The Senate yesterday passed a resolution saying it would be "unconstitutional" to consider membership in the Knights of Columbus a disqualifying criteria for public office. The resolution passed by unanimous consent, meaning it went unopposed by senators of either party.
The Jan. 16 resolution was drafted and introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) in response to recent questions put to a judicial nominee, which suggested membership in the Knights could prevent someone serving impartially as a judge. Citing the protection of religious liberty in the Constitution, the resolution noted that past candidates, including President John F. Kennedy, had suffered from "significant anti Catholic bigotry."
Sasse discussed this unanimous victory!
Guy Benson: [00:00:00] We are back on Benson and Harf thank you for listening. I am delighted to welcome back to the program. AU.S. senator from the great state of Nebraska author of them why we hate each other and how to heal Ben Sasse. Senator welcome back.
Sen. Sasse: [00:00:14] Thanks for being here. Great to be with you and thanks for having put music on your show.
Guy Benson: [00:00:19] Oh look I'm from New Jersey so I'm legally obligated to play Springsteen once a week at least even though I'm not technically still subject to New Jersey state law I go back occasionally. I don't want the governor to send the state troopers for me so I'm doing my end of the deal here as a proud New Jersey. So I want to talk to you first about something that happened in the Senate yesterday that you spearheaded I had mentioned this on the program a couple of times here this disturbing attack against a federal judicial nominee from your state from the president where several Democrats were calling into question his involvement with a Catholic organization as potentially problematic or disqualifying for public office. I think a lot of conservatives and some Liberals to their credit have said that is not only morally wrong it is in fact unconstitutional. You decided to highlight this this controversy with a resolution that you introduced last evening. Tell us about sort of the background of how this came to be and then what happened.
Sen. Sasse: [00:01:21] Yes. Thanks Guy. So first of all we'll do the background is the bad news it's that we're going to land which is good news which was last night was actually a win for religious liberty in the U.S. Senate. And a lot of times when you consider a constitutional question right now we have a lot of stuff drifting and sliding and so there are a lot of wins for basic American freedoms and that was one side. So that's why we're going to land. But the background is I was able to persuade President Trump A lot of my senior senator. We persuaded President Trump to nominate a guy. Brian Buescher to be the U.S. District Judge for Nebraska at Omaha. There's a vacancy on the federal bench. President Trump nominated him is a good guys a good lawyer. He's also a really active Catholic and he's a member of Knights of Columbus. And on the Senate Judiciary Judiciary Committee on which I said to Democrats started asking him questions about his involvement with an extremist organization. And you know really I have no idea. I've helped persuade the president to nominate this guy extremist organization that turns out they were talking about the Knights of Columbus which is the largest Catholic fraternal organization in the world. One point six million guys who sell tootsie rolls after church and you know the fish fries on Friday night during Lent to raise money for charities. Hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They contribute 100 a couple hundred million dollars over their history to charitable work with special needs kids et cetera. And these Senate Democrat Judiciary Committee members decided to attack him. And they said if you are confirmed to the federal bench who agree that you will resign from the Knights of Columbus this religious organization so you can distance yourself from the appearance of bias. I mean this is literally the kind of stuff Kennedy had to deal with in 1959 1960 when he was a.
Guy Benson: [00:03:00] Senator let me just jump in. I know that you are being perhaps polite and collegial. I would like to name and shame these two senators your colleagues on the Judiciary Committee who did this. Kamala Harris who is almost certainly running for president and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. So please continue your story and then I'm curious about the internal deliberations in the Senate because this resolution of yours passed without objection. Despite these machinations from the two ladies that I just mentioned I'm curious how we got to this seemingly unanimous victory.
Sen. Sasse: [00:03:31] Yeah that's exactly right Guy that we just had a resolution last night I've been working on it for a week and socialise with my colleagues do this whole week and we just have a resolution that reaffirms the American constitution and a First Amendment that affirms free speech assembly press protest and freedom of religion. And it says that there is a religious test clause in the Constitution which there is and that these questions about whether he would resign his membership of the Knights of Columbus constitute essentially a religious test or an anti religious test. And we want to condemn it. We want to review this behavior. That's why as I was trying to get this passed I got a couple of outreaches from Senate Democrats over the last 36 hours essentially saying hey we have a little more time to deliberate and collegiality the Senate usually give people time to debate about something like that. And ultimately all the Democrats decided to put their hands down and nobody was going to protest. I think that went for religious liberty and frankly a little bit of a win about where public opinion is on at least this kind of question were they wanted more time.
Guy Benson: [00:04:32] Senator what did they need more time to debate.
Sen. Sasse: [00:04:35] Well I mean I think that the two senators who were involved in this scurrilous attack on this are being a Catholic. I think know once they had done that they probably thought they might need to defend their behavior and instead they just decided to put their hands down cover their mouth and walk away and let it pass the Senate unanimously rather than take on the fight. You may have seen that congresswoman from Hawaii. There are a lot of almost every other issue under the sun she and I would probably differ on but she had been critiquing her senior senator for having been involved in this kind of behavior. So in Hawaii even among Democrats in Hawaii there was some sense that this kind of anti Catholic religious test was a really bad idea and ultimately no senators decided to defend this attack like the American Constitution on religious liberty. So we got to went last night.
Guy Benson: [00:05:24] Well congratulations on that and I'm glad it may have been modest in the scheme of things but it is nevertheless important. Senator I want to shift and I know I'm always curious about this as well today we saw a letter from the president back to the speaker of the House. We're going through this drama with the shutdown and whether the president's going to be disinvited from the State of the Union and now the president said well Aha you're not going to take military aircraft Madam Speaker over to Afghanistan during the shutdown. Why don't you stay here in Washington and negotiate with me. The White House apparently telling reporters yes this is retaliation for what happened yesterday. I mean is this sort of the.
Marie Harf: [00:05:59] White House also saying that Munichin and Pompeo are also going to Davos.
Guy Benson: [00:06:03] Right. So I mean it's it seems like I know you are but what am I. This is now back and forth between these two leaders. What is your reaction to what we've seen on this front over the last 24 48 hours.
Sen. Sasse: [00:06:15] Well I mean whenever there is a food fight going on and usually the right thing to do is to back away. So I don't probably have particular comments on the developments of the last three to four hours. I've getting intel briefings over the course of the last three days I'm not all current on the ways that they're fighting but I will just say that it is truly bizarre that the speaker of the House seems unwilling to participate in any discussions right now. So I'm on record. I've been here for years. One of the few people in the Senate has never been a politician before doing this. I've been on record for a long time that I think shutdowns are a bad idea. But fundamentally the first duty of the federal government is national security and border security is a subset of that. And I think we under invest in border security and so that negotiation should be happening. And right now it seems like the speaker is entirely unwilling to do that. All the other parts of the food fight. I don't know where that leads but I would love it if Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer and the President were in a room together arguing toward a deal to get more border security funding and to reopen the government.
Marie Harf: [00:07:29] Senator what about the plan that passed the Senate unanimously back in December. Feels like a lifetime ago and that sort of keeps passing the House now to fund most of the government until the end of the year. But then do a continuing resolution to give people a few weeks of a little bit of time a little bit of space to negotiate over what that immigration plan will look like in terms of border funding where it will be what it will look like. It just seems like I I'm not sure what the downside to that is. Right now is that still in theory something you would support? And why is that something that President Trump doesn't support. It seems like we should isolate the disagreement and get the government open to people getting paid.
Sen. Sasse: [00:08:15] Right. So let me make a small comment and then a much larger one small comment. Is it just the level of procedure. I think that Leader McConnell who controls the Senate floor he has said pretty unequivocally that he's not going to spend any Senate floor time right now on anything that isn't ultimately going to be about where the solution lands. And so he McConnell's view has been Pelosi and Trump need to be in one room. But until they are the Senate is not going to come in and potentially spend time passing something that either couldn't pass the House or couldn't get a presidential signature. So Mitch McConnell has said he's back in the Senate out of the middle of this fight to say Pelosi and Trump are going to both be required before there could be resolution. So that has to happen first. I think much more broadly though we should just recognize the reason these shutdowns happen is because over the course of the last 40 years the Congress has become so impotent that it has given its power of the purse away by regularly not having a real budget and appropriations process. One of the fundamental powers of the Congress the article one branch in the Constitution is the power of the purse. And over the course of the last 42 years only 46 years old by the way over the course of the last 42 years there have really only been four times that the Congress has passed at least one third of all the money they spend on a regular order process before the end of a fiscal year. So that means 70 plus percent of the money 38 of the last 42 years gets to midnight September 30th when the government's going to shut down. And there's this crappy false choice given to the American people hey do you want to fund everything we did last year as if it all worked when lots of the federal government doesn't work. Plus 2 percent to 102 percent funding last year. Or should we use zero to shut down the government or should we just grow the government. Those are crappy choices. There's no firm in America. Small business or large that runs that way you'd fire your CEO if he or she came to you as a board and said hey your choice go to everything we did last year plus more or do nothing. So to your point Marie. I think what we ought to be doing is discrete appropriation bills that every year on October 1 heading towards September 30th year close start with the most important priorities of the federal government and we're down from there to less important stuff not this brinksmanship every year but Congress is a fundamentally dysfunctional institution. So it's always cramming the night before the exam.
Guy Benson: [00:10:33] SENATOR There's an interesting piece of legislation that's been introduced on government shutdowns from a wide array of Republican senators along the spectrum within the GOP from Lisa Murkowski to Mike Lee with Steve Daines on board Rob Portman onboard Chuck Grassley on board. That would effectively outlaw future government shutdowns. Have you looked at that at all what do you make of that.
Sen. Sasse: [00:10:56] So there are a number of short stories. Yes I've looked at it there are a bunch of different iterations so I want to speak to what I'd call baseline portman and shutdown's Bill. There are a whole bunch of pieces of legislation being negotiated right now. So I don't know if we'll be current on which one we're talking about. But Rob Portman's idea for the last couple of years has been to say hey if the federal government doesn't get its work done any given year we get to September 30th and we're going to run out of funding for corecentral government fund functions instead of falling off a cliff from 100 percent of last year to zero percent from September 30 to October 1. What if the federal government were ratcheted down one per cent per month during a time when the government wasn't functioning and the legislature wasn't functioning on behalf of the American people. So over the course of a year you might ratchet down government spending by 12 percent in the midst of this increasing pain. But you wouldn't do the stupid stuff that happens during a shutdown like this where the Coast Guard has a whole bunch of people who are bylined are essential workers and yet they're not getting paid. So Portman's baseline Bill I've been a supporter of from the beginning. There are a lot of pieces of it being debated right now. Some of them I'm sympathetic to some I'm still looking at.
Marie Harf: [00:12:05] Senator last question for me. Thank you so much again for joining the show today. Now it's a busy time on Capitol Hill. I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about Russia's sanctions. There's a lot of discussion right now on the Hill about relaxing sanctions on these Russian companies with ties to oligarch Oleg Deripaska. I know there's been movement in the Senate on this issue. I give our listeners a little bit of a sense for where you come down on particularly the legislative aspect. It seems like Congress is taking back a little bit of power here when it comes to this specific issue.
Sen. Sasse: [00:12:38] Yeah. So I think Nebraska is a really really bad guy and we shouldn't be doing anything to reduce any sanctions on him or anything that he has functional control of. I want to be clear. A lot of my colleagues did. I'm a total hawk on Russia issues. So Marco Rubio Tom Cotton and I tend to stand together on these kinds of issues. There are people who I like and respect and think seriously about national security who differ with me on this. I want to give them a little bit of room here some of them would say that that particular sanctions relief that's been happening this week is about firms that he used to have operational control of that maybe no longer does. I don't believe that from having read the Intel I don't think he no longer has operational control. But that's one thing that might differ with me but the biggest topline point is Putin's oligarchs are out to harm America and they're out to harm their own people and we ought to have sanctions ramping up on them not ramping down. Putin is an enemy of all the things we believe in free speech press religion assembly any transparency in government. These guys become 10 billionaires or 20 plus guys the 20 plus big oligarchs who have billions of dollars apiece by stealing from pillaging their own people and they use that money to harm their neighbors and try to undermine U.S. interests. And so I'm for ramping up not down sanctions on these Russian hooligans.
Guy Benson: [00:13:59] Senator finally and crucially will Scott Frost's Cornhuskers be bowl eligible next season bowl eligible. Brother we are just going to dominate your Northwestern Wildcats. Wow. The dark horse for the Bowl Championship Series right now.
Guy Benson: [00:14:17] Big talk from someone who's now lost a couple games in a row to us if I recall correctly and.
Marie Harf: [00:14:21] Hey don't forget about the Buckeyes.
Sen. Sasse: [00:14:25] The Buckeyes. You know. Good luck. Good luck with that. Because he's got.
Marie Harf: [00:14:30] He's not an interim coach he signed a five year deal and a new quarterback because Haskins is gone. Hello.
Sen. Sasse: [00:14:35] Yeah we're all happy to see your quarterback depart and adult at the front of that line. To me.
Sen. Sasse: [00:14:43] The Big Ten is going to have a whole bunch of impressive teams next year. But but Scott Frost in the huskers is going to be up towards the top of that back.
Guy Benson: [00:14:51] I agree with with Nebraska and Northwestern and others I think once again we're going to see the Big Ten West is the preeminent division in the Big Ten conference.
Marie Harf: [00:14:58] Maybe you can start winning championship then.
Guy Benson: [00:15:00] Well we have a couple of times in.
Sen. Sasse: [00:15:04] we could compare the Senate last record.
Marie Harf: [00:15:07] Well that's true.
Guy Benson: [00:15:08] Would be a very good point that you that.
Marie Harf: [00:15:10] Senator you have no argument from me on that my friend.
Guy Benson: [00:15:14] You guys were the only team to win.
Marie Harf: [00:15:16] I know that. So I'm aware .
Guy Benson: [00:15:19] Our teams went here at Benson and Harf went 2-0 around New Year's in California so we're happy campers on that front Senator Ben Sasse. He is a member of the Judiciary Committee among others. He is from of course Nebraska as you may have guessed. In his latest book is excellent Them why we hate each other and how to heal. Senator thank you so much for your time. We look forward to having you back.
Sen. Sasse: [00:15:41] Thank you Guy. Thank you Marie.
Guy Benson: [00:15:42] All right. More of Benson and Harf right after this.