Transcript for Panel: New Faces in Congress
going to be frisked. Vice president biden having some fun there swearing in the new senators on capitol hill, and we are joined now by three rising stars of this new congress, democratic senator heidi heitkamp, who surprised so many in the political world by winning in north dakota, a state where mitt romney beat president obama by almost 20 points, republican congressman tom cotton from arkansas who volunteered for the 101st airborne in iraq and afghanistan after getting degrees from harvard and harvard law and joaquin castro of texas, named president of the house democrats. You may remember his twin brother, the mayor of san antonio. Welcome to all of you. Senator heitkamp, let me begin with you, 1 of 20 women in the senate. We saw you talking to diane sawyer just the other day talking about how women are better at working together than men, and during the campaign, that was actually your biggest criticism of president obama. I want to show everybody what you said during the campaign. "I think president obama failed in the one test america had for him, which was to unite the country. I think he needed to be more hands-on. I don't think he's done enough to think broadly and come up with solutions that would engage both sides in a reasonable dialogue." So how specifically does he fix that right now, and how can you help him? I think the first thing in the last segment you saw leader -- the minority leader talk in ultimatums. We all need to stop talking in ultimatums and say only these, you know, narrowing the debate, put everything on the table, start working together, that's what you do in america in every small town and every business in america. You don't rule out anything. The president has got an ultimatum and says he's not going to talk about spending cuts over the debt limit. I think -- I think what we need to do is stop talking in ultimatums and start talking about how we resolve the issue with a sense of urgency, and so that's what the american people sent us here to do, and that's why I think I got elected because I talked about results. You know, there's people who run for these jobs who want the job and then there's people who want to do the job, and we just need to get to work. Congressman castro, a lot of your democratic allies think the president hasn't been tough enough. Well, sure, you know, he has gotten some criticism on the left, but, you know, whenever you come to a compromise with the other party, you're going to get criticism from your own party too because it's not a perfect deal, and the president has worked in earnest with republicans to try to reduce the debt. He's going to continue to do that, but I agree with the senator, it can't be about ultimatums. The republicans, you know, a lot of what you just heard senator McCONNELL SAY WAS THE SAME THING The republicans have been saying for the last two years. It's as if the election never happened and we never learned any lessons from it. What's your response to that, congressman cotton? Well, we have a debt crisis in this country, and it's clearly caused by too much spending and too little growth, and we have an opportunity over the next 60 to 90 days in the new congress to basically pose consequential questions that we will face in the next two years and that's to get our economy growing by reforming our tax code, cutting spending. The president says he wants $3 spending cuts for every dollar in tax increases, he just got $600 billion of tax increases, so I hope we see $1.8 trillion in spending cuts. The other big news this -- george -- let me go to another issue right now and we can come back to that in a minute, congressman castro. It does appear president obama is about to nominate chuck to be secretary of defense and you, congressman cotton, have already come out against the nomination. Go to "the wall street journal," soldier's eye view of chuck hagel, his record on iraq alone should disqualify the former senator from leading u.S. Troops in a time of war. So if you were in the senate, you would vote against him. I would vote against him. I'm disappointed the president nominated him and urge others to oppose that. Mr. Hagel came out against the surge the week I returned from iraq in 2006, said the war couldn't be won. No one had told us that when we were fighting it in 2006. He delayed emergency funding for the troops in 2007 even after the surge succeeded in 2008, he still said it wasn't because of the troops addition. When you add that to his dangerous views on iran and hezbollah and hamas and terrorism as well as his strange hostility toward israel, I think the senate should oppose him. There are many other qualified defense professional s who the president could nominate. This will be your first vote for a defense secretary. What do you make of that argument and do you think senator hagel is the right choice? Well, this is again the washington view of things. Chuck hagel is a tremendous patriot and statesman, served incredibly in vietnam, served this country as the united states senator. He hasn't had a chance to speak for himself, and so why all the prejudging? I don't know. I mean to me in america you give everybody a chance to speak for themselves, and then we'll decide. And so it just again is this kind of fight is the fight that the people of this country get so frustrated about and with. Let chuck hagel get nominated if he's going to be nominated, and let's hear what the senator has to say. Congressman castro, I want to bring up another issue that i brought up with senator McCONNELL. It's pretty clear talking to senator McConnell he doesn't believe the senate should take up gun control measures until after these fiscal issues are dealt with the first part of the year, he says three months at least. Well, you know, there's no question that the debt is an important issue, but immigration reform and gun control are also important issues that the american people, quite frankly, have asked the congress to deal with. So I am giving him the benefit of the doubt that he's sincere in wanting to deal with the debt first, but I hope that it's not a stalling tactic, and I wanted to say also with regard to the situation with the debt ceiling limit, the worst thing that we can do as a nation is create another self-inflicted wound the way we did last time. The best thing that we can do is cooperate, work together in a bipartisan spirit to get this economy back and working. That's one of the ways that we're going to be able to reduce this debt and get things moving again. Senator heitkamp, you are a proud nra member in the state of north dakota. Are you willing to sign on to some of the reforms that vice president biden and president obama are already talking about? You know, it's unclear. I mean you read "washington post" stories, and you listen to what the administration says, and so I think what we need to do is we need to take a look at what happened at sandy hook. When I was attorney general, i was taskedith a national task force on school violence. We made a number of recommendations which, in fact, were adopted at sandy hook to help keep schools safer. They weren't adequate. Let's start addressing the problem, and to me one of the issues I think screams out of this is the issue of mental health and the care for the mentally ill in our country, especially the dangerously mentally ill. We need to have a broad discussion -- the white house is talking about that but are you willing to talk about gun control, as well? Well, I think you need to put everything on the table, but what I hear from the administration and if "the washington post" is to be believed, that's way -- way in extreme of what I think is necessary or even should be talked about, and it's not going to pass. Well, but -- see, that's the other thing. Can I point out also to the senator, and I agree, and many folks who have said that mental health and mental illness is an issue, I agree with that. But at the same time, many of those folks and not to speak to the senator's position but many of those folks have slashed funding for mental health care and they're unwilling to close the gun show loophole which would allow anyone whether in a gang, whether they're mentally ill to buy a gun with no background check at all including the bushmasterhich we know has caused problems. There will be some debate among democrats here, as well. Let me bring in congressman cotton for another question. I want to put up as I bring this to you, congressman, a new poll, "usa today" gallup poll from december showing the congressional approval rating coming into this year, 18%. Now, that's actually higher than it was a few months before. It actually was 9% at some point I believe, so you're part of this new class, and you have been touted by so many as a possible star of the freshmen republican class. How do you fix that? What do you think is the source of that disapproval, and how do you fix it? George, it reminds me of one of my very first events on the campaign trail, and everyone came up -- a come came up to me and said you were in the army. I said, yes, ma'am, I was. Now you want to go to congress, and I said, yes, ma'am, I do. She said, why would you want to leave the country's most respected institution for the country's least respected institution? I think one of the reasons why the army and military is more respected is the character they display and not just the actions they take, the willingness to confront hard problems head on, a sense of purpose and mission and teamwork to deal with ambiguous, difficult circumstances and make hard decisions under the highest of stakes. I think if we showed a little more of that character in congress and washington more broadly, then congress and washington might be a little more respected than they are I see your colleagues smiling and nodding their heads. I'm afraid that's all we have time for. Hope you'll all come back soon. Congratulations on your election and swearing in this week. Thank you, george.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.