Sunday, August 29, 2004

Transcript of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on NBC's Meet the Press.

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Clinton, welcome.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D-NY): Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: A former Goldwater girl and you were at the '68 Republican convention in Atlanta?

SEN. CLINTON: I was. I was there. Yep. I write about it in my book. You know, I had spent the summer as an intern for the House Republican Conference Committee, headed at that time by Gerald Ford. And had an incredible experience.

MR. RUSSERT: But now you're a full-fledged Democrat?

SEN. CLINTON: Yes, I am. Yes, I am. I've seen the light.

MR. RUSSERT: Five national polls this last week all show George Bush has pulled ahead of John Kerry. The president's favorable rating breaking 50 percent. In those two numbers, an incumbent has never lost an election for re-election. What's John Kerry's problem?

SEN. CLINTON: Oh, Tim, I think this is a close election. It's always been and it will be, right down to the wire. There's a lot of concern in the country about how to evaluate what our direction should be. But I am confident, as I have been from the very moment John got the nomination back in the spring, that he is going to be elected. And he's going to be elected because the failed policies on the domestic agenda of this administration cannot be ignored. I mean, these new census figures, 5.2 million more people have lost their health insurance, four million have fallen back into poverty. Not one new net job yet created under this administration. You know, the evidence cannot be ignored, deflected, and we can't be diverted from it. And eventually that's going to make the difference.

MR. RUSSERT: Has the Swift Boat Veterans ads distracted John Kerry and has now George Bush saying that Kerry's service was heroic ended that issue?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, it should have never started, because it's, you know, just such a tragedy that anyone would spread false stories about John's heroism under fire. There's no doubt that, you know, he served with great distinction and courage in Vietnam.
But the issues are not what happened 30 years ago. The smear tactics used very effectively by this group, in, you know, conjunction with people very high up in the Bush campaign have been an effort, not only to impugn Senator Kerry but, more importantly, to divert and deflect attention from what's really at stake internationally and domestically. So maybe now we can get back to talking about the future and where we go as a country.

MR. RUSSERT: Is Mayor Giuliani right that all the ads from 527 committees should be taken off the air, even those that are against George Bush?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, we're going to have to look at this whole 527 issue. Obviously, too much money is chasing too many issues that, unfortunately, are being distorted. I mean, if there was some standard of accuracy, you know, we wouldn't be here talking about it. But there isn't. But what I most regret is that we're not talking about what really matters to people on November 3, after they wake up after this election, and they're going to be confronted with a stagnant economy, a huge deficit and, unfortunately, a lot of problems that have really happened, not just on the president's watch, but because of the miscalculations of this administration.

MR. RUSSERT: But in the interim why not have, in effect, a truce and pull all 527 ads down on both sides?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'd be for that. I don't think that you'll get agreement on that because there's too much, you know, intensity and too much money. But at the very least the public and the press should be alert and when you have falsehoods being spread, both to essentially assassinate the character of a candidate, and to try to divert attention from what's really at stake in the election, particularly here with the economy and all the other issues that are stake, you know, they ought to be called to account for that.

MR. RUSSERT: The speaker of the House has written a book where he takes to task you and other New Yorkers, and this is what he says: "Dennis Hastert is charging in a new book that New York lawmakers' attempt to win financial aid after the 9/11 attacks amounted to an `unseemly scramble' for money..."

SEN. CLINTON: That's so sad. You know, we had to fight very hard, and it was a united delegation, Republicans, Democrats, downstate, upstate, everybody pulling together. You know, any of us who saw the devastation, which I know the speaker did, understood that we had to move quickly. We needed not only to reach out and help repair the physical damage and the emotional and tragic losses, but to send a signal to the world that New York was open for business. You know, it wasn't a mistake that we were attacked. We were attacked because of what we symbolize. So we did out part and I'm grateful that we were successful in getting the resources that New York needed and deserved.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you be able to get the formula changed so that New York is targeted and Washington is targeted because they are perhaps ground zero for future attacks?

SEN. CLINTON: Absolutely. You know, the way this works is that a lot of money does go out in a per capita basis, but then a lot of money on top of that is being distributed also on the basis of population. The president could issue an executive order tomorrow that redirected that money, and I wish he would, because what we're seeing in New York is a heroic effort on the part of our city, the firefighters, the police officers and others who are on alert. But we are losing money. We're not only losing money because we're not getting our fair share of the homeland security dollars, but under this president's budget, we're cutting the COPS program, we're cutting law enforcement grants, we're cutting money for firefighters. It doesn't add up, so we need to have the president take some leadership on this.

MR. RUSSERT: There's been a big discussion about Vietnam. Many people are wondering why this country is not debating Iraq in this presidential race. Jay Rockefeller, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, was on this program a few weeks ago and this is what he said: "There is simply no question that mistakes leading up to the way in Iraq rank among the most devastating losses and intelligence failures in the history of the nation. The fact is that the administration at all levels, and to some extent us"--meaning Congress--"used bad information so bolster its case for war. And we in Congress would not have authorized that war--we would not have authorized that war--with 75 votes if we knew what we know now."
Do you agree with him?

SEN. CLINTON: There would not have been a vote, Tim. There would never have been a vote to the Congress presented by the administration. There would have been no basis for it. But we are where we are, and what I think we have to do now try to understand the series of miscalculations which for the first time ever the president admitted in an interview last week, have occurred which have rendered our situation more dangerous, less safe, and have put back the effort to try to stabilize and democratize Iraq. I believe with all my heart that, you know, we have to have new leadership at the highest level of our government in order to be successful in the strategy we have embarked upon in Iraq. No matter how we got there, and as I said, we wouldn't have even had a vote if all the facts had been available.

MR. RUSSERT: But John Kerry said he would vote again today for authorization, even knowing what he knows now. You don't agree with that.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, but I think the point John was making was the same one I was making, that we don't have a choice to have hindsight. You know, I have said many times, I think on this program, that I don't regret giving the president authority based on what we knew at the time, but I regret deeply the way he's used it.
I think there have been so many mistakes made, but it's not just in the international arena, and I want to keep coming back to this, because the economy is the number-one issue that people are living with. This president's not doing anything about outsourcing, his reckless fiscal policies have really put us into such a deep deficit hole, that whoever is president is going to have to start digging out. Unfortunately, this president doesn't seem to understand that. The energy dependence that we have and no plan to get us out of it. The appointments that are going to be made by a second term if, you know, there were one of this administration. All of this adds up to a very sobering picture of four years of unaccountable use of power based on, unfortunately, a past record of miscalculations which I don't think we can't afford.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry said that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign. Do you join him in that call?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I'm hoping the entire administration's fired on November 2. I think that it's not just the secretary of defense that needs to go, it's the entire administration, starting at the top with the president and the vice president.

MR. RUSSERT: But do you think that Rumsfeld will resign before that?

SEN. CLINTON: I don't know. That's up to the president, obviously, and to Secretary Rumsfeld, but what I'm focused on is changing the entire administration on November 2 and putting in people who will get us back on the right track here at home and around the world.

MR. RUSSERT: There's a lot of discussion about John Kerry and flip-flops. Rudy Giuliani in August said this about Senator Kerry on Iraq: "I don't know what [Kerry's] position is on Iraq. Of course, it changes all the time. There hasn't been a consistent position. He voted for the war. Then he voted against funding the war. Then he said that he voted both for the funding and against the funding. So there have been so many different positions. Honestly, again, I mean this in the most respectful way. I don't know Senator Kerry's current position on Iraq."
And what he's pointing to, Senator, is you both voted for authority for the president to go to war, but you voted for the $87 million to support the troops. Senator Kerry voted against it. Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, said this: "The truth is, [Kerry] usually spends more time talking about the politics of a vote ... and that was certainly the case on the $87 billion." And then this: "As one of [Kerry's] advisers put it ... `Off the record, he [voted against the $87 billion] because of Howard Dean. On the record, he has an elaborate explanation.'"
And then Biden again: "Biden himself ultimately voted for the [$87 billion], and he confirmed that Kerry's decision not to was `tactical,' and attempt `to prove to Dean's guys I'm not a warmonger.'"
Didn't you advise John Kerry to vote for the $87 billion?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, we had lots of discussions during that time period. But, you know, this reminds me of what the Bush campaign did to John McCain. You know, John McCain has voted against defense appropriations bills in order to make a point, and the Bush campaign then went after him, pulling something out of that bill and saying that he wasn't in favor of breast cancer research.
You know, I think John, who understands war a heck of a lot better than I do, for example, and has understood completely what it would mean for us to be on a wrong path in Iraq, was making the point that, you know, by the time we had that vote, we needed to take a hard look at the policies of this administration. That was a perfectly legitimate position. And I think just like John McCain, nobody can say that John Kerry doesn't support our troops, that he doesn't know firsthand the dangers and perils of combat.
But this whole discussion, you know, Tim, is unfortunately really playing into the hands of the convention we're about to see over the next four days. They are running what I call a bait-and-switch campaign. They did it in 2000. This is their second convention. They're trying to present one view and one face on the party to the people, and they're trying to keep the focus on those who frankly have no influence in Washington, with all due respect. They're not running the House, Tom DeLay is. They're not running the Senate. The Republican Senate caucus largely driven by the most extreme members are unfortunately calling the shots, and the White House is.

MR. RUSSERT: Bill Frist extreme?

SEN. CLINTON: No, but he's pushed, though, by his caucus all the time, you know. You can go and look at the decisions that are made, and it's very frustrating, I think, for the majority of us on both sides of the aisle. But the point is that the people who are really running the country under this president are not going to be highlighted in this convention. And we've gone through this. You know, this is the president who said, "Hey, I want to be a compassionate conservative." He's been neither. "I want to be a uniter, not a divider." He's been, in my view, so divisive, and it's been so painful because following 9/11, there was such a chance for everybody to be united and to work together and to, you know, set goals together, and that has not proven to be the case. And so there's a lot that is going to really affect the lives of people, and I think we should be talking about, you know, jobs and health care and education and all the other things that really matter.

MR. RUSSERT: You heard Mayor Rudy Giuliani, however. The vast majority of delegates in Boston oppose the war in Iraq, and yet John Kerry, John Edwards, you, all voted to authorize the president to go to war. So there always is that inconsistency between delegates and people who speak to the convention.

SEN. CLINTON: Well--but if you look at the platform of the Democratic Party, we take a very tough stance on national defense. You know, I get my back up a little bit when Republicans talk about how they own national defense. The best I recall, you know, it was Democratic presidents who led and won us the major wars of this century--or the last century. But what really bothers me is that any president is going to do what he believes is right and in the national security interest of America. You know, all this talk about this president and how consistent and strong he is, well, you know, if you're consistent and wrong, and you're leading your country in the wrong direction, I don't think that's much of a selling point.
On point after point, this president has been wrong. He said that he would cut taxes dramatically and increase revenues. It doesn't add up in the arithmetic and it doesn't make any sense as a policy. He said that he would, you know, try to have a quick victory in Iraq, and then we'd democratize Iraq. He had to admit it was a miscalculation. So whether we're talking about important domestic issues or critical life-and-death issues abroad, this president may be consistent, I'll give him that, but he's been consistently wrong and he's put our country on the wrong track.

MR. RUSSERT: Your husband signed a Defense of Marriage Act which said that, "`marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife." Do you support that?

SEN. CLINTON: I do, and I have said repeatedly that, you know, I do not support gay marriage but I support civil unions and I support the right of states to make this decision. This Republican platform even says there shouldn't be any benefits for people who are in committed relationships. I find that appalling. You know, there are so many people who are being unnecessarily hurt and demonized by this very political, partisan campaign that's being run on this issue and then the platform takes it even a step further.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Defense of Marriage Act would not allow one state to recognize gay marriage in another state.

SEN. CLINTON: Right. But ind...

MR. RUSSERT: You agree with that?

SEN. CLINTON: Yes. And individual states would then determine, you know, what they want to do on their own, but there's nothing in the so-called DOMA act that would prohibit the city of New York, as we have already done, or any other state, as others have done, providing benefits, inheritance benefits, hospital visitation. The Republican platform, Tim, basically tries to outlaw that.

MR. RUSSERT: The Democrats have been silent about guns. When you ran in 2000 for the Senate, you said there should be legislation which licenses gun owners. Do you still agree with that, support that?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, here's what I'm most concerned about right now is the assault weapons ban is slated to expire in September. The president has said he would sign it if it was sent to him and he's not lifted a finger to enable it to be sent. So here's where we are. He's taking money off the streets that have funded police, including some of the New York police officers who put their lives at risk on September 11. We, I think, have about 700 or so left that are funded by the so-called COPS program, and he's willing to let assault weapons come back on the streets. That is a recipe for disaster. It's also an open invitation for terrorists, who have, in some of their training manuals, pointed out how easy it is to get weapons in our country.
We're living in a different world, you know, and I think we have to be smarter about how we do it. I recognize the political realities, but if assault weapons come back on the streets starting in September and we start having some of these egregious, horrible situations that we had before the assault weapons ban was passed, I think there's going to be a real outcry from the American public and I think the responsibility rests solely with the president.

MR. RUSSERT: But in 2000, Senator, you said, "I stand in support of a common legislation to license everyone who wishes to purchase a gun and believe that every new handgun or sale or transfer should be registered in a national registry." You still support that?

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Tim, I said that in part because what we do in New York is license. And you know what? There are a lot of folks in New York who have a lot of guns. Nobody's missed a single day hunting or target shooting or collecting. You know, I understand the political realities and we have to obviously deal with that. I support the Second Amendment, but I also think that when it comes to guns ending up in the hands of criminals, terrorists, people who are unfortunately mentally unbalanced, you know, we ought to be smart about this. The safety of the majority of people who are going about their daily business should be taken into account.

MR. RUSSERT: The NBC News and Wall Street Journal does polling. We asked Republicans about Democrats. The intensity is extraordinary. Which Democrat do you most dislike? You won. Here it is.

SEN. CLINTON: Yeah. What do you know?

MR. RUSSERT: Hillary Clinton, 24 percent; Bill Clinton, 19 percent; Ted Kennedy, 19 percent; Jesse Jackson, 11 percent; Al Gore, 7 percent; John Kerry just 5 percent. Why? Why the intense dislike for Hillary Clinton amongst Republicans?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think a lot of people, frankly, have never really gotten to know me or had any direct contact with me. You know, there was a lot of that intensity when I started in New York and there still is some, but it has diminished as people have seen what I really stand for, what I really fight for, what I really care about. You know, I think it's just a question of time. But on the other hand, I do stand up and say what I believe and I do fight back. And I guess they would prefer that everybody, you know, just basically allow them to call the shots. I don't think that's good for the country. You know, if you've got an administration and a Congress and increasingly a judiciary all under control of both one party and in, frankly, the right wing of that party, I think that's a recipe for abuse of power and for a lot of bad things happening, which is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about electing John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you run for re-election in 2006?

SEN. CLINTON: I intend to. I'm having a great time being a senator from New York. You know what a terrific job it is.

MR. RUSSERT: I've covered a lot of them and worked for one. The Gridiron Dinner in Washington, Rudy Giuliani spoke and you spoke. It's a night of humor and Rudy Giuliani had some fun. He concluded his speech this way. "...everyone knows that this November, when all is said and done - behind the sanctity of the voting booth curtain - we're both going to be voting for the same person:" and he said, "George W. Bush."

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I would hope we're both voting for John Kerry. You know, I certainly think that on many important issues, he agrees more with John Kerry than with the nominee of his party.

MR. RUSSERT: But if George Bush wins, you're on your way to 2008, the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party.

SEN. CLINTON: You know, Tim, this is a subject that I am absolutely unambiguous about. There is no doubt in my mind that four more years of this administration would be a disaster for my country, a disaster for New York. You know, having a Democratic president, hopefully having a Democratic Senate, maybe a House, would be so good for New York. It would also be good for the issues that I think are important to the future.
You know, suppose you are a Republican who says your two most important issues are national defense and the economy. I think we're heading in the wrong direction on both. I give no ground to anyone on national defense. I believe we have to be smart about what we're doing. Did we have to divert attention, resources and personnel from Afghanistan, where we still haven't found bin Laden? That's an open question and one that should be debated.
Here at home, you think this economy is producing jobs? Well, then I don't think you're following what's really going on in people's lives. So I don't think we can afford four more years of George W. Bush, and I frankly think that, you know, being a senator with John Kerry in the White House would be one of the great privileges of my life.

MR. RUSSERT: But if John Kerry doesn't happen to win, you would never allow the Republicans to have another four years in 2008?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I'm doing everything I can right now to avoid them having another four years in 2004.

MR. RUSSERT: So the door is open?

SEN. CLINTON: No. Now, Tim, you're so good! You're very good! But let's take one election at a time. And this election in 2004 is going to determine the next four years. I hope I'll be in 2008 working for the re-election of John Kerry and John Edwards.

MR. RUSSERT: We'll be watching. Senator Hillary Clinton, thank you for joining us.

SEN. CLINTON: Thank you.

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