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MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Mathews" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. MATTHEWS: Let's go right now to Senator Joe Biden, who may well be, in a matter of weeks, once again chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Biden, you're already talking like you got the chair. Are you confident you'll get it?

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, no, I was asked if I got the chair. No, I'm not confident. I'm optimistic that will probably happen.

I had a long talk with Dick Lugar today. I don't think it's going to alter a great deal about how we're going to proceed whether Dick is the chairman in a 50-5 Senate or I am chairman in a 51-49 Senate. I -- we agree on an awful lot of things, and I think we ought to be able to set the example for a genuine bipartisan approach to American foreign policy that requires the president to make some real changes.

MR. MATTHEWS: Did you hear the ice cracking today on administration foreign policy in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: (Chuckles.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Did you hear the ice cracking, or is all cosmetic --

SEN. BIDEN: (Chuckles.)

MR. MATTHEWS: -- we're going to move the chairs around, get rid of Rumsfeld, bring in another hawk, no problem?

SEN. BIDEN: You know, honest to God, Chris, I don't know. You and I have been around Washington a long time. I --

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, I still want to know the answer. Is it a cosmetic change?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know.

MR. MATTHEWS: Is he scapegoating?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't know.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me tougher here. Is he scapegoating? He scapegoated Karl Rove for losing all the seats in Congress. Then he went along, and it seemed like he's scapegoating Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld told me he was wasn't ever even asked whether he should go to Iraq -- tonight -- in this war. So Rumsfeld was an apparatchik. He carried out a policy. Do you believe this president is ever going to blame himself and say, "I was wrong in going into Iraq," or is this all just distraction from that fundamental question?

SEN. BIDEN: I think it's a distraction from the fundamental question.

But look, Chris, now, we have to move beyond here. The one thing I think the president -- I've asserted on occasion the president is tone-deaf. I've been tone-deaf in my career. But let me tell you, he'll be stone deaf if he doesn't understand what just happened.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you about the people you talk to in the country. You've been moving around the country rather briskly. You've met an awful lot of people.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah. (Chuckles.)

MR. MATTHEWS: You're running for president. Do you think the message from the people the other day was change secretaries of Defense or change policy?

SEN. BIDEN: Change policy. But it is important that to demonstrate that he's willing to change policy, the secretary of Defense has to get out of the way. So he's done one of the things that's a precondition for changing policy. It would be impossible to change policy with Rumsfeld in place. It was just -- he could never do it.

MR. MATTHEWS: Right.

SEN. BIDEN: But the second part is, because he's changed Rumsfeld, does that mean he's going to change policy? No. I think what it means -- the way he'll change policy, I think he's going to have a rude awakening when he finds out that -- at least speaking for the Senate, that an awful lot of Republicans are prepared to join an awful lot of Democrats in a call for a significant change in policy.

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the vice president's role. We're learning through NBC sources that the decision to remove or relieve Rumsfeld and to bring in Gates were both met with opposition by the vice president. He's very close to Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is in many ways his instrument, I believe, and he didn't want to see his instrument removed.

SEN. BIDEN: (Chuckles.)

MR. MATTHEWS: It's the job he used to have.

You're laughing, but you know this is true.

SEN. BIDEN: I do.

MR. MATTHEWS: And then he brought in the guy who's not an ideologue, not a neo-conservative, so called, just another guy who believes in realistic foreign policy, a closer adviser to the former President Bush than this one.

Do you think that this president -- let me -- can he put up with Cheney's pouting for more than a couple of days? That's what I'm asking.

SEN. BIDEN: No. The answer's no, he can't.

MR. MATTHEWS: Once he crosses Cheney, doesn't he have to come back to him in a couple of days and say, "Okay, Dick, I got a new secretary of Defense. I think you guys can work together. We'll still stay hawkish, we won't leave -- we're going to have permanent bases in Iraq."

Can he let Cheney pout, around the corner from his office, for more than a couple of days before he gives in again?

SEN. BIDEN: No. And by the way, one thing about this president, in my meetings with he and Cheney, there's no question who the boss is. He, the president, is the boss. He won't -- he won't talk to Cheney that way, he'll just say, "Shut up, Dick," or something to that effect.

MR. MATTHEWS: Really? Can you get me some video tape of that to warm my heart?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I'm serious. No, I tell you, Chris, I believe that.

Now, here's what he did -- here's what this president does. He delegates full authority and walks away. I think he just went out and got a new broker.

MR. MATTHEWS: Whoa!

SEN. BIDEN: It's a little bit like someone managing his money. He decided that Cheney was the guy that was the smartest guy to do this, and now I think he's decided Cheney ain't working, and so what he's saying is, "Dick, I'm changing. I'm the boss. Here's what we're doing." And now the question is who --

MR. MATTHEWS: What did you think of that whack -- what did you think of that sort of slap, I'd have to call it, at his campaign manager Karl Rove? I'm thinking about scapegoating here because he took a whack at him like I worked harder than he did, and then saying, basically, I'm going to solve the problem in Iraq by getting rid of Cheney, who is the problem. I mean, it seems like in so many ways -- and he was going after the ethics of people on Capitol Hill. But he did, I suppose, take some of the responsibility for what happened because he did say he's head of the party.

SEN. BIDEN: Look, you're asking me to do something I'm not very good at. I have great difficulty understanding the president and his motivations. I don't think you'll ever hear the president say that, "Look, I made a mistake. I think we have to change policy, I went ahead and" -- I mean, you know -- but, you know, I just think the only thing that works with the president is a heavy dose of reality repeatedly injected.

MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, I think that's great.

SEN. BIDEN: (Laughs.)

MR. MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about -- you grew up and watched Senator Fulbright hold hearings on Vietnam. You saw the power of the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at a time when war is being questioned, to bring the American people together, to resolve and to unite behind a policy shift if necessary. What power do you have? And what do you foresee using, should you become chair, in that regard?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, Chris, I would cite the brief time I was chairman. I think you would acknowledge that those serious hearings I held with Dick Lugar at the end of July before we went to war had a significant impact. There was universal -- at least recognition that they were open, fair, critical. We brought in all parties, and they got very wide, wide circulation and were greeted with as being credible.

So I hope that I am up to that. I think I am. I think that's the fundamental purpose of the Foreign Relations Committee. The truth of the matter is you -- look, you know the Congress as well as anybody in the media, and you know full well the United States Senate cannot make foreign policy. The Foreign Relations Committee does not make foreign policy. It can only try to shape it by educating the American public on it and thereby putting pressure or support behind the president's initiative. So I --

MR. MATTHEWS: Will you hold Fulbright-style hearings on the war in Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

MR. MATTHEWS: Well, that's news.

SEN. BIDEN: It's an absolute answer. I called Dick Lugar today, and I said, "Dick, if it turns out I am the chairman, I would look forward to you and I holding --" I would start off in January with a weeklong series of hearings, bringing in every responsible person reflecting every point of view and have very methodical hearings, but not starting off, as some of my party may want to do, in going back and going into the historical question of weapons of mass destruction and what did we know, what we didn't know.

MR. MATTHEWS: Right.

SEN. BIDEN: We can do that. That must be done eventually for history. But right now we're in a very deep hole, and the question is, can we build a consensus to get out of it?

And with all due respect to all my Democratic colleagues, it can't be done by a single party. It has to be done bipartisanly.

MR. MATTHEWS: Senator Joseph Biden, the man who may well be chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thank you very much, sir, for coming on "Hardball" today.


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