Transcript: Sens. Frist and Biden

The following is a transcribed excerpt of 'FOX News Sunday,' February 13, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Guiding the president's ambitious second-term agenda through Congress is the job of our first guest, the Senator majority leader, Bill Frist.

Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST, R-TENN.: Good to be with you this morning.

WALLACE: Let's begin with those Iraqi election results. As we said, the Shiite coalition got almost half the vote, but that's still well short of the two-thirds needed to form a new government. Your reaction?

FRIST: Chris, several interesting things. I think there's not a lot of new data today, but what was interesting to me, having just been in Iraq now about 3 1/2 weeks ago, is, first, the elections were transformative, a lot of hope there on the ground. I was talking to some friends earlier this morning about it, and the hope, the optimism is there.

Number two, the fact that the Shiite have about 47 percent, 48 percent, leaves open the possibility that minority coalitions can come together in this, sort of, parliamentary post-election give-and-take that's going on right now to put together a slate or a new prime minister. So the fact that the Shiite got less than 50 percent I think is the one remarkable piece of information.

Again, the elections transformative on the ground over there, a lot of hope and optimism, and a lot of positioning, for example, who will be the next prime minister, already under way.

WALLACE: Sounds like there could be a lot of horse-trading.

FRIST: Well, I think that there will be. In fact, I know that there actually is. There are people — I'm sure Allawi is working very hard. We have Shiites who are working very hard. We have a fellow by the name of Jafari who, again, is working very hard.

All of that's under way. Very exciting, and that's really the part of that democracy that we're all so happy that they're moving toward.

WALLACE: Let's go back to the legislative landscape, the legislative agenda you're going to have to push through that building behind me over there.

A hot topic here in Washington right now is the Medicare prescription drug benefit, which, according to projections, is going to end up costing quite a lot more, $724 billion, than a lot of members of Congress say they'd been led to believe.

Now, both Republicans and Democrats are talking about measures to try to cut costs. But the president this week came out very strongly, said he threatens to veto any measure that will scale back the benefit.

Question: As Senate majority leader, will you work to block any change to the prescription drug benefit?

FRIST: Several real quick things.

On the prescription drug benefit, it is an important part of giving health-care security for our seniors. Right now, prescription drugs are the most powerful thing in medicine today, and to deny that from seniors when you've got it, I've got it, most of the American people have it, is wrong. So the prescription drug policy is great policy.

Number two, the cost estimate itself, whether it was $400 billion or maybe $500 billion for a 10-year period, the window we're talking about now is not the same 10-year period. It's 10 years — or two years later, which it has full two years of implementation. So, it's apples versus oranges. If you look at apples versus apples, the cost estimates have not increased.

Third, it's expensive, there is no question about it. But when you put preventive care, chronic disease management and prescription drugs in the bill, it's going to cost you something.

And fourthly, we have to address the skyrocketing cost of health care. And you do that by looking at the overall system and moving toward a patient-centered, consumer-driven, provider-friendly system that's driven on information and choice.

And I say all of that because you can't just isolate out the cost itself and say, "Let's take it out. Let's address it."

I think we ought to let the program be implemented. It hasn't started. It's going to start in 2006. And then after a year, come back and see if we should make modifications.

WALLACE: Well, let me ask you specifically about that, because some Republicans are proposing either allowing drugs to be imported from Canada or mandating the government to try to negotiate lower prices with the drug companies.

FRIST: Yes, and...

WALLACE: Would you support either of those?

FRIST: ... we're all struggling with the skyrocketing costs of health care. It's too high. It drives people to the ranks of the uninsured. We've got to address that as a system.

To unravel a Medicare bill that is a very strong bill, a good bill, before it's even started — it doesn't start until 2006, the Medicare implementation — I think is wrong. I think that's what the president was saying.

WALLACE: Let's turn to Social Security. Your counterpart in the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert, said this week — and let's put it up on the screen so you can take a look at it — "You can't jam change down the American people's throat," that it could take six months, it could take two years to pass Social Security reform.

Do you agree with Speaker Hastert?

FRIST: I agree wholeheartedly you can't jam change down the throat of the American people.

What we need to do is really demonstrate the reality of problem. We have a demographic shift with a doubling of the number of seniors. Seniors are getting older and older, in part because of the profession of medicine, but they're getting older and older, and with that we have fewer people paying into the system.

The baby boom starts three years from now in 2008. We have a catastrophe that can happen unless we act. Politicians can kick it off to the future, which I think is morally wrong, or we can address it now.

We need to first make sure the American people understand there's a problem, engage the American people.

WALLACE: And could that take more than a year?

FRIST: Well, I would hope not. It depends on how good we are and the media is.

The Democrats need to stop saying there's not a problem. There is a problem. It's demographically driven. It's a tidal wave that we can't control. It's driven by the baby boom coming in with fewer people paying into the program.

So, we have a long way to go. It looks likes we have to start in the United States Senate, because we have the Democrats in the Senate say there's no problem. There's a huge problem out there that's going to punish your children and the next generation because we've overpromised.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about the Democrats, because the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, says he has 45 solid votes against these private accounts, that, in his words, "it's not going to happen."

But interestingly, in the last few days, two Democratic senators, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Thomas Carper of Delaware, said they're willing to consider personal accounts.

Senator Frist, is there some erosion on the Democratic side? Are some of those solid 45 "no" votes maybe a little softer than Senator Reid thinks they are?

FRIST: Chris, I don't know. I think nobody, Democrat or Republican, should be drawing lines in the sand, when we've got a huge problem, which is a moral responsibility, I think, to address.

I think what we're seeing is that people are going to back off and say, "Let's spend a little time. Let's work together." It's not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem. It's an American problem. And let's work together.

Therefore, I will again appeal to everybody, my colleagues and Democrats, keep everything on the table, everything that you possibly can. If you have something you just don't believe in, take it off the table. Keep everything on the table. Admit there's a problem. Let's move forward.

And I think that's what Senator Carper and Senator Nelson are doing.

Now, the personal accounts are not the answer. That's why you have to keep everything on the table. There's a lot of focus on it. I believe in them, but it's not the only answer. Let's put everything on the table, and then let's look, let's negotiate, what's best for the American people.

WALLACE: New subject: Howard Dean has just been elected the new head of the Democratic Party. Dean had this to say recently: "I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for." And after his selection as head of the DNC yesterday, he had some more choice words. Let's watch.


HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: You cannot trust Republicans with your money.

The Republicans know the America they want, and they are not afraid to use any means to get there.


WALLACE: What do you think of Howard Dean?

FRIST: Well, when I see the words "hate," and then I see his picture and know that they came from him, and he hasn't sort of withdrawn that, it makes me a little hesitant — a little, I guess, disappointed.

Because I think the American people now, after we have come off a very tough election year, a lot of partisanship — and that's part of the politics — at this point want us to govern with meaningful solutions.

FRIST: And that's what they want. It doesn't mean the parties aren't sharp and they're not aggressive in defending their principles. But they want us to govern. And I don't think that having a Democratic leader saying they hate everybody is going to feed into that.

And, again, I respect Dr. Dean in many ways, and I look forward to working with him. I hope that some of that rhetoric — and probably on both sides of the aisle — can be toned down, so we can govern for the American people.

WALLACE: And what do you think his election says about where the Democratic Party is headed now?

FRIST: Well, I think everybody knows the Democratic Party's very divided right now.

If you look at the last 10 years, the Republican Party is the majority party. We've accomplished what hadn't been done in over 100 years: re-electing a Republican president, increased majority in the Senate, increased majority in the House, increased majority of governorships.

They're very divided, and they're trying to feel their way along.

It surprises me a little bit, when America wants us to come together and work toward the middle, but I would say with good, strong values and Republican principles, that they'd take somebody who is actually further to the left. But, again, they have to decide, and that's their strategy.

I think the one advice I'd give is, don't say no to everything, whether it's Social Security or whether it's the president's Cabinet nominees. Please, to Dr. Dean and his party, don't say no to everything.

WALLACE: We have only limited time left, and I'd like to go over the legislative landscape. So let's do a lightning round. I'll ask brief questions, and you give — brief questions, you give me quick answers.

FRIST: OK, good.

WALLACE: First of all, the president's budget: Only in Washington would a $2.5 trillion budget be called "lean," but there were cuts in some politically sensitive programs: subsidies to farmers, cuts in the Centers for Disease Control, veterans' benefits, hiring more police.

Senator Frist, do you support all of those cuts?

FRIST: Tough budget, the toughest since I've been in Washington, D.C. Non-defense, non-homeland security spending is actually cut, goes down in real dollars. The toughest I've ever seen.

Do I support all of them? We will look at them.

I support the president's overall number, that flat spending, or cut in spending, the relative priorities he has expressed, his priorities. The United States Senate will express ours. I think that they'll come close to lining up, but not each and every one do I expect to line up.

WALLACE: So, you think there's going to be some picking and choosing among them?

FRIST: There will be picking and choosing. And that's what the United States Senate is for, as a co-equal branch of government.

WALLACE: The House passed an immigration bill this week that would require states to seek proof of legal residence before they give out drivers' licenses. Will the Senate pass that measure?

FRIST: The Senate will look very closely. I've asked our responsible committee, the Judiciary Committee, to look at those specific proposals. Those are very specific. It's not overall immigration reform, and I think we need to look at immigration reform in a more comprehensive way.

We will look at each and every one of those, through our committee process. And if it makes sense, we may go ahead and pass them in some way. If not, it may even be more likely we'll do a little bit broader immigration reform, instead of just those specific ones.

WALLACE: The president has renominated 10 of his judicial appointees to the appeals court, who had been blocked by Democratic filibusters. When will you bring up the first one?

FRIST: You know, last month 34 senators took an oath to the Constitution of the United States, and that oath means that they're going to give advice and consent, or that's their one responsibility.

We need to restore the tradition of giving advice and consent, and that means having a nominee coming from the president to us with majority support be allowed a vote, an up-or-down vote — vote against, vote for, but allowed a vote. That is my goal in this Congress, to restore that 200 years of tradition.

The nominees the president has renominated have to go back through committee. They'll be coming out of committee one at a time. And I appeal to the other side of the aisle to give them an up-or-down vote. Vote against if you want to, but an up-or-down vote.

WALLACE: Well, you've raised the obvious question that's been a burning issue here on Capitol Hill. If Democrats decide to filibuster, as they did last year, will you seek a ruling that under the Constitution that you only need 51 votes, not 60, to stop a filibuster and vote on a judicial nomination?

FRIST: Chris, the goal will be to restore that tradition of 200 years. Just with class action lawsuits, they — that was filibustered last year. But in this new Congress, in the 109th Congress, with us working together to govern with meaningful solutions, to work together, we were able to pass class action, a huge achievement, just three days ago.

FRIST: With that, I hope we can address these judges in the same way.

Again, I'm going to continue to appeal to let's give everybody an up-or-down vote, and then you don't have to change rules.

WALLACE: Will you bring up a constitutional amendment this year to ban same-sex marriages?

FRIST: Maybe not this year but in all likelihood in this Congress. It may be this year.

Right now we — since we first brought it up, 13 states have passed constitutional amendments. The Defense of Marriage Act is again being questioned by judges — activist judges — all over the country. If they continue to question it, we'll bring it up sooner.

Otherwise, I expect it will be brought up some time in this Congress.

WALLACE: We got through it all, Senator Frist. Thank you so much. Thanks for joining us. Come back soon.

FRIST: Thank you. Great to be with you.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: With results in from the Iraq election and two of the world's trouble spots, North Korea and Iran, heating up, we thought it was just the right time to check in with the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden, who joins us from Wilmington, Delaware.

Senator, welcome. Always good to talk to you.

U.S. SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN, D-DE: Good to be with you.

WALLACE: Let's begin with those Iraqi election results that have just come in. One of the things that's notable is that that Shiite coalition has gotten less than half the vote. As you can see there, about 47.6 percent of the vote seems to leave some room for some horse-trading.

BIDEN: It does. And I think it gives the, as they said, the suits and not the turbans — is the way it's referred to in the Shiite sector — an opportunity to make their case that they have to, in fact, bring in specifically Sunnis into the cabinet. They're going to have to see more Sunnis brought into the constitution-writing if there's going to be any legitimacy at the end of the day. And I think we'll see that.

WALLACE: Do you think that it's more likely that that Shiite coalition will be able to form the government by picking up some minority parties or that the rest of the assembly will be able to assemble a majority?

BIDEN: Well, they're brand-new at this, and it really depends upon how they reach out. You have Allawi reaching out to the Kurds. You have the Shia reaching out to the Kurds. The Kurds are going to play an important role in this.

But I think, at the end of the day, everyone responsible — and there are many responsible people in each of those factions — know that unless the Sunnis, even though only about 6 percent of them got to vote or decided to vote, unless they're brought into the constitution-writing process, at the end of the day, when we're having this discussion in the fall, there will be no legitimacy to the constitution.

So I think you'll see it, meaning that they will be reaching out to decide who among the Sunnis best suit their — they're most comfortable with.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, the election in Iraq was barely over when some Democrats in the Senate started demanding that U.S. troops start coming home. In fact, one of your colleagues, Senator Kennedy, went after the Pentagon brass at a hearing. Let's watch that exchange if we can.


U.S. SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA): When are the Iraqis going to fight for their own country? We want to know when the Iraqis are going to go out there and shed their blood.


WALLACE: Senator, when U.S. troops are working hard to train up the Iraqis, when Iraqi security forces are now dying at a greater rate than the Americans are, is that kind of talk sensible?

BIDEN: Well, let me not comment on the talk; let me comment on the reality.

The reality is that a lot of Iraqis are dying. The reality is we haven't trained up many troops, as you now know.

I had this long debate that's been going on long distance between Rumsfeld and me and others, them saying initially they had 210,000 Iraqi troops trained. That's simply not true. We probably do have somewhere between now 6,000 and 18,000 or 19,000. That comes from Tony Cordesman and other unbiased sources who are military experts.

We're now beginning, under General Petraeus, in Iraq, to really train up these Iraqi troops. And hopefully the president's trip will follow on to the recent trip in Europe with the secretary of state and secretary of defense and call on Germany and France to commit to their recent commitment of training troops.

In other words, we need a serious training program. It's only now begun two months ago. We squandered an opportunity for 19 months. It's now beginning.

When we train people and equip them — we send these troops out, for example, who are barely trained, and we send them out — they're not in armored Humvees. They're not in — they don't have tanks. They're not well-equipped.

And that's our responsibility at the front end. We're now beginning to do that. That's when we can get to come home. Pray to God we'll start to do that in earnest now.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, let's move on to North Korea, which announced this week formally — it's something that I think a lot people already suspected — that it has nuclear weapons and that it wants direct one-on-one talks with the U.S.

Is the Bush administration right to refuse those kind of direct talks and to continue to call for negotiations involving North Korea's regional neighbors?

BIDEN: Generically, yes. It should stay in the six-party talks.

And I think the North Koreans have overplayed their hands. The response from China — this was meant to get China and South Korea to put pressure on the United States to offer more carrots. But the fact of the matter is, it's angered the Chinese government so far. It looks like it may have backfired.

But, Chris, the bottom line on both here and in Iran, different partners, but the partners we're working with in Korea — China, South Korea, Japan — they have got to be ready to use sticks, and we have to be willing to use a few more carrots. It cannot be done one way or the other.

In other words, up to now, you had the other four parties of the six-party talks who were involved in this unwilling to really clamp down. You have China having access, being the source of energy supplies for the north. You have South Korea being the source of economic growth to the extent there is any for the north. And they have to be ready, in the face of this kind of action, to make it clear that there's consequences.

We, on the other hand, when these talks occur, have to be ready to lay out in fairly clear detail the benefits to North Korea if they actually join the nations in the region and verifiably forswear missiles and nuclear power.

And we haven't done that clearly, nor have the other four parties in the six-party talks made it clear that they're willing to use sticks.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, let me just wrap up on that before we move on to Iran. We should also point out that just last night, the Chinese foreign minister, in a conversation with Secretary of State Rice, said that China is committed, continues to be committed to a nuclear-free...

BIDEN: Absolutely.

WALLACE: ... Korean Peninsula.

Let's move on to Iran. The president...

BIDEN: And it's very much in their interest. They're in real trouble because Japan will go nuclear, and then China's got a real problem.

WALLACE: On Iran, the president, Vice President Cheney here last week on "Fox News Sunday," and Secretary of State Rice have all talked in recent weeks about the threat that Iran represents.

Do you agree or do you see signs that the administration may be involved in doing what some people allege it did in the run-up to the Iraq war, which is allegedly hyping the threat?

BIDEN: I think it's a long-term threat. It's not a near-term threat. There is no evidence they have the capacity right now. They have not tested.

And the fact of the matter is, this is a case where we're remaining to sit on the sidelines. The Europeans, the three European countries that are negotiating with the Iranians, are saying, "Look, we've got to get in the deal with them. We can't just sit on the sidelines."

We acknowledge nothing can happen without the Europeans participating and again being ready to use sanctions and/or, as we say, sticks. And we acknowledge, and most people know, nothing they're going to be able to do is going to be involved with us unless we're willing to get into some kind of an agreement that results in a verifiable arms control agreement.

Look, Dr. Rice, when asked if they forswore their missile capability and their nuclear weapons and we could verify that, would we make a deal, and she implied we wouldn't, even under those circumstances.

So we're at odds with our European friends, and it doesn't leave many options.

WALLACE: Do you believe honestly that diplomatic efforts can work, whether its this European effort to offer economic incentives or eventually U.N. tough sanctions? Do you believe that diplomatic efforts can actually get the mullahs to give up their nuclear ambitions? Or, in the end, are we going to have to accept Iran as a nuclear power?

BIDEN: The answer is, I don't know, Chris. The U.N. is no part of this.

If, in fact, France, England and Germany were willing, in the face of obstruction by Iran, which is the case right now, if they were willing to engage in sanctions, including not purchasing their oil, which would be a big deal for them, and cutting off economic relations, I believe it has the possibility of having an effect.

Conversely, if we were willing to sign on to a genuine nonaggression pact in the states of a verifiable regime, that's the only other possibility.

If neither of those work, and I'm not at all sure they would, then you're left with one of two options: You accept them as a nuclear power, which I'm disinclined to do, or you invade, which we are not really particularly capable of doing right now.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, let's talk a little bit of politics. As we said earlier in this program, Howard Dean was named the head of the Democratic Party yesterday.

This is the man who said during the campaign that capturing Saddam Hussein didn't make us safer, the man who said that Osama Bin Laden deserves a fair trial.

Why shouldn't Dean's selection alarm voters about whether Democrats can be trusted to protect national security?

BIDEN: Well, in my experience, being in the Senate for six terms and serving with seven presidents, no party chairman's ever made a bit of difference in terms of the public perception or policy in either political party. And that will be the same here.

WALLACE: So you don't see him having a serious policy role at all?

BIDEN: Absolutely not.

But I do see him having an organizational role. And we'll see whether or not he can put together the organizational skills he demonstrated when he ran his campaign in a way that can bring out more support.

But he's not going to have a policy role, and he's stated that.

WALLACE: Finally, in Dr. Rice's, Condoleezza Rice's confirmation hearings, you had some blunt advice for her. Let's watch.


BIDEN: For God's sake, don't listen to Rumsfeld. He doesn't know what in the hell he's talking about on this.



WALLACE: Classic Biden.

And afterward, as you were saying goodbye to Dr. Rice, you told her she shouldn't listen to Vice President Cheney either.

My question, Senator Biden, is, why not?

BIDEN: Because they've been wrong on every major decision relative to Iraq since the statue came down.

They indicated that we would be able to draw down troops very rapidly. They indicated that we would be greeted with open arms. They indicated there would be enough Iraqi oil to pay for this operation. They indicated it wouldn't cost $260 billion. They indicated that we had trained up troops, and we haven't.

Every fundamental — and I told the president this just four months ago, straight up. He asked my opinion. And it seems to me that my obligation is to say it as I see it.

The truth of the matter is, they're both fine men. They have been substantively wrong on the specific decisions they've made since the statue has fallen.

And many of the military leaders in the region — I've visited there more than anybody, I believe, in the United States Congress — and people that are involved with this administration believe they've been dead wrong on the advice they've been given.

All I'm saying is, unless they change their advice, I wouldn't be listening very closely.

BIDEN: When Rumsfeld was on your program — I think it was your program, I could be mistaken — a year and a half ago, he said it's, I think the word was "amazing," we'd trained up 210,000 Iraqi forces. We put 210,000 people in uniform who couldn't shoot straight and had little training, some of them as little as three days.

I just think we should get real here. A lot of lives are at stake, and an incredible opportunity is here. This president has a chance to do something no president has done, and that is turn the policy on Iraq into a total policy involving the region that makes us a lot safer. We're on the cusp of that.

I hope he listens to Dr. Rice. I hope he listens to his military and less to Vice President Cheney and the secretary of defense unless they change their view, unless they've learned something.

WALLACE: Somehow I have a feeling that Dr. Rice and the president are not going to take your advice on listening to their advice.

BIDEN: Well, let me tell you, look...

WALLACE: Senator, we've got to go.


WALLACE: But we thank you very much for talking with us and giving us, as we say, the classic Biden. It's always a pleasure. See you again soon, sir.

BIDEN: Thank you very much. Bye-bye.