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Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh; Jon Kyl to Replace McCain in Senate. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 4, 2018 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00] TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: And he does this repeatedly without any sort of -- without any care or a concern about what that could lead to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John, it's one of the most striking things when you read the book how the word alarmed is used, exasperated, and how there example after example of his lack of understanding of substance no matter how many times that times they wake him through it. There was an intervention in the book where they take him over at the Defense Department and they go into the tank and they try to explain to him why having troops in South Korea is important. They go all around the table. At the end of it, he says he wants to pull them all out. So there's this true concern about his intellectual ability throughout the book.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And his curiosity. One more point I want to make before we get back to the confirmation hearing, sneak in a break. This is about -- again, the reporting -- some of this reporting is done months ago, but apply it to the current situation. The president has been attacking his attorney general yet again, questioning the justices for persecuting two Republican Congressmen accused of horrible corruption.

Listen to this. This guy is mentally retarded, I'm sorry to use the word, but I'm quoting from a book here. "This guy is mentally retarded", Trump said of Sessions. "He's the dumb southerner", Trump told Porter, mocking Sessions by feigning a southern accent. And Trump demeaned former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to his face. "Rudy, you're a baby." Trump told the man who is now his lead attorney.

"I've never seen a worse defense of me in my life. They took your diaper off right there. You look like a little baby that needed to be changed. When are you going to be a man?"

This is the president of the United States talking about or talking to -- you can have disagreements with people but these are accomplished professionals and public servants, and that's the president of the United States.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, I'm going to be interested to hear of the reaction from some members, particularly southern members when they hear -- and friends of Jeff Sessions and the base. Yes, its no doubt but people who hear that -- how he demeaned Sessions. And again, you can't dismiss this reporting, the way that the White House has done with other critical narratives about this. This is a very accomplished, seasoned veteran reporter with recordings about this. We'll see how people react.

KING: And we've seen the pushback from the attorney general in recent days. One suspects he is one more -- one suspected he is aware of these kinds of things, that he knows this, which is why you have seen a rather remarkable statement from the attorney general.

Take us inside the White House. You guys cover it full time every day. Number one, if you're John Kelly, you still work there. You know, Gary Cohn is gone. Reince Priebus is gone. Rob Porter is gone.

But this is going make the president of the United States thermo.

PARTI: He has been one more --

KING: I'm sorry, I need to stop you. Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, speaking at the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing. Let's take you back to Capitol Hill.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: -- that is the world that is Washington in 2018.

I want to discuss what this hearing is about and what it's not about. First, this hearing is not about the qualifications of the nominee. Judge Kavanaugh is by any objective measure, unquestionably qualified for the Supreme Court. Everyone agrees he's one of the most respected federal judges in the country. He has impeccable academic credentials, even if you did go to Yale.

And you served over a decade on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, often referred to as the second highest court in the land. So our Democratic colleagues are not trying to make the argument that Judge Kavanaugh is not qualified. Indeed, I haven't heard anyone even attempt to make that argument.

Second, this hearing is not about his judicial record. Judge Kavanaugh has over 300 published opinions, which altogether amount to over 10,000 pages issued in his role as a federal appellate judge. Everyone agrees a judge's record is by far the most important indicium of what kind of justice that nominee will be. And tellingly, we've heard very little today from Democratic senators about the actual substance of Judge Kavanaugh's judicial record.

Third, it's important to understand today is also not about documents. We've heard a lot of arguments this morning about documents. There's an old saying for trial lawyers. If you have the facts, pound the facts. If you have the law, pound the law. If you have neither, pound the table.

We're seeing a lot of table pounding this morning. The Democrats are focused on procedural issues because they don't have substantive points strong enough to derail this nomination. They don't have substantive criticism with Judge Kavanaugh's actual judicial record, so they're trying to divert everyone with procedural issues. But let's talk about the documents for a moment. The claims that the Democrats are putting forward on documents don't withstand any serious scrutiny.

[12:35:00] Judge Kavanaugh has produced 511,948 pages of documents. That includes more than 17,000 pages in direct response to this committee's written questionnaire, which is the most comprehensive response ever submitted to this committee. The more than a half million pages of documents turned into this committee is more than the number of pages we've received for the last five Supreme Court nominees combined.

Listen to that fact again. The over half million documents turned over to this committee is more than the last five nominees submitted to this committee combined. So what's all the fuss over the documents that are not turned over? Most of those concern Judge Kavanaugh's three years as the staff secretary for President George W. Bush.

Now, many people don't know what a staff secretary does. But that's the position in charge of all of the paper that comes into and out of the Oval Office. Critically, the staff secretary is not the author of the paper coming into and out of the Oval Office. That paper is typically written by the attorney general, by the secretary of state, by other cabinet members, by other senior White House officials. The staff secretary is simply the funnel for collecting their views and then for transferring the paper back and forth.

In other words, those documents written by other people say nothing, zero, about Judge Kavanaugh's views, and they say nothing, zero, about what kind of justice Judge Kavanaugh would make. But they are, by necessity, the most sensitive and confidential documents in a White House. They are the documents that are going to the president. This is the advice and deliberations of the president at the senior level and the staff secretary is the conduit for those documents.

So why is it that the Democrats are putting so much energy in saying hand over all of those documents? Because they know, they know beyond a shadow of doubt that President George W. Bush's White House team is not going to allow every piece of paper that went to the president to be made public any more than any other White House would. Republican or Democrat, no White House would allow every piece of paper that went to and from the president to be made public. Indeed, there are rules and laws and procedures for when and how presidential papers become public.

And the reason the Democrats are fighting so loudly on this issue is they're making a demand they know is impossible to meet, and by the way is utterly irrelevant to what actually Judge Kavanaugh thinks, believes, or has said. It would open up all sorts of phishing expeditions to attack, re-litigate George W. Bush's record as president and what various cabinet members and senior advisers might or might not have said. But it is at the end of the day simply an attempt to distract and delay. And indeed, the multiple notions we've seen from Democrats, delay this confirmation, delay this confirmation, that reveals the whole joke. Their objective is delay. So what is this fight about. It's not about documents, it's not about Judge Kavanaugh's credentials, if it's not about his judicial record, what is this fight about? I believe this fight is nothing more and nothing less than an attempt by our Democratic colleagues to re- litigate the 2016 presidential election. 2016 was a hard-fought election all around. And it was the first presidential election in 60 years where Americans went to the polls with a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. One that the next president would fill.

Americans knew who had been in that seat, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the greatest jurists ever to sit on the Supreme Court. And it was the first time since President Dwight D. Eisenhower's re- election campaign that a Supreme Court seat was directly on the ballot.

Both candidates knew the importance of the vacant Supreme Court seat and it was a major issue of contention in the presidential election. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were both clear about what kind of justices and judges they would appoint. During all three presidential debates, both candidates were asked, what qualities were most important to them when selecting a Supreme Court justice?

Secretary Clinton's answer was clear. She wanted a Supreme Court justice who would be a liberal progressive, willing to rewrite the U.S. constitution, willing to impose liberal policy agendas that she could not get through the Democratic process, that the Congress of the United States would not adopt, but that she hoped five unelected lawyers would force on the American people. That's what Hillary Clinton promised for her judicial nominees.

Then candidate Donald Trump gave a very different answer. He said he was looking to appoint judges in the mold of Justice Scalia.

[12:40:03] He said he wanted to appoint judges who would interpret the constitution based on its original public meeting, who would interpret the statutes according to the text and who would uphold the rule of law and treat parties fairly regardless of who they are or where they come from. Then candidate Donald Trump also did something that no presidential candidate has done before. He published a list of nominees that he would choose from when filling Justice Scalia's seat, providing unprecedented transparency to the American people.

All of this was laid before the American people as they went to the polls on November 8, 2016. And the American people made a choice that night.

Now my Democratic colleagues are not happy with the choice the American people made. But as President Obama famously said, elections have consequences. Because the American people had the chance to vote, a national referendum on the direction of the Supreme Court. I've said a number of times that Justice Gorsuch's nomination and Judge Kavanaugh's nomination have almost a super legitimacy in that they were ratified, they were decided by the American people in a direct vote in 2016.

And so the Democratic obstruction today is all about trying to reverse that election. They're unhappy with the choice the American people want. And there's a reason that the American people want strong constitutionalists on the U.S. Supreme Court. Most Americans, and I know the overwhelming majority of Texans, want judges who will follow the law and will not impose their policy preferences on the rest of us and who will be faithful to the constitution and the bill of rights. Justices who will uphold fundamental liberties like free speech, like religious liberty, like the Second Amendment.

That's what this election was about, and if you look at each of these, let's take free speech. It's worth noting that in 2014, every Democratic member of this committee voted to amend the United States constitution, to repeal the free speech provisions of the First Amendment. And sadly, every Democrat in the Senate agreed with that position. Voting to give Congress unprecedented power to regulate political speech. It was a sad day for this institution.

Years earlier, Ted Kennedy, the great liberal lion had opposed a similar effort. And Ted Kennedy had said we haven't amended the bill of rights in over 200 years, now is no time to start. Ted Kennedy was right then and not a single Democrat in the U.S. Senate had the courage to agree with Ted Kennedy and support free speech. Indeed, they voted party line to repeal the free speech provisions of the First Amendment.

That is radical. That is extreme. And it's part of the reason American people voted for a president who would put justices on the court who will protect our free speech.

How about religious liberty? Religious liberty is another fundamental protection. That the Democrats in the Senate have gotten extreme and radical on. Indeed, our Democratic colleagues want justices who will rubber stamp efforts like the Obama administration's efforts litigating against the Little Sisters of the Poor, litigating against Catholic nuns trying to force them to pay for abortion inducing drugs and others.

That is a radical and extreme proposition. And to show just how dramatic Senate Democrats have gotten, every single Senate Democrat just a few years ago voted to gut the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Legislation that passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1993, was signed into law by Bill Clinton, and yet two decades later, the Democratic Party has determined that religious freedom is inconvenient for their policy and political objectives. They want justices that will further that assault on religious liberty.

And finally, let's take the Second Amendment. The presidential debates, Hillary Clinton explicitly promised to nominate justices who would overturn Heller versus District of Columbia. Heller is the landmark decision issued by Justice Scalia, likely the most significant decision of his entire tenure on the bench, and it upheld the individual right to keep and bear arms.

Now Hillary Clinton was quite explicit, she wanted judges who would vote to overturn Heller. And indeed a number of our Democratic colleagues, that's what they want as well. Overturning Heller, I believe, would be a truly radical proposition. To understand why, you have to understand what the four dissenters said in Heller.

The four dissenters in Heller said that the Second Amendment protects no individual right to keep and bear arms whatsoever. That it protects merely a collective right of the militia.

[12:45:01] The consequence of that radical proposition would mean that Congress could pass a law making it a felony, a criminal offense for any American to own any firearm. And neither you nor I nor any American would have any individual right whatsoever under the Second Amendment. It would effectively erase the Second Amendment from the bill of rights.

That is a breathtakingly extreme proposition. It is what Hillary Clinton promised her justices would do. And at the end of the day, it's what this fight is about.

We know that every Democratic member of this committee is going to vote no. We don't have to speculate. Every single one of them has publicly announced they're voting no.

Doesn't depend on what they read in documents. Doesn't depend on what Judge Kavanaugh says at this hearing. They've announced ahead of time they are voting no, and most of the Democrats in the Senate have announced that in the full Senate. But everyone should understand Judge Kavanaugh has handed over more documents than any nominee, more than the last five combined, Republican and Democratic nominees.

This is not about documents. It's not about qualification. It's not about record. What it is about is politics. It is about Democratic senators trying to re-litigate the 2016 election, and just as importantly, working to begin litigating the 2020 presidential election.

But we had an opportunity for the American people to speak. They did. They voted in 2016, and they wanted judges and justices who will be faithful to the constitution. That's why I'm confident at the end of what Shakespeare would describe as a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, I am confident that Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh and will be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: We're going to take a break now. And -- wait a minute.

KING: Let's listen to the chairman.

GRASSLEY: We're going to take a break now, and 30 minutes is what the Democrats would like to have, so we will return at 1:17. And Gorsuch returned about 10 minutes later than that, so be on time, please.

KING: The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley announcing here a 30-minute break in the proceedings. Judge Brett Kavanaugh, you see him standing up there, President Trump's nominee, second nominee for the Supreme Court. This has been a contentious hearing all day long in this day of dramatic breaking news. We have some more for you. This breaking news coming out of Arizona. CNN confirming now that the former Senator Jon Kyl will replace the late John McCain in the United States Senate. That news first reported by the Arizona Republic. McCain's widow Cindy tweeting kind words for Senator Kyl just moments ago.

Jon Kyl is a dear friend of mine. And Jon, it's a great tribute to John that he's prepared to go back into public service to help the state of Arizona."

We should note that former Senator Kyl was acting as the Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh sherpa, meaning his guide up on Capitol Hill, helping him navigate the confirmation process. Jon Kyl, once he is sworn into the United States Senate, will now get a vote on the Kavanaugh nomination.

Remarkable news. I suspect the happiest person in town is Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. Kyl was once his deputy in the Senate Republican leadership. There was a question, would you get a Tea Party guy out of Arizona? Would you get somebody unpredictable out of Arizona?

Senator McConnell must be happy. Today, as Jon Kyl comes back, the Arizona state of law, the special election is in 2020 so it's a two- year plus tenure.

RAJU: Yes. And Kyl is someone who's respected. He's had relationships on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives are going to be very happy about this because he's a reliable conservative vote.

And yes, McConnell undoubtedly happy. He's been a trusted loyal adviser for a very long time to Senator McConnell. McConnell is one who recommended it he be the sherpa for Brett Kavanaugh.

So undoubtedly good news. And also underscores the fact that the Republicans can now lose two votes in the Kavanaugh nomination. Before with McCain's illness, they could lose one with his absence. But now two that gives them an extra buffer to confirm Kavanaugh.

KING: Important math for Senate Republicans on the Supreme Court issue and on other issues. Again, Jon Kyl, a former Arizona Republican senator who have retired, coming back to complete two more years of John McCain, the late John McCain's term. A key deputy to Mitch McConnell will be returning to the Senate.

We'll work on the timing of all that as we continue to follow the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomina -- confirmation hearings. We should say they're in a quick 30-minute break. We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:59:21] KING: Welcome back. Live pictures there of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room. A 30-minute break in the confirmation hearing of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be Justice Brett Kavanaugh. They resume about 20 minutes from now. Joan, the hearing comes back, still some opening statements. But the judge actually gets to speak today. There's been a lot of drama, a lot of contention, a lot of politics.

If you're Brett Kavanaugh, you've been listening to this all day. Democrats say the process is flawed. You're unqualified. We don't like or trust the president who nominated you. What's his test when he gets a chance to speak?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. He's going to present himself as someone who's a team player, both trying to build consensus there in that room. Trying to warm himself up a little bit to the Democrats.

[12:55:01] And then he's going to talk about building consensus on the Supreme Court, being part of a team of nine. He's going to want to try to seem as moderate, as humble, as non-threatening to individual rights as possible.

RAJU: And the Democrats hope that he's seen as evasive when he's not getting pinned down on these questions. How will that change the math if it all?

KING: It has been a dizzying day of breaking news up on Capitol Hill with the confirmation hearing. New details from the Bob Woodward book.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. As we go through all this, Wolf picks up our coverage after a very quick break. Enjoy your afternoon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington.