CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript
MR. BOB SCHIEFFER: With us now from Wilmington, Delaware, is Senator Joe Biden, of course, the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He is also just back from the Gulf region. He's been to Qatar and other states out there. But Senator, obviously the first thing we have to ask you about is this thing that has turned into a firestorm over Senator Lott. There is some talk of a censure of Senator Lott by the Senate. Do you think that would be a wise thing to do?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE): Well, I think the Republicans have to come to the milk (?) and decide what they want to. Look, one thing we should have all learned by now, you cannot be insensitive to race issues from positions of leadership. And -- and unfortunately for Trent, his comments are not measured just in the context of the incident where he made them but in the context of his whole record. And -- and I thought the point that Wade Henderson made about the whole context of how the president responds, not only to Lott, but to who he sends up to us, I mean, you know, Pickering was mildly insensitive on cross-burning, when people put a cross in some black family's lawn. You know, you can't hold Lott accountable for this insensitivity and not the policies as well.
But -- but that's a Republican deal here. They've got to define for themselves what kind of face they want to put on their party. And my guess is, out of their self-interest, they may very well decide that -- that Trent has to go.
MS. GLORIA BORGER: Just one more question on this, Senator. If Lott decides that he doesn't want to resign as majority leader and he survives as majority leader, how do you expect that to affect the agenda in the Senate?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, it's really hard to tell. It depends on what the president pushes. If the president pushes judges, for example, who say the kinds of things Trent said, then it makes it very, very difficult. If the president decides on matters relating to social policy that he is going to, you know, take a road that is -- that is viewed as being insensitive on race issues, then it's going to be a big problem. If you're talking about economic issues, foreign policy, I'm not sure how much impact it has.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Senator, let's talk a little bit about your recent trip out to the Gulf States region. There was a story this morning in the New York Times that says that the president has now authorized the CIA to assassinate certain terrorist leaders. Of course, we have a law in this country against assassinating leaders of another country. I know you've read this story. What do you know about it, and how do you feel about it?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, let me make one distinction. It does not authorize assassination. It lists the people who are the most wanted terrorists, in the view of the president and our government, and says that if you are unable to capture them, you are able to use lethal force. And that is different than a policy of assassination, which is proscribed. I think the president had no choice but to do that. We're not going to put, for example -- for example, the inability to capture a high-ranking leader in Yemen on knowing that we would be putting too many people in harm's way to try to go in and capture him, and using the Predator Hellfire Missile fired at him to take him out is totally appropriate as an act of war, because that's what we are. These are -- these are combatants in war. And I find no difficulty with it.
MS. BORGER: Well, you're just back from the region. Can you tell us whether you -- it's your assessment that we are closer to war now?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I'm not -- I don't think we're any closer than we were before. We're more prepared. I spent an extensive amount of time with Tommy -- General Franks in Qatar and with dozens of generals during the war games they're preparing. I have never been so impressed with preparation as I have been, and I've been a senator a long time now. We are prepared. Everyone in the Gulf Region, from the king to the princes to -- to Bashar Assad in Syria and the Turks, the prime minister -- they all think we are absolutely hell bent on going in. But I'm not sure that's -- I think there's a 45 percent chance that we won't still.
MS. BORGER: Well, what's your assessment of how the inspections are going?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think they're going, quite frankly, as should have been predicted, which is that it's going to be a methodical process. I think the president is approaching it correctly by not demanding, based on the submission of 11,000 pages, that this is not accurate without thoroughly vetting it with the IAEA and with UNMOVIC and moving ahead. Because look, I think what came -- Gloria, what I came back from the region, including Northern Iraq, with is it's not so much the day before the way, but it's not the day after -- it's the decade after the war. You see what's going on in London now with 350 disparate groups of Iraqis trying to figure out what kind of government they're going to have if Saddam comes down. And you'll notice, the one thing they're all united on is they do not want a U.S.-imposed government. They do not want a military presence of the United States there for a long time, yet the entire region of the world says we can't take the risk of that country splintering. And so we've got to keep our allies in the deal here because what we need is a model after Saddam more like Kosovo, where you have, you know, a German civilian head, or a Dutchman, or a Frenchman -- not an American general sitting in Baghdad where we go from being liberator to occupier very quickly. So, it really -- the dynamic here is what are we going to do the day after Saddam comes down? And there's not been nearly enough planning on that, in my view.
MR. SCHIEFFER: Senator, that is the key question. I know it's a question that has worried you from the beginning, and it seems to me it is the question that is still unanswered. Thank you so much for joining us this morning.
SEN. BIDEN: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.