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CBS "Face The Nation" - Transcript


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BOB SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Democratic Senator Russ Feingold who is in Madison this morning. Well, Senator, let me ask you about the first thing that Senator McCain said. He said if he does take the advice of General McChrystal and sends those forty thousand troops, or at least a large contingent into Afghanistan, he's going to have trouble with the base of his own party. You're the base of his party. Is he going to have trouble with you?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD (D-Wisconsin/Foreign Relations Committee): No, it's not about me or any political party. He's going to have trouble with the American people.
You know when I did town meetings in August where people were extremely agitated about aspects of health care and other issues, very conservative people. Everybody was supportive of my view that it's time to start thinking about bringing troops out of Afghanistan or reducing our commitment there. So it's not about one party. In fact, I'd say there is a broad majority in this country that thinks it's a very bad idea to put in forty thousand new troops on top of the sixty or seventy thousand we have now. So that's the issue. It's what the American people and, frankly, what the Afghan people feel about this policy that I think needs to change.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain sort of danced around it a little bit if-- when I asked him if he thought former Vice President Cheney was being helpful in this debate and-- when he says that we're putting the lives of American troops in danger by delaying this decision. What's-- what's your take on the vice president's part in this?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: It's too early on Sunday for dancing. So, let me just say I think what the Vice President said was terrible, the notion that that President Obama is dithering. He's doing his job. He's being thoughtful. He is wrestling with, frankly, one of the toughest decisions I've ever seen a President have to make. He is listening to the military leaders. He's listening to experts. He's listening to his own-- the vice president and others. He's trying to get this right. And I don't know if he's going to end up agreeing with me. But I thank God that we got a President that's thinking about this, instead of, getting us into a-- a further mistake such as President Bush did with Iraq.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you this, Senator. If we do not put more troops in there--General
McChrystal says the situation is deteriorating badly. If the Taliban somehow comes back into control, or plays a more prominent role--it's playing a very prominent role now--isn't it-- isn't it going to follow that al Qaeda is going to come back? That's after all, where they were making a safe home for themselves there, when they-- you know, when we went through what we went through. How can-- how can you argue that it's not going to make a difference if-- if we draw our troops down there for-- for our own security?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, this-- this whole argument is based on some very false assumptions. I mean, remember, al Qaeda didn't begin in Afghanistan. It came over from having been in Sudan and other places. And after the-- the he-- heat came down on them, they went to Pakistan. They have a presence in places like Somalia and Yemen. So the idea that somehow Afghanistan is the key to this is a wrong-headed view of an international criminal syndicate that we should be going after. And the idea that the Taliban is the same as al Qaeda, and they're going to welcome al Qaeda back with open arms into Afghanistan is questionable. I understand they let them come there earlier. The-- the al Qaeda came with lots of money, Saudi money, and it looked like a pretty good deal for them. But, you know, they've seen that movie before. I'm not at all sure that the Taliban is going to be able to take over Afghanistan. I don't want them to. But the idea that the Taliban is going to see it as in their interest, to have the world headquarters of al Qaeda back in Afghanistan, I think is very dubious. And to send our troops, men and women, to their deaths in some cases, to terrible injury, to send huge amounts of money into Afghanistan, when the leaders of al Qaeda are in Pakistan and likely to go other places as well. It strikes me as a very odd response to what the President and John McCain and everybody agrees and I agree is the number one issue is going after al Qaeda; not going after the Taliban.

BOB SCHIEFFER: If-- if the President does, in fact, order a large number of American troops to Afghanistan, will you be prepared to try to stop that in the Senate? Will you take steps to try to prevent him from doing that, Senator?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: Yes. I'm already working with people like Representative Jim McGovern, Republican Congressman Walter Jones, Barbara Lee, and others to prepare for that possibility. We-- I have already voted against various spending bills that support this policy. I didn't even think the addition of the troops earlier this year made sense. So, there will be resistance to this if necessary. But our hope is that the President will see that this is not consistent with what he said about the role of Pakistan in this situation, not consistent with the goal of going after al Qaeda. So, if necessary we will act and we will do what we can to prevent this mistake. But I'm hoping the President will listen to us at this point and consider what we're saying.

BOB SCHIEFFER: So you are prepared to try to block it. Are you also prepared to try to enforce your idea that we should begin a drawdown now, not only not put more troops in but begin to bring home the ones that are already there?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: What I have said is that I would like the President to consider announcing a flexible timetable by which time we would begin to bring the troops home and give the Afghan people and the American people a sense of how long we intend to continue this. That will help stabilize Afghanistan, make it look less like we're a foreign occupier. It will certainly help support in the United States and I think that's the way to go. You know people said when I first announced idea of an Iraq timetable that this is a terrible idea. It'll signal to our enemies that we're-- when we're leaving. Well, that's exactly what we have in Iraq right now and even my friend John McCain is supporting the timetable. So, it is not a bad thing to give some vision with flexibility about when we intend to leave. That is what I would like to see the next step be.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a little bit about health care. Where do you think health care reform stands in the Senate right now? I know you want the public option, the government-run insurance program like Medicare for older people. The majority leader now seems inclined to include that in the bill that he's going to bring to the floor. Do you think that has any chance at this point of passage because for a while now people have been saying the votes are just not there in the Senate?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I want to give my majority leader Harry Reid credit for seriously considering putting this public option in there. I think it's very important. It's a sign of strong leadership on his part that he has the guts to do that because the American people are for some alternative that will create some competition for the abuses of the insurance industry. So, I believe that there's a good chance it'll be in the bill that comes before us in the Senate. I think we've got some chance of prevailing in the Senate on it. And if we don't I think there is a chance it'll come through the House. So I'm becoming increasingly optimistic that we will have a health care bill that will not frighten the American people. That they'll be able to see as reasonable, it's not a complete government takeover health care but will provide an option for those who don't have health care or are unhappy with their health care to do something else. And I'm-- I'm, frankly, getting excited that we may have some momentum for something very positive.

BOB SCHIEFFER: We-- as-- as I understand it, the liberals want the-- want the public option. The conservatives won't-- don't. Do you think there's a possibility that this thing may just end up in a logjam that liberals won't vote for this plan without the public option and the conservatives won't vote for it if it includes the public option and so we wind up with nothing instead of something?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, that could happen but the truth is what liberals want is a single payer system.


SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: Medicare for everybody. So, the idea of a public option is really a very moderate idea within the current context of a continuing private system. It's a-- it's a tough one to swallow for-- for many people who want a single payer system. So this is a very reasonable approach that I would think people who are both conservative and liberal and in the middle would say, let's try this. Let's see if this can control and bring under some reason-- reason of measure that the insurance companies could finally improve their act. That is exactly what-- what this is. It is not a-- a liberal or left-wing concept at all.

BOB SCHIEFFER: But could you yourself vote for health care reform that did not include the public option, if it came to that?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: To me that would be a very serious gap and it would be a very strong reason not to support it. We need a public option. We need something that will cause some control over the abuses that have occurred in the insurance industry.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Would we be better off without anything if it did not include a public option?

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: I-- at this point I think we need to do something fundamental. When people start talking about having a trigger that we might have a public option or two or three years, to me, that's just an invitation to the insurance industry to manipulate the situation for a couple of years just so they can avoid the trigger and so they can convince members of Congress to delay it again. We need to do something now. These costs are overwhelming people. They are the actual-- current system is actually a system of rationing through the insurance industry. We need to take action now.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Senator, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

SENATOR RUSS FEINGOLD: My pleasure, thank you.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Very enlightening discussion. Back in a minute.


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