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Senators-elect Plan for Upcoming Congressional Session

November 10, 2006 at 6:05 PM EST
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MARGARET WARNER: And joining us first is Democratic Senator-elect Ben Cardin of Maryland. He’s currently the congressman from Baltimore. Mr. Cardin defeated Maryland’s lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, to replace retiring Democratic Senator Paul Sarbanes.

And welcome, Congressman, soon-to-be Senator Cardin. Congratulations.

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN (D), Maryland: Well, thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the word this week in Washington from the president and the new Democratic leadership has been bipartisanship. What do you think it’s going to take for this very divided Senate to work together?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Well, I think we heard this from the voters all over Maryland and across the nation. They want us to work together to solve the problems of this country.

So we’re not going to get anything major done unless we work across the party line, and start listening to each other and developing legislation that addresses the problem of health care, and the environment, and energy. I think we can get it done, but we’re going to have to be very patient and listen to each other.

MARGARET WARNER: And how much do you think that the president will also have to compromise with the Democratic leadership to get something done?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Well, clearly the president is going to need to work with the leadership and Congress. It’s not going to be the president’s agenda; it’s not going to be the Democrats’ and Congress’ agenda. It’s going to have to be working together to deal with the problems.

For example, energy independence. We all know that we want this nation to become energy independent. Democrats and Republicans want that. The president stated it in his State of the Union address last year. That’s an area where I would hope that we could work with the White House and get something done.

The Democrats take on Iraq

Ben Cardin
Senator-elect (D), Md.
I think the majority of the members of the new Congress are going to want a new course in Iraq.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let's take Iraq. The campaign ads certainly presented caricatures of both parties positions, "stay the course" or "cut and run." But from what you've heard from Republican, Republican senators you already know, how far apart do you really think you all are on what to do about Iraq?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Well, I think the majority of the members of the new Congress are going to want a new course in Iraq. We're in the middle of a civil war. I think they're going to want to see us develop a plan in which our troops can start coming home, the Iraqis start standing up for their own defense, and we engage the international community with diplomacy and a political solution to the civil war in Iraq.

So I think there's a growing consensus, not just among the public, but among members of Congress. The difficulty, I think, will be working with the White House, which is pretty firm in its position.

MARGARET WARNER: The president did say yesterday that he was open to all ideas, yet Tuesday he defined victory, which he said he still wanted to achieve, as an Iraqi government that could defend itself and sustain itself before U.S. troops would come home. Now, is that kind of a goal something that Democrats could support?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. We want Iraq to be a stable country. I just don't believe that staying the course or waiting it out is the right answer for a stable Iraq and for us accomplishing our objectives in Iraq.

I think we need to be more aggressive in engaging the international community, negotiating a cease-fire with the conflicting militias in Iraq. I think we've got to look for new strategies. The current troop levels are just not getting the job done. I think we need to start to bring some of our troops home.

MARGARET WARNER: So even before this self-sustaining Iraqi government's in place, you would begin to bring troops home?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Well, I would do that in conjunction with engaging the international community for a political solution to the circumstances in Iraq. We need to negotiate a cease-fire with the militia.

And I think we can work with the White House, as long as they are prepared to say, "Look, we just can't continue to stay the course and wait it out." We're not accomplishing our objectives in Iraq by doing that.

Working together, past politics

Ben Cardin
Senator-elect (D), Md.
I think there's Democrats and Republicans who are prepared to work together to move forward in Iraq, move forward in health care, move forward in energy, the budget deficit, education. We can get things done.

MARGARET WARNER: You have such -- you Democrats are going to have such a narrow majority in the Senate, just two votes. And you also have -- some of your newer members and a few of your older members, quite conservative.

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Right.

MARGARET WARNER: Is it fair to say that you're going to have to come up with things that find quite a few Republican votes or the president to be able to get something done?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: Oh, absolutely. Neither party should try govern just among its own members. We should be reaching broader consensus on legislation.

The Democrats have the responsibility to come up with the agenda in Congress as to how bills will be considered, but we have a responsibility to make sure that all members of the United States Senate and the Congress who want to be involved in preparing legislation are involved.

Let the committees work. Let them function the way they're intended to function. And I think, if we do that, we're going to get better results, and the Democrats can claim victory and the president can claim victory, and that's what we should do, because it will be a victory for the American people.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, there is -- some cynics would say, are saying that, you know, 2008 politics is going to take over pretty quickly and that both sides are going to be positioning themselves for 2008 pretty quickly, and that is going to make it very difficult to cooperate and get something done. Do you think that's likely?

SENATOR-ELECT BEN CARDIN: I haven't even been sworn in as a senator, and we're already talking about the next elections. We're always looking at a new election in the United States. Every two years we have elections.

We have plenty of time to get the people's business done. I can tell you that those of us who ran for office, we want to get things accomplished now. And I think there's Democrats and Republicans who are prepared to work together to move forward in Iraq, move forward in health care, move forward in energy, the budget deficit, education. We can get things done.

MARGARET WARNER: Democratic Senator-elect Ben Cardin, thank you.

Creating policy with the Democrats

Bob Corker
Senator-elect (R), Tenn.
My job is to represent the state of Tennessee and to solve the problems that we have at the national level...On the things that we agree with the White House, we'll agree with them all. The things we disagree with, we'll disagree with.

MARGARET WARNER: And now we turn to Republican Bob Corker of Tennessee, the former mayor of Chattanooga. Corker defeated Democratic Congressman Harold Ford to replace Senator Bill Frist, who is retiring.

And Senator-to-be Corker, welcome, and congratulations.

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER (R), Tennessee: Thank you. I'm glad to be with you and look forward to joining you in Washington.

MARGARET WARNER: Terrific. Let's start with the same theme, bipartisanship. I know you will be a newcomer to Washington. But what do you think it will take for a very closely divided Senate, albeit one led by Democrats, to work together?

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: Obviously, a lot of effort to do that. That's what our country wants. That's what Tennesseans want. As a matter of fact, what the whole country is looking for is results.

We have a lot of unaddressed issues that need to be dealt with. I look forward to working with my Republican colleagues and Democratic colleagues in the Senate to make good things happen for our country.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how independent will Republican senators like yourself, or will just you yourself, be from the White House, from President Bush? I mean, do you regard part of your job to support the president or are you going to be charting your own course if they diverge?

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: You know, my job is to represent the state of Tennessee and to solve the problems that we have at the national level. And, you know, on the things that we agree with the White House, we'll agree with them all. The things we disagree with, we'll disagree with.

But my job is to really solve the problems that the people here in Tennessee elected me to solve, and that relates to everything from energy independence, to health care issues, to immigration, to making sure that we live within our means. There are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with, and I plan on working with all involved to make those things happen.

Key issues: war, wages, health care

Bob Corker
Senator-elect (R), Tenn.
I want our men and women to come home as soon as we have the people of Iraq able to secure themselves.

MARGARET WARNER: So let me ask you about Iraq. Now, near the end of the campaign, you talked about the need to recalibrate the policy in Iraq or the strategy in Iraq. You heard what Senator-elect Cardin had to say. How far apart do you think you are?

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: I heard most of what he had to say. But I think that we need to fix our strategy in Iraq and start moving ahead again so that Iraqi people can quickly secure themselves so that there's a government there that is accountable. And then we need to bring our men and women home as quickly as possible.

So I'm glad that James Baker is working on a strategy that hopefully will upgrade our ability to do that. And I'm looking forward to seeing what that is. I'm glad there have been changes at the secretary of defense level and that there is a new strategy, and sometimes there needs to be new leadership there to carry that through.

MARGARET WARNER: But if the Maliki government can't get a handle on the militias, can't get a handle on the violence, do you think that the United States needs to stay?

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: Well, again, we'll see. I think we answer those kind of questions as we see those kind of things unfold. But I think everybody in our country wants to see the Iraqi government be able to function and wants to make sure that the Middle East is stable before our troops come home.

I think that's what people would like to see. I know that's what I want to see happen. And so I'm really looking forward to seeing what this new strategy is going to be; I do know that I want our men and women to come home as soon as we have the people of Iraq able to secure themselves.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, the Democrats have kind of a laundry list of six things they want to do. We don't have time to do them all, but I'll just throw two of them at you and just wonder if you could support either one. One is to increase the minimum wage. And one is to let the federal government negotiate drug prices with the drug companies under the Medicare prescription drug program.

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: Well, the minimum wage, as I said throughout the course of the campaign, I'm all for allowing it to be adjusted. It's been 10 years since that has happened. I just think, at the same time, I'd like to see things happen for small business that will be taking on the brunt of that. But, certainly, I think there ought to be a balance there.

As it relates to prescriptions, I think we need to figure out a way that Americans are not paying more for prescription drugs than Canadians. I'm not sure -- I don't think that means the government negotiates that. But I think there ought to be a different way for us to figure out a way for us not to be paying all of the research and development costs for pharmaceuticals here in America, while other people have a free ride, like Canada and other countries.

So I think there's a way of doing that. But I think competition, which is now in place in Medicare Part D, is a good thing. I think we need to figure out a way to keep those competitive forces in play but keep Americans from having to pay all the research and development that takes place in pharmaceuticals.

MARGARET WARNER: Finally, the 2008 elections, you've got an open contest on both sides. You're going to have senators from both parties interested in running. How worried are you that that's going to make it hard to have the kind of cooperation you and Ben Cardin have just talked about?

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: You know, Margaret, I'm right now just focused on getting up there and getting oriented. As you know, I've been a businessman most of my life, a mayor, commissioner of finance for our state. And my focus right now is just making sure that, in January, when we hit the ground, that I'm effective and I'm able to work with others.

And as far as thinking ahead to presidential politics, sure, I have received calls from people who I'm sure are going to be running for president. But right now, my goal is to do the things that people here in Tennessee elected me to do. And that is to make progress, to solve these complex issues that our country faces. And I look forward to working with both Republicans and Democrats to make that happen.

MARGARET WARNER: So you've received calls already. Well, thank you very much, Senator-elect Bob Corker.

SENATOR-ELECT BOB CORKER: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.