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MSNBC "Super Tuesday"-Transcript

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MR. RUSSERT: Welcome back to MSNBC's "Super Tuesday: Polls, Politics and People"; the president, a very low approval rating, in the low 30s, and yet Congress, a 14 percent approval for their job performance.

Joining me now, two key leaders in the Congress, Democrat Rahm Emanuel and Republican Adam Putnam.

Welcome, both. Double trouble before my very eyes right here.

Rahm Emanuel, you're the leader of the majority party -- 14 percent approval. What are you doing wrong?

REP. EMANUEL: Well, first of all, the American people are unhappy with the pace of change, and so am I. As you know, Tim, I'm a pretty impatient person. They want us to do what we're doing, which is get the minimum wage done, which we're commemorating after 10 years of waiting. But they don't want to wait that long for it, and I don't blame them.

They want to see us get double the size or what I would say is expanding the college assistance, which we're about to do the largest increase since the GI Bill. But they don't want to wait as long as it's taken Congress to do it.

So I share -- those are just two examples. I share the public's impatience. They're not upset with the type of change we're bringing. They're upset with the pace of it, and I don't blame them. But on all those matters -- minimum wage; passing the 9/11 bill finally, six years after 9/11; doubling the size for the Veterans' Administration for health care; increasing college assistance, the largest since the GI Bill; passing lobbying ethics reform -- they are happy with those changes, not with how long it's taking; and most importantly, Iraq. They don't want to see a policy continue that is just more troops, more time, more money and more of the same.

And so Democrats share with the public their level of impatience with the amount of progress, but not where we're pointing the needle. They like where we're going, just not the pace we're going at.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Putnam, is that your take?

REP. PUTNAM: Well, it's buyer's remorse, pure and simple. Listen, Tim, the Democrats have managed something that I didn't think was possible, which is to take congressional approval ratings double digits below where Republicans had them when the American people sent us the strongest possible message last November.

They talked about what they were going to do on energy. There is no energy bill. In fact, their energy bill produces no new energy. They pass a budget that's the largest tax increase in American history. We live in an economy that has a record home ownership, record low unemployment, and their answer to that is to raise taxes at every possible level.

Americans are concerned about the future generations and the burden that they will inherit by a failure to address Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement reform efforts. And the Democratic majority brings us a program that dramatically expands entitlements to the point where someone making $100,000 a year would be so poor as to qualify for free health care and so rich as to have to pay the alternative minimum tax, which was also a Democratic congressional creation.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Putnam, you didn't mention Iraq. What message do you believe the American people are sending Congress on Iraq?

REP. PUTNAM: They're frustrated with partisan bickering over Iraq, over congressional leadership like Harry Reid declaring in April that the war is lost, and yet continuing to send money and troops over there. If he truly believed that the war was lost, why on earth would they continue this policy?

I personally believe that we have to win in Iraq. I believe that we will see the number of troops coming home at the end of this year and the first part of next year as the surge works its way through the process. I also believe that our commanders on the ground have the best view of what's happening over there. And I have the patience to wait to listen to what our commanders will say in September.

The Democrats have said they want to have a vote on Iraq every week, some new little piece of Iraq policy just to keep it in the news, just to play to their base. And I've got to tell you, Tim, their base is badly divided. The leftist Code Pink and MoveOn types have nothing in common with the freshman Democrats who were elected as diet Republicans from conservative districts, and they will not be able to paper over those differences for much longer.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Emanuel, respond on Iraq.

REP. EMANUEL: Yeah, what's interesting is in 2005, my friend Adam said there will be less U.S. troops in Iraq in 2006. He was wrong by just about 40,000 troops. And the president announced right after the election he was going to escalate America's involvement in Iraq, but in 2005 Adam Putnam said June of 2006 we're going to have less troops in there.

In fact, that's wrong, because what we're doing, we're policing a civil war between Sunni and Shi'ite. We're not fighting al Qaeda. The president's strategy, as you saw, as we've escalated our involvement in Iraq, al Qaeda has been reconfigured in the Pakistan- Afghan border. So we've taken our eye off the ball from fighting terrorism to fighting a civil war.

What the Democrats are saying, redeploy from Iraq, limit our force exposure there to fighting al Qaeda there as well as training the Iraqis to take over and guard their own country and make sure that we have the resources, the time, the energy and the commitment to going after those who perpetuated 9/11.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Emanuel --

REP. EMANUEL: In June of '05, Adam Putnam predicted there would be less U.S. troops in June of '06, and he was just wrong by about 40,000.

MR. RUSSERT: But Congressman, why not take Congressman Putnam's challenge and cut off all the funding for the war now, bring it to an end?

REP. EMANUEL: Well, the fact is, that is not what we want to do. What we want to do is redeploy from Iraq, to bring our level down to, that is, a (focus ?) not of a force that's fighting or policing a civil war but to a force structure which is what Secretary Gates is trying to do in the administration.

Everything Democrats are trying to talk about on the redeployment is no different than the policy changes --

REP. PUTNAM: So what level of troops is acceptable?

REP. EMANUEL: -- Secretary Gates is trying to talk about, which is limit the force exposure to al Qaeda level, not to a policing of a civil war. And as Adam just said, he has patience. I would tell you that after five years, 3,600 American lives, a half a trillion dollars of expenditure, 26,000 more American lives wounded -- more Americans wounded, I would say, when it comes to just more troops, more money and more of the same -- Adam would actually show a little more impatience with that type of product and results.

REP. PUTNAM: Tim, Rahm's pretty good at pulling out Adam Putnam's quotes. I wish that he would listen to our generals on the ground that are actually out there trying to command our troops, trying to fight al Qaeda and are succeeding.

The success against al Qaeda in Iraq in Anbar Province is unmistakable. Why is it that they have announced that they want to have a -- (inaudible) -- Iraq vote, one a week every week, despite the fact that all of us know that General Petraeus will be giving us a progress report in September? What's wrong with listening to the general on the ground that received a unanimous confirmation vote from the United States Senate and prepare for what he will recommend the redeployment should be, for what he will recommend the way forward should be?

REP. EMANUEL: Adam --

MR. RUSSERT: Take 20 seconds, Congressman Emanuel.

REP. EMANUEL: It's simple. First of all, the same report we just got two weeks ago, since the Iraqi Parliament is going to leave for their summer break, there will be no political reconciliation to come about, which is what this escalation is supposed to accomplish is give a space for political reconciliation. We know the results, which is that there's basically been no material -- in Anbar Province there's been progress, no doubt about it. Overall, our troops are bogged down in a civil war.

REP. PUTNAM: What about that progress?

REP. EMANUEL: And I would say to Adam, who clearly wants to show, as he has in '05, a lot more patience, that, in fact, the troops on the ground, as well as the generals, are not unanimous. They also agree that we have basically got ourselves in a situation where we've allowed al Qaeda to reconfigure on the Afghan border. And that is what our strategy overall in the Mideast has resulted in. That is the results, and the results are in.

MR. RUSSERT: We have to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more of our (conversation with ?) Adam Putnam of Florida, Rahm Emanuel of Illinois.

(Announcements.)

MR. RUSSERT: Welcome back, MSNBC's "Super Tuesday." Closing statements, one minute each.

Congressman Putnam, how can the Republicans continue to control the White House in 2008 if the war in Iraq continues?

REP. PUTNAM: The war in Iraq is going to change significantly this fall. We don't know how exactly. We don't know where exactly. But the commanders on the ground will give us that report.

The congressional Democratic leaders are politically invested in failure in Iraq for the reason that you just asked that question. I believe that we have an obligation to be successful, eradicating al Qaeda in that region, to keep Americans safe at home, to keep families safe in their businesses, in their cities and our small towns across this country. The NIE proves that al Qaeda is resurgent and it is coming to our homeland. The best place to fight them is somewhere other than our homeland. And right now Anbar Province is ground zero of that fight, and we're winning.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Rahm Emanuel, if the Democrats have their way and begin to withdraw troops and Iraq deteriorates into genocide, cataclysmic death, what will that mean to their chances in 2008?

REP. EMANUEL: Tim, look, no decision you have, staying or redeploying, is cost-free. As President Kennedy once said, to choose is to govern. And you have bad choices and you have worse choices.

It is Democrats' view that if we continue to just do more of the same, you're going to get America bogged down. And as Adam just said, al Qaeda is going to be stronger than ever. We want to redeploy from Iraq, as other voices in the administration agree with us, and refigure America's commitment to fighting al Qaeda and its energy and resources.

Second is, where we see that violence, others, as they see us withdraw -- and one of the positions is that as they see America withdraw, in fact, others will step forward because they realize that there has to be a stable Iraq. As long as America is there, nobody else will step forward and try to help stabilize Iraq and they'll just lean on America to do it. And we can't do it alone.

Second is, Democrats are going to continue to offer a new direction not only in Iraq but here at home. We passed minimum wage. The Republicans passed a corporate tax bill that ended up with lost jobs here at home, as you saw today in The New York Times. We're going to pass the largest commitment in GI bills for higher education. And the Republicans, in my view, will realize that's a ticket to success.

We're going to keep pointing to a new direction here at home and abroad and make sure that Iraq is not something that just continues to drain America's -- both its prestige around the world but also its commitment of troops, its armed forces and its resources, but focused on fighting the al Qaeda threat that exists right now in Afghanistan and Pakistan border.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you --

REP. EMANUEL: That is what we're going to offer the American people.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you, Democrat Rahm Emanuel, Republican Adam Putnam, two young, aggressive voices in the House of Representatives.


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