Joe Lieberman, Steve LaTourette & Mick Mulvaney on "State of the Union"

Joe Lieberman, Steve LaTourette & Mick Mulvaney on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - December 23, 2012

CROWLEY: Joining me now is Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. Senator, thanks for being here. Let me talk first about the NRA and its safe school program. How does that strike you as the first statement coming out of the NRA?

LIEBERMAN: I have found the statements by the NRA over the last couple of days to be really disheartening, because the statements seem to not reflect any understanding about the slaughter of children that happened in Newtown, Connecticut, just a little more than a week ago.

It was a kind of hunker down. They could have made the same statement -- they did make the same statement after earlier acts of mass violence.

And, you know, no one is saying -- here's what bothered me. The NRA spokespeople have been willing to deal with every possible cause of gun violence, except guns. They're right that there's a problem for our society, how do you spot a child or a person who is troubled before they become a killer? What's the influence of violence in our entertainment culture on people? But it's obviously also true that the easy availability of guns, including military style assault weapons, is a contributing factor, and you can't keep that off the table. I had hoped they'd come to the table and say, everything is on the table.

What this does mean is that the kind of new regulation of guns that President Obama and Vice President Biden and a lot people would like to see enacted early next year is not going to happen easily. It's going to be a battle. But the president, I think, and vice president are really ready to lead the fight.

It's going to take the American people getting organized, agitated, and talking to their members of Congress. CROWLEY: Do you think the NRA still has the clout it once did? To -- because they have several times been able to rally their folks on Capitol Hill to vote against extension of the gun ban, things like that.

LIEBERMAN: We'll see. I mean, I think this situation is different than the other acts of mass violence, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, because here, you know, those 20 beautiful innocent children slaughtered, hit multiple times with bullets from that assault weapon.

So we'll see. But I'll tell you this. The strength of the NRA is that more than half of the adults in America have guns, own guns, and have them in their homes. And we have to convince them that none of the proposals will take their guns away. The proposals will make it harder, hopefully impossible for people to buy assault weapons, and as you said earlier, will close some of the loopholes to make sure that people who are in Wayne LaPierre's term, bad guys, don't have the opportunity to buy guns.

CROWLEY: I think actually the number of households who own a gun has gone down a bit, but there are still a lot -- a heck of a lot of guns out there.

I want to read you actually on another part of this argument, and that is about the culture and about these video games. We now at least believe that this shooter, in fact, did like some of these violent video games.

This comes from the general counsel of the Entertainment Consumers Association, who said we agree with the Supreme Court's decisions, and the volumes of scientific research which all clearly state that there is no causal link between media violence and real- life violence.

Do you agree with that?

LIEBERMAN: I don't agree with that, and I don't know what Supreme Court decision that person is thinking of.

CROWLEY: It was a free speech case.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, but I mean, obviously, there's a free speech question, but I've spent a lot of time on this. And most of the research that I've seen done shows that involvement, particularly intense involvement with violence in the entertainment culture does make people more aggressive.

Now, obviously, everybody who plays violent video games doesn't become a killer, but there are -- there's a vulnerable part of our population out there that is affected by them. I would say to the entertainment culture just as I said to the NRA, take your blinders off, take your earplugs out.

LIEBERMAN: Twenty kids just got slaughtered, and we have all got to come to the table not defensively and acknowledge that these are not just other people's kids, they could be our kids and grandkids next time. So, I think the entertainment culture has to accept some responsibility.

You know, in almost every one of these cases of mass shootings, it's the same pattern. A young man, troubled, reclusive, almost always involved in some kind of violent entertainment media gets guns and then kills a lot of people. We have got to stop it.

CROWLEY: There's a lot here I wanted to ask you about, and I want to move on to Senator Chuck Hagel, a man you know. We are led to believe that he may be the person that President Obama wants to lead the Defense Department when Secretary Panetta leaves. You may know that a number of Jewish organizations and some folks up on Capitol Hill have objected already to the idea of Hagel saying he has had a number of anti-Israeli votes, that he has said things they perceive as anti-Israeli.

Has Chuck Hagel in your opinion disqualified himself because these various stances from becoming Secretary of Defense?

LIEBERMAN: I wouldn't -- I served with Chuck Hagel. I worked with him on some things. I like him and I respect him. I wouldn't say that his votes disqualify him. But if I were in the Senate on the Armed Services Committee and he was nominated, I would have some really serious questions to ask him, not just about Israel, but to me, the most significant foreign policy challenge for President Obama and our country and the world in the next year or two is Iran and it's nuclear weapons program. Chuck Hagel has had some very outlying votes on that. He's been...

CROWLEY: He's wanted to establish communication with Iran.

LIEBERMAN: Yeah, he's been consistently -- I think in that sense anybody who has tried to communicate with Iran has run into a brick wall, and Chuck Hagel has consistently been against economic sanctions to try to change the behavior of the Islamic regime, the radical regime in Tehran, which is the only way to do it short of war.

So, in fact, as I look at Chuck Hagel's positions on Iran, they seem to me to be quite different than President Obama. Now, President Obama obviously has earned the right to nominate whoever he wants, but I think this will be a very tough confirmation process. I don't know how it would end, but there are reasonable questions to ask and that Chuck Hagel will have to answer.

CROWLEY: And finally in our last minute I need you to solve the fiscal cliff problem, but specifically we all know that the speaker left. He couldn't get his caucus to join him on his backup plan, and he said "hey, Mr. President and Senator Reid the majority leader in the senate, it's up to you to fix this." What is Senator Reid's next move? Should Mitch McConnell get into this? How does this play out?

LIEBERMAN: Well, Candy, I will tell you in the aftermath of House Republicans rejecting Speaker Boehner's so-called Plan B, it's the first time that I feel that it's more likely that will go over the cliff than not. And that -- if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history, because of the impact it will have on almost every American -- taxes up, programs cut, probably sending us back into a recession.

So the ball is now clearly with the Senate. Senator Reid and Senator McConnell have the ability to put this together again and pass something. It won't be a big, grand bargain to take care of the total debt, but they can do some things that will avoid the worst consequences going over the fiscal cliff.

I can tell you that talked to a lot of Republican colleagues in the Senate who are favorably inclined toward the idea it to protect the middle class from the tax cuts, let's raise taxes on people over 250,000, and let's stop those terrible cuts in defense, homeland security, education, et cetera.

CROWLEY: Not much time left.

Senator, after 24 years in the U.S. Senate you are retiring, but you still have work to do. So I'm not going to say good-bye to you now, because I imagine we might speak to you again before the end.

LIEBERMAN: We might. You see all of this. I told my colleagues they're just doing it to make sure that those of us who are retiring this year work every last day of our term. We're going to spend New Year's Eve here I believe.

CROWLEY: Thanks for the cheery note. Thanks so much, Senator Lieberman. Good to see you.

President Obama is calling on the holiday spirit to avoid the fiscal cliff.


OBAMA: Everybody can cool off, everybody can drink some eggnog, have some Christmas cookies, sing some Christmas carols.


CROWLEY: But it may take more than divine inspiration.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: Six weeks after his unanimous re-election as speaker John Boehner faced a mini mutiny in his own congress, 21 Republicans indicated they would oppose his backup plan to keep tax cuts in place for everyone making less than a million dollars. Anyone making more would see a tax hike.

The speaker saw the setback as a semantic problem.


BOEHNER: Listen, there was a perception created that that vote last night was going to increase taxes. Now, I disagree with that characterization of the bill, but that impression was out there. Now, we had a number of our members who just really didn't want to be perceived as having to raise taxes, that was the real issue.


CROWLEY: With that, the speaker pulled his Plan B from the House floor, told the president and Senate Democrats they needed to come up with something to avoid the fiscal cliff, and then he took off for Ohio with a parting blast at the president that went off to Hawaii.


BOEHNER: And he refuses to challenge the members of his party to deal honestly with the entitlement reform and the big issues that are facing our nation, that's why we find ourselves here today.


CROWLEY: The holiday season is beginning to seem a lot more like groundhog day. When we return, long-time Boehner ally and fellow Ohioan Steven LaTourette and a leader of most conservative House Republicans South Carolina Mick Mulvaney.


CROWLEY: With me now, Ohio Congressman Steven LaTourette and South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney. Thank you both for being here. You are one of those Republicans, Congressman Mulvaney, who said -- signaled at the very least and probably said outright I'm not going to vote for the speaker's plan. It strikes me that you want to stand on the principle, you're fighting for a principle, no tax increases for everyone, and the net result will be tax increases for everyone.

MULVANEY: And the reason that I was no on Plan B was that I was never convinced and still not convinced that the Senate was ever going to take it up. People seem to assume in these discussions that all the House had to do is pass this bill and it would be the end of the discussion. I believed from the very beginning and continue to believe that the president has no interest at all in not going over the cliff. He wants to go over the cliff. Everything I've looked at, everything I've seen coming out of the White House and out of the Senate--

CROWLEY: Why help him?

MULVANEY: What choice do we have? Passing Plan B the other night would not have changed the outcome. We were going to go over the cliff before. We're going to go over the cliff now because it's what the president wants. You cannot negotiate with someone who does not want to negotiate.

CROWLEY: Do you share -- I know you don't share his outlook on what you should have done with Plan B. Do you share the outlook that the president is not interested?

LATOURETTE: Well, I don't know if the president's not interested. I don't think the president has been serious. And we've done nothing.

CROWLEY: He did win.

LATOURETTE: No, no, no. He was serious about campaigning. He did win, and that's what Plan B was all about. The speaker made it clear. So, look, the president is the president. Nothing we can do about that, that's a fact. Also, taxes are going up on every American. That's a fact. But where the president has not been serious is the other side of the equation. He's all about taxes. He has this mandate, he says, on taxes. But the spending cuts that need to get us out of this mess, he hasn't been serious about those, and then that's unfortunate. And so, you know, I think where Mick and I may be part company is that this needs the big deal. I'm OK to say, president, you won. You can tax these rich people you seem to dislike so much, but, you know what? Come up with some spending cuts. We're borrowing a trillion dollars a year, and he's not.

CROWLEY: So, let me -- I want to show you one of our latest CNN/ORC polls, and the question was which party should compromise more? 53 percent thought the Republicans should compromise more, 41 percent said the Democrats. So it's not just that the president won. You've seen poll after poll. They are going to blame Republicans if their taxes go up. Do you really -- you don't want anyone's taxes to go up, and yet, you are admitting here, saying here, look, I think everybody's taxes are going to go up.

MULVANEY: I don't think it's a question of who should compromise more. We recognize the fact that in order to get to a compromise, both sides have to get on something they don't want. But the question, I think, is who is supposed to lead? I mean the president is the president. We talked about -- in fact, he just won an election and that's fine. It's not what Steve or I would have wanted, but it's the world we live in.

But shouldn't he be leading? Shouldn't the Senate be passing...


CROWLEY: He went to -- almost 500,000, 440 or something, I can't remember exactly. But he said, OK, let's lift the ceiling on those who will keep their taxes in place ...


CROWLEY: ... from 250 to 4-something ...

LATOURETTE: I've got to tell you , the president talks about a balanced deal. He has yet to propose one. And when the debt ceiling came up a year ago in August, he and the speaker were working on a big deal. This doesn't require just a tax equation.. This requires a big deal. And the only thing the president put on the table is chained CPI, which is $300 billion over ten years. And if you're looking ...

CROWLEY: It's adjusting how the cost of living is done for Social Security.


LATOURETTE: Yeah, we're borrowing a trillion, first of all. Second of all, this whole tax brouhaha -- we're fighting that on their turf. Raises $90 billion a year. That would run the government from the end of the fiscal year September 30th to Columbus Day. This is a bigger problem than that.

CROWLEY: But here's the thing. Yes, there was that -- the big deal that they seem to be so close to that you now want, but isn't the thing that scuttled that deal House Republicans?

LATOURETTE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Listen.

CROWLEY: Wasn't it that the speaker couldn't get you all behind him?

LATOURETTE: Nope. Nope. Nope.

CROWLEY: You all loved that deal?

MULVANEY: I am with Steve on that. No, no. Just we weren't the ones -- look, the deal -- what's on the table right now from the White House? Not the short-term fix the president offered the other day, but the big deal that we're talking about, which you just mentioned a few seconds ago. It was a dollar in tax increases for every 80 cents of spending reductions. What happened to the three to one deal, where is the five to one deal, where is the famous ten to one deal that was so popular during the questions on the Republican primary for president? Where have those deals gone? They're gone. The president was widely documented as having said during the first round of these discussions when he said, when Boehner said, well, I put $800 billion on the table. The president said, well, I get that for free, because I won the election. That's not a negotiation. The president is not serious about preventing us from going over the cliff. Candy, think about it. What happens if we go over the cliff? We get rid of the Bush era tax cuts, which the Democrats have never liked in the first place, and we've got the military, which is the holy grail to many folks in their party. So, I don't know why we are automatically assuming the president doesn't want to go over the cliff. I believe his actions, not his words, his actions say we're going over.

CROWLEY: Has the speaker lost control of the caucus?

LATOURETTE: Well, I'll let Mick speak to this one.

MULVANEY: No, and I get asked that a lot the last couple of days. I think that the vote on Thursday is being portrayed as a vote on leadership, and it wasn't.

It was a vote on a specific piece of legislation.

CROWLEY: Well, he couldn't get it done. I mean, isn't that at least a view into his leadership?

MULVANEY: Candy, what's not very widely reported, I think, is the broad base of opposition or at least the mix of the base of opposition. There were a lot of moderates who were against the plan on Thursday night. There was a lot of conservatives who are for the plan. This was not one of those fights that divided conservatives and moderates within the party. This was a legislation-specific vote and not a vote on leadership.

LATOURETTE: Well, and then I think John Boehner, who is a pretty good friend of mine, is an institutionalist. And he reached the conclusion that when you are faced within the intransigent White House, a Senate that doesn't seem to be able to get anything done, that we should save as many people as possible. And his argument was if you have, you know, a museum's on fire, there's 100 paintings in it, you can save 99 of them. Does that mean you shouldn't go in just because you can't save the 100th painting? And that's where we found ourselves the other night, and that's why I was happy to be supportive.

But you know, the reason that John Boehner has trouble managing the House Republican conference isn't a lack of leadership. It's because we have a lot of divergent opinions, and he lets people participate, which wasn't the case in the past.

CROWLEY: Right, and he's paying the price for that at the moment, because this clearly isn't what he wanted. Let me ask you, what's the strategy now in the House? Are you just going to let it go over the cliff? Is that it?

MULVANEY: It's up to the Senate.

CROWLEY: So yes, without Senate action, the House lets it go.

MULVANEY: The Democrats control the White House, they control the Senate. Where is their plan, where is their proposal?

CROWLEY: And have you been promised by Speaker Boehner that he will not put anything out there unless the majority of the majority in the Republican -- the majority of the majority of Republicans agrees with it?

MULVANEY: I have not heard that. LATOURETTE: No, I haven't either.

CROWLEY: That's been sort of one of those unwritten rules, so that's not--

LATOURETTE: The reason that it's unwritten is because it came about during the Hastert-DeLay administration, when you had to have the majority of the majority. Boehner hasn't operated in that manner. And if there was a deal that he thought could actually pass and achieve what needs to be achieved for America, and that is the revenue side plus the spending side, he'd put that on the floor and let the House work its will. And again, that's his greatest strength, it's also his greatest weakness, because that makes it a little bit difficult to run the House from time to time.

CROWLEY: Congressman LaTourette, Congressman Mulvaney, thank you for joining me this morning. Maybe we'll see you after Christmas. MULVANEY: Merry Christmas.

CROWLEY: Thank you. 

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