Transcript: Karl Rove on 'FNS'

The following is a rush transcript of the May 24, 2009, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace." This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: Joining us now is former top White House adviser and Fox News contributor Karl Rove.

And, Karl, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday." It's been suggested that for the first time since Obama took the oath of office in January that Republicans have been able to drive the Washington agenda the last couple of weeks on the issue of national security.

How potent are Guantanamo, and enhanced interrogation, and Nancy Pelosi as weapons for the GOP?

KARL ROVE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well, first of all, they've been helped in this by Democrats. Nancy Pelosi would not have become an issue had not the speaker declared that the CIA lied to her in September of 2002, nor would the Gitmo issue be as powerful as it is if the Senate had not voted 90-6 to not fund President Obama's request for Gitmo.

But these are issues that are going to have some persistence and have legs. I don't think they're potentially lethal. But they are going to be continuing problems for Obama, particularly Gitmo.

I mean, remember, we're eight months from his self-imposed deadline. You cannot take 200 and some-odd people out of Gitmo and find someplace for them and wait until eight months. So he really has got to be — got to lay out his plan and be able to start to move that plan in the next two or three or four months in order to meet his self-imposed deadline.

WALLACE: But, Karl, a number of conservatives say the real story is the degree to which President Obama has actually fallen in with and is — and is basically pursuing Bush policies.

I want to put something up on the screen. "Mr. Obama's flip- flops on national security have been wise. He ran hard to the left on national security to win the nomination, only to discover the campaign commitments he made were shallow and at odds with America's security interests." That was written by a very wise man.

ROVE: Great insight. Who wrote that? Please.

WALLACE: Well, let's just see there. Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal...

ROVE: Exactly.

WALLACE: ... on Thursday.

ROVE: Yeah.

WALLACE: But the point is which is it — is Obama soft on terror or is he seeing the light?

ROVE: Well, he is seeing the light in certain policies, but it's a — this is a complex nuance thing, as oft times it is with President Obama.

Take, for example — he dismissed the idea of Gitmo, which is indefinite detention of individuals who have tried to hurt our country, and yet on the same time that he gives the speech on Thursday, he announces that he's going to have a policy of indefinite detention.

So he's embracing the policy. The question is is he going to embrace it to the degree the Bush administration did. Doubt it. Military tribunals — he's probably — he's going to keep them, but he's probably going to do fewer of them than the Bush administration might have been inclined to do. But it is a welcome reversal.

I thought it was interesting — Gitmo's perhaps the best example. In the campaign, he used as a standard throwaway line in the primaries — he'd say, "On Guantanamo, it's easy. Close it." And then Thursday we heard in that speech that he knew right from the beginning that this would be difficult and hard.

And look, it is difficult and hard. If you get into office, you find there are demands of governing that are different than the demands of campaigning.

WALLACE: Let's talk about the point man for the GOP on this issue. And that, of course, is Vice President Cheney. Some conservatives say that his problem isn't with Obama, that in fact, it's with the second Bush term which stopped a lot of these harsh tactics, pushed diplomacy, and that in a sense during the second term that — and it was Cheney who was the odd man out. Isn't there some truth to that?

ROVE: Well, a small amount. But look, for example, enhanced interrogation techniques — the administration used these — the Bush administration used these in the aftermath of 9/11 when there was deep concern and a lot of chatter about a second wave of attacks, and they used these enhanced interrogation techniques for a period of time to break up those kind of plots.

I think there was a general recognition that these methods were useful only when time was a very valuable commodity and we were not getting cooperation.

As we got more cooperation and more information, and as we got further away from 9/11 and the idea of a second wave of attacks became less imminent, then there was less reliance on these techniques. I don't think it's easy — it's comfortable and easy but wrong to say first term was Cheney dominating, second term Cheney was in descendancy, not ascendancy, and therefore things changed. I think that's much too easy a reading.

WALLACE: I don't think there's any question that Cheney — whether you agree with him or not — gave, as you would expect, a strong, substantial speech this week, but he's still unpopular. He's still highly controversial.

Is he the person that the GOP wants to have as the face of this debate?

ROVE: Well, obviously not. But he is the person who's willing to step up and engage in the debate. And by doing so, he has empowered and encouraged others to engage in the debate.

Without Dick Cheney stepping forward, I'm not certain we would have seen other people like Porter Goss and others emboldened to add their voices to the fray.

So — and look, what's not — what's important is not so much where his popularity is, but what about the popularity of the ideas. And for example, in the Fox poll, in the Resurgent Republic poll, even in a CNN poll, the American people believe that Gitmo and enhanced interrogation techniques have made us safer.

Even if they consider them torture and don't like them, they still believe that they've had value for the United States.

WALLACE: You talk with former President Bush all the time, who famously said when he stepped down that Mr. Obama deserved his silence for a period of time. Is he all right with Cheney going after Obama so early in his term?

ROVE: Well, I don't want to speak for him, but I do — I do know this. I do know that we have an unprecedented effort by the current administration to blame all of its problems on its predecessor.

I even went back and read, for example, the statements issued — made by Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 after he was inaugurated in March of 1993 (sic). And you cannot — 1933. You cannot find any American president who has spent — as routinely and as often has excoriated his predecessor as this current administration has done.

And so I think there are a lot of people who welcome people like Cheney standing up and setting the record straight.

WALLACE: Let me just say, because I'm sure some people out there are saying, "But wait a minute, didn't Bush do that to Clinton? 'Let's bring honor, integrity, back to the White House.'"

ROVE: Well...

WALLACE: "Clinton, what a waste of valuable talents."

ROVE: Well, look. First of all, the question is whether you're doing it prospectively. Barack Obama could make his criticism prospectively. He could say, "This is what I intend to do." But instead, what he always does is he says, "Here's the problem. Somebody else created it. It's not my fault. I inherited it." And then, "Here's what I'm going to do."

And most presidents — look, every president tries to chart a future course. What's interesting about this administration is how often he feels compelled and his people feel compelled to say, "It's not our fault. Somebody else created it. This guys left us a mess," and then to oft times unfairly depict what those are.

I thought, for example, Thursday when President Obama said that the Bush administration's attitude towards enhanced interrogation and so forth had been, quote, "anything goes," was intellectually dishonest.

I mean, they didn't even read the memos that they released themselves. You may disagree with the legal reasoning between Yoo and Bradbury and others writing those memos, but those memos are an attempt to constrain behavior, to define what cannot be done and what can be done, not, quote, "anything goes."

WALLACE: I want to get to a couple of areas. Supreme Court — we expect, as we said, the president to name his Supreme Court nominee in the next 10 days. How free a choice is this for Obama?

ROVE: Pretty free. I mean, he's ultimately going to get his nominee. I think, frankly, it's a mistake for him to move this quickly to nominate, to name.

Having been on the Judicial Selection Committee, the five-person committee that looked at all the prospective nominees, we spent years going over binders of material on each prospective Supreme Court nominee, waiting for the day that it might happen.

And when it did happen, we had the advantage of having extensive dossiers on these people and then the ability to carefully review all of their material, all of their tax returns, all their public statements, all their private statements, all their private writings, public writings, anything that...

WALLACE: So how long from the time that you learned there was a vacancy until you named somebody?

ROVE: Well, a number of months. I mean, we moved relatively quickly, but we had extensive biographies on them. These people just come into office. They don't have — they have not given this the kind of — kind of — kind of research.

I mean, they've got problems with vetting already. They had the well- known tax problems with five of their nominees. The question is — think about it this way. There are probably 15 or 20 people at most at the Justice Department and the White House who are thinking through each one of these people. The moment they nominate — say they nominate them on Tuesday. The work of those 20 people to understand and evaluate these individuals — now those individuals are going to be — those same — that nominee is going to be looked at by tens of thousands of people — journalists, researchers.

And what's going to happen is they're going to find something that those 15 or 20 people didn't find in the few days that they've been looking at this prospective nominee.

WALLACE: Finally, Colin Powell is answering his Republican critics today. Powell said — and we're going to put it up on the screen — this earlier this month. "Americans do want to pay taxes for services. Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less."

Not just that statement, but his body of work, his endorsement of Obama — do you think that Colin Powell is a Republican? And is there room in the Republican Party for Powell?

ROVE: Sure. And look, anybody who says they're a Republican is a Republican. There is no membership committee that designates whether you are or not. If you say you're Republican, you're Republican.

Look, Colin Powell has a right to advocate this view. I defend his right to do that. I don't agree with it, but I defend his right to do so. I would hope that he would back up that vision by finding candidates who represent his vision of the future of the Republican Party and actively working for them. That's what it ought to be about.

I don't like this thing where people — and Powell is one them — who said, "Rush Limbaugh, shut up." I mean, that's — we believe, as Republicans in the marketplace of ideas, let that marketplace decide. Let everybody with a competing vision find the kind of candidates they want to support and work hard for them.

I want Colin Powell to go out there and lay out his vision, and then I want him to back it up by finding people who share it and working like heck to get them — and that's how you win the party — the party's intraparty battle of ideas.

WALLACE: Dick Cheney said if it's a battle between or a choice between Rush Limbaugh and Colin Powell, he sides with Limbaugh. You?

ROVE: I — yes, if I had to pick between the two. But you know what? That's — neither one of those are candidates. Neither one of those are going to be people who are offering themselves for office.

Again, that's — this is a false debate that Washington loves. The real debate takes place out there in the real world by people getting out there and encouraging and helping the kind of candidates who represent their vision for their party, Republican or Democrat.

This happens every election after the party loses. It's a healthy thing. I say go to it. Find the people that you think represent your vision, outline it, and work like heck for them, and the country and the party will be better off for it.

WALLACE: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: You bet.

WALLACE: Thank you as always. Please come back.

ROVE: You bet.

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