Raleigh, N.C. — U.S. Sen. Richard Burr spoke with WRAL News on Wednesday about gun rights, sequestration, same-sex marriage, immigration and government spending. Below is a partial transcript of her interview with WRAL anchor Debra Morgan:
Debra Morgan: Sen. Kay Hagan came out today in support of same-sex marriage. Where do you stand on that issue?
Sen. Richard Burr: I believe that marriage is a function of state law. It has no place in Washington D.C., and I think that as the Supreme Court considers the case in front of them, I think there's a likelihood that the Supreme Court will say, 'We should never even consider this because it will infringe on states' rights. I believe that 50 states would be required then to make a determination then on what the definition of marriage is in their states.
Morgan: What's your personal opinion?
Burr: My personal opinion is that it's between a man and a woman, but my role is not to influence what people believe in the state I live in or what the state does that I live in. That's one of the reasons I wasn't very vocal as it related to Amendment One. North Carolinians need to figure this out. It doesn't need to be figured out by the Congress of the United States.
Morgan: With some of the budget talks (going on in D.C.), do you think we're going to get a budget anytime soon?
Burr: No I don't, primarily because what passed in the Senate is a $1 trillion worth of additional tax increases and $200 billion worth of new stimulus spending. When you look at the federal crisis that we have fiscally, you realize that for the past four years, we've spent $1 trillion we didn't have. Sequestration is just the first step. We've got to make sure that we cut the size and cost of the federal government. We've got to make sure that we prioritize that spending in the right places, and we've got to get the American people back to work and get this economy going. We can't do that unless we're willing to reform taxes and we're willing to reform the entitlement program. That's what I said candidly to the president the night I had dinner with him.
Morgan: I was going to ask you about that. What was your conversation like?
Burr: We had a three-hour, very candid conversation. The president shared with us where he could go on a big deal and where he couldn't go. We shared the same thing. Then, we spent about two hours talking about how we get from where we are to where we need to be. I still believe there's hope that we can get there, but there's not going to be hope unless we have the leadership that it takes from the White House to do it. That's leadership that will influence both sides of the aisle to come together and really talk about how we all get 80 percent, but nobody gets 100.
Morgan: That does seem still to be a big frustration for Americans, that there seems to be this gridlock in Washington D.C. that is not going to break.
Burr: Well, listen: I commend people to stand up for their beliefs and their ideology. I do it. But I also recognize that our county has to go forward. And if I can do that without breaching what I believe, and if the president can do that without breaching what he believes, then we ought to attempt to do it. I think it can be done. It's certainly in the interest of the next generation for us to do this. I want to make sure that my children inherit an equal-to or better opportunity than what I've inherited. And I feel like I have a moral obligation to do everything I can, not for me, but for them.
Morgan: Speaking of sequestration – just yesterday, we did a story about Fort Bragg schools possibly going to four days a week. Have you heard from the people of North Carolina about some frustrations with some of the sequestration plans for the cuts that are in this state, specifically to the schools at Fort Bragg. What do you think can be done for those?
Burr: Listen, I've seen the military threaten to go to four-day education. I've seen control towers at airports that they've threatened to take the human beings out of the control towers, and I look at Washington at a bloated employment of federal workers in headquarters – whether it's in the Department of Defense at the Pentagon or the Department of Transportation – and ask myself, 'Why don't we eliminate jobs versus eliminate the things that people count on.' We're clearly at a punitive point in sequestration where the administration has chosen to make it hurt. I don't believe that's the role of government. I hope it's going to be over soon and that these agencies will make the right decisions … This is not a temporary move. This is a permanent shift where the government's going to have to prioritize spending. Let me reassure you that through the appropriations process – if the Department of Defense can't figure out how to do this without disadvantaging school kids, then we'll prescribe for them exactly how to do it. If the Department of Transportation can't figure out how to keep all the towers that are necessary with bodies in it directing air traffic, then we'll prescribe exactly where they take the cuts from. It may be an area that they're not comfortable with, but it certainly won't be an area that the American people feel.
Morgan: What about immigration? Where do we stand on any kind of decision on what to do about immigration?
Burr: I think two weeks from now, the Senate will take up immigration. The parameters that are being negotiated right now tell me that there's reason to believe we can reach an agreement. But two weeks is a long time, and the amendment process can really muddy that up. But I think that, as they've stated, we need strong border security. We need the ability for individuals that are currently here undocumented to file for a green card – not to guarantee them a green card but to let them file. And if a green card is then approved, to stay in the United States to work in a legal capacity as a taxpayer, as someone who follows the law. And if, in the future after a certain period of time, they decide they want to become a citizen, to enter the process just like any other person who immigrates to America. If the president or those that are negotiating this bill choose to allow anybody to jump in front of somebody else, that's a deal-starter for me and a deal-starter for a lot of members of Congress.
Morgan: After the Sandy Hook shooting, there was a lot of talk about gun control. That's pared off a little bit. Where do you stand on gun control and what do you think Congress should do about gun control?
Burr: I think Congress should attempt to make sure the background check data that we have incorporates enough information to make an educated decision. Today, there's no health care data, there's no mental health data that's found in a background check. So really, all we're looking to see if somebody who's purchasing a gun has a record, maybe was convicted of a felony that might deprive them of that Second Amendment right. There's no attempt on the Hill to try to incorporate medical records. So to get at the heart of the problem at Sandy Hook, we're not on that pathway. I'm committed to make sure that the Second Amendment is not infringed on in any way, shape or form. And I don't buy the president's argument that an assault weapon was made to hunt. No, an assault weapon was made to allow an American to defend themselves and their property – the exact reason the Second Amendment was created by our founding fathers. They didn't create the amendment for us to have the ability to hunt. And anything we would do to limit the American people to have that right protected would be an infringement to the Second Amendment.
Morgan: So, if we're not on the right path to addressing the mental health side to all of this, will there be any meaningful gun control legislation?
Burr: I think there will be gun control legislation and there will be some areas on the fringe that we close certain loopholes. We redefine, maybe, gun controls are defined as commercial operations, so we don't distinguish who's there to sell. But I think we'll also protect the person-to-person sells without the requirement of a background check, which is a majority of the sales in America. I think it's important that we do uphold that ability for me to pass on to my children or for me to sale to a friend a firearm without going through an extensive check that might put me in a liability chain that really trial lawyers salivate over the opportunity for.
Morgan: This happened just today. The NAACP sent out an open letter, had a news conference, saying that they are trying to reach out to you to get you to join with Sen. Hagan about appointing a U.S. District Court judge to Eastern North Carolina that is African-American. What's your response to what they have to say?
Burr: My response is that the letter that responded to their letter to me is that out of all three districts in North Carolina – when President Obama came to office, I made my recommendation for judicial appointments. Every district had an African-American on my list. The Eastern District has been one that the president has started and then stopped, started and then stopped. I've made it very clear now who my choice is. It's not an individual that's been disqualified. It's just an individual they've chosen not to pursue with a nomination. We're probably in a stalemate.
Morgan: Who is this that you've recommended?
Burr: I don't release the names of individuals that I've made recommendations –
Morgan: Is it an African-American person?
Burr: This one is not but there was an African-American on the list that the administration chose not to choose as a nominee. So until we've exhausted this list, I don't think it's my role to go back and submit a new list. Clearly, if other members of Congress and the House or other people in North Carolina want to play a part of the nomination process of advise and consent, they need to run for the United States Senate.
Morgan: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about? What do you think are some of the key issues the people of North Carolina need to know about?
Burr: Listen, the key issue in America is putting the American people back to work, putting policies in place that create jobs, and we can't do that as long as the world looks at the U.S. as a financial crisis getting ready to happen. We're projected to spend $1 trillion more than we take in again this year. And as you begin to cut around the edges, there are priorities out there that are no longer going to be able to be funded that do affect real people – the human face that we see behind the issues. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Sequestration is just a sample of how difficult it's going to be if we just try to cut our way to financial sustainability. We've got to reform entitlements. We've got to put the American people back to work. We've got to reform our tax code, and we've got to make sure our policies match a growing economy.