Transcript: Sens. McConnell, Biden on 'FOX News Sunday'

Published April 01, 2007

| FoxNews.com

The following is a partial edition of the April 1, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Joining us now, two of the most influential members of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who comes to us from his home state of Kentucky, and Democrat Joe Biden, presidential candidate and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who joins us from his home state of Delaware.

Senators, I'd like to ask you both about those comments from Matthew Dowd, the first member of the president's inner circle to break with him publicly.

He says that Mr. Bush has failed to reach across the partisan divide and is ignoring the will of the American people when it comes to Iraq.

Senator McConnell, your reaction.

MCCONNELL: Well, the war is a tough issue, obviously. I don't know Matthew Dowd, but obviously he feels very strongly about this and it's compelled him to speak out.

I wouldn't deny that the war is a very tough, difficult, emotional issue for everyone.

WALLACE: Senator Biden?

BIDEN: Well, I think the thing is disappointment. I read the article. The thing that disappointed Dowd is, quite frankly, what disappointed me and that is that the president has squandered real opportunities to unite the country.

You look out there, there's been no call for accountability. The one guy I expected to call for accountability within this administration when he ran was President Bush.

I expected President Bush to call for shared sacrifice after 9/11. Instead, it was basically you do it my way or the highway and everything's a 51 percent solution. Just you get 51 percent, do it.

And I think that's the most disappointing legacy of this administration, not Iraq or any specific item. I think it's that sort of mindset.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, let's talk about...

BIDEN: That seems to be what Dowd talked about.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, let's talk about the partisan divide when it comes to Iraq. The White House has criticized congressional Democrats for going on Easter recess, where both of you are now, along with all of your colleagues, the House until mid-April, without sending him a war funding bill for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army chief of staff and the acting secretary of the Army issued a statement this week, and let's take a look at it, if we can. "Without approval of the supplemental funds in April, we will be forced to take increasingly draconian measures which will impact Army readiness and impose hardships on our soldiers and their families."

Senator Biden, should Congress cancel its vacation in the middle of a war and send a war spending bill to the president?

BIDEN: I think we should send a war spending bill to the president. We will do that. We'll do that very shortly. Mitch has more -- knows more about the timing of it than I do as the Republican leader.

But the fact is that there is no doubt that the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have everything they're going to need and we could -- unfortunately, this could go on until June and they'd still be all right, according to the budget office.

But the bottom line is still the same and, that is, are the troops going to get everything they need. And we have voted for every penny the president has asked for, plus additional money that he didn't ask for for the troops, like with these new MRAV vehicles, these new vehicles that will protect troops better.

And so I think it's a little bit of a -- you're going to see a little political dance coming up here that relates to a showdown, and the showdown relates not to the money for the troops, because everybody's there, but relates to whether or not the mission should be changed in Iraq in terms of how the troops are used.

I think that's what this is really all about.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, before we get to the showdown, let's talk about this question of timing, because as Senator Biden said, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service said this week that, in fact, the Pentagon has enough money to keep the troops funded into May and that if they began to shift money around, and let's put it up, "The Army could finance the war program for almost two additional months or through most of July 2007."

So, Senator McConnell, is this talk about an April deadline for getting the funding bill to the president, is that something of a scare tactic?

MCCONNELL: Well, the problem is CRS is wrong. Sure, they could find the money, but it affects other things. It affects readiness. It affects the lives of the troops. Who do you believe here, the Army chief of staff or the Congressional Research Service, which is not an expert in these matters.

Clearly, the Army chief of staff is correct. General Schoomaker sent me a letter just a couple of days ago indicating that severe consequences would follow not having the bill by April, by mid-April, mid to late April.

So what needs to happen here is the House of Representatives needs to come back a week early. We need to get the conference report on the money for the troops bill down to the president so it can be vetoed.

Why is it going to be vetoed? Because it's got a date specific in there when we're going to leave. It's like sending a memo to the enemy giving them the date that you're going to give up.

I think our Democratic friends have decided the war is lost. They don't have the courage to vote against the money which is the only way to end the war.

So, instead, what they do is try to make it more difficult for our troops to succeed by saying, "we'll send them the money, but we're going to put all kinds of strings on it."

WALLACE: Let me bring in...

MCCONNELL: If they think the war is over, they should vote against the appropriations bill.

WALLACE: Let me bring in Senator Biden, because let's get exactly to this point of the showdown. Congress is going to send the president the spending bill, but with some sort of timeline attached to it.

The president we know is going to veto it.

Senator Biden, what happens then?

BIDEN: I'm not so sure the president is going to veto it. Everybody says that. The timeline of the United States Senate...

WALLACE: Well, he says it, among other people.

BIDEN: No, no, no. But he'd said that before and he hadn't. So I'm not so sure of that.

If he's going to veto, he's going to veto a position that the vast majority of the American people hold.

And what we're saying to the president in the Senate bill is, "Mr. President, you're going to get the money. You can keep troops there, but you can't have them in the midst of a civil war. You have to have them doing what they're supposed to do, train Iraqi forces, provide for denying Al Qaeda territory, the same mission that the Brits just did."

The Brits just did exactly this with their troops in southern Lebanon. It said, "We're not going to be in the middle of the cities anymore. What we're going to do is use British troops to train Iraqis, to deny Al Qaeda occupational operational territory and we're going to do it that way and you need less troops to do that.

And this is exactly what the bipartisan commission called for and the date is not firm. The date says the target is March of '08. And that's no more sending a flag to the enemy than anything -- and let me ask you -- ask Mitch and others the other way.

Does anybody think we're going to have 150,000 troops in Iraq in March of '08 without a fundamental change in what's going on on the ground? The American people aren't going to put up with that.

So you've got to change the mission to get a political solution. That's what we're saying.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, let me ask you about that and as you respond to Senator Biden, I mean, here is the battle joined.

The Congressional Democrats are saying you can get the money, but you've got to accept the timeline. The president's saying I want the money, I don't want the timeline. Who's going to blink?

MCCONNELL: Joe used to think a timeline was a bad idea. He used to be very vigorously opposed to setting a date after which the enemy would know that you were going to give up.

That's not the only outrage in this bill. Not only does it send a memo to our enemies telling them exactly when they can win, it also is porked up.

The Congress put in spinach, money for spinach farmers, peanut storage. They used this serious effort, what should have been a serious effort to fund the troops as an opportunity to send a memo to our enemy on when we're going to give up and to get pork for various and sordid products back home.

This bill is not salvageable. It needs to be vetoed. It needs to come back to Congress very quickly and we need to get serious about providing the funds for the troops so we can win in Iraq, not give up.

WALLACE: But let me ask you both, again, if I can press the question, who is going to blink? Senator Biden? I mean, is Congress -- after you get this veto, assuming, as Senator McConnell and the White House says you are going to get this vetoed bill, will the Democrats say, "All right, we've made our point and we'll give you a clean bill without the timeline?"

BIDEN: No, I don't think so. I think we'll end up doing what the Senate did, not what the House did, set a target date, number one.

The memo is not to the enemy. The memo is to the president. "Mr. President, get straight on this war. Get us out of the middle of a civil war and do what our troops are supposed to be doing."

Secondly, if it is porked to provide money for the consequences of Hurricane Katrina, if it's pork to provide money for the 9/11 report, if it's pork to provide money -- you know what happened here, Chris?

If the president had been honest with what he needed for this war in his regular budget, in 2007 budget, then we wouldn't be having this supplemental this way.

But it's this pea-in-the-shell game they played. They never put the money they know they're going to need for the war in the budget because it would send off alarm bills -- and come along six months later and say they need a supplemental.

WALLACE: Let me just step in here, because I want to move on to Iran. And I want to ask Senator McConnell just a -- so if you do get -- after the veto, if the president then gets a bill with a soft, a goal of a timeline, but not a firm date for withdrawal, would you say that the president still should not accept that even if that's the cost of getting this $100 billion for the troops?

MCCONNELL: Oh, I don't think the president's going to sign a bill that is supposedly for getting funds to the troops, which, in effect, says to the enemy, "We're going to give up on a certain date."

I think the president's going to veto that bill. I think we ought to get it on down to him and get the veto out of the way, get the veto sustained and get serious about providing money for the troops without a deadline that endangers our troops and gives the enemy a precise date upon which we're leaving.

WALLACE: Let's move on, if we can, because we're clearly not going to settle this here today, to Iran, where the regime has seized 15 British naval personnel, marines and sailors.

There's now talk in Tehran of putting them on trial. This is just one more case of the Iranians thumbing their nose at the rest of the world.

Senator Biden, is there something that the U.S., Britain and the rest of the Western world can do to get tougher with Iran?

BIDEN: Yeah, I think there is. There's two things. One, we can all get tougher with them diplomatically and ratchet this up. By the way, I would argue that this is a product of the increasing success of the Bush administration's new strategy on Iran, and I mean that sincerely.

They have made Iran the world's problem. They have gotten the world together and continue to put pressure on Iran and they have taken the initiative away from the Iranians. And I think this is deliberately planned for the Iranians to try to regain the initiative and appeal to the Arab street, saying, "Look, we can take on, we can take on the Americans."

WALLACE: What do we do about it?

BIDEN: Well, I think you do two things. Number one, I think you continue to ratchet up, get the entire world to ratchet up further the pressure on Iran, but I think quietly you have to be preparing to be able to deal with Iranian oil and be prepared to, down the road, make the kind of -- take the kind of action that would cut off their importation of refined oil and affect their export of crude oil.

You can hit them very, very badly. But I don't think you talk about that publicly. Were I president, I wouldn't be talking about that. I'd be planning that while I was moving on every front diplomatically.

And there's those who think, as you know, that the Iranians are going to continue to try to string this out as long as they can, maybe another two to three weeks before it goes code red here, but they constantly have an ability to stumble over themselves.

So who knows what they're going to do. I don't think they really are fully in control internally as well.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, if you get tough with Iranian oil, we could see a spike to $100 a barrel for oil on the world market.

That could be a huge economic dislocator for not only the United States, but the rest of the world economy.

MCCONNELL: Well, this is the kind of behavior you would expect from a regime that denies that the Holocaust occurred and would like to see Israel annihilated.

The Iranians, by their own behavior, have done something that's been pretty challenging for everybody else, which is to unify virtually the entire world against them.

Most of the Sunni Arab countries who are generally friendly with us, like the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians, are all appalled by Iran.

The Iranians' own behavior has made it more possible for us to get the kind of international cooperation that we need in order to have sanctions that actually bite.

WALLACE: We're going to have to leave it there, Senators. We're going to take a quick break here.

But up next, we're going to turn to domestic issues, including the growing controversy over those fired U.S. attorneys, as well as some presidential politics. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WALLACE: And we're back now with Senators Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden.

Gentlemen, this week, Attorney General Gonzales and his former chief of staff told very different stories about Gonzales' role in the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys.

Let's listen, first of all, to Kyle Sampson and then to Gonzales. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KYLE SAMPSON, CHIEF OF STAFF TO ALBERTO GONZALES: The decision- makers in this case were the attorney general and the council of the president.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a U.S. attorney should or should not be asked to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, would Attorney General Gonzales be doing a service to the Justice Department and the president if he were to step down?

MCCONNELL: Look, U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, which means that they can be removed at any time for any reason.

But if there was any improper rationale, such as, for example, trying to interfere with cases, I suppose such a removal could become problematic.

That's why the attorney general is going to come up before the Judiciary Committee and tell his side of the story. But at least so far, he enjoys the confidence of the president and he works for the president.

We're all interested in what he has to say when he comes up. But U.S. attorneys being removed is fairly common and has been under administrations of both parties for a long time.

WALLACE: You know, Senator McConnell, there's another issue here and that is the credibility of the attorney general, whether he still has the confidence of the Justice Department and, frankly, of all of you in the Senate.

As we just saw, Gonzales now says that he doesn't recall ever discussing the resignation, the firing of these U.S. attorneys, but that's very different from what he said in "USA Today," when he wrote an article there about three weeks ago.

Take a look at that. In "USA Today" he said, "To be clear," defending the firings, "it was for reasons related to policy, priorities and management, what have been referred to broadly as performance-related reasons, that seven U.S. attorneys were asked to resign last December. They simply lost my confidence."

Senator McConnell, can you explain to me how they can have lost his confidence when Gonzales says he never recalls having discussed the firings?

MCCONNELL: Well, what I can tell you at the moment is that he enjoys the support of the president, for whom he works, and I think most Republican Senators are willing to give the attorney general a chance to come up before the Judiciary Committee and give his side of this story and are likely to withhold judgment about whether he can be effective in the Senate in dealing with us until after we hear from him before the Judiciary Committee.

WALLACE: Can you honestly say that you still have confidence in Attorney General Gonzales at this point?

MCCONNELL: I can honestly say the president does and I'm anxious to hear what the attorney general has to say when he comes up to the Judiciary Committee.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, as Senator McConnell says, there is still no evidence, no hard evidence that the attorney general or anyone at justice did anything improper or illegal.

Why do you say then that he can't stay on as attorney general?

BIDEN: Well, he's done things improper. Look, the U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, not at the dictates of the president. There's a big difference, number one.

Number two, this attorney general has a -- I must admit to you, front end, I voted against him in the first instance because I didn't think he was forthcoming on the recommendations he made on torture, on Abu Ghraib, on Guantanamo Bay, and I believed that he would be a creature of the president, not the attorney for the people, as well as representing the president.

And I think his conduct has demonstrated that, at a minimum, he can not control the operation. Look at the FBI. Let's just look at it administratively. Look at the FBI screw-up.

The director of the FBI is under his jurisdiction with regard to the Patriot Act. Look at the way in which he's answered the questions you've just stated.

I don't believe he has the confidence of the Republican Senators. I believe they're going to give him an opportunity to come and make his case, but I don't believe he can make the case.

And as recently as today, there's an article in one of the major newspapers pointing out that this administration more than any other, and that covers a lot, including Nixon and others, went out and put U.S. attorneys in spots who were the cronies of -- wrong word. That's not fair -- who were the employees of the White House and the Justice Department, who were loyal directly to Gonzales and to the political people in the White House. That is highly, highly unusual.

This is, again, not about whether they serve at the pleasure of the president. Under the Constitution, they do. The question is do they serve at the dictates of the administration. They don't.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, let's go back in history here a little bit, as you just did.

Back in 1993, President Clinton, when he came in, summarily fired 93 of the 94...

BIDEN: That's right.

WALLACE: ... U.S. attorneys, including several who, at the time, were involved in politically sensitive investigations.

Now, at that time, Bob Dole, who was the Senate Republican leader, he had Mitch McConnell's job at the time, asked you, as the then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to hold full hearings on this because he said this was a, quote, "severe blow to the administration of justice."

The best we can look, and we've been looking through our records, Senator Biden, back in '93, you didn't hold a single hearing on this.

BIDEN: That's correct, because to make Mitch's point, the president has the right to appoint his entire -- entirely and everybody he wants when he comes in. There was no evidence that this administration went in and put any -- that the Clinton administration put any pressure upon any particular U.S. attorney.

It went across the board.

WALLACE: Well, wait a minute.

BIDEN: It went across the board and he fired everybody.

WALLACE: Senator Biden, you know that there was a controversy at the time about Jay Stevens and whether he was going to indict Dan Rostenkowski, then House Ways and Means.

I guess the question is, if this such a big deal now, why in '93, when Bob Dole was saying this is a severe blow to the administration of justice, why didn't you even hold a hearing on it?

BIDEN: Because there was no need to hold a hearing. He had the power. It wasn't a question of meddling, like is being argued now.

And by the way, Rostenkowski got indicted and convicted and went to jail.

WALLACE: But not by the U.S. attorney who got rid of him.

BIDEN: No, not by that U.S. attorney, who left, but the U.S. attorney who appointed him put him in jail.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell -- and let me bring in Senator McConnell here, because I have a little history for you, as well.

Back in 1996, you maybe remember there was a controversy in the Clinton White House about the fact that they had obtained FBI documents on hundreds of former officials from the Reagan years and the Bush, H.R. Bush, Bush-41 years.

Here on "FOX NEWS SUNDAY back in 1996, you demanded full Congressional hearings. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL: I think the testimony, obviously, ought to be sworn testimony and we ought to go all the way into this and take as much time as we can to reassure the American people that this sort of thing is not going to happen in the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Given that same reasoning, Senator McConnell, shouldn't Karl Rove, shouldn't other White House officials be called before Congress, testify in public and under oath?

MCCONNELL: Well, first of all, with regard to Justice Department, there are going to be hearings. The attorney general's coming up. There was a hearing Thursday.

With regard to White House officials, it'll be up to the president to decide, frankly, whether and when and under what circumstances members of his own administration testify.

Sometimes -- of his own White House staff. Sometimes White House staff has testified, sometimes not. When presidents have dug in their heels, it's gone to court.

This kind of tug of war has gone under administrations of both parties for a long time.

WALLACE: Senator McConnell, my point is that back in 1996, you were saying those White House aides should testify in open hearing. These were White House aides of Bill Clinton, in open hearing under oath.

Why shouldn't the same rules apply for the Bush White House and people like Karl Rove?

MCCONNELL: And what I'm telling you is the president's going to make that decision. I was a senator. I was talking about an administration. The president made the decision in 1996, President Clinton, as to how that would be done, and this president's going to make the same decision and we'll see how it all works out.

WALLACE: Well, you're still a senator. So the question is do you call on this president to do the same thing?

MCCONNELL: I'm calling on this president to do what he thinks is appropriate with regard to his aides testifying. What Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, has offered is, I gather, still under discussion as to how and when and under what conditions the White House aides will testify.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, let's turn, if we can, briefly, to presidential politics.

Senator Biden, the first quarter for fundraising for 2008 presidential candidates ended at midnight last night. You may not have the final number, but I'm sure you're pretty clear with it.

How much new money have you raised in the first quarter?

BIDEN: Not nearly as much as Hillary Clinton.

WALLACE: Well, what are you talking about, do you think?

BIDEN: Well, I think we're going to talk about somewhere around $3 million for this quarter. I think we're on track to be able to raise what we need, which we think is $20 million to $25 million to compete.

But, Chris, if this gets down to just straight money, then there's only going to be one, maybe two candidates in the race. But I don't believe that.

I believe as long as Iraq and foreign policy and these big issues are in play, that my having enough money to compete in Iowa will allow me to win the nomination.

I don't think it's going to be won by money.

WALLACE: But, Senator, I mean, let's be realistic here. The estimates are that when the numbers do come out the next few days, that Senator Clinton may raise north of $25 million, maybe even north of $30 million. Obama north of $20 million.

Can you really honestly -- I mean, you're a realistic man. Can you compete at $3 million?

BIDEN: I'm not going to be at $3 million throughout this. I have enough money to continue to compete. We've raised over $8 million. I think that's the number.

And I'm going to be able to compete in this. And, look, this is going to get down to ideas. I read Broder's article today, you probably saw it, saying that 90-plus percent of the punditry talk about the status of affairs for presidential campaigns at this stage is worthless.

This is worthless. If people think we're going to pick a nominee based on how much money they have rather than based on their ideas, I think they vastly underestimate the Democratic electorate in these primaries.

WALLACE: Finally, Senator McConnell, you're not running for president. You're one of the few Senators, so I suppose I should ask you why not.

But a liberal group in Kentucky -- well, actually, it's not in Kentucky. It's a group that has started targeting you in Kentucky charging that you support the president at the expense of your own constituents and they've even started running an ad against you.

Let's put up a clip from that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNKNOWN: The fact is we're already on the road to victory in Iraq. Tremendous progress has been made."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: Senator, they say that more than anyone else in Congress, that you lead the charge for this president. How do you plead?

MCCONNELL: Let me tell you about my state, Chris. We have two military bases, Fort Knox and Fort Campbell. Fort Campbell is the headquarters of the 101st Airborne, which has been in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We have a large number of military retirees. If ever there were a constituency that would resent totally an effort to discredit the efforts that have been made by our military in Afghanistan and Iraq, it would be the Kentucky people.

It's not exactly Berkeley that they chose to try to kick off an anti-war campaign. I don't think it works in the bluegrass state.

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Senator McConnell, Senator Biden, we want to thank you both so much for sharing your Sunday with us. Please come back, both of you.

BIDEN: Thanks, Chris, appreciate it.

MCCONNELL: Thanks, Chris.

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