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MEET THE PRESS Sunday, August 22, 2004
GUESTS: Sen. George Allen, R-VA, Chairman, National Republican Senatorial Committee;
Sen. Jon Corzine, D-NJ; Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee;
Tad Devine, Senior Adviser, Kerry-Edwards '04;
Ken Mehlman, Campaign Manager, Bush-Cheney '04
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:
MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
(Sundays: (202) 885-4200)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday...
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): They're a front for the Bush campaign. He wants them to do his dirty work.
MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN: Now, Senator Kerry knows that his latest attack is false and baseless.
MR. RUSSERT: Kerry-Edwards vs. Bush-Cheney, 72 days to go. With us, the campaign manager for Bush-Cheney, Ken Mehlman; the senior campaign adviser for Kerry-Edwards, Tad Devine. The presidential campaigns square off on MEET THE PRESS.
Then, there are currently 51 Republicans in the Senate. Can the Democrats take control? And how might this man's scandal affect the outcome? With us, the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, and his Republican counterpart, Senator George Allen of Virginia. But, first, the Bush-Kerry campaign. Gentlemen, welcome, both.
MR. KEN MEHLMAN: Morning.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's go right to it. Viewers have been watching ads from the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Here is two of their ads, or portions thereof.
(Videotape, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads):
MR. VAN ODELL: John Kerry lied to get his Bronze Star. I know. I was there. I saw what happened.
LT. JACK CHENOWETH: His account and what actually happened are the difference between night and day.
Unidentified Man: Cut off limbs, blown up bodies.
COL. KEN CORDIER: That was part of the torture, to sign a statement that you had committed war crimes.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry on Thursday responded. Let's watch his response.
SEN. KERRY: But here's what you really need to know about them. They're funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Republican contributor out of Texas. They're a front for the Bush campaign. And the fact that the president won't denounce what they're up to tells you everything that you need to know. He wants them to do his dirty work.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Mehlman, a front for the Bush campaign, doing the president's dirty work.
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, that charge is entirely baseless, it's meritless. We've actually sent a letter to the Federal Election Commission, which the Kerry campaign had contacted, asking them to look into this. We've told them to dismiss the complaint that the Kerry campaign has put forward. There is absolutely no connection between the Bush campaign and this organization. In fact, Tim, as you know, our president from the beginning has praised Senator Kerry's service in Vietnam. I can't think of a campaign in history where the campaign has so strongly praised the opponent's service in Vietnam. The president's praised it, I praised it, our chairman Mark Rosco's praised it. Ed Gillespie's praised it. This organization and its focus on Vietnam is not what our campaign is about.
MR. RUSSERT: So then those ads should be taken off the air?
MR. MEHLMAN: We have called for all of these ads to be taken off the air. We've had $63 million in these soft money ads run against this president. Only 2.5 run against Senator Kerry. But from the beginning we've said we believe these ads should not be on the air, we believe that the law the president signed, the BICRA law, prohibits them and we've called for them to be taken down. We wish the Kerry campaign had joined us in calling for them to be taken down then. And we hope that maybe Tad will do the same thing today.
MR. RUSSERT: The connection between the Bush campaign and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, Colonel Kenneth Cordier, who was in that commercial, was on the Bush veterans steering committee. He resigned last night. But there's more. This was how The New York Times described it: "...a review of documents show a web of connections to the Bush family, high-profile Texas political figures and President Bush's chief political aide, Karl Rove. Records show that the group received the bulk of its initial financing from two men with ties to the president and his family, one a longtime political associate of Mr. Rove's, the other a trustee of the foundation for Mr. Bush's presidential library. A Texas publicist who once helped prepare Mr. Bush's father for his debate when he was running for vice president provided them with strategic advice."
Robert Perry, Houston, Texas, has given the president about $50,000 during his career. He's given Jeb Bush money. He worked with Karl Rove in a gubernatorial campaign back in Texas. Merrie Spaeth, the person who described prepping Vice President Bush for his debate, as recently as last year was in the White House preparing the president's economic adviser for a television interview. Who paid her? Who admitted her to the White House?
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, reading that New York Times article I was reminded of that old Kevin Bacon game about six degrees of separation. The fact is this campaign has from the beginning said that the issue of what happened 35 years ago with John Kerry and the issue that happened 35 years ago with George W. Bush is not relevant. What's relevant is what is happening today.
And, Tim, if you think about it, the campaign that has brought up the Vietnam issue, the campaign that has divided Americans over Vietnam, is not the Bush campaign, it's the Kerry campaign. Senator Kerry himself has attacked the president for his service during the Vietnam years. The chairman of the Democratic National Committee said that the president was AWOL, an outrageous charge. The DNC Web site, even today, attacks the president for the Vietnam service. We believe this election ought to be about the issues we face today, not about what happened 35 years ago.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you know Robert Perry?
MR. MEHLMAN: I personally do not.
MR. RUSSERT: Have you ever met him?
MR. MEHLMAN: I have not.
MR. RUSSERT: Karl Rove does. He's acknowledged it.
MR. MEHLMAN: I think he's a friend of Karl Rove's. He's someone who I think they haven't spoken to in a long time. Karl Rove is friends with lots of different people. He's friends with Jim Johnson. Does that mean he was responsible for the choice of John Edwards for vice president?
MR. RUSSERT: But will Mr. Rove pick up the phone, call Robert Perry and say, "Stop giving this group money. Pull those commercials down"?
MR. MEHLMAN: We have from the beginning said we believe that these commercials, the commercials of all these 527s--remember, Tim, there's $500,000 behind this new ad. There have been $63 million of these ads run against this president with all kinds of outrageous charges. We've said from the beginning we think these ads are wrong, we think these ads are contrary to the BICRA law. We've called for them to be pulled down. And it is somewhat ironic that the Kerry campaign, after months of benefiting from these ads, after not joining us on this call, now suddenly today are all of a sudden raising
MR. RUSSERT: We'll get to the Kerry campaign. I just want to talk more about the possible connection between the Bush campaign and these ads. This was a flier down in Florida--"Swift Boat Votes For Truth, Alachua County Republican, Alachua County Bush-Cheney Committee"--all co-sponsoring an event for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
MR. MEHLMAN: We have looked into this. This has nothing do with the Bush-Cheney campaign. In fact, I noticed on the Swift Boat Veterans Web site last night it has nothing to do with them. This is an independent person who decided to put together a flier. Anything that this campaign has done has to say at the bottom: "Approved By Bush-Cheney '04." It was not. It has nothing to do with this campaign. From the beginning, Tim, we've said and we continue to maintain and we will always maintain, this election is about the future. This campaign in no way is supportive of any independent ads or any 527 ads. From the beginning, we've called for them to be taken down.
MR. RUSSERT: John McCain who supports President Bush said this. "I think the [swift boat] ad is dishonest and dishonorable. ... I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad."
Here's your chance. Is the ad dishonest and dishonorable? Do you condemn it?
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, I'm not focused on this specific ad. I'm focused on the issues the American people face over the next four years. And I'll tell you this, Tim, also one of the things that was most disturbing to me was just a week ago or I think it was the week before last, Senator Kerry came out and Wesley Clark and also Stansfield Turner also held a press conference on behalf of the Kerry campaign. And in that press conference, they condemned the president's activity during the Vietnam era. And Senator Kerry's response, the campaign's response was to say these Vietnam veterans have earned their right to speak.
I don't believe we ought to have a double standard for Vietnam veterans earning the right to speak. It is my position, it is the campaign's position, that all of these 527 ads are wrong and they should all come down. But we should not have a double standard as to whether you support Senator Kerry or oppose Senator Kerry in terms of your right to speech.
MR. RUSSERT: But you don't condemn the ad.
MR. MEHLMAN: We condemn all of these 527 ads and we have from the beginning.
MR. RUSSERT: You know, the interesting pattern here is that Merrie Spaeth and others were involved in a campaign against John Kerry, and then in 2000, against John McCain. There seems to be a pattern of people who have given President Bush money or who have worked for him or his father coming together and taking on opponents of George W. Bush. And then when it happens like that, in 2000, McCain was--said, "not temperamentally suited to be president." And now Scott McClellan, the White
House press secretary, said, "Senator Kerry's losing his cool." Mark Rosco, the chairman of your committee, saying "He's unhinged and wild-eyed." Do you see a pattern?
MR. MEHLMAN: I see no pattern, Tim. The fact is this campaign is unprecedented in our praise of our opponent's service during Vietnam. The president called it noble, he called it honorable. The leadership of our campaign has done that from the beginning. That is our position. We think the important issue in this campaign is Senator Kerry's judgment as a United States senator over the past 20 years. You won't hear a lot about that from the Kerry campaign, but I think that's what the American people are concerned about.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry is releasing a new advertisement today. And it was going to be seen for the first time here on MEET THE PRESS, trying to make some of those points. I'm going to play it, give you a chance to respond and then I'm going to focus on the Kerry campaign. Let's watch.
(Videotape, Kerry-Edwards '04 ad):
SEN. KERRY: I'm John Kerry and I approve this message.
Announcer #1: American soldiers are fighting in Iraq. Families struggle to afford health care, jobs heading overseas. Instead of solutions, George Bush's campaign supports a front group attacking John Kerry's military record, attacks called smears, lies. Senator McCain calls them dishonest. Bush smeared John McCain four years ago. Now, he's doing it to John Kerry. George Bush, denounce the smear. Get back to the issues. America deserves better.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Mehlman, what do you think?
MR. MEHLMAN: I think that the ad is another example once again of the Kerry campaign saying one thing and doing another. They had a convention a few weeks ago. Twenty-six seconds of the convention talked about what Senator John Kerry had done, talked about his record. We have a president that today is working very hard to find solutions to our nation's problems and to lead our country forward. He talks about Iraq. This is a candidate that voted in favor of sending our troops into harm's way in Iraq and then voted against providing our troops with the body armor and the ammunition they needed to accomplish their mission.
They talk about the issues. One of the most important issues is how do we deal with the war on terrorism, how do we strengthen our intelligence. We pointed out that John Kerry missed three out of four intelligence hearings that were public hearings. One of the things that Tad can do today if he wants to help, talk about the issues our country faces, is to ask for the release of the private hearings so we can know. Maybe at these private hearings, Senator Kerry got important information that convinced him it was the right thing to do two years after the first attack on the World Trade Center to cut intelligence
funding by $7.5 billion, which he proposed.
So this ad is another example of a campaign that is not talking about the issues we face and then running an ad saying the president needs to talk about the issues we face. The president is. American people ought to stay tuned to New York because they're going to hear a vision for the next four years rooted in with what the president's done in the past four years, something that was noticeably absent at the convention in Boston.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Devine, this new ad today--is it an acknowledgment, coming some three weeks after the Swift Boat Truth Committee formed and began to publish their book and provide their ads, that those ads have hurt your campaign?
MR. TAD DEVINE: Well, Tim, I think they've hurt the American people. We want a debate and a campaign about the issues: You know, why is the economy of this nation failing today? Why have four million Americans lost their health care since George Bush became president? Why do we have no policy for energy independence in America? Why are we having so many problems in securing this nation and so many problems in Iraq? That's the campaign the American people deserve but, unfortunately, the Bush campaign is doing precisely what they did before. These are the same tactics they employed against John McCain in South Carolina in the 2000 primary, the same tactic--a front group, which does their dirty work for them.
It's incredible. They're describing John Kerry with the same language they used to describe John McCain's service in Vietnam. They say, "It was noble," exactly the same words--the same tactics, the same words and the same pack of lies being advanced for their cause, obviously because of the president's record of service during the time of the Vietnam War, and the vice president's record of a number of deferrals. They themselves cannot advance this argument against John Kerry. They've let others do their dirty work for them, and that's what we're seeing today.
MR. RUSSERT: The New York Daily News intervened on this yesterday with an editorial and said this:
"As for Kerry, he might ask why the Swifties' attacks have been effective. The answer is his propensity to exaggerate. Kerry exaggerated about `atrocities' in testimony before Congress. And it's looking more likely that he exaggerated, if not worse, when he claimed through the years that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve 1968. He has said the memory was `seared' into him, but it's now clear Kerry was elsewhere, at least at that time. He has yet to explain. Until he does, the Swifties will have a powerful weapon in their arsenal." And this is...
MR. DEVINE: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...so we--be clear and give you a chance to respond. Senator Kerry in '86 on the floor of the Senate: "I remember Christmas of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia. I remember what it was like to be shot at by Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians, and have the president of the United States telling the American people that I was not there, the troops were not in Cambodia. ...I have that memory which is seared--seared--in me."
In '79 in the Boston Herald: "I remember Christmas Eve of 1968 five miles across the Cambodian border being shot at by our South Vietnamese allies who were drunk and celebrating Christmas. The absurdity of almost being killed by our own allies in a country which President Nixon claimed there were no American troops was very real."
First of all, Nixon was not president...
MR. DEVINE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...in December of '68.
MR. DEVINE: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: He didn't take office until January '69. Does Senator Kerry stand by that statement that on Christmas Eve of '68 he was physically in Cambodia?
MR. DEVINE: Right. Well, his memory, Tim, is being there, around there. And I'll tell you what happened on December 25th...
MR. RUSSERT: No--being there or around there?
MR. DEVINE: No, being right at the Cambodian border, over the Cambodian border. That's what he remembers. That's his clear memory. Now, Tim...
MR. RUSSERT: Five miles across the border.
MR. DEVINE: Now, Tim, obviously, as those records demonstrate, particularly in respect to President Nixon, you know, there's some difference between some of the records. Let me tell you what happened on December 24, 1968. John Kerry started that morning 50 miles away from the Cambodian border and they headed towards Cambodia, deep behind enemy lines. First, they were ambushed once. Second, they were fired upon, again in a separate incident. And that night they encountered friendly fire. Three times in one day he was fired upon deep behind enemy lines. And that certainly was seared into his memory.
And by the way, that's three times more than the president and the vice president have ever been fired on in the course of their life. The president and the vice president, who sent our troops to Iraq without the body armor they need to live. And, listen, is the fog of war real? Obviously, it is. But as we look at this episode more and more--like, for example, today in the Chicago Tribune, when William Root, one of the editors, came forward and offered firsthand testimony of what happened on the day that John Kerry won the Silver Star, February 28, 1969, the first-person accounts of this revealed the truth. John Kerry served heroically in Vietnam.
And it is a shame today that the president of the United States and his campaign are once again resorting to the tactics that they used in the South Carolina primary. John McCain said to the president he should be ashamed of himself for what did he in South Carolina. And the president should be ashamed of himself today for what he's allowing to do. The president should denounce this ad and he should do it now.
MR. RUSSERT: The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth are not the only group who are full of negative ads. MoveOn.org has attacked President Bush. Let's watch that.
(Videotape, MoveOn.org ad):
Announcer #2: George Bush used his father to get into the National Guard, was grounded and then went missing.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, your campaign said that ad was inappropriate.
MR. DEVINE: Right. John Kerry did, moments after John McCain asked him to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: You condemn that ad?
MR. DEVINE: John Kerry absolutely said, "It is totally inappropriate. I agree with Senator McCain." And John Kerry said, moments after Senator McCain called on him to do it--he said he wanted a campaign of issues, not insults. And yet we stood here weeks later, after Senator McCain made the same challenge to President Bush, and he, President Bush, refuses to denounce the Swift Boat ad.
MR. RUSSERT: But as Mr. Mehlman pointed out, here's what happened. "Kerry label is
`inappropriate' in a new commercial...by MoveOn.org."
MR. DEVINE: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ..."Hours after that statement, the Kerry campaign organized a conference in which two high-profile ex-military supporters simply parroted the MoveOn commercial's line. Bush `scrambled and used his family's influence to get out of hearing a shot fired in anger,' said failed presidential candidate Wesley Clark. ...Added Stansfield Turner, retired admiral, Carter CIA director, `[Bush] used his family influence to get into the Air National Guard and avoid going to war.'"
It's the same message.
MR. DEVINE: First, that's factually inaccurate. The press conference occurred in the morning. The statement was issued in the afternoon. So it wasn't--you know, one occurred after the other not before. And they did occur in the same day. That's absolutely true. Let me say this...
MR. RUSSERT: So senator--let's be clear. So Senator Kerry condemns the comments made by Wesley Clark and Stansfield Turner?
MR. DEVINE: No, he doesn't.
MR. RUSSERT: Are they inappropriate comments?
MR. DEVINE: The general and the admiral, who served, have the right to speak out on this issue. Senator Kerry wants to focus on the real issues of this campaign, but when he is attacked by lies, by people like the authors, for example, of this book, who have been demonstrated to be both liars and bigots, he will stand up and he will speak out. And that's what's going on right now.
MR. RUSSERT: But do they have a right to speak out just like Turner and Clark?
MR. DEVINE: Sure, but they don't have a right to lie, Tim. And that's what's going on right now. They are lying to the American people. And we will send the truth to the American people. And let me tell you something, John Kerry is not going to allow to happen to him what these guys did to John McCain four years ago.
MR. RUSSERT: How is this going to turn out?
MR. DEVINE: This is going to turn out the way it's turned out in every Kerry campaign. He will prevail on this because the truth is very strong and his service in Vietnam is remarkable.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn--and I think a lot of the American people are wondering why is the—are the campaigns debating Vietnam and not Iraq? Mr. Mehlman, this week Congressman Doug Bereuter, from Nebraska, someone who's been on the Intelligence Committee, been on the International Agents Committee, wrote to his constituents and said this, "In a dramatic departure from the Bush administration, Congressman Bereuter says he now believes the US military assault on Iraq was unjustified. `I have reached the conclusion, retrospectively, now that the inadequate intelligence and faulty conclusions are being revealed that, all things being considered, it was a mistake to launch that military action.' That's especially true in view of the fact that the attack was initiated `without a broad and engaged international coalition.' `Knowing now what I know about the reliance on the tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence used to conclude that Saddam maintained a substantial weapons of mass destruction arsenal, I believe that launching the pre-emptive military action was not justified.' As a result of the war, `our country's reputation around the world has never been lower and our alliances are weakened.'"
MR. MEHLMAN: I disagree, respectfully, with what the congressman says, and frankly, so does Senator Kerry. Senator Kerry, as you saw last week, reaffirmed that he felt going into Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do. He said that after spending a year winning the Democratic nomination as the "anti-war candidate," which is what he called himself.
But, Tim, here's the bottom line. The world is safer. America is safer because Saddam Hussein was removed from power. And the result of the effort that we've made in the Iraq War has been to make sure that going forward, we're safer as we face the threat of terrorism around the world.
And when you opened, you hit the nail on the head. From our perspective it ought not be about Vietnam. We have 73 days before the election. We ought to be, over the next 73 days, talking about how we make America more safe over the next four years and what we've done over the last four years to make America safer. We ought to talk about whether we think that we grow more jobs in this economy by keeping taxes low, which is what the president wants to do, or raising taxes, which is what John Kerry would do. We ought to talk about if we need more intelligence, which the president supports, or if Senator Kerry's approach, which is to cut intelligence and weaken the Patriot Act are the right things to do.
MR. RUSSERT: Another Republican, Chris Shays of Connecticut says "I think President Bush has to be willing to be very candid about the mistakes he made in Iraq, disbanding the Army, the military, the police, ...not being more culturally sensitive."
Will the president at the Republican convention, acknowledge mistakes in Iraq and lay out a specific plan for the return of American troops?
MR. MEHLMAN: The president at the Republican convention will talk with specificity about how we keep America safe, and that includes victory in Iraq. And he will also talk about how we keep prosperity going forward in this country, which includes tax relief, which includes regulatory relief, it includes fewer lawsuits. But one of the things that you'll see at the Republican convention that you did not see at the Democratic convention is a focus on what we will do based on what we have done. There was a 20 years missing at the Republican convention, the missing years. And those years were John Kerry's
service in the United States Senate. You heard nothing about his propensity to raise taxes, nothing about his proposals to cut defense, nothing about his proposals to slash intelligence funding and the intelligence hearings he missed. George Bush will talk about the leadership he's given this country and what he intends to do over the next four years.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Devine, isn't part of the problem this: "Knowing then what he knows today about the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,"--John--"Kerry still would have voted to authorize the war and `in all probability' would have launched a military attack to oust Hussein by now if he were president, Kerry national security adviser Jamie Rubin said in an interview."
Is there any difference in position?
MR. DEVINE: Tim, John Kerry does not regret his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq. What he deeply regrets is what the president did with that authority. The president rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. And today American troops and American taxpayers are baring the burden almost alone because of the president's mistakes.
MR. RUSSERT: But Jamie Rubin said in all probability John Kerry would have launched a military attack.
MR. DEVINE: Tim, again, the authorization was the right vote, it was the right choice. In fact, in 1998, John Kerry supported regime change in Iraq. And the fact of the matter is that this president said he would go to the United Nations, exhaust every remedy, build a broad international coalition. He failed to do so and the result of that president's failures is what's going on today in Iraq. It is a huge problem being paid for by American taxpayers and American troops.
MR. RUSSERT: But why launch an attack if there were no weapons of mass destruction?
MR. DEVINE: Well, Tim, listen, it's a--you know, hypothetical is always impossible to deal with. I mean, the fact--this is the reality. We can deal with the reality. Saddam Hussein needed to be held accountable. There was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. Every step along the way—once the president got that authority, he chose the wrong course. And today, as a result of that choice, of the president and the vice president, the decisions they made, American taxpayers are footing a bill of $200 billion in Iraq. John Kerry has said there is a way to win the war on terror, to be tough and smart to do it, and that we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down here in America.
MR. RUSSERT: But if he voted to authorize the war and his foreign policy advisers said he would have launched an attack on Saddam, what's the difference between John Kerry's position and George Bush's?
MR. DEVINE: Well, listen, the president--the difference is the president made mistake after mistake in this country and our troops are paying for it today. John Kerry would never have pursued the course of action that the president of the United States has pursued. John Kerry would have built a true international coalition to shoulder the burden with America. He would have put it together the right way. Unfortunately, the president has cost this nation with his costly mistakes and we're paying the price every day.
MR. RUSSERT: Who would have been in the coalition that was not?
MR. DEVINE: Tim, I think a number of countries, potentially, could have been in that coalition. But that's unknowable.
MR. RUSSERT: France and Germany?
MR. DEVINE: What we know, Tim--all we can know is this, that John Kerry would have kept his word and not broken it. The president promised to build a true, broad international coalition and he failed to do so. And the result of that failure is the cost being paid by America today.
MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry told NPR two weeks ago that he would "significantly reduce American forces in Iraq" within a year.
MR. DEVINE: That was his goal.
MR. RUSSERT: Can he do it?
MR. DEVINE: Well, I think if we build the right international coalition we can. Let me tell you how, Tim, because he's outlined the steps. First, we have to stop doing what the president is doing, and reserving all of the contracts in Iraq for companies like Halliburton, the vice president's old firm. In fact, what the president wants is a blank check in Iraq so that they can reward their friends. We need to stop that practice. We need to let other countries come in and participate in the rebuilding of Iraq and the rebuilding of the oil industry in Iraq. We also need to name a U.N. high commissioner in Iraq so that the United States is no longer seen as the sole center of real authority in that country. Until we take real steps and have a regional press conference to ensure the security of the borders of Iraq and do this the right way, Iraq will continue to be the problem it is today.
MR. RUSSERT: You say a goal. Kerry said, "Absolutely we can reduce the numbers." Is it a goal or a promise?
MR. DEVINE: Right. It is something he can do if we have the exercise of presidential leadership. One of the great failures today in Iraq is the lack of the exercise of presidential leadership. This president has done nothing.
MR. RUSSERT: Is it a goal or a promise?
MR. DEVINE: He has stood on the sidelines. If he can--it's something he feels he can do. And I think the exercise of presidential leadership, the depth of experience that he would bring to this, 19 years experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, his understanding of the world, which the president, obviously, lacks, would allow him to approach this in the right way, to build an alliance of nations. John Kerry's goal is for America to lead strong alliances of nations in the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there a difference between the Bush and Kerry position on Iraq?
MR. MEHLMAN: There is, Tim. They agree on some things. They both agreed about the threat. They both agreed about authorization for war. And as Jamie Rubin pointed out, they both agreed about sending our troops to war.
Here's the difference. Once our troops were at battle, George Bush believed they needed all the equipment, all the support and all the body armor they needed to be successful. And today George Bush believes we'll do whatever it takes to finish the job. For John Kerry, supporting those troops was not the bottom line. Politics was, which is why he took a position which two weeks before he himself said would be irresponsible, which was voting against the body armor, against the ammunition, against the equipment that our troops need. And then after a long period of saying, "Our troops need to stay in to
finish the job," in a political speech, he said, "Try to get them back there in six months." That's the worst thing you can say to try to get them back after six months. You know why? That's a signal to the enemy. It's a signal to the terrorists to wait six months and one day and to our allies who are making a big sacrifice, more than 30 nations today in Iraq. It's a signal to them that we're not willing to stay the course if there's a political interest at stake.
There is a difference between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Bottom line for George Bush is victory in Iraq. Bottom line for John Kerry is victory in politics.
MR. DEVINE: Ken, there's only one commander in chief in the United States to send our troops to Iraq without the body armor they need to survive and his name is George W. Bush. And if he had spent one day on the front line of a war, he never would have done it.
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, another example of unfortunately the Kerry campaign approach which is to time after time after time bring up--divide Americans over the issue of Vietnam. We honor John Kerry's service. And you heard this morning...
MR. DEVINE: I didn't say Vietnam.
MR. MEHLMAN: ...attack the president three different times about his service. We shouldn't be talking about Vietnam. We should be talking about the issues America faces going forward. And the Kerry campaign once again this morning has displayed a propensity to say one thing and do another.
MR. RUSSERT: Is the president going to the Olympics?
MR. MEHLMAN: The president is not.
MR. RUSSERT: Guaranteed?
MR. MEHLMAN: I'm the president's campaign manager not his scheduler. But I know of no plans to go to the Olympics.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi soccer team...
MR. DEVINE: Kerry's not going either.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iraqi soccer team and the Olympic Committee have both expressed misgivings about the president using the Iraqi soccer team in his political advertising. Is that appropriate to, in their words, "exploit them" by using them politically?
MR. MEHLMAN: We're very proud of that ad. The ad points out something that all Americans need be proud of. In the 1972 Olympics, there were 40 democracies in the world. Today, there are 140 and there are two new democracies over the past few years that have come forward--one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. That's something all Americans should be proud of. It's not about politics. It's about the fact that our nation has been successful in helping spread freedom all around the world.
MR. RUSSERT: Is the president going to debate John Kerry three times?
MR. MEHLMAN: The president will debate John Kerry. We look forward to the debates. There's a big difference on the issues, and we look forward to discussing it.
MR. RUSSERT: There are three debates scheduled by the commission. Will he appear in all of them?
MR. MEHLMAN: The president looks forward to debating. We look forward to debating the debates after the Republican convention, and there's no doubt about the fact that the American people are going to understand the clear differences between the president and Senator Kerry on November 2 when they vote.
MR. RUSSERT: What are the next 72 days going to look like?
MR. DEVINE: I think it's going to be intense. I think they're intense because the issues are so big. We're facing an economy in deep trouble. We've facing a very difficult situation in Iraq. I think the American people want a real debate on the issues. I agree with Ken on that. We are prepared to offer that debate. John Kerry and John Edwards have a real plan to make this nation stronger at home and respected again in the world, and we're prepared to debate that. I hope they'll join us.
MR. RUSSERT: You win by how many points?
MR. DEVINE: Well, more votes this time than the popular votes, and more votes in the Electoral College. We're going get them both this time.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you win both the popular and Electoral College?
MR. MEHLMAN: Happily we do.
MR. RUSSERT: And how many points do you win by?
MR. MEHLMAN: I don't predict on that.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Tad Devine, Ken Mehlman, thank you very much.
Coming next, there are 34 Senate races this fall--the Republicans defending 15 seats, the Republicans defending 19. Both parties battling control of the U.S. Senate. Democrat Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Republican George Allen of Virginia--the campaign committee chairs square off next on the Senate landscape.
MR. RUSSERT: The battle for control of the U.S. Senate. Senators Corzine and Allen after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we're back. Senators Allen, Corzine, welcome.
SEN. JON CORZINE, (D-NJ): Good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Allen, let me start with you. I noticed this in the Roll Call paper: "...the Republican media consulting firm Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm ...is tasked with handling the National Republican Senatorial Committee's independent expenditure [advertising] campaign."
And then this in The New York Times: "Another participant [in the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads] is the political advertising agency that made the group's television commercial: Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, based in Alexandria, Virginia."
Are you all one big, happy family?
SEN. GEORGE ALLEN, (R-VA): Oh, there's Republicans--there are many Republicans all over the country. And, obviously, the Democrats have their folks. Sure, those folks are good people and they can run ads. Our ads, of course, as far as our Senate committee ads, will be done by various independent groups, and obviously the campaigns make their own decisions on it.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you agree with Senator McCain that the ad is inappropriate and should be taken down?
SEN. ALLEN: My view is that these restrictions on freedom, which I opposed, were necessarily going to cause this sort of independent expenditures. I'd like to see campaigns responsible for the ads and the messages they're sending out. I was subjected to those when I was running in 2000. I think the focus, the most probative indication of what Senator Kerry would do as a president, is not the four months he served in Vietnam but, rather, the 20 years that he served in the U.S. Senate, voting the increased taxes
28 times, cutting defense budgets, not supporting the troops in Iraq last year and a very elitist Massachusetts liberal record. That, to me, is what the focus should be on. And whenever I'm talking about our candidates--and our Senate candidates are very proud to run with President Bush--I talk about his record in the Senate, not four months in Vietnam, which I think is honorable. And, in fact, the president has commended his service in Vietnam.
MR. RUSSERT: But Senator McCain said those ads are dishonorable and should be taken down. Should they be taken down?
SEN. ALLEN: I'd like to see all of them taken down. I'd like to see all of them taken down. Just to tell one group of people who care to express themselves, even if I don't think it's probative or relevant, is unfair when you have $63 million being run blasting President Bush, and one of them has him supposedly poisoning pregnant women. That's how outrageous some of these ads are.
MR. RUSSERT: Are the swift boat ads hurting Senator Kerry?
SEN. CORZINE: I think they've had some impact. We've seen changes in the veteran numbers that polls have reported. So I think it obviously has had some impact. And since it's dominating the news, I think we all would prefer that we're talking about health care and how we create jobs and how we protect the American people at home and make sure that we have serious plans on organizing the succession and stability of Iraq. I think those are the things the American people would like to hear people talking about. And I think it's a diversion that is not good for the American public. But has it hurt a bit? Maybe at the margin.
MR. RUSSERT: But the Democrats spend millions of dollars, tens of millions of dollars, on the same kind of "independent advertising."
SEN. CORZINE: Well, I don't think anybody would argue that this independent advertising is such a great deal. You know, it's a shortcoming in the campaign finance reform that we put down. People should have the right to express themselves. But, you know, as soon as we did that, created that loophole, that's where the money's gone. And that's the way the law writes--as rule is written--and it's going to continue that way, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator...
SEN. ALLEN: But that's exactly what you have happen when you have these restrictions on freedom. This new law restricts contributions to individuals, restricts contributions to both our committees and to political parties. And so the conduit for people who care to express themselves on issues for or against candidates end up being in these independent groups that are outside of the control of the parties or the candidates' campaigns. I like the way we do things in Virginia. It's based on freedom and disclosure,
and that's the way it ought to be. But we're...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, if you allowed money to be given to any campaign, any candidate, you could still have these independent committees.
SEN. ALLEN: You could, but you know what? They would...
SEN. CORZINE: As a matter of fact, we had them, to be honest with you.
SEN. ALLEN: Just you look at--well, of course, that was under the previous federal law, which also was restrictive and not based on freedom and disclosure. If you have the money going to candidates, and if President Bush were running those ads or John Kerry was running the ads saying that President Bush wants to poison pregnant women and all the rest, people would say, "What outrageous nonsense you're running," and they'd be held accountable and responsible for the ads they produced.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Corzine, as we all well know, you're from New Jersey, and your governor...
SEN. CORZINE: It's a great state.
MR. RUSSERT: Your governor has announced he is resigning because of an alleged homosexual affair with a state employee.
SEN. CORZINE: I don't think that's wise to resign, by the way. The--not the gay American issue; I think he's resigning because of impropriety of having someone on the payroll in a position that—really not qualified for.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, I said state employee. Yeah.
SEN. CORZINE: Yeah. Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: The newspapers in New Jersey are quite upset with him, that even though he announced his resignation it doesn't take effect until November 15. This is how The Bergen Record said it. "Fourteen months is too long to have acting governor not elected by the people. The best interests of New Jersey--and its residents--must take precedence over the narrow interest of the Democratic Party and its leaders. Mr. McGreevey should resign immediately and allow a special election to take place this November."
Why shouldn't the people of New Jersey have a right to pick their next governor and not have Jim McGreevey stay in office for two months and then hand off the governorship to the Democratic president of the State Senate?
SEN. CORZINE: Well, Tim, first of all, you know I have a bit of a vested interest in this, so I believe that the primary issue that we ought to be looking at is what is in the best interest of state of New Jersey and the people we try to serve. I don't think the issue ought to be about individuals or parties. By the way, a number of Democrats are asking for an early election. This is not a Republican-Democrat thing. There are a lot of people that believe we ought to go to a special election, which has to be announced before September 2.
I believe that as Governor McGreevey argued in the paper today, there's an argument on both sides of this, about an orderly transition, fulfilling the obligations and the policies he's put in place. I'm not going to opine personally, but I do think that there's a lot to be said about an electoral process, picking a governor, as opposed to having it be this constitutional format we have. But that is the constitution in New Jersey.
MR. RUSSERT: Orderly transition? He's been paralyzed by this scandal, and people acknowledge that on both sides of the aisle, why can't the people of New...
SEN. CORZINE: Tim, I'm not sure that that's the case. You know, he has the ability to actually clean up some of the money politics that has gone on in New Jersey, sort of "pay to play," they use the term. And the fact is he could issue executive orders with the freedom of not having to worry about what the politics of it are now, that he might not have done when he was running for re-election in 2005. I could make that case. I can make the case that he is going to be a lot stricter in how we deal with sprawl, how we implement our environmental regulations in the country--in the state. I think there are a lot of good things he could do if he chooses to truly be independent. That's the problem with politics in New Jersey. It's actually doubly overemphasized, pay to play, that we see too often here in Washington.
MR. RUSSERT: If Governor McGreevey changed his mind and said, "All right. I'm resigning immediately. There will be a special election," would you run for governor?
SEN. CORZINE: I suggested directly to the governor I was prepared to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you urge him to resign immediately?
SEN. CORZINE: I think that it would have been inappropriate for me to tell him to resign. I think he needs to examine what's in the best interest of the state. I think secondarily he should look at what is at issue for his family. And I think anyone can measure those things and balance them out and come out with different conclusions reasonably. I might have taken a different decision if I were in that position. I respect the fact that he's made that decision. I accept it, and I think we ought to get on with the constitution...
MR. RUSSERT: It sounds like you wish, though, he had resigned immediately and allowed a special election.
SEN. CORZINE: No, Tim, I'm not saying--I think that he needed to examine what he thinks is in the best interest of the state. He needed to look at the implications for his family. He did that. I accept his decision.
MR. RUSSERT: By your willingness to run for governor now, if it became available, what does that say about your commitment to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate?
SEN. CORZINE: Tim, if you check my travel schedule and where I am seven days a week, trying to both raise the resources and make sure the organization's in place and be helpful to our candidates, you'll know I'm absolutely committed, and I am. I do think there's a crisis of confidence with regard to government in the state of New Jersey, and if there is an ability to try to bring some orderliness to it, some independence and a commitment to good government and people think that I'm the one that would best do that, then I'm prepared to do that because I'm a little bit sick and tired of picking up the
newspaper and seeing New Jersey not recognized for what its good people are about.
MR. RUSSERT: If there's an opening 15 months from now in the governorship, would you run?
SEN. CORZINE: That's speculative. I'm going to look at it. I love the United States Senate. There's a lot of great things we're going to work on here, like with Rick Santorum, and all kinds of things on kids' accounts. I love the United States Senate. But there is a need to make sure that we have credible, honest government in New Jersey, and I'm committed to making sure that happens.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Allen, how will this scandal affect the presidential race in New Jersey?
SEN. ALLEN: Well, I think it is a disgrace for the people in New Jersey. A governor that is a lame duck in this sort of a situation cannot govern, cannot lead people even in his own party. It is bound to be harmful to the Democrats in New Jersey. I don't know how it will play out politically. And as far as the Senate races are concerned, I'm glad to see that Senator Corzine has diverted attention, and I think it'll make it more difficult for him to raise money...
SEN. CORZINE: Dream on, George.
SEN. ALLEN: ...in these campaigns. And I also will say that--oh, I think that if I were saying, "Gosh, I might be running for something else," that would have an impact on my credibility in trying to raise funds for it and, to the argument that somehow...
SEN. CORZINE: Facts will speak.
SEN. ALLEN: ...which I think--you all talk about taking over the Senate in a majority. Well, if it were so great to be in a Senate majority, you wouldn't be looking at another job. But regardless, that's New Jersey, and we're happy to be moving forward...
SEN. CORZINE: He's got his game face on today.
SEN. ALLEN: ...with our very positive campaign across America.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to go through the Senate races. We're going to take quick break. There are real battleground races. I want to get your assessment of each of them. We'll be right back after this.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Allen, let's look at some races. Illinois--let's look. Barack Obama; Alan Keyes was imported from Maryland to run in Illinois. A poll out today by the Tribune, 65-to-24 Obama over Keyes. Mr. Keyes has staked out this position. He "proposed that for a generation or two, African-Americans of slave heritage should be exempted from federal taxes because slavery `was an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment.'"
Do you support that?
SEN. ALLEN: I do believe that slavery was the greatest blight, negative in the history of this country. In campaigns--as chairman, you watch campaigns. Candidates take positions, some of which I agree with, some of which I do not agree with. But, ultimately, it's the candidate's decision to take which position they would want.
MR. RUSSERT: Was it wrong to go to Maryland and select Alan Keyes and force him to run in Illinois, propping him up, in effect, almost as a token black candidate against a Democratic candidate?
SEN. ALLEN: Illinois has just been one of--a race that has had all sorts of twists and turns from custody papers and all the rest. The people of Illinois had nominated Jack Ryan. All of that feeding frenzy occurred. He dropped out. This was an unusual situation. The Illinois State Central Committee was the one who had to select and recruit the candidate. It was their decision. They had, actually, until the end of August to make a decision as to who the replacement would be. The Illinois Republican Central Committee selected Alan Keyes. He's there. He's going to be an articulate voice for conservative views. The Democrats feel--you can have that poll. But Barack Obama's running ads in downstate Illinois. And it'll be a good debate, it'll be an interesting debate that'll get a lot of attention. But we...
MR. RUSSERT: But it's a lost seat for the Republicans?
SEN. ALLEN: Well, we knew from the beginning that the land of Lincoln was going to be a tough state for us this year. We have other great states for us such as Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, South Dakota and others that I think that we're going to do very, very well in.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's look at South Dakota: the Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, against former Congressman John Thune. Tom Daschle, leader of the Democrats, in a very close race, Senator Corzine.
SEN. CORZINE: He's got a 59 percent approval rating. He's 7 or 8 points ahead of where Tim Johnson was against the same candidate at the same time in the 2002 election. Tom Daschle is known by everybody in South Dakota as somebody who cares about their interests and fights for them. In fact, often I think some of the actions or the votes and the leadership that he shows on farm issues, which are certainly South Dakota's interests, are not in New Jersey's interests. I think this is a man who represents the people of South Dakota. He has very effectively, and I think that South Dakota appreciates having a national voice, a leadership voice, in the United States Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Allen, there used to be some collegiality; when there was a leader of the other party running for re-election, there was not a direct attack against him. This time Senator Bill Frist, the Republican leader, went to South Dakota to campaign against Tom Daschle. The Bush White House has invested everything to topple Tom Daschle. Why?
SEN. ALLEN: Because he's the chief obstructionist on so many issues, whether it's tax cuts, whether it's energy policy, whether it is fair consideration of judges. The people of South Dakota, yeah, they do know Tom Daschle. And he has spent $9 million--$9 million--since January of last year and can't break 50 percent. It's about 48-45 right now. And for $9 million, for a state like Virginia, that would be like $90 million being spent and can't break 50. John Thune is a positive, constructive leader who will represent South Dakota values. Tim Johnson's not the same as Tom Daschle. Tom Daschle has to carry the water for Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy and all of these views that are so contrary to the values of the people of South Dakota. The fact that Bill Frist went into South Dakota shows that a leader is vulnerable. When in history has a leader of any party ever been so vulnerable? You didn't see folks going in against Bob Dole because no one's going to beat Bob Dole.
MR. RUSSERT: And Tom Daschle and John Thune will debate right here on MEET THE PRESS on September 19. Let me run though and show our viewers some of the close races and come back and talk about them. Oklahoma, Democratic Congressman Brad Carson against former Congressman Tom Coburn. In Colorado, we have state Attorney General Ken Salazar, the Democrat, against Republican Pete Coors from the beer empire. In South Carolina, the education superintendent Inez Tenenbaum against Congressman Jim DeMint. In Alaska, former Governor Tony Knowles against Senator Lisa Murkowski whose father is the governor. In North Carolina, former senator, Clinton chief of staff Erskin Bowles against Congressman Richard Burr.
Senator Allen, how do you see those races?
SEN. ALLEN: I see them doing very well. Let me just kind of go through them in order. South Carolina, Jim DeMint's far ahead, doing very well in South Carolina. He came through an intra-squad scrimmage stronger, better organized. The party's in great shape. You didn't have Georgia on there where Johnny Isakson came through and is doing very well. North Carolina, it's going to be a tight race. Richard Burr is not as well known as Erskin Bowles because Erskin spent $6 million of his own money losing to Elizabeth Dole. Oklahoma...
MR. RUSSERT: Why is that so close? Oklahoma, a Republican state...
SEN. ALLEN: George Bush...
MR. RUSSERT: ...and the Democrats are nip-and-tuck.
SEN. ALLEN: Which state now? Oklahoma.
MR. RUSSERT: Oklahoma.
SEN. ALLEN: Oklahoma. Dr. Coburn's in the lead. Even the Democrat polls have him in the lead. He comes from eastern Oklahoma, which is a Democrat area, which is where the Democrat nominee is from. He's splitting that area and doing well in the west in Oklahoma City area. So we're in great shape in Oklahoma.
Pete Coors is our silver bullet in Colorado. The party's reunified after a very contentious intra-squad scrimmage there as well. Louisiana will probably go into overtime because you need to get 50 percent in the runoff, but our candidate is far ahead and all the Democrats are elbowing for second. Alaska, they have their primary next week. In that state, ANWAR, big issue. That's jobs. It's energy security for us in Ted Stevens, Lisa Murkowski. It is a strong state for us by the way. President Bush is going South Dakota big, Oklahoma big, South Carolina, Georgia and Alaska. And by the way, our candidates like running on a ticket with President Bush. They're scurry away. In North Carolina, Kerry came down there, somehow the Democrat governor had to be somewhere else then.
MR. RUSSERT: Equal time. Equal time.
SEN. CORZINE: Tim, first of all, the idea that we're talking about that set of states vs. where people would have thought we would have been a year ago is a remarkable statement about both equality of candidates, their ability to raise funds and carry their message and their message to the people of those particular states. All of those folks fit those states.
And by the way, almost in every instance each one of those have won in a statewide race. Ken Salazar, Tony Knowles, Inez Tenenbaum, the people already know them. They've already confirmed them. Now are they going to be tough races? Absolutely. Both of us are going to be walking on pins and needles November 2, but those are races that are all going to be close. They're all in the margin of error, and a number of them we're up in. And we're very close on the others. I think we're going to win and we have to win four of those seats to make sure we take back the Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: But bottom line, there are 48 Democratic senators now. How many will there be in January of '05?
SEN. CORZINE: Fifty-one.
MR. RUSSERT: You have 51 Republicans now. How many in January '05?
SEN. ALLEN: Well, we're up by an extra point now and I think we'll be up by at least a field goal afterwards because I think they're quality candidates with messages and values that resonate with the people in those states and I think they want to see pos...
MR. RUSSERT: So what's your number?
SEN. ALLEN: Our number, 54.
MR. RUSSERT: Fifty-four. You say 51.
SEN. CORZINE: I'd like to take a little bet on that one. You need to...
SEN. ALLEN: No, you ought to look at the reality.
MR. RUSSERT: How about a wager for the Boys and Girls Club?
SEN. ALLEN: Fine.
MR. RUSSERT: All right. We'll settle the amount after the show. We're saving the tape.
SEN. CORZINE: After the show.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Corzine, Senator Allen. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: And as well as South Dakota, we will have candidates for the Senate from Colorado, Oklahoma and South Carolina also debating right here on MEET THE PRESS.
That's all for today. And stay with NBC for continuing coverage of the Olympic Games from Athens, Greece.
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If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.