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Transcript: Sen. Joe Lieberman on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday" for November 14, 2004.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Although Republicans will control 55 seats in the Senate, they will still need help from centrist Democrats like our guest, Senator Joe Lieberman.

And, Senator, welcome. Always good to have you here.

LIEBERMAN: Good to be with you again, Chris.

WALLACE: So, let me ask you the pressing question. When you look in the mirror, do you see a potential president staring back at you?

LIEBERMAN: I have in past years...

(LAUGHTER)

... and I responded to that vision. But the voters in the Democratic primaries didn't agree.

So right now I see somebody — I see a senator, and I like what it looks like.

WALLACE: What do you make of the furor among conservatives about Senator Specter and this whole issue of making him chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee?

LIEBERMAN: The last thing I should do is get in the middle of a Republican fight, but I'll just offer this commentary.

From what I know of the Senate Republican rules for committee leadership, Arlen Specter is in line to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. And so, if he is denied that, that would break those rules.

And I think everybody's got to ask themselves, on the Republican side, how does that look? Does that look like they're imposing a litmus test, which all of us say we're against? In this case, a litmus test on Arlen just because he doesn't just totally toe the line.

I mean, he's a good senator. I've worked very closely with him on a lot of things. He's independent, and he's fair.

And so I think that's the judgment that the Republicans have to make, whether for ideological reasons they want to stop a senator who is entitled to this position by the Senate Republican rules from occupying it.

WALLACE: But let's take a comparable situation. Let's say the Democrats — and this would be a big leap at this point — take back control of the Senate...

LIEBERMAN: Yes, lovely thought.

WALLACE: ... and the person who is scheduled to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is a right-to-lifer.

You don't think liberal groups would be up in arms about that?

LIEBERMAN: They probably would. And I appreciate that question, and that is exactly the point. There's been much too much intolerance on the side of particularly the question of abortion, on which people hold very deep and sincere points of view. And that ought not be a litmus test.

I said during my campaign for president that I would not apply a litmus test on the question of abortion if I felt that someone else was otherwise qualified to be a judge or a Supreme Court justice. And I think the warning should go to both sides.

And in some sense in their judgment on Arlen Specter being chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the Republicans are going to be setting a precedent. One day Democrats will again control the Senate, and I think it would be absolutely wrong to deprive someone of being chairman of the Judiciary Committee because that senator held a pro- life position, if he was otherwise entitled by seniority to hold that position.

WALLACE: Now, you used the word "intolerance." Do you think it would send a message of intolerance?

LIEBERMAN: Well, this is the old question about whether each of our parties is a big-tent party or whether it is more narrow. And the two great political parties in our country have played an important stabilizing role over most of our history because they've had people of different points of view who have often come together.

If you start to draw those lines, you begin to make the parties more extreme. And a lot of people in the middle, where elections are won, are going to get restless and look for another choice. And that's not good.

WALLACE: Let's talk about filibusters.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

WALLACE: When Democrats blocked 10 of the president's judicial nominees — and according to Senator Frist, that's for the first time in history — why isn't that, as he calls it, the tyranny of the minority?

LIEBERMAN: Well, let me set it in historical context.

I mean, the first fact is that over 200 of President Bush's judicial nominations have been confirmed by the Senate. As far as I can tell, seven or eight have not. That's a number — that means that a lot of so-called conservative judges have been approved by the Democratic Senate. The numbers were much worse during the Clinton administration.

And I think the question here is form over substance. The filibuster has been used in these few cases in the last four years with President Bush's nominees. During the Clinton years, as far as I can tell, more than 60 of President Clinton's judicial nominations were blocked not by a filibuster but because the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee never even gave those nominees a hearing.

The point of fact here is that both of these, the filibuster and the blocking of even a hearing under President Clinton, are signs of a government here in Washington that has grown too partisan.

And, in this case, I hope that in the second Bush term that President Bush will develop a kind of consultative relationship, certainly with Democratic leaders like Harry Reid.

And I think that will help avoid the kinds of filibusters that really a lot of us moderate Democrats — and we talked about this just last week when we had a phone conference — don't want to be involved in. And we'd much prefer to give an up-or-down vote to a president's judicial nominations. He earned that right when he got elected.

And if there's a sense that we're working together — incidentally, one final word. This week Senator Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, and I are convening a meeting of moderate- centrist senators on both sides. We're really inviting every senator to come and declare yourself interested in working on a bipartisan basis.

Because, you know, we were sent here to govern, not to have political fights. And I hope in the near term we're going to spend our time trying on get something done for the country and the war on terror, the economy and a host of other issues that matter to our people.

WALLACE: Now that you've had time to reflect, what do you think is the single biggest reason that John Kerry lost the election?

LIEBERMAN: You know, the wonder of our system, Chris, of course, is that, you know, 115 million people vote, everybody makes up their own mind. There are so many reasons why it happened.

In the end, my own feeling is, looking at the polls, but intuiting, based on people I talk to, is that, although Senator Kerry got a lot of votes, 56 million votes, more than any Democratic candidate for president in history, but there's no prizes for second place in American politics.

And I think people, 3.5 million more voted for President Bush, largely on the question of security. We're in the midst of a war on terror. This president has been resolute. And a lot of people had confidence in his leadership to protect their safety, and basically decided they didn't want to change leaders in the midst of a war.

WALLACE: But isn't that letting the Democratic Party off the hook? Because there's nothing you could have done about that. I mean, aren't there some things that the Democratic Party, lessons it needs to learn from the election, things it needs to do differently?

LIEBERMAN: Well, yes, I mean, I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't say that, when I ran for president, I said, quite clearly, that I thought, to win the election in '04, we had to have a candidate who would match the president where he's clearly strong, on security and values, and then go on to win the election where the president's record has not been as strong, on the economy and health care and education, which matter a lot to the American people.

And we became to many voters — Democrats became to many voters in the country the anti-war party and, of course, the culturally, morally permissive party.

And that's not where a majority of the American people are, and that's why they voted the way they did in this election.

WALLACE: All right. One of the first fights that you're going to face over the future of the party is who will be the new party chairman.

The other day, you were asked about one possible candidate, Howard Dean, and you said that he represents some people of one wing of the Democratic Party.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

WALLACE: No endorsement.

LIEBERMAN: No.

WALLACE: Is there somebody you like better?

LIEBERMAN: No, I just think that — first off, Howard Dean hasn't indicated that he's going to be a candidate, but — and he's very able, and he does have a constituency within the party, but it is one wing of the party. Howard used to say it's the Democratic wing of the party. We're all Democrats. I always resented that. And he represents one wing of the party.

To rebuild this party, we need somebody who's more in the center, and more of a bridge-builder. I don't have any particular choice for that, myself. It's a job that's going to be a tough job.

But, with all respect, Howard Dean is not the right man to lead the Democratic Party now.

WALLACE: Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack is one person who's talked about it. Would he be a better choice?

LIEBERMAN: Well, personally, I think Tom Vilsack would be a better choice, if he's willing to do it. He's a moderate. He's from the heartland. He's credible, I think, to all sections of the Democratic Party. And he'd be one that I think really could take the party forward.

WALLACE: If the president asks — and there has been some speculation that he may — would you accept a position in a Bush Cabinet?

(LAUGHTER)

LIEBERMAN: The first thing I'd say is that this has mostly been mentioned by John McCain and your own Bill Kristol. I can't figure out Kristol's motivations. I think McCain is trying to get even with me, because, when I was running for president, I said I'd nominate him for secretary of anything he would accept.

But, look, I love the Senate. I think there's a special opportunity for service here, in a Senate that's too partisan, to bring the parties together, to get something done.

But I must also say that I'm enough of a traditionalist that, if an offer was made by the president, the commander in chief, to serve my country, I'd certainly think about it.

But I want to be very clear, there has been — apart from McCain and Kristol and others, I haven't heard anything from the White House on this.

WALLACE: McCain and Kristol are pretty smart guys.

LIEBERMAN: They are.

WALLACE: But let me ask you...

LIEBERMAN: But they're not in the White House right now.

WALLACE: Well, would it be good for the country to have some Democrats in the Cabinet?

LIEBERMAN: Excluding discussion of myself, I think it would be very good for the country to have some Democrats in the Cabinet.

I think this is a moment — the president won. He got 3.5 million votes more than John Kerry. He's got an agenda. Most important of all, he's our commander in chief in the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

And it's time for us, including Democrats, to acknowledge that there are very few of us who have a policy going forward other than the one the president has. So let's support it. Let's increase the capability of the Iraqi military, get them ready for elections, to self-govern, and establish a self-governing democracy in the Middle East, which will be one of the greatest things we can do in the war on terror.

Therefore, I would say, because this ought to be a nonpartisan, bipartisan interest, that the president would do well to have some Democrats closely around him, to make clear to America and to the world that George Bush's policy in the war on terror is not just his policy, it's American policy.

WALLACE: So you may not see a president in the mirror, but you may see a Cabinet secretary?

(LAUGHTER)

LIEBERMAN: I mostly see a senator, and I'm glad to see that every day.

WALLACE: Senator, thank you. Thanks so much for joining us as always.

LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Chris. Good to be with you.

WALLACE: Appreciate it.