MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the Democrats win governorships in Virginia and New Jersey. As the president's approval ratings continue to decline, he lashes out at Democrats about the Iraq War.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: It is deeply irresponsible to rewrite the history of how that war began.
MR. RUSSERT: What does all this mean for next year's congressional elections? And does either party have any solutions to the big issues, like the war in Iraq, the solvency of Social Security, or the burden of budget deficits? With us, an exclusive interview with the chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman, and the chairman of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean. Republican Mehlman, Democrat Dean, only on MEET THE PRESS.
But first, this was the scene in Amman, Jordan, on Wednesday, after suicide bombers triggered bombs inside three hotels, killing 57 and injuring 96. Here with us this morning is King Abdullah of Jordan. King Abdullah, can you tell us whether anyone has been apprehended or arrested because of these bombings?
KING ABDULLAH II: Yes. Good morning, Tim. Hours ago, the security services managed to apprehend the fourth suicide bomber, the female bomber that was identified by the Zarqawi group. She went in with her husband, into the Radisson SAS. We believe that her suicide belt, her device did not work. She left the hotel, and she's in custody as we speak.
MR. RUSSERT: Is she Iraqi?
KING ABDULLAH II: She is Iraqi, yes. All the four bombers are Iraqis.
MR. RUSSERT: Was she apprehended in downtown Amman or whereabouts?
KING ABDULLAH II: She was apprehended near the city. I can't go into the details now, because we're following other leads. We want to know, obviously, if this leads us to other people that were behind the crime.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, this appeared on the Web site of al-Qaeda in Iraq shortly after the bombing: "After studying and observing the targets, the places of execution were chosen to be some hotels, which the tyrant of Jordan has turned into a back yard for the enemies of Islam, such as the Jews and the Crusaders."
And as you well know , King Abdullah, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq is this man, Abu Musab Zarqawi. Is he now public enemy number one in Jordan?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, I believe with Jordanians, he is, but I'd like to point out that those that know Jordan, the hotels, especially the Days Inn is a favorite place for Jordanians and Iraqis, these suicide bombers actually went and aimed at Jordanian targets. The Radisson Hotel was a Jordanian wedding with Jordanians and Palestinians, where innocent people were killed. So this was nothing to do with the West. This targeted Jordanian citizens, innocent men, women and children.
MR. RUSSERT: Many have commented on the tightrope that you have to walk, as trying to rule your country, and yet, still be understanding of the attitudes of your people. The Pew Research Foundation has been doing some surveys of the Middle East. Back in July of 2005, this is what they found. And I'll read it to you and to our viewers.
"The polling finds that in most majority-Muslim countries surveyed, support for suicide bombings and other acts of violence in defense of Islam has declined significantly. In Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia, 15% or fewer now say actions are justifiable. In Pakistan, only one in four now take that view (25%), a drop from 41% in March of 2004. ... A notable exception to this trend is Jordan, where a majority (57%) now says suicide bombings and other violent actions are justifiable in defense of Islam."
And that's gone up from 2002. Are you out of sync with your people?
KING ABDULLAH II: Not at all. Again, I do question the poll, because there are many other polls that show completely the opposite. The Zogby Poll that was taken at the same times showed that 80 percent of Jordan were against violence, against suicide bombing, against terrorist acts perpetrated against innocent civilians.
MR. RUSSERT: But it is interesting, Your Highness, when you read these numbers. For example, Islamic extremism a threat to your country, 87 percent of Jordanians say no, it's not. And when asked whether or not Osama bin Laden would do the right thing as a world leader, it's now up to 60 percent of Jordanian thinks that Osama bin Laden would do the right thing. Compare that to their attitudes towards the United States, 80 percent of Jordanians say they have an unfavorable attitude towards the United States. How big of a problem...
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, Tim, I mean, I can show you many other polls that were done in the West that say completely the opposite figures. And if you take a look at the Jordanian street, where, you know, I think the majority of the country poured out in to denounce what Zarqawi and al-Qaeda did, calling for Zarqawi to be brought to justice, for him to burn in hell. You need to see our streets, understand that, you know, it depends on what poll you're looking at. But I would not go with the poll that you just mentioned.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were last on the program in May of 2002, I asked you about the impending Iraq War, which began 10 months after your appearance, and this is what you said.
(Videotape, May 12, 2002):
KING ABDULLAH II: Moving on Iraq at this stage would be tremendous instability in the area and one that I don't think the Arab world could handle.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Iraq War has brought instability to the region?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, we are suffering from the effects, but we are all hoping I think as everybody in the world that at the end of the day, Iraq will be part of the international community. Iraq has a tremendous historical, ancient impact in our part of the world. It is the cradle of civilization, as far as many of us are concerned. So Iraq needs to succeed, needs to be part of the international community if the Middle East is going to be able to move forward.
MR. RUSSERT: Was the war a mistake?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, what's happened has happened. We're looking to the future now. The challenge is for the Iraqi people, the election coming at the end of the year. We hope that the overwhelming majority of moderate Shia, Sunni and Kurds go to the polls, have a strong showing in the polls so that at the end of the day, the future government of Iraq is one that reflects the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. And that is the building block that I think will take us to the future.
MR. RUSSERT: As you well know, Ahmad Chalabi has become the deputy prime minister of Iraq. He's been in Washington the last few days, will spend a week here, meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. He was convicted in absentia for bank fraud and embezzlement in your country. How comfortable are you with someone like Chalabi being such a critical leader in Iraq?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, obviously we do have an issue with Chalabi. This is something that we are in discussions with, with the Iraqi government. He is a member of the Iraqi government, so government to government, we hope that we can find a resolution to this problem and all I can say is we're in negotiations. And hopefully, there will be an outcome that will be positive to both the Jordanians and the Iraqis.
MR. RUSSERT: Finally, after September 11, 2001, the United States went into Afghanistan and routed out the Taliban, who had been being harbored by al-Qaeda. Will Jordan retaliate directly, militarily against al-Qaeda?
KING ABDULLAH II: Well, believe me, the atmosphere in Jordan, I think that all of Jordanians are united in that they want the people who are responsible for these crimes to be brought to justice. And if we know where they are, even if it's beyond the borders of Jordan, we will give it the best shot possible to bring these people to justice.
MR. RUSSERT: King Abdullah of Jordan, we thank you very much for joining us and sharing your views.
KING ABDULLAH II: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, let's turn to domestic politics. We're joined by the chairman of the Republican Party, Ken Mehlman.
Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS
MR. KEN MEHLMAN: Good morning, Tim. Thanks a lot.
MR. RUSSERT: On Friday, the president of the United States chose Veterans Day to be very critical of the Democrats who had been critical of his policy on the Iraq War. Let's listen for a bit.
(Videotape, November 11, 2005):
PRES. BUSH: These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will.
MR. RUSSERT: "Send wrong signals to the enemy." Is the president saying the Democrats are giving aid and comfort to the enemy?
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, here's the issue. What the president said very clearly in his remarks is that people who oppose the war have that right, that our country is better because we have dissent and discussion. But what happened in this case was a whole series of Democrats, the majority of the Democrats in the Senate, 80 Democrats in the House, looked at the exact same evidence the president looked at, leading up to the Iraq War and came to the exact same conclusion. And the conclusion was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein was a threat. And in a post-9/11 world, it would be irresponsible to leave him in power.
Now, that the politics have changed, those Democrats are trying to rewrite history. It's fine to dissent, it's fine to object. But to make politics your bottom line in this critical war on terror, in the central front in the war on terror, sends the wrong message to our troops, to the Iraqi people and to the terrorists. And the message is that their attacks can change our policies which has been exactly the wrong message that's been sent too often over the last 20 years.
MR. RUSSERT: So are you suggesting the Democrats who voted in favor of the war and who are now opposing the president's policies are unpatriotic?
MR. MEHLMAN: Not at all. What I'm suggesting is for people to say that they looked at the exact same evidence he looked at. Look at their language, look what they said. At the same time, they said he has WMDs. John Edwards, a member of the Intelligence Committee, said week after week, day after day, "I looked at the evidence and I believe he has WMD."
MR. RUSSERT: Then why...
MR. MEHLMAN: Look at what Carl Levin said. Carl Levin said, "Until we remove Saddam Hussein from power, we will not be successful in the war on terror." Now, they're trying to rewrite history. That's the issue. The issue is not disagreeing. The issue is trying to whitewash what they said before, and the issue fundamentally is playing politics with the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's go through this carefully, because The Washington Post has done a fact-check analysis of some of the president's comments. "President Bush and his national security adviser have answered critics of the Iraq War in recent days with a two-pronged argument: that Congress saw the same intelligence the administration did before the war and that independent commissions have determined that the administration did not misrepresent the intelligence. Neither assertion is wholly accurate. ...Bush and his aides had access to much more voluminous intelligence information than did lawmakers who were depending on the administration to provide the material. And the commission cited by officials, though concluding that the administration did not pressure intelligence analysts to change their conclusions, were not authorized to determine whether the administration exaggerated or distorted those conclusions."
So the president had more intelligence, more data, more information than a senator or a congressman.
MR. MEHLMAN: In fact, Tim, the Robb-Lieberman commission--excuse me, the Robb-Silverman Commission looked at this and they found something very different. The president got briefed every single day. The members of Congress had access to information. The information was basically the same, except what the Robb-Silverman Commission found was that the information the president got was more dramatic. In other words, the argument here says that if somehow they saw what he saw, they wouldn't have believed the case for war was made. In fact what the commission who looked at it found out was the opposite was true, which was that the evidence for war was more dramatically presented to the president than it was to Congress.
But it's not just this information. The fact is since 1998, this administration and the previous administration, had the same policy. It was regime change in Iraq. The U.N. looked at it, the Germans looked at it, the French looked at it, the Clinton administration looked at it, the Bush administration looked at it, members of Congress looked at it. They all agreed that this guy has WMD and he has a desire to have a more aggressive program going forward and they all concluded he needed to be removed. And there was an intelligence failure.
But here's the question. The question is, how do you respond to that? Do you respond to it by correcting the intelligence, or do you do what the Democrats are doing, which is laying politics with it. And I think the president's point was at this critical moment in this critical war, with this central front in the war on terror, playing politics is not what we should be doing.
MR. RUSSERT: The Robb-Silverman Commission did not look into the use of intelligence by policy- makers. But I want to go through it because this is very important to the country and obviously to the president. And that is, the emphasis that he had on some of the things that he presented to the public. Here's t he president, September 12, 2002, speaking to the United Nations.
(Videotape, September 12, 2002):
PRES. BUSH: Iraq has made several attempts to buy high-strength aluminum tubes used to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon.
MR. RUSSERT: And prior to that, he had said that we had gotten uranium from Africa. And now both times, Mohamed ElBaradei, who was head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the president was wrong. ElBaradei has now won the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time, ElBaradei's saying no, no, the president's wrong. And ElBaradei said this exactly, "After three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq..." And so, I asked Vice President Cheney about what ElBaradei had said. And this is what the vice president said in March.
(Videotape, March 16, 2003):
VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: And we believe he has in fact reconstituted nuclear weapons. I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, the vice president came on six months later and said, he meant nuclear program. But here's the president talking about uranium from Africa, talking about aluminium tubes, talking about reconstituting nuclear programs. And the International Atomic Energy Association is saying, not true. Colin Powell, the secretary of state, went before the United Nations and laid out the case and then said this.
(Videotape, February 5, 2003):
SEC'Y COLIN POWELL (State Department): My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.
MR. RUSSERT: "On solid intelligence." And then 15 months later, the secretary of state came on this program and said this.
(Videotape, May 16, 2004):
SEC'Y POWELL: But it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong, and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed, and I regret it.
MR. RUSSERT: "Deliberately misleading." That's the secretary of state. So why can't Democrats now say that the administration deliberately misled the American people?
MR. MEHLMAN: Because, Tim, no one concluded that the administration deliberately misled anybody. You mentioned the Robb-Silverman Commission. The Butler Commission looked at it. The Senate Intel unanimously found that there was no attempt by this administration to mislead anybody. The fact is, the intelligence was voluminous. It was based on multiple sources. It turned out not to have been accurate. But the notion that there is somehow a war that's based on a fraud, that Bush lied, that Bush lies, people die, which is what they're saying now--the fact is, what message does that send to the troops? What message does that send to the Iraqi people? What message does that send to the terrorists?
The reason it's irresponsible for them to say that, is because the fact that they looked at the same information, the previous administration looked at the same information, and they all came to the exact same conclusions. And to say that somehow someone was trying to mislead is irresponsible.
There's another issue here, Tim, and that's this. Would we have been safer if we waited until Saddam Hussein, who we know repeatedly has used weapons of mass destruction, who we know from the Dulfer report was trying to reconstitute his weapons program, who we know had invaded his neighbors, had supported terrorists, had terrorists operating out of his country, if we had waited till it was finely reconstituted, would that have been responsible?
Let's also remember the history of intelligence. The intelligence services in 1991 underestimated where Saddam's program was. They missed that India and Pakistan would get nuclear weapons. They were wrong about when the Soviet Union would have a nuclear bomb and when China had had a nuclear bomb. So it comes to this, in a post-9/11 world, do you want leaders who will, when they have to make a tough call, make the call to protect the American people, based on a majority of the intelligence, or who will make one call, and then reverse that call for political gain? That's the question.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, what the Democrats are saying is that the International Atomic Energy Agency in real time was saying, "Mr. President, you're wrong. Mr. Vice President, you're wrong." The head of the CIA, George Tenet, apologized for saying that we had gotten uranium from Africa. There's a suggestion being the administration cherry-picked intelligence, shared with the public the most dramatic...
MR. MEHLMAN: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and did not give them any of the caveats. The president talked about the mushroom cloud when, in fact, there was no hard evidence that Saddam had or was on his way to developing a nuclear program.
MR. MEHLMAN: Did Hillary Clinton cherry-pick? Did Bill Clinton cherry-pick? Did Jay Rockefeller cherry-pick? Every one of these Democratic senators--John Kerry--they all talked about the same things. And they all saw the same evidence. So the fact is...
MR. RUSSERT: John Edwards today said he was wrong to vote for the war because he now realizes the intelligence was wrong. When you ask George Bush, knowing what he knows today...
MR. MEHLMAN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...would he do the same thing, he said, "Yes, I'd still go to war..."
MR. MEHLMAN: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: "...even without knowing about weapons of mass destruction."
MR. MEHLMAN: And the reason he said that is the question I asked a minute ago: Would we be safer if we'd waited? The lesson of 9/11 is that we don't wait until after the attack to respond. Think about what the last 30 years has proved to us. For 30 years terrorists have made war on the West, and for 30 years we've responded after the fact and the attacks have gotten worse and worse. What happened on September 12th is that this president concluded that you win the war being on the offensive and that America's at war. And the president's absolutely right: If we had waited until he had weapons of mass destruction, we'd be much less safe than if we got rid of him when we did.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the elections of last--of this week. This was the president Monday night, the night before the election, in Virginia, with Jerry Kilgore, who lost as the candidate for governor of the Republican Party. And then in New Jersey, Jon Corzine beat Doug Forrester, the Republican candidate. This was a centerpiece of Corzine's media campaign.
(Videotape, Corzine for governor ad):
Narrator: Doug Forrester: He's George Bush's choice for governor. Is he yours?
MR. RUSSERT: George Bush, very much part of the equation, and lost in Virginia and New Jersey.
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, Tim, we know one thing about these two states. We know that if you look historically, that whatever the president's approval, people vote on local issues. In 2001, I remember, I was White House political director at the time. And the president had 90 percent approval. We lost both races. In 1997, Republicans won both races and proceeded to lose seats in 1998 in the off-year congressional elections. The fact is these were individual races based on individual state considerations. And I think that that's ultimately what history shows about them.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Mr. Chairman, when you look at what is going on in Washington, in terms of the president's agenda--here's Bob Novak, conservative columnist: "The consequences may be profound"-- talking about the elections in Jersey and Virginia. "As his approval ratings dipped, Bush increasingly has been treated in Congress as a lame duck. The Virginia outcome increases the propensity of Republican senators and House members not only to avoid their president on the campaign trail but also to ignore his legislative proposals."
Social Security: shelved. Drilling in the arctic: shelved. Budget cuts in the House: put aside.
J.D. Hayworth in Arizona said he wouldn't want the president to campaign for him in Arizona. Anne Northup in Kentucky said it wouldn't be a--she hasn't decided right now, but wants to find out whether it would be a good idea. Friday in Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum stayed in another part of the state when the president went up to Wilkes-Barre. And look at these numbers. This is what the voters say. Preference for 2006 congressional candidates, Republican-controlled Congress, 37; Democrats, 48. Our congressional Republicans, "Do they have the same priorities as you for the country?" Same priorities, yes, 24; no, 58. "In which issues do you prefer the Democrats over the Republicans?" Environment, gas prices, health care, Social Security, education, reducing deficits, energy policy, economy, government spending, taxes, trade issues, foreign policy, abortion, immigration, ethics in government, and Iraq--16 of the 19 issues we presented to the people, they chose the Democrats. Your party's in trouble?
MR. MEHLMAN: Tim, usually, when I get a poll like that, I will fire the pollster. That's my response that I usually do to that. Look, in all seriousness, there's no question we're in difficult political times. And the question is fundamentally, do we have an agenda of change?
What the American people clearly want, in my judgment, is the same thing they wanted in 2004 and 2002, when we as the incumbents won, because we were seen as agents of change, and the Democrats were seen as agents of the status quo. What they want is change, and they want change because too often, the government hasn't served their needs. That's why we created a Patriot Act and a Department of Homeland Security, why we reformed education, why we reformed our tax laws and litigation rules.
We need to do the same thing and we're going to in the coming weeks and months. You're going to see us reduce spending significantly. The deficit's already declined by $100 billion. We're going to reduce it by significantly more. We're working right now to increase refinery capacity so that gas prices go down. We're going to continue moving forward on the central front, in the war on terror in Iraq. You're going to see us work to control the border. Because if you're not controlling the border in this country, you're fundamentally not protecting homeland security.
All of these are priorities. All of these are reforms. And I'm confident that next year, we're going to maintain our majorities in the House and Senate, which will be a historic victory, because the voters will correctly see that this party is the party of change and the party that is transforming government to deal with the challenges we face. But is today a difficult day? Sure. Our politics today are tough. And we need to be in a place in a year--the election's not tomorrow, it's in a year--where the voters recognize that.
MR. RUSSERT: But isn't there a cloud over the Bush presidency because of Iraq? The administration said he was reconstituting his nuclear program. Not true. It said there would be vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. Not true. He said we'd be greeted as liberators. Not true. Isn't Iraq a political problem for this president?
MR. MEHLMAN: Ultimately, Iraq's not about--should not be about domestic politics. Iraq's about our national security. And on September 11th, we learned that we need to think first and foremost about protecting America. And while wars...
MR. RUSSERT: But there's no linkage between Iraq and September 11th.
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, the lessons...
MR. RUSSERT: Saddam Hussein was not involved in September 11th.
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, the lesson of September 11th is we're not going to wait. The lesson of September 11th is that we can't wait to respond after the fact, that we can't allow a dictator who repeatedly defies the world, who's used weapons of mass destruction, who's invaded his neighbors, to keep going forward, that we have to stop him before he hits us. That's ultimately the lesson.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the CIA leak investigation. Because that, too, has taken a toll politically on the president. When you were here in July, you had this to say about the independent counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald.
(Videotape, July 17, 2005):
MR. MEHLMAN: I have tremendous confidence in Pat Fitzgerald.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, that he has indicted the vice president's chief of staff, do you still have, "tremendous confidence" in him?
MR. MEHLMAN: I think the way that Patrick Fitzgerald acquitted himself, I think the fact that this investigation occurred largely without leaks, I think the fact that he held the press conference he did and presented his facts, I thought it was all very interesting. I thought he handled himself well. I think that Mr. Libby is innocent until proven guilty. I think we should presume his innocence. But, you know, it was interesting, what I said last summer was it was a mistake to rush to judgment.
Do you remember before this indictment was announced, we heard all over Washington Democrats saying, "This is going to prove there was a big conspiracy on the Iraq War." Patrick Fitzgerald said the exact opposite. He said, "If you want to read anything into the war, for it or against it, this indictment doesn't do that." So I think that people made a mistake rushing to judgment, and that was the point I was trying to make.
MR. RUSSERT: But you still have tremendous confidence in him?
MR. MEHLMAN: I have confidence in him.
MR. RUSSERT: Not tremendous?
MR. MEHLMAN: I have tremendous confidence in him.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, Scott...
MR. MEHLMAN: One lawyer to another.
MR. RUSSERT: Scott--words are important. Scott McClellan as you know, when he was asked about the role of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, said that he went and talked to them about whether or not they had been involved in disseminating information about Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, the CIA operative. And this is what Mr. McClellan told the country.
(Videotape, October 7, 2003):
MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN: They're good individuals. They're important members of our White House team. And that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that in the beginning. But I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you. And that's exactly what I did.
MR. RUSSERT: They were not involved. We asked voters again, across the country: Is President Bush honest and straightforward? In January, 50 percent of the country said yes, 36 percent said no. Eleven months later, 33 percent say that President Bush is honest and straightforward, one in three Americans. How much is that tied to the CIA leak investigation? And should Scott McClellan and the president address the country and apologize for suggesting statements made from the White House podium were wrong?
MR. MEHLMAN: I don't know the answer to--I didn't look at the internals in the poll and I'm not certain of what the numbers--what the basis for the numbers were, but look, Scott McClellan would love to answer that question. He's pointed out that he'd like to answer it. But there's something more important than Scott McClellan talking to the country. And that is to make sure that an investigation that is not completed is not interfered with, and I give tremendous credit to Scott, I give tremendous credit to the president, I give tremendous credit to people like Karl Rove and others, who are staying quiet, who are not going out there, trying to announce their positions, because it may not help them in the short term, but ultimately, they believe I know, that it serves justice in the long term.
MR. RUSSERT: So if Patrick Fitzgerald announces the investigation is over and Mr. Rove is not indicted, will the president then come forward and speak?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, I'm not going to speak for the president. I'm not sure what the president will do. I know that both the president and Scott have said that they would like to be able to comment on it but they don't think it's appropriate to comment on it now. So I think we all should wait and see.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you think that Judge Sam Alito will be confirmed to the Supreme Court?
MR. MEHLMAN: I do. I think Sam Alito's an outstanding choice. He's somebody that's been confirmed unanimously twice. He's somebody that's got a distinguished record. He's somebody that's thought as a fair-minded judge by both sides. And I'm confident that he'll be confirmed.
MR. RUSSERT: If the Democrats decide that it's in the interest of the country to launch a filibuster, do they not have that right?
MR. MEHLMAN: I don't think that the numbers are there. The fact is the launching of a filibuster to block a judge who has majority support is unprecedented in American history. It's never happened before. It shouldn't happen this time. He ought to deserve and he ought to get an up or down vote. That's the constitutional duty that I believe these Democrats have and that Republicans have.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming up next is the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean. How's he doing?
MR. MEHLMAN: I think that--I was hoping that Chairman Dean would be on sitting next to me this morning and maybe we can do that on a future program. Look, he's somebody I've enjoyed getting to know. We meet in a lot of green rooms, but he's somebody that's got an important job to do. I think I congratulate the Democrats on the victories in New Jersey and Virginia. And I look forward to future contact.
MR. RUSSERT: We invited him. Do you have a question for him?
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, one thing I was surprised not to hear was the Democrats around the country, there's been an utter silence in response to what have been vicious and racist attacks on Michael Steel in Maryland. Michael Steel is the first statewide African-American--it's my state; I grew up in Maryland- -the first statewide African-American ever elected. He's now running for the United States Senate. Yet, the Democratic Senate president called this man an Uncle Tom because he doesn't agree with him on issues. He's had racial epithets thrown at him. He's been derided on a Web site that the Democrats have. And while some Democrats in Maryland have criticized him, there's been utter silence from national Democrats on this important issue. I would hope on this morning's program that Chairman Dean would condemn this kind of racist and bigoted activity. It's wrong. I would also hope he'd condemn the following. There are a whole bunch of Democratic candidates and Republican candidates around the country. But Charles Schumer and the Democratic campaign committee chose one candidate to go after his credit report and engage in identity theft against them and that's Michael Steel, this African-American candidate in Maryland. I think we should be welcoming him to the process as I welcomed Mr. Mfume to the process and I think it's a mistake to make these attacks.
MR. RUSSERT: But your whole program of reaching out to African-Americans to join the Republican Party was dealt a pretty serious setback with the way the federal government managed the whole response to Katrina, an image that has really been indelibly made into a black consciousness that somehow they were left behind in New Orleans.
MR. MEHLMAN: Well, Tim, I think that we saw at every level, federal, state and local, what the president called an unacceptable response. And we're now taking steps to fix that, but when I looked at New Orleans and it broke my heart as I know it did yours and so many other Americans, here's what I saw. I saw too many Americans that had been left behind, not by just this administration but by a welfare state that doesn't empower people. I saw too many people that didn't have homes they could own. I saw too many folks who didn't have a a choice to where their children might go to school. The fact is if Hurricane Katrina causes all Americans to say, "We can do better than 30 years of a welfare state that leaves millions of people behind and doesn't empower them and lift them up, then ultimately some good can come from that bad."
MR. RUSSERT: Chairman Mehlman, we thank you very much.
MR. MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot.
MR. RUSSERT: I appreciate you sharing your views.
MR. MEHLMAN: Thank you. Thanks.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, the Democratic view. Where do they stand? What must they do to recapture the Congress and the White House? With us, the Democratic Party chairman, former Vermont governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean is next right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The Democratic view from their party chairman, Governor Howard Dean, after this brief station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Governor Dean, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
DR. HOWARD DEAN: Thanks for having me on, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: On Friday you heard the speech I played for Ken Mehlman. The president of the United States said that Democrats are sending the wrong signal to the enemy with their criticisms of prewar intelligence and his conduct of the war.
DR. DEAN: I think Democrats always have to stand up and tell the truth and that's what we're doing. The truth is that the president misled America when he sent us to war. They did--he even didn't tell the truth in the speech he gave. First of all, think there were a lot of veterans were kind of upset that the president chose their day to make a partisan speech. Secondly, the president didn't even tell the truth in his speech. He said that the Senate had the same intelligence that everybody else did. That was not true. He withheld some intelligence. Then he said the commissions all said that what he had done in the lead-up up to the war was fine.
MR. RUSSERT: What did he withhold?
DR. DEAN: He withheld--he knew, he knew that there was no connection between Saddam and 9/11 and he insisted on trying to make that case to the American people.
MR. RUSSERT: But he never said Saddam was involved in September 11.
DR. DEAN: He never actually came out and said just that. But in every speech he gave during the campaign and afterwards, he left the impression. He left the impression with 65 percent of the American people, who agreed that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. It made that--it was dishonest, what he did.
MR. RUSSERT: Aren't the Democrats, though, trying to have it both ways? They voted for the war-- Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards--and now, it's not going well. So they're saying, well, the president misled us. They had access to the National Intelligence Estimate, and in that National Intelligence Estimate, there were caveats from the State Department particularly, about the quality of the intelligence. But they still voted for the war.
DR. DEAN: Tim, first of all, I didn't have--maybe that's why I was against the war, maybe because I didn't have access to the corrupted intelligence. The intelligence was corrupted, not just because of the incompetence of the CIA; it was corrupted because it was being changed around before it was presented to Congress. Stuff was taken out and not presented. All of this business about weapons of mass destruction, there was significant and substantial evidence passed from the CIA and the State Department to, perhaps, the office of the vice president--we don't know just where--in the White House that said, "There is a strong body of opinion that says they don't have a nuclear program, nor do they have weapons of mass destruction." And that intelligence was not given to the Congress of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: It was in the National Intelligence Estimate, as a caveat by the State Department.
DR. DEAN: It was, a very small one, but the actual caveat that the White House got were much, much greater. And the deputy to Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, just said so. He just came out and said so.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me...
DR. DEAN: There's ample--now that the cracks are really beginning to appear in this corrupt administration that we have running this country, now they're all running for their own and they're beginning to stand up and say, "This is what really happened." Honest Republicans are coming forward in this administration and saying, "This is what really happened in the lead-up to the war, and the president was not truthful with the American people."
But the president's not just not truthful with the American people. I saw Ken on here talking about the deficit. The truth is, they're concealing the size of the deficit, as well. Iraq is not on the books. The money they take out of Social Security is not on the books. This is an administration that has a fundamental problem telling the truth.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll get to the deficit, but I want to stay on Iraq for a second because, in order to maintain credibility or regain credibility on the war, should Democrats, like John Edwards did this morning, step forward and say, "I was wrong to vote for the war"?
DR. DEAN: I thought what John Edwards did was very courageous. It's always hard to admit that you're wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: Should Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and others say, "Based on what I know today, I would not have voted for the war"?
DR. DEAN: John--my impression was that John Kerry did say that. I think what Senator Clinton had said--that there would have been no vote had the truth been told in the beginning. There would never have been a vote on this war. I can't tell individual Democrats what to do, but I'll tell you one thing we are going to do: We're going to tell the truth. The best thing that the Democratic Party and that America can do is tell the truth to the world. We used to be the most--I saw the figures that you had up during your interview with King Abdullah about what people think of us in Jordan. That didn't used to be the truth, the facts. Six or eight years ago when the Democrats were in control, we made mistakes, but we told the truth about to our allies and we told the truth to the American people about the things that mattered.
MR. RUSSERT: George Bush says, knowing what he knows today, even though we didn't find weapons of mass destruction, even though we weren't greeted as "liberators," he would still have gone forward with the war in Iraq. Do you believe the intellectually honest position for the Democrats is to say, now, "Based on what we know now, we should not have gone to war with Iraq"?
DR. DEAN: All I can tell you is what my position in the campaign was. I believed that what we--that Saddam Hussein was a problem, that he had used in the past weapons of mass destruction. That's indisputable. I also did not believe the White House was telling the truth, and my position was, of course we need to deal with Saddam Hussein, but we don't need to cost ourselves the lives of 2,056 brave American soldiers in order to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: The issue, I think, confronting Democrats is that they're afraid of being perceived as soft on national security and defense issues. I showed you the 16 issues where people agreed with the Democrats. There are still a couple where people overwhelmingly think the Republicans are the better party. Here's two: Strong national defense--look at those numbers: 43 Republican, 22 Democrats. War on terror, 35-26. The Democrats are perceived as the weaker party on those kinds of issues. And that's why they voted for the war when it was popular, it's being suggested. And now, when the war is not popular, they're trying to back off their position.
DR. DEAN: We need to make sure that we can--look, I know what those numbers are, and I think that's a big problem for the Democrats. We need to--we need to make the American people understand that we are strong on defense, and that the strength of our position on defense is not just that we'll support a robust and muscular foreign policy. It's that we'll tell the truth. Telling the truth has a lot to do with defending America. If people don't believe you--if 80 percent of the people in Jordan, which is one of our most important allies, don't believe us, then we've got a bigger defense problem with Zarqawi than we do if people--if we become once again, as we have been in the past, the moral beacon for the rest of the world. And that's what we need to do. So a strong defense policy--we do need a strong defense policy. We need to make it clear that Democrats will stand up for America and pull the trigger in defense of America, but we fundamentally first need to tell the truth so we're believable again.
MR. RUSSERT: The other issue that the Republicans still have the upper hand with Democrats, strong moral values; 35 percent see the Republicans are better on that issue. Only 18 percent of Democrats. And maybe that's why we're hearing radio ads like this that the Tim Kaine, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and governor-elect in Virginia, ran for his campaign. Let's listen.
(Audiotape, Tim Kaine for governor advertisement):
MR. TIM KAINE: The Bible teaches us we can accomplish great things when we work together. I'm Tim Kaine and I've devoted my life to bringing people together to get things done. ... I'm conservative on personal responsibility, character, family and the sanctity of life. These are my values, and that's what I believe.
MR. RUSSERT: And then John Kerry, last week, talking about the budget, said it was immoral; "There is not anywhere in the three-year ministry of Jesus Christ, anything that remotely suggests--not one miracle, not one parable, not one utterance--that says you ought to cut children's health care or take money from the poorest people in our nation to give it to the wealthiest people in our nation."
Are the Democrats now trying to embrace Christ, embrace moral values, because they see themselves on the wrong side of that issue?
DR. DEAN: Well, first of all, there's a fair number of Jewish Democrats who I don't think are going to embrace Christ. But I think we all embrace the teachings of morality and of embracing people and of tolerance and of inclusion. And what I encourage people to do, I was--we played a big role in Tim Kaine's campaign. It was a great campaign. He was a wonderful candidate. We funneled a lot of money into the party to try to be helpful and so forth. And he is a great candidate for America in the terms of how he campaigned. He spoke of his faith. I don't think that people who are not comfortable speaking about their faith should speak about their faith.
But I think we all should speak about our values. I think one of the mistakes we've made is to not understand that most Americans believe that moral values include making sure that kids don't go to bed hungry at night. The Republicans are cutting the school lunch program. We want to make sure that everybody in America has health insurance. That's a moral value. The Republicans are kicking people off their health care. So there is a--we win when we debate about moral values. We ought to talk about our values. Tim Kaine did it. I don't think that's the only reason he won, but that's certainly one of them.
MR. RUSSERT: But the Pew Research Foundation found in a poll of your strongest activists, that 59 percent of those strong Dean activists seldom or never went to church. Can the Democratic Party hold on to its secular base and still have its more prominent candidates talking about faith and religion?
DR. DEAN: I am a Democrat because of my moral values, because I believe that we can't leave anybody behind, because I believe that what happened in New Orleans was appalling, because people died based frankly on their gender--excuse me, on their race, their age and their economic status. We need to do a better job, including everybody. Even evangelical Christians, who people associate with the hard right, that's not always true. Evangelical Christians are out there now pushing strong environmental issues. Why? Because it is in their faith that they take care of the resources that God gave them. There is enormous commonality. Democrats should not be afraid to speak about moral values. We are the party of America's values.
MR. RUSSERT: Picking up on what Ken Mehlman said about Michael Steele, the African-American Republican candidate in Maryland, being called an Uncle Tom, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee seeking his credit report. Should you not...
DR. DEAN: I don't like that stuff, and I--now, look, the Republicans have a long history of saying that those things happened. And they may or may not have. So if that happened, it's not right. But I didn't hear Ken condemning the chairman of the Maryland party when he called me an anti-Semite. So let's try to up--speaking of moral values, let's have a better tone in our political campaigns. Because the truth is, the other thing that Time Kaine's race showed is that the person with the better tone and the more positive agenda won, and I like to see voters exercising their rights in that way.
MR. RUSSERT: But the workers on the campaign committee who sought his credit report have been dismissed.
DR. DEAN: They should have been. Absolutely, they should have been. I don't like that kind of stuff.
MR. RUSSERT: Could on either side?
DR. DEAN: On either side.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's talk about the Democrats and some of the polling data. Congressional Democrats have the same priorities as you: yes, 26 percent; no, 54 percent. So the Democrats aren't perceived as the answer. And look at this, Chairman Dean. We asked independent voters: Do you believe that Democrats have a clear message, a vision for the future? Fifty-two percent of independent swing voters say no. One in four Democrats say you have no clear vision, no agenda, no clear message. Joe Trippi, your former campaign manager said, "Obviously, the results" from Election Night "are great for us Democrats. But given the GOP's problems, the tightness of the results suggest that people aren't happy with either party right now. Democrats have got to push an alternative agenda."
DR. DEAN: We have an alternative agenda. We made it very clear. We want a strong national security based on telling the truth to our people at home, our soldiers and our allies. We want jobs in America that'll stay in America, and we believe that renewable energy is one of the areas where we can do that. We want a health-care system that covers everybody, just like 36 other countries in the world. We want a strong public education system. And most of all, we want honesty back in government. I think that's a pretty good agenda.
MR. RUSSERT: But those are words that will appeal to people. But when you go behind them, for example, what is the Democratic position on Iraq? Should we withdraw troops now? What do the Democrats stand for?
DR. DEAN: Tim, first of all, we don't control the House, the Senate or the White House. We have plenty of time to show Americans what our agenda is and we will long before the '06 elections.
MR. RUSSERT: But there's no Democratic plan on Social Security. There's no Democratic plan on the deficit problem. There's no specifics. They say, "Well, we want a strong Social Security. We want to reduce the deficit. We want health care for everyone," but there's no plan how to pay for it.
DR. DEAN: Right now it's not our job to give out specifics. We have no control in the House. We have no control in the Senate. It's our job is to stop this administration, this corrupt and incompetent administration, from doing more damage to America. And that's what we're going to do. We're doing our best. Look at the trouble they're having putting together a budget. Why is that? Because there's still a few moderate Republicans left who don't think it's OK to cut school lunch programs, who don't think it's OK to do some of the appalling things that they're doing in their budget. I saw a show last night which showed a young African-American man in California at the UC of Davis who hoped to go to law school. The Republicans want to cut $14 billion out of higher education so this kid can't go to law school. We're going to do better than that, and together, America can do better than that.
MR. RUSSERT: But is it enough for you to say to the country, "Trust us, the other guy's no good. We'll do better, but we're not going to tell you specifically how we're going to deal with Iraq."
DR. DEAN: We will. When the time comes, we will do that.
MR. RUSSERT: When's the time going to come?
DR. DEAN: The time is fast-approaching. And I outlined the broad outlines of our agenda. We're going to have specific plans in all of these areas.
MR. RUSSERT: This year?
DR. DEAN: In 2006.
MR. RUSSERT: The Supreme Court...
DR. DEAN: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: ...the president has nominated Sam Alito to the Supreme Court. Should the Democrats in the Senate--there's only 45 of them, but if they stayed together as a block...
DR. DEAN: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...they could filibuster and prevent Judge Alito from going to the Supreme Court. Should they?
DR. DEAN: I must say I rarely read editorials and I rarely agree with the ones I read. But The New York Times ran an editorial today which I think is very instructive for the Democratic Party. This could be a defining moment. Judge Alito is a hard-working man, a good family man, but his opinions are well outside the mainstream of American public opinion. He condones a strip-search of a 10-year-old when the police had no such warrant or indication to do so. He condoned the crafting of an all-white jury to hear a black defendant's case by a prosecutor. He condoned the states not having to listen to the Family Medical Leave Act. He condoned government interference in private family matters and family decision- making. This is well outside the mainstream of where Americans are. I think the Democrats are going to have to think long and hard as the hearings progress about whether we should support him. There's some grave questions about him, and I do hope that they will stick together.
MR. RUSSERT: If you were a senator, you would vote no?
DR. DEAN: I'm not going to make that--if I were a senator, I would not tell you that now, because I believe in listening to all the evidence first. But I think there's some deeply, deeply concerning things about Judge Alito's views on intrusion into personal family rights. We think those discussions are family matters, not government matters, standing up for working people in terms of Family Leave, allowing the police power to allow 10-year-olds to be strip-searched. These things are deeply, deeply concerning.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe the Democrats should keep on the table the possibility of a filibuster?
DR. DEAN: Absolutely. Of course we should.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Biden, the Democrat from Delaware, said Judge Alito deserves an up or down vote.
DR. DEAN: I think Joe Biden has his own right to make that opinion. He's an elected senator. All I ask is the Democrats stick together under the leadership of Harry Reid and Pat Leahy, who is the senior man on that committee.
MR. RUSSERT: When Bill Clinton was president, he nominated two people to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who was general counsel for the ACLU part of her career, and Stephen Breyer, who worked for Ted Kennedy. And look at these votes, Dr. Dean, overwhelmingly approved, 96-to-3 and 87-to-9. Republicans, even though they disagreed philosophically with those two liberal jurists, said the president has nominated them and we'll support them because he won the election and he has a right to put people on the bench who reflect his judicial philosophy. Why shouldn't the Democrats have the same respect for President Bush's outcome?
DR. DEAN: Well, that is, in truth, not what the Republicans did. In those particular cases, they made those votes. They stonewalled hundreds of judicial appointees that Bill Clinton made, hundreds of them that never came up. They wouldn't even take them up. The Republicans wouldn't even give Harriet Miers a right to an up or down vote. How dare they make a case for an up or down vote on Judge Alito?
MR. RUSSERT: But they did support those liberal jurists.
DR. DEAN: I don't care who they supported. They killed hundreds of nominations in the Supreme Court. That is the most hypocritical nonsense. As you know, hypocrisy is a feature of Washington's life daily. That is nonsense. They get no credit for voting for Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Justice Breyer after killing hundreds of Clinton nominations and killing Harriet Miers. How dare they have--I saw an ad the other day. How dare they have an ad saying, "We want an up or down vote on Judge Alito" when they wouldn't give one to Harriet Miers?
MR. RUSSERT: Money, the mother's milk of politics, as it's been referred to, here's The Washington Post article. "The Democratic National Committee under Howard Dean is losing the fund-raising race against the Republicans by nearly 2wto 1 ..." The article goes on to say that "the Republicans have raised $83.5 million, the Democrats just $42 million."
What is wrong with your fund-raising operations?
DR. DEAN: Nothing. It's going great. We just broke the record with six weeks to go for fund-raising during the off year, and we didn't even have the ability to raise soft money to do it. We have paid operatives in 38 out of 50 states. We will be in 50 states by the end of the year. We just won two really important gubernatorial elections and managed to deep-six all of Governor Schwarzenegger's initiatives in California. I'd say we're having a pretty good year.
MR. RUSSERT: But if you're being outgunned 2-to1 in the 2006 elections, how can you possibly succeed?
DR. DEAN: We did last time. We were outgunned 3-to-1.
MR. RUSSERT: And so you don't...
DR. DEAN: This is an improvement in our position. You going to...
MR. RUSSERT: Some Democrats say it's troublesome, that there should be red sirens flashing.
DR. DEAN: Well, yeah, you know, you--I saw that article. I generally don't traffic in gossip and I try not to. The facts are, we've done much better than we have in the past. We're continuing to do better. We're making great progress. Terry pledged $5 million to Tim Kaine's campaign. We were able to deliver that and he was able to win. What counts is the wins and losses. How...
MR. RUSSERT: Can you recapture the--both the U.S. Senate and the House?
DR. DEAN: Yes, we can and we will because I don't--there's a lot of stuff about well, redistricting makes it impossible. The truth is when the American people want real change, they' ll have it and this time they're going to get real change.
MR. RUSSERT: To be continued. Dr. Howard Dean, thank you for your views.
DR. DEAN: Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, we'll be right back with MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Brian Williams.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. How about those Boston College Eagles, the Washington Wizards? And today, go Bills.