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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript


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MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello, again. President Bush put himself at the center of the presidential campaign this week when he told the Israeli parliament that those who want to negotiate with terrorists are taking the false comfort of appeasement. That drew an angry response from Barack Obama and just about every leading Democrat, including our first guest, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Joe Biden.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE): Hello, George.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Welcome back to "This Week."

SEN. BIDEN: I'm delighted to be here.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to get to that in a second, but first, we saw that news yesterday out of Boston. Senator Kennedy had a seizure. You served with him for more than 35 years now. What can you share with us this morning?

SEN. BIDEN: Not a lot, George. I called Vicki, his wife. I did not get her, but I spoke with two of my colleagues who did speak with her. She sounded, according to them, very optimistic. The first reports about a massive stroke turned out not to be accurate.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Just not true.

SEN. BIDEN: Not true. But I must tell you, I'm optimistic, but that's just based on my native optimism. I don't have any reason to know exactly what the situation is other than what I've read. I've not spoken to her. And I know having been at the other end of that, being the guy in the room, I know what a burden on families it is when everybody is calling wanting to know how things are. So I spoke with Barack Obama who spoke with her, and with Chris Dodd who spoke with her, and they both tell me that she seemed optimistic.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's good news. Let's get back to President Bush. You had a very angry response to that speech he gave in the Knesset. One word you used is malarkey, another one we can't use, but it sure seemed like President Bush struck a nerve there.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, he did. It was so outrageous, George. He said we ought to call things for what it is, what they are. What this is, is raw, raw politics, demeaning to the presidency of the United States -- I mean, literally. Imagine what our friends, even our foes, in the capitals from Paris to Tokyo thought seeing the president of the United States in the Knesset attacking another senator.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He says he wasn't doing that.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, on background, I'm told by CNN that after is over that his staff got the press together and said this is about Barack. Here's a guy, if you take any one sentence in isolation, it makes sense. You string them together and he starts off and he talks about how first of all he's talking about Iraq, then he starts talking about how one U.S. senator, he's referring to Borah (ph), (everybody ?) knows that.


SEN. BIDEN: In 1939, and then to anytime you inject anywhere, but particularly in the Israeli Knesset, the Holocaust, Nazi tanks crossing into Poland, Hitler -- it was just above and beyond anything. Everyone from Pat Buchanan to Republicans who I -- and I respect Pat -- that I respect found it stunning.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the substance of what the president was trying to say, because John McCain picked up on it. He said, basically, we have a big difference here. Barack Obama wants unconditional talks with the Iranians, we don't. Here's what Senator McCain said.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From tape.) Talking, not even with soaring rhetoric, in unconditional meetings with the man who calls Israel a stinking corpse, and arms terrorists who kill American will not convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. It is reckless.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama has said that his State Department, his National Security Council would engage in unconditional talks with the Iranians.

SEN. BIDEN: Let's put this in perspective. The reason why it would be so much trouble if John McCain were president, and I love him, is because of what you just heard. What's the alternative to talking with a country that's building a nuclear weapon or attempting to, that in fact is helping kill Americans by supporting elements in Iraq that are killing Americans? You either talk or you go to war or you maintain a status quo.

Now, let's talk about talking. President Bush, the White House called me several years ago, told me Air Force Two was waiting for me at Andrews Air Force Base. Would I get in the plane and go meet with Kadafi, a real known terrorist, personally -- a terrorist personally responsible for killing kids in the school I went to, Syracuse University, blowing up that Pan Am flight. The president of the United States asked me to go. He cut a deal with Kadafi, directly. It was a smart thing to do. He gave up his nuclear weapons -- Kadafi.

What's the second thing? We're in Korea right now, George. You want to put the hit list to the worst guys in the world? How about Kim Jong-il? They have proliferated nuclear technology, put us in jeopardy and other nations around the world. What is the president of the United States doing writing letters saying, Dear Mr. Chairman, referring to him. They've cut a deal. They've cut a deal. The president of the United States of America, the last time I was in Iraq was trying to set up, and recently asked for a third meeting with the Iranians to talk with them about what's going on in Iraq. This is sophistry.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like you're calling it hypocrisy.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I'm trying to be more polite, but I shouldn't be. It is ridiculous. This is a president -- this is pure, unadulterated politics.

And the last point I'll make, maybe the president doesn't know -- I'll be a smart guy -- maybe he doesn't know what's going on in his own administration. But soon as he gets back, he should fire, as appeasers, Gates and Rice.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The secretary of defense?

SEN. BIDEN: The secretary of defense and secretary of state.


SEN. BIDEN: Because they both -- Gates has recently as a week ago was saying we've got to sit down and talk with the Iranians directly -- Gates. Gates.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, did the president made a mistake here, do you believe?

SEN. BIDEN: No. I think it's -- look, the thing that bothers me the most I guess is this emerging pattern here. John, a couple of weeks ago -- Senator McCain a couple of weeks ago using the phrase -- and I'm paraphrasing -- well, Hamas like Barack Obama and Danny Ortega in Nicaragua likes Barack Obama, so you draw your own conclusions. And then the president does this hit in the Knesset. This whole thing -- they have a -- they're using rhetoric to masquerade his a policy.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But it sounds like what they're trying to do is to hit on the notion that Senator Obama is inexperienced, is not ready for this job. And even last year, during the presidential campaign, you had questions about Senator Obama's experience. Here you were at last August debate.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: (From tape.) You were asked, is he ready? You said, I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.

SEN. BIDEN: (From tape.) I think that. I stand by the statement.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you still stand by the statement?

SEN. BIDEN: That was a year ago.


SEN. BIDEN: He's learned a hell of a lot.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So he's developed what he needs to know in the nine months on the campaign trail?

SEN. BIDEN: I think he has. I think he's focused on -- what we're talking about here is that he has repeatedly since then said he would not negotiate unconditionally, meaning him sitting down, alone, right off the bat with these leaders. He talked about his secretary of state, his secretary of defense. As a matter of fact, the statements he used mirror the statements the rest of us have been talking about.

This is a fellow who I think shorthanded an answer that in fact was the wrong answer in my view saying I would within the first year -- it implied he'd personally sit down with anybody who wanted to sit down with him. That's not what he meant. That's not what he has said since then for the last year or thereabouts, and so I think that he's fully capable of understanding what's -- put this in context. The policy that Bush has pursued and McCain will continue has been an abject failure. We are weaker in the Middle East. We are weaker around the world. Terrorism is stronger than it ever was. Iran is closer to a bomb. Just by any measure -- any measure -- what has their policy wrought? A disaster. It's been an absolute disaster.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned that you talked to Senator Obama. Why haven't you endorsed him?

SEN. BIDEN: Because I made a commitment to both of them. Literally, George, I know it's kind of old-fashioned, but you can ask either of them when you interview them. They each asked me to be part of their campaign right after I got out of the campaign in Iowa, I said I'll make one commitment -- I will not endorse either one of you, and I'll be available to both of you. I talked to Hillary, too. I talked to Hillary yesterday. I talk to them frequently. Any time they want my opinion or anything -- I didn't make it through Iowa, so what I do know? But they call me, and I've just made a personal promise.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you talked to both of them yesterday. Do you there's any chance and how quickly can you bring these two together and get the Democratic Party unified?

SEN. BIDEN: Immediately. I don't think you're going to see a heartbeat when these primaries are over if in fact Hillary does not either amass the popular vote in order to be able to convince the remaining superdelegates --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's not going to happen. Barack Obama is the nominee.

SEN. BIDEN: I'm saying -- no. All right. I'm not going to say that until it's over. This woman has run a good campaign. The primaries will be over by June 3rd. Let he run her full campaign, and I'm absolutely, positively, thoroughly confident that if Barack is the winner, she will embrace him and she will campaign like hell for him.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Should he pick her?

SEN. BIDEN: That's a judgment he's got to make. Look, I don't know whether Hillary would want to do that. No matter what happens in this campaign -- let's assume Hillary is not the nominee. She's still the most powerful woman in American politics. Now, I know the speaker might not like me saying that, who's a very powerful, capable woman.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She might take issue with that. You're right.

SEN. BIDEN: She might take issue with that, but this is a woman who has demonstrated beyond anybody's doubt that she has the gumption, the brains, and the tenacity and the stamina to take on anything. And she is going to play a major, major role in American politics no matter what the outcome is.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: David Yepsen of the "Des Moines Register" thinks you should be the choice. Here's what he wrote. He said, "He has grit and gravitas. He's not rich. He's not known as a womanizer. He would appeal to white men, who despite all the chatter about women, minorities and young voters, are a constituency Democrats need to do more to attract."

SEN. BIDEN: Well, where were you, David, when I was running out there?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He was pretty good to you.

SEN. BIDEN: No. No. He was. In fairness, he really was. There's going to be all kinds of speculation. I'm up for reelection. I'm running for the election of the United States Senate. I'm chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. I've made it clear I'm not looking for that job.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you wouldn't turn it down.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, anybody who got asked by their nominee to be the running mate, you'd have to consider it. How could you just blow it off? You can't do that. But I don't anticipate that happening.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, thanks very much for your time this morning.

SEN. BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot for having me.


Now, to the Republicans. After that third straight special election loss in a solid GOP district last Tuesday in Mississippi, many on Capitol Hill were pushing the panic button. In a 20-page memo to his colleagues, retiring Congressman Tom Davis called those losses "canaries in the coal mine." And then he told Bloomberg's Al Hunt the Republicans needed a divorce from President Bush.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R-VA): (From tape.) They've got to get some separation from the president. The president is the face of the party. He's absolutely radioactive at this point.

Although he's the president and the leader of the party, when you turn on the TV and see him, two-thirds of the people turn him off.

ALBERT HUNT: (From tape.) As of today, it could change of course, what would happen in the House elections in November, what would happen in White House race?

REP. DAVIS: (From tape.) Well, if you did it today, I think we'd get swept.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That brings us in Senator Biden's seat to the House Republican leader, John Boehner of Ohio.

Welcome, sir.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH): Morning, George.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Congressman Davis. And you've probably been hearing from him all week long. He says this is a disaster coming, the worst political environment for Republicans since Watergate. Is he right?

REP. BOEHNER: Well, there's no question that the environment for Republicans is a difficult one. What I've been preaching to my colleagues now for over a year is that we have to be the agents of change. We have to prove to the American people we can deliver the change that they want and the change that they deserve. And whether the issue was the rising cost of healthcare, the rising cost of gasoline prices, food prices, we have an agenda that will deliver that change that Americans want. And all they've gotten from the Democrats are a lot of broken promises.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But meanwhile, you say that's the agenda you want, but nothing is happening on Capitol Hill. You've lost three straight special elections, and Congressman Davis and others say that unless you divorce yourself from President Bush, there's no way you're going to be able to protect yourself in November.

REP. BOEHNER: George, elections are about the future. They're not about the past. George Bush isn't on the ballot in November. And I think it's really important that what we've got to do is to show the American people that we learned our lesson after the 2006 elections. We've worked hard over the last 15 or 16 months to hold the Democrats accountable and to develop an agenda of issues that Americans really care about. And they care about the rising cost of food and the rising cost of gasoline. They're not getting any solutions from the Democrats who control Congress. Republicans can deliver real change and we have to prove that to them.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you have to follow basically the strategy that Senator McCain is starting to follow now on the presidential campaign trail, and show where he is different from President Bush on issues like global warming, on issues like torture, on spending?

REP. BOEHNER: George, listen. I've had my differences with President Bush, whether it was the 2002 Farm Bill, a few other issues along the way. Again, this is not about the past. This is about the future. And I think if the Republicans get serious about showing people what we would do, what we would deliver for them as opposed to what the Democrats promised, and delivered nothing, we can deliver a real energy policy. We're going to roll it out next week. It says that we need to conserve more, we need biofuels. We need alternative sources of energy. But we also have to be serious about having nuclear energy and we need to be able and willing to go produce more oil and gas here in America in an environmentally sensitive way. And we can do that. Democrats have said, no, no, no. We've got a Pelosi premium now at $1.40 a gallon. That's how much gasoline has increased since she took over. They've done nothing.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But maybe that could just as easy be called the Bush premium.

REP. BOEHNER: That they've done nothing to help us produce more energy here at home.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's a meeting all the House Republicans. You've called a meeting of all the House Republicans on Tuesday to go over the current troubles facing the Republicans. Some inside your party have suggested that you should resign in the wake of these special election losses. Will you?

REP. BOEHNER: Look, I've been a reformer since the day I got to Congress. I took on our own leadership back in my early years here. I worked to reform the Farm Bill and the freedom to farm in 1996. I worked with Ted Kennedy and others to reform our pension laws to protect people's pensions. I worked with Ted Kennedy and others to deliver a real change in federal education policy that will help all Americans have a better chance at a good education. I know what needs to be done to deliver real reform here in Washington.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a no. You're staying.

REP. BOEHNER: I'm staying. Listen, my job is to help bring our members together and lead them, and show the American people that we can deliver the kind of changes that they deserve.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but there's no secret that you've had your differences with campaign chair, Congressman Tom Cole, over the whole strategy of the campaign, the way that the campaign committee has been run. Is it time for him to go?

REP. BOEHNER: Tom and I had a very good meeting on Friday. We had several conversations last week.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Frank and constructive?

REP. BOEHNER: Frank and constructive, and positive. And I expect we're going to have more conversations next week. We know the kind of changes that need to be --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So he's staying as well?

REP. BOEHNER: He's staying. And we know the kind of changes that need to be made in order to help our members and help our candidates go out there and do their best in a very difficult environment.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The last two special elections, in both elections the Republican campaign committee tried to tie the Democratic candidate to Barack Obama. Here's the ad from the last campaign.

ADVERTISEMENT: (From tape.) Travis Childers claims he's a conservative. But Travis Childers contributed money to John Kerry and is endorsed by Barack Obama, who has the most liberal voting record in the U.S. Senate.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you going to continue that strategy? If it didn't work in two of the most conservative districts --

REP. BOEHNER: It did work there. It didn't work in Louisiana.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It didn't work in Louisiana either.

REP. BOEHNER: And it didn't work in Mississippi.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are two of the most conservative districts in the country.

REP. BOEHNER: Right, whether it's going to work in some campaign or another, that's not my decision. Listen --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it the right strategy?

REP. BOEHNER: We've got to prove to Americans that we can deliver real change on healthcare that will cover all Americans, that will put Americans and their doctors back in charge of their healthcare; that we can produce an energy policy that will bring down gas prices; that we will do something about creating more jobs here at home and helping our economy; and making sure America is safe and secure.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Davis suggests that one of the things you could do is to go back on your opposition to expending the children's health program. He suggested that was a real killer for House Republicans.

Can you work with the Democrats to get that passed before November?

REP. BOEHNER: We expanded the S-CHIP program when we extended it for 18 months -- made sure that we covered children that it was intended to cover. Listen, what the Democrats wanted to do was they wanted to cover adults, they wanted to cover illegal immigrants, and wanted to raise taxes to pay for all of this. I think the State Children's Health Insurance Program is aimed at children. And 88 percent of those on the program in Minnesota were adults. Sixty-six --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Republicans got tagged of being opposed to it.

REP. BOEHNER: No, no. When you look at the polling on this, we stood up on a principle to do the right things for the right reasons to make sure that we insure poor children first. And frankly, I think that we did the right thing. We won that fight, and we won it because we stood up and showed the American people that we're willing to do the right things for the right reasons.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Democrats are having some fun at your expense this week because they look at your slogan, change you can deserve, and say that's a slogan for Effexor, an antidepressant. Here is Congressman Steny Hoyer, your counterpart.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD): (From tape.) Change you deserve, of course, is a trademark for an antidepressant. It does have side effects, it can make you sick. Eighty-two percent of Americans have indicated they're sick and tired of the policies that have been pursued by the Bush-Boehner administration.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Shouldn't you have seen that coming?

REP. BOEHNER: Listen, I could have used an antidepressant last week -- (laughs) -- I tell you. But that's got nothing to do with the job that we have to do to show the American people that we can deliver a real change here in Washington. And I think our members and our candidates are going to be prepared this fall to do just that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do you do it then? You've got Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate. President Bush, you've been opposed to him on the Farm Bill. It doesn't seem like the issues that you're talking about right now that he's going to have the kind -- (unintelligible.)

REP. BOEHNER: George, he's not on the ballot. You want to keep looking in the past. We need to look ahead.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So President Bush is the past?

REP. BOEHNER: John McCain appeals to almost all Republicans, a broad swath of independents, and conservative Democrats. John McCain at the top of the ticket will help us. But we also have to show as Republicans in Congress that we can really deliver for the American people.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do you do that?

REP. BOEHNER: We've got to work hard. You know, when my members want to moan and groan, I understand it. The things haven't been real happy for them, losing three special elections. But we all have to look in the mirror. We all have to decide, all right, what are we going to do today in order to show the American people that we're serious about doing the kind of things that they want done?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And what's the number one thing you'll do coming out of that meeting on Tuesday to show that Republican Caucus in the House has changed?

REP. BOEHNER: I think what we're going to do Tuesday and Wednesday is to deliver our energy policy. Here's what we would do if the American people would honor us with the majority. We're going to deliver a real energy policy that will reduce gas prices.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, Congressman Vito Fossella, a member of your conference from Staten Island was arrested for drunk driving earlier this month. It turned out in the wake of that that he had a second family here in Northern Virginia. When the story first broke, you suggested that he should make a decision about staying in office very, very quickly, and begin calling possible replacements for his seat, but he seems to be defying you.

REP. BOEHNER: George, this is a very personal issue, and I think it's really between Vito, his wife and family, and his constituents. And I know that he's given an awful lot of thought about this over the last week or so. He'll come to the right decision along with his wife and his family.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you talked to him?

REP. BOEHNER: I have talked to him.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And have you asked him to step down?

REP. BOEHNER: Like I said, this is a personal issue between he and his wife, and his family. They need to decide.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't that a political issue also for your conference? I mean, you've seen that this could first of all cost you a seat right there, given his troubles.

REP. BOEHNER: George, as you can well imagine, this has been a very difficult time for his wife, his family, his constituents, and him. They need to resolve this themselves.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And they need to do it quickly?

REP. BOEHNER: They need to resolve it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have no expectation of when he's going to make the decision or whether he's going to leave?

REP. BOEHNER: George, it's up to them. They've got to deal with the problems that they're dealing with. It's a personal issue. They ought to resolve it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're not worried about what it's going to mean for the Republican conference?

REP. BOEHNER: I'm sure that they'll resolve it in a way that's satisfactory for them and for us.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Boehner, thanks very much for your time this morning.

REP. BOEHNER: Thank you.

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