A GOP Senator Looks for the Way Forward

Melissa Block talks with Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) about working with the Senate's new Democratic leadership.

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Along with the rest of his Republican colleagues, Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman is going from the majority to the minority. When I spoke with him earlier today, he said he is hopeful that the current spirit of bipartisanship in Washington will last more than a few days.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): I'm an optimist. I think there are great possibilities now. I hope the message of this last election -obviously great angst over Iraq, concern about corruption, which also ties into do the people's business. And so I think there's an opportunity now for us to do the people's business and to do that, certainly in the Senate, it requires a bipartisan spirit because you've got to get to 60. So let us see the rhetoric and the spirit we have now convert into action when we get back to serious work, certainly in January.

BLOCK: Well, let's talk about some of the things that will be coming up likely before that, and one is the confirmation of John Bolton, who's now serving as a recess appointee as ambassador to the United Nations. A lot of Democrats saying they are just not going to be able to vote for John Bolton to keep that job. Should the president, do you think, drop this nomination?

Senator COLEMAN: Well, I think it's unfortunate - I don't think he should drop it. He may not have a choice. In other words, it simply may not get through the Senate. It can be blocked. Again, in the Senate you need 60. You know, that's one of the first shots against working in a bipartisan way. John Bolton is doing the job that needs to be done. We got resolution from the U.N. Security Council dealing with North Korea. It was unprecedented. These are critical times with the prospect of Ahmadinejad in Iran having a nuclear weapon.

If the rhetoric about working in a bipartisan spirit is real, I would hope my colleagues on the other side would start by saying okay, we know that John Bolton is the president's appointee. He's there. You know, give him a vote in the Senate. Even if folks vote against it, give him a vote.

The problem is that he may never get a vote. It's not a matter of the president pushing it forward. I think it's a matter of the other side saying okay, we will work in a bipartisan spirit and one of the things we'll do is we'll confirm the guy that's been doing the job.

BLOCK: If John Bolton does get a vote, do you think he would be approved?

Senator COLEMAN: Oh, I have no doubt that he'd have a majority of votes in the Senate. None whatsoever. And I believe there would hopefully be some Democrats, I presume, voting with him.

BLOCK: There seems to be a growing chorus of Republicans who are looking at what happened this week and saying if President Bush had arranged to have Donald Rumsfeld leave from the Pentagon before the election that the results may have been very different for Republicans. Do you share that view?

Senator COLEMAN: Well, actually I do and I've been one who said why wasn't it done beforehand? And the reason I say that is one, obviously there were a lot of close races out there. A number of them. Virginia, Montana. I think the reason it might have had an impact because it would have said to - more Americans would have said to Washington, I'm listening. I mean one of the problems that we have in Iraq and I think a problem the president faces is folks say you're not listening and clearly, on Election Day, you get a chance to measure how much people want to be listened to.

BLOCK: So you think if that change had been made earlier that you might not be in the minority party come January?

Senator COLEMEN: I think it would be fair to say that. The only reason I say it, it wouldn't have changed the overall, you know, results of, you know, what happened in the House, for instance. But in the Senate, where you had a number of very close races, very, very close races, I think it would be fair to say it could have had an impact. You know listen, only the good Lord knows, but when you have a number of races that were decided, you know, by a hair, just the simple action of saying I hear the voices of concern. I'm willing to move forward. I think, you know, one could clearly argue that that could have had an impact.

BLOCK: Senator Coleman, thanks very much.

Senator COLEMAN: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLOCK: That's Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

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