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Transcript: Sens. Dodd, McConnell on 'FNS'

The following is a partial transcript from the April 16, 2006, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: There are some tough issues facing Washington this holiday weekend. To discuss them, we're joined by Mitch McConnell, the number two Republican in the Senate, and senior Democrat Chris Dodd. On this Easter, each joins us from his home state.

And, Senators, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday".

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: Good morning.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, D-CONN.: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Let's start with what I think we'd all agree was the unusual development this week of six retired generals calling for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld.

Senator McConnell, what do you make of their criticism and does it change your opinion of whether Secretary Rumsfeld should stay on?

MCCONNELL: Well, it is reminiscent of the problems that Abraham Lincoln had with generals during the Civil War. As you know, his opponent for re-election ended up being a disgruntled general. And of course, Harry Truman had his problems with MacArthur.

At least these are retired generals. They're certainly free to say what they'd like to say. And clearly, they've got something to get off their chests. I think many of them didn't like Rumsfeld personally.

But look, this is a free country. I think they're entitled to say whatever they choose to say. But it does remind us that civilian control of the military in this country is important, and at the end of the day the civilian leaders are the ones who make the decision.

With regard to Rumsfeld, I think he's been a spectacular secretary of defense, one of the best in American history. And I certainly do not think he ought to resign.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, there are two main points to the criticism from the generals — first of all, that Rumsfeld has mismanaged the war in Iraq, and secondly, that he doesn't listen to his generals.

Do you buy either of those arguments and does this shape at all or shake your confidence in Rumsfeld staying on as secretary of defense?

DODD: Yes, it does. This is not an insignificant event. Generals are not in the habit, even as retirees, to go around being critical of the civilian leadership. This is a very, very important event.

You have four former major generals, a lieutenant general, a general here. These are very significant commanders. They led troops in Iraq, Afghanistan. They've led major infantry divisions. This is very, very important. And I think you ought to pay attention here.

These are generals who are not only speaking for themselves but I suspect are speaking for a lot of senior military people who are in uniform today and under Article 88, of course, of the military code would be not permitted to make public comments about the president or the secretary of defense.

We ought to pay a lot of attention. David Brooks this morning, a conservative columnist, put it right in the end. I think Mr. Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, with all due respect, is a past tense man. And the president would be very wise, in my view, asking him to step aside.

We need a new direction in Iraq. We're not doing well in Iran, in my view, at this particular juncture. North Korea has quadrupled its nuclear arsenal over the last several years. There's a real concern here that we're looking at some incompetency in addition to the arrogance issues that have been raised.

Things have not gone well. Condoleezza Rice talked about 1,000 tactical mistakes the other day in Iraq — not exactly a ringing endorsement from the secretary of state for the secretary of defense. This ought not to be personal.

Remember, the war is being set — and the tone of it is being set out of the White House, but clearly I think Secretary Rumsfeld needs to move on

WALLACE: Senator McConnell?

MCCONNELL: Of course, he should not move on. What I think we've lost track of here is what going on offense after 9/11 was all about. The important thing to remember is that we haven't been attacked again here at home since September of 2001.

Why do you think that is? It's not an accident of history. It's because we've been on offense out in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've wiped out a lot of the people who would do us harm. There are still, obviously, plenty of them left in Baghdad. But I'd rather be fighting them over there and in Afghanistan than in Washington or New York.

The War on Terror has been an extremely successful undertaking with regard to Iraq and getting a government up and running. Hopefully, this elected democratic government will shortly choose its leadership, and in the very near future I think we'll be able to draw down troops.

But you know, I think Iraqis are more optimistic about their future right now than we are about ours. Some of the surveys have been quite interesting about how optimistic they are about the changes that are coming about in their country.

WALLACE: Let me turn to the situation in Iraq.

Senator Dodd, it has been, as I'm sure you know, more than four months now since the Iraqis went in, millions of voters, to elect a national assembly. They still don't have a government there. Secretary of State Rice went two weeks ago to try to pressure the Iraqi politicians. That didn't seem to work.

There's a report today that the Shiite alliance is close to replacing Ibrahim Al-Jaafari as the nominee for prime minister. Good idea?

DODD: Well, I think it's moving in the right direction, but let me just say here those elections on December 15th — no new government formed. Here we are in the middle of April. Patience is running out.

If you can't form a coalition government, if the Iraqis are unwilling, the leadership of the Shia, Sunnis and Kurds, are unwilling to form a government, then this isn't going to work. And that's what the generals are saying. That's what others are saying as well here. This is falling apart. Anyone who's paid any attention to this knows that.

With all due respect to my friend from Kentucky here, this is falling apart. It's a mess. Most people know it. And frankly, if they can't get a government formed here with new leadership that represents the future of Iraq, then I think we ought to be drawing down troops immediately, pulling back and telling the Iraqi people until they decide they're going to manage their future, we can't guarantee it for them.

We have given them an option. We've given them an opening here. But they seem to be unwilling to take advantage of it, and people are tired of it at home.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, two aspects of what Senator Dodd said that I'd like you to pick up on. One, the question of how tough we should get with the Iraqis to get their act together and form a government, and do you think it would be a good idea for Jaafari to step aside so you can get a compromise candidate in there?

MCCONNELL: Look, what I think I hear my good friend Chris saying, and a lot of his Democratic colleagues, is that we ought to cut and run. The American people don't think that. They think we ought to stay and finish the job.

I certainly agree with Chris that it's taken entirely too long to form this new government. It looks like they are finally about to achieve that new government. That is extremely important, because we don't want to leave a mess behind.

And I think leaving prematurely is a guarantee that Iraq will become again what it used to be, which was a haven for terrorism and a threat to the area and to us.

WALLACE: Let me move on, if I can. We could be debating Iraq all day. But let's move on, because there are so many trouble spots right now, to Iran.

I was looking at our research. We found statements from both of you from early 2005 in which you both backed the diplomatic track. It is 15 months later, and diplomacy doesn't seem to have worked. We had the new development this week of President Ahmadinejad announcing that they have joined the nuclear club by enriching uranium.

Senator Dodd, let me start with you. Is it time to leave the U.N. Security Council, given the fact that the Chinese and the Russians are dragging their feet, and to get a coalition of the willing to impose tough economic sanctions on Iran?

DODD: Well, I certainly don't disagree with the sanctions option. But I would disagree with your characterization, Chris, that we've sort of exhausted the diplomatic option. We basically outsourced the diplomatic option, if you will. We're on the sidelines here. We've been leaving it up to the Europeans and others.

I happen to believe that you need direct talks. Former Secretary Armitage made the point the other day — others have as well here — had we had political leadership in this country in the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s that had been unwilling to talk to the Soviet Union, had Richard Nixon been unwilling to go to China, think what the world might have looked like had we not engaged these people.

It doesn't mean you agree with them. It doesn't mean you support them. It doesn't mean you have formal diplomatic relations. But there's an option. The Iranians have been asking...

WALLACE: But wait, Senator Dodd, if I may just for a moment, I mean, what I've been hearing from Democrats for years is let's be more multilateral, let's not go it alone. I mean, given the fact that we don't have much of a weapon since we've sanctioned out Iraq — Iran, rather, didn't it make sense to go along with the Europeans?

DODD: Well, again, we've been basically a non-participant. The Iranians have been very interested for us to be very directly involved, with the Europeans or not. The point is we almost have no contact at all. They are asking us to sit down and talk about Iraq with them because they're concerned about that. That's an opening.

Former Ambassador Richard Haas and the Bush administration has strongly suggested that there is a formulation whereby we may be able to walk Iran back from its nuclear arsenal and simultaneously offer them some things.

I don't think we've been muscular enough, if you will, on the diplomatic front. I don't disagree that we ought to leave the military option on the table, but I don't think we've been working hard enough on the diplomacy side of this.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, is it our fault that the diplomacy hasn't worked so far?

MCCONNELL: Well, your question to Chris was right on the mark. When the president went into Iraq, they accused him of being too unilateral. And now he's applying a multilateral approach in Iran and they say he ought to be unilateral in Iran.

Nobody thinks — nobody seriously thinks there is a unilateral solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. It has to be done on a multilateral basis.

What would be helpful, obviously, is if — the Russians and the Chinese, even though they agree with us that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable, are at least so far unwilling to act through the U.N. Security Council in a way that could guarantee multilateral sanctions that actually bite and could get the job done.

We've got to continue to pressure the Russians and the Chinese to come on board, along with the British, the French and the Germans, who already agree with us that this is a situation that cries out for U.N. Security Council action and for multilateral sanctions that actually mean something.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, immigration. The Senate comes back from recess a week from tomorrow. Will the Senate Republican leadership immediately reintroduce that compromise immigration bill that fell apart at the end of last week?

MCCONNELL: Well, I think The Washington Post, which rarely supports Republican initiatives, had it right when they said that Senator Reid insisted on a procedure that guaranteed the bill couldn't go forward.

I think Senator Reid needs to agree to a reasonable number of amendments, 15 or 20 amendments, which is fewer than we normally have on a bill of this magnitude. Once we get an agreement on amendments that will be voted on, I think we ought to bring up the bill.

I think we ought to pass a comprehensive bill with a heavy emphasis on border security but, yes, a guest worker program as well. And just as soon as Senator Reid is willing to give up on what he apparently thinks is a great election year issue and give us a chance, along with his colleague Senator Kennedy, who seems to want to work with us to get a bill, I think we can get one.

WALLACE: But, Senator McConnell, you're saying that the Democrats have to move first before the Republicans will reintroduce the bill?

MCCONNELL: Well, we have to have an agreement to get to the end of a bill. It's easy to bring a bill up in the Senate. What is hard to do is to finish it.

The Washington Post has looked at the situation. They agree that the Republicans have not been unreasonable in asking for a reasonable number of amendments.

Just as soon as Senator Reid agrees to that — and by the way, Senator Kennedy, who's been the leader among Democrats on this issue, also thinks that our request is not unreasonable — we can get a comprehensive bill out of the senate.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, do Democrats want a bill or a political issue for November?

DODD: Well, listening to my friend Mitch, I almost thought we were running the Senate for a minute there. The Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House. Senator Reid has written to Senator Frist saying after the supplemental vote when we get back next week, the first item of business ought to be the immigration bill, bring it back up.

There were almost 400 amendments filed, the bulk of them, overwhelming majority, by the Republican side. That's death by filibuster and, of course, the majority leader prohibited on two occasions for votes on the compromise bill, the bill being offered by Senator Martinez, Hagel along with Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain. Two times those votes were not allowed.

Clearly, the fault here, despite what the Washington Post may have said, was the Republican leadership. They control the place. They set the agenda. They pulled the bill down because they were unhappy about the compromise.

Now, hopefully we can get back to this. It's a major issue. It deserves to be considered. I think we can put a good bill together. You're still going to have to resolve the differences with the House.

And I agree with my friend Mitch here, of course, having a strong border security issue is absolutely critical to any immigration bill. But my hope is we can get back to that very quickly.

WALLACE: Senator Dodd, we're running out of time, but I do want to ask you one last question. In doing research for this interview, I was surprised to see that you're now talking about possibly running for president in 2008.

First of all, how seriously are you considering this? And secondly, do you seriously think that either you or any other Democrat can beat Hillary Clinton for the nomination?

DODD: Well, first of all, I'm speaking to you here. I was in New Haven this week, not in New Hampshire, and around Danbury rather than in Dubuque, so that ought to tell you something, first of all. I'm focusing on Connecticut.

We're a long way away from the nomination process. And certainly, Senator Clinton, if she decides to run, will be a very strong candidate along with many others of my colleagues and others who are considering it at this juncture. But at this point here, I haven't made up my mind about that at all.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there, and I'm glad to see the two of you on this Easter morning agreeing on so many issues. Senator Dodd, Senator McConnell, thank you both for joining us again.

MCCONNELL: Glad to be with you.

DODD: Thank you. You bet.