Transcript for August 1

/ Source: NBC News

Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


NBC News

MEET THE PRESS  Sunday, August 1, 2004

Guests: Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), Republican convention prime-time speaker, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), Democratic convention prime-time speaker, Ron Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, John Harwood, The Wall Street Journal, Gwen Ifill, PBS, "Washington Week"

Moderator/Panelist: Tim Russert, NBC News

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:

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MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday, President Bush in Missouri...


PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  After 19 years in the United States Senate, my opponent has had thousands of votes but very few signature achievements.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Senator Kerry in Pennsylvania.


SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  I think you deserve a president who fights as hard for your job as he fights for his own job.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ninety-three days to go.  For the Bush campaign, he spoke at the Democratic convention in 1992.  This year, he will speak at the Republican convention.  With us, Senator Zell Miller, Democrat of Georgia.  For the Kerry campaign, he spoke at the Democratic convention on Thursday.  With us, Senator Joe Biden, Democrat of Delaware.  Miller and Biden square off on Bush vs. Kerry.

Then Tom Brokaw goes on the bus with the Kerry-Edwards ticket.  Insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week," and John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal.

But first, Zell Miller may be a Democratic senator from Georgia but he has endorsed George W. Bush for re-election, and he will speak at the Republican convention at the end of this month.

Senator Miller, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. ZELL MILLER, (D-GA):  Thank you, Tim.  Good to be with you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me take you back to 1992.  Here you are at the Democratic convention, and this is what you had to say.

(Videotape, July 13, 1992):

SEN. MILLER:  I am a Democrat because we are the party of hope.  For 12 dark years, the Republicans have dealt in cynicism and skepticism.  They've mastered the art of division and diversion and they have robbed us of our hope.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  You're talking about Ronald Reagan and former President Bush. What's changed?

SEN. MILLER:  Oh, the Democrats have changed.  This time, it's the Democrats who have the party of division and diversion.  Have you ever seen anything like this Democratic convention?  We've been going to them for a long time. This is the first time I've ever seen the speakers issued muzzles before they went up to the speaking platform.  I mean, you have to give them a C+, I guess, for discipline, but it was a convention that was completely deceptive in every way.  Somebody back in Georgia said that it's the Botox convention: cosmetically enhanced.

MR. RUSSERT:  But they talked about a strong defense.  They talk about reducing the top bracket of the tax cut, rolling it back.  They talked about health care for the average man and woman like a U.S. senator gets.  What's wrong with those issues for a Democratic Party?

SEN. MILLER:  Well, there's a lot of difference between talking about them and then doing something about them.  I mean, on the issue of defense, here is Senator Kerry, who voted to send troops to Iraq and then turned around and voted against financing the equipment and the ammunition and the benefits for the dependents that these troops needed.  Now, he's saying he's going to do all of these things.

I found his speech amazingly evasive.  It was the same gobbledegook, same baffle gab that you have always heard from John Kerry.  He said that he had a plan for Iraq, but then he never got around to telling you what that plan was. He said that he was going to increase troops by 40,000, and special ops, he was going to double, but I'm not going to send them to Iraq.  I don't know exactly where he stands on these things still.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's interesting, because your views of Senator Kerry seemed to have changed.  This is what you said of March of this year.  "...after hearing the agenda [Kerry has] laid out for our country-I cannot support him in his race for the presidency.  There are too many issues about which John Kerry and I disagree.  And there are too few similarities between John Kerry and the great Democratic leaders I've known."

But here you are just three short years ago, with Senator Kerry, in Atlanta, Georgia.  There's a picture of the two of you, and that night you said this. "My job tonight is an easy one:  to present to you one of this nation's authentic heroes, one of this party's best known and greatest leaders-and a good friend.  ...In his 16 years in the Senator John Kerry has fought against government waste and worked hard to bring some accountability to Washington. Early in his Senate career in 1986, John signed on to the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Bill, and he fought for balanced budgets before it was considered politically correct for Democrats to do so. John has worked to strengthen our military, reform public education, boost the economy and protect the environment."

That's not ancient history.  That's 2001.

SEN. MILLER:  That's also the press release they gave me to introduce him by. And I was very impressed with John Kerry when I first came to the Senate, because I knew this man was an authentic American hero.  And anyone that has a Silver Star and Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts, I respect and admire and thank them for their service.  But later I got to serve with this served with this man and I saw what kind of record he really did have in the Senate.

But let's make one thing clear, Tim.  I am not for President Bush's re-election because I am against John Kerry.  I am for President George W. Bush because he is the right man in the right place at the right time.  He is the man who has had the backbone to stand up and defend America in possibly the worst time in all of our history.  That's why I'm for him, because he's a strong leader.  He understood that the best way to keep money back with people is to leave the money in their pockets and never take it to Washington in the first place.  I'm for George W. Bush because of positive reasons, not negative reasons against John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned that John Kerry did call for an increase of 40,000 active duty troops and doubling the size of our Special Forces.  He also said that we are using the National Guard and reservists almost as a back-door draft.  About 30 percent of the reservists and Guardspeople from Georgia have been mobilized largely because of Iraq.  Is he right about that?

SEN. MILLER:  I have visited those troops in Iraq, and they are proud and honored to be serving their country there.  Lots of good things have been happening in Iraq that have not been in the press.  There are real advances being made, and I think they're going to continue to be made.  And I think that eventually we're going to see that this war in Iraq was the correct thing to do because it kept it from being on the streets of America.  I think we'd rather fight the enemy over there than over here.  And I think that America is safer because we've done that, and I also think that it has the possibility of transforming the Middle East, which is what every president has wanted to do for many years.

MR. RUSSERT:  Might we need more American troops in Iraq?

SEN. MILLER:  I think you have to go by what the military leaders tell you. I don't think politicians make those kind of decisions.  I think military leaders make those decisions.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Pat Roberts, Republican, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, vice chairman, sat here a couple of weeks ago and said if the Senate knew back in 2002, October, that the weapons of mass destruction that the intelligence agency said existed, did not exist at the levels that had been said, the Senate would not have voted to authorize the war.

SEN. MILLER:  Well, I'm not sure that's correct, but I know this, that John Kerry was on that Intelligence Committee for eight years.  They had 49 meetings.  He missed 38 of those meetings.  And I also know that they had a number of meetings that were classified.  We don't know how many of those he missed.  I think he ought to tell us.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you believe the Senate still would have voted for the war even in the absence of weapons of mass destruction?

SEN. MILLER:  Oh, yes.  I think so.  I think that it was something that we needed to do both in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the September 11 Commission.  President Bush is expected to implement many of the recommendations the commission has put forward.  Back in March, you had this observation:  "I've come to seriously question this panel's usefulness.  I believe it will ultimately play a role in doing great harm to this country, for its unintended consequences, I fear, will be to energize our enemies and demoralize our troops."

Do you still believe that?

SEN. MILLER:  There's no doubt that it energized our enemy at the time that it was first set up, and there's no doubt that there was a lot of politics involved.  But because of the great work of the chairman and the vice chairman, they were able to come up with some very good suggestions on what we need to do to strengthen our security and our intelligence, and I think that we're going to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  So the commission has been a net plus?

SEN. MILLER:  Yes, I think you look at it now and say that, but I also said at that time that they could just say everybody was at fault, and move on, and I think that's what they finally concluded that, there were a lot of people that were at fault.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should we have won one central intelligence czar?

SEN. MILLER:  That's something that someone who knows more about this business than I are going to have to decide.  I kind of think not, because I think that it's not good to have someone like that in a political White House.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to your standing as a Democrat.  The Chatham County Democratic Committee down there in southeastern Georgia, near Savannah, issued this on their Internet.  "Zell gets divorced, a loyal Democrat no more. The Democratic Party of Chatham County, Georgia, does hereby divorce former Democratic Governor Zell Miller.  Statements and actions of the formerly-Democratic U.S. senator have irretrievably broken the bonds that formerly existed between us and we view any previous ties to Miller as null and void."

SEN. MILLER:  Well, they let me keep my dogs, and I appreciate that.  Look, these people are as out of touch as some of the Democrats are somewhere else. I can tell you right now that as far as the Democrats in Georgia are concerned, most of them agree with where I am on this, supporting President George W. Bush.  There will be a lot of George Bush Democrats in Georgia, just like there were a lot of Ronald Reagan Democrats in Georgia.

And I also say this to you.  There are three things I think in the South that are going to change this election as far as how people view it.  One is this is a part of the country as you well know, Tim, that is very pro-military. And they do not understand a person voting to go to war and then not supporting the troops.  It also is a highly agricultural area, and these people are--John Kerry is agriculturally illiterate.  And it is also a part of the country that stands for American values.  And how can a person say that they are for American values and for the American family whenever they vote or not vote but oppose an amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage as a union between man and woman?  How can you say that you're for family values whenever you listen to Whoopi Goldberg get up there and talk about obscenities and vulgarities as far as the president is concerned and hear someone talk about the president being a thug and a murderer and then get up there and validate those remarks by saying these people represent the heart and soul of America?  They don't.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Kerry says he's against gay marriage, and that he did distance himself from some of the comments made at that fund-raising event.

SEN. MILLER:  Well, why doesn't he release the tape and show us what else was said there that he said was the heart and soul of America?  And I'll tell you something else, I watched him very closely the other night.  How can a person say--how can they talk about the glory of Old Glory whenever they voted three times for an amendment--against an amendment that would have protected the flag against abuse?  He's not for family values.  He's completely out of sync as far as...

MR. RUSSERT:  You mean the constitutional amendment in terms of burning or desecrating the flag?


MR. RUSSERT:  The Atlanta Constitution, your hometown paper--Atlanta--well, not your hometown paper, one of your papers in your state, let me correct that, said this.  "In his seamless self-delusion over the last year, Miller says his Democratic Party has left him, not the other way around.  On that score, he's like the out-of-step GI who insists it's everyone else in the platoon who's on the wrong foot.  Soon, and very soon, Zell needs to come home and take to his rocking chair.  Clearly the world is too much with him."

SEN. MILLER:  That's the same newspaper that whenever I left the governor's office had a lot of good things to say about me.  I'm not worried about those kind of comments.  What I'm worried about is what's going to happen in the next five years in this country.  And I am convinced that what happens in these next five years will determine what kind of world that my grandchildren and my four great- grandchildren are going to grow up in.  And that's why I'm so strong for George W. Bush for president, because I think he's going to make this world safer for those precious children of mine.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think the world's safer now than it was pre the invasion of Iraq?

SEN. MILLER:  Oh, sure, I do, and I think that it's very obvious that it is. I mean, we have not had another attack since 9/11.  And just think of the opportunities that they have--been out there.  I mean, yes, it's safer than it was.  This is one of those things where you've got to have continued vigilance, and we've got to do everything we can.  But certainly it's safer, because the war is going on over there instead of over here right now.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Kerry came out to address the Democrats and said, "I'm John Kerry," and he in fact is ready to serve his country, accept his duty as commander in chief.  Do you have any doubt that he would not be a strong, effective commander in chief?

SEN. MILLER:  Oh, yes, I have a lot of doubts.  If you will look at his record in the Senate, which is something they didn't talk about at all during the Democratic convention, it was as if he has been in a witness protection program somewhere and didn't even exist, incognito somewhere.  He has voted--he's been on the wrong side of foreign policy issues for the last 20 years.  If he had had his policies adopted in the Senate instead of the Ronald Reagan policies being adopted, we would still be in the Cold War.  We'd still have a Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall would still be up.  This...

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, Senator, how can you say that?

SEN. MILLER:  Because this is a man...


SEN. MILLER:  This is a man who voted to cut every single one of the weapons systems that won the Cold War.

MR. RUSSERT:  But aren't you...

SEN. MILLER:  This is a man that voted against the weapons system that we're using to fight the war on terror.  This is a man who voted against increases in intelligence funding.  He wanted to cut intelligence funding.

MR. RUSSERT:  But on defense and intelligence authorization bills, you have the same voting record as John Kerry.

SEN. MILLER:  I didn't try to cut--now ultimately he came along and voted for some, but I sure didn't try to cut this defense budget.

MR. RUSSERT:  Some Democrats in Georgia--and here is John Lewis, who's the dean of the congressional delegation, believes that you were elected with the support of a lot of Democratic working people, black and white.  This is what Mr. Lewis said.  He "called Mr. Miller's decision to appear at the [Republican] convention on behalf of President Bush `a shame and a disgrace.'...  This is the same Zell Miller who said 40 years ago that President Johnson had sold his soul when he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This is the same Zell Miller who as elected by the working people of Georgia--the teachers, union members, farmers and both black and white voters in the state.  I do no understand what he is so angry about, but apparently he has lost his way.'"

Why are you so angry at the Democrats?

SEN. MILLER:  John is a very good friend, and I can remember another quote of not too long ago where he said, "Zell Miller was a courageous man who had led a courageous life."  I'm not angry.  I'm just disillusioned.  I'm disillusioned with a party that has gone completely so far to the left that in the South we don't even have a chance of electing Democrats statewide anymore because they are associated with the National Democratic Party, they're associated with the Kerry-Edwards-Daschle wing of the Democratic Party.  And this group is so far to the left that they are completely off the charts.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Edwards is from North Carolina, Southern senator.

SEN. MILLER:  Oh, he's got a good ZIP code and he's got a good accent and he's got a good smile.  But he has voted very similar to the way that John Kerry has voted.  He also voted to go to war and then voted against supporting the troops.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is this what you're going to tell the Republican National Convention?

SEN. MILLER:  No, I'm going to come up with something else to tell them, but it'll be along those lines.  I'll talk about the journey that I've made in life and I'll talk about the journey that my Democratic Party has made.

MR. RUSSERT:  The other prime-time speakers--Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain--are all pro-gay rights, and Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani are pro-abortion rights and pro- anti-gun rights.  Should they be speaking to a Republican convention, and are they out of sync with your thinking?

SEN. MILLER:  Well, of course, I disagree with them on all those issues, but sure they should, because the Republican Party has become the party where diversity is accepted.  You know, they talked about diversity at the Democratic convention.  There was no diversity in ideology whatsoever.  Can you remember when they wouldn't even let Bob Casey, a pro-life Democrat, governor of Pennsylvania-- wouldn't even let him speak at the convention in '92?  They have completely pushed out any moderate to conservative Democrat. It's no longer the party of the big tent that it once was.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Zell Miller, we thank you very much for sharing your views.

Coming next, the view from the Kerry campaign.  Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware.  And then our Roundtable, with insights and analysis, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  The response from the Kerry campaign with Senator Joe Biden. Our political Roundtable after this station break.


MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Biden, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE):  Nice to be with you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you John Kerry at the Democratic convention on Thursday.

(Videotape, July 29, 2004):

SEN. KERRY:  We will add 40,000 active duty troops not in Iraq but to strengthen American forces that are now over-stretched, overextended and under pressure.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Not in Iraq.  Should Senator Kerry have taken that off the table?

SEN. BIDEN:  Well, I think what he's talking about is the new troops he's talking about adding.  We've got a big debate about adding a couple more divisions, and that's an amendment that I co-sponsored with three of my colleagues including John McCain.  And I think in that convention he didn't want to make it sound like he was adding 40,000 new troops just to send to Iraq, but he hadn't taking anything off the table to the best of my knowledge about what he's going to need in Iraq.

And the bottom line, Tim, is God only knows what he's going to inherit on January 20th if he's sworn in as president of the United States in Iraq.  I mean, who knows?  I mean, this has not gone well; going a little bit better now.  But we're just now beginning to train Iraqi forces for the first time. We've wasted a year and a half.  We're just now beginning to train the police. So I don't think anything is off the table.

MR. RUSSERT:  We may, in fact, have to send more American troops.

SEN. BIDEN:  Well, let me tell you what our flag officers, generals, that I met with three or four Sundays ago in Baghdad told me.  They said from their experience, they know, since there's going to be somewhere on the order of--there are going to be thousands of polling places, up to 25,000 polling places, for this election in January, that they're going to need a surge of force.  Now, what they're planning on doing is they're planning on keeping people there a little longer and sending people a little sooner so you overlap with up to 20,000 to 30,000 additional forces.  In addition to that, it's about time that the French and the Germans and the rest having voted for this resolution to turn this over to the Iraqis and the U.N. mandate here, that they come up with at least the 4,000 troops that are required to protect the U.N. forces.  So the combination of additional forces from outside, possibility of this Muslim force, and probably the need to surge forces are all there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Including Americans?

SEN. BIDEN:  Including--look, I asked Sanchez:  Is there any possibility over the next year of reducing the force levels in Iraq?  He said no.

MR. RUSSERT:  Zell Miller was just on.

SEN. BIDEN:  Yes, he's a great guy.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you what he had to say about your candidate, John Kerry.  "I think John Kerry made the right decision when he voted to authorize the war in Iraq.  But then he went out on the campaign trail and started spending too much time with Howard Dean.  And he came back to Washington and voted against the $87 billion the troops need for protective armor, combat pay, and better health care.  That's the worst kind of indecisiveness, and the wrong leadership at this critical moment in history."

SEN. BIDEN:  Well, the irony is that what Zell may not have remembered, but I'm sure he'll remember when he hears me say it, is that there was an attempt to break out that $87 billion.  I voted for the $87 billion.  I got in trouble with the Democrats immediately saying I would support it.  But I understood their point.  They said, "Look, let's take the $67 billion for the troops, the body and armor, etc.," and by the way, this is a president who sent our National Guard there without body armor, a lot of them without body armor. This is the president who sent the National Guard there without the adequate training.  This is the president who sent a lot of the National Guard there without the Humvees that were capable of withstanding rounds.

By anyway, having said that, we said, John Kerry said and a number of others said, "Let's take the $67 billion and have two votes.  Vote immediately for the $67 billion for the troops.  The remaining $20 billion roughly, because we don't trust these guys that they're going to be able to manage it very well, let's attach conditions to it."  They had $30,000 for pickup trucks, for example, in this thing.  And so that was the big debate.

When faced with having to vote for that $20,000 that was going to be mismanaged, they thought, they decided not to vote for it.  Now, I didn't vote that way, but there is a merit to their position.  Of the $18 billion, Tim, we voted to reconstruct Iraq, that our military says they badly needed to help them secure order in Iraq, only $450 million have been spent so far.  That's incredible mismanagement.  And we voted that money last October.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator, let me refer you to The New Yorker magazine article of July 26.  "A deep vein of disapproval for [Kerry's] Iraq vote still runs through the Democratic base.  That unease is compounded by the obvious political calculation of Kerry's vote last fall to withhold eighty-seven billion dollars of auxiliary support for the military in Afghanistan and Iraq. As one of his advisers put it to me, `Off the record, he did it because of Howard Dean.  On the record, he has an elaborate explanation.'  Kerry originally sponsored an amendment sponsored by Senator Joe Biden that would have funded the war by temporarily reducing Bush's tax cuts to the wealthiest one percent of Americans.  But Biden's bill had no chance of passing in a Republican-dominated Senate.  ...Biden himself ultimately voted for the money, and he confirmed that Kerry's decision not to was `tactical,' an attempt `to prove to Dean's guys I'm not a warmonger.'"

That's quoting you.

SEN. BIDEN:  Well, that's paraphrasing me.  I didn't say that.  I was asked whether or not it was tactical, and I--unfortunately, I'm straight.  I said I don't know whether it's tactical or not.  The bottom line was I happen to disagree with the vote.  But the irony of all ironies is that he was more right about their ineptitude in how to deal with it than I was.

MR. RUSSERT:  But again, here's Time magazine.  "John Kerry's judgment when it comes to the substance of policy is excellent.  ... The truth is he usually spends more time talking about the politics of a vote...and that was certainly the case on the $87 billion.  That told me this:  John doesn't have as much confidence in his political judgment as he does in his policy decisions."

That's you.

SEN. BIDEN:  I have confidence in his policy decisions, and I have confidence that when he's president he'll do a great job.

MR. RUSSERT:  But it seems as if that the vote for the war in 2002 was a general election vote, thinking, I voted against the first Persian Gulf War, I better be for this one.  And then when it came to the second vote of supplying money to the troops, he was in the midst of a Democratic primary where Howard Dean was hitting him hard for his support for Iraq, and he voted the other way.  Doesn't this re-enforce the notion of flip-flopping...


MR. RUSSERT:  ...and inconsistency on a serious issue like war?

SEN. BIDEN:  The answer is I don't think so, any more than George Bush talking about withdrawing troops from the Balkans, withdrawing troops from that area, and have him flipping and flopping, him saying that we're overextended and then us going in.

I don't think--look, political campaigns are tough.  I love this position of being in an adviser, man.  I'm the guy who didn't make it through Iowa.  I got all the answers.  I know exactly what John Kerry should do, and I suspect Bush advisers know exactly what he should do.  But political campaigns are tough. The one thing I have no doubt about is John Kerry has steel in his backbone. John Kerry will, in fact, do whatever it takes for us to have our national interest succeed in Iraq as well as around the world.  And John Kerry's going to end up as president of the United States, God willing, where he is going to have to tell the French and the Germans and the rest, "Get over it.  You don't have George Bush as an excuse anymore.  Move.  Get moving."

And the fact of the matter is I see--from my perspective, Tim, trying to stand back from it is hard.  I mean, I'm obviously partisan on this.  But if you stand back from it, does anybody think there's any possibility in a second four years George Bush is going to be able to rally the world to help us carry the burdens on anything?  I mean, I'm not being facetious.  I see no reasonable prospect of that.  John Kerry will.  Now, maybe it won't all work out the way it's supposed to.  It's the only hope we have, and we cannot carry this burden alone, and I don't mean just Iraq.  You have to have international cooperation to deal with the big problems we're going to face, and they relate from terror all the way to HIV and infectious diseases to ethnic cleansing.

And the irony is, what frustrates me, is this president, God love him, has made us weaker than before.  I was the guy, as you remember, that pushed the last president before him, Clinton, to get into Bosnia and Kosovo.  I beat up and about the head everyone who would listen to get involved.  Can you imagine after the way George Bush has handled Iraq, another Milosevic, Us being able to gain the support, Democrat or Republican president, to use force legitimately?  I think he's--and we've got to restore that.  We've got to restore our credibility.  And I don't see how George Bush can do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would it have been more intellectually honest for John Kerry to have voted against the authorization for war and then voted for the $87 billion once the troops were on the ground?

SEN. BIDEN:  No.  I think John Kerry believed we should have gone into Iraq. I think it would have been more intellectually consistent, and I made the case to him, just as I did to Wesley Clark when he was out on the stump, that in fact it's more intellectually consistent to say what we should do with regard to supporting the money, even though we had grave doubts about the management capacity of this president.

MR. RUSSERT:  So that vote was a mistake by Kerry?

SEN. BIDEN:  I didn't vote that way.  Only history will judge whether it's a mistake.  I think it was better to err on the side of giving the president who's demonstrated he couldn't manage very well the money than not give him the money.

MR. RUSSERT:  Zell Miller said that a Democrat just can't win in the South, one because they're perceived as weak on defense, two, as he said, is illiterate when it comes to agriculture issues, and three, because of pop cultural issues, gay rights and others.  Does he have a point?

SEN. BIDEN:  The irony about agriculture is the Democratic Party has kept all of Southern agriculture alive and well for the past 50 years.  Give me a break, number one.  Number two, I think in the cultural issue of this notion of gay marriage, I think it probably is a liability to have the right position, to have John McCain's position, to have, you know, Schwarzenegger's position and a lot of other people.  John's against gay marriage, but he doesn't think it should be in the Constitution.

And with regard to the issue of defense, I don't believe for a second that the South believes that the Democratic Party is weak on defense.  I mean, is--remember--I remember being on your show.  Remember it was Mr. DeLay and all those right-wing guys in the House who talked about the sovereignty of Milosevic, the sovereignty of Yugoslavia.  We cannot bomb them.  They wouldn't even allow a vote in the House of Representatives on ending the genocide that was going on; the same outfit who said when we used rockets into Afghanistan, we are violating Afghan sovereignty.

You know, so I don't--and by the way, we elect Democrats.  The very point about, you know, we haven't elected Democrats, look at the South.  We elected Democratic governors last time.  We elected Democratic senators last time.  I don't believe we're not going to elect people.  I think we win Florida.  I think we win South Carolina.  I think we're going to win North Carolina.  And I think we're going to win Oklahoma.  And so the idea that this is, you know, I think...

MR. RUSSERT:  But what Southern states will John Kerry carry?

SEN. BIDEN:  Oh, I think John--it's all--look, it's very difficult.  I think John Kerry will carry Florida.  I think he's got a shot in North Carolina.  I think he has a shot in Arkansas.  But the truth of the matter is what states in the Northeast is George Bush going to carry?

MR. RUSSERT:  If you knew now what you didn't know in October of 2002, that the weapons of mass destruction, as promised by the CIA did not exist, would you still have authorized war?

SEN. BIDEN:  I voted to authorize the war, Tim, because I thought it armed the president the best he could to go to the United Nations and get the world support behind a guy who was a madman and who had violated every effective peace agreement he had signed, with those resolutions at the U.N.  And the fact of the matter is, at the time, I remember Dick Cheney was on your program saying they had reconstituted their nuclear weapons.  I was on a companion program saying I have no evidence, I see nothing that indicates that.  Either Dick Cheney is wrong or they're not giving me the intelligence information.

What we all did believe is he had the capacity, he had the capacity to have the--he had material.  But many of us believed he had weaponized it, and if we let him go for another three to five years, he would have had that capacity. But what we didn't anticipate, we didn't anticipate that they so incompetently used the authority that we gave them.  The very time that Powell was up there trying to get international support and gaining it, every time it looked like he was gaining, Cheney would make some outlandish speech to a veterans group or the secretary of defense would talk about the old and the new Europe, and I think they went to war prematurely, without a--at a minimum, isolating the French and Germans.  And, look...

MR. RUSSERT:  Was going to war a mistake?

SEN. BIDEN:  Going to war when we went to war and the way we went to war, that was a mistake, because when you go to war virtually alone, you inherit the requirement of the peace virtually alone.  And Dick Lugar, Joe Biden, a lot of other people said before we went to war, it was going to take thousands upon thousands of troops.  We needed our allies with us, not for the war but for the peace.  We are inheriting the wind because we did not go about it the way that most of us thought the president would go about it and didn't.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think the situation in Iraq will be on the ground in November?

SEN. BIDEN:  I don't like to--it's kind of like, you know, when you ask me whether or not the University of Delaware, when they play some bigger team--whether we're going to win and I'm afraid in my heart they are not going to win but I don't want to say they're not going to win because I don't want to vote against my own team.  I think there is at least a significant possibility we could inherit in January a Lebanon in Iraq.  I don't wish for that.  I don't--I think it's less than even chance.

If we radically ratchet up the training of the police--real training--and the training of the military, if we get NATO in, as we finally are--I remember being on this show and everybody saying, "You can't get NATO in."  Guess what? They finally presented the plan like I suggested and NATO signed on; now they're training, the details of which are still left undone.

So if we get NATO in, in terms of the training, if we actually are able to move along and train real guys that can shoot straight, bring in some additional forces, I think we'll be in a position for an election to be held and we've got a better-than-even chance of succeeding by December of '05.  Our ultimate exit strategy is training Iraqis to get out.  We've botched that job so far.  I think with Petraeus now, we're finally getting on track.  It's a day late...

MR. RUSSERT:  The general on the ground.

SEN. BIDEN:  Excuse me, the general on the ground.  It's about a year late. Hopefully it's not too short in terms of dollars; requires more money and requires us to level with the American people, which this administration has still not done in telling them, "We're going to be there at least for another year with 140,000 troops and it's going to cost a lot more money than we've already spent."  If we do those two things, I think we have a 50:50 shot of making the peace work in Iraq.  And let me explain what I mean:  a secure Iraq, representative government, no pure democracy, no weapons of mass destruction and no haven for terror.  That's my goal as to what I think a secure Iraq and a stable Iraq means.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, if John Kerry wins, would you like to be secretary of state?

SEN. BIDEN:  I'd like to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.  And I'm not being a wise guy with you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you prefer to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee...

SEN. BIDEN:  I would prefer to be chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...rather than secretary of state?

SEN. BIDEN:  Rather than secretary of state.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you're not chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee...

SEN. BIDEN:  That's a different view.

MR. RUSSERT:'d like to be secretary of state?

SEN. BIDEN:  That's a different view.  Well, I wouldn't refuse the job.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Joe Biden, we thank you for your views.

SEN. BIDEN:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Next up, Tom Brokaw on the campaign trail with John Kerry and John Edwards.  Our political Roundtable:  Ron Brownstein of the LA Times, Gwen Ifill of PBS' "Washington Week," John Harwood, Wall Street Journal.  They are all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.


MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Welcome all.

Let's begin with the latest poll.  Newsweek has it this way.  If election held today, John Kerry, 49; George Bush, 42; Ralph Nader, 3.  From three weeks ago, Kerry's up 2; Bush is down 2; Nader's the same.  Look inside these numbers. Republicans, 7 are for Kerry, 90 for Bush, 1 for Nader.  Democrats, now 86 for Kerry, 8 for Bush, 1 for Nader.  Independents, 45 Kerry; 39 Bush; 7 Nader.

John Harwood, not a huge bounce.  It's being called a baby bounce, but nonetheless, John Kerry in a slight lead.

MR. JOHN HARWOOD (Wall Street Journal):  Well, nobody expected a bounce as big as, say, Bill Clinton got in 1992 because so many voters in this electorate have chosen up sides already, but that poll was taken before the historical peak of these bounces which ought to be this weekend when you have a lot of these low-information voters, don't play all that close attention, who are absorbing some of this information.  That number, probably the Bush campaign's expecting maybe 6 points as a Kerry bump up from that 47 percent. Maybe he'll get in the low 50s.

MR. RUSSERT:  In fact, the people who were surveyed, Gwen Ifill, on Friday after the speech, showed a 10-point spread.  So there seemed to be some more movement.

MS. GWEN IFILL (PBS "Washington Week"):  Yeah, and there's going to be more movement again because as we well know, there's going to be this wonderful lull, the Olympics, which both campaigns are going to be campaigning during, and then the Republican convention in which things could flip-flop the other way, and then what's going to happen, of course, is George W. Bush and he will come into Labor Day neck and neck.  Now, it still remains interesting what happens with Ralph Nader 'cause the problem with Kerry in these polls up until now is he has been slightly ahead with Nader just always lurking in the background and this seems to be less of an impact now unless, of course, Nader can't get on the ballots.

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, I think we're beginning to see the point at which Ralph Nader's numbers start going down.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the convention and bring in Ron Brownstein who's on the road in Columbus, Ohio, with the Kerry-Edwards ticket.  This was John Kerry at the Democratic convention on Thursday the way he opened his speech.

(Videotape, July 29, 2004):

SEN. KERRY:  I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, no doubt that John Kerry tried from the very beginning of that prime- time presentation to present himself as a potential commander in chief.

MR. RON BROWNSTEIN (Los Angeles Times):  Absolutely, Tim, and that was not only in John Kerry's speech but the entire week was overwhelmingly focused on that single message, making John Kerry credible not only as an alternative to President Bush as commander in chief but arguing that he was superior.  Former President Clinton really had the signature line of the week when he said "strength and wisdom are not opposing values," and the argument that the entire Democratic convention sought to make was that Kerry would be as strong as Bush but more judicious.

Can I go back very quickly to your point about the polls?  It sounds a little odd to say, but often the horse race is a lagging indicator in the presidential race.  And I agree with John that the real impact we won't know until early next week, but if you look inside the Newsweek poll, what's interesting is that it continues to send the message that President Bush is still facing a slight majority of the country that is open to change, 53 percent saying they want somebody new, only a 45-percent job approval in that poll, 58 percent saying that things aren't going well in the country.  To me that is the real challenge he faces more than John Kerry at this point.  He's got to make a stronger case for continuity.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Iraq, the 800-pound elephant in the room that people don't want to talk about at the convention.  Tom Brokaw was on the campaign trail on the bus with John Kerry and John Edwards.  There he is there, and he asked Senator Kerry about Iraq, and here was Senator Kerry's response.

(Videotape, July 30, 2004):

SEN. KERRY:  We were misled with respect to the way in which the president said he would go to war.  He said he would build a true international coalition.  He said he would exhaust the remedies of the United Nations.  He said he would go to war as a last resort.  I don't know many Americans who believe he really went to war as a last resort.  He rushed to war without a plan to win the peace.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen Ifill, is that enough to criticize the conduct and the management of the war, even though John Kerry had voted for it?

MS. IFILL:  You know, it's very is interesting.  I spent the week on the floor of the convention talking with delegates every single day, and the one thing--even the ones wearing the Kucinich peacenik buttons, even the ones who really hated the war and thought we shouldn't have been there, didn't want to talk about it.  You're right.  They did not bring it up.  They decided they were just going to be united behind him.

I think Democrats are hoping that by the force of that unitedness--What is the word I'm--unity, they're going to be able to somehow not talk about this at all and they're going to be able to gloss over John Kerry's seeming inconsistencies on it.  That's not what the Republicans are going to let them get away with.  We heard Zell Miller getting to that point today.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, the White House advisers were saying, "President Bush was for the war then, and he's for the war now, and what is John Kerry's position?  We didn't hear that in his speech."

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, John Kerry is hugging close to George Bush, and George Bush has moved a little bit toward Kerry.  They're both agreeing that Iraq needs to be stable.  It needs to be moving toward democracy, that we can't cut and run and bring our troops out.  John Kerry said he wasn't going to put those 40,000 additional troops into Iraq, but he wasn't going to take 40,000 out, either.  But look, every campaign's a two-way conversation.  Every convention generates a counterargument, and the counterargument from the Bush campaign is John Kerry, you voted for this war, and they won't say it but it was pretty obvious to everybody in the country that George Bush intended to take the country to war against Iraq at that time.  John Kerry's probably going to have to give a fuller explanation of why he did that.

MS. IFILL:  And can I just add on the Iraq point...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Time, can I...

MS. IFILL:  Just one second, Ron.  The really important part about the Iraq issue is that events could change everything, and it won't matter how you voted or how you didn't vote.  If things on the ground don't improve or if they get on page one, it doesn't matter what the politicians are saying.

MR. RUSSERT:  Go ahead, Ron.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  It seems to me this debate about Iraq, right now at least, is less about Iraq itself and what you would do next than about the broader question of character and leadership.  And the basic debate that's being set up out of this Democratic convention, I think, between the campaigns is how do you judge John Kerry as a commander in chief?  The convention spent an entire week saying all you need to know about John Kerry as commander in chief you could learn 35 years ago in Vietnam with the way he performed under fire.  He was steadfast, he was resolute, he made decisions that saved men's lives under the most arduous conditions imaginable.  That was the presentation from the Democrats.  The Republican argument is that all you need to know about John Kerry as commander in chief is contained in his struggles over Iraq and indeed, in his Senate voting record.  More generally, they're arguing that it makes the opposite point, that he is someone who can't be counted on in a pinch.  When things get tough, he kind of scatters and tries to please everybody.  And I think that this is the basic framework, the argument that we're going to have the over next several weeks.

MR. HARWOOD:  We saw it in the first ad the Bush campaign released after the convention, which is these times are big change, a lot of it's terrifying, you need somebody with conviction.

MR. RUSSERT:  Also the economy emerged as a big issue yesterday.  Here's George Bush in Missouri followed by John Kerry in Pennsylvania, this two-way virtual exchange you talked about, John Harwood.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Friday):

PRES. BUSH:  We are turning the corner and we're not turning back.

(End videotape)

(Videotape, Saturday):

SEN. KERRY:  Let me tell you something.  The last time we had a president who talked about turning the corner and ran on the slogan of turning the corner was Herbert Hoover.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen Ifill?

MS. IFILL:  You know, it's interesting to listen to them.  We've heard a lot of this before, this turning the corner stuff.  In that point, John Kerry's right.  But like Iraq, events on the ground matter, and because you're speaking to this narrow little slice of America who have not made up their mind who are-- I saw an interesting article this week about the people at the convention itself, and how some Democratic delegates were staying in dorms and paying for their own coffee and a lot of really rich Democrat delegates were taking the glittering conveyor belts, all the big financial fund-raisers.  And to me that is a metaphor for what's happening in this country as well. Depending on where you are, the economy will look different and determine what your vote is, and people who are in that narrow group, who they're trying to woo in these battleground states they're all touring this weekend, they're the ones who are going to decide, and many of them don't feel so good about the economy and don't feel like they're turning the corner.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tim, turning the corner isn't enough.  One of the things that Republican as well as Democratic polling has shown is that if you just say the economy's better, voters want to hear more.  They want to hear what you're going to go, and here's where George Bush faces a real conundrum.  He's got to start outlining what he's going to do in a second term.  What he really wants to do and what he and his strategist Karl Rove believe in both as a matter of politics and policy is Social Security reform.  They've got to figure out whether voters can tolerate the anxiety that that issue might bring, to put that at the center of the table.  George Gush has been a gambler throughout his presidency.  He may roll the dice on that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, you're on the campaign trail, as I mentioned, with John Kerry and John Edwards.  They're inseparable on the campaign trail, in fact, since he's been selected as his running mate.  Here's Tom Brokaw talking to the ticket of the Democratic Party and having some fun with it.

(Videotape, Friday):

MR. TOM BROKAW:  So you're on your honeymoon, the two of you, and you've been at it now for a couple of weeks.  No squabbles?

SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS:  Oh, no.  This has been very, very good.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Dressed exactly alike.  Now, here's George Bush...


MR. RUSSERT:  ...on his running mate, Dick Cheney, and we'll come back, Ron. Here's George Bush.

(Videotape, Saturday):

PRES. BUSH:  I'm running with a really good man.  I know he's not the prettiest face on the ticket.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron, what's going on?

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.  Well, first of all, they did have different color Gore-Tex on yesterday, Kerry and Edwards, so you could tell them apart.  Look, I mean, John Kerry hired an advocate when he chose his vice president.  It's hard to make the case that John Edwards is really going to deliver a region.

Zell Miller's right.  It's going to be very tough for John Kerry all across the South, even with John Edwards on the ticket.  You know, there's some hope that he's going to perform well with rural communities and help win those voters.  We'll see.  The record on that was mixed in the primaries.  What John Edwards can do is make a case.  I don't think he had his best night of his career Wednesday night at the Democratic convention.  I think many people, Democrats included, felt that he was a little rushed.  Maybe he didn't project as much command as they hoped.  But day in and day out, what John Edwards can do, as we saw him do yesterday in three well-attended rallies in Republican-leaning counties, was make a case for John Kerry.  He makes John Kerry more energetic.  But alas, the honeymoon is ending and they are getting off on their separate campaigning, I believe, later this afternoon.

MS. IFILL:  And if I might add to that, also, it's important for us to remember, we watch this so closely, our eyes cross, our noses are pressed against the glass all the time.  For most people, this week was a first date with these guys.  They hadn't been paying attention.  They didn't know who they were.  And it's almost the same in seeing George W. Bush in campaign mode with Dick Cheney.  They are wa--it's like a Rorschach test.  There was a Rorschach test in how people re--like Teresa Heinz Kerry's speech-- peach--speech--I'm still tired and can't speak--to people who related to John Edwards' speech.  Everybody saw it differently, whether they were at a hall, whether they were at home, whether they had been watching before or not.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned Teresa Heinz Kerry.

MS. IFILL:  Yes, I did.

MR. RUSSERT:  Matthew Dowd, one of the president's principal political advisers, wrote a famous memo where he said that if George Bush got the same percentage of women, blacks and Hispanics in 2004 that he got in 2000, he wouldn't lose the popular vote by 500,000.  He'd lose it by three million because of the changing makeup demographically...

MS. IFILL:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT: the country.  Teresa Heinz Kerry made a very open appeal for support for women voters at the convention.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Tuesday):

MRS. TERESA HEINZ KERRY:  My right to speak my mind, to have a voice, to be what some have called "opinionated" is a right I deeply and profoundly cherish.  And my only hope is that one day soon, women who have all earned their right to their opinions, instead of being called opinionated, will be called smart and well-informed, just like men.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Gwen Ifill, you're smart and well-informed.

MS. IFILL:  Thank you, Tim.  He doesn't always say that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Did it work?

MS. IFILL:  You know, it's interesting.  That's a perfect Rorschach.  I was in the hall that night, and the response seemed muted.  There were a lot of empty seats.  You could kind of only hear her, because she speaks so softly. And I thought, jeez, that wasn't much of a speech.  I called my friends at home who watched it on television, and they were blown away.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, let me bring you in here.  The Newsweek poll has Kerry-Edwards up amongst women by 16 points, 53-37.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Absolutely.  And...

MR. RUSSERT:  And Bush ahead amongst men by 5 points.  Big gender gap.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Look, Teresa Heinz Kerry, cue the e-mails.  Teresa Heinz Kerry is not running for anything.  Most of the women who would respond to an argument like that, I think, are already in the Democratic camp.  Her job was more to do what the daughters did on Thursday night, I think, to humanize John Kerry and to show the side of him that you don't see when the spotlights are on.  She did almost none of that.  And I think for that reason, the speech was a wasted opportunity.

MS. IFILL:  I disagree with you, Ron.  I really disagree with you.  I have talked to women who would not necessarily be in the Kerry camp, who haven't made up their minds, who were introduced to Teresa Heinz Kerry for the first time and thought she was kind of impressive.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right, Harwood, break the tie.

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, Laura Bush is a spectacularly good red-state spouse. She's smart.  But she's also a bit subdued and supportive of her husband. Teresa Heinz is a very good blue-state spouse.  She speaks not only to women but also to that larger immigrant story.  There's a lot of immigrant voters in this race.  She's urbane, she's sophisticated, she's strong.  She's going to be an asset for him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Last word, John Harwood.  Gwen Ifill, Ron Brownstein.

We'll be right back after this.


MR. 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.