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Senator Harry Reid on 'Meet the Press'

Old 12-06-04, 09:41 AM
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Senator Harry Reid on 'Meet the Press'

Meet the Press

Sunday, December 5, 2004

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back with the new leader of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Harry Reid of Nevada.

Welcome.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV): Thank you very much.

MR. RUSSERT: In 1994, when the Republicans seized control of both houses of Congress, this is what Senator Harry Reid said. "We all have to swallow a little bit of our pride and go toward the middle."

Is that still your advice to the Democrats?

SEN. REID: I think there's no question about it. You know, we don't accomplish anything on the far right and the far left. Things are accomplished in the middle. We have to work toward the middle. And I think that that's clear. I feel no differently than I did 10 years ago.

MR. RUSSERT: There were a lot of eyebrows raised across the town when the Las Vegas Review- Journal and The Hill newspaper reported this. "Harry Reid, the incoming Senate minority leader, said he is forming a communications `war room' to promote Democratic messages and respond to Republican criticism."

Is creating a war room the prescription to try to solve the partisan problems we face right now?

SEN. REID: Well, I think war room designation is something that comes from inside Washington. What I've created is a communications center where we're going to take some of the resources that are already there and make sure that when someone comes to the Senate floor to give a speech, that talk radio stations know what that person had to say. We're going to communicate with the American people to make sure that they understand the Democrats are in tune with millions of Americans across the country. In fact, we represent the people of this country, and this communications center that we have will certainly be an indication of how we feel.

MR. RUSSERT: So you're not going to war with Republicans the first week on your job?

SEN. REID: No. I hope we don't have to go to war. As I said, Tim, I'd rather dance than fight. But people have to understand that the president controls the White House, of course. The House of Representatives, the Senate--if he wants to get something done, he has to come to us. We are constitutionally empowered by the Constitution to have certain powers that are inherent in this body, and we want to work with the president. But they can't jam things down our throats. The American people wouldn't want us to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: You're a former boxer. If you're punched, you'll punch back?

SEN. REID: Sure will.

MR. RUSSERT: When the president talked about Yucca Mountain and moving the nation's nuclear waste there, you were very, very, very strong in your words. You said, "President Bush is a liar. He betrayed Nevada and he betrayed the country."

Is that rhetoric appropriate?

SEN. REID: I don't know if that rhetoric is appropriate. That's how I feel, and that's how I felt. I think to take that issue, Tim, to take the most poisonous substance known to man, plutonium, and haul 70,000 tons of it across the highways and railways of this country, past schools and churches and people's businesses is wrong. It's something that is being forced upon this country by the utilities, and it's wrong. And we have to stop it. And people may not like what I said, but I said it, and I don't back off one bit.

MR. RUSSERT: The intelligence bill reforms which were recommended by the 9-11 Commission; now before the Senate and the House. Being held up by two Republican congressmen in the House. And now Senator John Warner, Republican from Virginia, said he has reservations. Will the intelligence reform bill pass this week in Congress?

SEN. REID: The Congress of the United States should not leave this town until we pass this. Governor Kean, Representative Hamilton were appointed by the president of the United States to give us some ideas as to what should be done following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. They told us what should be done. And we in the Senate and the House passed bills that were in keeping with what they wanted. Now, it's being held up because the speaker says he wants a majority--the majority to approve everything before they will pass it.

This legislation has enough votes in the House and the Senate to pass overwhelmingly. The president should intercede, as he I believe has an obligation to this country. We have people that want to be safe in America today. The secretary of Health and Human Service, Tommy Thompson, when he announced his resignation, said that the Americans' food and water supply is not safe. How can we leave town and not have this most important legislation passed? It may not be perfect, but no legislation's perfect. It's something that we need to do, and the people of America are depending on us to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: Stay through Christmas if necessary?

SEN. REID: Stay through the day before New Year's. We must pass this legislation. The people in Nevada want to be safe.

MR. RUSSERT: What must...

SEN. REID: The people in this country want to be safe.

MR. RUSSERT: What must the president do?

SEN. REID: The president, who controls both houses of Congress, should use his power. And he has said that he has power. He has a mandate. Let him pull a few bucks out of that pocket of mandate and give it to the House and Senate and say, "Here's part of my mandate. I want this legislation to pass."

MR. RUSSERT: Republicans are saying they're concerned about the intelligence on the ground with our troops and they're concerned about driver's licenses that there are not a--without uniform standards, hijackers could easily obtain them from localities that did not maintain rigid standards.

SEN. REID: Tim, we dealt with immigration in this bill. This is not an immigration bill. Immigration is covered as recommended by the commission, and we've done that. This is a holdup. These are people who have committees, Sensenbrenner and Hunter, and they want to maintain power. Power--this is not about power. It's about keeping the American people safe. And the president, I repeat, should intercede any way that he can, and there are lots of ways he can. He hasn't even sent a letter yet. You know, you keep three or days--he hasn't even sent a letter to the congressional leaders saying he wants it passed. This should be passed as quickly as possible. Every day that goes by, the American people are not as safe.

MR. RUSSERT: Private accounts for Social Security--the president has made that a priority of his domestic agenda. Will you work with him in privatizing part of Social Security?

SEN. REID: Tim, I can remember as a little boy my widowed grandmother with eight children. She lived alone, but she felt independent because she got every month her old age pension check. That's what this is all about. The most successful social program in the history of the world is being hijacked by Wall Street. Yes, Social Security is a good program. And if the president has some ideas about trying to improve it, I'll talk to him, and we as Democrats will, but we are not going to let Wall Street hijack Social Security. It won't happen. They are trying to destroy Social Security.

MR. RUSSERT: No private accounts?

SEN. REID: They are trying to destroy Social Security by giving this money to the fat cats on Wall Street, and I think it's wrong.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, there are now 40 million people on Social Security. In the next 20 years, there's going to be 80 million. Life expectancy used to be 65 years old. It's approaching 80. If you have twice as many people on these programs for 15 years, you've got to restructure them in some way, shape, or form. What is your solution?

SEN. REID: Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: What is your alternative?

SEN. REID: Tim, all experts say that Social Security beneficiaries will receive every penny of their benefits that they're entitled to--100 percent of them--until the year 2055. After that, if we still do nothing, they'll draw 80 percent of their benefits. I want those beneficiaries after year 2055 to draw 100 percent of their benefits. But this does not require dismantling the program. For heaven's sakes, they're crying wolf a little too regularly here. There is not an emergency on Social Security. We can do this. The president should not try to jam this private accounts in an effort to destroy Social Security.

In the early--when Social Security came before the Congress, who opposed it? The Republicans. And they have a long memory. They've been trying to destroy Social Security for a long time and now they think they have an opening to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you look at increasing or raising the age of eligibility? Would you look at means testing? Would you look at any reform?

SEN. REID: Of course. There are reforms that probably can happen in Social Security, and we're not, you know, saying don't even touch it. Let's take a look at it. I said I want people after the year 2055 to be able to draw all of their benefits. And, sure, we'll take a look at it, but don't give the ball to Wall Street.

MR. RUSSERT: No private accounts of any kind?

SEN. REID: Not as far as I'm concerned.

MR. RUSSERT: You also said this back in 1994. "I believe in a consumption tax. ...The income tax is not working as well as it should. I think we should do away with it." Is that still your view?

SEN. REID: Tim, there's no question that the Social Security system--I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Back-- we're off Social Security, right. The income tax code, as we know it, is tough, it's unworkable. You know, we couldn't put the code on this desk. And I think we should work towards simplifying it. We had a pretty good program, Bradley-Gephardt, where we had three tax structures, but, of course, we changed that. Congress changed that and now it's more complicated than ever.

What I am concerned about that's happening with the talk that's coming from 17th and Pennsylvania Avenue is that they're talking about having a consumption tax and an income tax. That's the worst of all worlds. That's what they have in Europe where you have an income tax and you add on that the value-added tax. It's a terrible system. So what I say is if we can figure out a way to make our tax less burdensome and if we could go to a consumer based tax, I think it would be wonderful. But the transition rules of that are very difficult and I have looked into that. It's extremely difficult.

MR. RUSSERT: But the national sales tax or consumption tax is very regressive. Poor people get hit very hard with that as...

SEN. REID: No question.

MR. RUSSERT: ...to a progressive income tax.

SEN. REID: No question about it and I've learned a lot since the statement. I think if it's an ideal world, maybe we could work something out, but as I've learned in so many different areas, we...

MR. RUSSERT: You're less enthusiastic about a consumption tax now.

SEN. REID: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: This was the Associated Press about Harry Reid. "Reid voted with Republicans to ban a procedure that opponents call partial birth abortion. In 1999, he was one of two Senate Democrats who voted against an amendment expressing support for the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion."

Would you prefer to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade which allows legal abortions across the country.

SEN. REID: Tim, I have--my views on abortion are very clear. I've never tried to hide them. I think it's something that people understand about me. But I also understand that this is a very complicated issue, very difficult issue. And, you know, in our caucus, our Democratic caucus, we have wide-ranging views. My sister, as far--I don't have a sister, but as close as I have ever had to a sister is Barbara Boxer. Her views and my views differ. But, you know, we don't have a litmus test in the Senate with Senate Democrats. We don't do the so-called Specter test--"You have to agree with us or we won't let you be a chairman of the committee or subcommittee." We don't do that.

And so I say that this is an issue that is not likely going to be resolved in the Congress of the United States. I think what we should do is all work toward reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, unintended pregnancies. I think we should do that. That would, of course, lead to fewer abortions. That should be a goal we all have. And I think that this matter will be resolved, as--the Supreme Court has wrestled with this for years and years. And, as you know, they're having a difficult time coming up with what should or shouldn't be done.

MR. RUSSERT: But why did you vote against something that would express support for Roe vs. Wade? Do you believe that Roe vs. Wade was incorrectly decided?

SEN. REID: You know, you're asking me--I don't want to give you the Clarence Thomas decision here, but Roe vs. Wade is--I clearly oppose abortion. And this was a Senate resolution. It had no standing in law if it had even passed. So I think that my views are clear, and I think that I have worked very hard with groups all over America to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and I'll continue to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: What would happen, do you think, in the country if Roe vs. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court?

SEN. REID: Well, I think it would be a little--it would be pretty difficult for everybody, so I think that's why the Supreme Court has wrestled with it

MR. RUSSERT: You are a Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had a statement on marriage: "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints favors a constitutional amendment preserving marriage as the lawful union of a man and a woman."

Do you accept that message, the statement from your church?

SEN. REID: Tim, we have in America today many, many states--I don't know the exact number; I think 11 or 13 in this last election cycle--said there can no--in our state, you have to have marriage between a man and a woman. That's the law in the state of Nevada. And within a couple years, even Massachusetts, that will be the law. And we in Congress recognized there would be some controversy over this, so we passed the Defense of Marriage Act that says you do not have to recognize the marriage laws of another state. That's the law of the land. And I think that we have to be very, very careful about how we tamper with the Constitution. I have agreed reluctantly on several occasions to agree to constitutional amendments. But frankly, in the history of this country, there've been over 11,500 attempts to amend the Constitution, and I want to approach those amendments very, very cautiously. I do not think it's necessary at this time to have a constitutional amendment in that regard.

MR. RUSSERT: Will that upset your church leaders?

SEN. REID: You'll have to ask them.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to judicial nominations. Again, Harry Reid on National Public Radio, November 19: "If they"--the Bush White House--"for example, gave us Clarence Thomas as chief justice, I personally feel that would be wrong. If they give us Antonin Scalia, that's a little different question. I may not agree with some of his opinions, but I agree with the brilliance of his mind."

Could you support Antonin Scalia to be chief justice of the Supreme Court?

SEN. REID: If he can overcome the ethics problems that have arisen since he was selected as a justice of the Supreme Court. And those ethics problems--you've talked about them; every people talk--every reporter's talked about them in town--where he took trips that were probably not in keeping with the code of judicial ethics. So we have to get over this. I cannot dispute the fact, as I have said, that this is one smart guy. And I disagree with many of the results that he arrives at, but his reason for arriving at those results are very hard to dispute. So...

MR. RUSSERT: Why couldn't you accept Clarence Thomas?

SEN. REID: I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don't--I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.

MR. RUSSERT: The Republicans have said that the Democrats have been obstructionist in terms of judicial nominations. And one of the things that's being considered is the so-called nuclear option, where Vice President Cheney would preside over the Senate, and there would be a motion to say that a Democratic filibuster against a judicial nominee violates the constitutional duty of senators to advise and consent on the issue of nominations, and a majority, 51 senators, could uphold the ruling of the chair and, in effect, do away with the filibuster when it comes to judicial nominations. What will you do if the Republicans exercise that option?

SEN. REID: George Will wrote in last week's Newsweek magazine that he had originally thought it was a good idea. He thinks it's a bad idea. I agree with George Will. We have a situation where during the four years that President Bush has been president, we've approved 207 federal judges and turned down 10. We have an obligation under the Constitution to give advise and consent to the nominations of the president of the United States.

If you look at Orrin Hatch's autobiography, in that he talks about what President Clinton did. He says that President Clinton came to him and said "Give me some suggestions as to who you think could be approved." And he suggested--Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Judiciary Committee--he suggested Breyer and Ginsburg. And sure enough, they were submitted by President Clinton. And with no problem, they were approved. That's the same model that President Bush should follow, if in fact we have Supreme Court nominees come before us. In the meantime, the president should be happy with what he's gotten, 207-to-10. That's a pretty good record for him.

MR. RUSSERT: You have written President Bush and asked him to consult with you about Supreme Court nominees before he nominates individuals?

SEN. REID: Just like Clinton did with Orrin Hatch. I wrote the letter Friday. I'm not sure the president has it yet. I hope he has. But I think that's the model he should follow. That would solve so many problems for us. We don't need a knockdown, drag-out fight on who should be approved on the Supreme Court. It should be approved as easy as Breyer and Ginsburg.

MR. RUSSERT: What if the president says, "Harry, I'm sorry. I'm the president. I was re-elected by this country. I get to appoint--to nominate Supreme Court justices, and you don't have a right of veto."

SEN. REID: Well, of course, if you read the Constitution, that's absolutely wrong. We do have a right of advise and consent. And I say to the president, he should follow what President Clinton did. President Clinton didn't have Orrin Hatch approve who he wanted. I mean, he gave him some suggestions and the suggestions were good. Orrin Hatch should be commended for that.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to be able to work with Senator Bill Frist, the Republican, and actually achieve anything?

SEN. REID: I think Bill Frist is one of the finest persons I've met. Here is a man how gave up a career in medicine--he was a transplant surgeon--to come here and spend some time in public service. He's doing his very best. His caucus is so much more difficult to deal with than mine. I'm going to have a much easier time with my Democrats than he is with his Republicans. But I look forward to working with him. We have a good relationship now, and I think it will get better during the next couple years.

MR. RUSSERT: But you're down to only 45. That's very few Democrats.

SEN. REID: Well, we have three less than we had last time. I think we have a pretty strong group of people, and we're going to do what we're entitled to do under the Constitution because we represent the American people.

MR. RUSSERT: Harry Reid, senator from Nevada, the new minority leader of the Democrats in the Senate. We thank you for sharing your views.

SEN. REID: Tim, thanks for allowing me to be on your show. It was such a breeze.
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Last edited by classicman2; 12-06-04 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 12-06-04, 10:20 AM
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MR. RUSSERT: Why couldn't you accept Clarence Thomas?
SEN. REID: I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don't--I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.
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Old 12-06-04, 10:57 AM
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Well from reading the transcript, it doesn't appear that Senator Reid will be the lapdog some people might have thought he would. How much different are his opinions and approach from Daschle?
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Old 12-06-04, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by VinVega
Well from reading the transcript, it doesn't appear that Senator Reid will be the lapdog some people might have thought he would. How much different are his opinions and approach from Daschle?
They differ somewhat on abortion.

I believe Reid will be less inclined to support obstructionist measures (within the rules) by the Democrats. He does truly seem to have a good working & personal relationship with Dr. Frist.
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Old 12-06-04, 11:14 AM
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Originally Posted by VinVega
Well from reading the transcript, it doesn't appear that Senator Reid will be the lapdog some people might have thought he would. How much different are his opinions and approach from Daschle?
It's obvious to me... just see c-man's highlighted portion of the transcript.
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Old 12-06-04, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
They differ somewhat on abortion.

I believe Reid will be less inclined to support obstructionist measures (within the rules) by the Democrats. He does truly seem to have a good working & personal relationship with Dr. Frist.
He was a good choice wasn't he?

I do like throwing out a few questions for discussion once in a while to get responses though.
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Old 12-06-04, 12:31 PM
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Interesting comments about the SCt and related issues. I don't find his differentiation of Scalia and Thomas all that surprising. People seem to think Scalia and Thomas are one in the same, but to anyone who follows the Court and has read their opinions, they know that Thomas is definitely more conservative (which in present day context, many would call radical) in judicial thought than Scalia.
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Old 12-06-04, 12:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
Interesting comments about the SCt and related issues. I don't find his differentiation of Scalia and Thomas all that surprising. People seem to think Scalia and Thomas are one in the same, but to anyone who follows the Court and has read their opinions, they know that Thomas is definitely more conservative (which in present day context, many would call radical) in judicial thought than Scalia.
But the question is - 'has Clarence Thomas been an embarassment to the Court?'
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Old 12-06-04, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
But the question is - 'has Clarence Thomas been an embarassment to the Court?'

Absolutely not. Just because someone frequently takes the outlyer position (whether one end or the other) doesn't make that person an embarrassment.

Now I can tell you which current Justice has been an embrassment to the Court.
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Old 12-06-04, 01:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
Now I can tell you which current Justice has been an embrassment to the Court.
That wouldn't happen to be a woman, would it?
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Old 12-06-04, 02:02 PM
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I didnt know about this guy but saw this yesterday on Tivo and think he will be way better then Daschle
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Old 12-06-04, 02:31 PM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
But the question is - 'has Clarence Thomas been an embarassment to the Court?'
If a Republican senator had made these sort of comments about a left-leaning black Supreme Court justice, the NAACP (Negroes Against All Conservatives Period) would be calling it the verbal equivalent of a lynching.
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Old 12-06-04, 04:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Turd Ferguson
If a Republican senator had made these sort of comments about a left-leaning black Supreme Court justice, the NAACP (Negroes Against All Conservatives Period) would be calling it the verbal equivalent of a lynching.
I dont know what has happened more recently in US history...an actual lynching, or someone using the word negro.
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Old 12-06-04, 05:13 PM
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Why can't Thomas get any love from the left?

A minute ago, many Democrats were up in arms about Scalia's duck hunting trip with Cheney. But that's all forgotten now.

What gives, man?
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Old 12-06-04, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
But the question is - 'has Clarence Thomas been an embarassment to the Court?'
this one woman lawyer i knew who is a hardcore democrat says thomas is the worst of the judges. she has a lot of respect for scalia, but none for thomas.
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Old 12-06-04, 08:49 PM
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Originally Posted by al_bundy
this one woman lawyer i knew who is a hardcore democrat says thomas is the worst of the judges. she has a lot of respect for scalia, but none for thomas.

I'm a male lawyer and have a lot of respect for both, plus justices on the opposite end of the spectrum.
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Old 12-07-04, 08:13 AM
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One reason I'd like to see Scalia elevated to the Chief Justice post - there would absolutely no chance of television cameras appearing in the court as long as he was Chief Justice.
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Old 12-07-04, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by classicman2
One reason I'd like to see Scalia elevated to the Chief Justice post - there would absolutely no chance of television cameras appearing in the court as long as he was Chief Justice.
I would think that would be something "Capt. CSPAN" would want to see. Why not? Ethics?
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Old 12-07-04, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by VinVega
I would think that would be something "Capt. CSPAN" would want to see. Why not? Ethics?
All you would be allowed to see are the oral arguments.

You can't now see or would you be able to see if cameras were permitted where the real work (decisions) are made.

I saw Brian Lamb (speaking before the National Press Club) yesterday on CSPAN. He was asked that very question. He said that this court make-up will never permit television cameras, but it might occur during younger folks' lifetime.
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