Meet the Press   |  January 01, 1910

Hillary Clinton

Sept. 23: Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., discusses his 2008 presidential campaign with 'Meet the Press' moderator Tim Russert.

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NBC News


Sunday, September 23, 2007

GUESTS: Senator HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY) 2008 Presidential Contender

ALAN GREENSPAN Author , “The Age of Turbulence : Adventures in a New World”


This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with

MEET THE PRESS NBC NEWS (202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the Iraq war , healthcare , campaign fund-raising and more. Our Meet the Candidates 2008 series continues. A former first lady, she has served as United States senator from New York for seven years and is now the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. With us, Hillary Rodham Clinton .

Then, a Sunday morning exclusive. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve 's new book, "The Age of Turbulence ," is making headlines in Washington and on Wall Street . Our guest, Alan Greenspan .

But first, joining us now is someone who'd like to be the first woman president of the United States , Senator Hillary Clinton of New York .

Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS .

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): Thank you, Tim . It's great to be back with you.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton , you told Newsweek magazine that the war in Iraq was the most important vote you cast in the U.S. Senate . I'd like to begin there. You spoke to a labor union this week, and this is what you said. Let's watch.

SEN. CLINTON: I have voted against funding this war, and I will vote against funding this war as long as it takes.

MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, you voted to authorize the war, voted to fund the war at least 10 times. Are you now saying that you will not vote one more penny for the war in Iraq ?

SEN. CLINTON: Tim , I am saying that, and, you know, I've been guided by what I believe is the principle that should govern any decisions that a member of the Senate or anyone in public life makes, and that is I try to do what I think is best for my country and for the troops who serve it. And I have seen no evidence that this administration is willing to change course in any significant way. We're now nearly at 3800 dead, we have more than 30,000 injured. The Iraqi government has failed to fulfill its part of the bargain to deal with the political issues that all of us know have to be addressed. I don't think the Bush administration has pursued the diplomatic agenda the way that it needed to be pursued. And there is no military solution. And these extraordinary, brave young men and women should begin to come home out of refereeing this sectarian civil war .

I voted against funding last spring. I understand that we're going to have a vote shortly about funding, and I will vote against it because I think that it's the only way that we can demonstrate clearly that we have to change direction. The president has not been willing to do that, and he still has enough support among the Republicans in the Senate that he doesn't have to. And so, on occasion after occasion, I have made it clear that if the president does not begin to extricate us from Iraq before he leaves office, which apparently, based on what he himself has said, he will not, when I am president, I will immediately ask my secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of

Staff, my security advisers, to tell me exactly what the state of play is. I don't believe we even know everything we need to know about what the plans for withdrawal are, how best to implement that. And I will end our involvement at the level that we've seen that has not proven to be successful.

MR. RUSSERT: The Daily News , your home paper in New York , said that your positions on Iraq remain a tangle of contradictory and shifting elements, and I want to go through those and see if we can sort it through for the viewers and the voters. A new brochure that you've passed out to the voters in New Hampshire says this:" Hillary will begin immediate phased withdrawal with a definite timetable to bring our troops home."

When you were last on MEET THE PRESS , I asked you specifically about a definite timetable to bring troops home, and this is what you said."I think that would be a mistake." So don't -- "We don't want to send a signal to the insurgents, to the terrorists that we're going to be out of here at some, you know, date certain. I think that would be like a green light to go ahead and just bide your time."

And then in December of '06:"I reject a rigid timetable that the terrorists can exploit."

And a year ago in September of '06:"I've taken a lot of heat from my friends who've said, `Please, just, you know, throw in the towel and" "let's get out by a date certain.' I don't think that's responsible."

You've changed your mind.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, the circumstances on the ground have certainly compelled me to continue to evaluate what is in the best interest of our country and our troops . And it became unfortunately clear to me that if we were to maintain the failed policy of this president, we will be entangled in Iraq with many more deaths, with very little to show for it, Tim . I have the highest admiration for General Petraeus and for his officers and the men and women on the ground in Iraq . But there is no military solution, and the failure of the Iraqi government and of the Bush administration to deal on either the political or the diplomatic front has put our young men and women at risk. There is no doubt that they can fulfill whatever military mission they're given; they have. They were asked to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they did. They were asked to give the Iraqis the security for fair and free elections and they did. And they were asked to give the Iraqi government the space and time to start making these very difficult political decisions. Our military did everything it was asked to do. Unfortunately, I don't think that the Iraqi government or the Bush administration has done what only they can do. And the only way to begin to keep faith with the men and women who are serving us is to begin to bring them home, and that is what I think we have to do now.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me bring you back to October 10th of 2002 when you stood on the floor of the United States Senate and voted to give George Bush the authority to go into Iraq . Let's listen.

(Videotape, October 10, 2002 )

SEN. CLINTON: Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program . He has also given aid, comfort

and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaeda members. Any vote that might lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction. So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation.

MR. RUSSERT: As we sit here this morning, Saddam rebuilding a nuclear weapons program, just not true; giving aid and sanctuary to al-Qaeda , debatable. Your vote in the best interests of the nation. Do you believe that your vote was in the best interest of the nation?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I cast a sincere vote based on my assessment at the time, and I take responsibility for that vote. I also said on the floor that day that this was not a vote for pre- emptive war. I thought it made sense to put inspectors back in. As you recall, Saddam had driven out the UN inspectors in 1998 and the situation in Iraq was opaque, hard to determine, and I thought that it made sense to put inspectors back in. Now, obviously, if I had known then what I know now about what the president would do with the authority that was given him, I would not have voted the way that I did.

But the real question before us today is what do we do going forward? We are continuing to lose Americans in Iraq . We are continuing to see the failure of the Iraqi government . We see no change in real policy that moves us toward a political resolution from our own administration because I think even they have to admit that the tactical success that we've seen in al Anbar province and dealing with al-Qaeda in Iraq is not going to resolve the ongoing sectarian civil war that is besetting Iraq . So I think, Tim , that, obviously, from my perspective what I'm focused on is what to do now, and I take that as seriously as I can, which is why I've said I will not vote for additional funding unless it is part of an overall policy to begin to deal with these other problems that we face in Iraq .

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator , besides the vote to authorize, there are three other important votes during that time period . Here's how Congressional Quarterly wrote about it:"A Byrd amendment to assert Congress ' right to declare war was rejected," you voted against that. The amendment by Senator Durbin "that would have require Iraq 's weapons of mass destruction program to be an `imminent' rather than a `continuing' threat," you said no to that. And an amendment by Carl Levin "that would allow Congress to vote on authorizing force only after President Bush had exhausted all options with the United Nations ," more diplomacy, you voted no on that. You seem very determined at that time to march to war.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I also voted , Tim , to limit the president's authority to a year. That was another one of Senator Byrd 's amendments which I strongly supported. It was not successful. I have seen, obviously now, what has occurred by this president's use of the authority that he was given, and I regret the way that he used authority. But I think it's important to recognize that the United Nations is a very important tool in international diplomacy , in peacekeeping to bring the world together. But I do not want to give the United Nations a veto over actions taken by any president.

I believe you have to work with the United Nations . And I saw my husband, when he believed it imperative to take action in Bosnia and Kosovo , unable to get congressional authority to act, unable to pull together the United Nations , but working with NATO to take action against ethnic

cleansing. Every situation is different. At the time, I thought it did make sense to go back to the United Nations to put inspectors on the ground. But I don't believe it's in the best interests of our country to give the United Nations what amounts to a veto over presidential action. I think that the Congress and the president should determine what presidential action should be.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it fair to say that the most important vote you cast in the Senate , in your own words, on authorizing the war in Iraq , was wrong?

SEN. CLINTON: It's fair to say that the president misused the authority that he was given, and if I had the opportunity to act now based on what I know now, I never would've voted that way. But I think it's important to take responsibility and then to try to deal with the situation that we face today. You know, we can talk about 2002 or we can look forward to what is a continuing involvement in a sectarian civil war with no end in sight, and I believe it's imperative that we try to create a political consensus to move the president and the Republicans in Congress to extricating us from this civil war . And I've said many times that if the president does not do it before he leaves office, when I am president I will.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you an ad that has caused a lot of controversy in this debate about Iraq . took this ad out, " General Petraeus or General Betray Us ?:Cooking the Books for the White House ." Do you believe that General David Petraeus has betrayed the American people ?

SEN. CLINTON: Absolutely not. He is a man of great honor and distinction who has served admirably. I don't condone anything like that, and I have voted against those who would impugn the patriotism and the service of the people who wear the uniform of our country . I don't believe that that should be said about General Petraeus , and I condemn that. I didn't think it should've been said about Senator Cleland or Senator Kerry . I think it's important that we end this kind of attacks on the patriotism of those who serve our country .

But let's be clear about this: This is not a debate about an ad. This is a debate about the direction we should pursue in Iraq , and if we focus on an ad, even though we have all voted , in one way or another, to condemn it and believe that we should cease any such impugning and attacks on anyone who serves our country , then, again, we're not focused on what the real problem is.

The real problem is a policy in Iraq that has failed, and unfortunately, it is clear that the president does not intend to change direction before he leaves office. That means we will lose, as we have every month this year, more Americans than we lost last year. And there is no end in sight, and the president has 15 months left. And I really believe that the country is against his policy, a majority of the Congress is against his policy. But a very concerted effort in the Senate by Republicans who continue to support the president has prevented us from implementing the kind of guidelines, benchmarks, timelines that actually reflect the reality on the ground. And I'm going to continue to fighting for that in the Senate and when I'm president to begin moving as expeditiously and responsibly as I can to bring our troops home.

MR. RUSSERT: Is it fair to -- excuse me -- is it fair to say, then, that this ad was an unhelpful distraction to the real debate about the war, and you wish that had not taken it?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, when I voted for Senator Boxer's resolution, that was certainly clear . I do not condone, and I do condemn any effort to impugn the patriotism and the service of anyone who's worn the uniform of our country . I think it should be across the board because, as you certainly know well, many people who have served with distinction, like Senator Kerry or Senator Cleland , have been the subject of extraordinary attacks. Let's end this, and let's focus on what we do to support our troops . I believe the best way to support our troops is to begin to bring them home.

MR. RUSSERT: And should refrain from similar ads in the future?

SEN. CLINTON: Everyone should, Tim . Everyone should.


SEN. CLINTON: This is not the way that we should conduct ourselves in the country . We should stay focused on what we need to do to support our troops and to extricate us from Iraq . But I don't want to see the debate about where we go in Iraq turned into a debate about any ad. Instead, let's stay focused on what we should be doing in the Congress to fulfill our responsibility to bring our troops home and to give them the support they need in a very difficult situation for which there is no military solution.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to healthcare . You introduced a bill, obviously, in 1993 when you were first lady working with President Clinton , on this big issue of universal healthcare . It was -- got nowhere. It was considered too big, too expensive. You now have introduced a much more scaled down program focusing on use of insurance companies to bring the 40-plus million uninsured under coverage. Chris Dodd , one of your Democratic opponents, has said this:"While she talks about the personal scars she bears, the personal scars borne by the American people are far greater. The mismanagement of the effort in," '93 and '94, "has set back our ability to move toward universal healthcare immeasurably." Do you believe, in all candor, that your mismanagement of healthcare in '93 has created a situation where, for 13 years, 47 million Americans have not had healthcare and they are paying the price for your mismanagement and intransigence in 1993 ?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim , I'm proud that we tried in '93 and '94. We were trying to do the right thing. Obviously, we made a lot of mistakes. But I am proud that we set a goal of trying to provide healthcare to every American. And I didn't quit. You know, I kept working. I was very involved in passing the Children's Health Insurance Program and getting vaccines for kids to be immunized and making sure that the drugs that they took were appropriately tested for children. And I continued to try to get healthcare for our Gulf War veterans and, in the Senate , to make sure that our Guard and Reserve members and their families have healthcare . So this has remained a passion of mine.

But I've also learned a lot of lessons, and I'm bringing those lessons with me into this campaign . The goal remains the same: How do we provide quality, affordable healthcare for every American? But this is a much different plan than what was proposed back in '93, '94. This is not government-run healthcare ; it does not create any new bureaucracy. In fact, it is very clear in

saying that if you are satisfied with the healthcare you have, then you keep it. It is absolutely part of my plan.

But if you're one of the 47 million Americans without health insurance , or one of the many millions that have health insurance except when it comes time to get the care that your doctor says you need, and the insurance company refuses payment, then you are going to have access to the same health choices menu that members of Congress do. I proposed that back in '93, '94, and ran into a firestorm of opposition from the Congress . But I think a lot has changed in the last 14 years. A consensus has developed about what we need to do to try to reach quality, affordable healthcare . So among the many choices that will now be available to Americans , similar to what are available to members of Congress , we will have a public plan option for people who wish to choose that. If it is outside the reach of people -- because remember, Medicaid will still take care of the very poor, we will still have the Children's Health Insurance Program for children. But if it is out of the reach of affordability, we're going to have healthcare tax credits for individuals, and we're going to try to provide some healthcare tax credits as well to small businesses .

You know, I believe strongly that a consensus has developed, because people, you know, who didn't approve of what we were trying to do or who were on the sidelines have seen what has happened. It is not only a moral imperative that we try to cover everyone, it is now an economic necessity. The employer-based system has lost coverage for many people in the last years. We have jobs being lost in our country because we are not competitive economically. We certainly see that most clearly in industries like the auto manufacturing industry , but there are others that are affected as well. We have a lot of inefficiencies in the system. You know, we spend more money than anybody in the world, but we don't get the best outcomes for all that money we spend. So I think that business, labor, doctors, nurses, hospitals and, most importantly, families understand we've got to come together and try to solve this problem. And it will require the drug companies and the insurance companies changing the way they do business, because the way they do business now is not sustainable.

So I'm very confident that we can put together the kind of bipartisan coalition that you know so well is needed, particularly in the Senate , to get anything done, because this plan builds on what works in America , but takes aim at what doesn't and comes up with some very commonsense ways of trying to fix out problems. And I've been very pleased by the positive response that I have received from independent experts and people who have evaluated it. So I think we're off to a good start and I look forward to debating healthcare with my Republican opponent, whoever that might be, starting in the spring.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to campaign fund-raising, because it's been -- politics and money has been an issue that is of grave concern to the American people . As you well know, this gentleman, Norman Hsu , was a big fund-raiser for you. This is how the Wall Street Journal reported on it."Senator Hillary Clinton will return $850,000 in campaign contributions raised by a major fund-raiser who has come under federal investigation on multiple fronts. Clinton said she would refund contributions to about 260 donors who were recruited by Norman Hsu , a businessman and Democratic fund-raiser. The $850,000 is the largest ever returned by a candidate because of questionable fund-raising methods." Also, Mr. Hsu gave free trips to Las Vegas for several of your campaign aides, all expenses paid. You talk about the politics of change. Is this changing the way Washington does business?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'm very much in favor of public financing , which is the only way to really change a lot of the problems that we have in our campaign finance system. You know, as soon as my campaign found out what I and dozens of other campaigns did not know, that he was a fugitive from justice, we took action. And out of an abundance of caution, we did return any contribution that we could in any way, no matter how indirect, link to him. And I believe that we've done what we needed to do based on the information as soon as it came to our attention. But we've gone even further, Tim , and we're installing even additional kinds of checks because, you know, it was something that my campaign and other campaigns going back to 2003 did not uncover in all the vetting that we do. But the real answer here is public financing , and I'm going to work very hard in my time in the Senate and then in the White House to try to get to a public financing system that we can support under the constitution, because, as you know, we've got some constitutional issues we have to address, because that is the answer to all of these issues that have arisen.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator , as you well know, back in 1996 campaign , this man, Johnny Chung , a -- very similar circumstances and he plead guilty to illegally funding of money , and he was quoted as saying, "I see the White House is like a subway. You have to put in coins to open the gates." How do you convince the American people that you have changed, that you are not going to be the recipient of this tainted money ?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, this is a problem for every campaign , Tim , and, you know, you have donors -- I have more than 100,000 donors, the vast majority of whom have given me less than $100. And every campaign does the best job it can. But whether it's campaigns or any other aspect of American life , you try to be as vigilant as possible, but sometimes things get through the net and then you act as quickly as you possibly can, which my campaign has. I am very much aware of how difficult it is to find out everything, but we're taking extra steps to see if we can't make sure that any information anywhere is available to us. But, remember, every campaign missed this. Law enforcement authorities in California obviously did not catch this. So we're going to do what we can to make sure it doesn't happen. But, again, the real answer is we're spending an enormous amount of time, money and effort raising money , mostly to be, you know, clear to go on television. And we have got to solve this. It is not good for our political system . It is certainly not the way that most people I know who run for office and want to try to do something good for their constituents and their country want to be spending all of their time. And we've got to figure out how we're going to address it, and there has to be a way that public financing becomes the law of the land .

MR. RUSSERT: Senator , before you go, answer a question I've heard from Democrats as I travel around the country , and that is they like Senator Clinton , they respect Senator Clinton , but they're afraid that she's too polarizing, that her negatives in the national polls are in the high 40s, the highest of any Democratic candidate. And that she would be incapable of uniting the country behind healthcare , behind withdrawal from Iraq , because she just is too divisive.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim , those are the things that were said about me in New York , as I'm sure you remember. And I worked very hard to give people accurate information about who I am, what I stand for, what I will do, and I was extremely gratified to win in 2000 and even more so to be re-elected with nearly 67 percent of the vote. And I was very pleased that a lot of that vote came from Republicans and independents. You know, I carried a lot of those counties that

George Bush had carried just two years before, carried 58 of New York 's 62 counties and, as you know, there're a lot of red parts of New York .

Because I think it's important that you look at how I have sought common ground and found it in the Senate . I also have stood my ground against things that I did not approve of, like privatizing Social Security . As I've traveled around the country , my support has grown. Anyone who gets the Democratic nomination is going to be subjected to the withering attacks that come from the other side. I think I've proven that I not only can survive them but surpass them.

So I believe that, both from the experience that I've had in political campaigns and what I have done over the years to, you know, keep coming back and fighting back, I'm the best positioned to win, but more importantly, I think I am in the best position to lead starting January 2009 . I'm doing well around the country , and I'm very pleased that people are really making up their own minds about me and not, you know, by being swayed by what second- or third-hand somebody said to them, and I believe that's what will happen in this campaign . And as I go forward in it every day, I'm even more encouraged that I'm putting together a winning campaign not only for the nomination, but for the White House , because that's when the hard work starts. We have a lot ahead of us to restore our position in the world, to rebuild our economy and our American middle class and to reform our government and to reclaim the future for our children. And that's what I'm committed to doing.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Hillary Clinton , thank you very much for sharing your views.

SEN. CLINTON: Good to talk with you, Tim . Thank you very much.