CBS's Schieffer Grills GOP Senator on Rand Paul, Soft on Sestak Being Offered White House Bribe
On Sunday's Face the Nation on CBS, host Bob Schieffer interrogated Republican Senator Lamar Alexander on GOP senate nominee Rand Paul: "Can you see yourself supporting a candidate who takes those kinds of positions, Senator?" However, Schieffer lobbed softballs to Democratic senate nominee Joe Sestak minutes later, who claimed the White House offered him a job to quit the primary race.
In his interview with Alexander, Schieffer focused almost exclusively on comments made by Paul: "...he has had some rather controversial things to say, like the '64 Civil Rights bill may have been too broad. He's questioned the Disabilities Act. He's talking about abolishing the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education." Alexander chalked up some of Paul's remarks to political inexperience, but also noted: "...we've got a Democratic Caucus with nearly 60 votes that includes a very nice senator from Vermont who proudly describes himself as a Socialist."
Schieffer pressed on: "...the Republican Party, as I understand it, is trying to broaden its appeal to African Americans, to minorities. Why would any member of any minority group want to vote or want to be for someone who says that, well, you know, maybe that Civil Rights Act went a little too far?...I mean, can you be for that?" Schieffer went on to wonder: "And what about this whole business of the tea party? Is it going to prove to be a good thing for Republicans or is this something that you need to be worried about here?"
In an interview with Sestak that immediately followed, Schieffer brought up the Pennsylvania Congressman's charge that the Obama White House offered him a job to end his primary challenge to Arlen Specter: "Did the White House offer you a position in the administration if you would not run?" Sestak replied: "Yes, I was asked that question months after it happened. And I felt an obligation to answer it honestly. And I said yes."
Schieffer gently followed up: "Can you tell us what job?" Sestak refused: "No, Bob, I -and then I said at the time, anything beyond that just gets into politics." Schieffer was apparently satisfied with that non-answer and moved on to ask about the campaign: "The White House was for Specter. They obviously wanted you not in the race. But you took them on. Now will you ask for Barack Obama's help?"
Later, Schieffer invited Sestak to recite some talking points: "Was this part of the anti-incumbent mood that's going on in the country right now?...What do you think your victory meant and how do you think you did it?" Sestak replied: "What I listened to was people had literally lost trust. They'd lost faith in Washington D.C....I hope to earn that trust from them....I felt I had to begin to demonstrate, it wasn't about Joe Sestak and his job; it was about yours."
Here is a portion Schieffer's May 23 interview with Alexander:
10:41 AM EST
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Let's talk, a little bit, about what happened last week, these elections, especially down in - in Kentucky, where you had the hand-picked candidate of Mitch McConnell, your leader in the Senate. The whole Republican establishment down there was for one guy, and along comes Rand Paul, this Tea Party favorite. And he doesn't just beat him. He wins it in a blowout. But since then, he has had some rather controversial things to say, like the '64 Civil Rights bill may have been too broad. He's questioned the Disabilities Act. He's talking about abolishing the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education. Can you see yourself supporting a candidate who takes those kinds of positions, Senator?
ALEXANDER: Yes, I can.
SCHIEFFER: You can?
ALEXANDER: And I'm glad he cleared up at least one of them. But here's what happened. You know, even a very good baseball player sometimes has a hard time going from AAA to the major leagues. And that's what happened to him last week. If he'll stick to the jobs, debt and terror and providing a check-and-balance on a runaway government in Washington, he'll be the next Republican Senator. We'll be glad to have him.
SCHIEFFER: But that's not what he campaigned on. He campaigned on all these other things, doing away with the Department of Education, getting rid of the Federal Reserve, and then talking about that the Civil Rights Act went too far?
ALEXANDER: Well, he clarified that. He made a mistake there. At least I thought he did. At least it's different than my opinion. We already have senators who want to get rid of the Fed. And, you know, we've - we've got a Democratic Caucus with nearly 60 votes that includes a very nice senator from Vermont who proudly describes himself as a Socialist. So a little check and balance in the Senate wouldn't be a bad thing.
SCHIEFFER: Well, I think the Republican Party, as I understand it, is trying to broaden its appeal to African Americans, to minorities. Why would any member of any minority group want to vote or want to be for someone who says that, well, you know, maybe that Civil Rights Act went a little too far? I know you say he's clarified it. Now he says he wouldn't vote to repeal it. But just saying you wouldn't repeal it, after saying, maybe, it went too far, I mean, can you be for that?
ALEXANDER: Oh, I cannot be for that. I was for the Civil Rights Act of '64, '68, '75. I helped put in the Martin Luther King holiday. In Tennessee, when I ran for re-election in 2008, I got 25 percent of the African American vote with President Obama on the ticket. So we have plenty of Republican candidates who will get plenty of African American votes. I think Rand Paul had a tough week last week. If he'll focus on providing a check-and-balance on a run-away Washington government, he'll be fine. And he'll be elected.
SCHIEFFER: And what about this whole business of the tea party? Is it going to prove to be a good thing for Republicans or is this something that you need to be worried about here?
ALEXANDER: Well, I think any time Americans want to get out of their chairs and focus on jobs, debt, and terror, and checking a run-away government in Washington. We want them in our primaries. We want them as our nominees. And we want them in the United States Senate. I think it provides diversity in our party. It makes us a bigger tent. Gives us a lot more energy. But I think the American people are really upset right now. And this election is going to have a lot of fresh faces, a lot of surprises. But the mood is, let's throw the rascals out in Washington. And the Democrats are the rascals by a big majority. And I think we're going to have a lot more Republicans in November for that reason.
SCHIEFFER: But there are no Democrats running in some of those Republican primaries out there. There are tea party candidates taking on mainstream members of your party. And I guess that's what I'm getting at.
Here is a portion of Schieffer's interview with Sestak:
10:48 AM EST
SCHIEFFER: Back now with one of Tuesday's big primary winners, Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak who took on the establishment, the Democratic establishment in Pennsylvania, and took on the White House and beat Arlen Specter, who had switched from the Republican Party. Let me just ask you first about what I was asking Robert Gibbs about this idea. Did the White House offer you a position in the administration if you would not run?
JOE SESTAK: Yes, I was asked that question months after it happened. And I felt an obligation to answer it honestly. And I said yes. But, Bob...
SCHIEFFER: Can you tell us what job?
SESTAK: No, Bob, I - and then I said at the time, anything beyond that just gets into politics. And actually that's what I think is failing Washington, D.C. principle doesn't seem to triumph over politics where people come here and be willing to lose their job over doing what they said they would do. And so I just stay focused on what I had issued out there which was a plan for Pennsylvania working families, from retirement security to educational opportunity for their children, and small business opportunities. And that's what I just keep on talking about.
SCHIEFFER: Well, let's talk about the race that you had with Arlen Specter. The White House was for Specter. They obviously wanted you not in the race. But you took them on. Now will you ask for Barack Obama's help?
SESTAK: Well, I have to tell you, the president was the very first one who called me. And I welcome his support. And I have to also tell you, Arlen Specter, when he called me, set a standard for graciousness. Telling me, Joe, congratulations, I'm going to support you. Look, I watched a wonderful primary between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama. And they steeled those candidates, much like this primary did. And we're going to come together because we believe in Democratic principles. But I'm going to come to Washington and serve. And I really do want to fight for working families. And, yes, I'll stand up to the party if they're wrong and they aren't going the right way for people in Pennsylvania. But I do believe in Democratic principles.
SCHIEFFER: Do you think the president would help you or hurt you if he came to Pennsylvania? And will you ask him to come?
SESTAK: I'd be honored to stand with the President of the United States - honored.
SCHIEFFER: You would be honored if he came? Have you asked him yet?
SESTAK: Sir, yes, we had a nice discussion and he said he'll look forward to - he said, "I'll support you." And I hope so.
SCHIEFFER: So what do you think did it? Was this part of the anti-incumbent mood that's going on in the country right now? Because obviously there's a great deal of anger with Washington itself. What do you think your victory meant and how do you think you did it?
SESTAK: When I had to go through those 67 counties last July and decide whether to get in or not after the establishment said, "Sit down," I'll never forget a farmer that said to me, when I asked him how the recession was, and he said, "Not too bad. I was hurting so much already." What I listened to was people had literally lost trust. They'd lost faith in Washington D.C. they saw people actually more willing to try to take positions that might help them in electoral prospects rather than standing up and, with the courage of their convictions, fighting for what was needed for them. They knew that Washington had lost focus.
-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.