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Transcript: Sen. Joe Biden on 'FNS'
Written by Chris Wallace / Published November 21, 2005 / Fox News Sunday
The following is a transcript from "FOX News Sunday" that aired on Nov. 20, 2005.
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now to discuss Iraq and other matters is Joe Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he joins us from Wilmington, Delaware.
Senator, welcome back.
SEN. JOE BIDEN, D-DEL.: Hi, Chris.
WALLACE: Good to talk with you again.
BIDEN: Good to be back with you.
WALLACE: As we've been saying, Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha this week called for bringing U.S. troops back home. Is that a good idea?
BIDEN: Not immediately, no. I can understand Jack's frustration. This is a guy who has concluded that so far we've handled this effort incompetently, but it seems to me that we have one last shot at getting this right.
The downside of bringing troops home now or within the next six months, before we know what's happened in this upcoming election, whether or not there's a real political consensus arrived and a constitution, I think would be a mistake.
WALLACE: If you don't want to pull the troops out — and I'm going to ask you for a kind of curtailed answer here, because I know you could go on for the rest of our show here. Give us a sense of what you think we need to do in Iraq to turn things around and how much time do we have.
BIDEN: Well, the 78 senators sort of laid it out in a Republican-sponsored amendment on the floor the other day. But basically, we need a political solution. It means you need a consensus constitution. You need to get people in there who, in fact, can help them set up ministries that don't function now so the government can function.
You need to change the way in which way you, in fact, are rebuilding Iraq, so you actually do small bore projects to get the sewage out of the street and get electricity turned on locally. And you have to train Iraqi troops, which is now beginning to occur, notwithstanding what the secretary said.
And by the way, the number is somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 trained troops and not very much up from what you asked him. There are the four things you've got to do. If you do those, if you change policy, change course here, we've got a shot of an Iraq that can be held together and not a haven for terror over the next year.
WALLACE: Well, let me just pick up on a couple of those things. You talked about trying to negotiate away some of the differences. I mean, on the constitution, they spent months trying to do that and were unable to, to a very large degree. How do you accomplish that?
BIDEN: The same way we did in Afghanistan, the way we produced (President Hamid) Karzai. You bring in the regional powers as well as the international powers, and you let them have at it in putting pressure on their constituencies.
It's not in the interest of Iran to see a civil war break out. It's not in the interest of Turkey to see a civil war break out, not in the interest of France to see one break out, nor in the interest of the Saudis. And so what you do is you have them in on the deal just like we did in Afghanistan, the six plus two talks, produce a consensus, and then build from there.
WALLACE: And what do you do on the military side? You say — and I must say, the secretary didn't answer the direct question, the number of level one and level two troops...
BIDEN: What's new, huh?
WALLACE: ... which is roughly around 30,000. If that hasn't changed over the last couple of months, how do you train them up faster?
BIDEN: Well, it has changed. It's probably gone up from 5,000 to 7,000. What you do is you begin to lay out what the mission is. You change the mission. The mission for us is keep Iraq from becoming a haven for terror and having a stand-up government where each of the major parties thinks they have a stake in the outcome, not the democratization of Iraq to a liberal democracy, not the protection of every Iraqi citizen, et cetera. So mission dictates the number of troops.
WALLACE: And as for this plan, this contingency plan that apparently top generals have offered to the secretary of defense to move the number of troops down possibly to under 100,000 by the end of the year, do you think, based on conditions, that is possible, that's a realistic assessment?
BIDEN: I don't only think it's possible. I think there's no other choice. If you listen to General McCaffrey and many others you've had on your program, they point out we cannot — emphasize cannot — sustain 160,000 troops in Iraq this time next year without mobilizing the entire National Guard or fundamentally changing the commitments on rotations we made.
So they're just stating a reality. They're just stating flat-out what is the case. Casey's already asked that, to the best of my understanding. The idea that he's not been asked that, that it's not already underway, I find a little bit disingenuous.
Part of the problem here is — I thought the best quote that the secretary used today — he said reading Churchill — and I wrote it down and he said persuading the people to let you win. That's exactly what they've lost.
Failing to level with the American people, they have persuaded the American people we can't win, because they don't level. They don't lay out a little bit like — if you saw David Brooks' column this morning, the conservative columnist in the New York Times, he said they should do what Roosevelt did in World War II. He said take out your maps, folks, here's where we're winning, here's where we're losing, here's what we have to do.
Why can't the president do that? We're losing the American people, and that is a disaster.
WALLACE: Let me ask you — you talk about leveling with the American people. This week you said that Vice President Cheney, using your words, flat lied to the country in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Also this week, Vice President Cheney responded to you and other critics. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone. But we're not going to sit by and let them rewrite history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: Senator Biden, in your speech in 2002 authorizing the use of force in Iraq, you said that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, that he was seeking nuclear weapons.
Is the vice president right about you and other Democratic critics losing your memories?
BIDEN: He's absolutely wrong. He said that, quote, "They have reconstituted their nuclear weapons." Simultaneously, I said — contemporaneously, I said there is absolutely no evidence of that. He said, and the president said, and implied, that there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.
I will make available to you every quote that I have — we went back and got them — where I pointed out there was no imminent threat for the use of nuclear weapons. There was no confirmed connection or even serious connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam, two things the vice president continued to push and continues to push which were flat dead wrong then, flat dead wrong now.
No Democrat I'm aware of suggested they believed that he had reconstituted his nuclear weapons.
WALLACE: I don't think that the vice president ever said anything about an imminent threat. And actually, some Democrats did.
BIDEN: Oh, he did. No, no, he did. He did, and as did the administration. They talked about the threat being imminent. They talked about there's a — remember mushroom clouds, remember the — you know, look, the whole point about this was whether or not there was an imminent threat requiring us to go to war when we did.
If there was no imminent threat, we had time to continue to try to isolate Saddam Hussein, continue to keep inspectors in there, try to make a deal with the international community to keep this pressure on.
What happened? When it looked like the public support was beginning to fail, we went to this concern expressed that these aluminum tubes were clearly for a gas centrifuge system, that he had UAVs, which there was no hard evidence for, to disseminate.
I repeatedly pointed out I had no evidence he had weaponized any of the material that he had, and I'll be happy — I know we don't have time, and it would sound too defensive, but I will send you a copy, Chris, for your perusal of all my statements that we pulled out and every show I was on during this period.
WALLACE: I look forward to seeing that.
BIDEN: There was no imminent threat.
WALLACE: Senator, I want to move to your other role as one of the top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
We learned this week that as a lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department back in 1985 that Judge Sam Alito, now the Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, wrote that quotas should not be allowed and that the Constitution does not protect a right to abortion. Does this jeopardize his nomination, sir?
BIDEN: Well, I think it does. But the part that jeopardizes it more is his quotes in there saying that he had strong disagreement with the Warren Court particularly on reapportionment — one man, one vote. He went on to say — it was a very — if you take what he said, it was pretty far on the far side of constitutional scholarship.
The fact that he questioned abortion and the idea of quotas is one thing. The fact that he questioned the idea of the legitimacy of the reapportionment decisions of the Warren Court is even something well beyond that.
So I think he's got a lot of explaining to do, and depending on how he does I think will determine whether or not he has a problem or not.
WALLACE: We have less than a minute left, Senator. A week ago I know — or a couple of weeks ago, rather, you said that you felt that Judge Alito deserved an up or down vote. Does this memo — does what you've learned in the intervening time — change your view about the idea of filibustering Judge Alito?
BIDEN: It depends on how he answers the questions. It really does. And what I said before was based on what I knew, I expect he'd get an up and down vote, but the jury was still out based on how he answers the questions and how he explains.
If he really believes that reapportionment is a questionable decision — that is, the idea of Baker vs. Carr, one man, one vote — then clearly, clearly, you'll find a lot of people, including me, willing to do whatever they can to keep him off the court. We don't know that. We have to hear it.
WALLACE: But very briefly, what you're saying is...
BIDEN: And that would include a filibuster. That would include a filibuster if need be.
WALLACE: And very briefly, you're saying the chances for a filibuster have increased.
BIDEN: Well, I think based upon that job application where he said he strongly held these views, yes.
WALLACE: Senator Biden, we want to thank you so much for joining us.
BIDEN: Thank you.
WALLACE: And before we say goodbye, happy birthday today.
BIDEN: Thank you very much.
WALLACE: We're going to keep the actual age off the record, but it's getting younger and younger.
BIDEN: You're a good man, Chris. You're a good man. I appreciate it very much.