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Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on War on Terror Costs

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, September 24, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Call it the grill on the hill. Senators spent several hours grilling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) on the need for spending that $87 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (search) is a member of the Appropriations Committee. Senator, that is today's big question, did Rumsfeld clear up doubts about our strategy in Iraq?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R) TEXAS: Oh, I think he did. I think he and Ambassador Paul Bremer (search) are making the case to Congress about why this money is needed and what it is going to be used for. And I think they make a very persuasive case. We don't have an alternative here of losing.

GIBSON: Nonetheless, we heard Sen. Robert Byrd (search) giving Rumsfeld a hard time as well as Sen. Fritz Hollings (search). Is the committee becoming polarized… as this is becoming an election issue?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think in Washington, we have come to expect partisanship. I think the rhetoric about the war has heightened in the last month or so as the presidential campaign has gotten started, but I don't think that is the right approach.

I think all of us were briefed before we went into Iraq. Congress did vote to give the president the right to go into Iraq or anywhere else to fight the war on terror. That's exactly what he's doing. Is it expensive? Yes. Is it very difficult? Yes. But we are going to see this through. And as hard as it is and as many questions as will be asked, we're going to do the right thing.

GIBSON: Even Republicans are admitting that there's a sticker shock factor to this bill — $87 billion seems to be a lot of money to Americans, especially when domestic programs won't get funded because of it. How do we justify that much money?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think that we have to take our cue from the people who are on the ground. And certainly we're going to have everything for our troops, and $66 billion of this is for troop protection, for the equipment, the support the troops need. We're going to fund everything that the military asks us to do in order to make sure that our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and everywhere else in the world are safe and secure as they can possibly be.

GIBSON: Okay. Did Rumsfeld tell you when this is going to end?

HUTCHISON: We do not have a definite date of ending. We have seen these terrorist attacks that have continued, it has caused our timetable to shift. We hoped that it would be a year. We still hope it will be a year, but as long as these terrorists are tearing down what we have built, it is going to make the rehabilitation much more costly and long-term.

GIBSON: Senator, are we fighting the prewar debate all over again? Is that what this is?

HUTCHISON: I think that's a very good and insightful question. We all looked at the evidence and gave the president the authority to do this. Now that the going is tough, all of a sudden the president is looking back and he's seeing a bunch of people revising what we did. I don't think that we can just cut and run because it's gotten tough. We authorized this war on terror. It is for the protection of the American people, and we must see it through.

GIBSON: Are you convinced that it is for the protection of the American people? If it had not been done, the American people would be vulnerable to an attack, some unnamed attack that we don't even have any specifics about?

HUTCHISON: John, we looked at the evidence we had at the time. We were very concerned that Saddam Hussein was aiding and abetting the terrorists. And we know what happened when Saudi Arabia let the terrorists fester and grow and they didn't stay in Saudi Arabia. They went to Afghanistan and they came to the United States. So I think, in hindsight, we may learn different things, but knowing what we knew at the time, I think that we had every right to go in and try to stop the growth of terrorism in that part of the world to keep it from coming to our part of the world.

GIBSON: Right, but senator, am I hearing you say that if we had known then what we knew now, you wouldn't have supported the war? We wouldn't have done the war, that we acted on the best information we had, but it turns out it was a mistake?

HUTCHISON: No, no, no. Not at all. I'm glad you allowed me to clarify that. I think that we have to stop the growth of terrorism where it is. And I think the evidence is clear that Saddam Hussein was funding Palestinian terrorists and had contacts with Al Qaeda. And when he has the money and he has the potential for weapons of mass destruction, when he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people, I think the president felt — and Congress gave him the authority to go in to take out that threat to American security.

GIBSON: But senator, on that basis — if you are judging it that way — shouldn't we also be looking at Saudi Arabia and saying, “Look, you guys are doing way more than Saddam Hussein was?”

HUTCHISON: Well, Saudi Arabia is helping us now according to all of the information that we can get. I hope they think they have made a mistake in allowing the Al Qaeda network to grow and prosper through the Wahabi sect. And I think they now realize the danger of that growth. I hope that's the case.

GIBSON: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, a member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

HUTCHISON: Thank you, John.

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