ABC "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: June 21, 2009
Location: Unknown

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MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.

It was a momentous week here in Washington, with major developments on health care and major tension with Iran, especially yesterday, when the president held several meetings on the violence there. Hard information was hard to come by, but Saturday was clearly the most deadly day yet -- as many as 20 protesters killed in clashes with state security forces. And the opposition leader, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, reportedly told his supporters that he was prepared for martyrdom.

In response, President Obama issued his strongest condemnation yet. He called on the Iranian government to stop all violent and unjust actions against its own people, and he quoted Martin Luther King. "The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towards justice. I believe that, the international community believes that, and right now we're bearing witness to the Iranian people's belief in that truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

For more on this debate, let me bring in two key senators. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Also, Democrat Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

And Senator Graham, let me begin with you. Your friend Senator John McCain and many other Republicans were pressuring the president all week long to take a harder line on Iran. Did he get it right with that statement yesterday?

SEN. GRAHAM: He's certainly moving in the right direction, but our point is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and you know, the president of the United States is supposed to lead the free world, not follow it. Other nations have been more outspoken, so I hope that we'll hear more of this, because the young men and women taking the streets in Tehran need our support. The signs are in English. They are basically asking for us to speak up on their behalf.

And I appreciate what the president said yesterday, but he's been timid and passive more than I would like, and I hope he will continue to speak truth to power.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator, you know what the White House has said in response. They say that they don't want to become the players in this fight and actually make the protesters seem like they're tools of the United States. Henry Kissinger agrees with the White House.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, these people are not tools of anyone. They're the ones getting killed. No one in America is getting killed over there.

Anytime America stands up for freedom, we're better off. When we try to prop up dictators or remain silent, it comes back to bite us.

You know, Ronald Reagan spoke in front of the Berlin Wall, he said tear it down, he was ready to negotiate. When he was silent on the 1986 election in the Philippines, said there was fraud on both sides, that hurt the cause, so I would -- I would hope that the president would speak truth to power.

This regime is corrupt. It has blood on its hands in Iran. They've killed Americans in Iraq, innocent Iraqi people; now they're killing their own people. Stand up with the protesters. That's not meddling. That's doing the right thing.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Dodd, has the president been timid and passive, as Senator Graham says?

SEN. DODD: No, not at all. He's the president of the United States. He's not a member of the Senate or a columnist. He's got a very delicate path to walk here. I think he's been strong. You don't want to become -- you don't want to take ownership of this. The worst thing we could do at this moment for these reformers, these protesters, these courageous people in Tehran, is allow the government there to claim that this is a U.S.-led opposition, a U.S.-led demonstration.

This is 1979 in many ways all over again, and these are remarkable people doing remarkable things. The president has spoken out strongly. We adopted unanimously I think the other day, Lindsey, a resolution on the floor of the Senate in support of what the protesters are trying to achieve. I think it's clear to them that we stand as a nation behind their efforts. And the president I think is handling this job as well as any president could, and that is speaking out against the unjust activities that are occurring, the violence that's being brought against these protesters, the deaths that are occurring. That's exactly the right message for an American president, but not taking ownership of this.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Dodd, going forward, how does the president pursue his policy of engagement after we've seen what this regime is willing to do to its own people? You have some suggesting, like the House Republican leader, John Boehner, that we should go straight to tougher sanctions, stop all gasoline sales to the Iranians now?

SEN. DODD: Well, obviously this is a -- as someone pointed out the other day, this government is very fragile in Iran right now, and obviously we're deeply concerned about the security of our country and our allies with the possibility of, of course, developing and having a nuclear arsenal.

And that's a tremendously high priority for us. And so you want to put the pressure on, and we have collectively with the international community. I suspect after the events of the last week, you'll see more of that -- additional pressure being put on it to make sure that we not only see that these protesters and demonstrators who are seeking justice in their country will achieve that goal, but also that the near-term issue of dealing with nuclear weapons is also going to be dealt with.

That's a very delicate path for the president to walk.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So would you go along with tightening the noose economically, stopping gasoline sales?

SEN. DODD: I would, but I would want to be collective with that. I think doing it alone on ourselves may not achieve the desired results. I think the effort to get the international community, as we have been in getting more and more support for that, makes a lot of sense, if your true goal is to stop the Iranians from developing the nuclear weapons.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Graham?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, my goal is to make sure that we do not lose this moment in history.

If we could get the Iranian people to speak out -- stand behind them as they speak out. They want more freedom. They want to be part of the international community. They do not like the way they're being lead, the way they're being isolated by the saber-rattling from Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader is losing credibility with their own people.

The regime, to me for the moment, is more important than negotiating about nuclear weapons. If we could empower the Iranian people by giving them the moral support they deserve, then -- and do sanctions and stand tough against this regime.

It's one thing for me to talk here in South Carolina about Iran. The people who are out in the streets in Tehran are losing their lives are the ones that I admire. And we've got a chance here to stand by these folks and give them the moral support we need.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So just to be clear, you're for regime change? Just to be clear, you're for regime change?

SEN. GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely. (Chuckles.) Absolutely.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you, Senator Dodd?

SEN. DODD: I couldn't hear the question.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you for regime change now in Iran?

SEN. DODD: Well, I would love to see a different regime in Iran. Who wouldn't? My lord, what's going on there for the last 30 years has been a disaster for the people in Iran. Certainly would like to see change there.

But how you get there -- and this -- I think the point here, we don't want to try to drive more of a wedge here, I think Lindsey and I agree without any question here what we'd like to see occur.

The question is, should the United States take ownership of this revolution? I think we do great damage to the effort if it appears this is a U.S.-led effort. Then I think we do damage to the people -- that's exactly what Ahmadinejad would like. It's what the supreme leader would like -- to say this is a U.S.-led opposition, not a homegrown, organic revolution being led by Iranians.

If we lose that argument, then these reformers, these people who are courageous today could have a major setback, in my view.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me switch to the situation here at home, especially on health care. Senator Dodd, you're chairing the Health Committee in the Senate in the absence of Senator Kennedy.

It got pretty heated there on Friday afternoon. Let me show our viewers a little bit of your exchange with Senator McCain.

(Begin video clip.)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): I'll tell you, these hours have been a waste of time when we don't know what the bill costs and we don't know what the employer mandates are, and we don't know what the government option is.

SEN. DODD: We can't run the numbers on it until we actually craft the language and give him something so they --

SEN. MCCAIN: They've run the numbers --

(Cross talk.)

SEN. DODD: -- various ideas.

SEN. MCCAIN: -- and it's a trillion dollars with one-third insured.

(End video clip.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, Senator Dodd, that was only a partial report by the Congressional Budget Office, but they did find it would cost a trillion dollars and you'd only cover one-third of the uninsured -- 16 million uninsured. Is that too high a price to pay?

SEN. DODD: Well, George, we're not done with this at all. If this were easy, it would have been done decades ago. Sixty years the effort has been made to have a national health care program in this country.

But it's almost 50 million uninsured, and those who are insured are paying prices they can't afford and going to escalate every day, 14,000 people a day lose their health insurance in the United States -- 14,000 a day.

This is very hard. This is very difficult. But we're going to stick with it. We actually had a pretty good week in many ways. We did a lot of work, a lot of amendments were agreed to.

You've had AARP come out in favor of a House plan. You had the pharmaceutical companies look like they're going to reduce some $50 billion in cost. We're moving ahead. Max Baucus is moving ahead.

This is a difficult road, I'll be the first to admit it. Anyone who has been involved in this issue over the years will tell you that. But we're going to get there, in my view.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, bottom line, how much is this going to cost and how many people are going to get covered? Because you talked about Senator Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee, they said to get to something close to universal coverage, it would be $1.6 trillion. A lot of people had sticker shock over that as well.

SEN. DODD: Yes, we all do. And, look, we've got to make this accessible. We've got to make it a quality program. We've got to make sure we can bring down these costs. We can't consume 35 cents in every dollar as we could in the next 10 or 15, 20 years of our gross domestic product if we don't change the system -- fundamentally alter it.

That's what the effort here is all about. We're basically saying, look, if you like what you have, you can keep it. If you want, you choose your doctor, your hospital, your insurance coverage. That's fine. There's no one objecting to that whatsoever. But to focus on prevention, on quality, to disincentive a system where it rewards those who show up at hospitals and doctors offices instead of trying to keep people healthy -- that's the effort we're involved in here.

And it's not easy to do this, but we're working at it. The numbers come back. We've got to obviously have better numbers than the ones we've seen. And we need to cover a lot more people than we're seeing. That's what we've been working on all weekend, in fact. And we'll work on it again this week.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring it Senator Graham in on this. Republicans seem to be digging in, Senator Graham, on a couple of big issues. On the issues of taxes to pay for health care, on the issue of a public health insurance plan. But let me show you this "New York Times" poll that's just out this morning showing 72 percent -- 72 percent of the public supports a government health insurance plan and 57 percent of the public is willing to pay more taxes for universal health care. They seem to be ready for the kind of change that Republicans are fighting.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, it's just not Republicans, George. The reason you're not going to have a government run health care pass the Senate is because it would be devastating for this country. The last thing in the world I think Democrats and Republicans are going to do at the end of the day is create a government run health care system where you've got a bureaucrat standing in between the patient and the doctor. We've tried this model -- people have tried this model in other countries. The first thing that happens -- you have to wait for your care. And in socialized health care models, people have to wait longer to get care and the government begins to cut back on what's available because of the cost explosion.

The CBO estimates were a death blow to a government run health care plan. The Finance Committee has abandoned that. We do need to deal with inflation in health care, private and public inflation, but we're not going to go down to the government owning health care road in America and I think that's the story of this week. There's been a bipartisan rejection of that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you call it a death blow. Let me just press that point.

Are you saying now that Republicans -- just as we saw in the stimulus, where I think only three Republicans voted for the president's stimulus package -- if there's a government run health insurance plan, are Republicans going to vote en masse against this package?

SEN. GRAHAM: I don't think it's just going to be Republicans. You've got Senator Conrad talking about a co-op. You've got other Democrats running away from the government-run health care where the bureaucrat stands between the doctor and the patient. I think this idea is unnerving to the members of the Senate and will be to the public when they understand what it means -- that you'll wait longer to get treated and you'll get health care the government decides for you, not that of your doctor. So yes, I think this idea needs to go away and replace it with something maybe like Kent Conrad's proposal.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Now Senator Dodd, I think that Senator Graham talked about the public there. We just saw that poll. But his read of the Senate seems pretty accurate right now. You have not only Republicans, but several of your Democratic colleagues, including the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Baucus, saying the public option isn't going to fly in their committee. They want something bipartisan and that can't include this public health insurance option.

SEN. DODD: Well, again, I'm delighted to hear Lindsey talk about the possibility of having something like a co-op and non-profits. I happen to support a public option. I don't think you can bring down costs without it. If there isn't some competition out there to drive down the overall cost -- costs have gone up 86 percent since '96, 1996. Forty-five percent in my state alone -- increase in health care cost. The American average working family can't afford this. A family of four now it's $12,000. We're being told in 20 years, it could be half the gross income of a family spent on health care premiums. That is just unacceptable.

Now, how we get those costs down -- use a lot of these buzz words. No one I know is for socialized medicine. We're going to develop a U.S. plan, not a Canadian or a U.K. plan, one that meets our needs in our country that's designed for Americans by Americans that isn't socialized medicine. But you've got to drive down these costs. We need quality, accessible health care and bringing down those costs are absolutely critical or we're going to bankrupt the country. It's unsustainable. That's why we're at the table.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay gentlemen, we're going to have you both back if this makes it through the process this summer, but Senator Dodd, before I let you go, real quickly, I see that Senator Kennedy is doing an ad for you up in Connecticut, starting today. How is he doing?

SEN. DODD: He is doing pretty well. I talked to him the other day, had a good conversation with him. In fact, the day we started the mark up in the Health Committee on health care. He's been a champion of that for four decades. And he stays very engaged, very involved, knows everything that's going on and is anxious to be back, and no one's more anxious for him to come back than I am.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll bet. Senators, thank you both very much.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you very much.