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CNN Inside Politics - Transcript

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CNN Inside Politics - Transcript
Thursday, May 26, 2005

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WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.

Few would argue that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a compelling public figure. One of the many reasons for that, the unprecedented possibility that the former first lady might return to the White House as president.

Our just released poll shows that 53 percent of Americans say they are at least somewhat likely to vote for Senator Clinton for president in 2008. That is an 11 point increase from two years ago.

I talked at length with Senator Clinton today about her future and political challenges right now. I started by asking her whether Democrats really got that much out of the deal that ended the Senate showdown over judges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NEW YORK: From the perspective of the institution of the Senate and our system of checks and balances and respect for the constitution and separation of powers, all of these very fundamental principles that we have operated under as a nation for so many centuries now, I think we have. I think it was a very good moment for the Senate as a whole when the 14 senators made that agreement.

Now, obviously, there are some very unfortunate side effects of any agreement. Usually when you have a compromise, which this was, it doesn't satisfy anybody 100 percent. And we will probably see the confirmation of people who are very extreme. And I regret that.

WOODRUFF: Some people have noted that you chose not to be part of the group that announced the compromise, that worked on the compromise. The gang of 14. Should somebody make anything of that?

CLINTON: No. I think that this was a process that a couple of my colleagues started, you know, some weeks ago after Senator Reid could not reach any understanding with Senator Frist. And I thought they were pursuing a noble effort. I didn't know whether they would be successful or not, but I was, you know, certainly supportive of their efforts to try.

I was ambivalent about what the right thing for the country was. I believed, or at least maybe I hoped, that if the trigger were pulled, there would be six Republican senators who, in the tradition of profiles and courage-Margaret Chase Smith standing up against McCarthy, others take lonely but very important stands on behalf of the constitution and the institution of the Senate-that there would be those six Republicans. And I'm not sure there wouldn't have been. We will not know now, obviously.

WOODRUFF: Very different subject, Iraq. Record numbers of Americans continue to die in Iraq. No end to the violence in sight that most people can see. When should the United States begin significant troop withdrawals?

CLINTON: Well, there's a preliminary question to that. And the preliminary question is, when will the United States have a strategy that can gain the confidence of the Iraqi people, support the new Iraqi government and protect our troops. And we haven't had that.

You know, I am not one who feels comfortable setting exit strategies. We don't know what we're exiting from. We don't know what the situation is moving toward.

I have said on many occasions, I regret deeply the way the president and the civilian leadership at the Pentagon pursued this action in Iraq. I think numerous mistakes were made. And I believe that it is unfortunate that the Congress, under Republican leadership, has been unwilling to hold the kind of oversight hearings that previous Congresses have done.

How do we know where we're headed, when we don't know where we are. And when we don't get anything but, sort of, a chorus of happy talk from the administration.

WOODRUFF: Senator, there is so much I want to cover, and I know we have limited time so I'm going to move quickly through a couple of other things. Tom DeLay, you worked with the House majority leader on a number of issues, including foster care. Now, many of your Democratic colleagues are saying Tom DeLay is ethically challenged. Do you believe he's an honorable man?

CLINTON: You know, I'm not going to talk about someone's character in that way. Really what happens to him depends upon the House. I have serious disagreements with him politically. I think he is leading the country in the wrong direction. I think his political philosophy is bad for America. I think the decisions that he has made and the way in which he has stifled dissent and run roughshod over democracy with a small d in the House is very bad for America.

So, on political grounds and on policy grounds, I think that his leadership has been unfortunate not only for the House of Representatives, but for the country.

WOODRUFF: Let's talk about you for a moment. Your former-your old friend, former Georgia Democratic Senator Zell Miller has written in his new book that you just might be elected president in '08. He says because she will position herself much closer to the middle than anybody could have imagined. What do you say to Zell Miller?

CLINTON: Well, I appreciate that. You know, he and his wife Shirley have been my friends for a very long time. And as with friends, we don't always agree on everything, obviously.

But I have a very deep affection for him and his wife. And I take it as high praise, because I have tried very hard in these years in the Senate to, you know, seek out common ground and to look for solutions to problems. And not to turn everything into a partisan wrangle. And not give into the extremes. And I don't care where they're coming from, I think that's bad for our country.

WOODRUFF: Speaking of that, Democrats as we know, were hurt last November in some places on the so-called social issues. Let me ask you about-you talked about the need for Democrats to do a better job of talking about cultural issues. For example, you said abortion should be as rare as possible.

And yet when it comes to a Supreme Court nominee, Democrats are talking principally about abortion rights instead of affirmative action or social safety net. Is that a mistake for the Democrats?

CLINTON: well, I don't know which Democrats you're talking about, because I'm not. I've given a couple of speeches over the last four years raising concerns about the judicial activism of the Supreme Court. You know, that's not talked about enough.

But this Supreme Court has reversed more legislation enacted by the elected representatives of the people than any other Supreme Court in recent years. And so I'm concerned about judicial activism that really undertakes an effort to turn back the clock on the progress of the 20th Century.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WOODRUFF: Part one of the interview. As one of the nation's most prominent Democrats, Hillary Clinton is keenly aware of the party's successes and mistakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: We may not have done as good a job perhaps in communicating and connecting with people, but that doesn't change the facts of what we stand for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WOODRUFF: Still ahead, Senator Clinton on where Democrats are headed and what she may do in 2008.

Also ahead, a new verdict in Texas in the possible political fallout for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

And later, is the stem cell research debate driving a wedge among Republicans?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOODRUFF: Many political observers say they believe Hillary Rodham Clinton has tacked to the center since becoming a senator. But our new poll shows that 54 percent of Americans would peg Senator Clinton as a liberal. 30 percent say they see her as a moderate.

During our interview today, I asked Senator Clinton about efforts to moderate her party's stand on abortion, and she insisted Democrats no longer need to be on the defensive on that issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLINTON: I think our goal is to reduce, as low as possible, the number of unwanted pregnancies, to try to help young women and young men make responsible decisions, to be there with adoption as an alternative for young women who do proceed with their pregnancy, to talk sensibly about providing emergency contraception after a woman's been raped. You know, I think that on the overriding goal of whether or not we want to criminalize abortion, criminalize women, criminalize their doctors, a vast majority of Americans say no.

But I think there is a very strong feeling that we should work together to try to create better conditions to reduce abortions. And I would just add that during the Clinton administration, abortions went down. And they've gone back up under the Bush administration. So clearly, what is being done by the current policies are not necessarily working.

WOODRUFF: Similarly, on the question of gay rights, aren't Democrats always going to be on the defensive? You now have 11 states that ban gay marriage. Should Democrats think about changing their position?

CLINTON: Well, I don't know many Democrats who support gay marriage. In fact, I don't and haven't for, you know, years before I became a senator. But I support giving people the right to enter into recognized relationships, that whether you call him civil unions or domestic partnerships, enable them to own property, to have hospital visitation. To me, that's a human rights issue.

Maybe I have just known more people than some of my colleagues, have because I've been blessed to know thousands of thousands of wonderful, patriotic, decent Americans, some of whom have committed relationships to their partners and who have suffered because when one was sick, they couldn't have that person by their bedside. I don't think that's right.

WOODRUFF: A lot of people give-more broadly-the Republicans credit for giving a narrative that they can say in just a few sentences. And criticize the Democrats for so often sounding like a string of policy statements from different interest groups. What, to you, in just two or three sentences, should be the narrative for the Democratic party?

CLINTON: Well, the Democratic party is responsible for most of the progress of the 20th century. It is the Democratic party that fought and stood for democracy and freedom. It is the Democratic party that created the ladders of opportunity that enabled millions of people to lift themselves into the middle class and fulfill their God- given potential. And it is the Democratic party that battered down the obstacles that stood in the way of women and minorities and others, having the opportunity to fully participate in American life.

And I think that if you really look at narrative of the 20th century, we're on the side of the continuing progress on behalf of the American people, and of America's leadership in an effective way at home and around the world. And the Republicans' narrative is really one that wants to turn the clock back. I think our narrative is better. We may not have done as good a job, perhaps, in communicating it and connecting with people, but that doesn't change the facts of what we stand for.

WOODRUFF: Three other quick things. 2006, you're running for re-election?

CLINTON: I sure am.

WOODRUFF: To the United States Senate. Ed Cox has formed an exploratory committee, Republican attorney. He's already saying New Yorkers deserve a senator who is committed to New York and only to New York. If you were asked to pledge, at some point between now and next year, whether you will definitely fill out a six-year term in the Senate, what would you say?

CLINTON: I am focused on winning re-election. That is what I work on every single day, just as I have worked my heart out for the last four years. I think that many people in New York know how hard I've worked. Obviously dealing with 9/11 was a horrific experience and responsibility. I've tried to work throughout the state. I've tried to bring people together from upstate and downstate and from one end to the other. And I'm going to continue doing that every day, and I'm not going to get diverted. I'm going to stay focused on what my job is as the senator from New York.

WOODRUFF: '08. When do you have to make a decision?

CLINTON: Oh, I'm not even, you know, remotely considering that. My view is that, you know, life unfolds at its own rhythm. You know, I have never lived a life that I thought I could plan out. And I'm just trying to do the best I can every day. I find I have a lot to get done between the time I get up and the time I go to bed. And obviously, it's, you know, it's very flattering, I guess, for people to feel that way, and I appreciate it.

But, you know, I'm focused on '06. I'm trying to do the best job I can. I care deeply about these issues that we're fighting out here in the Senate, which I think are going to determine what kind of country we're going to have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WOODRUFF: Senator Clinton reacting to a poll number. More than 50 percent of Americans say they were very likely or somewhat likely to vote for her for president in '08. By the way, the senator declined to comment about the trial in California over 2000 Senate campaign finance director.

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