BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Senator Arlen Specter, before we talk about what is going on in the Judiciary Committee, you‘ve just been through cancer. What has it been like?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Tough, but tolerable. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin‘s lymphoma cancer last February. And the regime is chemotherapy.
Every two weeks they load a person‘s body with a lot of poisons to kill the poisons in the body. And it‘s rugged. It gives you a very heavy overhang of heaviness and fatigue. But I was able to work my way through it.
I found out that the lesser of the undesirable alternatives was getting out of bed and going to the squash court and pushing myself in the hearings. And as long as I was fully occupied, I was OK.
And that was vastly preferable to staying in bed and feeling sorry for myself. So I was able to maintain my schedule, didn‘t miss a beat, and am working my way through.
LAMB: How did you find out you had it?
SPECTER: I found out that I had it by being very lethargic and very fatigued for weeks. And finally one of the blood tests showed a potential irregularity. And then they checked me out for lymph nodes. And they did a biopsy and found out that I had Hodgkin‘s lymphoma.
LAMB: And where was this done?
SPECTER: It was done both with the attending physician here in Washington and at the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
LAMB: Who told you that you had Hodgkin‘s and what was your reaction?
SPECTER: A very well-known oncologist, Dr. John Glick, hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. And my reaction was, I‘m glad they found out what is wrong with me so it can be corrected.
I‘m not a newcomer to medical problems. As I have said, I beat a brain tumor, I beat bypass surgery, I beat a lot of tough political opponents, and I‘m in the process of beating cancer.
LAMB: How do you do it?
SPECTER: By just staying with my regular work. Work ethic is very strong that I got from my parents, that I practiced for many years. And when I was in the committee hearings, we‘ve tackled a lot of tough issues on Judiciary.
We passed quite a number of important bills, one of which is asbestos reform, which has been a tough subject in the committee for more than two decades. And as long as I was very heavily engaged in very tough issues and battling with my colleagues and pushing on floor statements, I was fine.
That‘s really how to do it. Stay occupied. Do your damnedest to ignore it.
LAMB: As you know, we hear a lot about non-Hodgkin‘s lymphoma, and we hear about Hodgkin‘s lymphoma. What‘s the difference and, you know, what did they tell you when you…
SPECTER: I was told if I had to get something bad, this was the best of the bad. And the cure rate on Hodgkin‘s lymphoma is much different from regular lymphoma. Lymphoma they can contain and it can go into a period of remission. But it comes back.
And Hodgkin‘s you have a good chance of beating it permanently. That, of course, remains to be seen.
LAMB: So when the treatment started, what were they?
SPECTER: Well, they were every two weeks on Friday. And you go into the doctor‘s office and they put a little port in your chest. If this weren‘t viewed by so many sensitive people, I would take my shirt off in the (INAUDIBLE) and show you a metallic port right here where they put a big needle. And that goes into your system. And they have a whole series of substances, toxic substances which work through your system.
And after they do that, the only place you‘re really comfortable is in bed. And it‘s hard to get out of bed. But doable.
LAMB: And so how long do you feel bad right after you have the treatment?
SPECTER: I feel bad for about five days, maybe feel not quite so bad, but still bad. And then on about 12th -- the 13th day you feel a little better, and then you have a 14th day and you‘re back with another treatment.
But it‘s a matter really of willpower and determination. There is a lot of mind-body studies, so it‘s not just Arlen Specter, a lot of people do it, and a psychological determination to not succumb.
LAMB: How many treatments did you have and are you through with them yet?
SPECTER: Well, I had 12 treatments and I am through. Then I had a series of tests which were very favorable and I have another series of tests in three months and then six months after that. And it has to be monitored.
LAMB: What was you reaction to your colleagues when they found you going through this, and the most visible thing, of course, losing your hair in front of the public?
SPECTER: Well, my colleagues were very supportive. They were all trying to persuade me to take it easy and take some time off. And I told them that I would be glad to take some time off if I thought it would do any good. But I would rather fight with them than fight alone somewhere.
But they were very supportive. And the hair loss is quite a problem. Occasionally some of the newspapers will show before and after. And I saw myself in the paper a few days ago and I thought it looked Richard Russell. Most people don‘t know what Richard Russell looked like. And I thought it looked a little like Sam Rayburn, another person people don‘t know. It looked like Sam Rayburn shortly after he died.
We were doing hearings on identity theft, on hackers who get in and steal your Social Security number and your bank accounts and your identity. And it seemed to me that I was the number one victim of identity theft. I looked in the mirror and I don‘t who I am. And it still happens, although you‘ve got some very expensive equipment here at C-SPAN so you can see some hair coming back, not a whole lot.
But it‘s tough to see your physical appearance change so rapidly, and in my mind, deteriorate. And so many people say, you know, you‘re looking good. And I would, you‘ll never pass a lie detector test if you stick with that story.
And then I thought about wearing a baseball cap, and I rejected that. And some people said I should wear a toupee, and I rejected that. And I just decided to look however I looked. I didn‘t do anything wrong in getting lymphoma and this is Arlen Specter so let the chips fall where they may. My appearance is the least of my concerns.
LAMB: Did you notice at all people changing around you that you knew?
SPECTER: Well, no, a little change with my granddaughters. A little tough on the family. My 9-year-old granddaughter, Carrie (ph), said to me, what is the 70 percent thing? And I said, well, that‘s the chance of survival for five years.
For them to grapple with an infirmity in their grandfather which could prove fatal was very, very tough for them. But Joan, my wife, took it in good spirits and everybody around me was fine and very, very supportive.
LAMB: Was there any time during the -- from February on where you just couldn‘t do your job?
SPECTER: No, no.
LAMB: You didn‘t have a day at least?
SPECTER: Not one day. I had to miss squash a couple of times. I thought it better not to play when I really very, very tired in the morning. Get a lot of rest, go to bed early. But I get up early. And I had a couple of Sundays where I had plans to play squash in the morning and a Phillies game in the afternoon and I found out that the energy level would only sustain one and I chose the Phillies.
But I would say that I missed squash perhaps four or five times in the course of the many months, and that‘s all. I just went and played.
LAMB: Have you changed your outlook on life at all?
SPECTER: Brian, I don‘t really think so. There has been some speculation that my independence will reach a new level because I‘ve got nothing left to lose. And I don‘t think my independence can reach any new level.
It makes me focus on the greater value of every day. But I was sort of in a conundrum because I was so anxious to get to July 22nd, when the last chemotherapy treatment were to end, that every day was vital there, not too many of them, even if you‘re 5, let alone if you‘re my age.
So I wasn‘t sure whether I wanted the days to pass fast or pass slowly. But I was very glad to get to the end of the chemotherapy. And then, you know, the end is not the end because it stays in your body for a significant period of time. But it has a lessening effect. So I feel better each day.
LAMB: You‘re 75 now.
SPECTER: That‘s what my birth certificate says, I can‘t be sure about that, but that‘s what my mother told me.
LAMB: You were how old when you had your brain tumor?
SPECTER: I was 63.
LAMB: You were how old when you had your bypass surgery?
LAMB: So three major operations, any one of those could be life-threatening over the years. How do you rate, if there is such a thing, this experience compared to the other two?
SPECTER: Well, the bypass surgery was very tough because I had -- by the way, I‘ve made the Kleenex industry rich during the course of this and also the Gatorade industry. The bypass surgery I had fluid on my lungs. I was in the hospital for 16 days. And that was very, very tough.
The brain surgery was also difficult. I‘ll tell that a tough part about the medical problems aren‘t bad, is that on the brain surgery I had felt some tightness in my head and my shirt collar was tight. And I -- they couldn‘t find out what was wrong and I said I want an MRI, knew it was non-invasive.
And they didn‘t want to give me an MRI, but I got one. And a neurosurgeon looked at the MRI film immediately after it was taken. And he said, you‘ve got three to six weeks to live. You‘ve got a malignant brain tumor.
And, of course, you can‘t have a bigger shock than that. And I said to him just reflexively, oh my, my wife is on her way down to Washington today. It was June 11th, 1963 (sic). I said, we are celebrating our 40th anniversary on Monday, June 14th. And she‘s coming down and we‘re going to Little Washington to a resort for the weekend.
And the neurosurgeon looked at me, said, well, go and have a good time. And I said to myself, this guy is a goofball. I said, give me my films, I‘m going to Philadelphia. And I caught the 2:00 train.
And others looked at them. And the fact is that from the film you can‘t really tell. And the following Monday morning at 7 a.m. I had brain surgery. And they removed a meningioma from my head. They had to freeze it and they had to slice it down. They had to look at it under a microscope.
And they found out that it was benign. And years before, back in 1979, and you and I talked about this on an interview many years ago, I was told I had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig‘s disease.
And I went to the medical libraries and looked it up, found out you had two to seven years to live. And then I looked at my hand and I could see my hand shaking with my nervous system deteriorating.
And after about five or six months I found out I didn‘t have it at all. And the doctor who was a noted neurologist in Philadelphia said, well, your electroencephalogram could have been read differently. You may have had -- must have had a mild case of polio as a child.
So instead of telling me that there might be an alternative -- listen, doctors ought not sugarcoat it, and if it‘s very serious they ought to tell you that it‘s very serious. But if they need more time to study it, and it could be not so serious, they ought to tell you that.
And the doctors are not very well-trained in that. And I have gone on a little at length here because who knows, some doctor may be watching this program. Somebody may be watching this program, Brian.
I know you‘re very (INAUDIBLE)…
SPECTER: But they really ought not to sugarcoat it, say, you could something very, very serious, it could be fatal, but we won‘t know that until we have to conduct another series of checks and see what develops.
Fortunately on this Hodgkin‘s problem, my doctor, Dr. John Glick, a very famous oncologist, had it in tow right from the start and told me exactly what was going on, what the prospects were, what the treatment was, what the worst of the treatment was, how I was going to feel. And knowing what is in the offing makes it a lot easier to accept.
LAMB: I want to make sure we correct here. You said that you got the brain tumor in 1963. Did you mean 1993?
SPECTER: Oh, I meant 1993, yes, I was 63 at the time.
LAMB: Sixty-three years old.
LAMB: What have you, over these years -- I know you‘re a United States senator and you get some favorable treatment as you go through this process, but what have you learned about the medical profession, both good and bad? And has it affected anything you‘ve done as a senator?
SPECTER: Well, it certainly has. Being a senator has a lot more advantages than disadvantages in terms of I don‘t have to wait for doctors. I want to see a doctor, I see them. We have medical care in the Senate, but people ought to know we pay for it. It‘s not a perquisite that we get free.
But there is also a downside that people take good a care of you. And they don‘t tell you the stuff that perhaps they should. And there is a counter side, but what my own medical problems have done for me is to make me very keenly aware of the importance of health and it‘s reflected in my Senate work because I chair the Appropriations Subcommittee for Health.
And I‘ve been in the forefront of working on stem cells. And I‘m very angry that more hasn‘t been done on medical research. It came into sharp focus for me when I developed cancer.
President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1970. And if the resources had been devoted to that war like we devote to the other wars, cancer would have been cured. And I think I wouldn‘t have had Hodgkin‘s disease.
And I‘ve had this sense as to health care before I got sick at all. I was elected in 1980, before I had battle with a brain tumor or bypass surgery. And that was a committee which I chose. And Senator Tom Harkin and I, on a bipartisan basis, have taken the lead on increasing funding for the National Institutes of Health from $12 billion to $28 billion.
And, Brian, it‘s a real struggle. And I‘m fighting right now to keep a billion-and-a-half increase in the budget. And it‘s 1 percent -- slightly more than 1 percent of the gross federal budget, and one-fifth of 1 percent of our gross national product. And that‘s not enough.
We have 110 million people affected a variety of ailments, of cancer, heart disease, Parkinson‘s, Alzheimer‘s, et cetera. And stem cells is a big issue right today. And when stem cells burst on the scene in November of 1998, I saw the potential, got good staff work, I was briefed on it, and 10 days later the subcommittee had the first hearing.
And we‘ve had 14 hearings on the subject. And it is really scandalous, just scandalous that ideology has prevented the utilization on embryonic stem cells. And if they had been researched from 1998, maybe my problem could have been prevented.
LAMB: What has been the worst part of this February to now experience?
SPECTER: The worst part of it has been feeling lethargic, feeling bad, needing to take an afternoon nap. But it has all been tough but tolerable.
LAMB: And the Hodgkin‘s itself is caused by what, do they know?
SPECTER: Nobody knows.
LAMB: You have no idea?
SPECTER: No, no. But we can find out. Enormous progress has been made on many forms of cancer. I took a trip to Latin America on the drug problem and the immigration problem. My committee is working on an immigration bill and we‘re working on the issue of drugs, of oversight on the Drug Enforcement Agency.
And when I was in Nicaragua -- rather, in Costa Rica, I saw a study which was financed by NIH, National Cancer Institute, on cervical cancer where they are able to find that it is caused by a virus and they have developed a vaccine.
And you may wonder, why Costa Rica? Because they can then have a control group of women 18 to 24, if you try to do that in Washington, the people move to Philadelphia, San Francisco, someplace else, but there they have a stable population. And they‘re finding a cure for cervical cancer.
LAMB: Let‘s go to that trip. How long was your trip and when did you take it?
SPECTER: It was eight days and I took it from August the 15th through August 22nd.
LAMB: Who went with you?
SPECTER: My chief of staff, David Brog.
LAMB: Just the two of you.
SPECTER: Had a doctor go with us, and that‘s all.
LAMB: And where did you go?
SPECTER: Went to Mexico. Went to Venezuela. Went to Costa Rica. And went to Cuba.
LAMB: Two-and-a-half-hour lunch with Castro?
SPECTER: Right. That was short. It was the third time I‘ve met Fidel Castro. And I went to dinner with him a couple of years ago, called at 8:00 and we sat down to dinner at midnight and finished about 3:00 a.m. He‘s a garrulous, talkative fellow, very hard to get in a word edgewise, but I managed.
LAMB: Did he have a translator or did you have a translator?
SPECTER: He had a translator. He had a translator. I asked him some provocative questions. I wanted to know if he was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy because Oswald had been on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and we had had the Bay of Pigs and a lot of speculation that Castro might have wanted to retaliate against President Kennedy because of what President Kennedy had done.
And he said, no. He said, what do you take me for? He said, I‘m a Marxist, not a fool. And I talked to him about his suppression of human rights, wanted to know why he wouldn‘t have elections, why he wouldn‘t engage in political campaigns. And he said, I run a political campaign all the time. I said, well, who‘s your opponent? He said, the United States.
But he‘s -- he had a bad fall, as you may know, recently, but he‘s robust and a lot of people are waiting for him to die and they may have a long way. Nobody knows about that, but he‘s in no sense infirm or feeble.
LAMB: Why did he see you?
SPECTER: He sees me because he‘s interested in developing better relations with the United States. And he‘s interested in telling about what he has done by way of helping other countries medically, sending his doctors around the world.
And I think he likes to see people. And I want to see him because I want to talk to him about drug interdiction. I‘ve had pressing legislation which I can‘t get passed because people are so determined not to do any business with Castro, when it‘s cutting off our nose to spite our face not to have drug interdiction.
But he‘s a force today. And human rights are very, very squashed down there. We need to keep putting pressure on him, to let him know that people of the United States are concerned about what goes on in Cuba.
LAMB: When you do that kind of a trip, does the military fly you around?
LAMB: And when you go into Cuba, do they take a United States military plane and land there?
SPECTER: Yes, mm-hmm.
LAMB: No problems?
SPECTER: No, no.
LAMB: What did you see in Cuba, just the surroundings, the people, the buildings, and the -- you know, what has changed since?
SPECTER: Well, Cuba could be a gem, and instead it has deteriorated. They have a very regressive, suppressive government. They have no free enterprise. And they have some few fancy hotels for tourists but their tourist trade is limited.
American citizens can‘t go there unless they‘re in special categories, educationally (ph). So it‘s a very, very backward country. And I went Cuba because I was en route to Guantanamo.
I wanted to go see what is going on there with a view to having legislation so that Congress will discharge its constitutional responsibility to establish rules and regulation governing the trial of people who are apprehended, detainees, al Qaeda, whoever.
And another important part about my trip to Cuba, Brian, was they have a squash court, which I played on.
LAMB: Did you play Fidel Castro?
LAMB: When you went to Guantanamo, you wanted to have a hearing and the military wouldn‘t let you have one.
SPECTER: That‘s right.
LAMB: Who told you you couldn‘t have a hearing?
SPECTER: I was told that by the commanding general of the installation.
LAMB: What was your reaction when he told you?
SPECTER: I was disappointed, really angry, very difficult to deal with, the Department of Defense. There had been a front page story on The New York Times earlier in August which quoted prosecutors saying that the system had been rigged and…
LAMB: The tribunal system?
SPECTER: The tribunal -- the military tribunal system. And the case has gone to the Supreme Court of the United States on detainees. And three opinions were written about a year ago, which was patchwork.
And the Constitution says that Congress has the responsibility and authority to establish rules governing treatment of people caught on land or sea. And Congress hasn‘t done anything about it.
And the Judiciary Committee held a hearing a couple of months ago, and it‘s something we‘re following up on. And I wanted to see what Guantanamo was like. And I wanted to do a hearing.
They didn‘t want to put people under oath. And I said, that‘s all right, we‘ll waive the oaths. But I want a transcript so you can ask questions and get answers and have follow-up. And when it‘s written down, people are a lot more responsible about what they say than if you sit across a table and take some notes.
And they wouldn‘t do that. So we‘re going to have a hearing in Washington, Brian. There‘s more than one way to skin a cat.
LAMB: So you were refused on the scene and you were going to do a hearing by yourself?
SPECTER: Yes. I notified the other members of the committee that I didn‘t expect anybody to be anxious to come down to Guantanamo on August 15th. But we do a lot of one-senator hearings.
LAMB: How can the military refuse you in those circumstances?
SPECTER: They don‘t produce the witnesses.
LAMB: And you have no recourse other than have your own hearing here?
SPECTER: That‘s right. But that‘s a pretty good recourse.
LAMB: And you‘re going to have a hearing when, what day?
SPECTER: I‘m going to have a hearing on September 14th.
LAMB: Who will testify?
SPECTER: Well, the individuals who were quoted in The New York Times I expect to testify. When DOD has my witness list, I might have a hard time getting the witnesses to appear, but really is no surprise, these individuals were quoted on the front page of The New York Times.
And we‘ll call for the Department of Defense witnesses to testify. To elaborate on it just a bit, when I was there, I was there with ranking officials from the Department of Defense. And they told me that they had a very detailed inspector general‘s report and they also had an internal investigation.
Now this is Monday, August the 15th…
LAMB: When you were there.
SPECTER: Yes. I flew down to Cuba on the 14th so I could get there early in the morning and be prepared to conduct this hearing and proceed. And I said, well, if you‘ve got an inspector general‘s report, you may have answers, I may not need a hearing.
I don‘t want to have a hearing if there is nothing to the issue. And they said, we‘ll get it to you promptly. And I expected to get it the next day in their internal report. And I‘ve been trying to get that report every day.
And we‘re talking now on the 26th of August, and frankly, I‘m very put off that when I get a commitment from ranking people in the administration about having this report and I don‘t get it, that‘s not right. That is just not right.
So two days ago I said, I‘m tired of waiting for the report and I‘m going to schedule a hearing. And a hearing attracts their attention. And then I got a call from a newspaper reporter and I candidly told the newspaper reporter what I‘ve told you.
And then the newspaper reporter calls up the Department of Defense for a response and finally they‘re interested. But if they don‘t read about it in the newspaper, they don‘t pay a whole lot of attention unless they‘re summoned to a hearing.
LAMB: That also dovetails right in -- I mean, we can talk more about your trip in a moment, but it also dovetails right in with your approach to the Supreme Court. I mean, you‘re elected to the Senate and you want information out of the Pentagon and have trouble getting it, but you also are not happy with what the Supreme Court -- I don‘t want to put words in your mouth, but you‘re not happy with what the Supreme Court does in relationship to what they -- how they react to what Congress -- the laws Congress passes. Explain that.
SPECTER: Well, the Supreme Court has cut back on congressional authority in a very drastic way in a case 10 years ago called Lopez, where for almost 60 years the commerce clause had given Congress authority to address the problems of the country and to have very, very important legislation.
And we passed the law to protect women against violence after a very extensive record. A young woman was raped in Virginia Polytech Institute (sic), and she brought a lawsuit and it went to the Supreme Court.
And they said we hadn‘t established a sufficient impact on Congress, which we really had, really a very far-fetched conclusion. And the court said that they disagreed with our, quote, "method of reasoning," unquote.
Now after being in the Senate for 25 years and having very intensive hearings, if a question arises in my mind, to put it politely, who are they to say that their method of reasoning is superior to ours? And the dissent pointed out that only the court has competence to decide a constitutional issue. Well, if only the court has competence, Congress is incompetent to decide.
And then we took up the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they struck down part of it and upheld part of it, two five to four decisions, which are not reconcilable. And Justice Scalia in dissent said that the court is really asking as the, quote, "taskmaster" to if the Congress is doing its, quote, "homework." And that is ill-advised between two branches of government.
So these hearings on Judge Roberts will provide an opportunity to look at some of the institutional issues here on separation of power between the court and the Congress, and the court on its judicial activism.
And the setting is to find out the jurisprudence of Judge Roberts. But the projection is really much broader on the power of the Congress.
LAMB: So as you come close now in a couple of days to test -- I mean, to chairing the Judiciary Committee and starting these hearings, what Supreme Court nominee is this in front of you as a member of the Judiciary Committee over the years, what number?
SPECTER: Nine. We‘ve -- I‘ve been a party to nine.
LAMB: You‘ve been chairman of the Judiciary Committee for how long?
SPECTER: Seven months and 26 days.
LAMB: This is your fifth terms as United States senator?
SPECTER: That‘s right. It takes you a long time to get to be a chairman. Most of the time by the time you‘re a chairman you‘re feeble, Brian.
LAMB: Your committee has how many members?
LAMB: And what is the way you‘re going to approach the hearings with John Roberts, how many minutes does everybody get?
SPECTER: We‘re allotting 30 minutes on first round and 20 minutes on a second round, and then we‘ll see if we need additional time to question. We‘re trying to give adequate time to really develop issues.
We customarily have five-minute rounds, sometimes 10 minutes. But this is the Supreme Court of the United States. The president has asked for dignified hearings and he‘s exactly right. And going to be right down the middle. I‘m reserving judgment on Judge Roberts until I hear him testify and until we conclude the hearings.
LAMB: How often have you met with him?
SPECTER: I have met with him on four occasions.
LAMB: Where, in your office?
SPECTER: I met with him about five years ago when he was pending on the Circuit Court of Appeals. There were two lawyers who had been waiting a long time and I wanted to see what it was like and I invited him to lunch in the Senate dining room. I never met John Roberts before, and another fellow, and had lunch and I wanted to know the trials and tribulations.
I don‘t like the delays. I didn‘t like the delays when the shoe was on the other foot and we were tying up Clinton‘s nominees. One of them had been tied up -- Judge Roberts was tied up when the Democrats controlled the Senate back in 1991. He was nominated for circuit judge a long time ago.
And the other man I met, a young man named Alan Schneider (ph) was tied up by the Republicans. I wanted to see what the turmoil, what the problems were. And then I met him because the president had invited me to come to the White House when he announced Judge Roberts.
I got a call about 8:00, can you come over at 9:30 and meet Judge Roberts? And I did. And then I met with him with Senator Frist in Senator Frist‘s office. And I met with him for about an hour, a little more than that, in my office to talk to him on an informal interview.
LAMB: Did the president talk to you before he made this decision about him?
SPECTER: I was consulted by others in the White House, not by the president, about Judge Roberts specifically. The president did call in Senator Leahy, who is the ranking member on Judiciary, and the two leaders, Senator Frist and Senator Reid, and we had breakfast.
And we discussed a generalized approach as to how it was going to be conducted and what recommendations we had for the president, what our thinking was. But at that meeting we did not take up any names.
And then later I was asked to come over to the White House to meet with two of the president‘s top advisors who went over a long list with me and they asked me my opinion about quite a number of people. And Judge Roberts was on that list.
LAMB: What did you tell them?
SPECTER: I told them I thought he had an excellent reputation, had very good academic credentials and I know he had argued a lot of cases in the Supreme Court. I told him I had met him on this on one occasion and thought he was a top-notch guy.
LAMB: Playing out the same time, you were having lunch at some point with Justice -- Chief Justice Rehnquist, is that right?
SPECTER: We had a lunch with a number of Supreme Court justices where the chief justice came, yes.
LAMB: What was the purpose of the lunch?
SPECTER: The purpose of the lunch was to establish a little more rapport between the United States Senate and the Supreme Court.
LAMB: Did it work?
SPECTER: Yes, it‘s helpful. They have the final word on what the Constitution means or what they think the Constitution means, or Congress‘ lack of competence or method of reasoning, but they have to come to us for their budget.
So they like to maintain some contacts with the Senate and with the Appropriations Committee. And the chief justice came to the lunch and opened it and made a short introductory statement but did not actually stay for lunch.
LAMB: What do you think of the way he has handled his own situation? I mean, obviously, you two have had these health issues. Should he keep doing what he‘s doing?
SPECTER: I think he absolutely should. I speculated that he was not going to retire. And everybody thought I was on the edge of a limb and was wrong. But I know myself that having a -- the chief justice has important things to do.
Now I think I have important things to do. And having important things to do or thinking you have important things to do keeps you going. And I had seen the chief, I saw him on the inauguration on January 20th, and he didn‘t look so good. All the world saw him, he was on television as he came in, helped down the steps and over to administer the oath in a feeble voice.
And then I saw him at a judicial conference about fourth months ago and he looked better. Then I saw him at lunch I guess about six weeks ago and he looked better yet. And I speculated that he wasn‘t about to step down. And that speculation has proved correct.
LAMB: Let me ask -- let‘s assume somebody is out there watching and saying, and it‘s direct, that they say, why don‘t those guys give up? They‘re sick. You know, this is important stuff. The country‘s issues are important. Why don‘t they step aside and let somebody else do it?
What do you say to them?
SPECTER: I say to them, I think it would be a pretty good idea. I think there comes a time when even if an individual can carry on, that it‘s advisable in the public interest to give way.
Judge Roberts wrote in one of his early memoranda that there ought to be a limitation on how long judges serve and that 15 years would be an appropriate time. And that was picked up on the Outlook section of The Washington Post.
And if time permits, I intend to ask Judge Roberts if -- what his thinking is on that subject and why he thinks 15 years would be in the public interest and if he would be prepared to limit his own service.
He serves under the Constitution for life or good behavior, and I don‘t expect him on the spot to be willing to limit himself on his tenure. But it‘s an interesting idea. And if we can develop some thinking on it, it might be a subject that a president would take up on a nomination.
I have some influence on appointing district judges in Pennsylvania. And there are some outposts where people don‘t want to serve. And we‘ve established stations around the state to help litigants so you don‘t do everything in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
We established a station in one of the towns and got a judge for it. And as soon as he was confirmed he moved to Philadelphia. And now I extract a promise. When we have the confirmation hearings, the person is going to serve where it‘s not quite as desirable as the big city.
Well, the president might look to that, too. Of course, the president might want to keep his people on for longer periods of time. But I think that‘s an idea which ought to be developed.
LAMB: On a completely separate issue, you have been known to say out loud that the Supreme Court of the United States should be on television. And they have pretty much signaled that they‘re not interested in that. What do you think?
SPECTER: I intend to press legislation on the subject. And I haven‘t done it in the first part of my tenure as chairman, candidly, out of deference to Chief Justice Rehnquist. But now the expectation had been that he would retire in advance of the next term. We know that‘s not so. When we move through the nomination process and have just a little bit of time to focus on that, I intend to introduce legislation.
I think Congress has the authority to say there ought to be television of the Supreme Court. And their judicial independence is untouchable. Nobody can tell them how to decide cases.
But Congress decides, for example, how many justices there will be. As you may remember, Judge -- President Roosevelt wanted to so-called "pack" the court and enlarge it to 15. We established what a quorum is on the court, six.
We established time limits. We say when they start to sit on the first Monday in October, and I think on an administrative matter that the Supreme Court is subject to a congressional determination.
Now they may disagree with this and say, it‘s an invasion of separation of powers, I don‘t think it is. They will, of course, have the final word. But they decide so many cases five to four on the cutting edge. And I think that it would be very helpful for the public to have a great understanding as to what they do.
LAMB: What are the chances it would pass your committee and then also pass the Senate and then the House?
SPECTER: Well, I think it‘s difficult, candidly, because there is a certain reluctance on the part of the Congress to tell the court what to do even on a housekeeping matter like television. But I intend to push it.
There will be a day when the Supreme Court will be televised. And I think if my colleagues had a little more understanding of the way they curtail congressional power, and the public doesn‘t understand it and even the Congress doesn‘t understand it.
And frankly, until I went back and started to read these cases and see exactly what was happening, it came as a rude surprise to me that the court was so intemperate in their language, challenging our method of reasoning, challenging our competence, and as Justice Scalia said, acting as "taskmaster" to see if we‘re doing our homework.
I think if that really settles in, there will be a little -- more than a little resentment in the Congress to what the court has said about us.
LAMB: So Judge Roberts comes before your committee. This starts out on September the 6th. How many days of hearings?
SPECTER: Well, it depends upon when the last senator stops talking. Sometimes my wife asks me when I‘m coming home for dinner. And I say, as soon as the last senator stops talking.
I think we‘ll have a good chance of concluding the hearings with Judge Roberts on Wednesday or Thursday and go to other witnesses on Friday. But we‘re going to take our time. We‘re going to allow people a questioning. This is a very important matter and it depends upon how the questioning goes.
LAMB: Will you need more than one day for other people to testify?
SPECTER: I don‘t think so, but we will take whatever time we need on that too. We‘ve been know to have Saturday sessions and we could go over until the following Monday when we had Clarence Thomas on and professor Hill. We worked Sunday until 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning.
LAMB: And then what will happen in the committee? How fast will that move?
SPECTER: We have an agreement with the Democrats that they will not seek to hold Judge Roberts over, which they could, so I expect a committee vote on September 15th. And I expect to have a floor action during the latter part of September. And if confirmed, have him sworn in before October 3rd so he can take his seat when the new term starts.
LAMB: What is your own personal approach to Judge Roberts, and will you have the first questions?
SPECTER: I will.
LAMB: What do you want to ask him about?
SPECTER: My first line of questions will be on the central issue in this whole matter and that is a woman‘s right to choose. That‘s the big issue, Roe versus Wade. I do not think it appropriate to ask him if he will vote to reverse Roe. But I think it is appropriate to ask him his view of precedence.
When I sat down to talk to him, I said to him, Judge Roberts, you‘re talked about as being a conservative. And I frankly don‘t like the terms conservative or liberal or moderate. I think they conceal a lot more than they reveal. But do you feel comfortable with any of those terms?
And he said, no. He said, I like an approach on modesty for the court for a judge, and stability. So I‘m going to ask him about Roe versus Wade having been in effect for 32 years and having been reaffirmed quite a number of times, most notably in 1992. And ask him about reliance, people used to it, a factor of stability, and cite some authorities on that line, begin there.
And then move to the congressional power, what is his view of Congress‘ role? Does he think we‘re -- our method of reasoning is deficient? There have been different standards on the commerce clause.
And I will not ask him how he would decide a specific case in the future, but what standard would he apply to -- on Justice Harlan‘s test of a substantial for -- substantial evidentiary basis for what Congress has done, as opposed to the mountainous standard which has been put in the way, leading to declaration of unconstitutionality on the law to protect woman against violence.
LAMB: What would you do if you got the impression from him somehow in his testimony that he would vote to overturn Roe? What would that do to you and your vote for him?
SPECTER: Well, I have never made a determination based on litmus test. And I voted for Chief Justice Rehnquist when he was confirmed as chief, even though he voted against Roe versus Wade. And I voted for Justice Scalia knowing that he was against Roe versus Wade.
I would judge him on the totality of his testimony. I think that a response on Roe is a very significant response. And I think that there are quite a number of senators who are already lining up to say that that‘s a determinative factor.
I would be very much surprised, shocked, not going to happen, that Judge Roberts is going to tell us what he‘s going to do on Roe versus Wade. He‘s just not going to do that. He shouldn‘t and he‘s not going to.
And we‘ll have some idea of his judicial philosophy on his answers. But he‘s not going to make that kind of a disclosure.
LAMB: Your -- I don‘t know if you want to call it a guess or whatever, but based on what you know about him now, will he pass your committee?
SPECTER: I would say his chances are very good. But I think it‘s very important for us to keep an open mind. When we had the hearing in the past there have been surprises. And it‘s very important to listen to him, to hear him out, and to hear the other witnesses out and to go through the process and be open about it until the hearings are concluded.
LAMB: There have been, I don‘t know, 50,000 documents that -- at least by now, something like that, that have been released that he had something to do with in the past. How far can you go with this over time? I mean -- everything that somebody wrote when they came into a government, should that be available?
SPECTER: I think it is very useful to get an idea of the jurisprudence. Some documents have not been released where he worked in the Solicitor General‘s Office, because those are prepared in anticipation of litigation. And there is what is called the deliberative process privilege. It is not absolute.
But in a context where there are so many other documents available, when he assisted William French Smith as attorney general. And later as assistant White House counsel he had spoken about the jurisdiction of the court. He has given indications as to how he stands on Roe versus Wade. They‘re a long time ago and not inclusive, but indications.
Women‘s issues, affirmative action, there is quite a paper trail that is available for people to question him. And that‘s why it seemed to me, and I took a stand, that the deliberative process privilege ought to be respected in this situation.
LAMB: Anybody that has watched Senator Arlen Specter, you, over the years, and there have hundreds of hours on this network that you‘ve chaired hearings or you‘ve been a member of a committee, knows that you have been…
SPECTER: Not enough, but hundreds.
LAMB: Yes. But people know that you can get direct and you use a lot of energy, and I‘m getting back to the health question. Do you have the same energy if, you know, this could become a very contentious situation? I mean, how do you feel about your own health at this point? Are you ready to go?
SPECTER: Totally up to it. We‘re ready to go. You can judge me a little by this interview. I‘ve had some other interviews. Or you can judge me by what I‘ve done in committee.
I took on the asbestos case, Brian, and they said it couldn‘t be done. And it hasn‘t been done yet. We haven‘t got a bill passed, but we had hearings which were as contentious on that issue as any that I‘ve seen. Not quite as high visibility as the clash between Justice Clarence Thomas and professor Anita Hill, but I‘m up to it.
LAMB: You also, and this is back to the earlier discussion, saw Hugo Chavez of Venezuela on your trip, I believe. And there have been a lot of articles recently about the threat of Venezuela and pulling their oil away from us. What did you learn from your meeting and do we have something to worry about?
SPECTER: I learned from the meeting that you can sit down and talk to President Hugo Chavez. I think it is very much in Venezuela‘s interest to sell us their oil, as it is in our interest to buy their oil.
There is a big dispute going on now between the Venezuelan narcotics officials and our DEA, Drug Enforcement Agency. Our ambassador had not been able to get a meeting with their minister of the interior.
And I did get a meeting with President Chavez. And their interior minister was there. And the upshot of it was that our ambassador with their minister of the interior, they would try to work out our problems.
It‘s very important that we maintain a dialogue. I found, Brian, in my trips around the world that the United States does treat foreign governments with sufficient respect and sufficient dignity. We throw our weight around. And there is a lot of criticism.
And the day after I met with President Chavez, which was nine days ago on a Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was in Peru criticizing Chavez. And I dropped Don Rumsfeld a note and said, let‘s have a moratorium, at least while we try to work out our problems on the drug issue.
Let‘s -- we don‘t have to agree with them. If there is evidence that they are trying to destabilize Latin America, let‘s confront him on it. And I made it a point this week to be briefed by the Department of Defense officials. And I want to go over the records and over the documents to see what Chavez is doing, if it‘s real.
And if there is a threat there, let‘s sit down with him. I told -- I talked to him about the narcotics issue. Let‘s put all the cards on the table face up. They don‘t like what we‘ve done, well, let‘s see what it is that we‘ve done.
And we may not agree with him, but let‘s try to work it out. And if they‘re doing things which we think are inappropriate, let‘s confront them on it. But let‘s not fight those battles in the newspapers.
LAMB: Senator Specter, we‘re out of time, thank you very much.
SPECTER: A great pleasure. Again, Brian, thank you.