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MSNBC "Decision 08" Interview - Transcript


Location: Washington, DC

MS. O'DONNELL: And, for the first time since World War II, Congress is about to vote on a new GI bill that would expand education benefits for veterans, as a way to honor the sacrifice of our veterans who have served since the terrorist attacks of September 11th. But perhaps surprisingly, not everyone is on board, including President Bush and the Republican nominee, John McCain.

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is a cosponsor of the new GI bill and joins us now from Capitol Hill. Senator, great to see you.

SEN. HAGEL: Thank you, Norah. Nice to see you again.

MS. O'DONNELL: Let me ask you about this new GI bill. How will veterans benefit?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, first: what it does, it just rolls forward for our veterans, a 21st Century benefit, as opposed to the last GI education benefit that the Congress passed was 25 years ago. And so here we are, we're asking a very few individuals to carry all the burden in our country. We're in two wars. Many of these young men and women are serving three and fours tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and do not have the same amount of educational benefits due them as we did from Vietnam, Korea and World War II.

All this does is just bring this up to date and make it relevant to these new realities of what it costs to go to college in America. And we're not talking about Ivy League schools here; we're talking about state schools. We're talking about options for these young people.

MS. O'DONNELL: Right. We have a full screen that mentions some of these. This is for those who have been serving in active duty since September 11, 2001. The benefits would cover the cost of tuition to the most expense in-state public schools, as you point out, and also help with payments for books, as well as a stipend for living expenses.

Senator, I have to ask you, though, the majority of Members in the House and the Senate support this bill and, yet, President Bush and the Pentagon oppose this bill. Are you surprised by their opposition?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, I'm disappointed by it. My goodness, we can find all the money we need to go to war and to ask these men and women and their families to make huge sacrifices. It seems strange to me we can't find the money and the resources to allow them the educational benefits that are due them -

MS. O'DONNELL: Do you think youR fellow -

SEN. HAGEL: - that we've given to - every veteran since World War II, we've given to.

MS. O'DONNELL: Do you think your fellow Republican senator, John McCain, who also opposes this new GI bill, will suffer politically at the ballot box because he's pushing a different bill?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, I don't know about that. That's up to the people of this country. All I know is that Jim Webb and John Warner and Frank Lautenberg and I - and there are almost 60 of us; Democrats and Republicans in the Senate - think it's the right thing to do; it's the responsible thing to do; the fair thing to do. John McCain and others who oppose it will have to make their own decisions and whatever political consequences there may be, they'll have to deal with those.

MS. O'DONNELL: And then, finally, you have not endorsed your fellow Republican, John McCain. Are you going to that now and is there any chance you would endorse the Democrat, Barack Obama?

SEN. HAGEL: Well, I have not endorsed any of the candidates. First of all, we don't know who the Democratic candidate is yet. I suspect we'll know -

MS. O'DONNELL: You mean you might endorse a Democrat?

SEN. HAGEL: No, I didn't say that. I said, we don't know who all the candidates are yet. We know who the Republican is, but I, obviously, have some differences with my friend John McCain on Iraq and foreign policy and John and I have talked about it. We'll talk about it again. I don't intend to be involved in the presidential elections in any way this year.

MS. O'DONNELL: Alright. Senator Chuck Hagel, we'll be interested to see who you endorse. Thanks very much.

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