MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Day 26 of the fighting in Lebanon and Israel. Is there any end in sight? Day 1,236 of the war in Iraq. Is the U.S. in the middle of a civil war? The Bush foreign policy challenged like never before. With us: the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
And this Tuesday, the biggest political primary election of the summer: the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate in 2000, Joe Lieberman, in the fight of his political life, taking on newcomer businessman Ned Lamont for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from Connecticut. Why is Lieberman vulnerable? With us: his longtime friend and supporter, and former special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny Davis. He’ll debate an early and vigorous supporter of Ned Lamont, the chair of Democracy for America, Jim Dean. Davis is for Lieberman, Dean is for Lamont. They’ll square off.
But first, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is in Crawford, Texas, with President Bush at his ranch.
Madame Secretary, good morning.
DR. CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Good morning, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, the French and the U.S. have put forward a resolution at the United Nations that is hopeful to bring about a full cessation of violence in the Middle East. But thus far Hezbollah and Lebanon have said no to the language, Israel has increased the intensity of its ground campaign. Is this resolution dead before it was passed?
DR. RICE: Tim, we haven’t even had the vote yet. We’re going to have further debate in the Security Council today, then we expect a vote on the resolution in the next day or so. And I think that once the international community has spoken, you will see that the parties will need to, to come into line. I’ve talked with both the Israelis and with the Lebanese just yesterday. This is a resolution that we think meets the needs of a set of principles that will allow the violence to abate so that they can begin to build toward a permanent cease-fire and, and to bring international forces in. But it’s a first step; it’s not the end of this process by any means.
MR. RUSSERT: Can there be any peace until the Hezbollah militia is destroyed?
DR. RICE: Well, the one thing that all Lebanese agree with—perhaps all but Hezbollah—is that it cannot have a situation again that obtained when Hezbollah crossed the blue line, kind of state-within-a-state, attacked Israel, abducted soldiers and really plunged the entire country into war without even the knowledge—let alone the consent—not even the knowledge of the Lebanese government.
And so if you talk to the Lebanese, they’re very focused on extending the authority of the Lebanese government throughout the country, of being able to bring Lebanese forces throughout the country, and making certain that any arms are going to be in the hands of just the Lebanese government, that there’re not going to be unauthorized or militia groups running throughout the country with a—with arms. And so the Lebanese themselves are dedicated to that. And these are obligations that they undertook, by the way, Tim, in the Taif Accords, all the way back in 1989, brokered by the Saudis, and also in Resolution 1559. So the Lebanese know what needs to be done here, and the international community now needs to help them do it.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re saying the Lebanese government will, will disarm and disband the, the Hezbollah militia?
DR. RICE: I’m saying that the Lebanese government, the Lebanese Army, with the assistance of the international community, wants to extend its authority, and make certain that arms are held by Lebanese security forces, and not by militias. Those are obligations that they’ve undertaken not just to the international community, but to the Lebanese people. And the ministers, by the way—two of, of whom are Hezbollah ministers—voted in a council of ministers meeting for the points that Prime Minister Siniora has put forward, and among those is to be able to carry out the Taif Accords, which require the disarming of militias.
But we need to concentrate on the first step here, and the first step is to have this violence abate, to have the political principles, the political elements that will allow an enduring cease-fire, and that’s what we’ve been working toward. We’ve been working toward it now since the G8 statement in St. Petersburg several weeks ago, during the trip that I made to the Middle East, where I engaged both parties on this, and now this is all going to be put forward in a Security Council resolution that puts the stamp of the international community on this set of elements that will put—that will provide a basis, so that nothing returns here to the status quo ante.
MR. RUSSERT: But Secretary Rice, on this very program last week, I asked the Lebanese envoy to the United Nations whether his government was willing to disband the Hezbollah militia. Here was his answer:
(Videotape, July 30, 2006):
MR. RUSSERT: Would you acknowledge the Lebanese Army is not strong enough to disband the Hezbollah militia?
MR. NOUHAD MAHMOUD: It’s not in our political agenda to disband of them militarily.
MR. RUSSERT: “It’s not in our political agenda” to do that.
DR. RICE: Well, I would suggest that the envoy read the Taif Accords and Resolution 1559, both of which are obligations of the Lebanese government, and both of which, by the we—way, the Lebanese prime minister has affirmed over and over and over.
Now, clearly, the disarmament of Hezbollah isn’t going to take place before the cessation of hostilities or before a cease-fire. Nobody expects that. But what is expected is that the status quo ante in the south, where you had Hezbollah at the border, able to go into Israel without the consent of the Lebanese government, the situation in which you had heavy arms in the south, the situation in which there was no legitimate Lebanese authority in the south, that has to be changed, and that has to be changed quickly by the deployment not just of the Lebanese armed forces, but also the deployment of international forces to help them. There will have to be a disarmament of these militias in accordance with Lebanon’s obligations. And I think if you look at the statements of the prime minister and his council of ministers, which include Hezbollah ministers, they have reaffirmed those obligations.
MR. RUSSERT: But according to polling that Nick Confessore writes about in The New York Times today in Lebanon, 87 percent of the Lebanese support Hezbollah against Israel; 80 percent of the Lebanese Christians support Hezbollah over Israel. Has our policy of, in effect, giving Israel a green light to continue their military response, and for you to wait at least two weeks before going to the Middle East, has that backfired, and in fact made Lebanon as a country much more sympathetic to Hezbollah?
DR. RICE: Well, first of all, it is quite, quite understandable that there is a lot of emotion in Lebanon about what is going on there. But let’s recap what we’ve been doing over this three weeks. This is not a matter of green-lighting anyone. This is a matter of working within the international structures—first the G8, then with the parties, now in the U.N. Security Council, for a cessation of hostilities that will actually be based on something that will not permit a return to the status quo ante.
The fact of the matter is, Tim, that the history of the Middle East is littered with failed cease-fires. We understand that. We know, too, that the political condition that caused this problem in Lebanon, this terrible destruction in Lebanon, the, the most proximate cause was that Hezbollah launched an attack across an internationally recognized line, abducted soldiers, started rocketing Israel despite the fact that the Lebanese government did not know. That can’t happen again. You have got to create conditions on the ground in which you cannot have a return to the status quo ante. And I would just ask people to go and to look at what Prime Minister Siniora said when he was in Rome, which was we cannot have a return to the status quo ante. We’ve been building now, over the last three weeks, a set of arrangements, a set of political principles, that cannot, will not, allow that return to the status quo ante. We don’t want to be back here in six months or so, talking about another cease-fire caused by the same circumstances that caused this, this problem.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe Israel has shown the proper restraint?
DR. RICE: I’m not going to try to judge each and every Israeli operation. I do know that Israel has the right to defend itself; the president’s made that very clear. We’ve been also constantly saying to the Israelis that their war is against Hezbollah and not against Lebanon, and not against the Lebanese people. And I think they understand that. And they, now, are in a position—as is Lebanon—to have a cessation of hostilities that will allow a rebuilding of the political ground so that we can begin to rebuild Lebanon.
The United States was one of the first countries to respond to the humanitarian needs of Lebanon. It was the United States that worked with the Israelis to get humanitarian quarters in place so that people could be helped. We’ve been paying tremendous attention—detailed attention—to the humanitarian circumstances of the Lebanese people, and we continue to do so.
MR. RUSSERT: Many have suggested that the way to bring a permanent resolution to this crisis is to peel off Syria from Iran. Syria, a secular, Sunni country, Iran, a Shiite country. And the way to do that is for the United States to talk directly to Syria. Richard Armitage, who was the top deputy to your predecessor, Colin Powell, at the State Department, said this—and he was the last senior official to talk to—from the U.S.—to talk to the government of Syria in 2004.
He said he “completely disagreed” with Secretary Rice’s description of the conflict as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” He said: “The administration has an irrational fear that talking is a sign of weakness. It’s the best way of gathering information and influencing events.” Why not go to Syria and talk directly to the Syrians?
DR. RICE: Well, it’s ironic. Rich Armitage was actually the last U.S. administration official to go to Damascus, and he went to Damascus to say to them—senior official—he went to Damascus to say, “You know, it’s about to be a new day, the president had just been re-elected, it’s really time for Syria to make a strategic choice. And here are some things you could do to demonstrate that you’ve made a strategic choice.” They didn’t do them. The problem isn’t talking to Syria. The problem is that Syria doesn’t act when people talk to them.
Now, I want to correct the misconception that somehow we don’t have contacts with Syria. We have an Embassy in Syria. We have a charge in Syria. But the...
MR. RUSSERT: But we withdrew our ambassador. Madame Secretary, we withdrew our ambassador.
DR. RICE: Yes, we did. We withdrew our ambassador when the Syrians refused to cooperate with an international probe that at least implicated Syria in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri. And to talk to Syria about Lebanon is a very interesting strategy since Syria—we’ve spent a lot of time now, and a lot of energy trying to get Syria out of Lebanon over the last—they occupied Lebanon for the last 30 years. And I think to suggest that somehow Syria is somehow a part of the equation for a stable Lebanon, after they occupied the country for 30 years, after they created the conditions that permitted Hezbollah to become a state within a state, after they have repeatedly intimidated and perhaps even contributed to the assassination of Lebanese officials—it’s a rather odd strategy to say that Syria’s somehow going to be a part of stabilizing Lebanon.
But we do talk to Syria, and I want to, I want to just correct that misconception.
MR. RUSSERT: The president referred to the conflict of the Middle East as “a moment of opportunity.” And another Bush—former Bush administration official, Richard Haass, had this to say—he is now the head of the Council on Foreign Relations. And Mr. Haass made these comments: He “laughed at the president’s public optimism. ‘An opportunity?’ Haass said with an incredulous tone. ‘Lord, spare me. I don’t laugh a lot. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what’s Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?’” These are former Bush administration officials.
DR. RICE: Yes, and I, I know Richard well, and I’m very fond of him. Known him for a long time. But it’s short-sighted, extremely short-sighted analysis. And I would think that if people look back on the history of how things have changed, they will recognize that opportunity very often comes out of crisis.
You know, Tim, the Chinese have a character for crisis. It’s weiji—danger and opportunity. I think they have it right. Every crisis has within it danger, but every crisis also has within it opportunity. And this president is determined to seize opportunities, to bring about a different kind of Middle East. Anyone who wants to argue that the Middle East that has been left behind was one that was stable, that was good for the people of Iraq with 300,000 Iraqis in mass graves, that was good for the people of the Palestinian territories with Yasser Arafat stealing them blind, that was good for the, for the Lebanese with Syria occupying the country and stoking the kind of sectarianism and the kind of conditions that have led to a state within a state that is Hezbollah, I think they’ll have to make an argument that that was a good Middle East that should have been left untouched.
MR. RUSSERT: Well...
DR. RICE: Yes, it is a time of tremendous turbulence in the Middle East, it’s a time of change in the Middle East, and the United States has an obligation to—now to try and, on the basis of the work that has been done, construct and help those in the Middle East construct a better Middle East, there’s no doubt about that.
MR. RUSSERT: You talk about a...
DR. RICE: But the notion that there is, the notion that there is not opportunity within crisis is ahistorical.
MR. RUSSERT: You talk about a different kind of Middle East, this was the scene that Americans watched on Friday, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demonstrating in favor of Hezbollah, and burning American flags. And the Associated Press reporter on the scene wrote it this way: “Hundreds of thousands of Shiites chanting ‘Death to Israel’ and ‘Death to America’ marched through the streets of Baghdad’s biggest Shiite district in a show of support for Hezbollah militants battling Israeli troops in Lebanon. ... The demonstration was the biggest in the Middle East in support of Hezbollah. ... Demonstrators, wearing white burial shrouds symbolizing their willingness to die for Hezbollah, waved the group’s yellow banner and chanted slogans in support of its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who has attained a cult status in the Arab world for his defiance of Israel. ‘Allah, Allah, give victory to Hassan Nasrallah,’ the crowd chanted.”
Have we created another Iran in Iraq, another fundamentalist Islamic extremist regime where hundreds of thousands of people in a country of just 25 million show up and burn American flags?
DR. RICE: Well, first of all, the notion that somehow Iraq, under Prime Minister Maliki and his government, is something akin to Iran is just not right. I mean, it’s just erroneous. What you have in Iraq is the beginnings of a—it’s a very young democratic system, it is a system that has produced a unity government after a number of elections in which people went out, despite terrorist threats, and put their lives on the line to elect this government, and it’s a young government. And, yes, it has to get its, its feet under it.
But, Tim, it’s an emotional time, particularly for Shia in the Middle East, and that people would go out and demonstrate and say what they feel is one sign that perhaps Iraq is one place in the Middle East where people are exercising their right to free speech. No, I don’t like what they said, and I believe that when you have an Iraq that is more stable and more democratic and moving toward bringing these groups together that you won’t have demonstrations of that kind.
MR. RUSSERT: When, when...
DR. RICE: But to suggest, to suggest that this is the start of a new Iran I think is just erroneous.
MR. RUSSERT: When Prime Minister Maliki was here, he brought his foreign minister. I spoke to his foreign minister, I said, “Do you believe that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization?” he said, “I cannot make a value judgment on that.” President Bush has said, “Either you’re for us or against us.” Do you believe that the Iraqi government should publicly state that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization?
DR. RICE: The, the European Union hasn’t even stated that, Tim. I think the Iraqi government ought to concentrate on governing Iraq, that’s what they’re trying to do. This is an extremely young—a young democracy in a very difficult circumstance, and what they need to concentrate on is building their security forces, rooting out the terrorists among them, rebuilding their interior ministry in a way that will not stoke sectarian violence. They need to concentrate on building the confidence of their people in their reconciliation efforts, their reconstruction efforts, and in bringing security to Baghdad. That’s what we want them to concentrate on.
I have no doubt that this is an Iraqi government and an Iraq that is going to be a fierce fighter in the war against terrorism, because they themselves are experiencing the effects of terror on their population. I have no doubt that this is going to be a government that is going to be on the—that is on the right side in the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: I asked the foreign minister how long could his government maintain the, the respect of its people with 100 deaths a day due to sectarian violence, and he said, “By the end of this year it must end.” Do you agree with that?
DR. RICE: Well, I certainly have talked to a lot of Iraqi leaders who believe that that’s their test, is to deliver for the Iraqi people a better future, a less violent future in the next several months. It’s remarkable to me, and I think indeed heartening that they take it upon themselves to make that pledge to the Iraqi people.
But let me just note, Tim, the person about whom you’re speaking, Hoshiyar Zebari, the foreign minister, is a Kurd. the president of Iraq is a Kurd. The prime minister is Shia. The speaker is Sunni. The defense minister is Sunni. These are people who are working together for a non-sectarian unity government in ways that has been unimaginable and indeed unprecedented in the Middle East. And so, yes, we’re going through a period of turbulence and difficulty, but great change doesn’t come without turbulence and difficulty. It is a far better Iraq today, despite its many difficulties, than an Iraq that relied on repression to resolve differences between their various groups.
MR. RUSSERT: You say far better. General John Abizaid testified before Congress this week. This is he—how he described the situation. “The top U.S. military commander in the Middle East told Congress on Thursday that, ‘Iraq, could move toward civil war’ if the raging sectarian violence in Baghdad is not stopped. ‘I believe the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I have seen it.’”
And the former ambassador to Baghdad from Great Britain, William Patey, had this to say. “Civil war is a more likely outcome in Iraq than democracy, Britain’s outgoing ambassador in Baghdad has warned Tony Blair in a confidential memo. William Patey, who left the Iraqi capital last week, also predicted the break-up of Iraq along ethnic lines... Mr. Patey wrote: ‘The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy. Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq - a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror - must remain in doubt.’”
Those are two men on the ground who say that Iraq is, if not in a civil war, close to one, and will most likely break up along ethnic lines.
DR. RICE: Well, first of all, I think it’s important not to misquote John Abizaid or to, to take him out of context, Tim. What John Abizaid said is, yes, the sectarian violence is as bad as he has seen, and he has said if not arrested, then there could be a slide to civil war. But he also said that he believes that we have the forces in place and the plan in place to, to prevent that. The tense if very important here. He didn’t say “sliding towards civil war.” He said “the dangers are there.” Of course the dangers are there when you have sectarian violence.
I simply disagree with the analysis of, of the former British ambassador. I respectfully disagree. But the important point here is that Iraqis haven’t made a choice for civil war. Iraqis have made a choice for a unified government that can deliver for all Iraqis, and when I say Iraqis I mean not just their leadership, which clearly has not made a choice for civil war, but their population.
Yes, there are violent people who want to use sectarianism and sectarian violence to stoke a sense of insecurity. They are going right at Baghdad because they recognize that that has a special significance to the country. There are large parts of the country that are stable and functioning. But the government, the, the new leadership, has focused its efforts very heavily on Baghdad. They have been improving electric—electricity services to the population. They’re focusing on jobs programs for Baghdad, and they’re focusing on security for Baghdad. That’s why General Abizaid, General Casey have given more forces to be involved in the security plan for Baghdad. It’s clearly a crucial time for the...
MR. RUSSERT: So if those military—excuse me.
DR. RICE: ...leadership and for the Iraqi people.
MR. RUSSERT: So if those military commanders recommended to the president that more American forces be sent into Iraq from, from the United States, additional troops are necessary to put down a potential civil war, you would support their request.
DR. RICE: The president is going to listen to his commanders on the ground and he’s going to respond to what they, what they say. You already see that General Casey has considerable flexibility in bringing those forces into Baghdad to be able to assist the Iraqis. But the Iraqis, of course, are the key here, and their increasing competence, particularly among the army forces, gives them a lead in the security operations in Baghdad. And they’ve been very clear that they want that lead.
MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, Madame Secretary, how sick is Fidel Castro?
DR. RICE: I don’t know, Tim. It’s a very closed society, obviously. Keeps its secrets well. But what the United States has been sending is a message to the Cuban people that change is clearly under way, that the United States stands clearly and with people who want a more democratic future in Cuba. We will stand for their right for free elections, to say what they think, to worship as they please. And we will help organize the international community to support them in any way needed.
We have put aside important humanitarian efforts that could be made on their behalf, and my message to the Cuban people would be that they have an opportunity, as this unfolds at home, to build a stable and more democratic Cuba.
MR. RUSSERT: USA Today reports that the Bush administration has dedicated assistance “to prepare the Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in a democracy.” What does that mean?
DR. RICE: This simply means, Tim, that we’ve done some far-ranging thinking about, when the transition really does come in Cuba, how Cuba might have institutions of democracy. That’s all that means.
But I want to lay one thing to rest: the notion that, somehow, the United States is going to invade Cuba because there are troubles in Cuba, is simply far-fetched, and it’s simply not true. The United States wants to be a partner and a friend for the Cuban people as they move through this period of difficulty and as they move ahead. But what Cuba should not have is the replacement of one dictator by another. The United States will support a democratic and peaceful process. But this is simply the—trying to think through how we might help the Cuban people have more democratic institutions when that time comes.
MR. RUSSERT: And we will not a mass exodus out of the United States or out of Cuba?
DR. RICE: The United States really feels very strongly, and we’ve worked to tell the Cuban people that their future is at home. And no, a mass exodus is not, not to be expected, nor would it be condoned.
MR. RUSSERT: Of Cuban Americans back to Cuba, as well?
DR. RICE: Our view, Tim, is that this is a time in which a lot is unfolding in Cuba, we’re watching it very carefully. Our role right now is to make clear the kind of future that we see for Cuba, and to be prepared to help the Cuban people toward that future. It is also our role to give a sense of, of calm and stability as things go forward. And the president has been very focused on this, I’ve been very focused on it. The Cuban people deserve our respect and they deserve our support. And they will get it.
MR. RUSSERT: But you will not allow Cuban Americans to return back to Cuba en masse?
DR. RICE: Tim, we are not going to do anything to stoke a sense of crisis or a sense of instability in Cuba. This is a transitional period for the Cuban people. We are going to stand with them for the proposition that there should not simply be the return from—or the end of one dictatorship and the imposition of another dictatorship. And we are working with partners in the international community to send that message very strongly.
But our role will be to help the Cuban people, when the time comes, to have a peaceful and, and stable democratic transition.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, we thank you very much for your views.
DR. RICE: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, this Tuesday, the battle for the Democratic nomination for U.S. senator from Connecticut. Joe Lieberman, the incumbent, vs. Ned Lamont, the challenger. Who will win? And what will it mean for the future of the Democratic Party? We’ll have a debate coming up, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Lieberman vs. Ned Lamont. The primary is Tuesday, the debate is right here after the station break.
MR. RUSSERT: Welcome both. Lanny Davis, friend of Lieberman; Jim Dean, friend of Lamont. Let’s go right to it.
Here’s the latest polling on this Senate race in Connecticut, let’s put it on the screen. Now: Lieberman 41, Lamont 54. Six months ago it was Lieberman 68, Lamont 13. What happened to Joe Lieberman? How could he lose 55-point lead?
MR. LANNY J. DAVIS: Well, I think from the very beginning he knew that his position on the war was contrary to the feelings of most Democrats, and that the challenge would be to try to convince Democrats to focus on the facts concerning his 30-year record as a progressive Democrat, and allow him to disagree, at least in part, on the war. He’s spoken out strongly against the conduct of the war. But I think he knew from the beginning that the war was a very dominant issue for Democrats, and it would tighten up.
MR. RUSSERT: Even amongst Lamont supporters, Mr. Dean, let me show you, this is quite interesting. Are you voting for Lamont, 30 percent; against Lieberman, 65. Is this a referendum on Joe Lieberman?
MR. JAMES H. DEAN: Well, I think you could probably say that, but I think more so, Tim, that it’s really a reference—a referendum, excuse me, on incumbency in general in Washington, and sort of the inertia that people have become to associate with getting things done in Congress. I think in a lot of ways, obviously the war, big, important issue among the voters, but I think we’re also need to talk about, you know, the fact that it’s been tough getting things done on health care, it’s been tough getting things done about our infrastructure and fully funding our schools. And while it’s unfair to hang any of that on Joe, because he’s fought for a lot of these things, I think there is a feeling that we need a change in Washington.
MR. RUSSERT: But the primary focus has been the war.
MR. DEAN: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: In reference to February of ‘05, this now-famous picture of President Bush leaving the rostrum at the State of the Union message, hugging, kissing Joe Lieberman...
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...it evolved into this button that, “The Kiss: Too Close for Comfort!”
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: And many people refer to this speech Senator Lieberman gave in December of ‘05 as a real turning point. Let’s listen.
(Videotape, December 6, 2005):
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT): It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.
MR. RUSSERT: “In matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Is he suggesting that it is not patriotic to criticize a president’s conduct of a war?
MR. DAVIS: Absolutely not. The proof is in the pudding; he has criticized President Bush repeatedly for his inept handling of this war, for the lack of body armor, for the lack of the buildup with allies supporting the war. He’s actually said in 2003, “If I were president, I’d replace Donald Rumsfeld.” It is ludicrous to suggest that Joe Lieberman is against dissent in war. I was with Joe Lieberman in 1968 when he supported Robert Kennedy against an incumbent president. That comment was made about exploiting the war politically. He was referring as well to Republicans trying to use the war on terrorism for election purposes. That’s really the misconstruction of his comment. I think if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t have used those words.
MR. RUSSERT: When you heard those words, what was your reaction?
MR. DEAN: Well, actually, we did a petition drive on that, about those words, because we felt that, you know, there was an inference in here that dissent on this thing was wrong and, and we feel that, you know, we should be asking questions and dissenting on the wrong—dissenting on this war. So Democracy for America did a petition drive. I want to add also that Senator Lieberman, after that drive, met with both myself and several representatives of some of the groups in our network in Connecticut, which I—means a lot to me, and we had a, you know, a good dialogue about that. But again, you know, we’re in this race because we do believe in a change in Washington and we believe that we need some new voices in there and we believe we really need to consistently stand up against this president.
MR. RUSSERT: The only debate Lamont/Lieberman had, July 6th, Senator Lieberman said, “The situation in Iraq is a lot better than a year ago.” Is that his view?
MR. DAVIS: His view is to look at the facts that have occurred. There has been elections, a lot of people went to the polls under the worst of circumstances. I think every American—and by the way, Tim, I’m opposed to this war and I’m for Joe Lieberman. And there’s a reason that one can be against this war and in favor of Lieberman because of his progressive record for 30 years. But I was heartened when I saw those purple fingers in the air and I was heartened that people in Baghdad and throughout Iraq tried to show the ability to have democracy. So I think that’s what Senator Lieberman is talking about. But he does not deny that the inept handling of this war, that a borderline civil war that looks to be occurring, he’s not denying the difficulties that we now face, but he blames poor planning, ill execution, and he’s publicly criticized President Bush for that.
MR. RUSSERT: Rahm Emanuel, the congressman, the head of the Congressional Campaign Committee, is quoted in The Washington Post today saying the message out of Connecticut is don’t support the president on the war, that if you’re a rubber stamp for the president, it’s life-threatening. Do you agree?
MR. DAVIS: I agree that you shouldn’t be a rubber stamp for George Bush. And I think Rahm Emanuel was not talking about Joe Lieberman, because Rahm Emanuel knows about the facts. Joe Lieberman stood up to George Bush on every single tax cut for the wealthy, he opposed George Bush’s Social Security privatization plan, he led the fight against drilling in the Arctic Refuge, he supports stem cell research, he supports choice. Every major Democratic Party liberal organization—labor, environmentalists, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL—support Joe Lieberman. Rahm Emanuel would not call a Democrat who supports 90 percent of his fellow Democrats in the Senate a rubber stamp for George Bush. That Kiss button is a campaign of distortion. Just because President Bush reached over and made that gesture, to make that into a campaign issue constitutes a misrepresentation of the facts of Joe Lieberman’s record as a Democrat in the Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: But the primary issue in this primary is the war.
MR. DAVIS: Yes. And I think it is absolutely understandable and legitimate for any Democrat who considers this war the paramount issue and the only issue to vote for Ned Lamont. And I respect that. I’m against this war, as I said, and I disagree with Joe Lieberman on the war, but I hope that Democrats watching in Connecticut, who look at a record of 30 years of fighting for progressive causes, will not allow the distortions of Joe Lieberman’s record, the Kiss button, calling him a lap dog—outright distortions, ignoring all of the times he’s been out there fighting George Bush on every major issue. That should be the dominant issue that counts when people go to the polls.
MR. RUSSERT: I’ve read all of Ned Lamont’s public comments on the war in Iraq...
MR. DAVIS: Mm-hmm.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and I’m trying to pin down exactly his position. This was June 22nd Hartford Courant. His campaign manager, Tom Swan, “said that Lamont backed the Reed-Levin plan”—that was a phased redeployment—“even though it was ‘watered down.’” And he said, “Lamont was ‘sympathetic’ to the John Kerry proposal” of a date-certain withdrawal, “but he wouldn’t necessarily vote for it, because he wants to be a uniter among Democrats.”
Then the very next day, the same newspaper, I read this: “A second measure offered by John F. Kerry, D-Mass. ... would have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by July 1,2007 ... ‘I would have supported them both,’” meaning Kerry and the Reed-Levin. What happened in 24 hours, and what is his position? Is he for an immediate withdraw, date-certain of all troops?
MR. DEAN: Right. My feeling is that he’s signed on with the Democratic Party leadership to withdraw the troops—start withdrawing troops by the end of this year. The...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Kerry says all out by July of ‘07 that he would vote of Kerry? So that’s his position?
MR. DEAN: Right. Ned wants to get the troops out ASAP. I mean, we, we all do. And the thing about this is is that there’s been a lot of, you know, sort of back and forth in this on Congress. The Democrats—you know, he’s one of those Democrats that’s taking a stand to get the troops out, that he’s willing to stand up for that and take the heat for doing it. He’s willing to sign on to the leadership to start withdrawing the troops by the end of this year, and that is the kind of thing that we need to further this debate and to get the troops out, because if we don’t start standing up for these things we’re never going to get them home right now, if we listen to this sort of rhetoric from the administration about staying the course and all of that.
MR. RUSSERT: But would he have voted for John Kerry’s resolution to bring all troops home—all of them—by July of ‘07?
MR. DEAN: I’m not sure whether he would have or not.
MR. DAVIS: Can I comment, please? On the very same day he said he would support Kerry’s, then he said he wouldn’t support Kerry’s, then he said he supported Chris Dodd’s position, which was opposed to Kerry’s. And here’s a fact that everybody maybe doesn’t know. In February of 2005, after that shot of President Bush kissing Senator Lieberman, Ned Lamont wrote out a check to the Lieberman campaign. February ‘05. If he was so much against the war, why is he supporting Joe Lieberman in February ‘05? What is his position on a deadline? Does he feel that pulling out, leaving a rogue state behind, is a danger? He won’t answer those questions, and I respect Jim not being able to answer the question, because his candidate won’t answer the question.
MR. DEAN: Well, he has answered that question in that he feels very strongly that the key to Iraq becoming its own government and running its own country is for our troops to get out of there as quickly as possible. I think he’s been pretty clear about that. He may have written a check to Joe Lieberman in the past, because Ned has been involved in Democratic Party politics for many, many years. And that’s, you know, part of what happens when you are involved in politics. And it was also before he was running for office.
MR. RUSSERT: Another big issue in the campaign that emerged is Terry Schiavo. Joe Lieberman was on this program in March of ‘05. I asked him about Terry Schiavo, his support of federal legislation to, to review her case, and I asked him this specific question:
(Videotape, March 2005):
MR. RUSSERT: You would have kept the tube in?
SEN. LIEBERMAN: I would have kept the tube in.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that still his view?
MR. DAVIS: His view, along with every Democrat in the United States Senate, was to allow legislation to pass to give the family, the parents, another chance at the Florida court system. That legislation passed by unanimous consent. When Mr. Lamont criticizes Senator Lieberman on that vote in his advertisements—another distortion—he doesn’t say that every Democratic senator took the same position and allowed that legislation to pass.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, no Democratic senator objected. Tom Harkin, liberal from Iowa, was the one who was trying to fashion the compromise. Jesse Jackson, who was in Connecticut last week for your candidate, said that it was “cruel and crude” to remove the tube from Terry Schiavo. So is it fair for Mr. Lamont to use that as an issue when no other Democrat stood up and opposed it, and Jesse Jackson, his supporter, was saying “cruel and crude,” which is basically Lieberman’s position?
MR. DEAN: Yeah. You know, I think Ned’s position on this is that this isn’t and was not then and is not the federal government’s business. And I concur with that. I think this is a family decision. They’d certainly been through the state court system up and down. It’s a gut-wrenching situation for, for both sides of this. And this was not something that the Congress or the Senate or the federal government should be getting involved in.
MR. RUSSERT: I even asked your brother, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, why he didn’t speak up during the debate. He said, “I wish I would have.”
MR. DEAN: Well, again, Ned is extremely committed to the fact that the federal government really needs to stay out of issues like this among family members, as well as a lot of other personal and moral issues. People send their legislatures—or people to Congress, Tim, for them to solve the problems that we have of health care, solve the problems that we have of our schools, to solve our foreign policy and national security problems. They don’t send people to Congress to start telling them what they’re supposed to do in their personal life or make these difficult moral decisions.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me go to the nub of this campaign, because it has been focused on the war and whether Senator Lieberman is a sufficient enough Democrat. The Congressional Quarterly does a comparison of voting records, and this is what they found in 2005. Lieberman’s in agreement with the Democrat Party 90 percent of the time, and in opposition to the party 10 percent of the time. That places him equal or better than 17 other Democratic senators of the 44 who are there. Why is Lieberman being—alone being picked out for a primary of this nature, and not others, who also voted for the war?
MR. DEAN: Well, I think, you know, it’s—again, it gets back to this sort of culture of incumbency. And again, I’m not trying to hang Joe on this, but Connecticut is a state that gives a lot more than it gets from the federal government. I think the voters are OK with that there. I think the voters understand that solving some of these difficult issues of transportation and health care in Iraq take some time, but the problem is there’s a great deal of frustration among the voters now in Connecticut because these huge tax breaks to the energy companies that are going on, the huge tax breaks to big pharma, the $200 million bridges to nowhere—you know, they see their money just going directly out and going down the drain and getting nothing back, and I think that’s really contributed a lot. I mean, obviously, Iraq is a big deal. Senator Lieberman’s statements supporting the Bush administration, I think, have, have highlighted that quite a bit. But some of these other things that’ve been simmering for over 20 years are, are also coming into play here.
MR. RUSSERT: But money for I-95 or for ferries to lessen the traffic congestion...
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...bringing home the bacon for Connecticut...
MR. DEAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...would Lamont see that as part of his duties as a senator?
MR. DEAN: I think he would fight for that. And you know something, Joe has fought for that. But the real problem here is that we live in a system where there’s 63 lobbyists for every single person in Congress, and Connecticut is getting the short end of the stick.
No matter who wins this race, Tim, I don’t want them, six years from now, saying, “I saved 10 defense industry jobs,” because that’s all the defense industry jobs we have left in Connecticut. We’re playing a zero-sum game that we’re on the wrong end of, and we need someone who’s going to say, “the heck with this culture of incumbency, we got to get something done for the voters and taxpayers of our state.”
MR. RUSSERT: Lanny Davis, The New York Times watched this race very closely, and they weighed in last Sunday with an endorsement for Ned Lamont. And they said it this way: “It is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender.”
MR. DAVIS: First of all, I respect The New York Times, but I think the Connecticut newspapers that know the candidates best should probably be listened to more by Connecticut voters. All five Connecticut papers who have endorsed any candidate—all five—endorse Joe Lieberman, including Ned Lamont’s hometown paper, The Greenwich Time.
The New York Times devoted 11 paragraphs to criticizing Joe Lieberman without mentioning all of the specific instances where Joe Lieberman opposed President Bush, as I mentioned earlier, including on Abu Ghraib, in which he said that he was outraged; including calling the surveillance program illegal. The New York Times simply omitted those facts, and I was allowed to write a letter to the editor pointing that out.
But compared to five out of five Connecticut newspapers, including the Greenwich Time, his hometown newspaper—and if I could just respectfully suggest to my friend Jim--90 percent voting with Democrats is a fact. Another fact is that Ned Lamont, when he served on the Board of Selectmen, bragged, bragged to The Greenwich Time, the same newspaper that endorsed Joe Lieberman, “I support 80 percent of the time what my Republicans on the Board of Selectmen.” So those are facts that Mr. Lamont is not mentioning in his ad. When he clones and morphs Joe Lieberman—from the face of Joe Lieberman to the face of George Bush, that is a distortion of what you put on the screen, that Joe Lieberman votes 90 percent with the Democrats.
I’m accustomed to Republicans distorting Democrats in campaigns. We saw what happened to Max Cleland, being morphed into Osama bin Laden. When Joe Lieberman is morphed into George Bush, and Ned Lamont doesn’t say that he votes 90 percent with the Democrats, that’s a distortion, and the people of Connecticut should consider whether distorting Joe Lieberman’s record is a fair thing, and whether that’s something that Mr. Lamont should regret, before they vote for him.
MR. RUSSERT: Give you a chance to respond.
MR. DEAN: Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, you know, I think that 80 percent with the Republicans has been a little bit blown out of proportion. This is a select committee that’s dominated by Republicans, and we’re talking about pot holes in streets, here. But let’s go up to not 30,000 feet on this thing, Tim, but about 100 feet. If you look—I mean, both campaigns have given as good as they’ve gotten in this race, on both sides of it. But the overwhelming tenor, or, or, view of the totality of this race is the fact that the voters are getting very, very excited about the fact that they are empowered to set the course for Connecticut, set the course for their party. We have a situation right now where 11,000 people have registered, reregistered from being Independent to being Democrat. We have a lot of people that are engaged in this debate and getting very, very excited. And I think, really, that’s been the temper of this debate, and that’s, and that’s been the, the tone of this election more than anything else. It’s been extremely positive.
And I’ll say one thing about the party brass, most of whom were in Joe’s corner because of the convention, they’ve done a great job at handling this and keeping this debate civil. Nancy DiNardo, head of the party, it’s not been an easy three months, she’s done a great job. Chris Dodd with his statesmanship. This has benefited the three outstanding congressional candidates that we have: Diane Farrell, Chris Murphy, Joe Courtney. You know, that’s really been the tone of this. And there’s been some stuff in the direct mail on both sides of this. But that’s not really the—it’s about this big compared to everything else that’s going on.
MR. RUSSERT: In late June, Senator Lieberman said, “I’m a Democrat, I’ve always been a Democrat, I always will be a Democrat.” Twelve days later he started circulating petitions for an independent run; an insurance policy if he loses the Democratic primary. The last time there was an Independent running for the Senate in Connecticut who was a Democrat was 1970, and here’s the result: Lowell Weicker, the Republican, got 42 percent of the vote; Joe Duffey, the Democrat, got 34 percent of the vote, and Tom Dodd, the Democrat running as an Independent—father of the incumbent Senator Chris Dodd--24 percent. If Joe Lieberman loses this primary on Tuesday by a significant margin, will he still try to run as an Independent and risk losing the seat for the Democratic Party?
MR. DAVIS: The answer is he will run as a Democrat. He will run, he will win on Tuesday night, in my judgment. The facts will catch up, five endorsements by Connecticut papers. He will win Tuesday.
But in the hypothetical question you’ve asked, he is ahead by 24 points in a three-way contest. He will win Democratic support, Independent support, and moderate Republican support. He will caucus with the Democrats, and he will stand for a Democrat who’s progressive for 40 years that I’ve known him, reaching across the aisle...
MR. RUSSERT: So he’ll definitely run as an Independent?
MR. DAVIS: ... and caucus with the Senate. Yes, he will.
MR. RUSSERT: Will this risk losing the seat for the Democrats?
MR. DEAN: No. You know, these are really the two big players in this race—Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman. I believe that whoever wins the Democratic primary in this thing will, will go to victory, and then keep—we’ll keep our Senate seat. In fact, I’m quite convinced of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you hope that Joe Lieberman would step aside if he loses the primary?
MR. DEAN: Well, you know, I, I’m only thinking one foot ahead of the other, Tim. I’m not the sharpest tack in the world. And you know, I can see my way right now through Tuesday, and then we’ll figure out everything else afterwards.
MR. RUSSERT: Lanny, you—Davis—your new book, “Scandal: How Gotcha Politics is Destroying America.” You’re very tough on the bloggers here. Is Joe Lieberman in trouble because of the bloggers or because of his support of—on the war for President Bush?
MR. DAVIS: He’s in a tight race because he’s on the opposite side of the way most core Democrats—I don’t blame it on the bloggers. But I do say that the virulence and the hatred where you can’t disagree with somebody, you just have to call them evil, is really what I’m addressing in that book, and which this campaign unfortunately has had too much of.
MR. RUSSERT: Lanny Davis, Jim Dean, thank you very much for...
MR. DEAN: Thanks for having us on, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: ...civilized debate.
MR. DAVIS: Thank you very much.
MR. DEAN: Yeah, appreciate it.
MR. RUSSERT: We’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: Tonight at 8 p.m., the NFL is back on NBC. The Hall of Fame game between the Eagles and the Raiders with Al Michaels, and the new Hall-of-Famer John Madden.
That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week with an exclusive interview of the inside story of the 9/11 commission with commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton. That’s next Sunday on MEET THE PRESS. Because if it’s Sunday, it is MEET THE PRESS.