Interview with Senator Lamar Alexander

Interview with Senator Lamar Alexander

By John King, USA - September 21, 2011

CROWLEY: Lamar Alexander was the second Republican in a half century to be elected governor of Tennessee. He sought the Republican presidential nomination twice since his election to the U.S. Senate. He's risen to his party's third highest leadership position. In short, there is no questioning Lamar Alexander's Republican bona fides.

But this is Washington. Republican sources tell CNN some conservatives consider Alexander too moderate and that's at least partly why he's giving up his leadership post, they say, early next year, and not seeking the number two spot.

Senator Alexander is with us now.

Senator, let me give you a chance to answer those Republican sources who say, quite frankly, in this new age of the Tea Party and conservative Republicans, you're just too moderate.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: Thanks, Candy. Good to be with you.

I -- that didn't have anything to do with my own decision, and I doubt it's the feeling of the Republican senators. They've already elected me three times to be the chairman of the Senate Republican conference. My reason for stepping down after four years as chairman of the conference is very simple. I wanted to spend my time working on the issues I care about and try to get some results here.

There are a lot of different ways to be in the leadership in the Senate. I'm standing in the Russell office building, named for a very famous United States senator, Richard Russell from Georgia, who was never an elected leader in the Senate, but he was a great leader.

CROWLEY: One of the things that you said in your letter to Senate Republicans caught my eye, and I just want to show it to our viewers. "I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues."

If you can't help make the Senate a more effective institution to deal with serious issues in the leadership, what does that tell you about the U.S. Senate right now?

ALEXANDER: Well, it says it's a very unusual place. It's a place that operates by unanimous consent.

I'll give you an example of what I can do. Shortly after I came to the Senate in 2004 or 2005, I suggested what became the gang of 14. That created an environment in which the two leaders could actually avoid bullying up the Senate with the nuclear option President Bush got his judges confirm. So those in the Senate who are willing to be good Republicans and good Democrats can still work for results to make the Senate work in a more effective way. CROWLEY: Do you have any hope that there's going to be any kind of megadeals on any subject between the Republicans and the Democrats, between now and November 2012?

ALEXANDER: Well, I surely hope so.

One, we passed the patent bill. That's an important part of creating a jobs environment. Two, we passed extensions in highways and in airports. Three, we could ratify three very important trade agreements that would permit farmers and manufactures to sell their goods overseas, if the president would just send them to us. Four, Republicans have introduced five bills to fix No Child Left Behind, which are not that different from what Secretary Duncan and the president have proposed.

So, those are all important areas of working together and they're important for the country.

CROWLEY: Senator, what do you make of the fact that the president's jobs bill is not going to be taken up by the Senate until after the recess? The president, as you know, many times, when he gave his address to the joint session of Congress that passed this bill, pass this bill now, there was great urgency about it. It doesn't strike most Americans as very urgent that you all would go off on a recess and not begin to take up this jobs bill.

Why is that, do you think?

ALEXANDER: Well, first, the president didn't send it to us until a few days ago, and then the person who decides when a jobs bill comes up is the Democratic majority leader, and he decided to play this political game to try to make people believe that there wasn't going to be disaster funding when there certainly is. He could have brought it anytime he wants to. He could bring it up today, if he wanted to.

CROWLEY: And let me turn you to one other subject that kind of goes into the campaign trail. You were critical of Texas Governor Rick Perry for saying that the president has been appeasing the Palestinian Authority in his approach to negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel.

You criticize the timing of that. He gave a speech just as the president was beginning to open a day where he was speaking to the U.N., where he has top-level meetings to avoid a diplomatic crisis in the U.N. between the Palestinians and Israel. But your quibble with his timing, does that go to the substance of what Governor Perry said? Do you believe the president had a policy of appeasement to the Palestinian Authority?

ALEXANDER: I think a lot of Governor Perry -- in fact, I gave him a pat on the back. I was asked that question this morning on your network and I said I thought that press conference might be something he wouldn't do over again in a young campaign that's only 40 days old. An d second, I patted him on the back because in the debate last week, I admired him for sticking up for his immigration position even though that was an unpopular position with the audience where he was speaking.

I think people are looking for a president who has views and who sticks to those views. So, I think Governor Romney, Governor Perry, Governor Huntsman are all terrific candidates. I think we got a chance to elect a real, executive leader. And I was trying to give him an example of where he might think twice on one issue. And second, where I thought he did a pretty darn good job.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you directly. Do you think President Obama has put forward a policy of appeasement in Palestinian Authority when it comes to negotiations?

ALEXANDER: I'm not going to say that, no.

CROWLEY: OK. Senator Lamar Alexander, thank you so much for your time. 

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