February 5, 2017
"Judge Gorsuch is a rock star. And I applaud the president for this pick. This is the kind of guy that the Founders envisioned serving as a judge."
This morning, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined ABC News "This Week." Video and transcript are found below.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Republican Senator Ben Sasse right now. He's come to us from Nebraska this morning. Senator Sasse, thank you for joining us this morning.
You just heard Senator Klobuchar talk about Judge Gorsuch there. Do you believe he's a mainstream candidate?
SASSE: Judge Gorsuch is a rock star. And I applaud the president for this pick. This is the kind of guy that the Founders envisioned serving as a judge. He affirms the three branches of government and wants to defend individual rights and uphold the constitution. Everybody across the political spectrum should celebrate him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it going to come to the nuclear option? And would you support changing the Senate rules?
SASSE: I really think those conversations are premature. I don't know why people would be questioning Gorsuch. If you start reading his opinions, as I have been doing the last three weeks, he's the kind of guy who, I'm sure -- late at night when he gets home from his chambers and takes off his robe, he probably has personal political views, but reading his opinions, I can't figure out what they are. He knows what a judge's job is. And he wants to defend the constitution. And he's not trying to be a super legislator.
So, I think it's premature to talk process fights when I think people across the political spectrum should be excited about this judge when they read his opinions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Confident he'll be confirmed?
SASSE: I think he will.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about - you talked about the three branches of government. And during the campaign, you were actually quite critical of Mr. Trump. You said he displays essentially no understanding of our constitutional system of checks and balances with three separate, but co-equal branches of government.
Are we seeing that again with this attack on a so-called federal judge?
SASSE: I'll be honest, I don't understand language like that. We don't have so-called judges, we don't have so-called senators, we don't have so-called presidents, we have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the constitution. And it's important that we do better civics education for our kids. So, we don't have any so-called judges, we have real judges.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And on the travel ban as well, you have been critical of the travel ban, you said it will make our country less safe. I guess the question for you is what can the senate do about that?
SASSE: Well, actually, back up. I would like to give the full context of what I said. I applaud what the president is trying to do in focusing attention on the fact that we haven't taken borders seriously enough, and we haven't done enough vetting of a lot of folks trying to come to the U.S., especially from nations that have failed states.
If you look at places like Syria and Libya, there hasn't been enough vetting going on over the course of the last couple of years. And so I applaud the president's goal.
Now, once we affirm the goal of trying to make sure that you don't have jihadis infiltrating [refugee] flows, we need to make sure we're doing it in a thoughtful way that's thinking about the 10 and 15 and 20 years long battle we're going to have against jihadists.
There are two ways that you can go wrong in our long-term fight against jihadis.
One would be to not acknowledge that terrorism and especially jihadi-motivated terrorism, comes from specific places in the world and is connected to specific ideologies.
But another way to fall off a cliff and harm our long-term interests would be to imply that the U.S. is at war with Islam. And obviously, this wasn't a Muslim ban, it was a travel ban. But it's been done -- it was done in a clunky enough way that initial weekend that jihadi recruiters could present it to the people they are trying to recruit as if the U.S. is against all Muslims. And we know that we're not at war with all Muslims, we're at war with a subset of Islam that believes in killing in the name of religion, as jihadis do.
So we've got to have a long-term focus in the way we implement this and frankly, I think the administration has taken some important steps to improve upon the clunkiness of the initial weekend.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And on Russia, we saw the president's comments today. You heard Senator Klobuchar, another one of your Republican colleagues, Marco Rubio, has weighed in this morning on Twitter.
He said, "When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa? We are not the same as Putin."
That was signed "M.R." Marco Rubio.
Your response to the president?
SASSE: You know, I'll be honest, I don't know what the president is trying to do with statements like he allegedly has on O'Reilly, on the Super Bowl tonight. So I've only seen little clips of it. There may be a broader context.
But let's be clear.
Has the U.S. ever made any mistakes? Of course.
Is the U.S. at all like Putin's regime? Not at all.
The U.S. affirms freedom of speech. Putin is no friend of freedom of speech.
Putin is an enemy of freedom of religion. The U.S. celebrates freedom of religion.
Putin is an enemy of the free press. The U.S. celebrates free press.
Putin is an enemy of political dissent. The U.S. celebrates political dissent and the right for people to argue free from violence about places or ideas that are in conflict.
There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom-loving nation in the history of the world, and the murderous thugs that are in Putin's defense of his cronyism.
STEPHANOPOULOS: More broadly...
SASSE: There's no moral equivalency there.
STEPHANOPOULOS: More broadly, are Senate Republicans in the same place as President Trump on the issue of Russia?
SASSE: I don't understand what the president's position is on Russia, but I can tell you what my position is on Russia.
Russia is a great danger to a lot of its neighbors and Putin has, as one of his core objectives, fracturing NATO, which is one of the greatest military alliances in the history of the world.
And so Putin is a mess. He's committed all sorts of murderous thuggery. And I am opposed to the way Putin conducts himself in world affairs and I hope that the president also wants to show moral leadership about this issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: On spending, on the issue of spending, you've often warned that the U.S. is on a path toward a Greek-style debt crisis and that health entitlements are the single greatest culprit.
President Obama has vowed not to teach Medicare.
Can you support a budget that increases the debt or the debt and deficits that does not touch Medicare?
SASSE: Let's have a long-term conversation about what's actually wrong.
Because when you go to town halls, when I do town halls across Nebraska, lots of our folks know the $19 trillion or $20 trillion number that's the publicly held bond debt number.
But the real number of the US' obligations, unfunded obligations that we're passing on to our future generations is more like $70 trillion to $75 trillion. The vast majority of that is health entitlements -- Medicare, ObamaCare, Medicaid. There's also Social Security, interest on the debt. But fundamentally, health entitlements are the thing that will bankrupt our kids. We need to fix that for the long-term.
We obviously have to honor the commitments that have been made to the people who are already retired or near the retirement age. But we need to tell the truth about the fact that when we set the retirement age at age 65 in this country, life expectancy was only 62.
Now, it's about 80. My 5-year-old kid running around here in the background getting ready for church this morning has a 50-50 statistical probability of living to age 100. He's not going to retire at age 65 and play 35 years of middle class entitlement golf.
We should tell the long-term truth about health entitlements and start fixing it for people that are 50 and 55 and below. But nobody is trying to change Medicare for people who are already on it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And a final question.
You've been so critical of President Trump during the campaign and you voted -- you actually voted -- you wrote in Mike Pence for president.
What is -- from what you've seen over the first two weeks, has that increased your confidence in the president's leadership?
SASSE: You know, frankly, I don't think we do a great job in this country any more of distinguishing between campaigns and governance. We live in an environment that's all campaign all of the time and it's helpful now that we've moved beyond a campaign and an election to get into a governance posture.
And my position is this. The president is the president. And every American, regardless of who you voted for, if you voted for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Donald Duck, I don't really care. We should all hope that the president does a good job, that he's surrounded by wise counselors, that he advances U.S. interests.
And we should vigorously debate policy differences. We have too much all-or-nothing in American politics. People think if they voted for somebody, they should reflexively defend everything they do or say.
And if you voted against somebody, you should just as reflexively oppose everything they do or say. It's not very helpful. What's more constructive for our kids is to go on a case-by-case basis, evaluating particular policies.
When the president does something great, like he did in nominating Neil Gorsuch, absolute rock star, I'm going to applaud him and salute it and celebrate it and try to campaign hard for Gorsuch to get confirmed.
On the other hand, when there are places where we differ, not just with this president but with future presidents, we should have more vigorous debate. In the American constitutional system of three different branches, conflict -- and I mean by that peaceful, vigorous debate -- it's a feature of our system, not a bug. We need less winner-take-all politics.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Sasse, thanks for joining us this morning.
SASSE: Thanks for being in Nebraska.