Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that President Barack Obama should end the broad surveillance of telephone calls and Internet usage.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. Senator, thank you for being with us.
SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Good to be with you, Al.
HUNT: You have invested so much time on background checks for guns, the conventional wisdom is it’s dead for this year. Do you agree?
MANCHIN: Oh, I don’t agree that it’s dead, because something that makes so much sense and it’s common sense - and I think, Al, you have to look at the background checks. I’m a law-abiding gun-owner. That bill gave me the full - the full value of the Second Amendment that I should have, so we expand - not only we protect it, we expanded it.
HUNT: But you lost that case. Do you think you can still bring it up and pass it in the Senate this year?
MANCHIN: Well, we’re still working. I’m still working. I’m talking to senators every day.
HUNT: Is it 50-50 or better?
MANCHIN: I always - I’m in a 50-50 to where I think can we pick up five more members? I think we can. We have to make sure that the constituents of the states that represent those senators that we need them to change their vote and rethink this position understand the full value of what we have done and what we’re trying to do.
As a law-abiding gun owner, I’m not going to sell my gun to a stranger, not going to sell to someone who’s mentally deranged, or to a family member who basically is not responsible. But when I go to a commercial gun show, such as a gun show or Internet, I as a responsible law-abiding gun owner, I want to know, is that person worthy of having a gun?
HUNT: Your colleague, Senator Blumenthal, says he’s going to offer on the immigration bill, in essence, a background check for immigrants coming here. Will you support that?
MANCHIN: Oh, I - on the background check, if it has the same contents of what we did - I don’t want to take - I mean, they have to assume that basically, as a law-abiding gun-owner, I’ve - I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. Why are you holding any type of rights of mine away?
But with that being said, I also am a responsible person, that I’m not going to sell or let some stranger or over the Internet, at a gun show. If Richard Blumenthal has something along those lines, absolutely.
HUNT: Senator, you’ve had a chance to look at the immigration bill now, put together by the Judiciary Committee. I know you have at least one change you want to make in the education, but apart from that, are you more likely to support or oppose this bill as it stands now?
MANCHIN: I’m still - I’m still - I would have to say, I’m still in the undecided column there. I have to make sure that when I go back home to West Virginia, I can look people in the eye and say, listen, we have secured the borders. Because they’re going to go back to the ’80s. They say, we heard the same thing back in the ’80s when you had reform, and you had 3 million identified undocumented people coming into this country. And then after you said you fixed it in the ’80s, we have 11 million.
HUNT: Do you think more has to be done to this bill so you can guarantee people that?
MANCHIN: I think that basically they have worked - and I commend both sides. It’s been a bipartisan effort, and they’ve worked hard across the aisle, bipartisan, so all of the members involved I applaud. Making sure that we’re able to secure, making sure that we’re able to deport criminals who came - who’ve come here illegal and committed a crime should be sent out. So people have to know that we’re serious about -
HUNT: But does that bill do that, from what you’ve seen?
MANCHIN: The bill basically is moving along those - and you have -
HUNT: But you need a little bit more?
MANCHIN: I think, yeah. I’m looking at that. I really am. And we have to do something.
HUNT: OK. Let me ask you about another issue that’s come up. We’ve learned the last couple days that the Obama administration has engaged in a massive surveillance of Americans, phone records, credit cards, now servers, the e-mail and the chats and the audio. Does that bother you? And should something be done about it?
MANCHIN: Sure, it bothers me, and I think it bothers you and every other American -
HUNT: Should it stop?
MANCHIN: - something - something inherent in us. It should be stopped as far as the broad-base that they’re doing. If there’s a profile and targeting that goes on, then fine. I’m wanting to do everything I can to fight the war on terror. There will not be another day in my life, my children or grandchildren’s life they won’t have to be vigilant against terrorists wanting to do us harm. But do you give up everything as an American?
HUNT: This is too broad-based, is what you’re saying.
MANCHIN: I think that basically they have - they’ve put this with a pretty broad brush, and I think the Patriot Act and the interpretation and way it’s being enforced is broader than what we would have intended.
HUNT: You know, the 9/11 Commission with Tom Kean recommended that an Office of Civil Liberties be put in the White House as a - as a check on some of this. Is that something - and neither Bush nor Obama has done it. Is that something that should be done?
MANCHIN: Well, in the light of what’s coming out every day that you see something different coming out, somebody better be looking at, what are my liberties? What are my rights? What are my freedoms? What did my founding fathers intend for me to have as an American, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I mean, there’s a lot to be said there.
HUNT: That’s something that ought to be considered?
MANCHIN: I sure think so.
HUNT: Yeah. Let me ask you about confidence and - the attorney general is in the middle of a lot of this. Some of this is NSA. But do you have confidence in Eric Holder right now as an attorney general?
MANCHIN: Let me just say that - that any public official - no matter whether it be the attorney general or anybody in public office - whenever you feel that you have lost your effectiveness or may be losing your effectiveness to the detriment of the job that you do, even though you’re a good, honest, sincere, hardworking person, you have to evaluate that and make a decision. And I think we’re at the time now where decisions have to be made.
HUNT: And do you think that that applies to Eric Holder right now?
MANCHIN: I think it applies to every public official.
HUNT: Uh-huh. And - and - but I suspect you have confidence in John Kerry, don’t you?
MANCHIN: I most certainly do.
HUNT: So Eric Holder might be in a different category?
MANCHIN: I just think that basically, in light of what is going on in the country, and everybody looking at it, it must be the - might be the most well intended person with the best of intentions, but if they’re not being effective and they’re not being received, how effective is it and how good is it for the - for the country?
HUNT: Senator, you’re on the Armed Services Committee and have looked at Syria a lot, I know. There’s been a lot of talk for months about putting together a coalition, nothing really happens. The reports now that Assad is on the ascendancy, that he may be winning. Do we just have to accept the fact we’re going to have a brutal dictator there? Or do we have to do something quickly? And if so, what?
MANCHIN: I don’t know. If you look back in history and look at Iraq, we removed Saddam Hussein.
MANCHIN: What do we have there? Do we have any better foothold?
MANCHIN: Do we have democracy growing and flourishing? I think Iran might have as much, if not more influence than we have and other, you know, parts of the world. So I think you start looking, are we able to change that? I just never thought that we could change and - and invoke our will on a people who basically historically have lived a different life and different backgrounds, OK, whether it be religious or whether it just be just - they’re tribal or any - we don’t understand that.
And what we do understand is that civility towards human beings and treated equality of care that everybody should have, we like to invoke that. But you have to show that - you can’t - you can’t force that upon people.
HUNT: There are limits to what we can do?
MANCHIN: There is. And - and for us to say that, OK, let’s remove - who - who comes after him? I mean, we’ve proven that, if you remove one, there’s something as bad, if not worse. I don’t know. The people are going to have to decide that.
I would be more concerned - what are the neighbors feeling? What’s Syria’s neighbors feeling about this? That’s their neighborhood.
HUNT: Senator, you - some of your Republican colleagues are upset that Barack Obama has tapped Susan Rice to be his national security adviser. That’s not a confirmable post, but is it a good move?
MANCHIN: The bottom line is, I’m not going to - being an executive myself at one time, being the governor of the state of West Virginia, I had to put my staff together. And I give as much leeway as possible for a person to put their staff together. And I think the president has that right and responsibility to do that. And it’s not even subject to confirmation from us, which tells you that basically -
HUNT: So it’s up -
MANCHIN: It’s up to him, his decision, and he’ll be judged on that. He’s elected to be the president of the United States. He’s our president, whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, whether you’re a liberal or you’re a conservative. He is our president. And you want always your president to do well. Historically, Americans want their government to succeed. We have lost trust of government, I mean, of the people as government, and we’ve got to gain that trust back. So he’s going to be judged on the appointment and how well she performs.
HUNT: Your colleague, Jay Rockefeller, is retiring. It’s a seat the Democrats have held for a long time. Everybody says a Republican is going to win in West Virginia next year. You going to have a Democrat candidate? Who will it be?
MANCHIN: I’m not sure about that. They’re looking at it right now. We have a lot of people who’ve had interest in that. They’re looking at it seriously. I think we will have, I think, a very viable Democratic candidate. It will be a challenge. It will be a challenge to hold that seat. I understand that. Our state demographics have changed, if you will. But with that being said, I still believe that the Democratic principles of who we are.
HUNT: So you got a shot?
MANCHIN: Yes, we have a shot.
HUNT: Can you give me a name or two -
MANCHIN: The West Virginia - the West Virginia - West Virginia Democrat is not the same as a Washington Democrat.
MANCHIN: I mean, it’s a little different. And I think that you see that, whether you see it in the South or just a whole culture that we come from, Al. But the bottom line is, is that we always are for the underdog. We’re always going to try to help someone help themselves. In West Virginia, we look at accountability and responsibility. We’re going to hold you accountable. We’ll help you, but you’ve got to want to help yourself if you can.
HUNT: Senator Joe Manchin, you’ve made a mark in Washington. Thank you so much for being with us today.
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