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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript


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MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I am now joined from Wilmington, Delaware by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden. You were not stuck in the snow this morning. Thank you, also, for getting in. And let me just pick up where Secretary Rice left off. Of course, we're going to debate national security in an election year. Are Democrats afraid of that?

SEN. BIDEN: Hell no, we should not be afraid at all. We should talk about the focus of the administration. The president made a speech four years ago about the axis of evil. What's happened, George? Korea has four times more nuclear capability than it had before. Iran's on the brink of nuclear capability. Iraq is somewhat in chaos and with Iran's influence growing. We have gotten failing grades from the 9/11 Commission for not protecting our ports, our roads, our highways, our air lanes. They in fact, I think their focus has been, quite frankly, way out of focus.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's the only issue, though, still where the president out-polls Democrats, national security. It worked for the Republican Party in 2002. It worked for them in 2004. How do you stop it from working in 2006?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, first of all, I think the American public is realizing now how Cheney and Rove are politicizing it. You guys are reporting their speeches to their political folks, number one. Number two, the paucity of their effort is becoming apparent. No American understands why we could have nine billion dollars missing in the Iraq reconstruction effort and not have any idea where it is, how the inspector general and their own I.G., that is the inspector general appointed by the president to look at Iraq says the program is in chaos. Just go down the list here. And I am anxious, personally, Joe Biden, anxious to engage them on the whole notion of how they're going to make the homeland more secure. Why have they gotten failing grades across the board by the 9/11 Commission as recently as December 5 this year?

And George, the Secretary just said we're going to deal with making the police stronger and stuff. They just cut a billion dollars in local law enforcement. I introduced a bill for $41 billion for homeland security over the next ten years which they turned down. I mean, look, their priorities are not -- I think it's going to become apparent to the American people. We are not nearly as secure as we could or should be.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're also a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You had those hearings this week with Attorney General Gonzales and with the president's, he calls it the "terrorist surveillance program." You've said that everyone is for intercepting calls from al Qaeda, but also said that failing to have a court review the program is a little bit "un-American." So I'm trying to figure out, do you think the president's program should continue or not?

SEN. BIDEN: No, it should not continue unabated without any review. You know, The New York Times had an editorial saying this administration has asked us more often to trust them and deserves trust less than any recent administration. The idea, when I asked the Attorney General how long is the war going to last, General? He said he had no idea. But General, you're going to continue this program without any review by the courts and/or by the Congress for -- in perpetuity, is that right, General? He said, "well, ah," and I said, well, how many people are you tapping? Who makes the decisions? What do you do with the information? He couldn't answer the questions. This is irresponsible on the part of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee and on the House Intelligence Committee not demanding to know, in secret, in secret, what are they doing.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Specter said he wants to turn over the whole program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, have them review it, give it a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Will you sign on to that legislation?

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely. I helped draft that legislation, George. I was there in the late seventies. I was one of the co- authors of that legislation. What we did then, we had months of hearings on the Intelligence Committee, actually almost a year in which I was a member. And then we shared that data with the Judiciary Committee and wrote a law that in fact if it needs to be amended, amend it. But for Lord's sake, not just -- we cannot say to a president, Mr. President, whatever you want to do under any circumstances, tap anything and you don't even have to tell us what you're doing. That is bizarre.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question on Iran. You heard the Secretary on Iran. It sure seems like Iran is intent on having a nuclear weapon. Is there really anything President Bush could have done to prevent that?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think there is, but without arguing about that, what do we do now? It seems to me that this is a real test of presidential leadership. And I think the president should be preparing the American public for the only thing I think will work short of war and that is oil sanctions. Oil sanctions will hurt Iran more than it will hurt the rest of the world. They import -- net importers of refined oil. Their president is already warning them pain is coming, they may have to make sacrifices. We should be telling the American people the same thing and we should be making it clear to our allies who are now with us they must stay because you cannot let these bullies stand. And it's going to take some sacrifice on our part to do it. And the president has to lead in that effort.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, thank you very much.

SEN. BIDEN: Thank you very much, George.

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