Kerry's Anti-Rumsfeld Crusade

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," January 19, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Not everybody is delighted that Donald Rumsfeld (search) is getting a second tour as Secretary of Defense. Senator John Kerry (search) pushing an online petition to fire Rummy saying that he's unfit to serve even one more day, never mind four more years.

Kerry blaming the Secretary for, quote, "Failures in Iraq and not playing it straight with the American people." Joining me now, former Republican Senator from New York, Al D'Amato (search), and Democratic Strategist Richard Aborn (search).

And today's big question, Richard: so, is Kerry just being a sore loser here?

RICHARD ABORN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oh, I don't think so. I don't think we can dismiss out of hand the idea that Rumsfeld may not have fully carried out his responsibilities in a professional way. I think there have been some serious missteps in Iraq.

GIBSON: Well, it maybe, but Mr. Kerry pushed that notion for a long time. The American people, by a majority voted to say no. And today he was one of two senators, along with Barbara Boxer, who voted against Condoleezza Rice (search).

Shouldn't he maybe take a backseat, if somebody was going to lead this charge, let somebody else do it? Why look like it's sour grapes?

ABORN: Not at all. I think Kerry has a very vital role to play. He didn't lose by 10 million votes, he lost by a substantial number, but it wasn't an over...

GIBSON: Three and a half million.

ABORN: No, no. Absolutely, a substantial number, I said. But it wasn't an overwhelming number. He's well-known to the American people; he's thoughtful on these issues; people have said that he has credibility on these issues; and I think he's the perfect person to talk about this.

Look, the Democrats are starting to do what they should do: they should be an opposition party. They're speaking out; they're seeking to hold the President accountable.

GIBSON: Senator D'Amato, what is your take? Do you think Senator Kerry is stepping a little over the line?

AL D'AMATO (R), FORMER SENATOR, NEW YORK: I think it's a great political mistake on his part. And he comes across as mean-spirited.

I know John Kerry, I don't think he is a mean-spirited person, but this is just going to look like partisan politics at its worst.

It comes right during the Inaugural process, which is taking place and the celebration. It's got to be viewed with a great deal of skepticism by lots of Americans, who may not be happy with what's transpiring. I'm not happy with the results in Iraq and what's transpiring and losing men and women. But to just start a petition drive at this time, and to say, "Mr. President, take Rumsfeld out" this is silly and it's counterproductive.

ABORN: In all due respect, Senator...

D'AMATO: It does not add to the factual picture. If you want to raise questions, you want to suggest alternatives, that's one thing. But to call for Rumsfeld's firing is silly.

ABORN: I think it's just the opposite. The mere fact that you're doing this show shows that this is getting some interesting coverage. Other news stories are doing this show.

Listen, we can't rely on niceties, we can't wait for the perfect, polite moment. Someone has got to hold the President's feet to the fire...

D'AMATO: That's a different matter. If he wants...

ABORN: And Kerry is doing that.

D'AMATO: If he wants to call into question various policies and put out alternatives, et cetera, that's fine. But to come in and just simply — by the way, he has a right to do it — but I'm saying he's just going to look like the spoiled kid: he lost, he almost had it, he's blown it. And he did, he blew that election, by the way.

I have to tell you it was hard for a Democrat going into that election to lose with all of the problems that the administration was facing, plus the war, et cetera. The President's team did a great job, but John Kerry blew it and now he looks like a sore loser.

GIBSON: Let's just say Kerry honestly believes Rummy should go. A, why bring it up during these inaugural processes, where you are going to be perceived as a guy who's trying to drop something in the punch bowl. And when he could be just as effective doing this later? Why now?

ABORN: Well, that's the question.

You've identified some of the good news and the bad news. The good news is he's going to get a lot of attention now because people are going to focus on it because of the hearings. Whereas people may not focus on it two or three weeks from now when the new Cabinet members start to take over.

The bad news is because people are focusing on it now, it may look like sour grapes. So, that's a tactical decision you have to make. But the reality is he's got the issue focused.

People condemned Kerry for not being clear and consistent. He's being crystal clear here and he's being very persistent about his position.

GIBSON: Richard Aborn, thank you very much. Senator Al D'Amato, down in Washington, thank you. Enjoy the Inaugural ceremonies.

Thanks to both you guys.

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