CNN Late Edition - Transcript
Sunday, October 9, 2005
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BLITZER: Welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
President Bush this past week has been trying to shore up support here in the United States for his war on terror.
Joining us now, two leading members of the United States Senate: in his home state of Kentucky, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Mitch McConnell, and in his home state of Illinois, the Senate's number-two Democrat, Dick Durbin.
Senators, welcome back to "LATE EDITION."
We'll get to all of those other issues in just a moment. But, Senator McConnell, how much assistance -- money specifically, should the United States start thinking about in helping Pakistan, a close ally in the war on terror, in the aftermath of this earthquake?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, it's much too early, Wolf, to determine what might be available to help our good friends in Pakistan. They certainly have been a great ally, as you indicated, in the war on terror. And the Indians were affected by this earthquake as well.
And we sure had our own experience recently with a manmade disaster. But we'll be assessing the damage and hoping to be helpful in any way that we can.
BLITZER: A natural disaster, I think you meant to say, right?
MCCONNELL: Yes, I'm sorry.
BLITZER: What about that, Senator Durbin? At a time when budget deficits are soaring here in the United States -- a couple hundred billion dollars expected for the cost of Hurricane Katrina -- is the United States in a position now to start thinking of maybe billions of dollars to help Pakistan?
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Well, Wolf, of course we're in a heated debate even in the Senate last week as to how we're going to help the Hurricane Katrina victims. I know we're going to be there. We won't let our people in America down.
But our thoughts and prayers are with the people in Pakistan and India. They are our friends. They have stood by us so many times. We want to stand by them in this time of need. America will be there; I'm not sure in what capacity or to what extent, but we will be there.
BLITZER: All right.
As far as the war on terror, Senator McConnell, is concerned, there seems to have been, sort of, a disconnect between the Department of Homeland Security on the one hand, federal authorities in Washington, and New York City authorities on the other as far as this threat to New York.
Are you concerned that there may be a disconnect between local and federal authorities as far as this war on terror is concerned?
MCCONNELL: No, not particularly. I think certainly the mayor responded appropriately and took the kind of precautions he thought needed to be taken in New York City. And those kinds of things are typically done at the local level.
I think they're communicating rather well. And I hope that will continue to be the case in the future. BLITZER: You agree, Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: I do. I sat on the Intelligence Committee for four years. I read some of these interviews. Of course, they're subject to interpretation.
The mayor of New York decided to take the most cautious and careful approach to it, and I applaud him for doing that. People in Washington may have disagreed, but I think caution is important in this war on terrorism.
BLITZER: The latest CBS News poll, Senator McConnell, has some bad numbers for the president when it comes to the way he's handling the situation in Iraq. Only 32 percent of the American public approve of the way he's handling the situation there; 64 percent disapprove. These numbers are consistent in other polls as well.
The president's not convincing a lot of Americans he knows what he's doing there.
MCCONNELL: Well, the Iraqis are a little bit more optimistic, Wolf, interestingly enough, even though they're directly there in the middle of all this. Sixty-two percent of them in a September survey indicated they thought things would be considerably better by next year; 73 percent thought they'd be considerably better within the next five years.
Look, I think the next big steps are awfully important. You had a guest on earlier, an Iraqi official on earlier talking about the constitution on October 15th. No question that's a very important next step in Iraq toward a permanent democratic government, which is supposed to be elected on December 15th. I'm optimistic that both those dates will be met and that we'll continue to move forward.
There are now 35 battalions capable of action in Iraq. And I think we've made a significant amount of progress.
BLITZER: But, Senator McConnell, excuse me for interrupting. There may be 35 battalions capable with U.S. assistance, but there's only one battalion that's capable of operating on its own, and there were three only a few months ago.
MCCONNELL: Well, U.S. assistance is still available. As you know, we have a number of troops there. But the important thing is that we're moving in a direction of being able to have small or no American troops embedded in these units.
And sure, we're still there. We're still there because we're needed. But the point is they're getting dramatically better and are on the cutting edge of a lot of the action now.
BLITZER: All right, you agree with that, Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: No, I don't. The American people stand behind our troops, but they believe, as we do, that America can do better in Iraq. When the president comes before the American people this week and says our choice is between resolve and retreat, it's a false choice.
What we want to see are metrics or measurement of accountability.
To think just a few months ago we had three battalions ready to stand and fight, today we have only one doesn't indicate to me the Iraqi army is going to be replacing American soldiers any time soon. We have to understand that if we are going to have a security situation there that will prevail once they move toward nationhood, the Iraqis have to accept more responsibility and the Bush administration has to accept more responsibility.
We are spending now almost $5 billion to $6 billion a month on the war Iraq. We have now lost over 1,950 of our best and bravest soldiers and there's no end in sight. Over 40,000 innocent Iraqis have died, and the carnage continues with 90 insurgent attacks a day.
So the American people are rightly skeptical. They're demanding of this administration leadership. The president says, "Stay the course." We want to make sure that course is going to end up in a stable Iraq and American troops coming home.
BLITZER: Senator McConnell, we don't have a lot of time. I just want to pick up on the Harriet Miers nomination as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
A lot of you're fellow conservatives or Republicans are angry at the president for selecting her. Charles Krauthammer writing in The Washington Post on Friday says: "If Harriet Miers were not a crony of the president of the United States her nomination to the Supreme Court would be a joke."
Bill Kristol writing in the Weekly Standard: "Surely this is a pick from weakness."
David Frum, a former Bush speech writer, saying: "The Miers' nomination, though, is an unforced error."
How much of a problem does the president have not with Democrats but with Republicans and conservatives on this nomination?
MCCONNELL: Look, everybody is entitled to their opinion. And I think all of these conservative commentators had their favorites.
But the president, under the Constitution, gets to make the selection. He's made the selection of an outstanding lawyer.
And it's important to remember that the people who get to vote on this are the members of the United States Senate. And I haven't sensed any discontent of any consequence in the Republican conference in the Senate. The few who have expressed some doubts have simply said, "Let's have the hearings."
That's not indistinguishable from the reaction they had to the John Roberts' nomination. They wanted to wait for the hearings...
BLITZER: Senator Brownback and Senator Lott did express some serious doubts. MCCONNELL: I think at the end of the day the support in the Senate for Harriet Miers in the Republican conference in the Senate is going to be rock solid.
BLITZER: One hundred percent?
MCCONNELL: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: What about among the Democrats? Senator Durbin, you're on the Judiciary Committee.
DURBIN: I met with Ms. Miers the other night for about 45 minutes. We had a pleasant conversation. But when I tried to ask any questions relative to basic constitutional principles or even to her role as White House counsel, she told me she wasn't prepared to answer.
She has a limited paper trail. She's not been a judge. There's no requirement that she should be to be on the Supreme Court.
But if we're going to have any evidence, any information to make an informed judgment for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, Ms. Miers has to come forward even more than John Roberts and explain who she is and what she believes.
We have these report from Reverend Dobson and others that they have inside information from the White House that she'll be just fine from their point of view on the issues. That is reprehensible.
If we're going to talk about people coming before the Senate Judiciary Committee having an opportunity to speak and not being pushed back and forth by interest groups, then this approach, which we've heard over and over again from the right, is not a good one.
BLITZER: All right, unfortunately, guys, we're out of time. Thanks so much to both of you for joining us, Senator McConnell, Senator Durbin, representing both parties in the U.S. Senate.
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