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CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports - Transcript

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CNN Wolf Blitzer Reports - Transcript

BLITZER: Senator Clinton, Senator Graham, thanks very much for joining us here in the Russell Rotunda. Let's talk a little bit about the second class citizenship that you feel is now in effect for U.S. military personnel who are National Guard and Reserve troops.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, Wolf, about two years ago, Lindsey and I teamed up to try to do something about the conditions confronting a lot of our Guard and reserve members. We were concerned because so many of them didn't have health insurance so that when they showed up after being activated, they were not ready to be deployed because of health problems.

That the extra tempo requirements of service for our Guard and Reserve was putting a lot of strain and stress on them and their families. And so they were actually doing much more active duty work but the retirement age hadn't been adjusted.

So we've been making progress on that. And we're going to continue to push-to try to make it a fairer situation for Guard and reserve members.

BLITZER: So Senator Graham, what specifically do you want, because a lot people hear the words "health care," "Hillary," "Senator Graham," and they're saying, what's going on over here?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think Senator Clinton and myself want to make sure those who are fighting for this country are taken care of in a very reasonable, efficient manner. If you're a member of the Guard or the reserve, most Americans don't know this, you have absolutely no access to military health care.

A temporary employee working in our office has access to federal health care. Every part time employee of the federal government has access to federal health care except Guard and reserve members. Twenty percent of the Guard and reserve has no health care in the private sector. So what happens when you activate these people, a lot of them are unable to be deployed because they're not medically fit.

So we're saying allow Guard and reserve members to sign up for military health care. Let them pay a premium when they're in reserve and Guard status, like a retiree, so when they're called to active duty, they'll be ready to go to the fight.

And number two, to help these families, these families have suffered a lot for our country. And to provide them year-round health care I think would be the least we could do.

BLITZER: You have a bipartisan group of cosponsors, a wide spectrum. But does the Pentagon-does the Bush administration support this, let's ask Senator Graham.

GRAHAM: They have actually come around, but they have followed us. They are worried about personnel cost, and we all should be worried about personnel cost. But let me tell you this. You can't do this war on the cheap.

If you're a Guard or reserve member working in the private sector and you're called up for a year or two years, your income goes down more times that not. You have two health care systems. Your family would be in one health care system. You're called to active duty, they're bounced to another. Let's stop this bouncing around, give them access to full time health care. It would help recruiting and retention. And I hope the Bush administration will come on board for full time access to military health care for the Guard and reserve.

BLITZER: Like Senator Graham, you're a member of the Armed Services Committee. What else do you think needs to be done to make sure the National Guard troops, the reserve troops, 40 percent of the U.S. troops in Iraq right now are from the National Guard and the reserve, what else do you believe needs to be done to make sure they are not second class citizens in the U.S. military?

CLINTON: Well, there is a lot. And one of the other aspects of the legislation we originally introduced was to lower the retirement age so that there was more credit gained toward retirement by Guard and reserve members.

We also have to make sure they have the same top flight equipment and training, especially because now they are on the front lines.

BLITZER: You don't think they do?

CLINTON: Well, originally they did not. In many instances, I had a lot of complaints, not only from New York but from elsewhere in the country, where some of the Guard and reserve units that were being called up had not been given the kind of equipment and training that active duty military forces...

BLITZER: Were they rummaging through the junkyards in Kuwait, looking for armor?

CLINTON: I don't have any personal knowledge of that. We all remember the very pointed question that Secretary Rumsfeld was asked. You know, we've made progress on these fronts. But I think it's clear, we have some big questions in front of us as to what we're going to do with the size of our military, particularly the Army, how we're going to utilize Guard and reserve units.

We made a decision at the end of the Cold War to kind of move certain functions into Guard and reserve. And they were thought to be kind of non-combat, supportive functions, things like civil affairs and military police and the like. And we have found out that those people are essential in the kinds of wars that we fight today.

BLITZER: Are you satisfied with the role that has been carved out for the Guard and the reserve as part of a fighting force for the U.S. military?

GRAHAM: It's being over-utilized and underserved. The Guard and reserve is an indispensable part of the war on terror, 40 percent of the people, as Senator Clinton said. By the end of the year, there will be Guard and reservists in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every member serving in Bosnia-and we're still in Bosnia, for a reason, is a member of the Guard.

So we're going to break the back of our Guard and reserve forces. We have some people in specialties like she has described that are in Iraq on their second tour. Some are going to go back for the third time. It makes it very hard to maintain a civilian job.

A lot of times when you're called to active duty, you have a pay cut. We really don't address that issue. You can't retire until you're 60 as a member of the Guard or reserve. What we're saying is if you'll serve the 30, retire at 55, for every two years you serve past 20, you can retire a year earlier, to keep the best and the brightest in the system.

I'm still a member of the reserves. And I can tell you anecdotally I hear more complaints than I've ever heard. These are the most patriotic people in the world. Their health care network is not working so that they'll be ready to go to the fight. If you want to recruit and retain these people, you need to sweeten the pot. And that's where Republicans and Democrats should find some common ground.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the situation in Iraq for a moment. You've been there.

And I assume you've been there as well, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Yes, I have, twice.

BLITZER: Are you encouraged by the aftermath of the elections?

CLINTON: Well, I was very encouraged by the elections. I put out a statement the Friday before the elections because I thought it was important that all Americans be united behind this experiment in democracy and that we wish the Iraqi people well.

The elections did go off, I think, surprisingly well. But there are still so many problems. I mean, the election is the beginning. It's not the end of anything. And...

BLITZER: Are you concerned that this election could result in an Islamist theocracy emerging democratically in Iraq?

CLINTON: Of course I am.

I'm concerned about it both for the people of Iraq, particularly the women of Iraq. And I'm concerned about the role that Iran might play in such a government. And I'm concerned about the ongoing relationship then that a new government in Iraq would have, not just with the United States, but with the rest of the world. So, I have a lot of concerns.

And I think it comes down to the quality of the leadership, the Shiite leadership in Iraq that will emerge from this election. Will they be open-minded and statesmanlike to reach out to the Sunnis? Will they continue to give the Kurds the kind of autonomy that the Kurds deserve to have? Will they recognize that civil authority is separate from religious authority? These are the big questions. And I think all of us are sort of holding our breath hoping that this works out well.

BLITZER: Some of your fellow Republicans, including Senator McCain, a man that you supported, you like a lot, have expressed a lack of confidence in Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.

GRAHAM: Well, rather than being-have personal differences, here's what I think is a fair criticism.

The elections were a sea change in the Mideast. It was a turning point. But look what we did to secure the elections. We added troops. We focused on security like we have never focused on security before. We made sure the resource were there to make the election successful. If we think we've turned the corner, this is a misreading of what happened.

The attacks are going to continue. The constitution will be written this year. The theocracy side of the story could unfold. We need more resources, not less. We need not to consider that this fight is over. An American footprint in Iraq is going to be significant for a long time to come, because the challenges of this country are significant.

I think it's fair to say that, in the past, we underestimated the insurgency. We didn't have the right skill mix. We've overrelied on the Guard and Reserves. We've adjusted for the election. That adjustment needs to continue. It's a long way before we can come home with honor.

BLITZER: So reducing the number from 150,000 right now, as they're planning on doing, to around 135,000, at least for the balance of the year, you think that's a mistake?

GRAHAM: The theory is that Iraqis will replace those 15,000 troops. I believe in the Powell doctrine. I would rather have an overwhelming presence during these tenuous times than try to bring one person home too early, because the constitution hasn't been written. There's two more elections to come.

It's very-we are a long way from a stable Iraq. So, rather than trying to come home early, stay there with force, just like we did for the election, so that we can win this thing. Please do not underestimate what the Iraqi people face.

BLITZER: It sounds, though-and you're a member of the Armed Services Committee-as if the U.S. military is already overstretched. If you want to add troops to the situation in Iraq, it looks like it is going to be a difficult ordeal for the Pentagon.

GRAHAM: Right.

CLINTON: Well, that's absolutely true.

And I have so many questions and disagreements with the way that the administration, particularly the Pentagon, has pursued the mission in Iraq. And there are no easy answers. And what I worry about, to echo some of what Lindsey said, is that we can't act as though this election is some kind of determining point. It isn't. It is a beginning.

And, obviously, we are now going to be there at the pleasure of the Iraqi government. I think it makes sense for the United States to do everything possible to expedite the military training of the Iraqis. But we have to stay with enough presence to try to not only to stabilize the security situation, but to continue to demonstrate to those Iraqis taking authority the kind of government that is in the long-term interest of the Iraqi people. BLITZER: Let's stay in the region briefly. We don't have a lot of time.

Iran. Based on what you know, is there a viable military option, precision strikes to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, if diplomacy fails?

GRAHAM: The honest answer is, I don't know the military portfolio, what it would take to engage Iran. I hope diplomatic means work.

But back to the question she just asked. If we do not dramatically increase the number of troops in the Army and the Marine Corps, we will have made a mistake, because the stress on the current active force over time is unbearable. Let's increase the number of men and women in uniform. That takes pressure off the Guard and Reserves.

The one thing I want us to learn from this war is the commitments that we have throughout the world cannot be maintained with this number of people doing this many deployments.

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