MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Only 30 days until the midterm elections. How will the Foley congressional page scandal and the war in Iraq affect the voters? The Democrats must gain six seats to take control of the U.S. Senate. This morning, our Senate Debate series continues with another one of the most closely watched races of the year: Missouri, where incumbent Republican Senator Jim Talent faces off against Democratic challenger state auditor Claire McCaskill. The three latest polls show the race too close to call. Republican Jim Talent vs. Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Then, the new book “State of Denial.” A best seller, but not winning rave reviews at the White House. Our guest: author Bob Woodward.
But first, our Missouri Senate Debate. Republican Jim Talent, Democrat Claire McCaskill. Welcome both.
MS. CLAIRE McCASKILL: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me start with the news that has played out all week long, Senator Talent, the resignation of Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida for some of the suggestive, salacious e-mails and instant messages he sent to House pages. How badly has the Republican Party been hurt by this scandal?
SEN. JIM TALENT (R-MO): Well, I think everybody needs to react the way you ought to react to this kind of a thing: a zero tolerance policy. I mean, I have a 16-year-old, that’s the age the pages are, and they need to proceed with this investigation both within the House and within the FBI, and react accordingly, and then let the chips fall where they may. And whoever was responsible is going to have to take the consequences.
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s the cover of both Time and Newsweek magazine coming out today. Time says “What a mess. Why something like this?” It says “A tawdry sex scandal may spell the end of the Republican revolution.” The Washington Times—conservative newspaper—editorialized this: “House Speaker Dennis Hastert must do the only right thing, and resign his speakership at once. Either he was grossly negligent for not taking the red flags fully into account and ordering a swift investigation, for not even remembering the order of events leading up to last week’s revelations - or he deliberately looked the other way in hopes that a brewing scandal would simply blow away.” Should the speaker of the House resign?
SEN. TALENT: Well, I think that’s what this investigation’s going to tell us, Tim. I mean, we need to find out who knew what, we need to have a zero tolerance policy for this, and then let the chips fall where they may. And I presume that’s what the investigation is about. And I think the elections around the country are going to be about the people running in the elections. I mean, I’m—offer Missouri a record that shows I’ve made the system in Washington work on behalf of the people in Missouri in areas like ethanol and biodiesel—we’re entering a renewable age in the country and its because of legislation I passed—the Combat Meth Act, which has reduced the meth labs around the country; legislation to restrict predatory payday lending against our servicemen and women. I think that’s what the elections around the country are going to be about: who’s made the system work in Washington for their people.
MR. RUSSERT: But you’re comfortable with Dennis Hastert as the number two man in line to become the next president of the United States in the line of succession?
SEN. TALENT: Oh, no. I mean, I’m comfortable the investigation moving forward, finding out what happened, and then the people who were responsible taking the consequences. And if that’s up to and including the speaker, and up to and including resignation.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the investigation results be released before the election?
SEN. TALENT: Well, whenever, whenever the results are completed and they feel certain about it, sure. I mean, it could even affect...
MR. RUSSERT: But shouldn’t voters know the facts before the election?
SEN. TALENT: Yeah. I mean, if they get the investigation done and they, and they know who did what, yeah, that’s the whole point of the investigation. Absolutely. Look, there needs to be a zero tolerance policy for this. This, this is something that transcends politics. This is a question of protecting these pages and making sure their parents and the public have confidence in the system.
MR. RUSSERT: Ms. McCaskill, Speaker Hastert said this: “The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros,” who’s given millions and millions of dollars to Democratic causes. Have any Democratic operatives been involved in spreading this information?
MS. McCASKILL: Tim, as a former prosecutor, I had to handle dozens and dozens of heartbreaking cases where children had been sexually abused, where predators had been doing their work. I know this: that when a 50-year-old man is asking a teenage boy on the Internet for his picture, the response needs to be something other than, “I better go tell the chairman of the Republican Campaign Committee.”
Clearly what has happened here is an arrogance of power. It is about holding onto power instead of doing the right thing. And Washington is not working. This shouldn’t be about power. This should be about protecting kids and calling the authorities, calling the Ethics Committee. They didn’t even tell the Democrats on the Page Committee. This was about a cover-up.
I think it’s wrong. I think it is a great example of how out of touch Washington is, and how they’ve got their priorities all wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the speaker resign?
MS. McCASKILL: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Should the investigation be reported before the election?
MS. McCASKILL: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: And do you have any information that Democratic operatives may have been spreading this information?
MS. McCASKILL: Absolutely. I—I’m from Missouri. I’m not really in contact with Democratic operatives in Washington, D.C. I know as a former prosecutor and also the mother of teenagers, like Jim, that I know that if my child was that page and I found out they called the head of the Campaign Committee instead of the Ethics Committee and the authorities, I’d be hopping mad.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iraq and the war on terror. This was President Bush on Monday. Let’s watch.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: There’s a difference of opinion in Washington. If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democrat Party, it sounds like, it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is wait until we’re attacked again.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Talent, do you agree with the president that some Democrats believe the best way to protect the American people is to wait until we’re attacked again?
SEN. TALENT: Well, I think there are some people in Washington and some people who would like to go to Washington who’ve taken positions of weakness pretty comprehensively in the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: That they want us to be attacked again?
SEN. TALENT: Oh, no. I don’t think—and first, I don’t speculate on people’s motives in general, but I do talk about their record and their positions. And the state auditor’s got positions in the war on terror that are comprehensively positions of weakness. She opposes a terrorist surveillance policy that goes back to the Carter administration; she supported the Hamdan decision, which put a stop, at least temporarily, to our interrogation of captured terrorists abroad. And we had CIA agents buying liability insurance policy because they were afraid of being sued. She supports the release of classified information by The New York Times. She said, “Well, it’s OK because the terrorists knew about it anyway.” Well, I mean, you can’t do that with classified information. And she supports an artificial withdrawal, withdrawal date from Iraq, which is like sending notice to the terrorists that we’re going to quit. I mean, weakness is something we cannot show in dealing with the terrorists. It invites attacks, it encourages them to be even more relentless in coming after us.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re saying she’s weak on terrorists?
SEN. TALENT: I’m saying her positions are positions of weakness comprehensively in the war on terror, yeah.
MS. McCASKILL: You know, playing politics with this issue is not making us safer. I absolutely support surveillance. As somebody who has handled very tough criminal cases, I understand the importance of aggressive surveillance within the framework of laws. And frankly, if they were more concerned about tough surveillance and not about election year politics, they would have gotten a bill through that would have allowed us to have the tools we need to go after terrorists around the globe.
You know, Iraq is a mess. We can either stay the course or we can change course. And obviously, even the leader of the Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, probably the most respected Republican on the Iraq war in Washington, has now come back from Iraq and said, “You know what? This is a mess and we need to re-examine what we’re doing here.”
This—asking questions—you know, this is Harry Truman’s Senate seat. When he was in the Senate, during the war, a war that was over the fight of our civilization, the fight for freedom, he asked questions about war profiteering and he was called brave. In this climate right now, they would question whether or not he was a coward. We need to be asking the questions, we need to have a plan, we need to have accountability. What is going on right now is absolutely not working in the Middle East.
MR. RUSSERT: But Ms. McCaskill, you did say, and I want to quote this, “This war will not be won on the battlefield, it will be won through sophisticated criminal investigations.” Is that your view, that we don’t win militarily, that criminal investigations will win the war on terror?
MS. McCASKILL: I believe there are two issues here. One is the war in Iraq, a failed policy where we’re mired in a civil war, where we are losing lives every day and innocent Iraqi lives; and then our effort worldwide to begin to be effective against terror. Terrorist cells are popping up. We are creating more terrorists around the world with this failed policy in Iraq. We need to focus on worldwide surveillance, human intelligence, wire surveillance, Internet surveillance, support our intelligence community—clearly, we’ve had trouble with good intelligence in this administration—and go after terrorists, capture them and hold them accountable. But to mix the two is confusing the American public, trying to confuse the American public, and trying to roll all this in into an election year effort to make Democrats, who want our country to be safe, look weak. And we’re not weak.
MR. RUSSERT: But you came out against the president’s eavesdropping program.
MS. McCASKILL: I said we should give the president the tools he needs. Only in Washington would they delay and obfuscate for 10 months instead of passing the law that gives the intelligence community the tools they need to catch terrorists.
SEN. TALENT: Tim, she said the program is illegal. I mean, this is a program every president’s used since Jimmy Carter. She supported the Hamdan decision, which as you know, put a stop to our interrogation of foreign terrorists because our CIA agents were afraid of being sued. She supported The New York Times release of classified information. She’s recently said, to a group of her supporters in Paris, she...
MS. McCASKILL: Now, I...
SEN. TALENT: ...said to them she’s deeply concerned that we haven’t granted habeas corpus privileges to captured terrorists, which is—would allow them to sue us because they’re not getting high-speed Internet. You know, she supports an artificial timetable for withdrawing from Iraq. It’s not a question of politics, it’s not a question of people’s motives, it’s a question of what’s going to win this war. And positions of weakness are not going to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. Let’s focus specifically on the war in Iraq. And Senator Talent, this is what you said just three short months ago. “I think the mission is going well. I think we’ve made an awful lot of progress.” Do you believe, in Iraq, the mission is going well?
SEN. TALENT: I think we have made progress. I think we have a level of sectarian violence now that’s unacceptable short term, and unsustainable long run. But let, let’s go back and look what...
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say to the American people the mission’s going well, is that not misleading the American people?
SEN. TALENT: Oh, well, I don’t—no, I don’t think so. Let’s go back and...
MR. RUSSERT: Here’s the headline in today’s paper: “U.S. Casualties in Iraq Rise Sharply.” The number of people, American troops being killed and attacked every 15 minutes, and you’re saying it’s going well?
SEN. TALENT: Let’s go back and look at what the mission was, OK? The mission was to remove Saddam, and the threat that he represented, replace him with a democracy in Iraq that would be an ally in the war on terror, that would be able to defend itself alone, as we—it now has to defend itself in partnership with us, and whose very existence would be a rebuke to the terrorist vision of—for the Arab-Islamic world. Well, Saddam is gone, and the threat he represented is gone. The government in Iraq is not threatening Kuwait, it’s not trying to restart a nuclear weapon program, it’s not using oil revenues to sponsor terrorism throughout the Mideast, it’s not competing with Iran to dominate the region. We do have a government of national unity that represents all sections. We have trained up a highly capable army.
Now, what part of the mission remains to be done? That’s the progress. The part of the mission that remains to be done, that requires large numbers of American troops, is finishing the seasoning of the Iraqi army and appropriately sizing it so they can defend themselves alone, or without large numbers of American troops, without having to defend themselves in partnership with us. So yes, we have made progress in getting this far. But we have to finish the mission, then we’ll be able to come home. And what the national intelligence estimate said was that if we complete the mission in Iraq, it’s going to be a huge victory for us, and a huge setback for the terrorists.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Warner, as Ms. McCaskill said, came back from Iraq—now, he’s the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Republican, voted for the war, supportive of President Bush—and this is what he said: “I assure you, in two or three months, if this thing hasn’t come to fruition and if this level of violence is not under control and this government able to function, I think it’s the responsibility of our government, internally, to determine: Is there a change of course that we should take? And I wouldn’t take off the table an option at this time.” Do you agree with Senator Warner?
SEN. TALENT: Well, he also said, of course, he’s not supporting an artificial timetable for withdrawal. Yeah, I think what—and I have talked with him. He’s my chairman, I’m—I’ve been on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate all four years—I think what he was saying is that the level of sectarian violence is not sustainable long term...
MR. RUSSERT: What he’s saying is the Iraqi government has 90 days to stop the violence, or he may, in effect, advocate a change of course, and everything’s on the table.
SEN. TALENT: Well, he also said he doesn’t want an artificial timetable for withdrawal, Tim, because that would be a—sending a notice to the terrorists that we’re going to quit. The level of sectarian violence can’t be sustained. The Maliki government needs to deal with it. Now, I talked about our part of the mission, and the part that requires large numbers of American troops. What they’ve got to do is confront the militia, they’ve got to use a classic counterinsurgency techniques, you know, the sweep-hold-build techniques. They’ve got to make political democracy and economic reconstruction real on the ground to the Iraqis, and they got to hook up the sewers and the electricity, Tim, particularly in Baghdad.
But, the more effective the army is, the greater level of—the greater time and the greater margin they’re going to have to be able to effect the political and economic reconstruction. That’s mostly the Maliki government. It doesn’t—it’s not going to require large numbers of American troops.
MR. RUSSERT: How long will you support having 145,000 American troops in Iraq?
SEN. TALENT: Well, I think we have to be there until the mission is done. I mean, as the national intelligence estimate said, if we complete this mission, it’s going to be a huge victory for us. If we don’t, it’s going to be a setback. And that’s true for every one of the fronts in the war on terror. Now, I think we have made progress in training up this army.
MR. RUSSERT: So four or five years?
SEN. TALENT: No, I...
MR. RUSSERT: If, if that...
SEN. TALENT: It’s not going to—you’d have to—it’s not going to take that long. But I think we’re going to have to...
MR. RUSSERT: Not, not to take long for what?
SEN. TALENT: For us to complete our part of the mission.
MR. RUSSERT: And what’s that?
SEN. TALENT: To train up an Iraq—this is the part that requires large numbers of American troops—to train up an Iraqi army that’s capable of doing for itself what it’s now doing in partnership with us, it’ll still require logistical support, embedded advisers, helos, medevacs, that sort of thing.
MR. RUSSERT: So you’d be surprised if it took more than two years?
SEN. TALENT: Well, I think—I’m not going to tie myself to a timetable, Tim, but I think—look, the security piece, the training-up piece, that’s the piece that’s going to be done first. Our Army knows how to fight and knows how to train people to fight. That’s why we’ve made the progress that we’ve made in training up that army.
MR. RUSSERT: When you voted for the war in 2002, did you believe 145,000 troops would be still on the ground in October 2006?
SEN. TALENT: No. I think, I think at the time, the administration and many underestimated the time it would take to stabilize the central part of the country.
MR. RUSSERT: Including you?
SEN. TALENT: I did not think it would take this long, no.
MR. RUSSERT: Knowing what you know today, knowing what you know today, that Saddam did not have the weapons of destruction that our intelligence agencies thought he had, if you knew that today, would you still vote for the war?
SEN. TALENT: Well, yeah, I mean, I think...
MR. RUSSERT: You still would?
SEN. TALENT: ...it was the—I think it was the only possible strategic choice. Look, Saddam had been an organic threat in the region for a long time. He represented a threat to us. That threat is now gone. Tim, look at what’s not happening.
MR. RUSSERT: But Senator, isn’t it an important question: if, if, if the CIA said to you, “Saddam does not have weapons of biological, chemical, or a nuclear program,” you would still vote for the war?
SEN. TALENT: Well, he wanted them. He was trying to get rid of economic sanctions. He would’ve had $70-a-barrel oil. He’d have been competing with—I mean, if action had not been taken to remove Saddam, the same people who are being critical of what’s going on in Iraq now would be screaming that we’d left him in power. We’d have another Iran there. That threat’s been removed.
MR. RUSSERT: Ms. McCaskill, you said this. “We should redeploy our troops strategically within the region over a two-year time frame.” What does that mean?
MS. McCASKILL: Well, we have—you know, as a daughter of rural Missouri, we have a saying, “If you’re in a hole, you need to quit digging.” We have now trained 300,000 Iraqi troops. We have a civil war. We—this idea that we’re creating a democracy that’s going to be our ally in the war on terror? We have a government that’s reinstituted Saddam Hussein’s laws to put journalists in prison.
MR. RUSSERT: No, but you said you would “redeploy our troops strategically within the region.” What does that mean?
MS. McCASKILL: We need, we need to listen to our military, and over a two-year framework, give or take, time period that they say, we need to move—Afghanistan, we need troops in Afghanistan right now. We didn’t finish the job there. We are—the Taliban is back. We need to move troops into Afghanistan. We need to move into Kuwait. We need to move into Qatar. Representative...
MR. RUSSERT: So you would take the 145,000 American troops, put them in Kuwait, put them in Qatar, put them in Afghanistan?
MS. McCASKILL: Over a period of time. I’m not talking about immediately.
I’m not talking about tomorrow. We need to give the Iraqi government notice. We are breeding a culture of dependence; we are not breeding a democracy. The elected leaders of Iraq, Tim, have come out in favor of Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that invaded our ally.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you sure those countries would take our troops?
MS. McCASKILL: I believe that, certainly, I know that the NATO command would take our troops in Afghanistan. They need more.
MR. RUSSERT: But there’s 145,000. If we withdraw the American troops within two years and full-blown civil war erupts in Iraq, full-blown civil war, creating a haven similar to Afghanistan of the ‘90s, what do you do then?
MS. McCASKILL: Well, I think then that military leaders need to advise us. These decisions are now being made. You know, steadfastness has turned into stubbornness. And this is about politics instead of sound foreign policy.
You know, I don’t support the release of classified information. Anybody who releases classified information should be held accountable. But we shouldn’t start blaming the journalists. That’s what they’re doing in Iraq right now. They’re putting journalists in prison that disagree with this government.
This is not an American democracy.
MR. RUSSERT: The president says he’s listening to the advice of the military commanders.
MS. McCASKILL: Well, you know, we respect the military in Missouri. It is a historic moment in our country, never before in our country, have we seen generals, retired general after retired general that had been on the ground in Iraq, that came out publicly and criticized the commander chief—in chief at the time of conflict. That is unprecedented in our country. Listening to them and realizing that we have not been leveled with, the American people.
And Senator Talent has sat on the Armed Services Committee for four years and is not asking the questions about accountability. We should be saying, “How do we get out of this mess?” Not “This is a good policy, a sound policy, we need to continue down this road.”
MR. RUSSERT: You were asked how you would have voted in the Senate in 2002, and you said, “It’s not clear to me how I would’ve voted.”
MS. McCASKILL: Well, I’m certainly not going to Monday morning quarterback the senators and congressmen that voted for this war. I’ve never seen what they saw. Knowing what we know now, absolutely not. And frankly, I’m surprised that Senator Talent would say that knowing what we know now, knowing what is going on in Iraq right now, knowing that we are not more secure and more stable as a result of this conflict, that he agrees that we should repeat that mistake if it came along again.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you seem...
SEN. TALENT: It’s not about a series of political slogans, it’s about completing the mission. Now, if you support an artificial timetable for withdrawal, it’s like Eisenhower saying after D-Day, “Look, we’re going to get to Berlin, but if we’re not there by Christmas, we’re going home.” It’s a political compromise, it’s not a policy.
MS. McCASKILL: You know...
SEN. TALENT: This mission is worth finishing. That’s what the national intelligence estimate says. We’re going to complete it and we’re going to continue fighting on all the fronts on the war on terror at the same time.
And she did support the release of classified information. She said The New York Times was right to do that. She said, “It’s OK because the terrorists knew about it anyway.” But you can’t—I mean, if you’re in the Senate, you know classified information, you can’t release it saying, “Well, the terrorists know about it anyway.” I mean, it’s just...
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, the American people were asked whether the Iraq war was helping or hurting the war on terror. And by 48 percent to 32 percent, the American people said it’s hurting the war on terror. Do you believe now, in hindsight, the $300 billion spent on the war in Iraq could’ve been better spent in Afghanistan or on airline safety or on port security?
SEN. TALENT: No. I think this is an important front on the war on terror. That’s—what we’ve spent in Iraq and Afghanistan in total is 1 percent of the GDP. Now in return for that we’ve already removed Saddam and the threat he represented. Look what Iraq is not doing, OK? They’re not competing with Iran to sponsor terror in the region. They’re not threatening Kuwait. We don’t have to station troops in Saudi Arabia. They’re not trying to restart the nuclear weapon program. All that would be happening under Saddam. The same people who would be complaining, who are complaining now, would be complaining if we left him in power. And when we complete the mission—and the part of it that requires large numbers of American troops is, is finishing the training and seasoning of the Iraqi army so they can do for themselves what they’re now doing in combination with us. This is the part of the mission that’s been progressing because we know how to fight and we know how to train people how to fight.
MR. RUSSERT: Same question.
MS. McCASKILL: Senator Talent, I think, just said the $300 billion was not a lot of money. Clearly, he’s been in Washington too long if he doesn’t think $300 billion is a lot of money. Obviously, you know, we, we have failed in—you know, General Eisenhower had a plan. We have spent more time in Iraq—at Thanksgiving, we, we completed World War II, if we’re there until Thanksgiving, which clearly we’re going to be. To compare those two wars, one war had a plan. Both of them had brave troops that we support. Both of, both of them, our military was doing a wonderful, magnificent job. But to say that, that General Eisenhower couldn’t have worked under a timetable, General Eisenhower had a plan and Senator Truman was asking questions, unlike now, where this administration is not being held accountable for its mistakes. No one is asking the questions, no one is holding them accountable.
SEN. TALENT: Tim, her positions, with all due respect, are what they are and they’re comprehensive positions of weakness in the war of terror. Not just in Iraq, but also with regard to the terrorist surveillance, with regard to interrogation of foreign terrorists, with regard to the release of classified information, and now I suspect, based on what she’s telling supporters which she was talking to in Paris, with regard to habeas. And we’re talking about giving—she’s talking about giving habeas rights to captured terrorists. I don’t want captured terrorists suing our people.
MR. RUSSERT: So bottom line, stay the course as long as it takes.
SEN. TALENT: No.
MR. RUSSERT: As long as it takes and your position is you have two years to get your act together and we’re getting out.
SEN. TALENT: I would say...
MS. McCASKILL: We need to give them notice. We need to tell the Iraqi government that we’re not going to build democracy at the barrel of a gun. It’s time for them to stand up and begin taking responsibility for their country.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to turn to domestic issues, because they’re important in your race. It’s interesting reviewing the literature and coverage of your race. Stem-cell research has emerged as a big issue and a big point of departure between your two candidates’ positions. And I want to read from The Kansas City Star. It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s important because it takes us through the—Senator Talent, your position on this and history on the issue.
SEN. TALENT: I’m going to get a drink of water while you read.
MR. RUSSERT: Please.
“Talent’s stand on stem-cell research has taken some confusing twists. For four years, he voiced support for federal legislation that would ban all human cloning, including that used in early, or embryonic, stem-cell research. The legislation was sponsored by Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican.
“That stand, however, put him at odds with some Kansas City and St. Louis Republicans, including former Senator Jack Danforth, who wants to turn the cities into life science research centers. ...
“Then, on February 10 , as his re-election fight heated up, Talent stunned Missouri’s anti-abortion leaders by renouncing that support. ... The change generated denunciations by a host of leading Missouri conservatives, including the Missouri Catholic Conference. ‘Flip-flop,’ fumed Larry Weber, the conference’s executive director. ...
“[Then on May 1, 2006], breaking weeks of silence ... Talent said he opposed a November [state] ballot measure aimed at safeguarding early stem-cell research in Missouri. ... Talent said, ‘I personally cannot support the initiative because I’ve always been opposed to human cloning and this measure would make cloning human life at the earliest stage a constitutional right.’
“A spokesman for the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures ... took exception to how Talent described the proposed constitutional amendment.
“Most Missourians do not believe that making life-saving stem cells in a lab dish is the same thing as cloning a human being ... And the Missouri initiative will strictly ban any attempt to create duplicate human beings.” Why are you opposed to having embryonic stem cell research in Missouri?
SEN. TALENT: Well, the—I’m opposed to human cloning and the ballot issue would create a constitutional right, an unqualified constitutional right, to clone the earliest stages of human life, which I can’t support. I support stem cell research, and the problem, until recently, Tim, was that there was one particular kind of stem cell that science believed it could only get by cloning a human embryo. Now, the good news is that there are alternatives that science is developing which will allow us to get all the stem cells that we want without having to clone an embryo or destroy an embryo. I strongly support the development of those alternatives. That’s what my speech was about in the Senate. And I want a world where in 10 years if you go into a hospital you know you get the best possible treatment that you could have gotten and you know you got it in a way that didn’t violate the conscience, and I think that we can get there.
MR. RUSSERT: When do you believe life begins?
SEN. TALENT: I believe it begins at the beginning, at, at conception.
MR. RUSSERT: So that embryo is a human being?
SEN. TALENT: Yeah. I think whatever it is that makes—if I...
MR. RUSSERT: And so, and so to use that for research is taking of a life?
SEN. TALENT: Yeah, it’s the, it’s the use—instrumental use of a person for some purpose, other than the, the value or the benefit of that person, which is something I’m not comfortable doing.
MR. RUSSERT: Then why do you favor exemptions in abortion law for rape—exceptions for race—rape, incest or, or life of mother? If it’s a human being, why are you allowing the taking of that life?
SEN. TALENT: OK. Well, I’ve, I’ve supported those exemptions over the years. It’s a situation where the pregnancy was not voluntary, and I think the law ought to draw a different balance under those circumstances. But as I said before, I mean, I support...
MR. RUSSERT: But it is the taking of a life under your...
SEN. TALENT: That’s, that’s right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...under your moral code.
SEN. TALENT: I—whatever it is that makes a person a person, Tim, attaches at the time the genetic code is complete. This is a personal judgment I’ve made. All these things involve personal moral judgments. And I’ve said to people in Missouri, “Look, go back, look at it, look at the technology, try and understand the underlying science and then make a decision on your own.”
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Danforth, who held a Senate seat, said if you had to go into a fire—a house with fire and yet a—save a three-year-old or a petri dish with cells, you’d save the three-year-old?
SEN. TALENT: That’s a, that’s a choice that’s between two different—that’s a choice that’s between two different people. That doesn’t mean, though, that you would, you know, you would sacrifice, you know, actively sacrifice the one for the other.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, if you have a three-year-old with juvenile diabetes, people believe that research on the embryonic stem cell may in fact bring about a cure.
SEN. TALENT: That’s right. The research—I’ve said I think the research is promising, I think it’s speculative. And the good news, Tim, is we’re not in a position where we have to make this kind of choice, we have alternatives that science is developing. At MI...
MR. RUSSERT: Right now?
SEN. TALENT: Well, yeah. I mean, look, all this is speculative. They haven’t, they haven’t been able to clone an embryo, they haven’t been able to get cures yet out of pluripotent stem cell research. But we do have alternatives that MIT is working on, Harvard’s working on, the President’s Commission on Bioethics has talked about, and that’s what—I supported vigorous funding of those alternatives, the Senate passed a bill to do that. That’s the direction I think we’re going, and it’s a win-win proposition.
MR. RUSSERT: Ms. McCaskill, the senator believes that, in fact, cloning embryos is, in fact, cloning life and then it’s being discarded, and how can you possibly support that?
MS. McCASKILL: My faith directs me to heal the sick. God gave us the miracle of human intelligence to find cures. Our country has never turned its back on medical research and we shouldn’t in Missouri. This provision strictly prohibits human cloning and provides a framework of ethical conduct and laws that are going to restrict the kinds of things that no one wants. I respect people who disagree with me on this issue on principle, I understand there are differences. I come down on the side of hope, hope for cures and supporting science. And I think it’s very important that someone be principled, strong and not muddled, but very clear and straightforward about their position on this issue.
SEN. TALENT: Well, Tim, in fairness, my opponent’s not stood for the protection or the dignity of life in a, in a prenatal stage, really in any context. She didn’t support the ban on partial-birth abortion. The...
MS. McCASKILL: That’s not true.
SEN. TALENT: ...the—well, she...
MR. RUSSERT: Do you support a ban on partial-birth abortion?
MS. McCASKILL: I do, within the constitutional framework that we currently have, with the exception for the life of the mother. I also support parental notification. On the whole issue of abortion, what we need to do—I, I, I certainly believe that abortion should remain safe, legal and rare in the early term, but why don’t we concentrate on prevention? Why don’t we all—none of us want abortion, none of us support abortion. Let’s come together and work on preventing abortions in this country, making adoption easier and, and, and do the right thing to, to drop the number of abortions instead of making health care more unavailable to poor women, which in fact drives up the number of abortions in this country.
SEN. TALENT: Tim, in 1999, the Missouri legislature passed a ban on partial birth abortion. The governor vetoed it, and the state auditor said she was against any ban on partial birth abortion. She doesn’t support a ban on partial birth abortion.
MS. McCASKILL: That’s not true.
SEN. TALENT: She never—well...
MR. RUSSERT: Did you support the ban?
MS. McCASKILL: I was not in the legislature in 199...
MR. RUSSERT: Did you support the veto?
MS. McCASKILL: I, I believe that he vetoed it because the version that passed was not constitutional, as the courts have determined.
MR. RUSSERT: But you would vote for a ban on partial-birth abortion if it had an exception for the life of mother?
MS. McCASKILL: Correct.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to George W. Bush, because he’s become an issue in the campaign. Ms. McCaskill, you were quoted in the pubdef.net giving a speech which was blogged, saying, “She reminded people that ‘George Bush let people die on rooftops in New Orleans because they were poor and because they were black.’” One, why would you say that, and do you believe it?
MS. McCASKILL: Well, first, I was acknowledging how thousands and millions of Americans felt. The visual that we all saw in Hurricane Katrina was frankly, something none of us will ever forget. Incompetence turned tragic because the people there were unable to help themselves. This administration...
MR. RUSSERT: But do you think the president let people die because they were poor and black?
MS. McCASKILL: I do not, I do not believe the president is a racist. I was acknowledging the feelings of many, many Americans that this administration has left the most vulnerable, helpless—this administration has been about Wall Street and not about average Americans.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you apologize for this statement?
MS. McCASKILL: I, I think if it is misinterpreted that I was calling the president a racist...
MR. RUSSERT: Misinterpreted? “George Bush let people die on rooftops because they were poor and because they were black.”
MS. McCASKILL: That was—I was acknowledging what Americans believed at the time.
MR. RUSSERT: So you stand by it?
MS. McCASKILL: Absolutely, that’s what Americans believed. Now, I don’t believe he’s a racist, and if that—if people think—and maybe I shouldn’t have said it that way, Tim. Maybe I should have said it another way. I probably should have said it another way. But the feelings are real.
And by the way, if we had that tragedy, how ready are we for a disaster in this country? After the billions of dollars spent—once again, no accountability—they still are not looking in Congress at how all the money was misspent in Katrina. With all the billions spent on homeland security, our citizens died because we couldn’t get them food or water. This is not an administration that is ready to protect us.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Talent, President Bush has been to Missouri at least four times in this campaign, raising money for you. And he has given a series of comments about you, which we have put together. Let’s just watch.
(Videotape, June 28, 2006):
PRES. BUSH: Thanks for supporting Jim Talent. One thing about old Jim Talent, he understands what I understand.
Talent and I don’t believe...
Jim and I believe...
I am proud to have worked with Jim Talent.
I am proud to be standing side by side with Jim Talent.
(End of videotape)
MR. RUSSERT: In your three years in the Senate, you have voted with the president 94 percent of the time. Why shouldn’t voters in Missouri say “Jim Talent is a rubber stamp for George W. Bush. If I disagree with George W. Bush, goodbye, Talent”?
SEN. TALENT: Well, with surveys, it all depends on the issues you look at, Tim. I mean, if you survey immigration, if you survey farm policy, if you survey highway and transportation infrastructure funding, you’ll find the president and I disagreed. I mean, there are surveys that show I’m one of the most independent Republicans. It all depends on...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, the Congressional Quarterly says you voted with him 94 percent of the time.
SEN. TALENT: I think it was the National Journal that said I was, like, one of the most independent Republicans. Yeah, and why don’t they ever say in those surveys that the president agreed with me a certain percentage of the time? I mean, I’ve been in public life a lot longer when he has. When I went into Congress, I think he was still running the Texas Rangers. Now, he’s come a little bit further, I guess, than I have since then. The point is, I have a set of views, a set of things I want to do to make the system work for Missouri. Let me take just 60 seconds, because the election’s really about the state auditor and me...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me ask you—but, but the issue of President Bush’s...(unintelligible). Do you believe that President Bush is a great president?
SEN. TALENT: History judges presidents, and I think it’s going to make a judgment based on his record when it’s completed...
MR. RUSSERT: But you supported him 94 percent of the time, and he’s been in the state four times campaigning for you. Why not?
SEN. TALENT: I think he’s going to be—I think history’s going to say there were some things he did that were right, and some things he did that were wrong. Certainly, he’s going to end up better than Jimmy Carter, probably not as good as Ronald Reagan, and a lot depends on what happens on whether we complete the mission, and, and—in, in Iraq, and win the war on terror. I mean...
MR. RUSSERT: But...
SEN. TALENT: ...you got to have some distance before you make judgments like that. He was right in the tax cuts that have driven economic growth, and he’s right in a pro-growth, pro-renewable energy policy, he’s wrong in his immigration policy, wrong to support an amnesty and oppose a security fence. My opponent agrees with him there.
Let me just take a minute and talk about what I’ve actually done...
MR. RUSSERT: Now, but we got to, we got to balance the time here.
SEN. TALENT: All right...(unintelligible). I got you.
MR. RUSSERT: George W. Bush. Is this election a referendum on George W.
Bush, or is it about Claire McCaskill and Jim Talent?
MS. McCASKILL: It’s about changing direction. And I will tell you, I think it’s remarkable that someone would vote with the president 94 percent of the time and then be not willing to say he’s a great president.
Let’s be forthright. Let’s—and frankly, speaking of independence, my career has been branded by independence. I took on the governor of my own party in a primary. I have done tough audits as an auditor of—in governors, both parties, both administrations. Time after time, I have taken sometimes the lonely road, like Senator Warner and Senator Graham and Senator McCain, and, and General Powell. There are Republicans that are standing up and saying, “We are not doing things right in Washington.” I want to be that kind of Democrat, that will come here and stand up to lobbyists, to my own party, to the president, and solve problems for the American people instead of playing political gamesmanship.
MR. RUSSERT: You’re having Bill Clinton come in to raise money for you. Do you think Bill Clinton was a great president?
MS. McCASKILL: I do. I think—I have a lot of problems with some of his, his, his personal issues. I said at...
MR. RUSSERT: But do you...
MS. McCASKILL: I said at the time, “I think he’s been a great leader, but I don’t want my daughter near him.”
MR. RUSSERT: You said that, according to New Yorker magazine, that you don’t think Hillary Clinton would be a good Democratic nominee because she couldn’t win Democrats in Missouri. True?
MS. McCASKILL: Well, you know, honestly, the presidential politics is going to get very intense and very, frankly, there’s going to be a lot of back and forth after November. I don’t want to get into presidential politics today.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you like to see her president?
MS. McCASKILL: You know, I, I, I think any Democratic nominee is going to be better than this president.
MR. RUSSERT: If...
MS. McCASKILL: And I’m anxious to support the Democratic nominee, because if you look at every measure: the budget—you know, speaking of coming to Washington, when Senator Talent came to Washington, he was all about a balanced budget and fiscal conservativism...
MR. RUSSERT: If you’re elected to the U.S. Senate, will you pledge to serve a full six-year term?
MS. McCASKILL: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: You will not run for governor?
MS. McCASKILL: No, I will not.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Talent...
MS. McCASKILL: I’d be honored to serve.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Talent? I give you 10 seconds. Why should people vote for you?
SEN. TALENT: Because I’ve made the system work for Missouri. Passed a Renewable Fuels Act to encourage ethanol and biodiesel, the Combat Meth law, reduced meth labs by 70 percent, other legislation. Everybody—every Midwestern senator supported it. We got—there was one major politician in the country who didn’t and she’s sitting next to me right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Ten seconds, why should they vote for you?
MS. McCASKILL: I wouldn’t have supported for a bill that gave $9 billion of tax money to big oil.
SEN. TALENT: Didn’t give 9 million.
MS. McCASKILL: It’s a bad—it’s a bad idea. Bottom line, let’s have some plain-speaking, forthright independence, a fresh approach, new ideas, and get rid of some of the politics that’re being played in Washington.
MR. RUSSERT: Claire McCaskill, Jim Talent, thanks very much.
MS. McCASKILL: Thank you.
SEN. TALENT: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, “State of Denial.” A best seller across America, but the White House is not happy. Author Bob Woodward is next.
MR. RUSSERT: Bob Woodward, his new book, “State of Denial,” after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’re back.
Bob Woodward, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
MR. BOB WOODWARD: Thank you. Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: You’ve written three books about the Bush administration and here they are, “Bush at War,” “Plan of Attack,” “State of Denial.” The first titles, neutral. The last one, not so. Why?
MR. WOODWARD: Because that’s what the facts show. It’s been three—this really covers a three-and-a-half-year period. It took me over two years to find out what happened, and quite frankly, as, as I say as directly can be said in English, they have not been telling the truth about what Iraq has become. As you pointed out earlier, the headlines in the newspaper today—more body counts, more people being wounded, while the people in the Bush administration are going around regularly and saying, “We’ve turned the corner, the terrorists are in retreat.”
MR. RUSSERT: Dan Bartlett, the counselor, top aide to the president, told The Washington Post, your paper, this. He “said that he and other officials noticed ‘a different tone and tenor to this project. ... Some pretty hard conclusions had already formed in Bob’s mind. So we made the judgment that the third time was not a charm.’”
MR. WOODWARD: You know, that’s unfortunate he looks at it that way because I’m a reporter, and I came in and said, “Here are notes of NSC meetings I have. Here are secret documents. Here’s information. What is your response?” And it’s not that I reached hard conclusions, it’s that I had hard evidence that things had gone south and I wanted to know what happened and get answers. And they, they went radio silent, as they say.
MR. RUSSERT: You told “60 Minutes” that the administration had a failure to tell the truth, something you just said as well. The White House has put out several documents, five myths to Bob Woodward’s book, the real story about the Rice-Tenet meeting.
MR. WOODWARD: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Setting the record...
MR. WOODWARD: And I think all of those have evaporated.
MR. RUSSERT: Setting the record straight with Bob Woodward.
One of the things they say is you keep saying that the level of violence against American troops was a secret. They say a public report was given to the American people, which demonstrated—said just that.
MR. WOODWARD: After I took the secret document, which I have here, I mean, I hate to show secret documents on television, but I guess I’ll have to. Why was this document secret?
MR. RUSSERT: When did you show that to the administration?
MR. WOODWARD: In May, June, and then, couple of months later, the exact information was made public. They knew I had it. Now, I mean, just look at what that shows. If that was—that’s what’s called a pattern, increased violence. It even has gone up in the last couple of months. That’s the reality. They were keeping it classified until I got a hold of it.
MR. RUSSERT: They say the president in May and throughout the year has always said Iraq is difficult, going to be more difficult. Saying exactly...
MR. WOODWARD: But, but, but he didn’t say that. He said it’s hard, everyone knows it’s hard, but he said the terrorists are in retreat. Sorry, that is not retreat. Wake up. That’s the reality. Now they say it and now there is a kind of a silence about all of this. You know, that’s fine, maybe they—maybe there’s going to be a speech or a press conference where there is going to be some truth-telling. We need it.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you spoken to the president or the vice president since this book came out?
MR. WOODWARD: The vice president called me I guess as it was coming out 10 days ago.
MR. RUSSERT: And?
MR. WOODWARD: Well, he called to complain that I was quoting him about the meetings with Henry Kissinger that he and the president had. I had interviewed Vice President Cheney last year a couple of times at length about material I’m gathering on the Ford administration, on-the-record interviews, but he volunteered, he said, “Oh, by the way, Henry Kissinger comes in” and he, Dick Cheney, sits down with him once a month and the president every two or three months. And Cheney was upset I was quoting him. And I said, “Look, this—on-the-record doesn’t have anything to do with Ford, you volunteered that.” He then used a word which I can’t repeat on the air. And I said, “Look, on the record is on the record,” and he hung up on me.
MR. RUSSERT: What, what do you mean, he swore at you?
MR. WOODWARD: He, he said what I was saying was bull-something.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Tony...
MR. WOODWARD: No, but he, but he hung up. Now, look, I can, I can see, I went back and looked at the transcript that he can—ever had a disagreement about ground rules with someone. Have you?
MR. RUSSERT: Well, he thought he was talking, he thought he was talking to you for one project and you used it in another project.
MR. WOODWARD: Well, exactly. But it had nothing to do with it, and it’s clearly spelled out that it’s an on-the-record interview. And so—now, what does he do instead of saying, “Well, OK, I look at it this way, you look at it that way.” It’s a metaphor for what’s going on. Hang up when somebody has a different point of view or information you don’t want to deal with.
MR. RUSSERT: Tony Snow talked about your book at a news conference, a press briefing Thursday at the White House. Let’s watch and come back and talk about it.
MR. TONY SNOW: The Woodward book is, is going to be interesting in the sense that it’s fascinating to everybody here in the beltway. But there’s also—there are a lot of single-sourcing problems. And, you know, I mean, there are going to be a lot of back and forth—I talked to Andy Card today, for instance, who says he was quoted accurately but out of context. I talked with the aide to General Abizaid, who said that although General Abizaid is quoted a couple of times, he was never contacted, there was—they never ran quotes by them, they didn’t talk to them. They didn’t talk to Kissinger, he’s quoted in the book. They didn’t talk to Brent Scowcroft, he’s quoted in the book.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you talk to Kissinger?
MR. WOODWARD: Sure. Of course.
MR. RUSSERT: On the record?
MR. WOODWARD: On the record. Again, I was doing Ford work, but I asked about this. I mean, again, my only agreement with Kissinger is that I would check quotes, but this is on the record, October 19th, 2005, in his office in New York. I, I said “This’ll be on the record,” he said “Fine.” Check quotes. I hope he won’t mind if I’m checking some quotes here on the air. I asked about the meetings with Bush, with Cheney, particularly about Bush, and he said, “Yeah, maybe a little more with the president,” more than every two or three months. Went on for pages discussing those meetings.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you, did you talk to Brent Scowcroft?
MR. WOODWARD: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Mr. Scowcroft issued a statement which seems to conflict with that.
MR. WOODWARD: Well, parse it, please.
MR. RUSSERT: He says, “I did not agree to be interviewed for this latest book. There are statements in the book, directly or implicitly attributed to me, that did not and never could have come from me. I never discuss any personal conversations that I may have with President [George] H.W. Bush.”
MR. WOODWARD: He’s, he’s not denying what’s in the book is correct, he’s saying it couldn’t have come from him. Look, this is—what you do in a book—and the, and the opportunity The Washington Post gives me is years to find out what happened and do as deep reporting as possible. Anyone who knows, I mean Jeff Goldberg of The New Yorker wrote a piece about Scowcroft’s agony and what’s going on here. People know what’s going on, and I’m trying to say, “Look, here’s a reality.” For instance, in, in all of this, Scowcroft and Bush Sr., the president’s father, former president.
MR. RUSSERT: But you spoke to Scowcroft on the record for the book?
MR. WOODWARD: No, I spoke to Scowcroft—I mean, he says he never talked to me—I mean, during June 30th, 2004, November 29th, 2004, October 5th, 2005.
MR. RUSSERT: Condi Rice, you say, shrugged off a briefing that George Tenet gave her about—on July 10th, 2001, about a potential attack on an American city—American interest. The September 11 commission commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, he said that Tenet said that she did not shrug it off. Who’s right?
MR. WOODWARD: I’ve been working on 9/11 for five years, since 9/11. And again, I’m trying to go deep into this. As I report in the book, this extraordinary meeting, the CIA director hops in his car and calls from the car and says, “I have to meet with the national security adviser”? I’ve never heard of that happening in any other instance at all.
MR. RUSSERT: What’s the most important fact in this book?
MR. WOODWARD: I mean, look, this is a reporter’s chronicle, what Carl Bernstein and I used to call “the best obtainable version of the truth.”
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Bob Woodward is the author, “State of Denial” is the book. Thank you very much.
MR. WOODWARD: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: And we have to leave it there.
Before we go, we’d like to say goodbye to Johnny Apple, who died this week at the age of 71. For 43 years, he wrote for The New York Times with brio and clarity. Over the years, he appeared on MEET THE PRESS 81 times, providing moments like this.
(Videotape, September 12, 1974):
MR. R.W. “JOHNNY” APPLE: Now, suppose Mr. Nixon were to decide on a running mate besides Mr. Agnew. Who else is there that would be acceptable to conservatives if Mr. Agnew were off the ticket?
MR. RONALD REAGAN: Oh, I don’t think—haven’t you got another question on your list there?
MR. APPLE: They all cover the same subject.
RUSSERT: R.W. “Johnny” Apple, one great writer, one very unique character.
MR. RUSSERT: And we’ll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. Our Senate Debate series continues with another closely watched race: Minnesota. Mark Kennedy, the Republican; Democrat Amy Klobuchar. If it’s Sunday, it’s MEET THE PRESS. Go Bills, beat the Bears!