Jim Lehrer talks with Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Sen. John Kyl of Arizona about Chavez and other controversial Bush nominees
JIM LEHRER: Now, how the Chavez and other Bush nominations look to two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat, presently the chairman, and Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona.
Senator Kyl, does the illegal immigrant situation of Linda Chavez give you a problem?
SEN. JON KYL: Clearly there will be questions that have to be asked, and the best source of information about the facts will be Linda Chavez herself. If she did not employ this woman but rather helped her out, as by the way she had done on prior occasions with other people who needed help, a helping hand, immigrants to this country, then there won't be any problem. But if, for some reason, the evidence demonstrates that she in fact hired the individual and then did not pay the Social Security taxes, that would present the same issue as has been in other cases. But, of course, she denies that.
JIM LEHRER: So the issue for you is not that she's an illegal immigrant, the issue is whether or not she was hired and was a paid employee.
SEN. JON KYL: No. There are two issues that have been raised. One is the status with respect to employment. I think it's pretty clear that she did not employ this woman based upon what both the woman and Linda Chavez have said. The other question with respect to helping her out in her home, there is a statute that talks about harboring an illegal alien. That would depend upon when she found out that the woman was not legal. I read in a newspaper account that Linda Chavez did not know that until the woman called her from Guatemala when she wanted to return to the United States after she had been gone for a while. She will be the best evidence of the facts for that.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Leahy, how do you read it right now?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I suspect it will be a problem. I think, as Jon has suggested, there are issues that have come up. But I think we also ought to listen to the hearing and allow everybody to speak out on that. Obviously one of the things that's probably going to be troubling to miss Chavez is having her own words come back. She held Zoe Baird and others who were Democratic nominees to a very, very high standard. The question is, can she meet that standard herself? If it was an illegal immigrant and she knew that, she didn't meet the standard. If this was payment for work and taxes were not paid on it, she did not meet the standard. If those things occur, then she will not be the Secretary of Labor.
JIM LEHRER: If you... If this illegal immigrant thing or whatever the situation turns out to be had not arisen, would you have supported her for Secretary of Labor or did you already have problems with her?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I really haven't looked at that. I'm not on that committee. I've been spending a great deal of time with the Senator Ashcroft's nomination. I was about to start this week looking at some of the other nominees. Everybody from Colin Powell through to miss Chavez. I've got a stack of briefing books about this high to go through all of them.
JIM LEHRER: You had no opinion on her before?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: No but this, of course, is troublesome. I've had a number of Republican Senators and Democratic Senators say it is troublesome. But I agree with Jon: Let it come to the committee and explain exactly what happened.
JIM LEHRER: When is that going to happen? You're the chairman now....
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: For Judiciary on the Ashcroft.
JIM LEHRER: For this one.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Most of these hearings I think will begin sometime next week. President-elect Bush has said that he would like as many of his cabinet members in place as he possibly can. We've been told in that case let's get the hearings going. Most of us are going to be back here in Washington in time to do the hearings next week. We'll start the Ashcroft hearing next week. I think General Powell's hearing and a number of other hearings with scheduled for next week.
JIM LEHRER: I want to get in the Ashcroft nomination in just a moment. Just a final question on this Senator Kyl: Do you believe it's legitimate to raise these questions about Linda Chavez, or do you think this is off the charts and out of line for the Democrats to do this?
SEN. JON KYL: I think the questions are perfectly proper. The only thing that is out of bound are some of the insinuations. I found that to be the case for the Ashcroft nomination, if I could just move to that for a second.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SEN. JON KYL: Absolutely no reason for anyone who knows john Ashcroft, knows him to be a man of significant integrity to doubt his word when he tells you something and yet I've noted some people create an insinuation about whether he could really... whether he would enforce the law of the land because, in some cases, he holds a different view than they do on something. And clearly all of us in public service sometimes have had to work with laws that weren't exactly our favorite, that we might have opposed at one time or another, but when we raise our right hand and put our hand on the Bible and say we will enforce the laws and the Constitution, we mean it. John Ashcroft's case, he is a man of his word. So it's perfectly appropriate to raise these questions about Linda Chavez and questions about John Ashcroft so long as there isn't an insinuation behind the question that, of course, we know that he couldn't possibly enforce the law.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Leahy, do you believe John Ashcroft when he says he will enforce abortion laws, he will enforce gun laws, laws that he's been opposed to all along?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: He spoke out very much against these laws. I think he should have a chance to say what he will do. If he says he will enforce the law, I would assume he will enforce the law. But let's understand what we're talking about here. It's not a question of whether Senators like John Ashcroft or not. I haven't run into any Senator who says he doesn't like Senator Ashcroft but this is not a case where we tell the American people because the Senate is some kind of a club automatically somebody from the Senate gets a pass and goes on to whatever they're appointed to. The fact of the matter is the Attorney General is such a unique position, this enforces laws for all of us, whether you're liberal, conservative, poor, rich, white, black, rural, urban, no matter what, the laws affect you. As a former prosecutor, I know a prosecutor can say I'm going to enforce all the laws and they usually do. But I'll emphasize this one. I won't emphasize this. What happens on civil rights law? Will they be emphasized strongly? What about those things, hate- crime laws, will they be strongly emphasized? What is the position of the incoming administration-- everything from anti-trust to drug laws? These are legitimate questions.
JIM LEHRER: You're going to ask them at the hearing for Ashcroft.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I suspect everybody will be asking these questions. The question will be how much will you emphasize? What will you put the emphasis on? If, for example, there is a... An appeal that goes to the Supreme Court that goes to the question of Roe versus Wade asking the Supreme Court to overturn or reverse their decisions of Roe versus Wade. As southern general, what do you tell your solicitor general to do?
JIM LEHRER: Well, if you favor... If a Senator favors Roe v. Wade and John Ashcroft says no I would not press that as strongly because he has other things to do, would that be reason enough to vote against him?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I think that would go into the mix. I think you have to ask... In the same way Miss Chavez would be asked questions how do you feel about minimum wage? How do you feel about our labor laws? How do you feel about fair employment and issues like that.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, is that how it should work?
SEN. JON KYL: Yes, in a sense it is. Obviously George W. Bush has been elected President of the United States. One would assume that his Department of Justice will reflect his priorities within the bounds of the laws that we've all placed on the books. For example, he may have a little different view of whether the antitrust laws should be enforced the way same way that the previous administration has. Certainly it would be appropriate for Pat Leahy or me as members of the Judiciary Committee to ask about that. For Democrats who don't agree with George W. Bush on some of these things and would not agree with John Ashcroft, perhaps, it's an opportunity for them to make the point that they really hope he'll enforce this law or give that priority to a particular issue. We do that. That is routine. It's a good way of making the point to him that you want him to consider your point of view. But at the end of the day with respect to these matters of priority and emphasis that Pat Leahy was talking about, it is important to remember that President Bush got elected. While we don't ever confirm anyone just because they're a friend of ours or they've been in the Senate, there is some degree of deference provided to a new President for his cabinet appointments. This will be a real test of the leadership of the Democratic Party to get started off on a good bipartisan foot here and give the new President the benefit of the doubt on his cabinet nominees.
JIM LEHRER: So if Pat Leahy disagrees philosophically with something that John Ashcroft says he will do that is in sync with what George W. Bush would do, that is not a legitimate reason for Pat Leahy to vote against his nomination?
SEN. JON KYL: I'll let Pat describe it. But ordinarily that isn't the test that we apply. We apply the test of qualifications, of experience, of integrity, those things which suggest to us that even though he may not agree with us totally that he will be a good steward of the public trust.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: The thing is any of us in public life they have a lot of things we've said over the past as your clip of Miss Chavez showed when she talked about hiring illegal aliens, but the... Senator Ashcroft has a pretty strong test. I mean, he has made it very clear to a lot of people that he would not vote for otherwise qualified, actually people that got then confirmed by the Senate because of disagreeing with his philosophy.
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about federal judge nominees?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Yeah, federal judges and others. I think that -- so the question was whether Senator Ashcroft would be held to the same standard on some that have been held to others. I do feel though-- and I should state this at the outset-- that the President, while he's not a member of my party, I assume he'll have different philosophies. He will be given some leeway on that. I suspect the Democrats will vote for most of his... by unanimous votes for most of his nominees even though they're not the people that we would have expected a Democratic President to put in office.
JIM LEHRER: As we sit here tonight is the Ashcroft nomination in trouble?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I think the Ashcroft nomination raises very serious questions because the Attorney General, far more than any other cabinet position, affects every one of us. It affects us in our lives and also therefore it will be asked probably the most difficult questions.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, is the Ashcroft nomination in trouble?
SEN. JON KYL: No it's not in trouble. There will be questions, as Pat said, but he will be confirmed I believe rather handily. There may be a dozen or two votes against him on the Democratic side but I believe that he will be overwhelmingly confirmed. It's interesting. I can't think of another nominee for Attorney General, at least this last century and perhaps before, that had the kind of experience and qualifications that this man does: Eight years as Attorney General, eight years as Governor with executive experience, six years in the United States Senate, a prestigious law degree from the University of Chicago and Yale undergraduate, certainly a man of great distinction and integrity.
JIM LEHRER: As they say in journalism, we'll see what happens. Thank you both.