to see the (INAUDIBLE) shift. What do you need to hear from the president as a centrist Democrat that convinces you you'll be able to go home and say we have a different outlook now?

UDALL: Well I don't think that there's any doubt that the president coming out of the last election has a different message and he's trying to connect with the American people on jobs, on moving our economy forward, and I think it's a good word when you say investing, John. When you talk about investing in America, investing in education, investing in energy research, we need to do those things.

And there's got to be a way where we all look out for the country. I think the thing that frustrates people is when they watch their television, see us on C-SPAN, we seem to always be arguing and they don't know the good things that are happening in the committee rooms and other places, some of these -- like that trip to Iraq I talked about with Senator McCain where we visit about things. I remember Senator McCain we came back from Iraq and we issued a common statement. We went to the White House together. We briefed President Bush together. It was -- I think he felt you know here are two different perspectives from people that went over there and he was interested in seeing that.

KING: Well Senator McCain, do you believe, as someone who has been through a presidential election, who knows that the next presidential election is already in the early stages upon us and that will intensify with every passing day here in Washington, can we have a temporary moment of adult conversations, not that there won't be big disagreements, but adult conversations about those differences. And as you answer that question, as you close, if you could just explain.

You're wearing the black-and-white ribbon in honor of Congresswoman Giffords from your state. She's a Democrat, of course, but (INAUDIBLE) an empty chair on the floor tonight, so first assess that. Is there a window and then close with a reflection on the missing congresswoman tonight in the room.

MCCAIN: Well first of all I believe the situation compels us to try to find common ground and I do believe the president has learned from the results of the election last November and we should be moving forward. But I also don't think we should lose our passion. You know the most passionate guy I ever dealt with was Ted Kennedy, and it would be passionate and I've been nose to nose with him. And as soon as it was over, he'd throw his arm around me and give a big laugh.

So we don't want to lose our passion because things are tough. But as far as Gabrielle Giffords is concerned, she is making amazing, amazing progress. We're so pleased. She is -- she is, I believe, got a good chance of recovery from everything that I hear of. Let's not forget the 9-year-old Christine Taylor Green, Judge Roll who covered another individual's body with his own and the others who were victims as well. So we celebrate their courage, we honor their lives, and we pledge to do what we can to make them proud of us.

KING: Senator McCain, we appreciate your thoughts and especially that last little bit of tribute there tonight. We'll touch base in the days ahead to see what you think of the speech (INAUDIBLE). Senator Udall, thanks for stopping in as well, you guys behave. (INAUDIBLE) we'll keep watching on that one. When we come back the challenge for the president, Democrats, Republicans -- our contributors with us after a break.


KING: Welcome back to our special program tonight. We live on Capitol Hill. We are about 80 minutes away from the president's State of the Union Address, under the Capitol dome you see behind me. The president's address tonight will help frame the big debates of 2011 and into the 2012 election campaign. The president will be up for re- election. There will also be 20 Democrats in the Senate up for re- election that year. And after seizing the House in 2010 the Republicans believe that because there are 20 Democrats on the ballot in 2012 they have the chance to take the Senate as well.

One Democrat who has not yet said whether he will run for re- election is Senator Jim Webb, Democrat from Virginia. He won in 2006, a good year for the Democrats, many think especially in Virginia 2012 will not be as good a year for the Democrats. So, will Senator Webb run for re-election or not? We begin our conversation in his office earlier today, right there.


KING: Senator, thank you for your time.

I want to start with the big question people are asking. That is, will you run for re-election? Your rival from the last campaign, Senator Allen, announced he would like a comeback for this seat. Will you be the Democratic candidate?

SEN. JIM WEBB, (D) VIRGINIA: We're still talking about that, particularly inside my family. It's an eight-year commitment. People get excited about elections, but it's eight years. So I've said that I'll make a decision before the end of the first quarter, and we will. KING: Is there some hesitation there? If you look at your fund- raising, a lot of people would say -- especially, if you're gong to have a big high-profile race in 2012, you'd better start raising money. You have delayed doing that. I know it's not your favorite thing in the world. Where's your head in the moment? Leading in, leading out?

WEBB: I don't want to be out asking people for money unless they can be certain that I'm going to use it for a campaign. When you go back to the '06 campaign, I announced nine months almost to the day before the election with zero dollars and no campaign staff, and we were 33 points behind, and we raised enough to win. I don't want to go through that process again, but I'm not -- I'm not worried about the fundraising side. This is much more a personal, family decision that we have to resolve.

KING: And as you know and I'm sure some of your advisers tell you, this is not '06. It was a pretty good year for the Democrats, even in a state like Virginia, you won a very close race. You were way behind. People didn't think you had a chance. But if you look at the climate now, a lot of people think 2012 will not be as favorable to Democrats and Virginia will not be as favorable to the Democrats. And they say, Senator, if you want to keep this seat, you have to get going. How much pressure like that are you getting?

WEBB: A lot of people are giving me a lot of advice. Again, I think what we've been able to do up here since I've come to the Senate speaks for itself. We've been the principle voice up here for criminal justice reform. I've got the subcommittees on the -- the two most important subcommittees, Armed Services and Foreign Relations. We've been the voice in terms of reengaging what East Asia and Southeast Asia. We passed the GI bill. We've done a lot of good work up here and I think people respond to that.

KING: Would you like a chance to run against George Allen again? He's not guaranteed the Republican nomination, of course, but would you like that?

WEBB: It's not in the formula. It's whether or not we want to make the decision to be up here for another eight years and do what it takes to do that.

KING: I don't want to overly dwell on this but are you leaning one way or the other, 50/50?


WEBB: Again, we'll have a decision this quarter.

KING: Fair enough.

Part of your decision, I assume is based on whether you think this is a productive enterprise. The president has a big speech to the nation tonight at a time of divided government. What do you need to hear from him? WEBB: I ran as a Democrat because I believe that the Democratic Party is the party that has historically taken care of working people. The party that has measured the health of society not at its apex, but at its base. The president, I think, finally hit that spot in the lame duck when he brought people together on the extension of the Bush tax cuts, but also the provisions in there that extended to unemployment, and gave business credits and those sorts of things. I think you're going to hear tonight, hope you're going to hear that same sort of formula. We've got to come together for the good of the country despite philosophical differences, and move things forward, number one.

Number two, I personally will be looking at - in addition to that is this is not parliamentary system. He is not the prime minister. So I'm not obligated agree with the president on every issue either, so I'll look very carefully at what he's proposed. I hope to be able to agree with it but I don't feel obligated to.

KING: I was at a breakfast with the speaker this morning, the new Republican speaker at the House who said calling for more spending is not exactly a move to the middle. We do expect the president to talk about some cuts and deficit reduction. But also say that he believes there needs to be, he'll use the word "investment", but targeted new spending on things like infrastructure, research and development. Good idea? Or does the president need to have no new spending?

WEBB: Well, let's see what the proposals actually look like before we have the debate, but certainly there's room for cutting back in the federal budgetary process. I was in the Pentagon when they announced the Gramm-Rudman cuts, which was a 5 percent reduction in the overall budget, which ended up being a 10 percent reduction in operating budgets because of entitlements and those sorts of things. There are places we can reduce federal spending. At the same time we do need to get infrastructure programs going. Look at China right now. The money that they have been put in infrastructure is putting them in a difference place in terms of vibrance their economy. So let's see how the president proposes that. But doing that is a healthy thing for our country.

KING: The Senate will be, in my view, the most interesting place in town because you know the House Republicans, they can pass what they want to pass. You have a Democratic president down the street who has to wait for Congress to act on these matters. How do you see the role as the Senate, your role in particular as someone who wants to represent the middle in this time and in this uncertain time of divided government and a very narrow Democratic majority over here?

WEBB: I think it's going to be equally interesting in the House because we have a situation now where the Republicans who were elected in this last office have a certain on obligation to the people who elected them, some of whom may have unrealistic expectations but they're going to have to produce. They are going to have to work with us.

KING: There are some conversations that are quite familiar post- Tucson to post-Virginia Tech, which, of course, happened in your state. And people are saying, A, there are holes in the mental health system we need to deal with. Some say there are holes in the gun control area to deal with. You colleague Frank Lautenberg just today says he wants to propose going back to assault weapons bans style language, you can't buy those big magazine clips. You can't buy a clip that you can put 30 bullets. Good idea, or is that not the problem?

WEBB: I think that if you look at the public mood right now, we do have views on the extremes on those issues, but people want to be able to defend themselves. They want to be able to defend their homes and their families. And that's my starting point on this issue. The second one is if you look at Virginia Tech and if you look at the Tucson incident, the thing that these two people had in common, two things in common, they kill people, but the other thing is they are mentally ill. And we have had very lax laws with respect to how we deal with mental illness.

There were clear signals in both of these. We dealt with this in detail when we examined the Virginia Tech situation, where this is a young man who had had clinical assistance over a period of time that was never communicated from one health provider to another when he was down at Virginia Tech. So we need to make sure that those types of individuals get the care that they need, and don't have weapons.

KING: There's a lot of drama about tonight's speech, about this proposal, to have bipartisan seating. Does Senator Jim Webb have a date, or do you think it's symbolic or is it silly, or what?

WEBB: It's a little silly, but it's not harmful. I've got a lot of friends who are Republicans, and I don't quite see myself walking up to one of them and asking if they want to sit with me. I have a favorite spot, which is fairly close to the door. I'll probably stay in that spot.

KING: Amen to that. Let me close where I began.

You were talking about why you ran as a Democrat and the values in the Democratic Party that are so important to you. If you do decide to run again, is there any chance you would not run as a Democrat, that you would run as an independent, or if you run, would you run as a Democrat?

WEBB: I've been through a journey in my life on this. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is probably my role model. He was very comfortable serving in a Republican administration. I am very proud to have served in the Reagan administration. But in terms of the political values, when they are implemented properly, the Democratic Party is the party I identify with.

KING: We'll come back and check on that decision a little further down the quarter, I guess.

WEBB: Good.

KING: Senator, thanks for your time. WEBB: Good to be with you.


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