Bob Dole on Health Care Reform, CIA Probe

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," August 31, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Meanwhile, also at the White House, where President Obama is struggling to regain control of the health care debate.

If he wants his agenda to pass, former Republican Senator Bob Dole says he needs to take a cue from the Gipper, start from scratch, and write his own bill.

The former Republican presidential nominee giving us his first interview just moments ago.


BOB DOLE, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Ronald Reagan is president, or — or Bush or — well, any president, they would send their bill up to the leadership.

Video: Watch Neil's interview

In my case, Reagan would sent it to me, and I would introduce it for the president. It was the president's bill, the president's language. He is the top dog.

And this is probably about the most important domestic legislation that Obama will deal with in the first four years. He is hoping for four more, but in the first four. And he ought to be proud of it. And it ought to be the Obama bill.

And I believe it would really be beneficial to him. I didn't write this to be critical. I think it’s just a matter of fact we should not be debating some congressman's bill, in accord with a congressman, but he is not the president.

And when I tell my aunt Minnie that President — this is President Obama's bill, that is going to make a difference. I think it helps his credibility. I think people, you know, will pay more attention to it. I think it is a win-win for him.

CAVUTO: Still, only a few moments ago, Robert Gibbs at the White House responded to your view that the president might not be that engaged.

This is from earlier, Senator.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's talked with many members of the Finance Committee and members of Congress in the House and the Senate. I — I — I think to characterize the role that the president is playing as inactive would be inaccurate.


CAVUTO: What do you make of that?

DOLE: Well, I don't think I said he wasn't engaged. I just said he was — he has become a cheerleader or a commentator. Yes, he has certainly talked to people, but he hadn't talked about the Obama bill. He has talked about to them some amorphous, some this, this, this.

And I don't know. When you're the president of the United States, you take responsibility. And I know you don’t to be — have your name on a bill if you're the president that may go south, but that is the chance you take.

And I think it's just a tactical error that could be corrected. I said in my piece I think the president would jump 10 points in the poll. I didn't mean it to be in any way critical of the president, but I just think it's time to change course, make a fresh start, drop some of these poison pills that are not going anywhere anyway, pull the bill in, start the debate. Republicans, I think, will then start amendments and maybe a substitute, which is an entire bill of their own, and they will become players. And you would be surprised what happens in the end. You may get a bipartisan bill of sorts. And that is what the American people, I believe, would have more confidence in it.

CAVUTO: You know, recently, Senator, Maria Shriver has said, since her uncle's passing, Ted Kennedy, who you were very good friends with...

DOLE: Right.

CAVUTO: ... that this could actually aid the health care push. What do you make of it?

DOLE: I don't think so.

And I don't — Ted Kennedy was a good friend of mine. We worked on a lot of things together. But naming the bill after Kennedy, if they want to do that, that's fine, but I don't think it changes a single vote.

Had Ted been there and been active and been involved in the process, but the poor guy has been, you know, ill for the past year, and just could not participate. So, I think the best way to remember Ted Kennedy is to — to get on with this bill and try to make it a bipartisan bill. But I'm not certain — it is only guesswork on Maria's part or my part — but I don't think it makes that much difference.

CAVUTO: You had said that this parliamentarian move that the Democrats are considering, where you don’t need a supermajority or a filibuster-proof 60 votes, you think that is a prescription for disaster.

Could you explain why?

DOLE: Well, there are two reasons. First of all, it was never intended to be used for that purpose. And the originator of that provision, the reconciliation provision...

CAVUTO: Right.

DOLE: ... Senator Byrd, is opposed to it.

But I think, more importantly, the American people want to see us working together. And they're going to — they may not understand everything in the bill, but if you got, say, 20 Republicans voting in the Senate for this bill, it's going to have a lot more credibility and the American people are going to be more willing to accept it.

CAVUTO: But do you think we will ever get that, Senator? I mean, it seems like the Republicans are now going to just be blocking this every step of the way...

DOLE: Yes.

CAVUTO: ... for whatever reason.

DOLE: Well, I...


CAVUTO: And then that that is where they realize that many of these town hall forums are. So, they are going to be there as well.

DOLE: Well, I have just talked to a leading — I said, don't get in this mode where you are just going to be against everything. Have a substitute — and have something to offer, you know, language right down the line, different title, same — and offered.

CAVUTO: Right.

DOLE: And if you get just party-line votes, at least you have offered something. And you're going to leave out the public option and all these poison pills that are in the bill.

You are will be, I think, perceived by a lot of people in America as trying to do the right thing. But if you just don’t do anything or oppose everything, that is the worst possible position for the Republican Party to be in.

CAVUTO: All right.

Now, Republicans go back, Senator, to your days when you were a powerful leader in the Senate, and say, when you blocked Bill Clinton's health care measures — by the way, the rep then was that Bill Clinton did everything in the White House with Hillary and then just dumped it on Congress.

DOLE: Yes.

CAVUTO: Now you're advocating something that would be the opposite of what the president — this president is doing, going back to what Bill Clinton did. Mixed messages?

DOLE: Well, it's almost a reversal.

Clinton started out working with Congress. And Mrs. Clinton came to visit us and said, we are going to work together on this. And I even said that, if they could get my chief of staff, Sheila Burke, to vote for it, I would vote for it.

But, then, all of a sudden, they just stopped Republican participation. Well, here, it has never started. So, it's a little different. It started with Clinton. On the House side...

CAVUTO: Right.

DOLE: ... we never had real Republican participation.

In the Senate side, to Max Baucus' credit, he is trying to work with Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee. And he and Senator Grassley, I think, offer the best hope of getting some bipartisanship. But Senator Grassley is not going to hang around forever. If they keep — you know, keep making it more difficult for him, he will have no choice but to abandon his position.


CAVUTO: By the way, if you think Senator Dole had some plain language for the president on health care, wait until you hear about what he says about the president's CIA probe — why Bob Dole is making Dick Cheney's comments look tame.


CAVUTO: OK, back to Bob — more of my chat with Bob Dole, this time supporting Dick Cheney's view that the administration is playing politics going after the CIA.


DOLE: But I thought Cheney was correct when he said we should not be reviewing something that has already been reviewed by career people in the Justice Department, not — not card-carrying Republicans.

And I think it is a political act on the part of Eric Holder, which surprises me, because I was led to believe that Mr. Holder was going to be above the fray and nonpartisan.

But, there, I agree with Cheney. We should not have to go back and do — should not go back and do it over just in an effort to embarrass some Republican, or...


CAVUTO: You're talking about...


DOLE: Oh, yes.


CAVUTO: Right. You're talking about how — how the CIA was looking at treating prisoners and — and — and abusers.

DOLE: Right.

CAVUTO: But, more to the point, what he said about having taken a sharper tack with Iran and that maybe a militant option, pejorative here, should have been considered, do you think that's right?

DOLE: It should have been on the table. I mean, nothing has gotten any better since that incident and that — that time frame.


DOLE: And we don't get any cooperation. Obama was going to sit down with anybody and discuss it. That hasn't happened. It's not going to happen. They have attacked the Obama administration as much as they attacked the Bush administration. So, I think, Dick Cheney, he didn't say we're going to do it. He just said, we ought to leave that option on the table.

And I agree with that.

CAVUTO: Finally, Senator, when you were heading the Finance Committee and later the Republican leader, did you ever envision such a toxic environment now, where...


CAVUTO: ... where the two sides, any sign of middle ground, the other side pillories them, and — and nothing gets done? It's a very, very poisoned-well environment, and it has been or a while now, many argue permanently.

What do you make of that?

DOLE: Yes. Well, you know, it's easy to be critical. And I have been gone for 12 years, so it's even easier to be critical. I'm not there. I don’t see what happens every day. There are a lot of good things happening.

But I do think the one thing that kind of bothers me, it has gotten so personal, where you have these attacks on one senator on another, or statements made off the Senate floor, where you can't make a response or make a reply.

I mean, we had plenty of differences when I was in — in the Senate and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and Republican leader. But we always tried to keep it civil, where I could go speak to Senator Mitchell or Senator Daschle, even though we totally disagreed on the issue on the Senate floor. And I — I think we can do better. Put it that way.

CAVUTO: Senator, thank you very much.

DOLE: Thank you, Neil.

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