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MSNBC Hardball-Transcript

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MSNBC Hardball-Transcript

Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to HARDBALL. Democrats and Republicans might not agree on much, but increasingly they agree that President Bush is wrong to send more troops to Iraq. Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators, led by Senator Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced a resolution of opposition against Bush‘s war plan.

In a moment, we‘ll talk to Senator Biden and later Senators Olympia Snowe and Mary Landrieu.

Plus, is Iraq triggering a civil war inside the Republican Party?

Karl Rove‘s permanent majority is tearing at the seams as Republicans continue to defect over President Bush‘s plan to escalate the war.

And later, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest on the Scooter Libby trial, but first Senator Joe Biden.

Senator Biden, is your resolution a resolution of no confidence in the president‘s campaigning—running of this war in Iraq?

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), CHAIR, FOREIGN RELATIONS CMTE.: The answer is yes, it is. If this were a parliamentary system, there would be—it would bring the government down, I believe. But obviously we‘re not.

You know, look, Chris, what made me realize how fractured this was is when we had Condoleezza Rice before my committee, 21 members of the committee. It was stunning, and you reported on it. It was stunning that 20 of the 21 senators, meaning 10 of whom were Republicans, absolutely made it clear they were not at all supportive of the president‘s new policy.

MATTHEWS: Are you worried that the president‘s one on one lobbying will bring some of those Republicans off your resolution when the vote comes in a couple of weeks?

BIDEN: Well, it may, but what is pretty clear is I think—what I think you‘re more likely to see is other Republicans coming up with their own resolution that is—essentially says what Hagel and Levin and I and Snowe say.

But the bottom line here is the one way, the quickest way, Chris, to get a change in policy is to make sure the president understands there is virtually no support for his position up here.

MATTHEWS: When do you think you will have a vote so that the American people can watch you, members of the Senate, debate this question publicly? Will it be after the State of the Union next week?

BIDEN: Yes, I had a chance to do it before the State of the Union, but I thought that was inappropriate. We‘re going to bring it up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a vote—excuse me—on Wednesday. I expect that we‘ll be able to get that vote.

It will then be reported to the floor of the United States Senate. And my guess is that the majority leader, in conjunction with the Republican leader, will set a time.

The word is that the Republican leader is not going to even let us have a vote on it, that they‘re going to filibuster it. I don‘t know that to be true, so—but the point is, the debate will ensue by the end of next week is my expectation.

MATTHEWS: How long will it take you to get the debate to end, in other words, to get a cloture vote, if you can get one, so you could actually have a vote?

BIDEN: Well, you know, I really—I don‘t know that, Chris. My guess is pretty quickly. If the Republican leader decides that he‘s going to filibuster it, which I hope wouldn‘t be the case—but let‘s say he does. It still has the same political impact.

If it‘s clear he‘s not going to let a vote take place, then it‘s still clear that it means he knows there is a clear majority of—a bipartisan majority that want the president to understand, Mr. President, please change course. Listen to your generals. Listen to former generals. Listen to the Iraq Study Group.

Listen to people like Gelb and me and others who say we‘re doing—and Senator Levin who say the way to get a change in behavior is a political change, and the way that occurs is making it clear to the Iraqis we‘re going to be drawing down, not ramping up.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about a constitutional question, Senator. Stephen Hadley was on "Meet The Press" this weekend and sort of dodged the question. Should the president be required to get the approval of Congress before he attacks Iran, should he decide to do so?

BIDEN: Absolutely, positively, unequivocally. I have a second resolution—a law actually—that I‘m in the process of drafting. I will be seeking bipartisan support, making it clear that the authorization for the use of force that the president got three-and-a-half years ago does not—emphasize does not—give him the authority to attack Syria or Iran. That would be a disaster.

MATTHEWS: But you don‘t expect him to sign that bill, do you?

BIDEN: No, I don‘t, but I expect it to generate a constitutional crisis were he to ignore it and to, in fact, him—for then attack Iran.

MATTHEWS: Suppose the president makes the case to the public that he is not attacking Iran because of its nuclear program, he is attacking it because of its involvement in Iraq, its supplying the forces against our men in the field—men and women in the field, and he says he is simply operating as commander in chief. And then it, of course, escalates it to a blowing up of their nuclear sites if he can find them. Can he go in under that cover?

BIDEN: No, he can‘t do it Constitutionally, and I don‘t believe the American public are willing, for a moment—for a moment—to trust his judgment to go into war against 72 million people in an adjacent country with 150,000 Americans tied down in the region, in a war that‘s—a civil war that has bogged us down. I don‘t think there is a prayer of him being able to convince the American people of that rationale.

MATTHEWS: One of your potential rivals for the Democratic nomination for the president is Hillary Rodham Clinton. Senator Clinton has said we need more troops to go to Afghanistan, although she agrees with you on the need to cap the troop number in Iraq. Do you agree we need more troops in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: Yes. When the president announced his surge, I made the case that he should be surging in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. Chris, I know you know a lot about this. Imagine if we fail in Afghanistan.

What that will mean is Musharraf will cut even a closer deal with al Qaeda and with the Taliban, and if he doesn‘t, he puts himself in the position of being overthrown more than he is now. That is a radicalized country. It has nuclear weapons and it will be a disaster.

If there was a totally just war since World War II, it is the war in Afghanistan, and we are not—we are not—dealing with it properly. We have diverted resources to Iraq from the beginning. And if anything, we should be increasing resources in Afghanistan which I called for three months ago.

MATTHEWS: You know, I was watching—or actually, I was listening in my car to satellite radio the other day, Senator. I know this will get to your heart. I was listening a young serviceman, a young kid, who had just been brought into a field hospital in Iraq, and the doctor was saying we‘re going to have to take off that left leg.

And the poor kid is begging for his leg. He says can‘t you try, doctor, can‘t you try? And the doctor is doing his job, I guess, and just says no, we can‘t save that leg. And then finally he says we can save the right leg, and the kid says good.

I mean, that kind of courage...

BIDEN: Well, I‘m telling you what, Chris, I‘ve been over there...

MATTHEWS: And I wonder—I just don‘t know why we‘re wasting those lives. I don‘t know why. I mean, the human cost of this war seems to be something that nobody talks about. They talk about surges and escalations and all this nonpersonal language.

BIDEN: That‘s exactly right. Exactly right. Look, I have been there a total—counting Afghanistan—eight times. The fact of the matter is, these people are incredible. I know that sounds like so much malarkey coming from a United States senator.

But all you have to do is see these forces on the ground, see them in Fallujah, see them in Basra, see them in Baghdad, see them in Ramadi. And you see what they are doing. They are incredible.

And, Chris, what people don‘t realize yet is that because we‘re able to—use the fancy word—triage these injuries, meaning we have incredible medical capability, there are thousands of people coming back with severe head injuries and amputees in a percentage much higher than any other war since the Civil War who are living. Had it been Vietnam, they would be dead.

And what people don‘t understand is the human cost that is going to continue, continue. If the war ends today, that‘s going to continue for the next 20 years is amazing. And why? And now we‘re putting 21,500 people, 17,000 of whom will be going door to door in Iraq?

I had five—four generals before me this morning on Foreign Relations, Chris, people you know, from Barry McCaffrey to General Odom to General Ahora (ph). These are commandants of the Marine Corps, et cetera.

And to a person—to a person—they pointed out that there is—and including the general who supports the surge, says we‘re not going and supporting the Iraqis. We‘re going to be in the lead. In a city of six-plus million people, we‘re going to have young men in the middle of a civil war and women knocking on doors? This is absolutely, absolutely the wrong thing to do.

MATTHEWS: Senator, we had Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, the recently chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the House on yesterday. And he posed what looked to me like a strong political argument. He said if people try to oppose this surge, this 21,000 more troops going to Iraq, they are basically killing reinforcements on the way to protect our service people.

BIDEN: Wrong. We‘re not sending reinforcements. There are no forces knocking on those doors in those 23 neighborhoods in Baghdad now. Give me a break. Let‘s talk about what the facts are.

If you talk about reinforcements for troop protection, that‘s a fundamentally different thing than saying guess what we‘re going to do now. We‘re changing our mission. We are going to go in and take out the Sunni insurgency, and then turn on—as they are telling us—then turn on the Shia militia in a city of 6.1 million people. Chris, we are not doing that now. This is a change in mission. So Mr. Hunter—Congressman Hunter is putting a red herring out there.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a last question, Senator Biden. You are chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. You‘ve got to be up to date on all this stuff. When we go to vote in November of 2008, will we still be fighting this war? Will it still look like it does this week with all these Iraqis getting killed, our guys walking door to door, kicking down doors, facing hell? Will we still be fighting this war when we vote in November of 2008?

BIDEN: Yes, if the Republicans do not make it clear to the president. Now, look, we‘re in the majority by one. But what‘s going to happen—you‘ve been around this town a long time, like I have. The thing that brought Nixon down and made it clear that he‘d hand over the tapes wasn‘t any vote in the Congress. It was when a group of Republican senators got in the car and went down to the president, said, "Mr. President, the jig is up."

What‘s going to happen here, Chris—and you know this town better than I do, living here—what‘s going to happen is when the leading members of the House and Senate on the Republican side say, "Mr. President, no more of this. Listen to all the advice you got."

Think about it, Chris. You had a former secretary of state who‘s a Republican. You had leading Republicans on the Iraqi Study Group. You had the chairman—you had the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You had the outgoing leader, General Abizaid, the outgoing leader, General Casey. You had—every single, solitary one of them told him, "This is a mistake. This is a mistake."

And every one of them said some version of the following: "Mr. President, you need a political solution. The only way you‘re going to get it is get the region involved and make it clear to the president of the Iraqi government that we‘re not staying, we‘re not going to precipitously leave, but they‘ve got to step up to the ball and make the hard decisions."

Every major voice on both sides of the aisle has said that to him. And the idea that he can make the case politically, that what he‘s doing makes sense, I think is just divorced from reality.

MATTHEWS: Well, senator, we‘ll have to bring back Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania to do that walk down to the White House. I don‘t know if any of the Republicans are tough enough to face Bush on this one.

But thank you very much for coming on HARDBALL, Senator Joe Biden, candidate for the presidency.

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