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Meet the Press with Tim Russert - Transcript

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Meet the Press with Tim Russert - Transcript

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Kennedy, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, John Kerry, your colleague from Massachusetts, has called on the secretary of defense to resign. Do you agree with Senator Kerry?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I had asked for his resignation previously at the time of Abu Ghraib. But the issue really isn't his resignation. It's about changing of policy. And I think what we just heard in the last half-hour is why we need a strategy and why we need a policy that is going to permit the American to bring our troops home with honor. During the last half-hour, we heard a policy that was "make it up as you go along." We need a strategy. We need a program. We need to establish goals. We need to be able to ensure that not only the political institutions are going to work in Iraq-all of us were very hopeful, all of us were impressed by the voting-but we also ought to be able to have the development of a strong security in Iraq.
When we send over Americans that have had 12 weeks of training, like the nephew of my wife, and is a tail gunner on a Striker--12 weeks-and we have the best-trained American servicemen and the best soldiers in the world, there's no reason in the world that we can't expect Iraqis to be trained with four months, eight months, 12 months so that they are going to fight for their country and they're going to be willing to die for it. And I think that is what is missing when we hear these numbers batted around like we did today.

MR. RUSSERT: You made a very specific proposal which I asked Senator Kerry, your colleague, about last week. Let's watch.

(Videotape, January 30):

MR. RUSSERT: Specifically, do you agree with Senator Kennedy that 12,000 American troops should leave at once?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there should be a specific timetable of a withdrawal of American troops?


(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Bill Nelson, Senator Joe Lieberman, The New York Times have all editorialized, saying, "No, no, do not set timetables." The president says you are emboldening terrorists because they'll simply wait us out. We're going to be out in a year, sure, we'll sit back and wait. Why would you advocate such a policy before the Iraqis even voted?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, there's about three aspects of that question. First of all, there really isn't a difference between Senator Kerry and myself. Senator Kerry understands that the insurgency is part of the problem. And he also understands that this administration hasn't had a policy towards Iraq. It had a policy in order to win the war but not to win the peace. There really isn't a difference. There is a difference in terms of the goals that I established. Now, there is-the administration...

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, there is a difference. I asked him, "Do you agree with Senator Kennedy..."

SEN. KENNEDY: That's right.

MR. RUSSERT: "...on a fixed timetable?" He said no.

SEN. KENNEDY: I agree that he doesn't agree with my call for the immediate troop withdrawals, although we've had, as we saw in the Armed Services Committee just this last week, that-General Myers effectively announcing the withdrawal of some 15,000 troops, like I had suggested. The fact remains, those that have been critical of this idea say that we should not set the date because somehow the insurgents are going to wait. They're going to wait for 18 months or two years. And then after we train these Iraqi troops, they're going to somehow come back in and take over Iraq? What I'm talking about is a strong, secure, democratic Iraq that has democratic institutions, and then in the next four months, eight months, 12 months, 15 months, able to train their troops to be able to provide security. The best way that you're going to see resistance to the insurgency is a strong and secure and independent Iraq. That's what I'm for. That can be achieved with this.
The problem is at the present time the Iraqis do not believe that they own the country. The elections were an important down-payment on that, but still they ought to be able to have the kind of security and that ought to be trained-they ought to be trained. We ought to get about the business of doing it. Why can't they defend their own country? How long do we have to have Americans fighting and dying? How long do we have to ask the taxpayers to continue to pay out? Why can't we expect that we can train their troops in four months, eight months, 12 months, 15 months? I think we can, and I think we should. And we ought to establish as a goal-not as a requirement, as a goal-that we are going to negotiate that time frame with the new Iraqi government, but as a goal that we want our troops out by 2006.

MR. RUSSERT: Some observers, Senator, have said that you simply opposed the war from day one and that's your agenda. They point to a comment you made back in September of 2003. "This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud." Fourteen hundred and forty-five Americans dead, 10,770 injured or wounded. All that blood for a political fraud? Is that your view?

SEN. KENNEDY: Listen, my view is that we honor. We honor, deeply, deeply honor every one of the servicemen and women who have lost their lives. We've lost 32 in Massachusetts. I've talked to the parents and have attended a number of the funerals out at Arlington. They are heroes. And you know something, Mr. Russert? Our responsibility to those fighting men and women is to get it right, to get the right policy. That is the best way to honor them. And when I hear the secretary of defense say this morning that he was somewhat puzzled by the level of the insurgency, the rise of the insurgency, I remember being on the Armed Services Committee when we listened to the generals that testified before that Armed Services Committee and they all predicted an insurgency.

General Hoar, a former Marine, said, "If we get into Iraq, we fight the Iraq, we will win and you will have an insurgency that'll make the last five, seven minutes of 'Private Ryan' look like a church picnic." They were absolutely correct. This is what the problem is. We're making it up as we go along. We heard it this morning. We've got to establish a policy. We have to establish a plan in order to get the Americans out with honor. And that plan that I put forward, I think, can achieve it.

MR. RUSSERT: But do you still believe that the war is a fraud and was begun for political reasons?

SEN. KENNEDY: What I believe is that this administration took their eye off the ball in fighting against terror. It was al-Qaeda that saw the loss of American lives. It was Osama bin Laden that we had on the run in Afghanistan. We had him on the run, and we took our eye off that and we went to war that we never should have fought in Iraq. And I don't think-and the reasons that we fought the war were weapons of mass destruction and because the tie with al-Qaeda.
Now, we found there's no weapons of mass destruction. The 9-11 Commission said there's no tie-in with al-Qaeda. Now, we're talking about we're leaving Americans in there till we democratize the country. You talk about mission creep. When did that ever get-do you possibly think that the Senate of the United States would have ratified going to war because we just want a democracy? We have stood for democracy and we haven't gone to war. We saw the restoration of democracy in Chile when Pinochet collapsed. We saw it in Argentina. We saw it in Paraguay. We saw it come in South Africa and we didn't go to war.

MR. RUSSERT: You also said "The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely, and it should never have happened." How has the war in Iraq made nuclear war more likely?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, the-my own sense is-I'm not sure what the whole kind of context-I thought you were quoting the administration officials that use that as part of a justification and to go to war...

MR. RUSSERT: No, this is your speech at George Washington University. "The war in Iraq has made the mushroom cloud more likely, not less likely."

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think the principle reason is because now with al-Qaeda, we have the chance, I think, to decapitate al-Qaeda, to catch Osama bin Laden. What has happened with al-Qaeda is like taking mercury and pounding it and it's gone into a thousand different kinds of cells and those cells are extremely kind of dangerous. And they understand the potential uses of nuclear weapons as well as bioterrorist weapons. And they are out there searching to, in various places around, areas where you don't have careful kind of protection for nuclear weapons and searching for it. And I think that is the absolute result.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about something else you said in the same speech: "I thank God that President Bush was not our president at the time of the Cuban missile crisis." What does that mean?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, what we saw with President Kennedy is examining completely and thoroughly the range of options that were available to him and then making a judgment and decision that avoided nuclear war. In this case, rather than seeing the range of options-number-one option was the inspections. We had, according to the Defense Department, 147 sites where there were weapons of mass destructions. And rather than giving those sites to the inspectors and exhausting the possibility that there were no weapons of mass destruction so we never would have had to go to the war, we just never gave those sites to the inspectors and decided to go to war ahead. I don't think that that-considering that different kind of option was giving it the full examination that it should have been given. I'm absolutely convinced if we had given the inspectors time, they'd have gone in there and found there was no weapons of mass destruction, that we don't have an imminent threat to the United States, and we wouldn't have had the conflict.

MR. RUSSERT: But September 11, 2001, a crisis that George Bush encountered, did he not handle that well?

SEN. KENNEDY: Oh, I think the-there's no question that he galvanized the nation. I admire and respect that effort and that energy in galvanizing the nation to give focus and attention to the threat here and in Afghanistan. I supported it. I admired it. And I think it was a noble effort on his part. And I think the country owes him a great appreciation for it. My difference with it is, rather than continuing to deal with al-Qaeda, we went over and started a war in Iraq that now, we have seen, has drained the resources for our military. You know, it's incredible to me that we are the most powerful nation in the world, fighting really a third-rate country, which was-we had the airspace, two-thirds of it. It was occupied by the Kurds in the north. We had defeated it 10 years ago. We had an embargo on it. And today it is continuing to drain our military, our Reserves and our National Guard.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, many observers will say we have a chance to have a democratic Iraqi state, no Saddam Hussein, a chance to remake the entire Middle East, and you want to cut and run and pull Americans out.

SEN. KENNEDY: It isn't-I'm offering the right way to do it. I'm offering the best way to do it. The program I offer is the best way to achieve an independent and a democratic Iraq. What is the wrong way is to continue along where the occupation is spurring the resistance, as we have seen just earlier in your program, with Secretary Rumsfeld saying that it is constantly growing, the insurgency is constantly growing. We don't know where it is going to go, and that's going to continue. I want to take the target off the backs of the American servicemen and women. And I want to let the Iraqis fight for their own security. And if they do, I think they'll be a stronger country to resist insurgency.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Social Security. The president said that we have an impending crisis with Social Security and you said he was wrong. We went up on your Web site, which was interesting reading, and found the things that you have labeled crises.


MR. RUSSERT: This is pretty revealing. "Iraq, national literacy, medical research, refugee program, mental illness, steel, nursing, higher education, youth violence, fish industry, AIDS, flu vaccine supply, hunger, teacher recruitment, unemployment, Medicare, health care, North Korea, Section 8 vouchers, gas prices, gun violence"; you said they were all crises.
We have a situation where the number on people in Social Security is going to double. People, rather than spending 15 months, are going to spend 15 years. In 2018, the Social Security Trust Fund will begin to draw down, and in 2042 run a deficit, according to the trustees of the fund. What is your plan? What will you do? If the president's wrong, what would you do specifically to fix Social Security?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, first of all, all the facts that you mention are correct, and we have a problem beyond the 2049, a problem. As you saw in those figures this morning, the C.B.O. estimates they'll still- -if we do nothing at all, we'll still be able to pay 81 percent of the budget to the-let me tell you one thing. The president's program to make his tax cuts permanent is three times what's necessary to fix the national-to fix Social Security. Let's start with that.

MR. RUSSERT: But we have...

SEN. KENNEDY: Let's start with that. You've asked the question and I'm giving you an answer.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, with Social Security, with Medicare, we have $5 trillion of unfunded mandates, and we are sitting here saying we simply roll back the tax cut on the top 1 percent or grow our way out of it?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, wait a second now. You asked about Social Security. Now do you want to know on the Medicare how we ought to go to deal with the Medicare? I've given you a very good way to resolve the...

MR. RUSSERT: So you would roll back the president's tax cuts.

SEN. KENNEDY: That's a possible-for one-third, he wants to make it permanent. You can roll back just one-third of it and solve the Social Security problem. I think that ought to be on the table. It's interesting, when the president spoke the other night, Tim, he never mentioned what his answer was. He never told us what his solution was for the out years.

MR. RUSSERT: he...

SEN. KENNEDY: He talked about private savings accounts.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, he said everything should be on the table.

SEN. KENNEDY: OK, well, I'm giving you a suggested way of doing it.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you...

SEN. KENNEDY: Now, can we go to the Medicare?

MR. RUSSERT: Let me finish.


MR. RUSSERT: Would you agree with him that age eligibility should be on the table?

SEN. KENNEDY: Not at this time because I don't think we have a crisis.

MR. RUSSERT: Cost of living increases?

SEN. KENNEDY: I'm giving you my-one of the ways that we ought to do it. That's what your question...

MR. RUSSERT: Raise taxes?

SEN. KENNEDY: Roll back-or he wants to make permanent, and I say you can take a third of that part, at least solve-that is one of the alternatives.

MR. RUSSERT: But that's raising taxes.

SEN. KENNEDY: OK. That's rolling back.

MR. RUSSERT: That's honest.

SEN. KENNEDY: Whatever way. But we have one, but he hasn't offered it. I can tell you where we're going with the Medicare and the rest if you want to know. I think you can make a down-a very important-we spend 33 cents out of every health dollar is non-clinic. The president's talked about information technology. The Veterans Administration uses information technology and has seen a reduction in the cost per patient bed over the last five years by 7 percent while the rest of the beds have gone up 65 percent. If we put in place information technology and reduce from 33 cents to 27, it's $150 billion a year. We could cover all the uninsured and deal with many of the president's priorities in health care. I'm looking forward to try and work with him on this. We can take each of these items and find common ground. That's what I hope we can do with this administration.

MR. RUSSERT: I hope you come back and we'll spend a whole show on this subject.


MR. RUSSERT: You like the Eagles today?

SEN. KENNEDY: Oh, listen, are you-you have-even you, a Bills fan, have watched the Patriots over this season and even you have to recognize that they are a hot team.

MR. RUSSERT: I was talking about the Boston College Eagles, 20-and-0, undefeated. Undefeated.

SEN. KENNEDY: Listen, when B.C. played Notre Dame, that was a thriller, I must say. But today, it's-I say the Patriots by at least two touchdowns.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you very much...

SEN. KENNEDY: Good to see you.

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