Transcript: Sens. Graham and Feinstein

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: On Thursday, members of both parties came together as President Bush laid out the broad strokes of where he intends to take the country over the next four years. But how does that translate into all the bitterly fought issues Congress must deal with?

We want to discuss that with two key senators: Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California.

And welcome to both of you. Thanks for braving the weather to be here today.


WALLACE: Let's pick up on our discussion that we just had with Ambassador Negroponte. How do you judge whether the election in Iraq next week is a success? Senator Feinstein?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, I think that a substantial number of people vote. I mean, we've had elections in this country where you have 30 percent turnout, a 50 percent turnout.

I think the opportunity for people to vote is important. The fact is, it's going to take place under the transitional administrative law, known as the TAL. The Iraqis set this date. It's going to be carried out.

I thought Ambassador Negroponte did a very good job of putting forward what is available. The unity tickets on the ballot, the 275- member constituent assembly, the constitution, a new government, and then in December, new leadership elected by the people.

This is a first step, and there are many opportunities along the line to bring in Sunni participation. Hopefully, Sunnis will vote.

WALLACE: Senator Graham, how much attention should we pay, how much should we care as to how many Sunnis actually vote in this first round, as Senator Feinstein points out, of several rounds of voting this year?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: Well, I think it would be helpful if you had solid participation among all the groups in Iraq, because there's a buy-in to democracy. I don't know what number is the right number. In South Carolina we had 50 percent of the people vote. But the Sunnis...

WALLACE: But they weren't shooting at you at the polling places.

GRAHAM: Right. But there was a time in South Carolina where African-Americans risked their lives to vote. So, let's not forget that about our own country. Fifty, 60 years ago, maybe even less, in our own country, people really risked their personal safety to vote. So, those who go to vote in Iraq are doing a very brave thing. It's a good model for their children.

I hope the Sunnis will participate, but the voting is important. It's historic in the Mideast, really, for Iraq particularly.

But what will happen after the vote? Will this constitution be a theocracy? Will it be a democracy where Sunnis feel comfortable? That's the really big issue. Having a vote is important, but how you put together this government is even more important.

And we're not going to be able to leave anytime soon.

WALLACE: Explain that. You kind of dropped the bombshell at the end there.

GRAHAM: Well...

WALLACE: I guess, really, two questions: First of all, are you concerned that the process could get hijacked by some Iraqi politicians along the way and that we could end up with something we don't like?

And when you say we can't leave anytime soon, if they ask us to leave, we've got to leave.

GRAHAM: Well, look at what the insurgents are trying to do. They're trying to bomb Shia mosques to create tension between the religious groups to make sure that they never can come together to form a democracy where minority rights are protected or included.

So I think this year, 2005, will be a very tough year, even after the vote. If we have solid participation, which I hope we do, the insurgents are going to keep pushing, they're going to keep attacking, because the constitution's got to be written this year.

It's going to be a tough year for Iraq. It's going to be a tough year for us. But if we're patient, I think it will be a great year.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, let me just switch the conversation slightly. As we've been reporting this morning, General Luck has apparently returned from his fact-finding trip to Iraq and has recommended that the U.S. dramatically ramp up its training of Iraq security forces.

I guess the question I have is the one I asked Ambassador Negroponte: Why didn't we do that sooner?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I agree with that. I think, if you notice, Ambassador Negroponte did not say how many forces had been trained. He said that Senator Biden underestimated the number, but he didn't say what it was.

And I think nobody really knows, because I think the vetting process and the follow-up process has not been good.

My own view is this: We should pull out the stops with respect to training. We should accept help and training from other nations as well. We should put a crash course in the best possible training for police, for border patrol, for the military, and get it up and running fast, and then begin to reduce our own forces. I think that really is the only plausible solution.

Lindsey Graham said, well, you know, our being there depends on the Iraqis wanting us to be there. I think that's really true. If they don't want us there, it's a different story. But their people have to be trained.

And I think one of the big mistakes that the administration made was the de-Baathification policy.

FEINSTEIN: From when I was there in December, we were told that 80 percent of the insurgency was Sunni-driven. Maybe 20 percent, max, was foreign-fighter.

And much of this came from the fact that they reached too deeply into the Sunni population, the Baathist Sunni population, to move people out of jobs. And so the basic management and supervisoral infrastructure of hospitals, of electricity, of sewage, of oil, et cetera, collapsed. And of course this was true in the military as well.

So there have to be fast adjustments. And to say that anybody who was a Baathist can't work is a huge mistake.

WALLACE: Let me switch, if I can, to what you guys are going to be doing on Capitol Hill.

Senator Graham, what do you think of the decision of Democrats to hold up the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state?

GRAHAM: The real downside is that we're having a swearing-in in Ukraine, which is a good example of what can happen in a country of people who stand up for their freedom and say no to fraud and oppression.

She's not going to get to go because she's not confirmed, but the truth is some senators want to look at transcripts. We'll have a vote next week. We'll have a debate. She'll get confirmed.

But I think it's unfortunate that she missed the opportunity to go to the Ukraine as secretary of state. That's the downside of what's going on.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, you introduced Dr. Rice at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, and you endorsed her appointment. You said that she has the skill, the judgment, the poise to lead in these difficult times.

But your fellow senator from California, Barbara Boxer, had a different reaction. Let's watch that.


U.S. SENATOR BARBARA BOXER (D-CA): Your loyalty to the mission you were given, to sell this war, overwhelmed your respect for the truth.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything.


WALLACE: Did Senator Boxer go over the line in questioning Dr. Rice's integrity?

FEINSTEIN: Oh, Chris, I'm not going to comment on that. Each one of us, you know, marches to the sound of our own drummer. And each one of us has strong feelings on various issues from time to time, and sometimes all the time.

Having said that, Senator Boxer was within her rights. I don't happen to agree. I happen to strongly support Condoleezza Rice. I don't want to see her diminished in the eyes of the world. I want to see her confirmed. She will be.

There will be discussion. That's part of our process. That's what we're there to do. And I don't begrudge anybody the opportunity to discuss it.

I will support her, and I want to see a strong secretary of state. I think she can be an amazingly positive influence for America.

WALLACE: Senator Feinstein, I want to follow up. The Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, issued a fund-raising letter even before the inauguration last week, in which she said the following. Take a look: "I'm going to mark the occasion by pledging to everything in my power to fight the extremist Republicans' destructive agenda."

I guess what I'm trying to get at is this: Is that the right stance for Democrats to be taking right off the bat?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I can tell you what my view is — and I don't always agree with my party or the Republican Party. My view is this: The election is over; it's time for us to come together.

God knows we've got serious problems, abroad and domestically. And I think a majority of the American people want Republicans and Democrats to bring their viewpoints to Washington, sit down and work out solutions to serious issues.

Now, with respect to Dr. Rice, the president is entitled to his Cabinet, absent a finding of incompetence, absent a finding of moral turpitude, absence of finding of some gross, I think, irregularity. So, I am happy to see a president with a Cabinet that he wants. And clearly he wants Dr. Rice.

WALLACE: Well, now that I've tried to set you against other Democrats, I'm going to try to end this by setting Lindsey Graham against some other Republicans.

GRAHAM: That would be easy.


WALLACE: And we're running out of time.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Bill Thomas, said this week that Congress should take a broader look at Social Security reform and not get locked into fighting over the president's plan.

And then he said this. Take a look.


U.S. REPRESENTATIVE BILL THOMAS (R-CA): I'm looking forward to those discussions and not a continual beating of what will soon be a dead horse.


WALLACE: How much concern, Senator Graham, is there among Republicans about the president's plan? And it is viewed as simply a starting point, a jumping-off place, a not something that you feel bound by?

GRAHAM: Well, this "dead horse" analogy is probably not a good way to be talking about the president's proposal. It hasn't (ph) been made yet.

What I hope the chairman meant to say is, if we can't find universal agreement rallying around the president's proposal, that all of us will work together, Dianne Feinstein, Lindsey Graham and others.

I'm from a very red state. She's from a very blue state.

Social Security could care less about whether you're Republican or Democrat. It's going to go broke in — if you're a 1st- grader, Chris, entering this fall the 1st grade, by the time you graduate high school, the system will pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes.

If you're a college graduate this year, by the time you retire, there will be a 30 percent reduction of benefits unless we do something.

So declaring anybody's proposal dead is the wrong way to look at this. Anyone who's willing to put forward a solution to make this system solvent should be praised, not condemned.

And let's find common ground. I think Dianne Feinstein and Lindsey Graham can find some common ground. That's the way I choose to look at this, and I think Chairman Thomas's rhetoric hurts more than it helps.

WALLACE: Do you believe that there has to be a bipartisan compromise?

GRAHAM: Has to be, absolutely. How can you save a system this large that affects this many Americans by having a red state-blue state view of it?

It is the biggest challenge of our generation. If we govern the way we campaign — you ought to look at some of my campaign fund- raising letters — we're letting the people down.

I hope the chairman will change his tone and will look for common ground instead of what we're against.

WALLACE: Senators, thank you both so much, and thanks for coming in on a tough weather day.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Chris.