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updated 2/23/2004 12:48:16 PM ET 2004-02-23T17:48:16

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NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, February 22, 2004

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, February 22, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  100 days ago he became governor of the most populous state in the union.  Can he solve California's budget problems?  How difficult is the transition from Hollywood to Sacramento?  With us, in his first Sunday morning interview, the Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Then, many Democrats accuse this man of draining votes from Al Gore, which helped elect George W. Bush in 2000.  Will he run again as an Independent candidate for president in 2004?  We will find out this morning.  Our guest, Mr. Ralph Nader.

Schwarzenegger and Nader, two exclusive interviews, only on MEET THE PRESS.

And with us now, the governor of California.

Welcome.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R-CA):  Thank you very much.  God, this is like a movie promotion the way you guys hype up this whole show here.  Makes me now wonder, "Wow, I have to stay around to watch this."

MR. RUSSERT:  You are the governor...

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  It's great.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...of California.  Is your state on the brink of bankruptcy?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Yes, it is.  California is in real terrible shape, and I think that if we don't pass Proposition 57 and 58, we will be in serious trouble because we're running, basically, out of money by June.  And so this is why it is very important for people to vote yes on Prop. 57 and 58, and that's why you see me campaigning up and down the state and doing as many interviews as possible, including sitting here today with you, although I love you, Tim.  But, I mean, you know, we are out there, you know, promoting and campaigning this because it's very serious.

But at the same time I have to say that it is a very doable thing.  I mean, if we pass these two initiatives, you know, we are out of the hole, and we can really get back on track and back to recovery.  That's what we need.  We need this extra push, and then California can come back.  And I think that within a year or two California can come back again and be the Golden State that it once was.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is what you said in January, Governor:  "We're running out of money in June.  That is the reality of it.  So if we don't pass [Prop. 57 and 58]"--on the ballot in March, as you mention-- "we will really be in a huge financial crisis--unlike anything else the state has ever faced." "Armageddon" is a term you've used.

If they don't pass, those propositions, will you have to raise taxes?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Oh, Tim, as you know, I never look at it that way.  I mean, you've known me long enough that I never look at the ifs.  There's only one thing, and this is failure is no option here.  So I will do everything possible and I will call as many people and ask as many organizations to be part of this whole crusade to make Proposition 57 and 58 pass.  And the great thing about this is we have Democrats and Republicans work together.  I just did a big press conference with Dianne Feinstein, with our great senator from California; also, with Barbara Boxer--she's on board.  We have Democrats and Republicans:  John Burton; we have Steve Westly, our controller, campaigning up and down the state with us.

And so we see something that Democrats and Republicans come together, and the people love to see that.  There's a whole new atmosphere in California.  And I think all of that will help because people know that both parties endorse these propositions, and they both want the win so that we get finally back on track and get back out of that hole because we need to.  We need the money right now in order to protect our hospitals, to protect our education and to protect, basically, law enforcement, firefighters.  We must protect those services.

MR. RUSSERT:  This is what George Skelton wrote in his political column in the Los Angeles Times:  "If Schwarzenegger gets everything he wanted--including the ballot measures and all the cuts in his budget proposal--the state still would spend $7 billion more than it took in during the fiscal year starting July 2005."

So this is, at best, a Band-Aid.  You're going to have to make fundamental changes in the way California governs itself:  either cut spending more or raise taxes.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, Tim, it is much more than a Band-Aid.  It really--passing Proposition 57 and 58 will give us a big, big boost forward. I mean, there's no two ways about it.  But it doesn't solve all the problems. Then we have to go on to the budget of 2004 and 2005, where we're still overdebt and we're fixing that budget.  And this is why it is so important for Democrats and Republicans to work together.  But we can do it.  I mean, we have a tremendous success now with our negotiations with the Indian gaming tribes; there's a lot of money in there.  I think with our tax amnesty, we can get a lot of money out of it.  And the key thing is, is for the bipartisan coalition that we have just formed in California--that Democrats and Republicans finally got together to fight on Capitol Hill here, to fight in Washington, to get our fair share of tax dollars because, I mean, it is ridiculous that California pays $1 and we get back 77 cents.  So we have to solve those problems.

So there's a lot of challenges ahead, but I am absolutely convinced that we will bring this state around again and we will make it again the greatest state of the greatest country in the world.  There's no two ways about it.

MR. RUSSERT:  During the campaign, you said you would conduct a "60-day audit performed by an independent accounting firm, the results will be published for all the people to see."  Why haven't you done such an audit?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, we are.  We have a performance review that we just started, and we have done the audit that Donna Otwin did, and we have found many, many areas where there was overspending in places where there was not good clear bookkeeping.  And so we are into all those things.  The only thing you have to understand is I've only been in office now barely 100 days.  So, I mean, you cannot do in 100 days and undo all of the problems that were created in the last five years.  So are taking one step at a time and we've already gotten rid of the driver's license for undocumented immigrants.  We have gotten rid of the increase in the car tax.  We have already handed in a--you know, the adjustments, media adjustments, and we have did the State of the State address, and a budget for 2004 and 2005.  Then we passed, you know, through the legislators, the initiative process which is the balanced budget initiative, and also the economic recovery bond.  So there was a lot of things that we have accomplished in a short period of time.  And that's why Skelton says I get a B and "if he passed those two initiatives," he gives me an A, which is terrific, that coming from the LA Times, may I remind you, so things are happening.

MR. RUSSERT:  But will you do an independent audit, not by your own administration, and release the results?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Oh, absolutely.  We are doing an independent study right now, just an audit, you see.  We have to find out also which programs and which institutions that work and don't work.  We want to find out--look, the last time they did this in California was on the--President Reagan, then Governor Reagan, and Caspar Weinberger was in charge of that.  But you really look at every single department and you show--and you kind of try to find out--others' departments run efficiently.  Is this something that we can do differently, that could be more inexpensive for the state of California? There's many things that we look at and I will get my reports and we will make sure that we will run a leaner and more efficient government.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mention the car tax.  Each Californian getting about $135 refund.  And this is the way it's been reported on:  "By rolling back the car tax, Schwarzenegger single-handedly worsened the very problem he was elected to fix.  His move pushed California, whose bond rating was already the lowest of all 50 states, $4 billion deeper"--in--"debt."  And John Burton, a man you know well, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, "The aged, the blind, the disabled and poor women with children are paying for a big chunk of the loss of revenue from the vehicle tax."

Wouldn't it be better to maintain programs for the poor and for the disabled, and for the blind, and for students, than refund $135 to Californians?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, first of all, let me just say what will be better is if we discipline our lawmakers in Sacramento so they don't continuously spend money that they don't have.  This has been the biggest problem in the last five years.  Continuously they've spent more money.  Our revenue increase went up by 25 percent but our spending went up by 43 percent.  It is irresponsible to have this kind of an increase of spending.  That's where the problem came in.  If we would have increased our spending by only 24, 25 percent, we will be even, we will be able to afford the programs, we will be able to do anything but they've outspent themselves.  This is why it is important for the people to vote yes on Proposition 58, because this is the balanced budget initiative, which is the first time that our politicians' credit cards have been torn up and thrown away so they never, ever can spend more money than the state takes in.  That's the problem.

And I feel very strongly, and you and I talked about this many times, that you cannot punish the people for the mistakes that the politicians make.  It is unfair.  Because they spent too much money, then to go after the regular citizens that are working hard and trying to raise their family and barely make ends meet, and to now go after them and say, "Now, we're going to increase your taxes."  For me, this is an absolute no.  And this is why I rolled back the car tax.

MR. RUSSERT:  You talked about relationship with Washington.  In October you met with President Bush and this is what you said.

(Videotape, October 16, 2003):

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  After speaking with the president this morning for--at great length, about the problems of California, I can tell you one thing, that there is no greater ally that this Golden State has in Washington than our president.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  That was October.  And now the harsh reality.  This is February. The headlines all across your state:  "State to Get Less Federal Money. Budget a Let Down for New Governor.  `When I am through with my term as governor, I will be known not only as the Terminator but as the Collectinator,' Schwarzenegger said during"--the campaign.

"In his first major test as the `Collectinator,' [he] didn't do any better in wringing federal money from his fellow Republicans in the White House than did his"--predecessors--"Gray Davis.  In fact, California"--"slated to get slightly fewer federal dollars in the Bush administration's proposed 2005 budget..."

Has President Bush let you down?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  No, absolutely not.  First of all, what I said at the press conference was absolutely correct, that we have a big ally with President Bush.  Now, he loves the state of California, and one of the things, for instance, that you do not mention here is that, for instance, Tom Ridge, who is, you know, in charge of Homeland Security, he came out there and gave us an additional $700 million for homeland security.  That's a huge amount of money, money that we need very badly.  Now, that's something that the previous administration did not get.  So here's $700 million extra that we got that they did not get.

And there will be other moneys coming through.  This is one of the key things. I've only been in office now for not even a hundred days.  We cannot expect for me to get all the money that I intend to collect.  I will be the "Collectinator," that I can promise you.  I will not let go, and I think with our bipartisan coalition that we have just built in December, that we will go after the federal dollar and we will make sure that California gets it fair share.  And that's something that I think President Bush is very much aware of, that this is also election year.

I think that the people of California expect certain things, if it is, you know, buying back the oil drilling leases or if it is getting more money for our undocumented immigrants, the incarceration of undocumented immigrants and things like that, federal funds, you know, for our infrastructure, of transportation and so on.  There's many areas where the federal government can help us.  This is a very important year, and I think and am absolutely convinced we then can deliver California for President Bush.

MR. RUSSERT:  George Bush can carry the state of California.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  No, absolutely.  There's no two ways about it, but I think that the Californian people will look at not just his leadership--his great leadership that he has provided all over the world and also nationally, but they will look also in some wonderful, you know, selfish way but they will look at, nevertheless, what has he done for California.

MR. RUSSERT:  What if he doesn't quite...

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  This is why this...

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor, if this budget, he gave you fewer federal dollars than in previous year, unless he produces real money this year, do you think Californians will vote for him?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  I think it is totally directly related to how much he would do for our state.  There's no two ways about it because Californian people are like a mirror.  You know, what you would do for them, they will do back for you.  And so if the federal government does great things for California this year, I think there's no two ways about it that President Bush can have California and he can be elected.  I'm absolutely convinced of that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Pete Wilson, Republican, Ronald Reagan, Republican, when it came down to the crunch, raised taxes, fees, in order to make sure to balance the budget.  You would do that if necessary.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  If we have an emergency and something unexpected happens, absolutely, I will raise the taxes, but I am not faced with those kind of emergencies at this point because, as you know, Pete Wilson who was a great governor and great leader in California has had a terrible time in the beginning.  I mean, here this poor guy went in there with great enthusiasm trying to fix the state and here the $14 billion debt--Right?--that he inherited and all of a sudden he's hit with riots, with fires, with floods, with mud slides, with earthquakes, with one disaster after the other.  So this is why he had to raise the taxes because here all of a sudden the bridges and freeways that were collapsing, buildings were collapsing.  So he had to come up quickly with the money to make up for those kind of damages.  So, otherwise, he would have never raised the taxes.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you what is happening in the second-largest city in California.  These are thousands of Californians lined up in San Francisco being married against the law...

(Videotape, last week):

Unidentified Woman:  ...pronounce you spouses for life.  Congratulations.

Unidentified Man:  Thank you.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  ...by city officials.  How can you as governor tolerate the breaking of the law?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, I don't.  As you know, I'm very much against that. I believe very strongly in domestic partnership rights.  I was all for-all throughout my campaign, I spoke out for it, but at the same time, we have also a law that says that we do not accept, you know, same-sex marriages which was passed by the people, Proposition 22, and so that is the law.  So we cannot have, all of a sudden now, mayors go and hand out licenses for various different things.  If it is--you know, in San Francisco, it's the license for marriage of same sex.  Maybe the next thing is another city that hands out licenses for assault weapons.  And someone else hands out licenses for selling drugs.  I mean, we can't do that.  We have to stay within the law.  There's a state law that says specific things, and if you want to challenge those laws, then you can go to the court and you can either challenge it there and let this neutral party, someone that can interpret the law, if there's a dispute of it, make the decision.  And I think this is all a legal matter now, and I directed Attorney General Bill Lockyer and said, you know, that he should now take care of this problem.

MR. RUSSERT:  He says you cannot direct him.  That's preposterous.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  He's ready to march.  He believes very strongly that this has to be resolved very quickly, and maybe there's a little sensitivity in the office there where they think, maybe, you know, that the governor should not push him that much.  But you know, I felt very strongly that it has to be done now, because it started out as a little thing, so I didn't say anything at the beginning.  Then it got to be a bigger issue and a bigger issue, and then yesterday, when I was in San Francisco for the Republican convention, all of a sudden we see riots and we see protests and we see people clashing.  The next thing we know is there are injured or there are dead people, and we don't want to have that.  We don't want to get to that extent, so we want to resolve it, and that's what leadership is all about is let's solve the problems, and then let's go to court and the court can make this decisions.

MR. RUSSERT:  If need be, would you call out the California State Police to arrest city officials in order to stop them from doing this?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  I don't think there will be a need for that, Tim.  I think that it will be resolved.  I think we have a great attorney general, Bill Lockyer, and I think that he will take care of it.  I think that we have a good system here, a good communication also between the mayor's office and my office.  I've talked to the mayor.  He's a reasonable guy.  He's a terrific mayor, but we just disagree on that particular thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  State Assemblyman Mark Leno has moved forward with legislation of legalized gay marriage in California.  "Even if the bill passed both houses of the Legislature, questions remain about whether Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would sign it."

If the Legislature, both houses, pass a bill which would legalize gay marriage, would you sign it?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  You know something?  I don't deal with hypotheticals. There's so many problems that we have in our state of California now, financial problems, economic problems and all this, I'm dealing much more with reality, not with hypotheticals.  What is important for me now is just to get the economy back again and to create in California what I promised during my campaign, which is to create a positive business environment so that our businesses come back again to California, that we expand businesses, we expand employment and that everyone go back to work, because in the end, everyone wants to have a job and this is what I want to do, and create also an atmosphere that we could begin to get our financial house in order.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you're not pledging a veto.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  What I'm saying is I don't even think about hypothetical things, because if you go down that road, then you take 50 percent of your thinking down that direction, and that's a waste of time.  What we have to think of is how do we resolve the problems that we have right now in California.  If it is that issue, our economic issue, our environmental issues, there's so many things to deal with.  I love to solve problems. That's my job.  That's why the people have sent me to Sacramento, to create action, and that's what I do is create action, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  You are a different kind of Republican, as we saw during the campaign, and I recall this magazine interview you gave in 1999, "The impeachment proceedings and Lewinsky scandal is another think I will never forgive the Republican Party for.  We spent one year wasting time because there was a human failure.  I was ashamed to call myself a Republican during that period."

That bothered you.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, it bothered me simply because there were so many problems that the country was facing at that time, and I think it was much better again to move on and to resolve the big problems rather than to spend an endless amount of time up here debating over this issue, you know, what is sex and what isn't, and did he lie and didn't he?  I mean, to me it was a waste of time and that's why I said that.

MR. RUSSERT:  In your book, "Education of a Body Builder," you said something that caught my attention.  "I was always honest about my weak points.  ...I think it's the key to success in everything:  be honest, know where you're weak, admit it."  After 100 days as governor, what do you think your weakest point is in trying to be governor?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, first of all, I'm very happy that you studied so thoroughly my body-building books, and I can tell on your body that this is a whole different ball game now, Tim.  I mean, look at your deltoids and your six-pack.  It's amazing, so congratulations on that.

But on top of that, let me tell you, one thing I found out in these three months of being in office is, is I've made mistakes.  You know, you go in there, and you try to rush and you try to do keep those kind of deadlines. Like for instance with the budget, I remember when we made the midyear adjustments, I made certain decisions of programs, for instance, for the mentally disabled and I made certain cuts.  And then after that, when I talked about it, I didn't realize that I made those cuts, so I had to go back and just say, "Look, I made a mistake.  I made those cuts.  I did not intend to make those cuts.  I want to put it back."

MR. RUSSERT:  Did the first lady talk to you about those kind of cuts?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  We all talked about it.  It was like literally two or three days later when we--I mean, I read it, number one, in the paper, and then we talked about it in our family.  And, you know, I have been a big promoter and always involved with Special Olympics, with helping people with mental disabilities.  And I said to myself, "What am I doing?  I'm now making cuts in programs for mentally disabled?  That's not good."  I mean, so then I went back and made the adjustment.

So the key thing is, again, when you have a problem like this or you make a mistake, which you inevitably will make, that you right away admit it.  Again, like I said, in "Bodybuilding," you know, point right away at the problem and fix it.  That is the key thing.  That's the only way you can improve.  That's the only way you can get smarter rather than like some politicians that they get stuck with it, you know, because they're embarrassed to say, "I was wrong."  They get stuck with it at the end, and they bury themselves deeper and deeper into a problem.  So that was one of the things that I've learned in the last three months.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ronald Reagan said that you can't be a good president without being a good actor.  Do you believe that your background and training as an actor has helped you as governor in Sacramento?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, I think that what is important is that I have had the background in sports and, also, the background in acting because those kind of backgrounds really do help you.  There's no two ways about it.  In sports, what helps you is because you learn about visualizing your goal and that you go after that goal and without making--you know, really ever having a negative thought.  You just see it, and you go after it step by step, and you don't look at anything in a negative way.  And I think one of the things in acting that you learn is, is how to sell, how to promote things and because you go always on those promotion tours and you try to sell tickets for your movies and all those things.  So I think it is the same thing.

In order for you to get any kind of a program going in your state or in your country, you have to go out and you have to communicate with the people.  The better you can communicate with the people, the more that you can let them know of what you're trying to accomplish in the state, the more you can connect with the people, the better it is and the more they will vote for your program.  So it's all about leadership, and it's all about communicating and connecting.

But I think that the most important thing is honesty, to be honest with you. The more honest you are with the people, the more you can look them in the eye and say, you know, "I think these will be difficult times.  I cannot pull wool over your eyes here, and I need your help.  I need you to help me to go out there and vote for those programs because alone I cannot do it."  And I tell the people in California that all the time:  "I need your help.  I cannot do it by myself."

MR. RUSSERT:  Here in Washington, Senator Hatch has introduced S.J. Resolution 15, and I'll put it on the board:  "Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to make eligible for the Office of President a person who has been a United States citizen for 20 years."  How long have you been a citizen?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Since 1983, so it's more than 20 years.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you're interested in this legislation.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Man, I should look at that because it sounds really good.  I mean, are you going to help me?  Come on, Tim.  Come on.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, actually, about 10 years ago a friend of yours named Mr. Sly Stallone had a premonition in a movie called "Demolition Man."  Let's watch this.

(Videotape, "Demolition Man" courtesy of Warner Bros.)

MR. RUSSERT:  If you could, under the Constitution, run for president, would you?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Boy, if Sly would help me, I mean, of course I would.  I have no idea.  I haven't thought about that at all.  I'll tell you that I'm so busy with our state.  You know, California is a big state and a very complicated state.  Right now I concentrate just on that to make sure that Prop. 57 and 58 passes, solve the problems as I've promised to resolve--our fiscal house, get that in order, get all the jobs back, make sure that we protect our environment.  Those are the kind of issues--and to deal with our undocumented immigrants and those issues.  So there's a lot of work ahead of me, so that's what I'm concentrating on.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if someone's been a citizen for 20 years, they should have the right to run for president, don't you think?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Oh, absolutely.  I think that, you know, times have changed.  I think this is now a much more global economy.  I think that there's so many people here in this country that are now from overseas, that are immigrants, that are doing such a terrific job with the work, bringing businesses here and all this, that there's no reason why not.  I mean, the key thing is it's just that you understand the political system, how it works. And, you know, maybe people can be great contributors.  I mean, look at the kind of contribution that people like Henry Kissinger has made; Madeleine Albright.  I mean, there's many, many, many people here that have worked within the government and have done an extraordinary job and not have been born in America.

MR. RUSSERT:  I did not know until I did my research that you had filmed "Around The World in 80 Days" right before your election.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  That's right.

MR. RUSSERT:  It's coming out in June.  There's the picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie.  Will you be promoting that movie or are you now governor and can no longer do that?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  No, no, I will have most likely a premiere in Sacramento, a great Hollywood premiere, or a Sacramento premiere with the red carpet and the whole thing.  It's a wonderful family movie that is released by Disney and so I will do anything I can to help them with it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that your last movie?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  That was the last movie, actually.  Yeah, everyone thinks that "Terminator 3" was the last movie but it was "Around the World in 80 Days" was the last movie.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will that be the last one ever?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Well, you can never say ever.  I mean, what do we know? What do we know after I'm finished with this job where I'm going to go and so we don't know.  But in the meantime I can tell you that I'm having a terrific time, even though it's a very challenging job but I think with the help of my wife, of Maria, and my kids, everyone working together here, we can do it. And it's great to bring California back.  There's a whole new mood in California, a whole new atmosphere.  People are coming together, Democrats and Republicans and I think we will solve our problems.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's the one thing that you knew for certain before you were elected that you now know is not the case?

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  I don't think there's really anything--I think that I felt when I got into this that everything's possible.  It is the land of opportunity.  I've seen it firsthand over and over.  This is a very generous country.  It's a country that can adjust very quickly, can come back again a winner.  Even though we are down, we can come back.  So I think that the people of California are ready to turn this state around.  The Democrats and Republicans are ready to work together.  That is the key thing is for them to work together because I think we in California can be the model of inclusion and it can be a model for the rest of the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, we thank you for sharing your views with us this morning.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER:  Thank you very much, Tim.  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, will Ralph Nader run as an independent candidate for president in 2004?  He is ready to announce his decision right here on MEET THE PRESS.  Ralph Nader and his decision, next.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ralph Nader announces his decision on a run for the White House after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back joined by Ralph Nader.

Welcome.

MR. RALPH NADER:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  What's your decision?

MR. NADER:  After careful thought and my desire to retire our supremely selected president, I've decided to run as an Independent candidate for president.  And if you'll allow me to explain why, I'll give some of the reasons with elaboration coming on our Web site, votenader.org.

First of all, this country has more problems and injustices than it deserves, and more solutions and goodwilled people applying those solutions.  That's because there's a democracy gap.  There's just too much power and wealth in too few hands, increasingly giant corporation, hands that have no allegiance to our country or our communities other than to control them or to abandon them.  They have taken over Washington.  There's massive media exposes documenting that in all the mainstream media.

Washington is now a corporate-occupied territory.  There's a "For Sale" sign on almost every door of agencies and departments where these corporations dominate and they put their appointments in high office.  The Congress is what Will Rogers once called "the best money can buy."  Money is flowing in like never before that sells our elections.  What does that mean to the American people?  It means that corporations are saying no to the necessities of the American people.  They're saying no to health insurance for everyone, no to tax reform, no to health and safety standards, no to stopping corporate welfare into hundreds of billions, no to straightening out the defense budget, which is bloated and redundant, as many retired generals and admirals said, no to access to our courts.  It's time for people to say yes and we need more civic and political energies inside the campaign to challenge this two-party duopoly that's trending toward one-party districts all over the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Nader, as you know, this decision is going to upset a lot of people.  The Nation magazine, an institution that you have had a close relationship with all your life, wrote this editorial:  "Ralph, this is the wrong year for you to run:  2004 is not 2000.  ...  The contest for an independent presidential bid is completely altered from 2000, when there was a real base for a protest candidate.  The overwhelming mass of voters with progressive values ... have only one focus this year:  to beat Bush.  Any candidacy seen as distracting from that goal will be excoriated by the entire spectrum of potentially progressive voters.  If you run, you will separate yourself, probably irrevocably, from any ongoing relationship with this energized mass of activists.  Look around:  Almost no one, including former strong supporters, is calling for you to run ... Ralph, please thing of the long term.  Don't run."

And we've been inundated with e-mails.  There's a Web site that actually says www.ralphdontrun.net, and I want to air this in its entirety for you to watch it, for the country to watch it, and then give you a full chance to respond. Let's watch:

(Videotape):

Announcer:  The 2000 presidential race was the closest in American history, a swing of just three electoral votes anywhere in the country and George Bush would never have become president.  You can blame Gore's mistakes in the campaign, the Florida recount debacle, the Supreme Court intervention, but after all those events, one fact remains:  Ralph Nader's candidacy tipped the balance to Bush.  With just 1 percent of the votes cast for Ralph Nader, Gore wins Florida and the election.  Netting a third of Nader's votes, Gore takes New Hampshire as well.  The simple fact is if Nader had not run, Gore would be president, not Bush.  Today, Ralph Nader is thinking of running again, and he says he'll announce his plans in the next few weeks.  This time, in 2004, the stakes are far too high.  This time, we need Ralph Nader with us, not against us.  Here's how you can help.  Visit Ralph Nader's Exploratory Committee Web site and send the message:  Ralph, please don't run.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  There's real passion in that.  What do you say to those people?

MR. NADER:  That's the liberal intelligentsia that agrees with almost all our positions.  That is a contemptuous statement against democracy, against freedom, against more voices and choices for the American people.  You'd never find that type of thing in Canada or Western democracies in Europe.  It is an offense to deny millions of people who might want to vote for our candidacy an opportunity to vote for our candidacy.  Instead, they want to say, "No, we're not going to let you have an opportunity to vote," for our candidacy.

There are conservatives who are furious with Bush over the deficit, over corporate subsidies, over corporate pornography directed toward children, over the Patriot Act, over many other issues.  And they may be looking for an Independent candidacy.  There are liberal Republicans who see their party taken away from them.  They may be looking for an Independent candidacy. There are a hundred million non- voters that no one has figured out how to bring back into the electoral system, which I want to try to do.

So I think the liberal intelligentsia has got to ask itself a tough question, Tim.  For 25 years they have let their party run away from them.  For 25 years they've let their party become a captive of corporate interests.  And now they want to block the American people from having more choices and voices, especially young people who are looking for idealism, who are looking for a clean campaign, who are looking for the real issues in this country instead of the sham and the rhetoric that masquerades for political campaigning.

MR. RUSSERT:  Democrats will say, "Ralph Nader, in the end, it's a choice between George Bush and a Democrat, and you have to make a decision as to who would be better for this country."  They point to Florida, and you heard the Internet ad, and I'll show you the exact vote.  Bush won by 537 votes, and you got 97,488.  In New Hampshire, Bush won by 7,211, you got 22,000 votes.  When you were on the program in January of 2002, I asked you a question, and here's your response.  Let's watch:

(Videotape, January 13, 2002):

MR. RUSSERT:  Having watched George W. Bush for a year, do you believe an Al Gore presidency would have been any different?

MR. NADER:  Well, it wouldn't have been any different in terms of military and foreign policy.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that Al Gore would have invaded Iraq?

MR. NADER:  He would have.  I think he was a hawk.  He may have done it in a different way.  He and Clinton got through Congress a regime-change resolution as a pillar of our foreign policy.  But let me answer the points you made. They're quite provocative.  Any number of third-party candidates in Florida could have affected the equation the way you just described.  Libertarians got thousands of votes, Buchanan got thousands of votes, Socialist Workers Party got votes.  The Florida campaign was won by Gore.  It was stolen by Katherine Harris and Jeb Bush and their cohorts from Tallahassee to the Supreme Court. Two hundred and fifty thousand registered Republicans in Florida voted for Bush.

Let's not play the what-if game because when they pick one what-if, my candidacy, the candidacy of Nader-LaDuke, what they're doing is basically saying that third parties are a second-class citizenship.  And the civil liberties crisis affecting third parties and Independent candidates, Tim, is very serious.  Historically, that's where our reform has come from, in the 19th century, against slavery, women's right to vote, trade union, farmer, populist, progressive.

Seeds have to be given a chance to sprout in nature.  We call it springtime. Entrepreneurs have to be given a chance in the marketplace.  Somehow it's OK to have a two-party duopoly that is converging more and more, where the towering similarities dwarf the dwindling real differences that the Democrats are willing to fight over.  Democrats better look at themselves.  They'd better brag a little bit more, which they hardly do, about bringing Social Security and Medicare and environmental laws to the country before 20, 25 years ago they turned into a corporate paymaster minion.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that there would be a difference between a George Bush administration...

MR. NADER:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...and a John Kerry or a John Edwards administration on judicial nominations, on tax cuts, on environmental enforcement?

MR. NADER:  Yes.  The problem is that the corporate government remains in Washington, whether it's Democrats or Republicans.  The military industrial complex, as Eisenhower pointed out, is getting bigger and devouring half of the federal budget's discretionary expenditure.  And we have no major enemy left in the world, no Soviet Union, no Communist China.  The corporate lobbyists are still swarming over Congress.  Money is still pouring in from corporate interests.  Washington is corporate-occupied territory, and the two parties are ferociously competing to see who's going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate pay masters.  So they may be different in their mind, they may be different in their attention, they may be different in their rhetoric.  But in the actual performance these corporate interests and their political allies are taking America down.

They're taking our country apart:  massive poverty, massive child poverty, massive consumer debt, environmental devastation.  That didn't occur, that didn't get worse under the Democrats?  So, basically, it's a question between both parties flunking, Tim:  one with a D-, the Republicans; one with a D+, the Democrats.  And it's time to change the equation and bring millions of American people into the political arena, so that the civic groups are not shut out when they try to improve their country.

MR. RUSSERT:  You had said when John Edwards announced his candidacy that it was a good idea that he run for president.

MR. NADER:  Yes.

MR. RUSSERT:  You like him?

MR. NADER:  I think the more organized the citizens are, the better a politician he's going to be.  He's like an expanding accordion, unlike President Bush, who is really a giant corporation in the White House masquerading as a human being.

MR. RUSSERT:  If it got down to the final days of the election and you saw that your presence on the ballot could swing the election to George Bush, might you consider stepping out and saying, "I endorse the Democrat"?

MR. NADER:  First of all, there are 40 slam-dunk states where either the Republicans or Democrats are going to win handily; that's number one.  Second, I think there's a very good chance that President Bush is going to start declining in the polls.  He's making a lot of mistakes.  People are beginning to realize that he doesn't care about the American people, although he says he does; that as a conservative president, he's presiding over and encouraging the shipment of industries and jobs to the despotic Communist regime in China; that he fabricated the basis for the war in Iraq, which is now a quagmire. And if President Bush doesn't trust the American people with the truth, why should the American people trust George W. Bush with the presidency?

Now, you gave me a hypothetical, all right?  You know how Arnold answered that hypothetical.  When that and if that eventuality occurs, in the rare event that it occurs, you can invite me back on the program, and I'll give you my answer.

MR. RUSSERT:  The Green Party has said that they wish you had run this year with them, some members of the Green Party.  You have said, "No, I want to run as a true Independent."  The Green Party forces have now have said, "Forget it, Nader.  You'll never get on the ballot in 50 states.  You'll be lucky to make 40."  How uphill will your battle be, and how many state ballots do you think you can get on?

MR. NADER:  There's a tremendous bias in state laws against third parties and Independent candidates bred by the two major parties, who passed these laws. They don't like competition.  So it's like climbing a cliff with a slippery rope.  And anybody who doubts it can look at a list of all these signature barriers and all the obstacles a number of states, not all of them, put before third-party candidates on our Web site, VoteNader.org.  Now, let me just say this is going to be difficult.  We're asking for volunteers to log into our Web site, VoteNader.org.  We're asking for contributions because this isn't just our fight.  This is a fight for all third parties:  Libertarian, Green Party, other third parties, other Independent candidates, all the way down to the local level, who want a chance to breathe politically.  They want a chance to have a chance to compete.  This is not a democracy that can be controlled by two parties in the grip of corporate interests.  I don't think America belongs just to the Democrat and Republican parties.

MR. RUSSERT:  In terms of what you stand for, this is what you said in July of last year about George Bush:  "[Nader] said Mr. Bush was not only `beatable but impeachable,' for deceptions and prevarications on national security matters..."  Will part of your platform be the impeachment of George Bush?

MR. NADER:  Let me put it this way.  When a president misleads, if not fabricates, going to war and sending our sons and daughters to war with no exit strategy, with a quagmire over there, that is very serious, Tim.  If there's any better definition of high crimes and misdemeanors in our Constitution, then misleading or fabricating the basis for going to war, as the press has documented ad infinitum, I don't know any cause of impeachment that's worse.  So what is an impeachment?  It's a hearing to see whether the House of Representatives is going to accuse or charge the president with high crimes and misdemeanors.  And then it goes to the Senate for a trial.  Our Founding Fathers gave the Congress the right to fire the president.  It shouldn't be a big deal.  For far more trivial reasons, you know, Clinton was impeached.

I think this country deserves a serious explanation of why, how, when this country was plunged into war against a brutal dictator tottering over an antiquated, non-loyal army, surrounded by hostile neighbors who, if he made one move against, would have obliterated him.  It was oil.  And oil has ruined so much of our foreign policy and antagonized so many people in the Third World, when we should be converting to renewable energy and solar energy and energy efficiency, all of which creates jobs in this country.  So I think it is very important for the American people to take what happened last year very, very seriously.

MR. RUSSERT:  So there should be an impeachment hearing and trial?

MR. NADER:  I think Congressman John Conyers is going to file such a request.

MR. RUSSERT:  What would President Ralph Nader do today about Iraq?  Would you pull all our troops out immediately?

MR. NADER:  We owe a responsibility to the people of Iraq.  We entrenched Saddam Hussein in 1979 along with the British.  We armed them, we gave them credits, we sold them onto U.S. export license by corporations--sold materials for chemical and biological warfare in the 1980s under Reagan and the first Bush administration.  Can you imagine that?  And, of course, then he invaded Iraq and he was no longer our boy, he was our adversary, and one day President Bush number one could have overthrown-- with all the international support that he had, he could have overthrown Saddam Hussein.  Instead he told the Kurds and the Shiites "rise up and overthrow the tyrants."  They got about 75 percent of the country under their control, and President Bush number one held back our military forces while Saddam Hussein slaughtered these people.  So we owe...

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, what would you do now?

MR. NADER:  I wanted to give you a little history.

MR. RUSSERT:  OK.

MR. NADER:  Here's what we do now.  We need to get out of there as fast as possible because we are the magnet for increasing guerrilla warfare and increasing entry by al-Qaeda and others, just the opposite of what we were told was going to happen.  So we need to get the U.N. in there with properly funded and trained peacekeeping troops from a whole variety of countries, number one.  We need to provide well-supervised elections with perhaps suitable autonomies with the acquiescence, of course, of the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.  And we need to continue humanitarian assistance to those people in Iraq.  That's the way to get it done.

MR. RUSSERT:  And what--who will run--who will rule Iraq?  It might become an Islamic fundamentalist extreme regime.

MR. NADER:  Iraqis will be ruled by Iraqis.  It will be ruled under fair elections by Iraqis.  They're very creative people.  And we have no business being there.  We have no business diverting hundreds of billions of dollars over there while our schools, clinics, public transit, libraries are crumbling for lack of repair.  We need to cut--get rid of that tax cut for the wealthy, which is increasing deficits, and have a massive job-producing public works.

MR. RUSSERT:  You would repeal the entire Bush tax cut?

Mr. NADER:  Yes.  Yes.  And have a job-producing public works to repair America.  These jobs can't be shipped to India and China.  They're there; they're in every community.  They're well-paying.  A lot of them are union jobs.  There are so many ways to move this country forward, Tim.  And we've got to have more voices and choices.  We just can't sit back like The Nation magazine and betray its own traditions, and the liberal intelligentsia, and once again settle for the least worst and watch both parties get worse every four years and then the liberals who come back to us and complain about "Oh, those Democrats are caving into these corporations, they're letting the Republicans run roughshod over them."

MR. RUSSERT:  Civil rights:  Many gay couples believe that they should be allowed to be married.  You heard Governor Schwarzenegger say he disagrees with that.  Democrat candidates will say they're for civil unions but not gay marriage.  Would Ralph Nader support gay marriage?

MR. NADER:  I support equal rights for same-sex couples.  I think there's an interesting quote by a lesbian leader in The New York Times a few days ago when she said, "It's not a matter of labels, it's a matter of equal rights." However, that can occur by adjusting state laws or having a federal law.  That is certainly something that the gay-lesbian community is going to have to work out.

MR. RUSSERT:  But gays should be allowed to be married if they so choose, according to you.

MR. NADER:  Of course.  Love and commitment is not exactly in surplus in this country.  The main tragedy, what undermines marriage, is divorce, as Mayor Daley of Chicago just said.

MR. RUSSERT:  When you ran in 2000, you had a financial disclosure which showed your wealth at $3.8 million.  Will you release your tax returns this year as well?

MR. NADER:  First of all, about 85 to 90 percent of everything I've earned and raised has gone to all the citizen groups all over the country that for 35, 40 years have saved millions of lives and injuries, taken dangerous drugs off the marketplace.  I think I have to remind people, especially young people, of what we've done and how much we love our country by the sweat of our work for justice for all Americans and also how important it is to give every American the chance to improve his or her country, not block them by corporate interests and their politic allies.

MR. RUSSERT:  But in terms of...

MR. NADER:  Wait.  Wait.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...full disclosure.

MR. NADER:  Let me tell you.  There's a government ethics disclosure law that discloses everything.  I have never supported political candidates releasing their income taxes because they have a lot of personal information.  They may have a retarded child in an institution.  All the economic information, the investments, everything will be disclosed in accordance with federal law.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before you go, I've got thousands of e-mails from people over the last several weeks talking about you and your potential candidacy and many of them come down to three letters, E-G-O, ego, this is all about Ralph.  He's going to be a spoiler because of his ego.  How do you respond?

MR. NADER:  A spoiler is a contemptuous term, as if anybody who dares to challenge the two-party system and corrupt politics and broken politics and corporate power is a spoiler.  Come again?  See, these people are well-meaning people who agree with us on many of the issues, but they're hostages to an antiquated Electoral College winner-take-all system that blocks all the way to excluding candidates from the debates, blocks any kind of voices, any kind of competition, and we've got to fight that.  You can't just fight that from the outside the way the Center for Voting and Democracy is.  You've got to fight it from the inside as well and that's what I'm trying to do and I hope millions of Americans will agree if they want fresh ideas, new ideas, solutions, but above all, if they want to become, in Jefferson's term, "participators" in our democratic society.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ralph Nader, we thank you for joining us with your announcement. We'll be covering you during the campaign and hope you'll come back and share you views.

MR. NADER:  Thank you very much, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  St. Alban's 64, Georgetown Prep, 63.  You got to believe.  Go, Bulldogs!  IAC champs.

If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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