Indiana senator weighs in on Solicitor General Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court and discusses Afghanistan President Karzai’s visit to the U.S. this week.
Tavis: Indiana Senator Richard Lugar is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and along with Orrin Hatch the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. He joins us tonight from Capitol Hill. Senator, good to have you back on the program, sir.
Sen. Richard Lugar: Thank you, Tavis.
Tavis: Let me start with the news of the day – of course, the nomination of Elena Kagan, currently solicitor general, nominated by President Obama today to the high court. I’m not going to ask you how you intend to vote since it’s so early in the process, but I am curious as to how you think this process is going to go. Going to be cantankerous or is she, as the president said he wanted, a nominee who is confirmable?
Lugar: My first judgment is that she’s confirmable. She has been confirmed for solicitor general just last year with the majority of the Senate. I suspect now, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee will take its time and it will probe at least a good bit more of her career, her thoughts about various things, so that there will be a full record for all senators and for the general public.
I’m of the mind that probably, from predictions of Senator Pat Leahy, the chairman of the committee, that a vote could come in the summertime or maybe in the early fall, before we go into recess.
Tavis: You voted for President Obama’s last pick, Sonia Sotomayor, to the court. Again, you voted for her nomination and for all the talk that we hear about how divisive Supreme Court nominations are and can be, and God knows there’s evidence to support that, you have a very interesting view these days, a unique view on Capitol Hill, as it were, about the right and the role that presidents have to nominate who they want to nominate. Tell me more about your view on that matter.
Lugar: Well, I believe that a deference should be paid to the president’s views. I think each president comes to office with the support of a large number of Americans who anticipate that he will give his best judgment to the nomination, and so I start with an affirmative point of view.
But as in the case of Judge Sotomayor, I waited through the hearings, listened very carefully to my colleagues questioning her. I did not have a private interview with her or any knowledge beyond what I had heard and read, but came to a conclusion fairly early that she would be an excellent justice and I so indicated, I think, long before we got into the debate.
That has often been the case, although I have voted occasionally against a presidential nominee. Not in this administration, but in the past.
Tavis: You voted along with, I believe, five or six – six, in fact – other Republicans to confirm Ms. Kagan when she was nominated to be solicitor general.
Tavis: Is that a good indication that Republicans are going to go across the aisle to support her nomination this time around to the Supreme Court?
Lugar: Well, as you’ve pointed out, the last time, just a year or so ago, there were at least six Republicans who were affirmative. I think that was a different position; maybe slightly different circumstances, but essentially I would think that there will probably still be a very thoughtful bipartisan group listening, and depending upon her performance and the views that come forward, why, I think, as we said earlier, she’s confirmable.
Tavis: I want to move on to Mr. Karzai here in just a second. Two other quick questions, though. Although she certainly is not the first, there are questions being raised by some about the fact that she has never been a sitting judge. Are you concerned about that at all?
Lugar: No, I’m not concerned about it. I note that that’s the case, but there have been many who have advocated, as a matter of fact, that it would be a good idea to have some justices who were of general political knowledge as opposed to those so steeply in the judiciary.
For example, some would suggest someone like Governor Earl Warren. He came to the Supreme Court without really being heavily involved in judiciary; he was much more a chief executive, a generalist. That’s not the course that President Obama has taken, but I don’t see the idea of having served as judge as the necessary requirement.
Tavis: Let me move on now to Mr. Karzai, who is making a very important trip to Washington this week, and I know you’ll be meeting with him while he’s here in the country.
Let me start by asking, Senator Lugar, why you think it is that our view of Mr. Karzai changes so frequently. On any given day in Washington members of the Obama administration, members of the military, members of the august U.S. Senate will have different opinions of Mr. Karzai. Why does opinion of him change so often?
Lugar: I suspect that the opinion about President Karzai changes is because our expectations from the beginning have been enormous. At the time that the United States welcomed him after a so-called loya jirga, a meeting of the elders in Afghanistan, we saw him as a potential savior of the country and we have vested in him enormous confidence as well as cash, and of course the sacrifice of lives of many Americans and our allies to try to bring about a democracy in Afghanistan, one that respected civil rights for men and women, that got rid of the vast corruption, got rid of the poppies that are the base of the drug trade worldwide.
This is a huge set of requirements for any individual and on occasion, President Karzai, given the culture of his country, his history, his relationships to family members, so-called warlords and elsewhere, has been a disappointment. So we have gone up and down, depending upon which phase and how discouraged we were about our overall progress in Afghanistan.
I would say for the moment, however, as you probably have reported, most officials in Washington are looking forward to the visit and in fact people have been admonished be careful in terms of comments about President Karzai. We need him.
He really is still basic to progress in the country, to some way of moving things on, particularly as we begin to get into military operations in Kandahar, the most complex of the provinces, potentially the most deadly, in which we are going to need the support of everybody and which is not really clear how the outcome will affect how rapidly Americans will be prepared to leave the country.
Now the president has been talking about the first Americans leaving about a year from July, but so much of this depends upon President Karzai and the group of people he brings together for some coherent government.
Tavis: From whom and from where is this admonishment coming to be careful about what you say about Karzai while he’s in the country?
Lugar: I have the impression that it’s coming from the president, the vice president, probably General Jim Jones, the national security adviser and others who are simply saying we all are going to be visiting intensely with President Karzai. So whatever may have been editorial comments any of us might have made or impressions, let us at least start a very good chapter. Not necessarily a new one, but a good chapter in which these conversations are as constructive and upbeat as possible.
Tavis: Is the following statement, Senator Lugar, true or false – that we can’t live with him, but we can’t live without him?
Lugar: Well, there’s a great deal of truth to that. (Laughter) So this leads to I suppose my opening comment – that from time to time, perhaps different advice has been given to those in our government, starting with the president, the vice president and others, because our chief executives have occasionally been very critical publicly of President Karzai, but have come to a conclusion that he is the president.
There are no really good alternatives in sight, and we’re at war in which our troops are at stake.
Tavis: One of the things we’re told, Senator Lugar, that President Karzai would like to take back with him to Afghanistan is some support from the Obama administration, some support maybe even from people like Dick Lugar on the Hill, support of him talking to, if not negotiating with, the Taliban. To your point, he’s in a difficult spot in Afghanistan. What ought to be our position with regard to supporting his request to talk to, if not negotiate with, the Taliban?
Lugar: Well, I think we’re all going to be listening carefully to President Karzai, just in a pragmatic way. What is to be gained with a negotiation with the Taliban, or we might begin to parse that question and say, “Which Taliban?” Are there Taliban who are better Taliban than others? In other words, are there some who do not have religious zealotry, who don’t have terrorism thoughts every day of the year?
In other words, are just simply people living in the country who would like to get on with life and there may be a majority of such Taliban. If so, perhaps these are people that Karzai can deal with, maybe that we can deal with in due course. After all, in our efforts in these towns and villages, we have a military component to get rid of people who have armaments and who are putting road bombs out.
But the point is that we want these people to govern themselves. We’re not determining their government. We’re asking they create order, some degree of justice and promptness of justice.
So as a result, I think we’ll listen carefully to President Karzai as a pragmatist in his own country as to courses of action that he thinks may be constructive for him and for us, for that matter.
Tavis: Got 30 seconds to go – there is an open seat now in the state of Indiana to sit alongside you, as the other senator from the Hoosier State.
Tavis: What’s going to happen in that race, Senator Lugar?
Lugar: Well, I believe that Senator Dan Coats will be joining me after the November election. We have worked together very successfully in the past. I have very high regard for him. He is the Republican nominee after a very tough, contested election of five opponents and seems to me has the highest recognition factor and a very good recognition factor, in terms of internal early polling.
Tavis: Well, that would change the makeup of the Senate in one regard, at least – Evan Bayh, a Democrat, gave up that seat, and Dan Coats, a Republican, would shift that number in the Senate. We will see what happens come November.
Senator Dick Lugar is the senior Senator from my home state of Indiana. Senator Lugar, good to have you back on this program, sir.
Lugar: Thanks so much, Tavis. Great to be with you.
Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:28 pm