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Schumer, Barrasso, Reed & Rogers on "State of the Union"

Schumer, Barrasso, Reed & Rogers on "State of the Union"

By State of the Union - February 17, 2013

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley and this is State of the Union.

Before taking his show on the road, the president laid out his agenda in front of congress. House Speaker John Boehner called it more of the same and suggested where the president could take his proposals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) OHIO: The president elects to attack congress, but if he's serious about enacting his agenda, I think it must start with part of this congress that his party controls, the United States Senate. You know, what can he get passed in the United States Senate?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining me now is the number three Democrat in the Senate, Senator Chuck Schumer out of New York for us today. Senator, thanks for joining us.

SCHUMER: Good morning.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you that question. We see the president, he wants to increase the minimum wage. He wants to do something about reducing carbon in the air, universal pre-school, immigration, guns, more money for infrastructure. You know congress. I know congress. What is reasonable to expect you will get done this year?

SCHUMER: Well, I think that there's going to be more done than most people think, and that's because...

CROWLEY: And that would be what specifically do you think will get done?

SCHUMER: Well, I think immigration has a very decent chance of getting done. We're working hard on a bipartisan proposal on guns. I think we're going to avoid sequestration, and the proposal that we've made will prevail. I think that on some of these jobs issues -- you heard Eric Cantor in a speech where he talked about the same issues that the president did. So I think you're going to find out on minimum wage, we're going to bring that to the floor this spring, and I think you're going to find we're going to get more Republican support than people think because the policy...

CROWLEY: That's different, though, than passing it as you know. There's a lot of thought that the minimum wage, which appears to be something that's not going to clear congress is this year, is more about setting up 2014 to give Democrats something to rail against Republicans on. SCHUMER: Well, it is an issue of fairness. If you work 40 hours a week, you shouldn't be way below the poverty level. The minimum wage is at a lower level than 1960, and I think that you may find some Republicans changing their minds on these issues.

What I was saying, Candy, is I think there's a sea change in our politics. The politics of obstruction, the politics of just cutting, cutting, cutting and shrinking, shrinking, shrinking, not things that are need to be cut or shrunk, but everything across the board is losing clout. And I have seen it in many areas. Our Republican colleagues are coming to the middle to meet us. We're going to have to come to the middle to meet them, too, but there will be less obstructionism.

I can't predict which issues, but I'll predict it will be a more productive congress than the last one.

CROWLEY: OK. Let me take some of these issues one by one.

First of all what, makes you think that sequestration will not take place which, boy, most people up there this week have said, yeah, it's going to happen, and that is the across-the-board spending cuts.

SCHUMER: Well, here's what I think. I think that Democrats have the high ground, both substantively and politically, and we will win on this issue.

Why?

The bottom line is very simple. The Republicans are proposing devastating cuts. They would lose 750,000

CROWLEY: But you all agreed to these across-the-board cuts.

SCHUMER: Please, I would like to finish what I'm saying here. 750,000 jobs will be lost. The economy will shrink by 6 percent, and what we've produced is very simple. It's closing loopholes. The only people who support them are the people who benefit them from them, oil and gas loopholes, the idea that businesses shouldn't get breaks by sending jobs overseas, the idea that someone who makes over $1 million should pay a higher rate than others. And whether it's right on the eve of sequestration or if god forbid it has to take effect for a few days, the devastating effects will be so strong. The president will be out there on his bully pulpit that just like on the fiscal cliff Republicans will come on board. They have no choice. Their arguments are untenable and don't meet the favor of hardly anyone other than themselves and the few whose special interests they are protecting.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to immigration simply because we now see the White House sort of drafts immigration bill, at least the skeleton of it, has been leaked out there. We know that Democrats had been saying to the White House we don't -- please don't put your proposal out there because these are very delicate negotiations. We see that Marco Rubio, who is a part of the bipartisan group that you are also with working on immigration, has said the president's plan is dead on arrival. This leak cannot help the cause on Capitol Hill.

SCHUMER: Well, look, I -- I don't know what bill the president has out there. I haven't seen it, but they did say last night when this leak occurred, and I don't know how it occurred, that it wasn't their final or complete bill. The president and those of us working on immigration are working very well. Senators Durbin, Menendez, Bennett and I met with the president Wednesday, and he agreed to give us the space we need to come up with a bipartisan proposal. And so we're working well together.

I know that Senator Rubio was upset with this leak...

CROWLEY: Are you upset?

SCHUMER: We talked to him.

No, I am not upset.

We've talked to Senator Rubio, and he's fully on board with our process. And I am very hopeful that in March we will have a bipartisan bill.

You know, it's obvious. If a Democrat, the president or anyone else puts out what they want on their own, it's going to be different than what you have a bipartisan agreement, but the only way we're going to get something done is with a bipartisan agreement.

So I'm happy with the president. He's given us the space, and I'm optimistic we can get something done.

CROWLEY: I have to move on to guns now and ask you, you're also working on a deal with -- and on a bipartisan basis. How close are you to a deal of putting bill on the floor about gun control?

SCHUMER: Well, look, we have Democrats and Republicans, some of whom are pro NRA, have been supported by the NRA and some of whom, like myself, have been opposed by the NRA sitting down trying to negotiate the sweet spot where we can get something done.

We're talking. We've made some good progress. There is still some hard issues to be resolved. Guns is a very difficult issue, but our talks continue, and we've solved a good number of the problems. We have some significant problems still to overcome. CROWLEY: What significant problems are there yet?

SCHUMER: Well, I am not going to get into the details of our negotiating publicly, but I can tell you we both made progress and have a ways to go.

CROWLEY: Do you think that there will be any kind of assault weapons ban in your bill? SCHUMER: Well, I think that certainly Senator Feinstein has championed assault weapons. And it will be voted on by the senate. Whether it's part of our bill, we've been focusing on universal background checks where I think there's a greater chance to come to a bipartisan agreement.

CROWLEY: And do you have at least within your group agreement about universal background checks, at least to include those gun shows?

SCHUMER: We are. I'm not going to get into any details. There are many issues we've resolved and some we yet haven't.

CROWLEY: And so as I understand you, you are looking at perhaps your bill and then maybe a separate vote on assault weapons which looks a lot less likely to pass, is that correct?

SCHUMER: Well, Senator Leahy is going to determine the structure as we move through judiciary committee and Senator Reid as we move to the floor.

CROWLEY: But you're going to recommend something?

SCHUMER: We are hopefully going to recommend -- I'm certainly going to recommend something. And hopefully it will be bipartisan, and hopefully it will have both those have been supported by the NRA and those who have been opposed by the NRA on it.

CROWLEY: And finally, is there a mental health component, do you think, in what your group is working on?

SCHUMER: Well, there's one of the aspects of things we have to clear up is mental health records. The mental health records is part of the NIC system are weak. Five years ago I did negotiate an improvement in that system with the NRA support, and we're continuing to work in that area to tighten it up more than it was back in 2007.

CROWLEY: Senator Chuck Schumer, thank you so much for joining me this morning.

SCHUMER: Thank you. Good to talk to you.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

Should your pediatrician be allowed to ask you if you keep a gun in the house? President Obama thinks so, but some Republican lawmakers say it's an invasion of privacy. Next up, I'll ask senator and doctor, John Barrasso.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, MAJORITY LEADER: I'm going to go call Chuck Hagel when I finish here and say I'm sorry, sorry this has happened. I'm sorry for the president. I'm sorry for the country and I'm sorry for you, but we're not going to give up on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Democrats vowing to stand by their man, even as Republicans delivered a sharp rebuke to fellow Republican Chuck Hagel this week in his bid to become Defense secretary.

Joining me now is Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming.

Senator, thanks for being here.

BARRASSO: Thank you, Candy.

CROWLEY: I went -- something caught our eye that Senator McCain said in explaining the Republican -- part of the Republican resistance to Hagel, in which he said, "It goes back to there's a lot of ill will towards Senator Hagel because, when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly, at one point said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover, said that the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam war, which is nonsense, and was very anti his own party and people. People don't forget that."

Is this a revenge vote? I mean, this seems -- I understand that people, there are a lot of Republicans who personally don't like Chuck Hagel, but is that a reason to vote against him?

BARRASSO: No, that's not a reason, Candy. The reason is that if anyone saw his testimony, it was very unsettling. It was weak and it was wobbly, and, you know, you want competence and confidence in the person that is going to be Secretary of Defense. And what we saw was a lot of confusion by this nominee.

So what we're doing is just asking for some information, a little more time to get some more of the speeches that he's given, to see what he said, because he says one thing on one day when it's popular, and then, at another time, says another thing.

The Defense Department -- this is a very, very important job. This is the number one employer of the United States, and we need to have somebody there who can manage that, do it well and give confidence to our military.

CROWLEY: Do you worry that there is a line between being the loyal opposition and being labeled as obstructionist?

And you know that that's where Democrats are going now, saying they say no to everything. This is unprecedented, et cetera, et cetera.

Do you think holding up the Hagel vote was worth it?

And do you think it was -- you know, it puts another chink in the party image?

BARRASSO: Well, this is a nomination that's being rushed through by the Democrats. The hearings were only two weeks ago. The vote in the committee was just last week. There is -- really shouldn't be a rush in something of this importance.

All we've asked is for another week; we've asked a number of questions. They have continued to obstruct -- this president said we have the most transparent administration in the history of the country.

Then why are they trying to hide and not allow us to get some information so we can vote a week from now?

CROWLEY: You sound a little bit as though you'll vote against him.

BARRASSO: I have grave reservations. I think he's been wrong about Iran, wrong about Israel, wrong in Iraq, wrong with nuclear weapons; absolutely, I plan to vote against him.

CROWLEY: So do you think that the sort of discussion that has come up and the hold or whatever you want to call it that you've put on the Hagel nomination, which we still expect to pass, do you think that harms soon-to-be -- if you agree with that -- Secretary Hagel in his dealings with Congress?

Is he less -- rendered less effective by this process?

BARRASSO: Well, I think he's going to be less effective because of the fact that the president nominated him. There were a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill that don't believe he was the best choice, and I'm sure the White House is very disturbed with how poorly he did during his confirmation hearings.

So, you know, I think it is going to impact him as he tries to limp across the finish line to get confirmed. But you -- I don't believe this is obstructionist. John Kerry just got confirmed a week or two ago for secretary of state, 96 or 97 positive votes in his favor, but the Cabinet is in chaos right now because of so many resignations, and I think we have another seven or eight to confirm.

CROWLEY: What about John Brennan then, nominated to be head of the CIA? He's had his hearings.

BARRASSO: He's had his hearings. It's not yet come up for a vote. They want to do that because there are questions by both Democrats and Republicans, questions about drones, questions about Benghazi, lots of questions both sides of the aisle, so they are not making a, you know, a kind of a political statement on him because Democrats have legitimate questions that they want answers to.

CROWLEY: What is your state of mind when it comes to a confirmation vote on Brennan?

BARRASSO: Well, I still want to review the hearing. You know, they have classified hearings and then those that are not classified. I've seen the public. I want to read some of the other information.

CROWLEY: Are you leaning one way or the other?

BARRASSO: Not at this point.

CROWLEY: How about Jack Lew, Treasury Secretary?

BARRASSO: Jack Lew, again, a long history of public service, but they have to ask and answer questions regarding his time on Wall Street, the large bonus payment that he got not too long before the big bailout of the group that he was working for on Wall Street, his investments in the Cayman Islands, for which the president criticized Mitt Romney.

So we need an administration that doesn't say, you know, do as I say, not as I do. You know, Tim Geithner, the former Treasury secretary, I voted against him because he hadn't paid his taxes. So American people deserve answers to these questions because the Treasury secretary, Candy, works not for the president or for Congress, works for the American people.

CROWLEY: I don't know if you heard Senator Schumer at the top of the show. He was talking about sequestration.

CROWLEY: He expressed the belief either on the eve of or sometime in the first two or three weeks of sequestration, if it goes into effect, those big across-the-board budget cuts, that Republicans indeed will come to the middle and agree to essentially what the Democrats have proposed, which is some cuts in farm programs as well as closing the loopholes for oil and gas companies, as well as taxing more -- the so-called Buffett tax, that no millionaire should pay less than 30 percent.

He said that your current position, Republicans' current position is untenable, given what sequestration will do.

Do you think that Republicans will go ahead and agree to some kind of cuts, and perhaps an increase in revenue for those making $1 million or more?

BARRASSO: No. Let me be very clear, and I would say this to the president as I say it to you.

These spending cuts are going to go through on March 1st. The -- their taxes are off the table. I've read the Democrat proposal that even Chuck Schumer said is just a chess piece, so the American people need to know tax cuts are off the table, and the Republican Party is not in any way going to trade spending cuts for a tax increase.

CROWLEY: So you have heard all these dire warnings, so you think Republicans are willing to walk off this particular cliff and say, no, we are not going to raise taxes in order to stop these across-the- board cuts, which will dig deeply into the Defense budget, among other things?

BARRASSO: I think there are much better ways to do these budget cuts, and I welcome that sort of discussion with the president, but the cuts are going to occur.

We're talking about 2.5 percent of what we spend this year, and this is just the first year of 10 years of cuts, so you have to be realistic about this. Families all across the country, Candy, have had their budgets cut by larger than that as a result of the economic downturn.

CROWLEY: So you don't believe all these dire warnings that, you know, it's going to -- it's going to hollow out the military, that it's going to interfere with getting onto planes, it's going stop food inspection, you don't believe any of that? BARRASSO: Well, I believe the president has a lot of authority that he can decide where this -- how this works, and, yes, he can make it very uncomfortable, which I think would be a mistake on the part of the president. But when you take a look at the total dollars, there are better ways to do this, but the cuts are going to occur.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you. The American Academy of Pediatrics has backed the idea that pediatricians certainly should or could ask their young patients' parents whether or not there's a gun in the house. The president, apparently in an executive order, said they certainly wouldn't bar that from happening.

What do you think about the general idea? You're a doctor. You've practiced -- of saying to a patient, do you have a gun in the house?

BARRASSO: Well, you know, this has been a position of the American Academy of Pediatrics for a long time. They have a number of things that they recommend, that most gun owners, responsible individuals, do in their own homes when there are children in the homes.

But there is no role, in my opinion, Candy, for the government to tell doctors what they should or should not ask the patients or the families, and I would really see a focus more if they worked on the mental health components of -- with the pediatricians than what they have to or cannot do in talking to their patients.

CROWLEY: Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, thanks for being in Washington this weekend.

BARRASSO: Thanks for having me.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

BARRASSO: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Another looming fiscal crisis promises to bring a lot of pain and, some are warning, make us less safe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Members of Congress need to understand that they were elected to protect the public, not to hurt the public.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Senator Jack Reed and Congressman Mike Rogers on what to brace for if Congress can't break the budget gridlock, next.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ASHTON CARTER, DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We'll protect to the extent we can capabilities that are critical to our new defense strategy, but the reality is we can't protect much of which is of value.

GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: It's a reduction in intelligence capability, training, reduction in our aviation training, so all of these will have an impact on providing much of the enabling support that we provide to special operations forces.

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: It will put the nation at greater risk of coercion, and it will break faith with men and women in uniform.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The nation's top military leaders raising the alarm bell before automatic budget cuts go into effect March 1st.

Joining me now, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan, thank you both so much.

It's -- we had sort of two different versions here so far on the show, and that is Senator Schumer saying oh, I think we'll get a deal, and it will include a tax on the wealthy.

And we heard Senator Barrasso say it's not going to happen. These cuts are going into effect. It is hard for me to believe that things are as dire as these military men lay out, and Congress is going to let it happen.

REED: Well, these are serious challenges to the military. Secretary Carter, General Odierno, General Dempsey all made a very compelling case before the Budget -- the Op Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee.

I don't think it has to happen. Senator Reid, Harry Reid, proposed legislation that would defer the sequestration to the next year. It would be paid for in a balanced way by additional revenue as well as additional reduction --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Tax hikes.

REED: -- spending -- indeed. And that, I think, is the way to proceed, avoiding the blunt across-the-board cuts and also giving us chance to get back into regular order, proposing a budget, doing an appropriations bill.

CROWLEY: And we should point out, that it's been the Democrats who have been in charge of the Senate, who haven't come up with a budget for the last four years, so that's why we haven't had a regular one.

(CROSSTALK)

REED: (Inaudible) budget. We had the Budget Control Act of 2011, which set the caps, which is actually statutory, not just a resolution between the two houses. Senator Murray is working on a budget right now and we hope we can get that done. But we need time. So the sequestration will prevent -- preempt us from getting a budget done and other factors.

CROWLEY: It's kind of always -- it's kind of always that you guys need more time and that -- can we put it off until next year. And I guess what's -- to me it's a little bit like the fiscal cliff only now it involves the military, and these men saying, oh, well, you know, we'll -- we won't be able to do this, and the force will be hollowed out, et cetera, et cetera.

CROWLEY: Answer me this: if these cuts not just go into effect but are allowed to stay in effect -- let's say nothing gets done even after that March 1st deadline, will the U.S. be less safe as a result of these across-the-board cuts?

ROGERS: A couple of things. First of all, the president lined this up in a way that put us in this problem by calling for across- the-boards cuts in the military and in intelligence business. That's dangerous. It means that they can't manage --

CROWLEY: Can I just say you all agreed to it?

ROGERS: Well, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: (Inaudible), OK.

ROGERS: But this was the proposal by the president. So some notion that it has been shifted to the Republicans, I want to see a way out of this for the simple reason that when you have that across- the-board cut, it is damaging to our national security and our national defense, for the simple reason that they can't manage the reductions in spending.

I argue the best way to go through this sequester -- and I do believe we're going to go into this -- is give the agencies the ability to manage those reductions, so that they can move money around without across-the-board cuts, because it could mean things like the second carrier group doesn't show up in the Med. It means that some thousands of intelligence professionals --

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: So take the overall number and then allow the various departments to say, OK, you're going to -- this program goes away but that saves this program, et cetera?

(CROSSTALK)

REED: But I think there's another aspect here, too, is that even if you are -- give flexibility, you still have significant reduction. It's not just defense. It's education, it's border security.

CROWLEY: Sure. REED: Et cetera, so there's a better try do this, and that's the way we propose by simply arithmetic. If it it's all cuts, then it's going to be very, very difficult. That's why I think you need additional revenue.

CROWLEY: Senator McConnell called it a political stunt, the Democrats' proposal, because it includes that millionaires' tax -- which, frankly, I don't know how many votes you all have had in the Senate on the millionaires' tax, but it never passes.

REED: It's something I think that most Americans would be extremely supportive of. It would essentially say people making over $1 million would be paying roughly the same rate as those middle class Americans who are working very hard. That's fair, and it also will allow us --

CROWLEY: But they also just got a tax hike as well though.

(CROSSTALK)

REED: For $1 million and above, it would preserve the charitable deductions.

ROGERS: The challenge here, though, is the president made the argument that everything will be fine if we get the wealthier to pay more in taxes. He got that. You can't get that and then come right back and say, well, the wealthier need to pay more in taxes.

So he's gone after seniors that are doing better. Now he's going after Americans who have -- who are doing better in the economy. He got that.

Now he's coming back and saying if I spend -- if you -- if I can tax more -- and then he proposed in his State of the Union address more spending -- and the problem here is, Candy, the greatest threat to our national security is the debt and the deficit long term.

That's why those of us who are very interested in national security, trying to get this right, trying to make sure we posture ourselves, put ourselves in a position to defend the country, are so worried about the debt and deficit debate.

We can get through this. We can do it in a way, I think, that is respectful to what America's priorities are, but you have to do it in a way that doesn't hurt us long term.

REED: I think it's important, though, to say that we've had about $2.4 trillion in cuts from the approved baseline; $1.7 trillion of those are spending cuts, $700 billion are revenue.

Unless we get back to a more balanced approach, we're going to -- we can't cut our way to national security. We can't cut our way to investing in education, research and development. We just have to get back to a balance, and I think the American people understand that.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you -- I want to just ask you a quick question about Chuck Hagel and the problems that he's had getting his nomination through, and that is a strictly political question.

The president knew going in that this would be a tough fight for him, that Chuck Hagel is not the most popular guy on capitol hill. Do you think that the president -- and yes, he liked Chuck Hagel and his work with him, et cetera, also did this because they would rather have a Republican do these kind of cuts to the Pentagon than a Democrat?

ROGERS: Boy, I don't think that was his -- he worked for something called a PIAB (ph), which was in the national security space at the White House, Chuck Hagel did, for some period of time. I think he built a relationship with the president.

He is a Vietnam veteran, a decorated Vietnam veteran at that, and I think that's why the president selected him.

The problem was, I think the Senate now -- and certainly Senator Reed can talk to this better than I can -- are having some difficulty, both sides of the aisle, seeing if he is able and ready to lead the Pentagon in what's some very difficult times ahead.

REED: I think Mike is exactly right about why he was chosen. He's got the experience; not only is a combat veteran, but as a business leader, as the second deputy head of V.A. in the Reagan administration. And he's got the confidence of the president.

So I don't think this was designed to provoke a fight. I think, in fact, what's happened is a very unusual, unprecedented review, asking for speeches, asked -- going back five years, asking for all sorts of material we've never requested of a confirmation before.

We're -- I'm confident we're going to get the confirmation concluded when we return at the end of the week.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: Yes .

I need a sort of a quick yes or no from you, as the question about drones and the use of them targeting Americans overseas. Al- Awlaki, known terrorist but an American citizen, as well as his son were killed. You have talked about oversight. You think there's plenty of oversight for this drone program.

Were you told in advance of those two killings?

ROGERS: For the planning purposes of airstrikes against terrorist and enemy combatants overseas? Yes.

CROWLEY: These specific men?

ROGERS: If they're -- if people make the target list, we know that in advance. There's appropriate oversight. And then how we target those individuals changes from day to day. But airstrikes are certainly a part that have.

CROWLEY: Congressman Rogers, Senator Reed, thanks for joining us this morning.

REED: Thank you very much. 

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