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Senators Lindsey Graham and Evan Bayh on CBS' 'Face the Nation'

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MARCH 7, 2010




[*] SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," is Washington broken?


OBAMA: At stake right now is not just our ability to solve this problem, but our ability to solve any problem.


SCHIEFFER: We'll talk to Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat. He's become so disillusioned with the Senate, he's leaving, but he's still trying to find a way to ease the partisan rancor by teaming with conservative Republican Lindsey Graham, who is also here to talk about that. And we'll get the latest from both of them on the tough questions that have split Washington -- health care, what to do with terrorists, the deficit and the economy.

We'll also bring in two veteran observers of the Washington scene, Jim VandeHei of Politico and Dan Balz of the Washington Post.

Then I'll have a final thought on rumor, fear, and madness of the Internet.

But first, can Washington come together? On Face the Nation.

Good morning again. Senator Graham and Senator Bayh are with us in the studio this morning.

Senator Bayh, I must say you really did set Washington on its ear when you said you would not run for re-election basically because you said you thought the Senate had become dysfunctional. But you and Senator Graham have joined in a new effort, even though you decided not to run again, to try to ease the partisan rancor. You sent a joint letter to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell this week asking that they convene a lunch of Republican and Democratic senators once a month on a regular basis.

Senator Bayh, why did you do that? And why would that work? Why would that help?

BAYH: Well, first, Lindsey Graham is my friend. And we need more friendships across the aisle because that's ultimately how you get principled compromise enacted.

And part of this, Bob, was informed by my father's experience, where back in the day, he might have philosophical or political differences, but you still reached out and try to do the people's business. So little of that takes place because there's so little action -- interaction among senators. We have the caucus systems. The Democrats are over here. The Republicans are over here. They hardly ever meet to listen to one another. The only two times since I've been there where we've actually had a gathering of all 100 in kind of a serious setting to listen to one another was first at the time that President Clinton was impeached, didn't know how the trial was going to work; secondly immediately following 9/11. And in both of those cases, we acted more like Americans than Democrats or Republicans.

We need more of that. That's why I think this idea that Lindsey and are pushing is a good thing.

SCHIEFFER: Have you had any response, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Not that I know of. We probably should start with plastic forks and knives for the first one, just to see how this works. But he's dead right, you know. We share a locker by the gym. I get to -- I've gotten to know Evan, and when he announced he was going to leave the Senate, a lot of Republicans said, oh, boy, we can pick up Indiana. The first thing I thought of was, oh, no. Because at the end of the day, Evan has shown a willingness to reflect Indiana values, which is to find middle ground, because it's in the middle of the country.

I hope people will respond to the lunch. And I hope it will over time mean something. I know it's silly for most Americans to think this is newsworthy, but it is.

SCHIEFFER: But it does sort of emphasize how bad the situation has gotten, that you would propose this.

BAYH: It's almost tribal, Bob. And I think Lindsey is right. Most Americans probably listen to this and say, well, that's so basic, it's silly. But the caucus system really is used as an instrument of control, party control. The information that's provided very often is designed to lead to a particular result. You spend a lot of time talking about, well, my first day in the Senate, literally my first day, first caucus meeting, we were already talking about the next election. It never stops. And so if things political are constantly at the forefront of your thinking, it's difficult to make the kind of policy progress that you need.

SCHIEFFER: I want to talk about some of the issues that have really split Washington, and I think the country actually is split right down the middle on a lot of these things. And the first thing I want to talk about, I want to talk to you about it, Senator Graham.

You have been working behind the scenes with the administration in an effort to have these terrorists -- we can't decide whether to put them in civilian trials or before military tribunals. You've been working to try to convince the administration to do that. And just to show you how harsh the rhetoric is, how harsh the situation is, the fact that it has come to light that the administration may be considering putting them before military tribunals prompted this ad, not from the right, but from the political left this morning. A full page ad in the New York Times that shows President Obama somehow morphing into George Bush. And that just shows that whenever there's an issue, the people on either side, both sides, don't spare anything. It's fire all guns on all fronts politically.

GRAHAM: It used to be when the nation was at war, we were able to get along better than we are today. Remember the General Petraeus ad? That just blew me away. Joe Lieberman got run out of the Democratic Party. I'm getting a lot of grief because I do believe it's best to close Gitmo safely.

So what I've told the president is that you're now my commander in chief. Detainee policy in this war is hard, it's complicated, but we must get it right. We would be better off as a nation if we could close Gitmo safety and start a new prison that he could use, that the world would see as a better way to do business. And Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, if he's not an enemy combatant, who would be?

The president is getting unholy grief from the left, but Bob, I think we're at war. I don't believe Khalid Sheikh Mohammed robbed a liquor store. He's the mastermind of 9/11. We have used military commissions before. I'm a military lawyer. I have a lot of faith in the military legal system. I'm willing to give robust due process. There's a place for civilian court, but I will stand by my president to make rational detainee policy.

We have got 50 people at Gitmo who are too dangerous to be let go, that will never go through a normal criminal trial. Let's create a new legal system so they'll have their day in court.

SCHIEFFER: So where is this situation right now? Basically as I understand it, what you have said to the White House is, if you will agree to try these people in military tribunals--

GRAHAM: Some of them.

SCHIEFFER: Some of them. I will help you in getting the Republican votes that are needed to close Guantanamo.

GRAHAM: Right. President Bush said we needed to close Guantanamo. Senator McCain said it would be better to close it. I believe that. We need a legal system that gives due process to the detainee, but also understands they didn't rob a liquor store. We're at war, and some of this information is very sensitive and classified.

So where we are at now is can this administration reverse course on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which I think would be an act of leadership well received by the public. He's getting beat up badly from the left, but the ACLU theory of how to manage this war I think is way off base. And those who want to waterboard on the right and believe that we should keep Gitmo open forever and use any technique to get information, I think they're equally off base.

We have got to win this war within our values system, but understand that it's a war.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think, Senator Graham, that if the administration would agree to what you want to do, put them before military tribunals--

GRAHAM: These five.

SCHIEFFER: -- at least five of them, do you think you can get the Republican votes to close Guantanamo and open another facility in this country? Because that's going to require considerable amount of--

GRAHAM: I can't do it by myself. But I think if we could get Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the co-conspiracies of 9/11 back in the military commission, it would go down well with the public. But I am going to need General Petraeus, Admiral Mullen, people not in public office. I'm going to need people from the Bush administration to try to close Gitmo, to put aside partisanship, rally around this president, stand by his side and say, let's close Gitmo safely.

With that kind of help, that will reassure Americans we're making a good, logical decision, we can do the things we need to do to get--

SCHIEFFER: Are you talking to any of those people right now?

GRAHAM: I'm talking to anybody that will listen, because this is a very important issue. We will never win this war until we understand the effect that Guantanamo Bay has had on the overall war effort. And we'll never get the support of the American people if we can't prove to them that these folks that we're dealing with are not common criminals. We're going to keep you safe from them.

SCHIEFFER: What about that, Senator Bayh? How does all that strike you?

BAYH: Well, I think this dialogue you just had with Senator Graham illustrates pretty clearly, Bob, some of the problems we have with our politics today. I mean, here Lindsey is a card-carrying Republican, thoughtful guy. And yet he's trying to find some middle ground here; he gets excoriated by the far right. The president is realizing, you know, wait a minute, if I want to get some of what I want, I have got to compromise. He's getting excoriated in this ad you put on there by the far left.

Everybody has got to check their ideology at the door and try and find practical solutions. So the president, under Lindsey's proposal, would get to make some major strides forward in the war of ideas of combating global terror. John McCain would be for that. Secretary Gates would be for that. Thoughtful Republicans. And yet the American public would be reassured that we're going to try these guys in a setting that's secure, expeditious. It doesn't cost a lot of extra taxpayers' money. It's kind of a common sense thing. But both extremes rebel, and of course the public wonders what the heck are they doing up there?

SCHIEFFER: So you'd be all right with military tribunals.

BAYH: I would, under the proposal that Lindsey has outlined. I think the administration gets something, and yet the public gets reassured.

GRAHAM: Can I just add one thought? One reason it drives my train, I know how images are used against our troops in the Mideast. When you talk about waterboarding here at home, it may get some applause and make you feel good and make you feel tough, but it spreads like wildfire in the Mideast. If you're a young soldier walking the streets of Afghanistan and Iraq, you've just been put in danger. And when you talk about closing Gitmo or giving these guys constitutional rights as an American citizen and losing the fact that we're at war and reading them their Miranda rights as soon as we capture them, you lose the American people.

SCHIEFFER: All right.

BAYH: Can I just interject one thing here? The administration would probably say, well, why shouldn't we have the flexibility to decide civilian or military on a case-by-case basis? And I would say to you, Bob, in sort of an ideal world, I could accept that argument. But if they want to, you know, make progress in the war of ideas by eventually closing down Gitmo, they're going to have to give a little bit on that -- from their point of view that perfect scenario.

And that's why I think we have got to find some common ground on this thing.

SCHIEFFER: Let's talk about something elsewhere. Somebody is going to have to find some common ground. And that is health care. The president is now talking about falling back on this seldom used -- I hate the bring up this word because it's so difficult to explain -- this seldom used parliamentary device called reconciliation to get this thing through the Senate.

Bottom line of that is, you can pass things in the Senate with just a simple majority if you go the reconciliation route. You don't need the 60 votes that most legislation requires.

You said that if they try to do this by reconciliation, Senator Bayh, there will be a backlash that will result in nothing else getting done this year. Do you think they're going to use reconciliation?

BAYH: I think that will probably happen, Bob. And I'm concerned that that might ultimately be the result. I mean, Lindsey and I have talked about some of the good work he's doing in energy. There's a chance for a financial regulatory reform bill, and that kind of thing.

But I do think that -- a couple of things. And Lindsey will probably have a difference of opinion on this one. The bill that's going to come before the Senate is not the large omnibus health care bill. It is instead a corrections bill that gets out the "Cornhusker Kickback" nobody liked, the special arrangement for Florida that many states objected. It treats middle class families a little bit better on the tax side of things. So it is a -- it's not one-sixth of the American economy. It's a much smaller piece of legislation.

And secondly, my guess is that, you know, a lot of your viewers and Americans are looking at this, thinking, I don't understand all of this procedural stuff. Let's focus on the substance. And if you think that it's actually going to be better for the American people, vote for it. And if you think it's going to be harmful, don't vote for it.

And for me, it was a close call in my mind on this bill. This is not the way I would have written it. But for me it eventually came down, we need to try something. It may not be perfect, but we need to try something. If it doesn't work exactly the way we would hope, let's come back and correct it.

But to just sit here year after year letting things fester, that's not the right way to go.

GRAHAM: Well, reconciliation will be used to clean up the Senate bill to make House members happy. House members are going to vote for the Senate bill and they hate it. And the Senate and the president saying, OK, we're going to change what you don't like.

And when it comes to the Republicans, you all don't matter anymore. You just need a simple majority. So reconciliation will empower a bill that was very partisan. We've had reconciliation votes, but all of them had received bipartisan support. The least was 12 when we did reconciliation with tax cuts.

So it is taking a partisan product and making it law. And I was in the "Gang of 14." Remember the nuclear option with judges when we almost changed the rules? I was one of seven Democrats -- seven Republicans, seven Democrats who said, don't do that. Don't pull the nuclear trigger. I'm glad I was in that gang. I got the heck beat out of me. We didn't change the rules. This will be the same effect as if you had changed the rules for judges. It would be catastrophic.

SCHIEFFER: What will be -- well, let me ask you that. What will be the result of that, Senator Bayh? Do you think that there will be such -- well, maybe I should ask you, Senator Graham, will there be such a Republican backlash over this?

GRAHAM: Yes. Not one Republican will vote for the reconciliation part of this. Not one Republican voted for the Senate bill. And you are dealing with one-sixth of the economy. And they will see this the same way Democrats saw our efforts to change the rule on judges, unfair.

SCHIEFFER: So what will Republicans do?

GRAHAM: I think Evan is right. I think Republicans will stand up for the minority in the future. The minority in the Senate, if this happens, is forever changed.

BAYH: Well, I'm not in the business of offering -- I may offer my friend Lindsey a lot of advice. Usually it's not political advice.

GRAHAM: Please, please.

BAYH: But if I were in that business now, I'd say, look, if this gets passed, you know, you're going to have some complaints about it. And let's argue over that in November. That's why you have got elections. You know, do you want this or do you not want this? But don't stop all other progress for the country. We have got other major issues out there. A, it's the right thing to do for the American people. B, I think for Republicans it would run the risk of, you know, playing into this "party of no" narrative that's out there.

SCHIEFFER: But what if -- let's say that they -- one way they can slow this down, Republicans, if they choose to do it, is to offer endless amendments.

BAYH: Well, this could have an interesting end game in the United States Senate that would be the subject of -- his Alan Drury? Or, you know, one of these novels. It could be the parliamentarian is going to be called upon to decide, is there a difference between a filibuster, which you're not allowed to do, or endless amendments which would after a while sort of verge on the functional equivalent of a filibuster?

And that poor guy is going to be put on the spot. And then conceivably the vice president could be called in to decide whether the parliamentarian should be overruled or not. And I think that's all going to come down to, you know, look, are these legitimate amendments that after a period of weeks are really designed to improve the product, or are they just slowing things down?

SCHIEFFER: What would happen -- what would happen, senators, if the vice president, in an effort to end these debates, decided to overrule the parliamentarian?

BAYH: Well, that will be a very interesting moment, Bob. I assume that our friends on the Republican side will think that they've been violated. And people on our side will say, look, this should be about substance rather than form. We think it's right for the American public, and let's have a debate about that between now and then...


SCHIEFFER: ... because that may well happen?

GRAHAM: Well, it would be catastrophic for the Senate. The minority's rights would have been overcome by rank partisanship at a time when the bill itself, the process that led to it, wasn't so good.

Please don't do this -- just, please. I'll work with you to find a smaller bill that the American people feel more comfortable about. Let's do a field goal on health care. Let's done score a touchdown by ramming it down somebody's throat.

SCHIEFFER: All right. We're going to take a quick break and bring in a couple of veteran observers of Washington...


... to join the conversation in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SCHIEFFER: Back now with Senators Evan Bayh and Lindsey Graham. Joining us, two veteran observers of the Washington scene, Dan Balz of The Washington Post, Jim VandeHei, executive editor of Politico.

Dan, I was listening to these two senators just now and thinking, wouldn't it be great if the Senate, sort of, operated like these two are talking this morning?

BALZ: Well, it probably would work a lot better than it certainly works now, but I think neither of these gentlemen are free operators. They're part of a much larger system that is terribly polarized, very highly partisan, that has outside forces pushing them not to cooperate but to confront one another. And so it's very difficult for an individual senator or a couple of individual senators to overcome that.

SCHIEFFER: How did it get this way?

VANDEHEI: Well, I think part of it is most of the country is somewhere between the two of you. Most of the Congress is on the other side.

And I'd be curious from you, Senator Graham, two things -- like, one, you're one of the few Republicans, right now, who's genuinely trying to work on some of the big issues: energy, immigration, and some of the terror issues.

GRAHAM: There's some others. Corker's working on financial regulation.

VANDEHEI: But you're probably one of the most prominent. One thing: How much flak are you taking from your Republican colleagues?

Because when I talk to them, wow, you know, "Lindsey Graham's showboating," "Lindsey Graham's just trying to raise his profile."

How much flak do you take? And what happened to John McCain, who used to be like Lindsey Graham? Now he's almost indistinguishable from Mitch McConnell.

GRAHAM: Well, John McCain is the most prominent Republican in the country, and any time he speaks, people listen. And he's taking the role of basically defending against the excesses of the Obama administration on the stimulus, on health care and other things.

What I've tried to do is just continue to be me, the best I can. I can throw elbows with the best of them. But when it comes to the war, young men and women are serving overseas. We're letting them down when we fight about detainee policy and make it irrational when it should be rational.

When it comes to energy and climate, we've got a great chance to do a deal to create jobs. So I'm just going to keep being me. I get a lot of flak. The idea of closing Gitmo upsets a lot of people on our side. But I'm convinced it's the best thing for the country.


SCHIEFFER: Senator -- go ahead, Senator.

BAYH: Well, I think Jim mentioned the most important thing at the beginning when you said there -- most of the people in the country are somewhere between, you know, Lindsey and myself.

What needs to happen here ultimately is that those people who really care about practical progress, who aren't strident ideologues or partisans, need to stand up.

BAYH: And if people are behaving out here in ways that are excessively partisan or ideological, they need to make a change, so that the folks who run these kinds of ads aren't the only ones driving this debate.

VANDEHEI: The system doesn't produce those type of politicians, in the most cases because, in the House, where I got to know you in the mid-1990s, the way the redistricting process works, you essentially guarantee yourself that you're going to get a bunch of ideologues who are not representative of the country; they're representative of the extremes of both parties.

And because of the unattractiveness, sometimes, of the Senate, the governors and other folks, there's more and more House members in there. So it seems the Senate's even gotten more partisan.

BAYH: The gerrymanderers really destroyed the House. What, 50 seats, 60 seats, at most, are competitive in the general election. What's done this to the Senate -- many things -- but among them are the campaign financial rules, where you have this perpetual campaign; you're raising money all the time. And so that's one of the things.

And we've got to look at -- and it's about to get worse because of the Supreme Court decision. You can look at what's happening to Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas (inaudible) sort of, the first step in the Senate being pulled to the far left and the far right.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just ask Dan Balz this question. Do you think that part of this is simply because the president asked the country to maybe digest more than it could digest at one point?

Did he ask for too much in a short time?

BALZ: Well, I think, in retrospect, he possibly did. And, certainly, the health care battle has been a traumatic political event for the Congress and for the entire country.

Were it not for that, we might be talking about a somewhat more collegial set of discussions and negotiations on Capitol Hill than we're seeing.

But, I mean, one of the realities is that, since 1994, every election has been about whether control of one chamber or the other might happen. And when you are trying to legislate in that environment, the political forces and the political calculations take precedence over substantive discussions. SCHIEFFER: Does all of this go back to the money?

I mean, do people have to raise so much money to get here that they have to sign off with so many interest groups before they come to Washington, Senator Graham, that they can't compromise once they're here?

GRAHAM: A lot of it is you, sort of, give away your political soul to get here. You sign pledge after pledge to get the PAC funding. The next thing you know, the issue's up here that you signed a pledge on, and there's a middle ground and people raise holy hell.

But the worst is yet to come, as Evan said, with the Supreme Court case. But let's just remember this, was Ted Kennedy moderate? No. Was he effective? Yes. Was Strom Thurmond moderate? No. Was he effective? Yes.

Joe Biden spoke at Senator Thurmond's funeral. I worked with Ted Kennedy on one or two things that mattered for the country like immigration. You can be very liberal; you can be very conservative, but you also can be very effective. That's what we're losing up here, the willingness to be effective.

SCHIEFFER: I will give you the last word, Senator Bayh.

BAYH: Well, we're living at a time, Bob, where we have great challenges facing our country. And many of them are external, the economic challenges; the debt that's accumulating is unsustainable; our energy challenges that Lindsey's attempting to work on; all the wealth we're shifting abroad.

Our political process is stuck at a time when we need to be moving. And that is to the great peril of our country. And that's why let's start with the lunches. We'll look at fund-raising reform, possibly adjusting the filibuster, some of these things that will allow us to act in pragmatic ways. It's manifestly in the best interests of the country.

SCHIEFFER: Do you think it can change, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Absolutely. I'm an American. There's nothing we can't do together. And if we don't work together, there's nothing we're going to do.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you. A very interesting discussion. I'll be back in a moment with some final thoughts.


Mar 07, 2010 11:53 ET
Source: CQ Transcriptions
© 2010, Congressional Quarterly Inc., All Rights Reserved

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