Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend that Democrats still may take up a comprehensive climate-change plan after the November elections.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: And we begin the program with the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry. Senator, you were the architect of the most - one of the most ambitious energy bills. It now appears that that may be dead. The calendar is short, would you bring up Kerry/Lieberman in the lame duck session after the voters have voted?
SENATOR JOHN KERRY: I think what we have to do, Al, is work over these next weeks to see if we find 60 votes. We don’t have one Republican - not one Republican in the United States Senate has stepped forward even though several say they believe in pricing carbon because there is basically sort of a political shutdown going on here in Washington.
And so, you know, we are not going to ask colleagues to go through something for nothing here. I think we have to try to find and continue to find the 60 votes.
HUNT: But when you talk about -
KERRY: But let me just say to you it is not dead, not by any sense of the imagination. First of all, this issue is not going away.
HUNT: Including the possibility of a lame duck session?
KERRY: Including the possibility of a lame duck, sure, absolutely.
KERRY: When we think it is possible to pass this, Senator Reid is prepared to bring it forward. The president today committed very, very strongly to me and to Senator Reid and others that he is going to be personally engaged in helping to try to find this coalition. We are going to see if it is possible for the interests of our country - not party, this is not Democrat or Republican.
We are losing jobs to China. We are losing to India. We are losing to other countries because we are not in the game. We need to get into the alternative, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the best way to do it is by pricing carbon, send a signal to the market, let the marketplace do this.
HUNT: Let me get to the president in a moment, but you talked about the Republicans. Fair enough, it is certainly right. But Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu, Jay Rockefeller -
KERRY: Well, Mary Landrieu is prepared to be supportive. And others are prepared to -
HUNT: But Rockefeller, Nelson, Dorgan -
KERRY: We have a couple of people who don’t support the bill -
HUNT: But I mean -
KERRY: - with their ideas.
HUNT: - wasn’t it your own party that cut the legs out from Kerry/Lieberman?
KERRY: We have several Republicans who have indicated the possibility. Look, are we supposed to do this all alone?
KERRY: You need one or two Democrats. You can’t live in a difficult state and respond to that reality, where others in the country could have stepped up? I do not accept that. We have well over 50 votes, Al, to proceed forward in one fashion or another.
KERRY: And the question now is whether or not we can get together. It is the getting together that is proving difficult.
But I have to tell you, this is not dead. We are going to continue to work. It may well be that after the election - if that is what happens - I mean we will continue to try over the next weeks, but if it is after the election, it may well be that some members are free and liberated and feeling that they can take a risk or do something. Or, you know, the whole political landscape may have changed in some way. I don’t know.
HUNT: You mentioned the president a moment ago. Some environmentalists have been very critical of the White House for not being aggressive enough on this. What specifically do you want President Obama to do now? You said he has committed to you. What do you want him to do?
KERRY: Well, I think we have to have some key meetings with key players from the utilities and others to bring people together, including senators, to work towards the kind of compromise that is necessary here. People have to know it really counts.
HUNT: And he has to be part of that?
KERRY: People - yes, I believe the White House has to be part of that. He doesn’t have to be part of every meeting. But I think it is important for him to weigh in with some colleagues, to be - even to go to some of the difficult states at the right moment and talk to people about why -
HUNT: So public and private?
KERRY: - this is important for America.
HUNT: You are going to bring a scaled back version to the Senate floor I gather in the next -
KERRY: Well, I would not even call it a scaled back version. We are bringing what Harry Reid has determined represents a bipartisan offering that we could do without a lot of complications that gets us started.
HUNT: And what do you think the Senate will do on the oil, on the cap, the liability cap on oil? Something that is really -
KERRY: Well, I think we ought to look -
HUNT: Will you eliminate it or just raise it?
KERRY: Well, I think we ought to raise it.
HUNT: And raise it to what?
KERRY: Oh, I’m not going to throw out a casual number, but I think we ought to find out what the political market here and the Senate will bear and get to a realistic figure.
KERRY: But I think most people agree that $75 million is -
HUNT: But more likely to raise it than eliminate it?
KERRY: Oh, I would think so.
HUNT: Okay. Let me ask you about Afghanistan. You have spent a lot of time, you have been very, very involved in that, and you have raised recently the possibility we may - that we could have to slow down that troop withdrawal schedule - the beginning of troop withdrawal schedule for next year.
In last week’s Bloomberg poll, three out of five Americans said it was a lost cause. You have acknowledged that that sentiment exists. Should the U.S. be considering then also perhaps accelerating the withdrawal rather than slowing it down?
KERRY: No, I think what the U.S. needs to do - what we need to do is get a policy that works. Make sure that what we are doing works. That is what the American people want. We have very legitimate national security interests.
HUNT: Do we have a clear policy now?
KERRY: I think we have a clearer policy. I am not sure it is fine tuned enough to some of the needs that we have. And I do think it is possible that it might need to be changed somewhat. That does not mean it is not clear. I think what we are doing -
HUNT: What do you mean by change? Can you give me a sense of -
KERRY: Well, I think that the governance component of this is not yet adequate. And -
HUNT: Well, when I talked to you eight months ago, I remember we interviewed you, and you talked about Karzai then and you were pretty darn supportive. You said he was prepared to embrace reforms. You have a very - you know him well.
More recently, you have questioned that government’s - I am quoting you, “willingness to assume ownership,” and you said Karzai must do bigger lifting. Are you disappointed in Karzai?
KERRY: I am disappointed that not enough of the reform agenda has been implemented in Afghanistan. And there is too much corruption within the government itself at various levels. We will be releasing a report shortly in the Foreign Relations Committee that will lay out the specifics of some of that corruption and make some recommendations about it. So that part of things does disappoint me.
What I also think has not happened sufficiently is a linking of Afghan presence to any military operation also linked to the presence of Afghan governance ability also linked to the civilian construction and development ability. The three components - I laid those components out, Al, months ago when the president - before the president even announced what he was going to do.
I said there are three requisites to any kind of additional military operation. One, Afghan presence in the operation; two, sufficient governance capacity at a local level that is identified and present and ready to go immediately underneath the operation; and three, you have got to have a civilian development and construction capacity come in underneath that. We have not had that.
And I think that - I think there are the possibilities of transforming this still in a way that keeps the commitment, which I think is important, but which does not do it in a way that leaves as many questions unanswered or as many doubts in people’s minds -
HUNT: Another key -
KERRY: - about what is feasible.
HUNT: Another key issue for your committee is the proposed treaty with Russia to cut nuclear weapons. What are the odds the Senate will pass that before the November elections?
KERRY: I don’t want to get into the odds-making on it. What is important is the Senate will pass it.
HUNT: This year?
KERRY: I believe we will pass it this year.
KERRY: And we are going to press very hard to meet the concerns of many of our colleagues on the Republican side who want to have certain questions answered, which we have requested and they are coming in now - those answers. They want a certain kind of access, whether it is a summary or otherwise is being negotiated -
KERRY: - on the negotiating record. And they want assurances with respect to the modernization program on nuclear weapons. They ought to have that and we are willing - you know, I am going to try and get two out of three of those and the third is really up to the administration. The question on the negotiating record is the administration’s decision.
HUNT: Right. Your committee is going to hold a hearing on whether BP pressured the British government to release the Lockerbie terrorist. David Cameron acknowledges that was a mistake, but says Congress really should not hold an inquiry on this. You are not going to get the guy back. What can you achieve from a hearing?
KERRY: Well, I think what he said - I think what he said is that there should not be an investigation. We are not engaged in an investigation.
HUNT: So what do you think you will accomplish?
KERRY: They are having a hearing. Well, when colleagues of mine who I respect greatly - some of them members of the committee, some of them not - all of them write me letters of concern about their constituents who have deep concerns about what happened. I believe you have to honor that and listen to it and respect it and provide them the opportunity they’ll get some answers.
I have families in Massachusetts who were just devastated by the release of Megrahi. It was just beyond comprehension. They deserve answers. So do the families in New Jersey, in New York, in Connecticut and elsewhere where senators have said they want to find out what happened.
I think they are doing their job on behalf of their constituents and we need to do that. Now it is not going to be a circus. We are not going to allow it become some kind of a zoo. It will be a dignified and appropriate questioning of appropriate people to find out on behalf of those families what happened. And that’s all. I think it is a question of transparency in governance. Let the sun shine in. People have a right to know and I think that is what we are trying to achieve.
HUNT: Mr. Chairman, thank you so much for being with us. When we come back, we’ll talk to our reporters about the new financial regulation bill.
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