John McCain on Filibuster Deal

Steve Inskeep talks with Sen. John McCain. The Republican from Arizona was one of the 14 senators from both parties that helped craft the compromise reached Monday night on Senate judicial filibusters.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And joining us next is Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Senator, good morning.

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, what do you think the long-term implications are?

Sen. McCAIN: I think the long-term implications of the Senate is that we will now get back to an agenda of doing the people's business and not getting gridlocked as we would have if we'd have passed this nuclear option. And I believe that we have preserved the rights of the minority in the Senate, and I'm concerned about that because I'm afraid that some day we'll have a Democrat majority, and I think that the country will be better served because we'll move forward on issues such as an energy bill, a highway bill and others that would have been stalled because of this. So I feel the long-term implications are that if this succeeds, then perhaps we will see other coalitions, not necessarily this one but other coalitions, that will join together and try to work for the good of the country. I don't believe that of the 14 of us that any of us had any other ambition than to try to prevent the Senate from going over a precipice.

INSKEEP: Now as we heard in Brian Naylor's report, there are some conservative activists especially who are being very critical of your role. James Dobson of Focus on the Family described this as a bailout, a betrayal by a cabal of Republicans. What do you have to say to that?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, I also heard that the far left--a number of organizations are very unhappy because they're going to see three of their most disliked judges confirmed probably this week. So I fully expected the far left and the far right to be very angry. They've got a great deal invested in here, including a great deal of fund raising that's going to go by the wayside. So I certainly understand why...

INSKEEP: Although...

Sen. McCAIN: ...they're very angry.

INSKEEP: ...when you listen to the remarks of the Republican and Democratic leaders, you do get the impression that perhaps the Democrats are a little bit happier in this situation.

Sen. McCAIN: Oh, I think they're just acting happier. Do you think they're happy that the prior--Brown and Owens are going to be approved very quickly by the United States Senate? Do you think that they are happy about the fact that filibusters will only be agreed to in the most extraordinary circumstances? They may be doing a little better at spinning, but the fact is that the Democrats abused the judicial filibuster and they're not going to do that anymore, and it's based on good faith between seven Republicans and seven Democrats. And I believe that the Democrats in this agreement will hold to it, that they would only filibuster in extraordinary circumstances. And we'll know what extraordinary circumstances are.

INSKEEP: What will this mean if and when President Bush makes a nomination to the Supreme Court?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, I'm confident the president will send over an acceptable nominee, maybe not one that's universally greeted with glee by, perhaps, the Democrats but one that's acceptable and that we'll move forward with the confirmation process. I have every expectation of that.

INSKEEP: And if that happens during this Congress, Democrats will be allowed to filibuster and enough Republicans have agreed that they won't take away that right, correct?

Sen. McCAIN: Unless it's extraordinary circumstances--if it's extraordinary circumstances. If not, the Democrats have agreed they will not filibuster. They will not filibuster the nominee unless there's extraordinary circumstances. That's what they've agreed to.

INSKEEP: And just very briefly, Senator McCain, you alluded to fund raising on one side of this...

Sen. McCAIN: On both sides.

INSKEEP: On both sides.

Sen. McCAIN: Yeah.

INSKEEP: Was this, in some sense, a game, a method by which each party could fire up its activists, but in the end, an accommodation was going to be reached and maybe people knew that?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, I'll tell you the 14 of us didn't know it when we walked into the room last night before we made this agreement. It was by no means clear. In fact, we were--it was our last chance. So I'll tell you, the 14 of us didn't know that there was any game being played, but, look, the problem is that this country is polarized. And a poll yesterday of--58 percent of the American people say that we're behaving like spoiled children. The American people want us to do the work they send us here to do, and they're very dissatisfied. The approval rating of Congress is at an all-time low, lowest since 1994. So I think it's going to be fine, and I think...

INSKEEP: Senator...

Sen. McCAIN: ...we're going to act in a better fashion.

INSKEEP: That's Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. He's one of 14 senators from both parties who forced a compromise over President Bush's judicial nominees.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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