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updated 7/4/2004 11:20:16 AM ET 2004-07-04T15:20:16

Copyright© 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."

NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

Guests: Sandy Berger, Former Clinton National Security Adviser

Sen. John Warner, (R-Va.), Chairman, Armed Services Committee

Sen. Joe Lieberman, (D-Conn.), Armed Services Committee

Ralph Nader, Independent Candidate for President

John Harwood, Wall Street Journal

Charlie Cook, Cook Political Report

Moderator/Panelist:  Andrea Mitchell - NBC News

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, July 4, 2004

MS. ANDREA MITCHELL:  Our issues this Sunday:  the United States transfers power to the people of Iraq.  Saddam Hussein's status changes from prisoner of war to criminal defendant as he is charged in an Iraqi court.  What will be his fate?  What will be the role of the 140,000 American troops still on the ground in Iraq?  With us, Bill Clinton's former national security adviser, Sandy Berger; the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner of Virginia; and a Democratic senator who just returned from Baghdad, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.  Then:

(Videotape, February 22, 2004):

MR. RALPH NADER:  I've decided to run as an independent candidate for president.

(End videotape)

MS. MITCHELL:  Ralph Nader continues his independent bid for the White House and angers many Democrats along the way.

(Videotape):

Group of People:  (In unison) Don't run, Ralph!  Don't run, Ralph!

(End videotape)

MS. MITCHELL:  What does he hope to accomplish?  We'll ask him.  Ralph Nader, candidate for president, and author of the new book "The Good Fight."

And Bush vs. Kerry, Decision 2004.  Will the transfer of power in Iraq be a fresh start for the president?  And all eyes on the Democratic nominee John Kerry.  Whom will he select for his running mate?  Insights and analysis from John Harwood at The Wall Street Journal and Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report.

But first, we are joined by former national security adviser Sandy Berger, Senator John Warner and Senator Joe Lieberman.  Welcome, all.  Senator Lieberman, you are just back from Iraq.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN, (D-CT):  Yes

MS. MITCHELL:  You met with John Negroponte and other officials while you were in Baghdad.  Tell us what is the situation?  What were your impressions?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  My first impression both in Baghdad in visiting our forces in Qatar and in Kuwait is a pride and gratitude for the strength and smarts and lethality and agility and patriotism of the American military.  There's been no better military in the history of the world.  They defeated Saddam Hussein.  He's on trial.  They're now working with the Iraqis to figure out how to defeat these insurgents.

And I'd say the attitude is optimistic.  I had the opportunity to meet with the new Iraqi minister of defense and his leading generals.  They are patriots.  They want to assume more and more of the policing and the fight against the terrorists and the insurgents.  So there's a lot of hope about Iraq today.  No one particularly in our military has any illusions.  There are going to be some tough days ahead.  But we've come a long way in the cause of national security--ours--and the freedom of the Iraqi people.  And on this Fourth of July, we've got a lot to be proud of and to celebrate.

MS. MITCHELL:  Yet, despite all of that, when we ask the American public in our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll whether the situation is under control, by 58 to 34 percent, they think it is not under control.  Senator Warner, why is that?

SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R-VA):  No one ever said it was under control.  I think the president, General Abizaid and all have said it was going to be a tough haul. Now, when we turned over the sovereignty, it's interesting the last 48 hours have been relatively quiet.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Yeah.

SEN. WARNER:  And you'll note the loss of life, the frightful loss of life of coalition forces, particularly U.S. soldiers, and wounded, is slowly tapering off.  The decision as to how quickly we can rely on the Iraqis will come when--the first trained Iraqi forces.  Now, there have been isolated incidents.  But those under General Petreus, who was sent over there specifically for that job, when they go in into harm's way, will they, in fact, utilize that training and the best equipment we can give them and take on the insurgents just as our brave soldiers have done in the past?

MS. MITCHELL:  Of course, they've tail and run and in many instances...

SEN. WARNER:  Yeah, in some instances.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...up until now.  Now, General Petreus has just arrived...

SEN. WARNER:  That's correct, yes.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...and he's got a great track record.

SEN. WARNER:  And they've got sovereignty and they've got strong leadership as my colleague over here mentioned.  Just a few weeks ago, the president, the new president was in the Senate meeting with a group of us.  They are highly respected and the polls show that the Iraqi people support this new interim government.  But the rubber hits the road when those first trained forces take on the responsibilities that have been bravely discharged to date by the coalition forces.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  And can I add a word to what John said, a very brief word...

MS. MITCHELL:  You bet.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  ...about the polling on Iraqi opinion?  The fascinating and hopeful point we've at is that the Iraqi people are more optimistic about their future than the American people seem to be about the future of Iraq.  In fact, the Iraqi administration enjoys more support today, the new administration, from the Iraqi people than the Bush administration seems to enjoy from the American people, so the more important numbers are Iraqi public opinion, and that's...

MS. MITCHELL:  But they've got a long way to go...

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Sure, they do.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...don't they, gentlemen, in order to establish enough control on the grounds so that they can actually hold elections.  Mr. Berger, when you testified in April, you suggested that sovereignty could be--the handover could be a prescription for chaos and that you thought it very unlikely that they would have something in place that could govern effectively by July 1. It's now July Fourth.  Do you think that this new interim government can be effective in establishing control?

MR. SANDY BERGER:  Well, I'm pleased to see the sovereignty handed over to Iraqis.  But sovereignty without capability is a somewhat hollow concept.  I think we were a long way from success and a long way from turning the corner in Iraq.  Security situation remains very precarious.  We've trained only about 10 percent of the Iraqi army we need to shift policing functions over to.  On the reconstruction side, we discovered we spent about 2 percent of the $18 billion the Congress--that these two senators and their colleagues appropriated back in October.  And in terms of burden sharing, we're still bearing 90 percent of the cost, 90 percent of the risk, 90 percent of the casualties.  And I think that we're going to have--those things are going to have to change for the American people to maintain the kind of long-haul support that this is going to take.

MS. MITCHELL:  In fact, let's break that down for second.  Senator Lieberman, that 2 percent breaks down, apparently, to fewer than 140 projects out of 2,300 reconstruction projects.  How do you explain the failure to get more done on the ground?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  I can't explain how that happened.  I mean, we quite generously appropriated that $18 billion.  It's stunning to see that so little of it has been spent.  I think it is important to say, in fairness, that the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American-international forces, have spent almost $20 billion of Iraqi oil money in the reconstruction of Iraq.  And a lot of good things have happened.  The hospitals are all open.  Most of the schools are open.  The electricity is more available.  The water is more available.  But there's a lot more to do.  My chairman, John Warner, I'm sure--on the Armed Services Committee--is going to be asking questions, asking people like Jerry Bremer to come before the committee...

SEN. WARNER:  Yeah.  We...

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  ...to testify about this.

SEN. WARNER:  On Friday, we issued an invitation to Jerry Bremer to come up when I first read through the GAO report...

MS. MITCHELL:  When you say "invitation" it sounds like it's a little...

SEN. WARNER:  Well, he'd just gotten back.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...more compelling than that.

SEN. WARNER:  Let him unpack his bags.

MR. BERGER:  An offer he couldn't refuse.

MS. MITCHELL:  Exactly.

SEN. WARNER:  But it's--yeah, an offer he couldn't refuse.  But our committee will be looking into this.  Let Bremer give his side of the story.  But on the dollar value, very small has been, as they say, expended.  But that's the check in hand.  There's another $5 billion in the pipeline which is actively working to meet the goal set down.

MS. MITCHELL:  It's still not $18.4 billion.  It's still a long way from...

SEN. WARNER:  No, but you don't want to take the taxpayers' money and throw it away.  The contracts had to be competed.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Right.

SEN. WARNER:  There was a deterioration in the security system, which scared a lot of contractors off.  I think they've been struggling with a tough job. Let's give them a chance to tell the story before we just stamp it...

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Yes.  but...

SEN. WARNER:  ...not well done.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Excuse me, John.  Let's also explain very briefly why this is important.  And the most important thing is to maintain security in Iraq. But second is to give people a better life.  Because if more people have jobs, if more people get electricity, then they're going to feel optimistic about the future and be committed to this new government.  And they're going to carry out these elections in a way...

MS. MITCHELL:  Well...

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  ...that will get them on the road to self-government, which will be revolutionary in the Arab world.  It could be a real model for how to deal with...

MS. MITCHELL:  The other piece of this, of course, is the burden that Americans are carrying.  Now, Senator Warner, you're chairman of Armed Services.

SEN. WARNER:  Yes.

MS. MITCHELL:  And only this week, we were told that there's going to be an involuntary call-up of 5,600 troops.  How do you explain that?

SEN. WARNER:  Well...

MS. MITCHELL:  Does that mean we did not factor in enough troops in the beginning?  Have we not planned this war properly?  Has the Pentagon made mistakes?  And should they have listened to General Shinseki and others in the Army...

SEN. WARNER:  Well...

MS. MITCHELL:  ...who were saying we needed more on the ground?

SEN. WARNER:  Let's start with General Shinseki, because I was in the hearing room conducting a hearing when he answered that question, Joe.  I think you were in the hearing.  He was asked three times, and finally, he just sorted of seized on this figure.  You know, I'd like right here and now to invite General Shinseki to tell where the staffing existed to come up with that figure.  I cannot find it anywhere in the Joint Chiefs.  I cannot find it in the Department of Army.  How did he make that estimate.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well...

SEN. WARNER:  Now, back to the people that were called up, they were individuals called up to plug some gaps that the Army now has in specialized training.  And the--they're part of the Reserve.  Their contracts said that they were available to be called up.  They fully knew it.  So...

MS. MITCHELL:  But--no, but none of them expected it.  Mr. Berger, is this...

SEN. WARNER:  Oh, yes, they could have expected it.

MR. BERGER:  No...

MS. MITCHELL:  Is this a back-door draft?

MR. BERGER:  I think in a manner of speaking, these people have left the Army and they're being involuntarily now called back.  And I do think it reflects miscalculation at the outset.  You know, in the Balkans, we had one peacekeeper for every six people.  We have one peacekeeper for every 20 people in Iraq.  And Shinseki's number didn't come out of thin air.  Almost every military person that I have talked to said, "We may not have needed a larger force to win the war, but we certainly needed a larger force to win the peace. We didn't have the overwhelming numbers in Iraq in the beginning to stop the looting, to establish order and to establish the fact that we were the force that had to be dealt with."

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, let me show you what General Barry McCaffrey said about this very factor.

(Videotape, June 30, 2004):

GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY (U.S. Army-Ret.):  We have essentially pushed the U.S. Army, and to some extent, the Marine Corps beyond the breaking point.  This is induced military service.

There's no question in my mind that the current deployment rates to Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea and elsewhere will break the U.S. Army in the coming two or three years.

(End videotape)

MS. MITCHELL:  Senator Warner, will we reach a point where we have to reinstate the draft?

SEN. WARNER:  The answer is no, but Barry McCaffrey, we all know him and we respect him.  And he has taken this position, but I can assure you that we have had the calculus in terms of the total forces that the military wanted. Even though the civilians controlled, it was the military's decisions.  And I'd like to ask General McCaffrey was not the fact that Turkey prevented the 4th Division from coming into the north and going into those areas where so much insurrection now, had that been gone to plan as General Franks had planned it, we might not have the problem we are seeing today.

But on the draft, I was in the Pentagon with secretary of the Navy when we abolished the draft.  And I can tell you the all-volunteer forces worked.  We cannot bring back a draft now and make some young men and women go into uniform and not bring in a whole lot of others to do different tasks and then suddenly you've got one of the most enormously expensive programs where we're giving G.I. Bill to military people and those who are brought in to perform other tasks.  You just can't go out equitably and grab 5 percent of the young people and force them into uniform without making all the young people begin to do something comparable.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, let's talk for a minute about the handover and whether it has made us safer there, whether it's made our soldiers safer.  We've got a situation where the rebellious cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is saying that they should not support the regime.  He's now reversed himself on that.  The insurgents are on the rise.  Look at how Americans responded in our NBC News poll.  Asked whether invading Iraq in the first place increased or decreased the threat of terror, a majority, 51 percent, said it did.  Only 14 percent feel that we are safer as a result of the war.  Joe Lieberman.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Well, here again, Iraqi opinion is much more positive about what we did for them than American opinion is.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, we have to worry about American opinion.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  We have to worry about American opinion for a couple of reasons.  The first is there's no way that these insurgents are going to defeat the American military and our Iraqi and international allies.  We're not going to lose this militarily.

MS. MITCHELL:  But at what cost, Senator?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  The danger is that the terrorists and insurgents can win politically by dividing the American people and, of course, by dividing people in Iraq.  Today, I find the Iraqi people to be extremely optimistic, our troops to be very proud of what they're doing.  Of course, they want to come home.  None of them are whining.  So I think if the American people focus on what's happening there, this battle in Iraq is the main battleground in our war against terrorism.  This is the test of a generation.  Can we stop radical Islamic jihadism which wants to destroy everything that's not like itself from growing and growing?  And in Iraq we have the ability to show a great Arab nation a different way to a better life.  And that's what's happening on the ground.

MS. MITCHELL:  I guess the question is:  Can you do this without the consensus of the American people?  And if the American people feel that you are failing that test, how do you proceed with foreign policy?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  That's the great danger and the great challenge to our leadership and why I think it's so important, notwithstanding all the dissent about the war in the past, that we go forward together.  There has to be unity in America to finish the job.  I was very encouraged by an op-ed piece by Senator Kerry in The Washington Post today that says quite clearly he's committed to successfully finishing our mission in Iraq.  The Democratic platform will say the same thing.  So I think we're building the entity here. I just want the American people to take an open-eyed look about all the progress we're making in Iraq and support our troops and our purposes and principles over there.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, now we have the new Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, saying that he would grant amnesty to the insurgents, including, al-Sadr, if they put down their weapons.  Senator Warner, is that good idea?

SEN. WARNER:  I think we've got to support those types of decisions of this new Iraqi government.  Give them a chance.  It sort of strikes us as not correct since some of those he's offering it to have been engaged in the insurgency that might have brought about death or harm to our forces.  But give him a chance.

But back to Kerry's article.  He once again comes down that NATO is the solution.  Now, you and I know that NATO is rapidly becoming a hollow force. It cannot meet its commitments in Afghanistan.  And then you see what went on in Istanbul when the president, I think quite properly, wanted to support the prime minister's request.  First thing up on the net is France saying "Oh, no. We're not going to train them in-country."

MS. MITCHELL:  What about that, Mr. Berger?  If John Kerry's been saying that, you've advised John Kerry.

MR. BERGER:  Well, in many ways, let me pull a couple strands here together. We're in a race between the patience of the American people and the achievement of stability in Iraq.  If we lose the patience of the American people we're not going to be able to sustain this engagement, and I think all three of us believe it's important that we succeed.  Part of that is whether we can share the burden, and we now have a new Iraqi government, more or less legitimate Iraqi government, and we have to go--the president needs to go in an unrelenting way to our allies, both in the region and in Europe, and say "We're not asking you to fall behind the American Army any more.  We are asking you to fall behind the new Iraqi government."  And I think we've done a very poor job of sharing the burden, of sharing the risks.  And I think if we don't get more partners, we're going to lose the race between the patience of the American people...

MS. MITCHELL:  Well...

MR. BERGER:  ...and the stability of Iraq on the ground.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...speaking of partners, according to The New York Times lead story today, the United States, over the objection of some in the Pentagon, released five Saudis with some suspected ties to al-Qaida training camps from Guantanamo in exchange, apparently, in a deal for the release of five Britons from Saudi Arabia that Tony Blair wanted back.  Senator Warner, what's going on there?

SEN. WARNER:  I read the same story early this morning, and I'll always be honest with you.  I don't have any facts to explain it.  But...

MS. MITCHELL:  You're on both armed--you're the chairman of Armed Services...

SEN. WARNER:  I realize that.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...and on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

SEN. WARNER:  But you know, it's the Fourth of July weekend.  I talked to the Pentagon this morning.  I was briefed this morning at 7:00 on all of the developments.

MS. MITCHELL:  In other words, the committees had not been briefed when this took place last summer.

SEN. WARNER:  So far as I know we had no information whatsoever, and that...

MS. MITCHELL:  Are you going to try to find out about it?

SEN. WARNER:  Well, of course we will.

MS. MITCHELL:  Also I wanted to ask you about criticisms from within your own party.  Senator Hagel has been critical.  What about those within your own party who feel that the administration is not strong enough in the war on terror and that the invasion of Iraq and the way the occupation has worked has actually gone against success in the war on terror?

SEN. WARNER:  Well, Hagel is a good friend of all of ours, and I can't begin to defend his position.  I don't recall his taking such an extreme stance.  I think he's a fairly constructive critic now and then.  But can anyone at this table say we're not better off with Saddam Hussein facing justice by his own people?  Are we not better off that the killings and the murders and the perpetration of all of the horror that he projected beyond his borders, is not the region better off?  We'll have a day to go back and argue whether we should have done this or that.  But now we're where we are and we better begin to pull together and move on and try and get a security situation such that the Iraqis can assume it and bring our troops home.

MR. BERGER:  Part of playing...

MS. MITCHELL:  But the fact that Saddam Hussein is on trial, I mean, Saddam Hussein has appeared in court.  Is that going to inspire more insurgency because of the defiance that he showed in court?  Or will the very fact that he's on trial now help restore credibility to the government?

MR. BERGER:  I suspect the fact that he's on trial is a good thing in terms of Iraqis.  I think they see him even with his defiance and his newly trimmed beard as a man in the dock.  It's going to take a little while for them to get used to it, but I think it's a positive thing.  I think it's a positive thing that he's being tried by Iraqis.  But even here there's the irony, Andrea, that we have shifted authority but we haven't shifted capacity.  So he's under the legal authority of the Iraqis but he still is under the physical custody of the Americans because the fact of the matter is we are there for the long haul.  We are still going to be doing the heavy lifting, and we've got to get some others in there with us.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, let's take a look also at the American support for this. When we looked at our NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, again, as to whether or not all this was worth it, a majority, 51 percent, feel that removing Saddam Hussein was not worth the casualties and the billions that we spent.

So, Joe Lieberman, have we lost the American people?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  We're in danger of losing too many of them.  I mean, here's where we are now.  Our military is performing brilliantly, courageously and with a real sense of purpose.  They know the importance of what they're doing. The Iraqis now have their own government, a very balanced representative, not elected, but a lot of credibility among the Iraqi people.  The country is getting up and running, and I think the real challenge to us who are in positions of leadership in America on a bipartisan basis is to make the case to the American people about why it is important to pull together and win this post-Saddam war in Iraq.  And why if we do and when we do, our children and our grandchildren are going to live a lot safer lives than otherwise.  So I don't want to go through another circumstance where division at home deprives America and the world of a victory over terrorists who hate us more than they love life.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well...

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  These are the very same people who attacked us on September 11.

MS. MITCHELL:  Senator, we are in the middle of one of the most partisan election campaigns that any of us has seen or at least in recent memory.  This is Dick Cheney in New Orleans on D-Day suggesting that the Clinton administration was to blame for this problem with the war on terrorism.  Dick Cheney.

(Videotape, Thursday):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  This was the situation when President Bush and I came to office, a world where terrorists were emboldened by years of being able to strike us with impunity, where unprecedented new attacks were being planned, where outlaw regimes provided terrorists sanctuary without cost or consequence.

(End videotape)

MR. BERGER:  Now, I think...

MS. MITCHELL:  Sandy Berger, was it all your fault?

MR. BERGER:  No, it was not all our fault, and it does no service to Vice President Cheney to try to politicize the war on terrorism.  The fact is during the Clinton administration, the war on terrorism had the highest priority.  We doubled the money for terrorists, we stopped terrorist plots, we tried to kill bin Laden, across a range of things.  If anything, the ball was dropped after we left.  So I think, you know, this is not the way to unite the country.  And quite honestly, it seems to me in the spirit of Senator Lieberman's talking about, if we want the country united behind a very, very difficult effort in Iraq, that's not the way to do it.

MS. MITCHELL:  All right.  And before we go, I just want to ask you, Joe Lieberman, four years ago, you were in the same situation as some poor soul perhaps who John Kerry is about to designate as a running mate.  Any advice?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Well, be ready and get to it and enjoy it.  It was one of the great honors and opportunities of my life.

MS. MITCHELL:  And whom should John Kerry pick?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Clearly, John Kerry has earned the right to make that choice. I'd say to everybody else who's speculating about who it's going to be, only one person knows who it's going to be, and that's John Kerry.  I remember the night before I was selected, I got a very authoritative report from a network, not this one, that someone else had been chosen.  I woke up the next morning to learn on this network that I had been chosen.  So we have some exciting days ahead.

MS. MITCHELL:  Can a one-term senator meet the test of being ready to step into the job and be commander in chief, John Edwards?

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Of course.  I think the three people that we hear talked about most, Congressman Gephardt, Senator Edwards, Governor Vilsack, all would bring strengths to this ticket.  And the vision that John Kerry has of a better America here at home and a stronger, more interconnected America in the world.

MS. MITCHELL:  All right.  Thank you, all, for...

SEN. WARNER:  Joe Lieberman is one of the most respected members of the United States Senate.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, I don't think he's up this time, but...

SEN. WARNER:  I know.  But he's a good one.

SEN. LIEBERMAN:  Thanks, John.

MS. MITCHELL:  OK.

MR. BERGER:  Dark horse candidate.

MS. MITCHELL:  Thank you, all.  Happy Independence Day.

And coming next, Ralph Nader and his continuing campaign for the White House. Is he a spoiler or a candidate of conviction?  He's next.  Then insights and analysis from our political Roundtable.  John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report all coming up on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MS. MITCHELL:  Independent candidate for president Ralph Nader after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MS. MITCHELL:  And we're back.

Mr. Nader, welcome.

MR. NADER:  Thank you.

MS. MITCHELL:  You announced your candidacy back in February right here on this program with Tim.  A lot of Democrats have been very negative in their response.  What is the rationale for your candidacy?

MR. NADER:  Politics is broken in this country.  I think most people believe that.  It's for sale.  The corporations and their executives fund so much of politics.  They put a "For sale" sign on many offices in Congress and government departments.  And as a result, the necessities of the people are not being met.  We have 47 million workers that work full time.  The cleaners, the people who harvest our food who don't make a living wage, they work at Wal-Mart wages.  We have 45 million, I think now, who don't have health insurance.  The environment is still being devastated.  They can't even count the votes on Election Day accurately.  And giant corporations just have turned Washington into corporate-occupied territory.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, a lot of people, a lot of Democrats, who would be expected to agree with you on all of these issues, disagree with your being in the race.  You went to see the Congressional Black Caucus, and it was not exactly a very friendly meeting.  They told you in no uncertain terms to get your you-know-what--we can't say it on Sunday morning television--out of this race.  Let me show you what the Black Caucus chairman, Congressman Elijah Cummings, said.  He said, "We were just convinced after the meeting that this was just about Nader.  First of all, he can't win, but he can be an aider and abettor of four more years of President Bush's regressive leadership."

And another Black Caucus member, Congressman Al Wynn, said, "The guy's got a messiah complex.  He's all over the park on why he wants to run.  He gives you all kinds of reasons, none of which match the rationale of his candidacy."

MR. NADER:  Well, fortunately, some of the best members of the Black Caucus weren't there.  John Lewis wasn't there.  Jesse Jackson Jr. weren't there. They ought--the people who were there and made those statements--not all of them did...

MS. MITCHELL:  You're not suggesting those two members have endorsed you, because they have not.

MR. NADER:  No, no, but they didn't want any part of this.  And what's really serious about this is they're just one generation removed from a lot of white racists who told their people, "Don't run and don't speak in the electoral arena.  Stay aside."  I found it fairly outrageous to listen to some members of the Black Caucus, who should be talking in that room about why the Democratic Party's not registering millions of African-American voters, as Jesse Jackson had urged, which would win them in the--win the key states in the election; why they don't pay attention to the economic exploitation in the ghettos:  the payday loans, the landlord abuses, the predatory lending, the lead-base poisoning of their little children.

You know, what these people are all afraid of, the Democrats, is democracy. That's what they're afraid of.  They're afraid of competition.  They're afraid of the tradition of third parties in the 19th and early 20th century pushing the two parties to pay attention to the needs of the people, instead of their own careerism, instead of their own dialing for the same corporate dollars.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, let's talk about democracy.  You say you're not a spoiler.  Let's look at what happened in the state of Florida in the year 2000.  You pulled 97,000 votes and Al Gore lost the presidency there by only 537 votes.  So didn't you elect George W. Bush?

MR. NADER:  First, I think Al Gore did win Florida.  I think a lot of Democrats know that.  It was stolen from him.  There are variety of ways before, during and after the election.

MS. MITCHELL:  But according to that count.  OK.

MR. NADER:  What about 250,000 Democrats who voted for Bush and deserted the party?  What about the mayor of Miami who could have brought out thousands of votes but he had a tiff with the Democratic Party?  Andrea, there's a statistical fallacy in taking one "what if" and segregating it out where there are so many others and...

MS. MITCHELL:  But when you look at the exit polls...

MR. NADER:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...you don't have to take what ifs.  The exit polls were very clear.  In 2000, they showed that 47 percent of those who voted for you say that they would have voted for Al Gore had you not been in the race, whereas only 21 percent of those who voted for George Bush said that they would have voted for you or rather 21 percent of those who voted for you said that they would have voted for Bush.  So clearly you were pulling...

MR. NADER:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...more from Kerry voters than from Bush voters.

MR. NADER:  As the book shows, this is the test of whether we believe in democracy.  Let me ask you a question.  What would you have me do if you were a Democrat, just hypothetically?  Stay out and not run?  Is that a Democratic thing?  How about the eight million Democrats...

MS. MITCHELL:  Yes.  And I should have said Al Gore.  I said John Kerry by mistake.

MR. NADER:  Yeah.  How about the eight million Democrats who voted for Bush. One million voted for the Nader-LaDuke ticket.  How about eight million Democrats who voted for Bush?  You see, the point is this, we either believe in democracy, more voices, more choices, more subject matter, more engaging young voters, more engaging people to come out and vote or we don't.  This country does not belong to two parties.  This is what Charlie Cook and John Harwood and others who are coming on this show have to face up to.  These two parties do not own America.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, let's listen who what Howard Dean, who's about to debate you this week on National Public Radio...

MR. NADER:  Yes.

MS. MITCHELL:  Listen to what Howard Dean has to say about your candidacy.

MR. NADER:  And about John Kerry.

(Videotape, June 29, 2004):

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN, (D-VT):  Well, Ralph Nader's not going to be the next president of the United States.

I don't think Ralph Nader enters into this equation except that he will take some small percentage of votes that otherwise would have gone to John Kerry and he may have the effect again of re-electing George Bush.

(End videotape)

MS. MITCHELL:  Now, all the recent polls, including our pollster, Peter Hart, tells us that you take two votes from Kerry for every one vote that you take from Bush.  And the proof seems to be, Mr. Nader, that Republicans seem to be working very hard behind the scenes to get you on the ballot.  Let's take a look at a press release from the Citizens For A Sound Economy.  This is a conservative group aligned with, created by Dick Armey, the former conservative majority leader, and in this press release, "Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy members are working to get Ralph Nader on the November ballot! While this sounds completely backwards--Ralph Nader opposes nearly every issue CSE fights for-- but there's sound logic ...  CSE members feel that having Nader on the ballot helps illuminate the strong similarities between the uber-liberal Nader and John Kerry.  That's why they've been making calls to their friends to sign a petition to get Nader on the ballot ...  Nader could peel away a lot of Kerry support in Oregon ...  Let's give [Nader] what he wants and just watch what happens in November."

Why would they be supporting you if they didn't think that you would be helping George Bush?

MR. NADER:  Well, first of all, they're not looking at our Web site, votenader.org, which has very serious criticism of the Bush administration in a whole variety of ways that the Democrats are not picking up on.  Why don't they pick up on it?  And these Republicans, they talk a big game.  They didn't deliver anything in Oregon at all.  But the Democrats infiltrated our auditorium to swell the number to give the impression to our people and the authorities in Oregon that we were over 1,000 registered voters and then they didn't sign the support papers for the Nader-Camajo candidacy.

So here's the point.  The Democrats are launching a dirty tricks attack in Arizona and other places around the country.  The two parties have built a huge barricade blocking out third parties, libertarian and reform and natural law and Green and our candidacy.  This has been going on for years.

MS. MITCHELL:  The Green Party, of course...

MR. NADER:  Yeah, I know.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...which has backed you before...

MR. NADER:  That's fine.  That's fine.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...has abandoned you this time.

MR. NADER:  No, that's fine.  The point is they're facing the same problem of ballot-access barriers.  And now Terry McAuliffe has told me that he supports all this...

MS. MITCHELL:  The DNC chair.

MR. NADER:  ...yes--all this interference, all this assault on our right to be on the ballot.  You know, way beyond the pale here.  Now, the question is this:  Does John Kerry support this?  I'd had a call in to him now for three days.  I haven't been able to speak with him.  If he supports this kind of thing or if he disowns and disapproves it, we'll decide the extent to which we'll both move against the Bush administration or the Democrats are going to get into a big squabble with the Nader-Camajo ticket in order to focus the press on that phenomenon which isn't very constructive.

MS. MITCHELL:  You say the Republicans didn't deliver in Oregon, they didn't help...

MR. NADER:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...with the petitions there, but they are delivering financially.  Let's take a look at what The Boston Globe reported about a major contributor and fund-raiser for Republican George Bush:  "Major Bush fund-raiser donates to Nader campaign:  Democrats see strategy as a bid to hurt Kerry.  Billionaire Richard J. Egan built his reputation in politics as a major donor and fund-raiser for the Bush campaign, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican coffers in recent years.  But now it appears Egan and his relatives are bankrolling a new candidate:  independent presidential contender Ralph Nader.  Egan [who was sent to Ireland as U.S. ambassador by President Bush after his fund-raising successes in the 2000 campaign] has given Nader the maximum $2,000 allowed under the law, according to federal elections documents--also show a $4,000 contribution to Nader from Egan's son and daughter- in-law, John R. and Pamela C. Egan.  Donors often cross party lines to support candidates based on specific regional or business issues, but the Egans' sudden interest in Nader seems to reflect a more sophisticated strategy by Republicans to draw support away from Democratic challenger John F. Kerry by bolstering his third-party" bid.

MR. NADER:  Andrea, we've raised over $1 million and the contributions are coming in every day to our Web site, votenader.org, and there are very few republican contributions.  The Republicans are giving millions of dollars to the Democrats.  Democrat fat cats give millions of dollars to the Republicans. That's the way they play the hedge game.

MS. MITCHELL:  But...

MR. NADER:  Wait, that's the way they play the hedge game.

MS. MITCHELL:  The...

MR. NADER:  And so the point is this.  The point is this.  There have been some Republican contributors like Robert Monks, who was my classmate at Harvard, who's worked and is the leader on corporate governance in America, or Gino Pelushi, who worked with me in Minnesota on the Mesabi iron range pollution.  The point is, we're dealing with John Kerry, who wants Republican Senator McCain on his ticket, who has said he wants Republican votes.  Let's get over this.  Politics, Andrea, is about serious business.  It's about the necessities of the American people.  The Greek derivation of the word politics is "of the citizens."  Instead it's become "of the corporations."  Instead it's become thousands of fat-cat fund-raisers that are defining politics in this country against the people of this country.

MS. MITCHELL:  Now, you have a new book out.  We want to mention that.  "The Good Fight."

MR. NADER:  Yes.

MS. MITCHELL:  Ralph Nader.  Do you think this book is going to help ignite your campaign?  Is that one of the reasons for writing a book right now?

MR. NADER:  You used just the right word.  This book is very readable, but it's designed in page after page to outrage the American people into taking back control of their country, into reasserting the people's sovereignty over the sovereignty of corporations.  And at the end, I set a standard for voters. Most politicians flatter voters so they can--so they can flummox them, so they can weaken them.  We are saying that voters have got to be as rigorous as voters as they are sports fans.  You know?  The sports fan looks at the record, assigns responsibility, dismisses the rhetoric of the players, does his or her homework.

In the voting area, voters have to hold themselves up to a higher standard of behavior.  They've got to do their homework, and if they do, politics will be responsive.  This is what we're saying all over our Web site, which is very critical of Bush.  I urge the Democrats to look at that Web site and say why can't John Kerry pick up the living wage, the universal health care, the clean elections, the change of our international global trade situation to benefit American workers and beat Bush that way?  If the Republicans are as bad as John Kerry says they are, and they're worse, why aren't the Democrats landsliding him?  Because they're dialing for the same dollars.  They're a decadent party that needs a jolt from the Nader...

MS. MITCHELL:  And speaking of jolts...

MR. NADER:  Yes.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...you just recently wrote to Michael Moore...

MR. NADER:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...the producer/director/writer and everything of "Fahrenheit 9/11," and you objected to not having been invited to one of the screenings, but you wrote to him that he's too fat.  I never knew that you were such a physical fitness nut, but...

MR. NADER:  Because for years he came out of our office, so I know him quite well.  And he's had a weight problem.  He recognizes it.  I urge him privately to do that.  It's getting very serious, Andrea.  And I just gave him a little jolt so that he can make more movies, and he shouldn't be disappointed with that.

MS. MITCHELL:  But he's another one of your former supporters who seriously think that you should not be running.

MR. NADER:  Well, I don't know.  Michael Moore's all over the place. Sometimes he's for Kerry, sometimes he's for this and that.  Just enjoy the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," and we hope that Michael Moore will come around to his roots.

MS. MITCHELL:  All right.

MR. NADER:  He is in the resistance pattern of American history, not in the conformance pattern.

MS. MITCHELL:  Thank you very much, Mr.  Nader, for being with us, and we'll watch you during the campaign.

MR. NADER:  Thank you, Andrea.

MS. MITCHELL:  And next up, Bush vs. Kerry, our MEET THE PRESS roundtable with John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and Charlie Cook of The Cook Political Report.

                               (Announcements)

MS. MITCHELL:  And we are back.

Welcome, both.  Well, here's where we stand on this election.  It is absolutely neck and neck.  Take a look at The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll:  Bush, 45; Kerry, 44; Nader 4.

John Harwood, why is it still so close after all of the millions and millions of dollars that these guys have spent?

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  Well, it's still very close, but I think if you're looking at the two candidates, you have to say that Republicans are more concerned about George W. Bush's position right now than the Democrats are about John Kerry's.  In the first instance, the presidential re-election race is about the president, it's about the voters' judgment about him.  The president's numbers are down.  John Kerry has not yet had his moment to seize the attention of the American people.  That's about to come maybe early next week with his vice presidential choice.  And then with this Democratic convention, he may have a substantial lead after that convention.

MS. MITCHELL:  And this is not a very happy electorate, when you look at the voters and what they are saying to people.  Peter Hart, our pollster, says that "This is an unhappy and cranky electorate.  Only 36 percent of voters feel that the country is headed in the right direction.  A majority feel that the war in Iraq has not been worth it, and a plurality believe that the president deliberately misled them to make the case for war."

Charlie, is it all about Iraq?

MR. CHARLIE COOK:  Well, it's mostly about Iraq.  The economy is kind of creeping back on the scene because it's not bouncing back quite as much as we had thought.  But this is an electorate that's not enamored with John Kerry, but they are cranky, as Peter said, and that this is a bad situation for any incumbent.  And one thing about a tied electorate is that two-thirds to three-quarters of undecided voters usually break away from a well-known, well-defined incumbent.  They know that incumbent and they've already made a tentative decision that they're not for them.  So this is a very, very dicey situation for the president.

MS. MITCHELL:  Now, the Bush campaign may well be worried about these numbers. They read them themselves.  They have their own numbers and worried about the terror issue.  Take a look at this new advertisement that's just came out from the Bush people.

(Videotape, Bush re-election ad):

Announcer:  John Kerry says he's author of a strategy to win the war on terror against the Japanese Yakuza, never mentions al-Qaida, says nothing about Osama bin Laden, calls Yasser Arafat a statesman.  The New Republic says Kerry's plan "misses the mark."  And Kerry's focus:  global crime.  Not terrorism. How can John Kerry win a war if he doesn't know the enemy?

(End videotape)

MS. MITCHELL:  John Howard, is that at all accurate or fair?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, the best defense is a good offense, Andrea.  George W. Bush has taking a lot of hits on the terrorism issue.  In a few weeks, the 9-11 Commission, which has highlighted questions about how aggressively the Bush administration prepared or acted against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida before 9/11, is about to come out.  And here you have George W. Bush going on the attack against John Kerry.  Ridicule worked very well for his father against Michael Dukakis, who produced that famous ad we all remember with Mike Dukakis look--what looked like Mickey Mouse ears riding in the tank.  He has a lot weaker hand to play against John Kerry, though.  John Kerry's got a lot of national security experience in the Senate.  He's a combat veteran of Vietnam. He's got film footage to prove it.  It's going to be difficult for the president.  His numbers, as you say, in our poll shows him at level with the American people on security, 48-47.

MS. MITCHELL:  Even though the Kerry book did focus more on organized crime and the drug cartels and some of the things that Kerry had worked on in the Senate and not on al-Quad.

MR. HARWOOD:  It did, but remember, this book came out in the mid-1990s, and John Kerry was working on the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate on terrorism-related issues before George W. Bush ever dealt with them.

MS. MITCHELL:  Well, let's look at the president's approval numbers, because they are at record lows.  Only 45 percent in our poll approve; disapprove was 49 percent.  Charlie, that's pretty weak.

MR. COOK:  That's real low.  You take an average of, like, all the national polls lately, it's 48 percent.  And the thing about it is that the approval rating is the best single number for predicting how an incumbent is going to do historically.  So these are ugly numbers.  I mean, President Bush better--he's got to do one of two things.  He either has to disqualify John Kerry in swing voters' minds or he better hope that Ralph Nader gets 4, 5, 6 percent.

MS. MITCHELL:  Which, of course, we were just discussing.  There is a Republican attempt to put money and some organizational help into the Nader campaign, whether with Mr. Nader's knowledge or not.  John Harwood, John Kerry still doesn't seem to be capitalizing on the Bush campaign's weakness and the low approval numbers.  You wrote this week that "...there is ample evidence that Mr. Kerry's attempt to introduce himself to the public through a springtime advertising blitz has borne little fruit.  His 40% - 35% favorable-unfavorable ratio is actually worse than it was in March, while the number of Americans who say they know `a fair amount' or `a lot' about him has declined to 57% from 68% over the same period."

What's going wrong there?

MR. HARWOOD:  It's striking, Andrea, to see him go backwards in some of these public assessments since winning the Democratic nomination in March.  Really, that's the toll of the Iraq story, which is dominating the news.  It's created a lot problems for George W. Bush and it really rendered ineffective these tens of millions of dollars of ads that John Kerry has run to introduce himself.  But this is one reason why the Kerry campaign is very, very eager to get moving on this vice presidential selection.  They think July can be their month.  I was talking to a senior Kerry adviser the other day who said, "The ball was teed up for us and now, it's time for us to swing."  We may get that choice as early as Tuesday.

MS. MITCHELL:  And Tuesday, Charlie, if it is Tuesday, possibly in Pittsburgh. Let's handicap some of the possibilities here.

MR. COOK:  Yeah.

MS. MITCHELL:  Let's talk first about the person that is really the favorite among party people, Teddy Kennedy and others.  We're talking about John Edwards.  He's 51 years old, but he's only been in the Senate since '99.  He's a first-term senator.  How does he meet that crucial test that John Kerry has said is the most important test, ready to step in as commander in chief?

MR. COOK:  Well, I think there are three different tests.  One is:  Who's ready on day one?  Number two is:  Who do I feel comfortable with?  Who do I have the right chemistry with?  And the third is:  Who moves the needle?  Who helps me win?  Now, John Edwards is the only Democrat that moves the needle, that actually pushes Kerry forward in the polls, state by state or nationally. But is he the most qualified of all these people?  Is he as qualified as, say, a Dick Gephardt?  Ehh, probably not.

MS. MITCHELL:  Nor do they get along very well.

MR. COOK:  Nor is the chemistry--right.

MS. MITCHELL:  ...especially during the primaries, the chemistry was really bad.

MR. COOK:  And that's the problem that Kerry has, is that two of these three elements favor a Gephardt or somebody else, but Edwards is the only guy that moves the needle.  So it's a really tough choice for Kerry.

MR. HARWOOD:  And watch...

MS. MITCHELL:  Let's talk about Gephardt for a second.

MR. HARWOOD:  Watch Democrats flood the zone with people like Sandy Berger, who was just on your show, and every other foreign-policy luminary to come step forward and testify that John Edwards is ready to be president.  They are teed up to try to answer that argument.

MS. MITCHELL:  We just heard Joe Lieberman talking about that as well.  Let's take a look at Dick Gephardt, who clearly is ready.  He's been there.  He's been the majority leader.  He's been the minority leader.  Yet he lost Iowa, even with union support.  He's never been able to "move the needle," to use Charlie's term.

MR. HARWOOD:  He's running for a different job now.  Vice president is not the same as running for president.  Dick Gephardt is somebody who would give John Kerry everything he would want in a vice president:  competence, experience, ready to be president on day one...

MS. MITCHELL:  Ready to debate Dick Cheney.

MR. HARWOOD:  Ready to go after Dick Cheney in debates.  And he also does not have competing ambitions.  John--Dick Gephardt has played out the string on presidential politics for himself, so he'd be there for John Kerry.  I really think this may turn, Andrea, on how comfortable John Kerry feels in the race. If he thinks that the dynamics are moving in his direction, Dick Gephardt's a choice who would give him what he wanted.  He doesn't need to look to "move the needle," as Charlie Cook was just saying.  John Edwards has got some pizzazz.  There is some risk, not just on national security.  He's a trial lawyer that could inflame business opposition to John Kerry.

MS. MITCHELL:  And then they have to live with each other if they were to get elected.

MR. HARWOOD:  They do have to live with each other, and John Edwards has got a lot of ambition and a lot of time left to play it out.  So if you're John Kerry, you might think, "Is he going to be serving me or is he going to be thinking about what's good for him in the long run?"

MS. MITCHELL:  Now, quickly, Charlie, what about the other possibility which is Governor Vilsack?

MR. COOK:  You know, that's a harder one.  He's got a compelling life story. But if you have questions about whether John Edwards is, like, ready to be president from day one, you know, somebody that's been in the state Senate and been governor of Iowa, but, you know, in this new post-9/11 era, it's a harder sell.  I've never been quite clear on this one.

MS. MITCHELL:  And what about some dark horses, John?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, one other choice to think about, there is not a perfect state pick in this race.  It's sort of become out of fashion in vice presidential politics to pick someone targeted for a state, but if that's what John Kerry wanted to do, look at Bob Graham of Florida.  This is a state that, of course, was deadlocked in 2000.  The Bush campaign has been pouring money into television, $15 million so far.  Bob Graham's numbers are exceptionally strong in Florida.  If John Kerry decides he wants to go for one specific group of electoral votes, Bob Graham could be it.

MR. COOK:  Or throw out a Joe Biden just for fun.

MS. MITCHELL:  I've been told that Joe Biden's not going to happen.  Sam Nunn's not going to happen.  Bill Cohen's not going to happen.

MR. COOK:  Well, that narrows it down.

MS. MITCHELL:  It does narrow it down somewhat.  And I don't think any of us think that Hillary Clinton's going to happen.  Just very quickly, Charlie, you're the expert on this.  Democrats seem to be a little bit more hopeful about the House and the Senate.  And, in fact, Republicans are telling me privately that they think they're vulnerable because some of the--first of all, the two congressional seats that have been fought in those special elections both went Democrat and also this blowup in Illinois on the Senate side with the Republican candidate.

MR. COOK:  Democrats do have some momentum right now.  They have won two special elections in the House.  The problem they've got is they have to win 29 out of the 36 most competitive House races, 81 percent.  That's really, really hard.  The Senate--I would say there's about a 40 percent chance the Democrats pick up the Senate, but it's still uphill for them.

MR. HARWOOD:  They don't need Bush's numbers to be weak.  They need Bush's numbers to collapse for the Democrats to retake the Congress.

MS. MITCHELL:  It has to really be a blowout.  All right.  Well, good to see you both.  Happy July Fourth.  Thanks for coming in.

MR. HARWOOD:  You, too.

MS. MITCHELL:  We'll see what happens this week with the vice presidential pick.

That's all we have time for now.  We'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MS. MITCHELL:  Start your day tomorrow on "Today" with Katie and Matt, then the "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw.  Stay tuned for NBC sports coverage of the Wimbledon finals next.

That's all for today.  Tim will be back next week.  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.  Happy Fourth of July and go Andy Roddick.

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