There's fire and brimstone in Washington and Senator Bill Frist is in the hot seat, as Republicans and Democrats fight over the values voters. But are both sides playing politics with religion? The Senate majority leader is taking major heat from liberals over his participation in a conservative Christian simulcast known as “Justice Sunday: Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith,” which aired Sunday evening.
The Family Research Council is producing this show. Its president, Tony Perkins, joined "Hardball" on Friday to explain why the group is against the filibuster.
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Thank you, Chris.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Do you think this is a battle over faith?
PERKINS: I think it's part of it. I think the Senate Democrats who are filibustering these candidates have interjected into this debate the beliefs of these individuals.
PERKINS: Well, the wording, the code word, the buzz word that is being used now to talk about a particular candidate is “deeply held personal beliefs,” which raise questions of whether or not they'll be good jurists. Let's talk about Charles Pickering, who, as the head of the Southern Baptist in Mississippi, made the statement one time that the Bible should be a guidepost for life, or Bill Pryor, who is a strong Catholic, who believes that abortion is wrong. Those issues and their faith have been called into question. And that's not right.
MATTHEWS: Have these justices shown that they have used their faith, their deep beliefs in terms of interpreting the law, which is the job of a judge?
PERKINS: Absolutely. They have not shown a pattern of being activist, where they're trying to impose their view of the law because of their faith.
MATTHEWS: So, why do you think these liberals are opposing these judges, if they're not doing what you said?
PERKINS: I think, number one, these are not just any judges. They're judges to the appellate court level, an important level of the court, right under the Supreme Court, dealing with constitutional issues.
But there has been a pattern of activism from our courts over the last 40 years that people of faith that are very concerned about whether it's school prayer, whether it's the abortion issue, whether it is the issue of same-sex marriage.
MATTHEWS: Do YOU think we should have prayer in public school?
PERKINS: I think students should be allowed to pray.
MATTHEWS: No, I mean organized prayers. It's like the King James Bible readings they used to have in the South.
PERKINS: I think a nonsectarian prayer is fine. I think students should be free to pray. For instance, I mean..
MATTHEWS: No, not free to pray. We always can pray. We pray before exams. We pray all the time.
You can pray at lunchtime. But should the school administer prayers, give kids prayers to kids to read every day; now, stand up, kids, and read this prayer?
PERKINS: No. But I think students should be free to lead in student-led prayer, like they're not allowed to do it at football games anymore because...
MATTHEWS: No, but I'm talking about in classrooms. Do you think it's OK for a kid to just stand up and say, before we take up this lesson in geography, let's all pray together, the teacher letting them do that?
PERKINS: You know, when I was a kid in school...
MATTHEWS: I'm just asking.
PERKINS: Well, but let me put in it context. There was a recognition of a God, not a particular denominational view, not even a recognition of Jesus Christ from a Christian standpoint, but simply a god.
I don't think there's a problem with our kids recognizing that there is a higher authority, to whom they're accountable.
MATTHEWS: Should the teachers lead them in that thinking?
PERKINS: No. I don't think it should be something that the teachers lead in. I think random prayer that students would lead in from time to time, I don't think it's a problem.
MATTHEWS: It doesn't bother the other kids in any serious way?
PERKINS: No. I don't think so.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the fight today in the Senate over the filibuster. Do you think it's fair for the Democrats to say, you have to have 60 votes to get a justice approved?
PERKINS: Well, I guess you could say it's an issue of fairness, but I think it is also an issue of the Constitution. The Constitution says the role of the Senate is to provide advice and consent and that a majority vote of the United States is required to confirm a nominee.
MATTHEWS: That's in the Constitution, right.
PERKINS: That's not 60. That's 51. And what is being done is unprecedented in using the filibuster. Now, we're not opposed to the filibuster, nor are the Republicans opposed to the filibuster on legislative issues.
It is just the unprecedented use of blocking these judicial nominees all out of an attempt, I think and many think, to protect the court and the activism that is taking place in the courts.
MATTHEWS: Do you think this is all preliminary to a really big fight this summer, when Justice Rehnquist, it's presumed, will at some point leave the court and open that seat, the chief justice seat, that there is really going to be a battle royal coming up over this issue?
PERKINS: Chris, nothing gets by you. That's exactly what this is about. This is about beginning to establish the parameters for that big debate, which is going to be massive...
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Democrats might filibuster that one? They have never done this before, filibuster a Supreme Court nominee. Do you think they might be up to it?
PERKINS: I think they could, absolutely. The stakes are high. If the president is consistent with what he has been doing in putting forth nominees that are strict constructionists, not conservative activists, not liberal activists, but strict constructionists, if that's the type of candidate he puts forth for the United States Supreme Court, I believe they will filibuster.
MATTHEWS: OK. What do you think of the nuclear option?
PERKINS: The constitutional option.
MATTHEWS: Well, but it's called the nuclear option, which is to say “no more filibusters. “ We have a majority rule. We are going to change the rules, 51 Republican senators, or 50 with the vice president, and say no, we are not going to have the filibuster when it comes to judicial appointments anymore. Will that work?
PERKINS: I think it will.
MATTHEWS: Would you encourage them to do that if they have to?
PERKINS: I would, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: What about the Democrats retaliating and slowing down everything else and saying, this isn't going to stand?
PERKINS: They have threatened to slow down government. I've never known government to work fast. They've threatened to shut everything down. That backfired in the '90s when that happened in Congress when the Republicans were working there and Newt Gingrich and his crew were working on things. I don't think they'll follow through on the threat. But if they do, you know...
MATTHEWS: Do you think the Senate will operate at the greatest deliberative body if it has no more unanimous consent agreements, no more comity, no more getting along with each other, no respect for the filibuster?
PERKINS: I do not think that, with all of these issues, many of them bipartisan in their implications, the highway measures, transportation issues, that Democratic senators are going to have to come to the table to deal with these issues.
MATTHEWS: It's been raised by David Brooks in his column today that it will kill the difference between the Senate and the House. Once you get simple majority rule in the Senate, you will have stuff jammed through there by insistent, passionate majorities, 51 senators, and there will no longer be debate. It will just get jammed through like it does through the House.
PERKINS: If we were talking about eliminating filibusters for legislation, that's true. That's not what is on the table, never been discussed. We're simply talking about the unprecedented use of filibusters for judicial nominations.
MATTHEWS: OK. If you were a United States senator, and could you well be someday, and the liberals controlled the Senate... and they were trying to jam through some liberal turkey, somebody they just wanted to be the next Earl Warren and do it all the time, come up with creative interpretations of the Constitution, inherent powers, inherent rights, wouldn't you do everything you could to stop that person from getting on the court? Would you filibuster?
PERKINS: If you go historically by what the Republicans have done in the Senate, they have not. They've not only not filibustered, unfortunately. I don't think they've taken a strong enough stand against the president's nominees.
But they need to make the case on the floor of the United States Senate. And if there are enough votes on the United States Senate to give that candidate an up-or-down vote, and it is a liberal activist judge, which we have many of that get confirmed by the Senate, then shame on us for putting the wrong people in the United States Senate.
MATTHEWS: Can I ask you a political question? I got to cut you off right here. Do you think the Democrats, even the liberals, even Schumer, have the stuff, the guts, to filibuster Antonin Scalia for chief justice, who has already passed with 98-0 the last time?
PERKINS: I wouldn't call it guts. But, yes, I think that Charles Schumer...
MATTHEWS: Would try—would the Democrats try to come up with 41 votes to stop him from being Supreme Court justice, even though he was confirmed for associate overwhelmingly?
PERKINS: They've lost everyplace else. The only thing they have to hold some liberal agendas is the court.
MATTHEWS: In other words, you think they would try to stop Scalia?
MATTHEWS: Would they try stop Orrin Hatch if he got the nomination?
PERKINS: I don't know.
MATTHEWS: That's why I think he'd be clever. I'm just thinking this through.
Thank you, Tony Perkins
PERKINS: All right. Thanks.
MATTHEWS: Thanks for being on.