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Rep. Richard Gephardt on the debate

Rep. Richard Gephardt called the president “a miserable failure” four times during Thursday’s debate. Did he go over the line, or did he fully mean what he said? He joined ‘Buchanan and Press’ Thursday Friday to discuss his politics with Pat and Bill.

BILL PRESS, HOST: Last night as we just heard, Congressman, you not only called the president a miserable failure once, you did it four times. Do you think that went over the line in terms of a personal attack and do you want to take it back now?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: I do not. I think it’s the right thing to say. Look, this president has an economy that is falling apart. Jobs are being lost every day — 93,000 jobs in August. It just gets worse. We’re at 3.3 million jobs lost in his presidency. And we’ve got a situation in Iraq where we’re having people killed almost every day. We’re losing a billion taxpayer dollars a week. Now, that to me is a miserable failure, both in foreign policy and in domestic policy, and he has no plan for changing either of those two situations.

PAT BUCHANAN, HOST: Congressman Gephardt, that phrase “miserable failure” is as brutal a phrase as any House leader I have ever heard used against a president of the United States. Do you really think it’s justified in light of the fact that Mr. Bush led us to a magnificent victory in Afghanistan, a tremendous victory in Iraq, and there has not been one terrorist attack on American soil in the last two years. Do you think it’s justified in light of those achievements?

GEPHARDT: I do, Pat. It is time to begin looking at what is really happening both in our country and in foreign policy. Jobs are being lost every day. He has an economic program that never changes. He never adjusts anything. In January after 9/11, I said to the president in one of our weekly meetings, this budget needs to be changed. We now have huge needs for homeland security, for dealing with Afghanistan, for dealing with Iraq. He has been unwilling to change anything.

In fact, he only has one idea and that’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and he keeps asserting it and trying to do it. He won’t change anything. I even suggested to him, let’s sit down and try to come up with a different budget for the country. He will have none of it.

And on Iraq, I’ve been telling him for a year and a half that this is going to be a long, complicated, difficult situation, that we needed the help of other countries in the world, and he has not gotten us that help. It’s unreasonable... It’s unconscionable.

BUCHANAN: Congressman Gephardt, why then did you vote to give the president of the United States a blank check to take this country to war if you thought the preparations for war were grossly inadequate, even before he took us to war. Why did you give him that blank check and do you regret having voted to give it to him?

GEPHARDT: I do not. Pat, I told the president in the White House on 9/12, 2001, that we had to trust one another and we had to try to work together to keep our people safe. That’s our highest responsibility. I felt that then and I feel that still today. Later in January after 9/11, I started to tell him that if he wanted to deal with Iraq, it wasn’t public then, he was just talking about it within the administration, that he had to get the U.N., he had to get NATO if he possibly could. He then made his speech in September. He said it was a world problem, not just an American problem.

I congratulated him on the speech. I said it was a good speech. He said I need your help. If I’m going to get the U.N., I’ve got to show the U.N. that I’ve got Congress behind me.

I said I’ll do that, but I want you to stay at the U.N. and exhaust that effort and I said second, I want you to have a plan for the aftermath. Well we haven’t had either.

BUCHANAN: Congressman, a plan for the aftermath. Some members of your party think they ought to send in more American troops to win the war. A number of candidates running for president said we ought to begin to pull out American troops. Do you think we should begin drawing down American forces or pulling them out of Iraq if U.N. troops go in? And if you can get more Iraqis there, when do you think we ought to start pulling our troops out?

GEPHARDT: Well, we ought to obviously get the numbers down as soon as we can, but you can’t do that immediately. You first got to go to the U.N. And you’ve got to go to NATO and you got to get the help that he should have had three and four and six months ago. So you’ve got to go through that process. He’s right now at the U.N. They’re apparently trying to get the help that we need. They can’t seem to work out the details with the other countries. They’ve got to get this done. He should have done it a long time ago.

PRESS: Just a quick question. If you were commander-in-chief today, would you send new American troops?

GEPHARDT: No. We need to try to get the help on the ground that we should have gotten originally. We need help. We need lots of help. You can’t just get help from the Indians and the Egyptians and others. That’s great, we need their help, but you need help from the French and the Germans and the Russians. They are the only countries in the world that have both the money and the people that we need on the ground now.

PRESS: Let me ask you about your position on tax cuts because you’ve been out there first saying you would repeal all of the Bush tax cuts of 2003. A lot of those tax cuts, Congressman, go to members of the middle class here in the United States — and that’s what Howard Dean, that’s what John Kerry says. They’ll take the cuts-tax cuts away from the rich cats, but leave the tax cuts for middle class. Isn’t that the better strategy?

GEPHARDT: I think the Bush tax cuts have failed. I don’t think they’re working. I don’t think they’re creating jobs. And I have a plan in place of those tax cuts that I think will stimulate the economy and get us economic growth and will help average families more than the Bush tax cuts. I had an economic study done on my health care plan, which is what I propose as an alternative to the Bush tax cuts. It puts 2,500 or $3,000 a year into the average family’s pocket as opposed to seven or $800 from the Bush tax cuts. I think that’s a better way to stimulate economic growth.

BUCHANAN: Congressman Gephardt, if you would repeal all the Bush tax cuts, you would take the taxes on dividends from 15 percent, where Mr. Bush has cut them to, all the way back up to 40 percent. That is almost a tripling of the tax on dividends to folks, many of whom are elderly. Not only would it hurt them in my judgment, but wouldn’t that send the market right down the tubes? I mean, what would the Dow do if you’re going to almost triple taxes on dividends?

GEPHARDT: Pat, what I want to do is go back to the tax code the way it was under Bill Clinton and under Bill Clinton, we had the best economy we’ve had in 50 years. I was the majority leader in 1993 who helped get that program through. You had Dick Armey, the House Whip at the time saying it would cause a depression in America. He wasn’t wrong. He was dead wrong, and we had that tax plan in place. It taxed the wealthier at higher rates, but it helped everybody in the country, including the wealthy do better. You know there’s an old saying. If you want to live like a Republican, you better vote for Democrats. That’s the case right now.

BUCHANAN: Congressman Gephardt, let me ask you about Iowa. You did extraordinarily well, very dramatically there in 1988. You won the Iowa caucuses. You had a commanding lead. How did you lose the lead to Howard Dean in Iowa? And if you don’t get it back, isn’t that pretty much curtains for Richard Gephardt’s campaign?

GEPHARDT: Well, Pat, as you well know, it’s early. This thing has got a long way to go. I’m doing well in Iowa. We’ve held our own. My numbers haven’t changed. Howard Dean is running a good campaign. He’s out there working hard, but I’m going to beat him. I’m going to beat all the candidates in Iowa. I’m going to win the nomination and I’m going to defeat George Bush. I’m the best-equipped candidate to beat George Bush because as you know on that electoral map you’ve got to win in the Midwest. That’s where I can win.

PRESS: Do you think Howard Dean is too liberal to lead this party and to beat George Bush?

GEPHARDT: I disagree with some of Howard’s positions. We’re debating those issues and will continue to debate them. But again, I think my ideas are the best ideas. I think I have the experience at the highest levels of this government for 15 years to do this job...

PRESS: Let me ask you about one of his particular policies. As you know, he’s the only governor in this country to ever approve civil unions for gay couples. Did he make a mistake? Did he do the right thing?

GEPHARDT: I don’t think he did. I believe that if states decide for civil unions that we ought to conform federal law to conform to that decision by the states.

BUCHANAN: All right, Congressman Gephardt, I want to ask you about a question that’s come up in South Carolina and that is the flying of the Confederate battle flag over the state capitals in Georgia and South Carolina and I believe you opposed that and you recommended it come down. The people of Mississippi voted 2-1 to keep a replica of the Confederate battle flag inside their state flag. In doing that, do you think they were really wanted to preserve and recognize and honor their heritage, or do you think they were making a racist statement?

GEPHARDT: Pat, I think the flag — the Confederate flag is a divisive and hurtful symbol to many of our citizens and what I said in South Carolina and what I will say anywhere, is that I would hope that it would not be used on public properties. And that’s my feeling about it. I think it’s a divisive symbol and my hope is that that’s the decision that will be made.

BUCHANAN: And you would like to see the people of Mississippi vote to take the battle flag out of their, which is inside their flag, out of their flag?

GEPHARDT: That’s what I’m saying. I’m saying that on public property because this is a hurtful and divisive symbol that I would hope states would make the decision to take it out of public places.

PRESS: I got a quick last question for you. Wesley Clark, General, is thinking of jumping into the race. There are too many people there already or what’s your advice to Wesley Clark?

GEPHARDT: It’s a free country and the more the merrier.