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Lauer and Dem Levin Gang Up on GOP Senator on Today

On Wednesday's Today show, NBC's Matt Lauer invited on Democratic Senator Carl Levin and Republican Senator Susan Collins to have what was, ostensibly, a bipartisan discussion about the Goldman Sachs hearings, but the Today co-anchor tilted the balance of that discussion when he accused the Republicans of trying to have it both ways by claiming they wanted to fix the problems on Wall Street, but kept blocking debate. Lauer even asked Levin, with Collins standing right beside him, "I don't mean this as a personal comment but Senator Levin, it sounds a bit schizophrenic to me. Does it sound that way to you?" [audio available here]

The following segment was aired on the April 28 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, chaired the panel that grilled the Goldman executives. Senator Susan Collins is a Republican from Maine. She serves on that subcommittee as well. Senators, good morning to both of you. Thanks for being here.

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Good morning.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Good morning.

LAUER: Senator Levin and Senator Collins, let me ask you both the same question, briefly if you can. These guys stood up yesterday, they raised their right hands and they swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. When they answered your questions, do you feel they told you, Senator Levin, the truth?

LEVIN: Yeah, I'm afraid on the key questions they did tell us the truth, and the truth is that Wall Street firms are willing to engage in significant conflicts of interest selling to their customers and to their clients financial instruments that they themselves don't believe in and they bet against and make money actually betting against the very financial instrument that they're out there peddling to their customers. There is a conflict of interest there. They don't see anything wrong with it. They told us the truth when they said they don't see anything wrong with it. But we do and I think most of us are gonna try to end that kind of conflict of interest.

LAUER: Senator Collins, did you feel you got the truth?

COLLINS: I felt that they evaded a lot of the questions and did not - were not very straightforward. They were extremely arrogant. I agree with Senator Levin that they were truthful, in a sense, but they also tried to avoid answering whenever they could. And most of all, I was struck by the fact they did not take responsibility for their actions, nor did they acknowledge their conflicts of interest.

LAUER: Well, but they didn't take responsibility, it seemed to me after watching, because they feel as if they were playing within the accepted rules of the game. Isn't that a fair statement?

LEVIN: Well, they think, yeah they can do anything they want and get away with it. And that's the problem. And the rules have got to be significantly tightened, we've got to reform Wall Street. We've got to put, basically, a cop back on the beat, a regulatory cop, on Wall Street. There is not one there that's adequately doing the job now.

LAUER: And Senator Collins, that does bring up the irony here and, and the irony is that both of you agree, changes have to be made, that this is an unacceptable situation. And yet, for the second time yesterday, Republicans blocked further debate on this financial reform bill. How can you say in one room "We have a major problem here," and how can Republicans say in another room, "But we don't want to debate it openly on the floor of the Senate right now?"

COLLINS: Look, I introduced a financial reform bill more than a year ago, and I know that the members of my caucus are committed to financial reform. There is good progress being made. Both sides say that on negotiations behind the scenes. And I am confident that a financial reform bill will be brought to the floor and passed.

LAUER: But Senator Collins, let me just jump in for a second. Because what strikes me is that during the health care reform debate, one of the major complaints from Republicans was that there was no transparency, that too much was happening in rooms behind closed doors. Isn't by saying "We don't want open debate on the floor of the Senate," isn't that what you're voting for?

COLLINS: No, we're not saying that, and I'm sure there will be open debate on the Senate floor. I hope that the Senate Democratic leader will not shut off amendments the way he did on the health care bill. So I'm confident that we can get there. We do need reform. These are complex issues and it's important that we work through them. And it's much better to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor than continuing to have these divisive partisan votes. They should not be a partisan issue.

LAUER: I don't mean this as a personal comment but Senator Levin, it sounds a bit schizophrenic to me. Does it sound that way to you?

LEVIN: It's, it's totally inconsistent to be arguing that there ought to be financial reform, and after all these months of reviews, studies, hearings, not allow a bill to come to the floor. Fine, offer amendments. There were, I don't know, dozens and dozens of amendments in the health care bill. The leaders offered to have no limit on amendments. But it's not the issue. The issue is that most Republicans, not all, but most Republicans want to try to cut a deal before this comes to the floor and we can't get that done. And so bring it to the floor and have amendments offered on both sides. There are a number of us that believe that bill can be strengthened.

LAUER: Real, real quickly Senator Collins, there could be another vote in just a couple of hours on this same issue. Senator collins, will you still vote against it?

COLLINS: We still don't have an agreement on going to the floor, so I will. But let me emphasize, Republicans are trying to strengthen the financial reform bill. We want better protections against taxpayer funded bailouts. The bill right now is far too weak in that regard. So we're trying to strengthen the bill to bring a better bill on the floor. Then I hope we will be allowed to amend it further and to draw on the investigation that Senator Levin and our subcommittee has conducted during the past 18 months.

LAUER: Okay we will end it there and certainly stay tuned. Senators, thanks to you both for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

-Geoffrey Dickens is the Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here