Video: Rove plays hardball

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updated 6/22/2005 9:31:09 AM ET 2005-06-22T13:31:09
Transcript

Tonight on MSNBC's 'Hardball with Chris Matthews,' Karl Rove sits down with NBC's Senior White House Correspondent David Gregory for a comprehensive one-on-one interview.

No topic is forbidden territory. Rove candidly discusses a wide range of issues: John Bolton's blocked nomination, the Downing Street memo, the war in Iraq and Sen. Frist's role as a "valuable ally."

Rove, often viewed as the driving mastermind at the wheel of the Bush administration, also goes in-depth about the "bold" reform Americans could see this term.

Battle for Bolton nomination
DAVID GREGORY, 'HARDBALL' GUEST HOST: I want to begin by asking you about John Bolton and, for a second time, the Democrats have blocked the vote on his confirmation. What was your reaction to last night's vote?

KARL ROVE, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Well it’s sad — I mean they’re putting their commitment to politics above their commitment to doing what’s right for the country, and that is to send to the United Nations a strong, reform-minded ambassador who could help change the United Nations at a critical moment for the international organization in it’s mission.

GREGORY: Why did the Republicans call for a vote in the first place?  It was clear that the leadership knew that not even all of the Republicans were in town. Why go ahead with this? Was it a message vote?

ROVE: Well, the Democrats, some of the Democrats, keep changing the goal posts.  I think they probably set the vote when they thought they were at a point where they had satisfied the ever changing, ever morphined demands of the Democrats.

GREGORY: But if you know that you don't have enough Republicans to even match the vote totals you had before, was this an effort by Senator Frist to show off the Democrats as just obstructing the nomination?

ROVE: This is an effort by Senator Frist to get a nominee an up or down vote. It is clear that if Mr. Bolton was allowed an up or down vote that he would receive a majority vote in the Senate and be confirmed as our Ambassador.  The Democrats, as I say, have a continual, ever changing set of demands with regard to him. I mean at one point, the Democrats had even pledged their leadership, and pledged no filibuster on Bolton.  Well that quickly went out the window.

GREGORY: Why not give the Democrats what they’re asking for. They’re asking for names related to these NSA intercepts to answer the question whether Bolton retaliated against criticism of the administration?

ROVE: Again, it’s a constantly changing — the minority…

GREGORY: Has that changed?

ROVE: No it hasn’t. The minority report issued by the committee led, in essence, has up to seven names — seven individuals.  That question was asked and answered last week. There’s a constantly changing set of demands.  I know because I hear and see these. The Democrats continually are changing the goal posts. It is clear their object is to obstruct. Now that’s their right, if they want to obstruct. But again, I say it shows that their commitment to politics is above their commitment for doing what’s right for this country. The United Nations is in trouble. It needs a strong voice from the United States to help reform this vital institution and make it relevant and meaningful and powerful for the time that we find ourselves in. And the failure of the Democrats to allow an up or down vote on Bolton is a sign of weakness on their part and a lack of commitment to the reforms that need to be made at the United Nations.

GREGORY: Will the president now recess-appoint John Bolton?

ROVE: The president will continue to press for an up or down vote.  He believes that that is the best way to send somebody to the United Nations. Maybe at some point the Democrats will say, you know what, we’ve had enough of this game, let’s get an up or down vote.

GREGORY: Do you believe that?

ROVE:  I’m an idealist. I always hold out hope.

GREGORY:  But seriously, Karl, why not consider a recess appointment here? You’re coming upon that time when that would get him to the U.N.

ROVE: Well, we’ve got lots of options. Let’s, stay focused on the main and most important option which is best for the country and best for the U.N. and that is to have an up or down vote on John Bolton.

GREGORY: Does the president still have confidence in Senator Bill Frist as majority leader?

ROVE:  Oh sure, absolutely, absolutely.

GREGORY: What does he point to as major accomplishments by Senator Frist?

ROVE: He’s been a great ally in all of our domestic agenda, in all of our international agenda.  He is a valuable ally.  He’s been a great leader in the Senate.  It is a tough place. It is the toughest job, I think, in Washington in many respects because you have so much in way of responsibility and just the authority is not what people might think.  For example, I gave you the example just a moment ago.  The first vote on John Bolton was scheduled at a point when the Democrats had said ‘we will not filibuster him.’ And between the time that they gave that commitment, and the time that Frist scheduled the vote, and the time that they actually voted, they changed their mind.  Now there’s nothing that Senator Frist can do about that except persevere. And he will persevere.

On Iraq
GREGORY: Why does the president think that public support is falling for the war?

ROVE: The president believes that this is a vital interest of the United States and the free world that we have a successful, and democratic, and stable Iraq. And polls are gonna go up, and polls are gonna go down — just as there was euphoria after the capture of Saddam Hussein, as there was euphoria in the polls after the time that the Iraqi elections were held.  Polls are gonna go up and down, but we need to stay focused on the goal which is the creation of a stable democratic Iraq at the heart of the Middle East. Let's step back for a minute and just remember what the goal of the insurgents is. The goal of the insurgents is to derail the process of Iraq becoming a democracy. They weren’t able to stop the transfer of power a year ago, they weren’t able to stop the elections, they’re not able to stop the move towards the creation of a constitution this summer and fall. Each time that the insurgents have sought to derail the process they have failed. That’s what Americans need to know and that’s where we need to keep our focuses on, moving this process along in an orderly fashion.

GREGORY: Do you think the president has sort of lost his step with the American people? Do you think that there’s falling support because he’s not done a good enough job of talking the American People through what is an unsettling time?

ROVE: Look, Americans don’t like war. I mean nobody likes war and waking up and seeing on the screen people dying is something that Americans don’t like to see. Whether its American men and women in uniform, or rather it’s Iraqis in uniform or Iraqi civilians. But we need to remember, that’s part of the goal of the insurgents. Their goal is to weaken our resolve by being so violent and so dangerous and so ugly that they hope that we will turn tail and run. They have misjudged the American people though. And they have certainly misjudged this president.

GREGORY: A majority of the country opposes the war, more Americans now are calling for…

ROVE: I’m not certain that I agree with your assumption. You can find a poll and ask any questions you want, but I believe that if you say to the American people, ‘is it in the interest of the United States to see a stable and democratic Iraq arise at the center of the Middle East and should we do whatever is necessary to make that happen?’ that I’m sure Americans would say yes.

GREGORY: You don't think there's majority opposition to the war?

ROVE: I think Americans are concerned about war, its ugly, its dangerous. Anybody who has got a family member who’s gone over there — I know it. I’ve had family members in the Mideast. I know how Americans who have loved ones abroad feel. I can I read like you the newspapers and watch the television and it is not a pleasant sight seeing people die. Whether it is Iraqi civilian standing in line at a market or an Iraqi policeman whose goal is to serve his nation, or a US military personnel who is there on behalf of us so that we can fight the insurgents and the jihadists in the Middle East rather than facing them here. But having said that, that’s not the real question. The question is ‘is it in the American interest, will the world be safer, will the world be more peaceful if America and our coalition partners stand with the people of Iraq and move towards a democracy, or will we be better off if we turn tail and run?’ I know of only a handful of people in the United States Congress, and I suspect a relatively small number of Americans who say we ought to pull up stakes and pull out, regardless of what the consequences are, because I think most Americans understand how vital it is for our interests that we have a stable and democratic Iraq.

GREGORY: You’re talking about the goal, there’s also question about the way the war is being run, prosecution of the war and you're hearing from both sides of the aisle more calls for an exit strategy. This week Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a Republican, was quoted as saying “America is losing in Iraq” and he says the White House is “completely disconnected from reality about the war.” Your reaction?

ROVE: I respectfully disagree. This president talks every week with the commanders in the field by a video link. He gets briefed by the front line every single week. He meets virtually every single day with the sec of defense who talks with him about the progress of the war in Iraq. He meets with the national intelligence director every single morning to receive a briefing. With all due respect to Senator Hagel, I understand he has strong feelings about this, but this president is in connection, is in touch with the men and women who are on the front line of this war who are making the decisions and making the recommendations about our policy.

GREGORY: The vice president said recently that he thinks the insurgency in Iraq is in its last throes —its final throes, do you agree with that?

ROVE: We know that when a movement like this, a jihadist movement, a terrorist movement, is most dangerous when it is running out of options. We saw, you saw earlier this year Zarqawi and some of the other leaders of Al Qaeda and its affiliates talk about the dangers and about the struggles that they were in. They were complaining about the circumstances in which they found themselves, pressed by on all sides, by U.S. coalition and Iraqi forces. So I do believe the vice president said it correct: we will find these Jihadists and the Al Qaeda most dangerous when they are at the moment of greatest danger for them.

GREGORY: The president talked yesterday about the training of Iraqi troops, that’s a major area where the administration is looking to see progress and there’s still mixed reviews. What do you think the president has to do more of in terms of communicating with the American people about the exit strategy?

ROVE: Well I think more Americans need to do a better job of letting Americans know what is going on there. We have a fantastic, one of the most able members of the United States military in charge of this training effort, General Patreas. We are systematically both expanding the number of people being trained and increasing the level of training for each unit. We’ve got, I think there are three units now, three brigades that are at the absolute highest level, there are larger number of brigades that are meeting, that are coming in to a lesser but nonetheless improving status. And that ought to be our object. We’ve been, the Iraqis have had sovereignty for less than a year, it’s been merely a matter of months since elections, but they have reason to be proud of what they're doing. Think about this, everyday if you are wearing a police uniform or a border patrol uniform, or a military uniform, you're the target in Iraq of jihadists and yet there are plenty of people standing in line to take those jobs and to assume those responsibilities because they understand how important it is to the creation of the democratic and stable Iraq.

Downing Street Memo
GREGORY: As you well know, critics of this war have seized on what’s being called now the Downing Street Memo, based on meetings that Britain’s Chief of Intelligence had with American officials about the war. One issue that comes up in that memo and subsequent memos is British concerns about the fact that the White House in their view wasn’t adequately thinking about what happens after the regime falls.

ROVE: I'm glad you brought that up because I want to put that in context. First of all that is the British — a Brit making a comment about what he perceived to be U.S. policy. But remember the time frame, it is months and months and months before the balloon goes up in Iraq. And in those intervening months there was plenty of time planning for post-war efforts, vast amounts of planning. You never know exactly how a war is going to plan out. Napoleon once said, 'vast numbers of refugees enormous problems with food aid'- did not happen. Vast uprising- didn't happen. That we would see a vast uprising by hundreds of thousands of Iraqis- didn’t happen.  War is ugly, but a lot went very well with this effort and in part it was because the United States government and our coalition partners used the months to plan for any eventuality.

GREGORY: But if you're talking about the number of troops necessary, the level of American casualties, the force and intensity of the insurgency…did the president mislead the American people about the cost of the war or was he just simply surprised by what happened?

ROVE: I would go back to the president’s statements over the last several years and I would defy you to find one speech which he talked about Iraq where he doesn’t say there would be difficult times ahead, that we had a long road to hope that a great deal of sacrifice was going to be called for by both the American people and by the Iraqis to achieve this goal. Look, we do not underestimate the ferocity and the anger and the viciousness of the people that we face. We are in a war. Some people may treat it as a law enforcement matter and be worried about indictments from the U.S. attorney from the southern district of New York. But we recognize this administration and the American people we are in a war and the only way you have a successful outcome in the war is to aim for a complete and total victory, which is exactly what we’re doing.

Accusations over Gitmo
GREGORY: What is it about Guantanamo Bay, you said after the Abu Ghraib scandal that it will take a generation for the U.S. image to recover. When you hear the accusations about what’s going in Guantanamo, and hear how enemies of the United States are using Guantanamo Bay against the United States, do you worry that the same kind of damage could be being done?

ROVE: You use the right word: accusations. In what we’ve seen about Guantanamo is by and large accusations from dangerous people who were picked up on a battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it is appalling to me that some public figures seem to put more credence in the views and statements of a jihadist, who has been in many cases instructed by his training to attack the United States, to attack his treatment — they put more credence in those people than in our men and women in uniform.  I frankly believe that our men and women in uniform — we are a compassionate country that has taken people who do not abide by the rules of warfare who have never signed the Geneva convention and we treat them with great dignity and respect and care and we ought to be proud of the men and women who are manning the barricades at Guantanamo.

Bush's Second Term Agenda
GREGORY: What do you think is the status of the president's second term agenda?

ROVE: On everything that we have done there has been bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. We didn’t pass the No Child Left Behind bill with every Republican supporting it and every Democrat opposing it. We didn’t pass the resolution on Iraq with every Republican supporting it and every Democrat opposing it.  That’s the nature of a Congress in which you have 535 members, not all of the Republicans will agree each and every time, not all Democrats will disagree every time.

We’re pursuing bold and ambitious agenda of reform. I’m confident that most if not all of the agenda is going to be achieved.  It's gonna take a lot of hard work.  On the issue of trade, for example, there are many free trade Democrats who are trying to find a way not to vote for something they know in their hearts is right.  But at the end of the day, I’m confident people, particularly in Congress, will put the best interest of the country above pure partisan politics.

Now it might take some time, it took some time on judges. For four years we were told we were never you know some Democrats said we will never ever accept an up or down vote on Priscilla Owen or Bill Pryor or Janice Rogers-Brown for the Appellate Court and yet they did. For years we had people say there’s no way we're going to have these Michigan Appellate judges for the Sixth Circuit approved by the United States Senates — they got approved 99 to 0.  So at the end of the day, I think when people sort of put aside the partisanship and think about what’s in the best interest of the country that we'll have a lot of success.

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