Guests: Senator Dick Lugar, R-IN, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee; Senator Joe Biden, D-DE, Ranking Member, Foreign Relations Committee; David Broder, Washington Post; Gloria Borger, CNBC’s Capital Report & US News & World Report; Paul Gigot, Wall Street Journal; Roger Simon, US News & World Report.
Moderator: Tim Russert - NBC News
Copyright 2003, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Please credit any quotes or excerpts from this NBC television program to “NBC News’ Meet the Press.”
Tim Russert: Our issues this Sunday: Iraq. Six months after the fall of Saddam Hussein, we still encounter a deadly resistance. Will Congress and the American people continue to support this war? With us, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Dick Lugar of Indiana, and the ranking Democrat on that committee, Joe Biden of Delaware. Lugar and Biden on Iraq, only on Meet the Press.
Then it’s Governor-elect Schwarzenegger...
Gov.-Elect Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-CA: Thank you very much to all the people of California for giving me the great trust.
Russert: ...and the Democrats go after each other.
Gen. Wesley Clark: I’m not going to attack a fellow Democrat.
Sen. John Kerry, D-MA: I disagree with General Clark that this is an attack.
Russert: Insights and analysis from Gloria Borger of CNBC, David Broder of The Washington Post, Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report.
But first, early this morning, there was another major explosion in central Baghdad, near the Baghdad Hotel.
Let’s go live to NBC’s Tom Aspell who’s on the ground in Baghdad for the very latest.
Tom, what happened?
Tom Aspell : Hi, Tim.
Well, just a few hours ago, a huge explosion in the central part of Baghdad on the eastern bank of the Tigris River at the Baghdad Hotel, a suicide car bomber trying to kill Americans. Witnesses say the car was spotted speeding on the wrong side of the road, then trying to make a sharp left turn into a side street leading 50 yards back to the main gate of the Baghdad Hotel. Shots were fired and the car swerved into a concrete barrier erected by American troops a few months ago against just this kind of attack. According to Iraqi police, at least 15 Iraqis have been killed or wounded, including the bomber, one American was slightly wounded, treated at the scene and released. Tim.
Russert: Tom, we get mixed reports over here about the level of the intensity of the resistance. What can you tell us? How bad is it? How much has spread? How sophisticated and organized is it?
Aspell: Well, just a week ago, the commanding general here, Rick Sanchez, told a news conference that they had detected these IEDs, improvised explosive devices, which are causing the casualties among American soldiers here, are becoming more and more sophisticated, detonated by remote control, sometimes by using push-botton dialing on theria telephones.
What is also know is that these attacks are on the increase. You know, with nearly 150,000 troops in theater, there are more than 40 attacks against American troops every day. This is the second suicide car bombing in Baghdad in less than a week. Last Tuesday, a suicide bomber killed 10 Iraqis at an Iraqi police station here. And as I say, these attacks feared by the Americans, but today, however, the concrete barriers put in place against just this kind of attack worked perfectly well. Tim.
Russert: Tom, earlier this morning, there was also a grenade attack on U.S. troops by the Shia population. Those are people who had not been supportive of Saddam Hussein. Has the anger, the level of resistance spread to that community?
Aspell: Well, I think the danger among the Shiites is that there are several young radical clerics closely allied with leaders in neighboring Iran and also favoring the establishment of an Islamic republic here in Iraq. Now, among the Shia, 60 percent of the Iraqi population, brutally suppressed by Saddam Hussein, until now, seen as largely supportive of the coalition forces here, but now dissatisfied with the slow pace of reconstruction and political reform. The big fear is here that that anger may be directed by these radical clerics against American troops on the ground in Iraq. Tim.
Russert: Tom Aspell, be careful, and we’ll continue to check in with you through the course of the day and all week long on NBC News.
Mr. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Senator Biden, welcome both.
Chairman Lugar, what’s your sense of what’s happening in Iraq?
Sen. Dick Lugar: Well, my sense is that we are making headway with the reconstruction of the country. There has been endless debate over the planning for that, but as some have said, we’re bumbling through. We’re getting better at it as time goes on. I saw for the first time in October of 2003 plans for Iraq which indicated piece by piece a pretty constructive idea. Some actual figures as to how much power is on in the country, how many guards are at the borders, how many police are being trained, how many people are in the armed forces. These sorts of indicators, plus perhaps some financial data, now in the DNR, on the banking system and what have you, is very helpful to members of Congress and public and the press gauging week by week. And this is the kind of reporting, the kind of discipline that the thing is going to require?
Now, in the meanwhile, it is expensive. We have a debate before us in the Congress the public is following, the members are following. We have to stay the course, in my judgment, to support our troops and to provide reconstruction moneys. But these are debates that ought to occur now up front. We ought to be committed. It ought to be clear to members of Congress to support the administration in doing this, and the public supports the Congress.
Russert: Senator Biden, let me show you the scene Friday. This was a demonstration amongst the Shiite Muslims, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them. They’re chanting “No, no to America.” Resistance, as Tom Aspell said, spreading to that community which had been opposed to Saddam Hussein. Can we have a true reconstruction of Iraq until we secure the country?
Sen. Joe Biden: I don’t think so. There’s a lot of good things that are happening, Tim. I agree with Dick. I mean, you know, these local councils, there’s thousands of reconstruction projects under way, schools are open. But it all is totally consistent that the bad news comes through because there’s the lack of security and the lack of services, although services are beginning to move up. I think — the thing that has disturbed me the most is I don’t understand why the administration hasn’t in a more forthright, direct way, laid out to the American people and to the Iraqi people how this transition is going to work.
In other words, I think what part of those 10,000 people chanting there in the street is they don’t know what the endgame is here. They don’t know — because they’re dissatisfied with the way in which — because there was no plan for a post Iraq, the way things are unfolding, I think they’re beginning to wonder whether or not we are an occupying force or we’re the liberators because there’s been no clear statement made. There’s no clear articulated plan as to how we’re going to transition this power over to the Iraqis and we’re going to leave and how we’re going to leave and when we’re going to leave and the conditions we’re going to leave.
And the failure — I’ll conclude by saying the failure to bring in the rest of the international community, notwithstanding all this talk about the coalition that’s in there, the failure to bring in serious, heavy assistance coming from Europe and from Russia, from other parts of the world I think reinforces in the minds of the Shias and others that, “Wait a minute, do these guys know what they’re doing? And what’s going on here? And what — well, what’s this new government going to look like?” And what part am I — and so on. And it’s being inflamed by radical clerics.
Russert: Let me show you, Senator Lugar, what General Sanchez said on the ground just last week. He said that — at a press conference in Baghdad and “guerrilla attacks were becoming more dangerous. The enemy has evolved, a little bit more lethal, a little more complex, a little more sophisticated,” General Sanchez said. “The attacks will continue and maybe become even more deadly.”
Have we created a haven for terrorism more than it was in Baghdad and in Iraq? And will the American people continue to support this effort if they hear or read every day more Americans being killed?
Lugar: Well, events in Iraq have attracted more terrorists. I think it’s indisputable people have come across the borders and have seen that this is where the war is being fought. Now, people will say, “Well, if we had not gone into Iraq, we would not have attracted the terrorists.” We did go into Iraq and we attract — I mean, we are having a war there with them. My guess is, however, that our tactics will become more sophisticated likewise, and in any event, we have to proceed. Life goes on in Iraq now, it goes on pretty steadily in most parts of the country. There are these sporadic events involving terrorists and they’re horrible, for our troops and for the Iraqi people that are involved. But that is the war against terrorism, as a matter of fact, that’s being fought in Iraq, even if it was not imminent before the war in Iraq.
Russert: Forty attacks a day, senator.
Biden: Look, Tim, I’m going to sort of be the skunk at the family picnic here. I think one of the problems here is there’s no clear articulation within this administration of what the goals, what the message is, what the plan is. You have this significant division within the administration between the Powells and the Rumsfelds. And the reason I mention that is what’s happening on the ground is this continued debate about do we need more forces. One of the reasons why this is getting more sophisticated and the weapons are more sophisticated, we can’t even guard the ammunition dumps that are out there. There’s thousands and thousands of weapons. People are now walking around. We’re offering $500 reward for shoulder-held missiles that are being sold on the black market for $5,000. Average Americans say, “Well, why don’t we control them?”
Well, they’re all in a stockpile. Everybody knows where they are. They’re sitting out there in a building that’s over there. And our military is telling us we don’t have the forces to guard those facilities. Now, at the same time they’re telling us in the administration we don’t need more forces there. What’s the deal? The administration’s got to figure out what its plan is. I mean that’s one tiny little example, but it just seems to continually communicate contradictory messages. And that breeds lack of confidence on the ground in Iraq, in the Congress, and among the American people.
Russert: In Congress, there has been a robust debate about funding this effort. This was the headline from the papers on Tuesday “House Republicans Trimming Bush’s Spending Plan for Iraq. As they” — “combed through the White House proposal, Democrats and some House Republicans called Monday for a $1.7” — reduction, is what the president wanted. It said, “the administration is” — spending too freely, “taking a ‘gold-plated’ approach when federal money is not forthcoming for such projects at home.”
These are Republicans, Senator Lugar, who are saying, “Why are we spending this in Iraq and ignoring projects at home? That’s a pretty lethal political debate to be involved in, isn’t it?
Lugar: I don’t think so. I think clearly we ought to examine carefully each of the long list of things that are involved and perhaps if the Senate deliberates over this, they will find some items that are less desirable. What we need to recognize is that $20 billion is not the last of the spending.
Biden: That’s right.
Lugar: And so even if we trim by $1.7 or whatever it is now, we’re looking at 10 times that amount probably in the next request. Now, this is why we do...
Russert: Ten times what, Senator?
Lugar: $1.7 or the...
Russert: How much do you think we should plan, prepare to spend in Iraq over the next five years?
Lugar: Well, “we” is an important term. As Joe Biden has said, the “we” might include Germany, France, Russia, China, a lot of other people. They really owe us for the stability that we are trying to bring about. At the same time, we owe them a genuine attempt to have an international view of this, and I commend Colin Powell even as we speak, struggling if we win.
Russert: But how much will it cost, with or without them? How much?
Lugar: Oh, my best guess has always been about $50 billion, but some have said twice that much, somewhere in that range, but that may be provided by a number of sources, not all by us, but at the end of the day, a successful conversion of that economy and something that offers stability behind the political system that’s being created is very important to us. The failure to get there really will be a debacle for American security policy.
Russert: Senator Biden had an amendment which said that we should suspend the tax cut for those who make over $400,000 for one year and that would pay the $87 billion cost for Iraq. You voted against that. Why?
Lugar: Well, I did not like the fact that we were singling out one particular group of Americans, although I understood the rationale why those who are the most wealthy ought to pay as opposed to everybody else. But Senator Biden’s view is an important one and one that I commend, and that is the paying for the war as we proceed. It may have been that if we had had more opportunity to fashion a tax bill that, in fact, does this, what I thought would be more equitably and would be less disastrous with regard to our economic recovery, I could have supported that, and so could a number of people. But I commend him for bringing up the idea and really putting that out in front because it really has not been put out front by the administration or by anybody else.
Russert: Senator Biden, we’ve talked about level of resistance, we’ve talked about international community, we’ve talked about money. If you were allowed into the Oval Office for one minute, man-to-man with the president, what would you tell him?
Biden: I would say, “Mr. President, take charge. Take charge, settle this dispute, let your secretary of defense, state, and your vice president know ‘this is my policy, any one of you that divert from the policy is off the team.’ Take charge.” This whole reorganization and Condi Rice and — she’s a wonderful person, these are all very bright, powerful people, but he’s got to take charge and tell the American people, Mr. President, what is your plan and how much is it going to cost and who’s going to pay for it? We’re going to spend at least another $50 billion in Iraq and the American people, when they’re told that, and told why it’s important, will support it. But when you don’t do that, they come back to us and say, “Wait, you didn’t tell us. Biden, you’re going to spend another $87 billion of my money?” Mr. President, take charge.
Russert: Is that good advice?
Lugar: Yes, it is.
Russert: Is it necessary?
Lugar: It’s very necessary. The administration gave four speeches this week. The president gave one, the vice president, the secretary of state and Dr. Rice. Secretary Rumsfeld had a vital press conference. The tone in all of those was distinctly different. And, as a matter of fact, the vice president’s speech, which may historically turn out to be the correct one — it’s too early to judge — was very, very tough and strident; the president’s, a good bit softer; and Secretary Powell once again emphasizing international concerns as opposed to our dominance in the process. And these are different views, even if they were presented all as an attempt at one campaign. So I concur with my colleague, the president has to be the president. That means the president over the vice president and over these secretaries. And Dr. Rice cannot carry that burden alone.
Russert: Vice President Cheney had much to say, particularly about the United States going alone, if need be. He cast it in these terms. Let’s listen:
Vice Pres. Dick Cheney: Another criticism we hear is that the United States, when its security is threatened, may not act without unanimous international consent. Under this view, even in the face of a specific, stated, agreed-upon danger, the mere objection of even one foreign government would be sufficient to prevent us from acting. This view reflects a deep confusion about the requirements of our national security.
Russert: Senator Biden?
Biden: Totally disingenuous. No one ever said we cannot act unless there’s absolute unanimity. We never said that. No serious person has said that.
Russert: But one country could veto a Security Council resolution.
Biden: They could veto a security resolution. And just like we went through Kosovo, I was the one telling President Clinton that “If the French veto, you must still go to Kosovo.” We’re not saying that we should not act when our interests are at stake, but the definition is the threat. The Kay report comes back; the Kay report is interim. It says exactly what we were saying in the Foreign Relations Committee. These fellows have a plan to have a weapons program. They probably haven’t weaponized it yet. They don’t have nuclear capability yet, and there’s no imminent threat yet.
Now, if you decide that you can act preemptively, as the rest of that speech went on to say, when you think there’s any possibility you may be in danger, then, Katie, bar the door. Up to now, what we’ve said as a nation was, anytime there is a credible threat and it seems to be imminent, we reserve the right to act in our own defense. But this is a straw man. This is ideological rhetoric. And I think it’s totally, totally counterproductive.
And at the very time that you have the secretary of state — this is what bothers me, I must tell you, Tim. I’m not being very controlled here, but what bothers me is the secretary of state’s up there doing what everybody knows we have to do — somebody’s going to have to pay the $50 billion, Dick, or we’re going to pay it all. He’s trying to get help. And what’s the vice president do in the midst of that? Articulates an unarticulateable doctrine called pre-emption, implying that anytime we think there’s a problem we should act preemptively, undercutting everything that’s going on at the United Nations.
Russert: Senator Lugar, as you well know, the primary rationale for the war was Saddam’s possession of weapons of mass destruction: biological, chemical, on his way to developing nuclear. Thus far, they have not been found. What will happen if the president of the United States goes to the country and the world and says, “We have proof that Iran has a program; we must act militarily”? Or North Korea: “We have proof; we must act militarily.” Will his comments be suspect?
Lugar: Well, I don’t agree that the weapons of mass destruction was the reason or even the most important reason. I agree with the point The Washington Post made in their editorial this morning that as opposed to an imminent threat, it was cumulative. Over the course of 10 or 12 years, defiance of the U.N., defiance of Resolution 1441 enacted by all of these nations that are involved with this right now just a short time ago. It was the possibility that Saddam would produce weapons and he could distribute them to others, the possibility that that was the case. Now we...
Russert: Senator, they repeatedly said, members of the administration...
Lugar: Well, I appreciate that and this is...
Russert: ...he had weapons of mass destruction.
Lugar: That’s why we’re talking today about these different points of view of people.
Russert: Should we not have a full investigation into whether or not the intelligence provided to the president was accurate?
Lugar: Of course. And we should be examining our intelligence agencies backward and forward, because it appears to me that we don’t have what we need to have. But to get to your question, that does mean that we have to do much better before we think about Iran or North Korea or military action. We have to have better intelligence, a lot better, a lot better for the president, a lot better for members of Congress who may be asked to authorize approval of the use of military force.
Russert: Senator Biden, Bob Herbert, a liberal columnist for The New York Times wrote this on Friday: “Hard sell on Iraq. There is widespread feeling at the” — United Nations — “that the policies of the United States — its invasion and occupation of Iraq, its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its frequently contemptuous attitude toward the U.N. in particular and international cooperation in general — have made the Middle East and parts of the rest of the world substantially more dangerous, rather than less.” Do you agree with that?
Biden: Yes. No question about it in my mind. No question about it in my mind, and that’s why we have to change course here. That’s why we have to win the peace in Iraq. And we have to internationalize this. And we have to allow the rest of the world, as we’re asking for their help, to have a greater say in what the political structure of that country will be and how to reconstruct that country. If we fail to do that, Tim, we will have inherited a less secure world than before we went in, even with Saddam there, in my view.
Russert: What’s your sense of Congress, Senator Lugar? Are your colleagues getting nervous, antsy about Iraq?
Lugar: No, but they are concerned, as they should be, about the loss of American lives, about the loss of American treasure, and, likewise, about the coherence of our policies. Those are three legitimate reasons why Congress ought to be asking a lot of questions. At the end of the day, we’re going to support the president of the United States and his request for the money. There’s no doubt in my mind about that, but everyone needs to know what the answers are to these questions as we proceed through that debate.
Russert: Senator Biden, in your party, it’s a much different course. Howard Dean, one of the leading contenders for president, said this on Friday: “One year ago this weekend, Congress wrote President Bush a blank check for pre-emptive war in Iraq. As I made clear in [the] debate, that momentous decision was a turning point not only in this election but in the country’s history.” He goes on. “At that time, some Democrats spoke out, questioning the wisdom of the doctrine of pre-emptive war and the rationale for invading Iraq before exhausting other options. But too many were silent, standing by the President in the Rose Garden as he signed the war resolution, voting for it, or urging others to do so.” You voted for it.
Biden: Yeah, but the so-called Biden-Lugar alternative would have been a lot different if we had gotten it done, and we weren’t in the Rose Garden. And when we talked — I speak for we, me, I have made clear, the same way the chairman has for some time now, this is not a pre-emptive rationale why we went into Iraq. That was the straw man. The pre-emptive doctrine is a crazy idea. This is a man who violated every international agreement, went in, invaded a country, sued for peace, went to the world body essentially, signed a peace agreement, then violated every aspect of the peace agreement and it had to be enforced. That was an enforcement action, not a pre-emptive action.
But, again, what’s happened here, Tim, is that Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld aren’t satisfied that we went in and took him down, they want to establish this new doctrine, and in my view, it’s not Dick’s, my view, they want to undermine the international institutions because they feel they’re a drag on our capability. And so now we’re in this dubious position, or I am, as a Democrat, saying I support the president’s effort to try to finish this, but I am really frustrated by the failure of the president to have listened to the advice that he got from the international community, from a lot of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, and failing to plan on how to win the peace. It is a most frustrating time of my career.
Russert: But do you believe anyone can win the Democratic nomination for president without being extremely critical of the president’s handling of the war in Iraq?
Biden: I think they can — and the answer is I don’t know. That’s probably why it’s good I’m not running for president, because I think it was the correct vote, I just did not count on the fact that it would be handled as — with such a degree of incompetence subsequent to the “military victory.”
Russert: Senator Lugar, how long do you believe the United States troops will be in Iraq?
Lugar: Probably for a long while, and maybe comparable to Bosnia. And we’re talking now about possible withdrawal of those troops. Many people have forgotten how many are there by this time. And that’s a seven- or eight-year period of time. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be there in those numbers, in the same configuration. Hopefully, they will be there in a very supportive role in the background to make certain that the new democracy and the new economy, the new stable Iraq that is the model works.
Russert: Senator Lugar, Senator Biden, thank you for your views. To be continued.
Coming next, challenges for the new governor of California. And what will that mean for George W. Bush in 2004? And are any of the Democratic candidates emerging as a serious challenger to the incumbent president. Our political roundtable is next right here on Meet the Press.
Russert: Our roundtable on the new California governor and the campaign for the White House after this brief station break.
Russert: And we are back. Welcome all. David Broder, let me start with you. The politics of Iraq, how’s it cutting across the country?
David Broder: It is becoming a real problem for the Republicans and for members of Congress of both parties. I did a round of calls late last week, people — a lot of concern about this $87 billion bill and a lot of doubts, as you heard, from the two senators, about the lack of a long-term plan.
Russert: Paul Gigot?
Paul Gigot: I’m not as pessimistic as David is about public support. I think the public support’s still there. I think what you’ve seen is that the Democratic candidates, justifiably since they’re trying to win the nomination, are really unloading on this policy, and only this week did the president really start to make his case again. Here’s where we stand. Here’s what we need to do. And I think that’ll begin to reclaim some of his support.
Russert: Gloria, what are you sensing in Congress?
Gloria Borger: I think the president has some real problem with a lot of his own Republicans, particularly conservatives, who are cutting money out of the $87 billion, who wanted to make it a loan, the $20 billion for reconstruction. They said let’s make this a loan instead of a gift, if you will. And he had to call people down to the White House this week and, you know, twist their arms and say, “I need this, you’ve got to do it.” He did that to Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee. He said, “I need this, and so you better do it for me,” and he did, but he’s got problems with his right.
Russert: Roger Simon, you spent a lot of time with the Democratic candidates out in the field. My sense in observing them is that they are much closer to Howard Dean’s position in terms of criticizing the president than they are in supporting the president, no matter how they voted on the war.
Roger Simon: They can read the polls, too. Howard Dean came out of nowhere at the winter meeting of the Democratic National Committee, and said, “Why is this party still supporting this war?” and he got huge cheers, his poll numbers went up, and all the other candidates, four candidates who had voted for the war, sadly found themselves with the party not supporting them. It became clear that the Democratic Party is a party of peace, and even though the party is willing, I think, to give the president — and the American people are willing to give the president a pass on getting into Iraq. What they really want to know about is how we’re going to get out of Iraq. And the administration is still obsessing on justifying the invasion. I think the American people want to know how we’re going to get those troops home, which is where the argument is now turning in the Democratic Party.
Russert: David Broder, you heard Senator Biden say that the president has to take charge. Did you detect any sense that there’s a view that the administration’s not speaking with one voice on Iraq?
Broder: I think that’s a view in Washington. I don’t think that that issue has really penetrated very far in the — outside of Washington. There are — people judge by the results, not by the process there. We, in Washington, are fascinated by the relationships between the Pentagon and the CIA and the State Department, and so on. That’s not the issue. The question is whether there is a — exactly as I think the two senators said, whether there is a clear and singlely focused statement of policy, that people can say, “OK, we get the picture.”
Russert: Paul Gigot, is there an ideological struggle within the administration?
Gigot: Well, I think there’s a disagreement about the utility of going to the U.N., for example, and the president probably hasn’t stepped in early enough in some of these instances to say, “I’m with Rumsfeld,” or “I’m with Powell.” But, in the end, I think David is right, this is going to be judged on results, and the Democrats are setting up this election campaign as a referendum on Iraq, I think, Iraq, and the economy. And the one way the president can really lose this election is if he walks away from Iraq. I think he has staked his re-election in large part on this policy, he has to defend it, he has to defend the progress that they’ve made and the strategy he’s going to employ. He walks away from it, he will lose.
Russert: Aren’t Iraq and the economy inextricably linked, Gloria?
Russert: You heard Senator Biden saying “We should postpone the tax cut for the top 1 percent in the country and use that $87 billion to pay for the war.”
Borger: Well, you know, a lot of Democrats are talking about that also. You heard Senator Biden say that the president’s going to have to come back for another $50 billion. You’ve got a huge deficit in this country. This was the problem in California; people were upset about the economy, and I think it’s going to — you know, the two are really linked and they will continue to remain that way so long as conservative Republicans say, “We don’t want to spend any more money on this,” and Democrats as well.
Simon: And the administration is really playing into the Democratic hands by padding this bill, by — not everyone can understand the Iraq policy, but everyone can understand that a pickup truck costing $33,000, $9 billion to build ZIP codes in Iraq, and two prisons at $400 million, $65,000 a bed. If you build $65,000-a-bed prisons in Iraq, people are going to kill each other to get into prison. I mean $65,000 buys a pretty nice crib in Iraq.
Gigot: Not those prisons.
Borger: Well, I must...
Gigot: And he’s going to get the money. I will bet both of you right now...
Borger: Oh, yeah.
Gigot: ...he’s going to get that money. There’s — the members have to say, “Look” — the members of Congress have to say, “Oh, this is spending, we’d rather do it here,” but in the end they’ll give the president the money he wants.
Borger: I must say it’s very funny to hear members of Congress complaining about pork for Iraq.
Simon: Sure, they want pork at home.
Borger: They don’t seem...
Russert: Jackie Gleason: “What about me?”
Borger: Right. They don’t seem to complain about it at home.
Russert: Let’s turn to California; the U.S. News cover, written by Roger Simon: “Does Arnold Matter?” David Broder, David Gergen of U.S. News & World Report had this to say: “California may be for Schwarzenegger what Iraq has been to Bush: easy to win, but hard to govern.”
Broder: Well, the state is monstrously hard to govern. The voters have tied the Legislature’s and the governor’s hands with a lot of initiatives that mandate spending and limit revenue, so it’s a very tough situation. But he has real assets. Roger’s piece is a very good piece because he lays out very clearly there the advantages that Schwarzenegger brings to this. He had a big win, not a narrow, partial win. Second, his personality is such that Democrats are going to find it reasonably easy to negotiate with him, and negotiation is what’s in store for Sacramento. I think the legislators that I’ve talked to since the recall vote understand that if the Legislature had been on the ballot that day, the Legislature would have been out as well.
Gigot: Absolutely. Yeah.
Russert: Paul Gigot, the crisis confronting California, the challenges confronting the governor-elect, this is how the Financial Times described it: “Experts say the state is so constrained that the new governor will not be able to balance the budget without either raising taxes or making politically unacceptable spending cuts. More than half of the state’s discretionary spending is earmarked for education, and to honor his pledge to maintain education spending, the governor would have to make massive cuts in other areas, such as health or social services, to bring the state finances into balance. ‘If you don’t cut education, you’d have to cut 20 percent across the board of what’s left, but you can’t do that because there are a number of provisions that prevent that,’ said Jean Ross of the California Budget project. Mr. Schwarzenegger’s room to maneuver will be further limited by the number of factors. California’s governor cannot pass a budget or raise taxes without two-thirds approval from the state Senate and state Assembly, both controlled by Democrats.”
Your page feels very strongly about tax increases. What does a governor-elect do when he’s confronted with a budget crisis like this?
Gigot: Well, I mean, why did he want the job, if that’s the real description? I mean, I think he has to work with the Legislature, he has to, perhaps, break down some of these legislative restrictions and maybe even take them to the people. Most of these were set up through the initiative process, and he may have to, if he doesn’t get his way with the Legislature, go to the people in a year and say, “You know what? We have to reconsider some of these things.” I think the Democrats will no doubt say, “Arnold, we need that tax increase,” and I think he’d be wise to resist that because that’s one of the things — he didn’t give the total pledge of not to raise taxes, but he came pretty darn close. So user fees, some of these other things, perhaps, but in the end, he’s going to have to make his case to the people of California probably one more time before he can get this solved.
Russert: He’s going to have to raise revenues in some way.
Gigot: I don’t know. I don’t really know. I mean, he’s bringing in Jeb Bush and George Pataki’s budget examiner, and she’s done a marvelous job in both of those states. And they’re going to look at it. And, you know, it’s not going to be easy, but I don’t — I mean, he’s going to get rid of the car tax, for sure, because he’s promised to do that.
Simon: $4 billion right there.
Gigot: And that’s $4 billion.
Gigot: I’m not convinced that he does need to raise revenues.
Borger: Well, that...
Simon: I think he’s going to have to do it somehow. (Technical difficulties) ...more. He has to do it by late December, because that’s when they have to print the budget for the vote in January. So he’s got to wipe out this massive debt in a matter of weeks. He’s only going to be inaugurated in mid-November, so he has about a month to do all this.
Russert: And Wall Street’s watching in terms of bonds and investments.
Simon: Right. And — sorry.
Russert: Go ahead, Gloria.
Borger: Well, so is the White House. The president is going out there next week. The first thing Arnold Schwarzenegger said was that he’d spoken with George W. Bush and he said, “I’m going to ask him for a lot, a lot of favors.” Well, I spoke with somebody at the White House this week, and I said, “Are you going to give him a lot, a lot of favors?” And he said, “Well, we’re going to try, but, of course, there are limits to what we can do.”
Borger: I mean, obviously, they’d love to help Arnold Schwarzenegger as the governor of a state with 55 electoral votes, but there’s a budget problem.
Russert: Politically, the White House before the recall, had said, you know, “There are mixed views. One, if we have Gray Davis there and California’s a basket case, that might be helpful to run against in 2004,” but now they have Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger as the presiding chief executive of California. What does that mean to George Bush, if anything, politically?
Broder: Well, it’s got to be at least a marginal help to have a Republican, because they hadn’t been able to elect anybody to top office in that state for nine years, since Pete Wilson last won his term as governorship. So that’s on the face of it, but it doesn’t mean a whole lot, because the issues on which Schwarzenegger won and Davis lost had everything to do with California and its problems. When Bush is facing the voters in California, it will have to do with where the nation is: Where are we in Iraq? Where is the national economy? And he still has to make a strong case to a lot of people out there, who are very skeptical about his leadership of the country.
Russert: Paul Gigot, will conservative Republicans across the country embrace someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger even though he’s for abortion rights, for gay rights, for gun control?
Gigot: Well, I think a lot of California Republicans embraced him because they were so mad at Gray Davis and also because, in the end, some of them were mad at the media for the late stories, unfairly, I think, because I thought The LA Times was fair game. But I don’t know. I mean, I think if Arnold Schwarzenegger were going to be a national candidate, and, of course, the Constitution bars him from doing that, I think you’d have maybe the beginnings of a big debate within the Republican Party because the base of the Republican Party is still a culturally conservative party on guns and abortion. But I don’t think you’re going to get that because Arnold is a California phenomenon.
Russert: We’re going to take a quick break and come back and talk about the Democrat candidates running in 2004. A big debate Thursday night. They opened fire on each other. A lot more of our Roundtable right after this.
Russert: And we are back.
Let’s look at the latest polling. This is the national poll by USA Today. Across the country, Wesley Clark, the general, 21 percent; Howard Dean, 16; Lieberman, 13; Kerry, 13; Gephardt, 8; Sharpton, 6; Carol Moseley Braun, 4; and John Edwards way down at 2 percent.
But this is a state-by-state primary process, as we know, and here’s New Hampshire: Dean, 29; Kerry, 19; Gephardt, 6; Lieberman, 6; Clark, 5; Edwards, 3.
Roger Simon, which poll is more important?
Simon: Oh, the latter poll. You’ve heard of fantasy baseball; this is fantasy politics when you do a national poll on primary candidates. That’s not how we elect. That’s not how we nominate in this country. It’s a series of statewide contests, and the two most critical contests right now are Iowa and New Hampshire, because they’re first and second, and Howard Dean leads in both. And if Howard Dean wins both, which is rare, he’s going to be hard to stop, even though there are six states following that on one day, February 3. He is — he remains a major force, the major force in the Democratic Party and I just don’t buy that Clark is the front-runner.
Russert: What’s your sense of General Wesley Clark and what he’s done to this race?
Borger: Well, I think he’s kind of mixed it up a little bit. I think he’s the largest threat right now to Howard Dean. It was clear at the debate they all decided to attack Wesley Clark this time because he is a bit threatening. He’s also — he’s an anti-war candidate. But I agree with Roger at this point, that the national polls are kind of silly to look at. And, you know, Howard Dean is really the target for candidates like Kerry, candidates like Gephardt and Lieberman. The enemy of my enemy, you know, is my friend. They’re all banning together to attack Howard Dean because they’re got to knock him off — Gephardt has to knock him off in Iowa and Kerry has to knock him off in New Hampshire. And that’s what they’re trying to do.
Russert: And yet, David, it is striking that someone like General Wesley Clark who, just two years ago, gave a speech before a Republican county fund-raiser in Arkansas, has that kind of recognition and support at the national level amongst Democrats. Why?
Broder: I think what it tells you is that this race is really unformed. I mean here’s a man who comes in, and two weeks later he’s leading the field when most Americans don’t know a thing about him. What strikes me in the succession of debates is that each debate, it seems to me, that the people who have been through this before are showing themselves to be stronger, that experience does make a difference. And I think what Gephardt and Lieberman and Kerry, who is a very good debater but took a long time before he ever showed it in this contest — they’re beginning to assert their experience. And I think this race is still a very wide open race. You can make a case for any one of four or five people still winning this nomination.
Russert: Paul Gigot, from your perspective, as a conservative, how do you see the Democratic race, strengths and weaknesses?
Gigot: Well, I think Clark is trying to capture that McCain magic as the outsider, but I think in some ways, Dean has been the McCain of this race because he’s been the outsider. He’s the non-Washington candidate. He’s the guy who said, “I’m against the war and I’m willing to stand up on it — for it.” And that gives him a certain Teflon against some of the attacks from the left by Gephardt saying, “You voted to cut Medicare.” Or — you didn’t vote, “You wanted to cut Medicare.”
And I think right now he has the clearest path of any of them to the nomination, because you can see if he wins in Iowa and if he wins in New Hampshire, I think it’s over. I don’t see anybody stopping him. But does he, with his inexperience — this is the first time he’s run — will he show that he has a glass jaw? He has a bit of a temperament problem, I think, you know, he does tend to shoot from the lip, and we’ll see how well he can stand up under the excruciating pressure that his opponents are going to put on him.
Borger: Well, it was sort of interesting after this last debate, he came out afterwards and was asked by journalists why do you think you’re being attacked. This is Wesley Clark. And he said, “Because I’m the front-runner.” And everybody, you know, including his campaign people, sort of moaned and said, “You never call yourself the front-runner in politics. You’re raising expectations. OK. Now, you’ve said you’re the front-runner and you’re just giving people an opportunity to take shots at you.” And so they had to pull him aside and say, “Don’t ever do that again.”
Russert: “You’re the underdog.”
Borger: “Don’t do that again.”
Russert: Let’s take a look at one of the exchanges in the debate between Senator Joe Lieberman and Wesley Clark:
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-CT: I must say that I’ve been very disappointed since Wes Clark came into this race about the various positions he has taken on the war against Saddam.
Gen. Wesley Clark: I would like to rebut this. I’m not going to attack a fellow Democrat, because I think everybody on this stage shares the same goal. I think it’s a little — I think it’s really embarrassing that a group of candidates up here are working on changing the leadership in this country and can’t get their own story straight.
Russert: It’s an interesting strategy, Roger Simon, both Wesley Clark and Howard Dean, the two insurgent candidates, if you will, are saying, “You can’t attack me. Why would you do that? We’re all Democrats. Why can’t we all be together?”
Simon: And you heard the cheers it got from the audience. It — that actually plays well. No one likes to stand there and get fragged like General Clark did. And I’m sure some aides are saying, “You got to hit back.” Staying above the fray, not attacking your fellow Democrats, works. It works in primaries. Right now, Clark has an image, the anti-war general. He’s Gary Cooper, Sergeant York. And that’s a good image to have. What he doesn’t need to do is get into a slugging match with the rest and coming down to their level. It’s hard — it’s going to be hard. David introduced I think an important point that these others have met at least 25 times, by my count, in all or in part in debates. Clark is in his second debate. He’s going to get better at it. And I think he’s just going to have to resist the urge to hit back.
Russert: One of the things that the general’s debating, David, is to bypass Iowa and go directly to New Hampshire, the way John McCain did in 2000. It’s a primary state where people go to their voting place, you can use television, and reach out to a broad scale of voters, as opposed to Iowa, a caucus state, where you have to organize and mobilize. What’s your sense, in terms of someone like Clark, who entered so late?
Broder: I was talking to the Iowa Democratic chairman when the Democratic National Committee was here weekend before last, and he did what he has to do, which is to say everybody ought to run in Iowa, and then after he’d done that ritual thing, he said, you know, he might be smart to come back and see us later on.
Gigot: But he has a problem in that Dean and Kerry are both from neighboring states and they both have substantial support in New Hampshire already. It’s not a free lunch coming into New Hampshire and saying, “I’m going to mop up the field” at all. So if he’s going to get out of Iowa, I would say do it right now so that...
Broder: But the Independents vote in New Hampshire...
Borger: That’s right.
Broder: ...and they don’t vote in the Iowa caucuses.
Gigot: That’s absolutely true.
Russert: That’s how John McCain shellacked George Bush in New Hampshire because Independent voters can vote in a party primary.
Gigot: Oh, when McCain did it, though, it was McCain vs. Bush. There’s a broader field, and particularly Dean is very strong there.
Russert: What issues do you think are the strongest for the Democrats against George W. Bush heading to the fall?
Gigot: Well, I still think that the economic recovery is — it gives them something to talk about at least on the employment side. Now, it’s a little iffy because we don’t know how strong the recovery is going to be. And if it is strong, hey, it’s going to play to the president’s strength a year from now. But it’s the one thing I think they have. And then Iraq. I mean, they have — they’re already staking their claim on Iraq. Now, I happen to disagree with their position, but Dean in particular, increasingly some of the others, are saying, “Look, the president has mishandled this, he’s been wrong on the war on terror,” and they’re setting this up to be a referendum on the president’s leadership on the war on terror. I think that we’re going to have a big election this time on two big fundamental issues and direction. And in some ways, that’s almost baked into the cake already.
Russert: Roger and Gloria, the Democrats, particularly the Dean supporters, will say, “If we go in November, Saddam hasn’t been captured, Osama hasn’t been captured, body bags are coming home, three million lost jobs, there’s not possible way that we can’t beat George Bush.” On the other hand, and I said to them, but what if Saddam is captured, Osama is captured, the situation is stabilized in Iraq, and the economy starts ticking up? And it was, “We didn’t think of that.” But is, in fact, the fortunes of the Democrats tied to those kinds of events?
Simon: Yes, but it’s always that way for the opposition party; when times are good, incumbents get re-elected, and when times are bad, they don’t. But you’re right, if George Bush wants an October surprise, he better find — better. It would be good for him to find one of the three things he hasn’t been able to find yet: Osama bin Laden, or as Al Sharpton says, “Osama been missing”...
Simon: ...or the weapons of mass destruction, or Saddam Hussein. And, I mean, so far this is the gang who can’t find things. Finding any one of those three would be a huge boost to him. It’s not going to wipe out, in the famous phrase of John McCain last time, the blood and treasure that we are spending in Iraq, but it would help.
Borger: I think it’s a very dangerous strategy for the Democrats to throw everything into the national security front. They don’t do well on national security issues with the American public. It could be a real problem for them if Saddam is found. And one thing to keep in mind is while the president’s leadership numbers have gone down, they’re still high. People believe he’s a good leader.
Broder: One other element in all of this, there is, at the moment, a clear kind of anti-establishment rumble in the country. You saw it in California, you’re seeing it with the Dean phenomenon who’s running against Washington as much as he’s running against — in the Washington leaders of his own party — if that (technical difficulties) then we’re in for a kind of a wild ride where even conceivably a new party or independent candidate could muddy the picture.
Russert: In the presidential race?
Broder: Yes, because that’s what we had in ’92 when people said, “We’re tired of these people messing things up.”
Gigot: But for that to happen, you’d have to have a challenge from the right to the president, because the Democrats are already on the left. You’d have to have that third party breakout from some element of the president’s (technical difficulties) like Ross Perot was against former President Bush. And Pat Buchanan, too. I don’t see that happening right now.
Russert: Howard Dean thinks that he represents that kind of anger and outrage.
Broder: Well, he does at this point.
Borger: And a president can run against Washington, too. Don’t forget that. Ronald Reagan did that. He can.
Broder: You can.
Russert: To be continued. David Broder, Paul Gigot, Roger Simon, Gloria Borger. We’ll be right back.
Russert: Start your day tomorrow on “Today” with Katie and Matt, then the “NBC Nightly News” with Tom Brokaw. That’s all for today. We’ll be back next week. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet The Press. Yankees, Sox; Cubs, Marlins; Bills, Jets — what a day.