Senators Dick Durbin & John Cornyn on "State of the Union"

Senators Dick Durbin & John Cornyn on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - May 13, 2012

CROWLEY: Joining me now from Springfield, Illinois, the number two Democrat in the Senate, Senator Dick Durbin, and here in Washington, the man charged with electing more Republicans to the Senate, Senator John Cornyn. Thank you both for being here.

Let me start out, I want to play something that Senator Durbin said in mid-April to kind of kick off our conversation.

Senator, let me remind you of what you said, which was unless there is some intervening event, some external event, I think the reality is we are not going to take up tough issues involving spending, taxes, Medicare, Social Security before an election.

My question to both of you, and I'll start with you, Senator Cornyn, is why are you all here at this point, because you just are -- nobody wants to do anything big because they think the other might get the advantage, and you're going to do it all in the lame duck or try to and maybe even kick it then. Why even stay in Washington?

CORNYN: Well, Candy, as you know, Senator Reid is the majority leader and is the one that determines what the agenda is on the Senate floor. For the last three years Senator Reid has said we will not take up and pass a budget in the Senate, and you're right.

There's no good reason for us to be here if we're not going to make some of these tough decisions, cast tough votes. That's what we get paid for. That's what we should do, and that's what we should be held accountable for.

But do nothing because the majority leader has said he doesn't want to put Democratic incumbents --

CROWLEY: But you all also blocked --

CORNYN: -- makes no sense.

CROWLEY: -- you all also block so much of the stuff that comes up. And that's certainly -- I imagine I could get Senator Durbin say that and I want to bring him into the conversation. But isn't it -- I mean there is -- I think the country looks at this and it's pretty clear there's fault on both sides here.

CORNYN: Well, there are 12 -- there are a couple -- about a dozen, maybe two dozen bills the House has passed that have come over to the Senate that are dead on arrival because Senator Reid simply refuses to take them up.

And, yes, when Senator Reid refuses to allow the minority an opportunity to offer amendments and debate amendments and vote on amendments, then we have no choice but to say, we have to protect the minority's right to have its voice heard. The people we represent simply cannot be excluded because of Senator Reid's fiat.

CROWLEY: So, Senator Durbin, no kidding, why don't you guys just go home, because no one expects -- not even you all expect anything big is going to happen?

DURBIN: Candy, I think a lot of people on cable are really protesting because the C-SPAN channel has no activity on it. We lurch from one mind-numbing filibuster to the next. Last Tuesday we tried to bring up this provision, a simple provision, which said don't let the interest rate on student loans double on July 1st to 6.8 percent.

We called for a vote on Tuesday and said open to amendments. Bring up -- let's bring up this matter and have a real debate on amendments. Not a single Republican would vote for it. So we got stuck in another filibuster.

But I -- let me just say the blame is on both sides to some extent, but if we're ever going to get anything done, we literally have to reach some level of agreement. I think about the Bowles- Simpson Commission.

Honest to goodness, when Tom Coburn and I can both vote for this and say let's move forward and use this as a template, that should have been a moment, a teachable moment, for all the members of the Senate and the House.

CROWLEY: But it wasn't, and so you can understand why people look and say they're just not going to do anything this year. And do you agree with that, until after the elections, you all aren't going to deal with these tough issues that have to do with the continuation of tax cuts, or the stopping of the tax cuts or the spending cuts that are due to come into place? None of that is going to happen until after the November election?

DURBIN: I think that's an honest appraisal, and I think it may have started with the Republican leader McConnell saying our job is to make sure Obama is a one-term president. And so we had more filibusters than ever in the history of the United States Senate.

We just cannot take up anything constructive. The American voters have the last word in November. Do they want to continue this kind of obstructionism or do they want to see something different?

CROWLEY: It seems like kind of a waste of a year but I don't think I'm going to get you all to agree on who is to blame here. I want to move us into the political realm.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, was at Liberty University in Lynchburg yesterday talking to the largest Christian university, certainly, in the country. I want to play something he had to say.


ROMNEY: Culture, what you believe, what you value, how you live matters. Now, as fundamental as these principles are, they may become topics of democratic debate from time to time. So it is today with the enduring institution of marriage. Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.


CROWLEY: That was the biggest applause line, as you might imagine. The battle is clearly joined. We had the president this week, coming out, making history, saying that he favors gay marriage. I know Senator Durbin that you also believe that gays should be allowed to marry.

Do you worry, though, that the president could lose some states, North Carolina, Missouri, some of those where the evangelical vote is very strong because of his same-sex position? DURBIN: I can just tell you I don't think it was a political calculation by the president. I think it was a matter of conscience. He talked it over with his wife and his children, and I know I have talked to him over the years. It's a difficult issue, a real challenging issue, but I think the president came down on the right side.

This morning I took a look at Loving versus Virginia, which I'm sure Senator Cornyn remembers, the 1967 Supreme Court decision that said that the Virginia law banning interracial marriages was a violation of equality under the laws and due process. And I think it comes down to the same basic principle, whether we're going to have marriage equality in this country.

CROWLEY: But do you think that it could hurt the president politically in some of these swing states, is the question?

DURBIN: Well, I don't think he's going to lose votes that he otherwise hadn't lost. I'm not sure the evangelicals were going to lean toward President Obama anyway.

CROWLEY: Senator Cornyn, is this something that you think Mitt Romney ought to bring up frequently? Is this an issue that you think is a winning issue for Republicans?

CORNYN: Candy, President Obama brought this issue up because he wants to -- he can't run on his record. Let's put it that way. And so he's trying to raise divisive issues up to solidify his base and to divide the country, and that isn't what we should be focusing on now. We should be focusing on jobs and the economy.

We have two looming things that are going to happen in December and January, and the president is AWOL on both the largest tax increase in American history, that will occur when about 130 different tax provisions expire on December the 31st, and a sequestration in January, which will be a half a trillion dollars in what Secretary Panetta, his own Secretary of Defense, said would be disastrous cuts to the military.

Where is the president? Well, he's raising issues that aren't going to be resolved between now and then and in an attempt to try to distract the country from his record.

CROWLEY: So that's a no, you don't think this ought to be a focal point for Mitt Romney to campaign on, his opposition to gay marriage?

CORNYN: I think we ought to talk about what the American people want, and that is jobs and get the economy on track. They want to know what the president's plan is, once the Supreme Court strikes down his -- the so-called Affordable Care Act, which we find out is the unaffordable care act, but when the Supreme Court rules in June, what's the president's plan? What's his plan B?

CROWLEY: I want to talk to both of you, Senator Durbin to you first. There was a story in "The Washington Post" this week with some firsthand accounts of Mitt Romney's high school years, where, certainly under any definition, he was portrayed as a bully, apparently against a gay student.

He said, "Look, I don't remember it. It certainly wasn't about the student being gay". Do you think this story tells you anything about Mitt Romney? Do you think this is an important point in a campaign where you start looking at who the person is?

DURBIN: Well, here is what it comes down to. I find it hard to believe that you couldn't remember that kind of an episode in your life, even if it occurred in high school, but --

CROWLEY: So you think he's lying?

DURBIN: -- I'm going to say this -- well, I just say it's hard to believe he doesn't remember, but I will say this. There's not a single thing that I know about Mitt Romney in his adult life which suggests this kind of discrimination or this kind of prejudice.

And so I don't believe it was a telling moment in terms of who he is today. It was obviously something he should regret and probably does deeply regret from his youth.

CROWLEY: Senator, I want to just pick up on one more subject, and that is the defeat of Senator Lugar. He's been in the Senate for more than 30 years. He was known as someone who would reach across the aisle. What does this say about Republicans' desire to have someone who actually will work with the other side?

CORNYN: Well, what I think it says, Candy, is that people are mad at what's happening in Washington. The inaction that you have identified early on in important issues where we should be working together to deal with jobs and getting the economy back on track, and where they see nothing but inaction. And so people are tired of just yelling at the TV set. They actually are going to turn out and vote, and they did, and they want to try new leaders. And that's what happened in Indiana. By the way, we will hold that seat. Mr. Mourdock is the state treasurer there. And we will hold that seat in November, but Dick Lugar is a wonderful, wonderful man and a great example of graciousness, and really has done a wonderful job in the Senate. We'll miss him.

CROWLEY: Senator John Cornyn, Senator Dick Durbin, thank you both for joining us. I think people are probably still yelling at their TV sets, but I thank you both very much for getting up this morning and joining us. Appreciate it. 

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