Where do Democrats stand on the Miers nomination, the war in Iraq, and other key issues in Washington?
Dr. Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, played Hardball to give answers. He discussed the Harriet Miers nomination, telling MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews there are "a lot of questions" on the nominee. Dean also discussed the war in Iraq, saying it will be a campaign issue in 2006 but the bigger campaign issue will be the "culture of corruption" that Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby and Bill Frist are bringing to the Republican party.
To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: Dr. Dean, were you surprised by the nomination of Harriet Miers to be a member of the United States Supreme Court?
HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I was surprised. I'm like most every other American, including the ones in Washington. We know almost nothing about her. And we have a lot of questions to be answered before she gets a lifetime appointment.
MATTHEWS: Would you have ever thought of her as a possible court nominee?
DEAN: No. You know, she's a person who's very much below the radar screen as the president's legal counsel. But there's a lot of questions. I do think the president should make sure the Senate knows about her positions that she took while she was the president's legal counsel because it's the only documentation that we're going to have about what she believes.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that the president can claim executive privilege?
DEAN: Well, certainly the president can claim executive privilege. But in the this case, I think with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, you can't play, you know, hide the salami, or whatever it's called. He's got to go out there and say something about this woman who's going to a 20 or 30-year appointment, a 20 or 30-year appointment to influence America. We deserve to know something about her.
MATTHEWS: Are you being consistent? During the campaign, there was an issue of you releasing records from Montpelier. And you were fighting that case, you were saying, "I don't want to release these records. They divulge a lot of personal matters. I'm not going to do it." Now you're saying the president should release these papers.
DEAN: Well, actually, I did release about 2/3 of our records. The stuff that I didn't release was stuff — was not about people who were up for appointment to the United States Supreme Court, I can assure you of that.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, is this a case of cronyism?
DEAN: I wouldn't go that far. We don't know Ms. Miers. I've always believed people ought to begin with the benefit of the doubt. I thought long and hard before I opposed Judge Roberts, and I opposed him because I thought he would protect the most vulnerable Americans. Now we'll get a change to see. Until I know something about her, I'm not willing to condemn her.
MATTHEWS: Judge Roberts got an even split among the Democratic senators. I think it was 22-22. Do you think this woman will do as well?
DEAN: I just have no idea, Chris. I have no idea. I know nothing about her, I don't think many people in America know much about her.
MATTHEWS: John Roberts, when he was up before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was not an ideologue. In fact, he was implying he wasn't a partisan politician. Do you think she can make that claim, having served so loyally this Republican president? ... Can she claim not be an ideologue when she's been such a Bushie?
DEAN: Well, I don't think she probably is an ideologue. I think she's probably a pretty smart lawyer, but that doesn't mean she ought to be on the Supreme Court. I think we ought to know whether she's going to defend Americans, whether she's going to defend all Americans. I wasn't very impressed by Judge Roberts questioning the voters of Oregon on the euthanasia laws they have. It seems to me that if you believe in states' rights that you ought to support the state's rights. And he seemed to take a contradictory view of that. So I think let's find out what these folks are like, which you find out pretty fast when they go on the bench. I think it's really, really important that we know a lot more about her than we do right now.
MATTHEWS: George Will, the columnist, said at this point, there's no reason right now why this woman should be approved for the court. It's up to her to prove herself. Do you take that stand, that she has to be proven, and she has to do it, that she deserves a seat on the Supreme Court?
DEAN: Yes, I think she has to prove that she can defend the American Constitution, something which Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, for example, did not do and have not done very well. We need people who will actually do what the Constitution says, who will protect all Americans equally under the law and not try to rewrite the Constitution so it looks like a right-wing Federalist Society agenda. And that's all I ask for.
MATTHEWS: Does it bother that she's been to a pro-life event?
DEAN: No. I mean, you know, I'm a strong believer that the government ought not to tell women what kind of health care they ought to have. But I don't mind what her religious convictions are, as long she's upholding the law.
MATTHEWS: The Democratic Party supports abortion rights. Do you?
DEAN: Yes. I believe that women ought not to be told by the government what kind of health care she ought to have. That's not the government's business.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe the Democratic Party consists on that position, despite the comments by Hillary Clinton about the need for dialogue and all that. Do you think.. sound on this.
DEAN: I think we ought to have the smallest number of abortions as possible. You know, abortions have gone up since George Bush has been president. I think we ought to reduce abortions to the smallest number possible. But I don't think you do it by taking away the right of women to make up their own minds about the way their lives are going to be shaped.
MATTHEWS: So in this upcoming birth on partial-birth that's coming, there's going to be a verdict on that sometime after Thanksgiving. Do you think it's important that the new justice be a person who supports abortion rights down the line, supports Roe v. Wade?
DEAN: I think it's important that the justice is willing to grant individual freedom to all Americans, not just on the issue of abortion, but the individual freedoms that make up — for voting rights, for example. I think they ought to defend people's ability to vote unharassed. I think this thing they're doing down in Georgia where they're going to charge people 20 bucks for an ID so they can vote, that's going back to the days of Jim Crow. Those are the kinds of things I really care about. I want people that defend the individual freedoms and rights of Americans. And so far, we haven't seen that happen from the right wing.
MATTHEWS: Dr. Dean, you've been very cautious here, and I think a lot of Democrats have, you're not alone. Why are the right-wing people, the people on the radio all day, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, people like Bill Kristol, who was mentally important in knocking Hillary Clinton's health care plan, he has a big power in this country. Why are they out there with the blunderbuss, going at this nomination, and you're so cool about it?
DEAN: Well, I don't know. They can say whatever they want, that's what they do. Sometimes the people who talk the most know the least.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about Iraq. One in six Democrats now tell pollsters that the war in Iraq was worth it. Are you one of those one in six, or one of the five in six — I should say, well, only one in six say it's worth it. Are you one of the one in six or one of the five in six who don't think it was worth it?
DEAN: Well, I think, Chris, one thing I am is consistent. I thought this was a bad idea in the first place because I believed we would get just in the kind of mess we have. It looks like, Chris, now the Iraqi government that George Bush is supporting to hard is trying to rig the vote on the constitution. Women appear to be worse off under this constitution than they were under Saddam Hussein. I think this president's made a terrible mistake. Now we're stuck, we're in there. It's not responsible to take our troops out tomorrow, but we need to get our troops out of there and we need to do it in a reasonable way and not lose any more lives.
MATTHEWS: Most Democrats, in fact all but a quarter, think that your party, you, don't have a policy, an alternative, to President Bush on Iraq. What is your clear-cut alternative to what he's doing now in Iraq?
DEAN: Well, our clear-cut alternative, of course, wouldn't have been to get in there in the first place. But I think our clear-cut alternative is we know we have to come home. The American people are sick of this, they think this was a mistake. The question is, what's the timetable to come home? There's a lot of reasonable alternatives. I personally don't think it's reasonable to pull out all the troops tomorrow. But I clearly think sooner is better than later.
MATTHEWS: If we haven't begun that withdrawal by next November, the election of congressmen and senators across the country, will this be a campaign issue?
ON THE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP
DEAN: It will be, but I think the culture of corruption that Tom DeLay and Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and Bill Frist and the Ohio people are bringing to the Republican Party is a much bigger campaign issue. You can't trust Republicans with your money. Not only can they not handle, in terms of driving up huge deficits, but it turns out they're also putting it in their own pockets. Nobody likes corruption. Not conservatives, not liberals, not Democrats, not Republicans.
MATTHEWS: Wait, wait, wait. Dr. Dean, who was putting money in their pockets in the Republican leadership?
DEAN: Well, first of all — well, certainly Tom Noe was, who gave money to a lot of other people. Jack Abramoff was putting money not just into his own pocket, but into...
MATTHEWS: The former aide to Tom DeLay, right.
DEAN: Right, maybe into Tom DeLay's pocket, which was certainly benefiting a bunch of folks in Texas who were running for reelection. And then you have the issues of revealing what may be national security secrets, which Karl Rove and Scooter Libby are accused of. And then you have the question, which would be money in their pockets if it proved to be founded, of whether Senator Frist participated in insider trading or not, which is currently being looked at.
MATTHEWS: Right. You're talking about these junkets that DeLay's accused of taking at the behest of Jack Abramoff, his former aid, when you said, "money in his pocket."
DEAN: I'm talking about the junkets, the free trips — but I'm also talking about the indirect benefits of having more Republicans by circuitous — circumventing the campaign laws in Texas by putting corporate money, washed through the Republican National Committee, into Texas illegally, which is what he's charged with in his indictment.
MATTHEWS: If Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, says that the vice president's office was involved in leaking the name of that CIA agent, do you believe — what do you think his status would be, the vice president, if his office was named to be involved in this?
DEAN: Well, I think that depends on what kind of evidence there is, if that's true. Obviously, the person, I think, who's indicted would have to step down immediately. And then we'd have to ask the question, was the vice president himself personally involved in this? And that of course extends ...
MATTHEWS: Do you believe it's credible that the vice president's chief of staff, his office, his operation, were involved in such a scheme to hurt somebody like Joe Wilson, that he wasn't personally involved in his own office's activities? Do you think it's credible?
DEAN: Sure — well, I don't think it's very credible that he didn't know anything about it, because the M.O. of the Bush administration is to discredit your opponents and attack them personally rather than attack them for their position, which this is an example of.
These guys are bad for democracy. They're not interested in ideas; they're interested in power. And frankly they're not very much interested in the best interests of the American people. They're interested in the power for the right wing of the Republican Party, and that's why they'll be gone after 2006.
MATTHEWS: Back that up, Dr. Dean. What other examples can you point to — or any examples can you point to where the Republicans in power right now, in the White House or in Congress, have gone after somebody and tried to discredit them?
DEAN: Oh, I think there are numbers of them, not just Valerie Plame, but look at what they did to John Kerry with the Swift Boat ads. Certainly they — certainly tried to marginalize me during the presidential campaign. I think they would have done that —
MATTHEWS: Well, you helped a little, didn't you?
DEAN: I don't really think so. I think the press probably helped some. But —
MATTHEWS: I mean, the Dean scream was good material, like the ride in the tank was good material for the Republicans when they went after Mike Dukakis.
DEAN: Well, as you know very well, based on Diane Sawyer's report on ABC, that didn't exactly happen the way it was shown on television 700 times that week. But leaving that aside, I think it's very clear.
MATTHEWS: I know: it was a directed mike. I understand the technology.
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