MR. BRIAN WILLIAMS: Our issues this Sunday: McCain vs. Obama. The general election in full swing and the debate over public campaign financing takes center stage.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL): We've made the decision not to participate in the public financing system for the general election.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): He has completely reversed himself and gone back not on his word to me, but the commitment that he made to the American people.
MR. WILLIAMS: With us: for Barack Obama, former presidential candidate Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware; for John McCain, the campaign's national co-chair, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Biden and Graham square off on Obama vs. McCain.
And our Decision 2008 political roundtable, John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News.
Then, after a sad week of mourning across this country, we look back at the celebrations of the life and legacy of our friend Tim Russert.
But first--and welcome this Sunday morning--our intention is to do the very same broadcast that we had planned before Tim Russert passed away. Tim was excited about doing this broadcast. As usual, he had done all the preparation. So we chose to go ahead with the format and the guests we had scheduled. We've had new issues, of course, that we've been handed in the interim.
Joining us this morning, Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Joe Biden.
Gentlemen, we thank you for coming by this Sunday. Welcome to you both.
SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE): Thank you. It's kind of strange being here.
MR. WILLIAMS: We're going to--it is. And we'll all, we'll all get through this hour.
SEN. BIDEN: Can I just say one thing quickly?
MR. WILLIAMS: Yes, Senator.
SEN. BIDEN: After all the programs that I'd be on with him, we'd sit here and talk about his sons and my sons. And I want to tell you, Luke meet--met every--I'd never met Luke, but he met every expectation his father ever had of him; an incredible kid, and he should know that. His father talked about him all the time after the show.
MR. WILLIAMS: For all the people who've stopped all of us with their condolences about Tim...
SEN. BIDEN: Geez.
MR. WILLIAMS: ...wherever the three of us have gone this week...
SEN. BIDEN: Incredible.
MR. WILLIAMS: ...the, the thing they've all said is what a spectacular young man Luke Russert is.
To politics and some of the subjects we'll be tackling this morning, first of all the Obama decision not to go with public campaign financing. And to start us off, a clip from the Democratic debate in Cleveland, Ohio, February of 2008.
(Videotape, February 26, 2008)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Well, let me ask you about motivating, inspiring, keeping your word. Nothing more important. Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for public financing in the general election of the campaign, try to get some of the money out. You checked "yes" on a questionnaire.
SEN. OBAMA: (Unintelligible)...politics at worst.
MR. RUSSERT: So you may opt out of public financing? You may break your word?
SEN. OBAMA: What I--what I've said is at the point where I'm the nominee, at the point where it's appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and make sure that we have a system that works for everybody.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Biden, that didn't happen. The two didn't sit down and discuss this. It's been viewed as a kind of pragmatic, real politic decision. Senator Russ Feingold came out with a, a statement saying this part of campaign financing wasn't broken, but, in effect, it is now. Your response on behalf of the candidate?
SEN. BIDEN: Look, I've been a strong supporter of public financing my, my whole career. I'm the first guy to introduce a public financing bill to the United States Senate in 1973. And the purpose was to get big money out of the politics. The irony is, although he has changed his position--I'm not going to color that, he's changed his position--the fact of the matter is he has 1,400,000 contributors, the vast majority of whom contribute less than a hundred bucks a piece. So the effect of campaign financing is in place, but it's not campaign financing.
MR. WILLIAMS: So this is, all because of the structure of the Obama campaign, the support, the support levels they're finding they have on the Internet, a pragmatic decision.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, yes. But it's also a substantive decision in that no one major influence can affect Obama. He has 1,400,000 contributors. Not one of them could say, "If I don't--if you don't change your mind, I'm withdrawing my support." Whereas with campaigns, the reason I was so--I am so supportive of campaign financing, major interests that are able to accumulate hundreds of thousands, in this case, millions of dollars can say, "Hey, look, you don't change your mind, I leave." So in terms of the downside of his not accepting it in terms of influence and big money, there is no influence or big money in his campaign. In terms of undermining the public financing idea for everyone, it doesn't help.
MR. WILLIAMS: But where does this leave public financing? I mean, is this, is...
SEN. BIDEN: Well, that's, that's the point. It, it...
MR. WILLIAMS: ...the cost of good intentions?
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah. It, it, it leaves it a place where it's going to be harder to make the case, to be honest about it.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, does this mean it's broken forever?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It means his word's broken forever on this issue. I think that's what it means more than anything else. You tell people you're going to change this country, you're going to bring about change that people yearn to, to embrace. Senator McCain supported campaign finance reform at his detriment with Senator Feingold on our side. It did not go over well, but John did it anyway. He took a beating to try to change the campaign finance system. Senator Obama looked in cameras all over the country, literally signed his name, "I will accept public financing," and now, for whatever reason, he has broken his word. And is it 1.4 million donors that allows you to break your word? This is reinforcing everything that's wrong with politics. This is a game changer in terms of the general election. This will not go unnoticed by the American people...
SEN. BIDEN: But he did say...
SEN. GRAHAM: ...and it will not be soon forgotten.
SEN. BIDEN: Obama did say, "I'm going to be a game changer." He has been a game changer. Big money is not influencing his campaign. Major interests are not influencing his campaign. People who are able to say, "Look, if you don't change your mind, I'm withdrawing, I can affect your decisions," they do not impact on Barack Obama. He's had this incredible appeal that no one ever anticipated.
SEN. GRAHAM: I would argue that MoveOn.org has played him like a fiddle on Iraq. He said, "We'll never vote to cut off funding. It was a mistake to go in Iraq, but they're there, they need the equipment." MoveOn.org laid down the law, and the next supplemental, "There should be timetables for withdrawal." Within three or four days, he's changed his position on Iraq. He has played very much to the left. He has been told what to do by the hard left. There's a million times--and we will have plenty of time between now and November to talk about how he is captive to the left.
SEN. BIDEN: That is not true.
MR. WILLIAMS: Back to your response on campaign fundraising. You say that he has done this for whatever reason. We, we know the reason. It's because of the, the Internet appeal that his campaign found out halfway through.
SEN. GRAHAM: (Unintelligible).
MR. WILLIAMS: But had that been the McCain campaign, wouldn't it have been just as easy for them to, discovering this potential gold mine on the Internet, have made this same decision?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think John has proven that he'll make decisions for the good of the country. John supported campaign finance reform and paid a heavy political price for it as a United States senator. The public financing system that we all are touting here today as great has been abandoned by one candidate, and that wasn't John McCain. It's been abandoned because of political expediency. He's a calculating politician. The bottom line about, about Barack Obama, whatever the position, whether it be Iraq, campaign finance reform, public financing, he's going to take a tack that allows him to win. He wants to win beyond anything else, even more than keeping his word.
SEN. BIDEN: I'm not sure this is the place this debate should go, but if you talk about flip-flopping, you've got John McCain all of a sudden deciding now we should drill in 600 million acres offshore that he adamantly opposed before. You've got John McCain changing his position on Iraq. He started off talking about how they were going to be accepted and greeted with open arms and how we'd have a lot of money to pay--oil to pay for this war, etc. You know, you talk--so I'm not sure that's the place is--the bottom line in campaign financing, Barack Obama said major interests, lobbyists, major influence, corporate influence would not be involved in affecting his decisions as president because he would not accept funding for them. He has kept that commitment, whether it's been in the context of the Federal Funding for Presidential Elections or not, is, is, is an issue, but it's not about the essence of him keeping his promise. And lastly, the idea that he's going to sit there and go through what, what John Kerry went through, these independent finance organizations where the candidate running says, "Oh no, I had nothing to do with those swiftboaters, I really don't agree with them." But they're spending tens of millions of dollars against them, something the Democrats have not had, is not something that's reasonable for him to say, "I'm not ready to take that charge."
MR. WILLIAMS: You don't think we'll see swiftboaters on both sides of this election cycle?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I, I, I, I, I think we will, and that's part of the problem.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham.
SEN. GRAHAM: Here's the question. "If you are nominated for president in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forego private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?" Obama: "Yes, I have been a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns combined with free television and radio time as a way to reduce the influence of moneyed special interests." November 2007.
SEN. BIDEN: Important...
SEN. GRAHAM: Wasn't worth the paper written on.
SEN. BIDEN: Important point, as a means by which to "reduce the influence" of big money, he has kept that commitment of reducing the influence of big money in his campaign, unlike, unlike other campaigns.
MR. WILLIAMS: The words of Senator Hillary Clinton, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 17th, 2008. "My understanding is that Senator Obama said he would take public financing and that now he's saying he won't. So I think it raises some serious questions about what it is he stands for." Her words, Senator Biden.
SEN. BIDEN: I understand her words. She was competing against him. Were I, were I still in the race, I'd probably be raising it. But the essence, the honest to God truth is, he's kept his commitment of keeping big money, individual influence, out of his campaign. If you notice, the end of the quote that, that Lindsey read, he said that's why he supported public financing. That's the effect. And so the idea that anyone's going to be able to go say that 70, almost 80 percent of his contributions are 100 bucks or less, how much influence do they have on him?
MR. WILLIAMS: But you heard the line of argument, Senator Biden, from Senator Graham this morning. This has been something we're seeing, especially in print this past week. David Brooks, op-ed page New York Times: "Barack Obama is the most split-personality politician in the country today. On the one hand, there is Dr. Barack, the high-minded, Niebuhr-quoting speechifier who spent this past winter thrilling the Scarlett Johansson set and feeling the fierce urgency of now. But then on the other side, there's Fast Eddie Obama, the promise-breaking, tough-minded Chicago pol who'd throw you under the truck for votes." It goes on. Associated Press: "Barack Obama chose winning over his word. ... He tarnished his carefully honed image as a different kind of politician--one who means what he says and says what he means--while undercutting his call for `a new kind of politics.' ... So much for being a straight shooter."
Senator Biden, what do you think we're seeing here? Are people realizing that Barack Obama is, by the way, a politician?
SEN. BIDEN: I'm--I think what you're seeing is two things. One, Barack is a politician, an honorable politician. What Barack Obama said, and he's kept his commitment, he would keep major influences out of his campaign and out of his presidency. It didn't fit within the matrix of public financing as we talked about it, but that was the purpose of public financing. That's the rationale. Put it another way. If everyone in America agreed that 80 percent of their contributions for House, Senate, and president could only come from people making contributions of $100 or less, we'd have a pretty darn good system. The influence of money would be gone. He was able to do it because people recognize something incredible about this guy. He is a tough politician. He is also Dr. Barack, as you said. He's a high-minded guy. But he's a guy who knows--he knows how--he'll know how to govern. The very things that people are looking at him now, they call him naive on the one side about being able to govern, and yet they talk about him being a hard-nosed politician on the other. The truth of the matter is this guy's a realist who's keeping his promise of keeping influence out, big money, big influence, out of the decision making process.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, you heard that it turns out he's keeping his promise.
SEN. GRAHAM: It'd be news to everyone who listens to what he said, and this is just really sad for the country, for somebody with this much ability, this much talent, to, to fall this far this soon. The idea that we're going to change this country and do things that are hard and tough and keep one's word is music to the American people's ears. Well, let me tell you, what he did by breaking his promise is reinforce every bad thing wrong with politics. And you can talk about it, Joe, till the cows come home. This guy wants to win. He'll do anything to win, and the reason John McCain's going to beat him is because John's put the country ahead of the desire to win for himself, and that's going to be the defining issue in this election.
SEN. BIDEN: We haven't even gone to John's flip-flopping yet. Wait till we get to oil. Talk about big influence, talk...
MR. WILLIAMS: We're going to--we're going to get to oil drilling...
SEN. GRAHAM: Let's get to oil.
MR. WILLIAMS: ...by way--by way of--by way of Canada first. We're going to talk about NAFTA. John McCain gave a speech about NAFTA in Canada. First of all, is there a short, short laundry list that both of you can agree on? Let's call it what's broken about NAFTA.
SEN. BIDEN: I think two things are broken about NAFTA. No environmental protection whatsoever, allowing them to pollute their own people and drive down the cost of manufacturing at an unfair advantage to Americans. And two, not giving the workers in Canada--excuse me, in Mexico, I'm talking in particular--Canada's not bad. But in Mexico the ability to work for very little wages without any protection, giving another advantage that hurts not only the Mexicans, but hurts American workers. So it's environment and labor.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator...
SEN. BIDEN: So it's environment and labor.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, can you sign on to that?
SEN. GRAHAM: The whole idea of a presidential candidate telling our neighbors to the north and the south that, "I'm going to unilaterally renegotiate a deal American entered into" is a continuation of a past problem, you can't trust him. I want my country to be trusted. I don't want anybody running for president telling the unions what they want to hear at the expense of the credibility of the United States. The reason he's taken this position is because the unions want to repeal NAFTA. He's running in a primary, he says what they want to hear, and it hurts the United States for us, somebody in his position to be telling our neighbors, "We're going to withdraw from this deal." American doesn't do it that way.
SEN. BIDEN: I want to be--I want a president who'll look out for American interests. Every treaty we sign has a provision that a president of the United States, if he or she concludes that it's no longer in the interest of the country, can, in fact, should, in fact, step back from it. This is nothing to do with unions. This has to do with middle-class jobs. This has to do with the idea that there's an unfair advantage that was--no one fully appreciated of them being able--for example, we have a Chrysler plant in Delaware. In order to continue to have a paint plant in Delaware, they had to spend tens of millions of dollars to mitigate against the pollution in the air. Same plant goes to Mexico, they don't do any of that. They pollute their own people, they drive down the cost of being able to do business. That's not in the interest of our people nor in the people of Mexico.
Gov. RICHARDSON: Fortune magazine this past Wednesday: "Obama says he doesn't believe in unilaterally reopening NAFTA. ... `I'm not a big believer in doing things unilaterally. I'm a big believer in opening up a dialogue and figuring out how we can make this work for all people.'"
Now we go to the debate--same debate, Cleveland, Ohio, February 26th, 2008.
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): I will say, we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it.
SEN. OBAMA: I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that Senator Clinton talked about. And I think, actually, Senator Clinton's answer on this one is right. I think we should use the hammer of a potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and environmental standards that are enforced.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Biden, the "hammer of a potential opt-out."
SEN. BIDEN: Well, sure, that's what renegotiating is about. Do you think Mexico's going to sit down and renegotiate with us if we say, "By the way, we don't like the way things are working," unless they know there are consequences if they don't sit with us to renegotiate? That's what you call negotiation. He didn't say he was pulling out. He said he wants to renegotiate NAFTA, renegotiate NAFTA.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, let the record reflect, if the camera does not, you've been smiling through all this.
SEN. GRAHAM: I--all I can say, this is just an exercise. It's pitiful, really, to have someone this talented, has so much to offer to the country. It's like nailing Jell-O to the wall. This guy is everywhere. He sent--and went to AIPAC and said, "I support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel! Put it in the bank." The next day, "Well, you know, not really." He seems to be willing to say or do anything for the moment to advance his cause. And his cause is to win the election, it's not to change this country, and that's sad.
MR. WILLIAMS: Topic you raised earlier, topic we saw come up this past week, positions mostly similar between John McCain and President George W. Bush. This from The Washington Post: "Senator John McCain called for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling. ... [His] announcement is a reversal of the position he took in his 2000 presidential campaign."
Senator Graham, more than that, when you get beyond what constitutes a reversal, what doesn't, the environmentalists came out immediately and, to synopsize their position, I guess it could be said they view this as a, as a gift--this current energy crisis, $4 a gallon at the pump, a gift handed to the United States to change the way the nation does business and propels itself and powers everything. This was seen as something counter to that.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I'm not so sure most Americans feel like they've received a present for $4 a gallon oil.
MR. WILLIAMS: Oh.
SEN. GRAHAM: I think John understands that energy independence is going to require a lot of things. More domestic exploration, no to ANWR, yes to offshore drilling, deep sea exploration, if the states consent, makes sense. I can't go anywhere--maybe Joe has a different experience here. Everybody I meet says, "Why don't we find out own oil?" This is an effort by Senator McCain to allow that to be done in an environmentally sensitive way given the fact that oil--gas is $4 a gallon. It makes sense to put American resources on the table to blunt the blow of what's happening overseas.
MR. WILLIAMS: What does this get you and when? When do you see that price roll back on pump?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think, I think it gets you some immediate relief. You know, why do you send a letter--why did the Democratic leadership send a letter to President Bush, to Saudi Arabia, tell them to drill more. The Democratic solution here is tax at home and get Saudi Arabia to drill more. The supply they want comes from the Mideast. The supply John McCain wants is here at home to blunt the effect of dependency of Mideast oil.
SEN. BIDEN: Let's, let's get something straight here. We're not trying to get...
SEN. GRAHAM: That's the letter that they sent.
SEN. BIDEN: We're not trying to get Saudi to drill more, we're trying to get them to pump more of what they're drilling. They're not pumping what they could, number one. This is a gift, a gift to the oil companies by John McCain. They have now leased 41 million acres of offshore leases. They're only pumping in 10.2 million of those acres. Seventy-nine percent of all the offshore oil available off the coast of Florida, into the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Coast, the Pacific Coast, lies within those acres that they now have. Why are they not pumping? Why are they not doing this? Why are they not pursuing what's estimated to be a total of 70--54 billion barrels of oil at their disposal right now if they pump? Why are these greedy fellows deciding they want to go beyond that? It's because they want to get it in before George Bush leaves the presidency. It's because they're not pumping the oil to keep the price up. They are not even drilling. So here you have 30 million leased acres they have right now that possesses 79 percent of all the offshore, and they're not drilling. And John says they need more? And it would take 10 years for it to come online.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, you have a beautiful coastline there in South Carolina.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, we do.
MR. WILLIAMS: Would your position include exploration off your own shore?
SEN. GRAHAM: If the state of South Carolina consented. I'm for lifting the moratorium that prevents us as a nation from going offshore to extract oil and gas. Cuba is doing a deal with China, potentially, to drill off our shores. So yes, now is the time at $4 a gallon, $135 a barrel oil, to find more oil and gas here at home. If you're looking for a difference on energy between Obama and Senator McCain, he will allow American companies to go extract off our coast, with state consent a lot of oil and gas that exists there to get this country into energy independence and reduce the gas...
SEN. BIDEN: Let's get this straight...
SEN. GRAHAM: ...the price for gas.
SEN. BIDEN: ...they can do that already.
SEN. GRAHAM: No, they don't. There's a federal moratorium on off-coast drilling.
SEN. BIDEN: No, no, no, no. There's a moratorium on--no, this is off-coast. Where do you think the 40 million acres are, Lindsey? They're off the coasts.
SEN. GRAHAM: So.
SEN. BIDEN: They're off the coasts.
SEN. GRAHAM: So.
SEN. BIDEN: Forty million acres off coast. They want to get to the other 600 million acres that are not included in this.
SEN. GRAHAM: I thought we were talking...
SEN. BIDEN: The 79 percent of the reserves they already have access to, off your coast and mine.
SEN. GRAHAM: I thought we were talking--I thought the question that we were asked is there's new resources being made available by lifting the moratorium.
SEN. BIDEN: That's simply not true.
SEN. GRAHAM: It's not? Well, that would be news to everybody.
SEN. BIDEN: There are existing resources that they have available that they're not drilling for now. Those are the facts.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, The Greenville, Greenville News, September 20th, 2005, "Objections to drilling off the Carolinas center on the impact of tourism and the environment."
SEN. GRAHAM: Mm-hmm.
MR. WILLIAMS: "Said Senator Lindsey Graham: `All of our coastal communities I've talked with believe offshore drilling would be a detriment to our economy along the coast. I tend to agree with that.'" What changed?
SEN. GRAHAM: Four dollar a gallon gas.
MR. WILLIAMS: And what about the future 10 years down the road?
SEN. GRAHAM: Right. Right.
MR. WILLIAMS: You mentioned energy independence, where does that conversation come in?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, what you do is you have a supply-demand problem. The more domestic supply, the better we are off as a nation. But to get away from fossil fuels in general is a goal of Senator McCain. One thing you do on the power side is add nuclear power. We cannot address climate change without replacing oil and coal-fired plants with nuclear power. But when it comes to domestic supply, we're talking about 50 miles off the coast of South Carolina with the consent of the legislature where the state gets half the revenue. I think in an environmentally sound way we can extract deep sea exploration oil and gas off our coast that will allow us to be more energy independent. John is for that. I am for that. And I believe the state of South Carolina will be for that.
SEN. BIDEN: We already can do that. Let's get the facts. You're entitled to your own opinion, not your own facts. Forty million acres leased offshore, number one. Number two, the first well to be dug from the time they lease, if Lindsey gives them access to more area, it'll take 10 years from the time the lease is let to the time oil comes out of the bottom of the sea in the new leases.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, this is what people are talking about. Myrtle Beach Sun News, "The Senate ... may consider lifting bans on exploring for oil and natural gas along the East and West coasts of the [U.S.] ... `I feel terrible about that,' Graham said. `The worst thing we can do as a nation is taking the easy way out. ... If you start opening up offshore drilling, then you are buying time and you are not addressing the fundamental problem with fossil fuels.'" So you see the argument, you made it.
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah, and, and here's the honest--well, here, here's my answer. At $4 a gallon, time is not on our side. It is affecting food prices, it is affecting the quality of life in America. I have a lot of low-income people in South Carolina who drive the most inefficient cars. We're talking about allowing exploration in a deep sea area off the coast of South Carolina, Virginia and North Carolina with state consent that will enhance dramatically our supplies. I am willing to do that in an environmentally sensitive manner. Yes, $4 a gallon has changed my view of this; $135 dollars a barrel has changed my view of this. I think the economic impact of not adjusting now is going to be devastating in the--to the country short and long-term, and therefore I have changed my position.
SEN. BIDEN: No short-term consequence of additional leases, period, 10 years minimum. Two, better to invest in windmills offshore, alternative energy offshore, give those people a break. And three, the change is called an election.
MR. WILLIAMS: I want to talk about this nation's dual wars. The Economist magazine, on their cover and in their text, proffered a theory that, while Americans have been preoccupied with this election season, as they put it right there, "Iraq starts to fix itself." We are just back from Afghanistan. I was there a week ago for a week's worth of reporting, and we were discussing before the broadcast, more than one American commander, while I was there, showed me what they call an HVT, a high value target, predator video on the screen, and then said, "Right now I don't have the `air,'" as they put it, the assets, the fighters, the bombers, the predators, to go get these high-value targets in Afghanistan because, as they put it, the resources are going to the other war. Now, if we all view Afghanistan as the original conflict growing out of 9/11, Senator Biden, how do you make the argument--do you make the argument in the U.S. Senate of, of, of increasing focus, funding, resources for the war in Afghanistan? How do you get the public attention?
SEN. BIDEN: The way you get the public's attention is make them realize that if you're going to continue to keep indefinitely 140,000 troops in Iraq, you're going to spend $3 billion a week in Iraq. You're going to continue to have 250 casualties a month and 30 to 45 deaths a month even with the reduced violence in Iraq. You do not, as General--the commanding general in Afghanistan said to me, "I do not have the forces I need here to deal with where al-Qaeda lives, where al-Qaeda resides, where the real threat of terror exists." So there's a price to pay. We can argue about how quickly we should draw down in Iraq. There is no argument about the price we pay for staying in Iraq now. General McCaffrey, "The Army's starting to unravel." Admiral Mullen, "Having forces at the level we have in Iraq doesn't allow us to meet our needs in Afghanistan." General Casey, "Army's out of balance." General Cody, "This exceeds our ability to sustain the supply of soldiers and equipment." General--the list goes on and on and on. John McCain is viewing this like he is the commander in chief of Iraq. The president of the United States has larger security concerns than merely Iraq, and there needs to be a balance here. And you cannot win the war in Afghanistan with the present level of commitment that is unnecessary in Iraq.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Graham, have we allowed the, the, the public focus to shift from what was the original war, after all?
SEN. GRAHAM: The central battlefront in the war on terror, according to General Petraeus, is Iraq. The mistakes we made after the invasion were enormous. For four years John McCain argued with the Bush administration, "We do not have enough troops to secure Iraq." The insurgency grew as a result of chaos and out of control sectarian violence. John McCain suggested something that no one else suggested, send more troops into Iraq when the polling was clear that America wanted out of Iraq.
MR. WILLIAMS: But the question's about Afghanistan.
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, you can't talk about this war unless you talk about Iraq and how it affects Afghanistan in the overall war. If we had of lost in Iraq, if Iraq had broken in three parts and became chaotic, you would had a Sunni-Shia civil war spread through the region. The biggest winner of a loss in Iraq would have been Iran, second only to al-Qaeda. Bin Laden said, "Go to the land of two rivers. This is the central battle." The Muslim population in Iraq took up arms, with our help, against bin Laden. They've beaten al-Qaeda's brains out. Iraq--the surge worked. It's not working, it has worked. NATO is in charge of Afghanistan. Senator Obama's on the Foreign Relations Committee, the subcommittee dealing with oversight of NATO. He has never held one hearing about Afghanistan. We're not going to allow the hard work in Iraq to be ignored and not appreciated because we've got growing problems in Afghanistan. You have to win where the enemy is at. We are winning in Iraq. It will help us with Iran, it will help us in the region to defeat al-Qaeda, and NATO needs to help more in Afghanistan.
SEN. BIDEN: That's all old thinking, why we're in trouble. First of all, the reason Obama didn't hold a hearing on NATO, I chair the committee. Every one of those committee hearings are held at full committee, number one. Number two, with regard to General Petraeus, central war on, on, on terrorism, I asked General Petraeus and I asked Ambassador Crocker, before my committee when they're here, "If you have a choice only to eliminate al-Qaeda one place, Afghanistan or Iraq, which do you choose?" Both of them said, obviously, Afghanistan, that's where they live, number one. Number two, the idea of us pulling down and drawing down in Iraq, that the Iraqis themselves will not eliminate al-Qaeda is bizarre. The overall thinking here is, as we continue to be bogged down by this old think that Lindsey and John stick to, is the reason why we're in so much trouble to begin with.
MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Biden, I don't mean to interrupt.
SEN. BIDEN: No, I understand.
MR. WILLIAMS: You're in the news yourself this past week.
SEN. BIDEN: Uh-oh. What did I do?
MR. WILLIAMS: You interested in the vice presidency?
SEN. BIDEN: I am not interested in the vice presidency.
MR. WILLIAMS: You're not interested in the vice presidency.
SEN. BIDEN: I'm not interested.
MR. WILLIAMS: MEET THE PRESS, April 29th, 2007, Tim Russert asks Joe Biden, "You interested in being vice president?" "No, I will not be vice president under any circumstances." But in a different answer, you answered you'd have to say yes. I don't know, so...
SEN. BIDEN: Well, no. The bottom--look, the--when I was asked that question, I thought I was still going to be president. Now--number one, I, I am not interested in being vice president. I've let the candidate know. If the candidate asks me to be vice president, the answer is I got to say yes. But he's not going to ask me. Look, you cannot walk away...
MR. WILLIAMS: Now...
SEN. BIDEN: ...when your party--if the party nominee asked him to be vice...
MR. WILLIAMS: Is that a rule out or a rule in?
SEN. BIDEN: No, it--no, it's--I don't--I'm not interested. I'm--my--I answer your question honestly.
MR. WILLIAMS: But if asked?
SEN. BIDEN: Unlike most other people, I'm being straight with you. If asked, I will do it. I've made it clear I do not want to be asked.
MR. WILLIAMS: Do not want to be asked. But if asked, the answer, of course, would be yes.
SEN. BIDEN: Of course it would, because the--if the president--if the presidential nominee thought I could help him win, am I going to say to the first African-American candidate about to make history in the world that, "No, I will not help you out like you want me to"? Of course, I'm--I'll say yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: On that note, we will thank both senators who, by the way, are up for re-election in...
SEN. GRAHAM: What, what a country. What a country.
MR. WILLIAMS: ...their respective states. Senator Graham, Senator Biden. Gentlemen, thank you for coming by this Sunday morning.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.
SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you very much.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.
MR. WILLIAMS: Coming up next, as our broadcast continues, the very latest inside the Obama and McCain campaigns. John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times, and our own Andrea Mitchell of NBC News are here next, only on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. WILLIAMS: Our political roundtable after this brief station break.
MR. WILLIAMS: We're back with two friends, John Harwood and Andrea Mitchell.
Welcome to you both.
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Thank you, Brian.
MR. WILLIAMS: And let's have some raw numbers this Sunday morning. The form of this Newsweek poll that's been getting some play over the past 24, 48 hours. In the presidential straight up, Obama 51, McCain 36. This collides with a lot of the polling, even in the days since Obama has been the presumed nominee.
John, you first. What do you think's going on here?
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: Well, I think until we see other polls showing margins like that, we've got to assume that this is an outlier. But we have seen Barack Obama's lead creep up since he wrapped up the nomination, Hillary Clinton got out of the race. Conditions for Democrats around the country would justify a lead like that. It's tremendously a beneficial atmosphere for Democrats when President Bush is unpopular, there's so much anxiety about the war, so much anxiety about the economy. I think the drama of the summer is going to be how much of a lead can Barack Obama build or is there resistance because of his inexperience, perhaps because he breaks his word on something like campaign finance, as Lindsey Graham was making that argument, and maybe some racial resistance as well? John McCain has his own strengths, but Barack Obama, how much can he take advantage of this favorable environment for Democrats?
MR. WILLIAMS: Is campaign finance, though, announced late in the first week of summer, going to resonate with folks? Is that one of those--the trickle down issues that people, that people get their arms around and care about?
MS. MITCHELL: Well, in fact, the campaign is hoping that it is not, that it is the kind of inside-the-Beltway issue that doesn't resonate. But, as you saw just now with Lindsey Graham and Joe Biden, you saw the outlines of the campaign. That is what, what Lindsey Graham did was to try to say, "You see, he's not the real deal. He's not authentic. You don't really know this guy. He doesn't represent reform, new politics. He breaks his word. You can't trust him." That's what they will claim, and they'll use something like his going back on his word on this and try to make it into a big deal. You heard John McCain say, his immediate response when he was out in Iowa, "This is a big deal. This is a big deal."
MR. WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm.
MS. MITCHELL: He repeated it twice. So they're going to try to--see, and that's going to be what we have--you know, whether people respond to that. I think, as John does, and you hear this from the Republicans, that the Newsweek numbers don't have the right weighting, that there's a sampling error. We'll see whether this is borne out, because it does conflict with earlier polls from the week before and from two weeks ago, our own poll, which showed less of a balance for Obama than you would have expected because we have all of this anger against the Republicans, we have all these headwinds against John McCain. It should not be as tight a race as the earlier polls were indicating.
MR. WILLIAMS: And because the Obama campaign is reading all of this, and the op-ed pages, and feeling like they still need to introduce their man to a whole lot of Americans, especially in certain states, they're out with this ad.
SEN. OBAMA: (From ad) I'm Barack Obama. America's a country of strong families and strong values. My life's been blessed by both. I approved this message because I'll never forget those values. And if I have the honor of taking the oath of office as president, it will be with a deep and abiding faith in the country I love.
MR. WILLIAMS: Note all those terms in there. And when we talk about campaign finance and the big money in politics, this is what the big money buys. Take a look at the map, take a look at the ad buy. Now, look at all those red states. They are, by my calculation, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia.
John, do they know something the American people don't? Because those were all in the Bush category last time around. What's going on here?
MR. HARWOOD: Well, they know that Democrats have got a wave behind them. Part of it's an anti-Bush wave, part of it's the economy and the war, as we talked about before. I think this is a feeling out period, Brian, where the campaign, using this incredible financial resources they have, can test and see, "Can we play in Georgia? How well can we play in Virginia or New Mexico or Nevada?" All of those things are the luxuries that you get by breaking your word on campaign financing. The public does not care, by the way, about the details of how you finance your campaign. The only question is can McCain make him pay a price in credibility and trustworthiness on that? But Barack Obama, I think, also we noticed, unless my eyes were deceiving me, that was a flag pin on his lapel. We have seen many tone changes from Barack Obama since he wrapped up the nomination--on taxes, said he might cut corporate taxes, might delay some tax hike; says he's a "free trader"; he made the decision on campaign finance. Look at this terror deal that went through the Congress and is going to be passed. That's a way of taking an issue off the table, and in the pragmatism that Barack Obama is displaying here, Democrats love the, the split personality that David Brooks...
MR. WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm.
MR. HARWOOD: ...my friend wrote about in his column. Liberals love that, and they're seeing, potentially, in Barack Obama, somebody, as your rock hero and Tim Russert's might say, was "born to run" in this campaign.
MS. MITCHELL: And you saw in that ad where it's like "faith in the country." You know, he--every touchstone was, was touched. And as, as he claims to do one thing and does a little bit of another, he is showing a pragmatism that some people will find suspicious. It will create some problems, and the Republicans are going to try to explore it. You heard Joe Biden try to defend the decision on campaign finance by saying, "Look, he's got 1.4 million individual, small donors."
MR. WILLIAMS: He's merely responding to the American people. Right.
MS. MITCHELL: But, at the same time, the Center for Responsive Politics points out that 55 percent of his contributors are bigger donors. That's not something they point out very often.
MR. HARWOOD: Barack Obama is not doing this to advance the cause of campaign finance reform. That's one thing for sure.
MS. MITCHELL: Right.
MR. WILLIAMS: One state poll...
MS. MITCHELL: By the way, I just--I do think it's a head feint. I--he's not going to--he doesn't expect to win Montana and the other places that they are running this ad. This is to tie McCain down and make him spend money, and tie him in places that he ought to be able to take for granted.
MR. WILLIAMS: One state poll that stuck out to us, presidential election among Georgia voters: McCain, 44; Obama, 43; and there's Bob Barr at 6.
John, what do you make of the numbers?
MR. HARWOOD: Well, the third-party candidates can make a difference in certain places. Of course, we saw that in Florida in 2000. Bob Barr is not going to make a splash in most parts of the country. But Georgia's a very interesting case. They are playing. Sam Nunn is a potential vice presidential choice.
MR. WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm.
MR. HARWOOD: Georgia's a state where, if you supercharge African-American turnout, it's conceivable that Barack Obama could make a run there, and you see that Bob Barr may be helping him.
MR. WILLIAMS: Now, Andrea, let's talk about the veepstakes.
MS. MITCHELL: Yes.
MR. WILLIAMS: You witnessed the scene with Senator Biden...
MS. MITCHELL: That was wonderful.
MR. WILLIAMS: ...just before the break. And we got two distinct answers. Where does--where is the making of the list these days by the "great mentioners"?
MS. MITCHELL: Well, it's very actively engaged and engaging. Let's start with Georgia. Sam Nunn told me on MSNBC, impossible--"implausible, but not impossible" is his phrasing. Implausible, but not impossible that he would be the nominee. Pluses and minuses: foreign policy experience, the nuclear threat reduction. Minuses, he is an anathema to the gay and lesbian community because of "don't ask, don't tell." He's tried to moderate his position, but it was he and Colin Powell who shoved that down a young Bill Clinton's throat in 1993 as a new president. So there are large Democratic interest groups who would rebel at the convention if Sam Nunn were the nominee. But with Bob Barr in the race, insiders are saying, "Take a look at those numbers." With Bob Barr in the race, Sam Nunn could make the difference and could carry Georgia. So you have people who could individually bring states. Evan Bye, on the Democratic side, is plausible on economic issues, former governor, enough on national security issues because his membership on Armed Services and other, you know, experience, a red state, Indiana. Those are people that are being looked at pretty seriously.
MR. WILLIAMS: John, what's the...
MR. HARWOOD: And by the way, that candor you got out of Joe Biden on "Of course I'll say yes"...
MS. MITCHELL: Right.
MR. HARWOOD: ...when every other veep candidate is on the show for the rest of the year, whatever their answer is when they're asked the question, a thought bubble out to be displayed, "Of course I will say yes."
MR. WILLIAMS: "Of course I will say yes." Give me the lightning round. Just reel off, we have about a minute left, reel off the, the list, both sides, if you had to come down to two or three of the, of the must-look-at veep selections for both candidates.
MR. HARWOOD: If I was looking at three on the Democratic side, I would say Ted Strickland, the governor or Ohio, Hillary Clinton supporter...
MR. WILLIAMS: Mm-hmm.
MR. HARWOOD: ...Evan Bye, senator from Indiana, also a Hillary Clinton supporter, and perhaps Joe Biden of Delaware, who could fulfill a national security need. Sam Nunn's also a candidate. On the Republican side, I think you've got to look at Charlie Crist of Florida, who's in The New York Times this weekend talking about that possibility; you've got to look at Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota; and you've got to look at somebody like Rob Portman in Ohio.
MR. WILLIAMS: That's going to be the last word. My thanks to both of you. Thanks, friends, for being here this Sunday morning.
We'll be right back with a special tribute to our friend Tim Russert in just a moment.
MR. WILLIAMS: Welcome back. This past Wednesday we said a final goodbye to a great man and a dear friend of ours beloved by so many, Tim Russert. We all gathered at the Kennedy Center here in Washington for a beautiful memorial service celebrating his spectacular American life. And when it was over, we exited to a wonderful piece of music, a well-known rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It served as a reminder of Tim's great love of life.
(Videotape, June 18, 2008)
Sister MARY LUCILLE SOCCIARELLI: I hear God, "Here's little Timmy Russert. You're in heaven now, Tim, where every day is MEET THE PRESS. Welcome home."
MR. TOM BROKAW: His role was to be a citizen journalist, to speak for those with no voice, to hold public officials accountable, to fulfill the role that I have always thought as the highest calling of a citizen in this country, to be a patriot.
MR. WILLIAMS: He touched all of us, if not with that big made-in-Buffalo right paw of his that would come down on your shoulder, through his friendship, through his mentoring. He was our partner.
MR. MIKE BARNICLE: I see his face, I hear his laugh, I feel his joy, his absolute delight in the life God gave him. Timothy J. Russert--noble, honorable, intensely loyal.
MS. MARIA SHRIVER: I lost my heart to Timmy Russert the day I met him, and the entire time I knew him he took care of it.
MS. BETSEY FISCHER: He'd say this is all part of life. We have to move forward, lean on each other and cherish all the good times and live every day to its fullest, but live it with honor and integrity, and always reach down to help someone else up.
MR. LUKE RUSSERT: My dad was a force of nature, and now his own cycle in nature is complete. But his spirit lives on in everybody who loves their country, loves their family, loves their faith and loves those Buffalo Bills. I love you, Dad. And in his words, let us all "go get 'em."
MR. WILLIAMS: And there, as if on cue, at the end of that sad and happy and sentimental service, there it was, the rainbow that broke out across the sky all over Washington and for all to see.
MR. WILLIAMS: That's all for today. It goes without saying, this was an honor to moderate this morning's broadcast, and I'll be back here from time to time on Sunday mornings. But we have an announcement this morning we think will please loyal viewers of this great broadcast. Beginning next week, my friend Tom Brokaw has agreed to step in as moderator of MEET THE PRESS, to get us through this election season. We're fortunate to have Tom not only, of course, as part of our NBC News political all-star team, certainly a big part of our "NBC Nightly News" family. And allow me to add, during these past difficult days, Tom's been an enormous comfort here in this Washington bureau; for that matter, throughout this news division.
So, on behalf of everyone at NBC News, I'm Brian Williams. Thank you for joining us. And we'd like to thank you for the enormous outpouring of support for our friend Tim and his family. And as a great man said every week, "If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS."