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updated 12/19/2004 12:22:36 PM ET 2004-12-19T17:22:36

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                    MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS

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NBC News MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, December 19, 2004

GUESTS: Sen. John Warner, (R-Va.), Chairman, Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin, (D-Mich.), Ranking Member, Armed Services Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar, (R-Ind.), Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joe Biden, (D-Del.), Ranking Member, Foreign Relations Committee, John Harwood, Wall Street Journal, Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times

MODERATOR/PANELIST:  Tim Russert - NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday, the debate over the management of the war in Iraq intensifies.  What must be done?  With us, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware.  And the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Republican John Warner of Virginia and Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan.  The war in Iraq through the eyes of Lugar, Biden, Warner and Levin.

Then the continuing political fallout over Bernard Kerik and who will be the next leader of the Democratic Party.  Insights and analysis from John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal and Robert Novak of The Chicago Sun-Times.

But first, joining us are Senators Warner and Levin of the Armed Services Committee just back from Iraq, and Senators Lugar and Biden of the Foreign Relations Committee who have visited Iraq several times.

Welcome all.

Chairman Warner, just back from Iraq, let me show you the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll.  Do you feel more or less confident that the war in Iraq will be successful?  More confident, 41; less confident, 48 percent. Forty-eight percent of the American people less confident the war will be successful.  What did you find in Iraq?  Will it be successful?

SEN. JOHN WARNER, (R-VA):  I think it will over a period of time, but the challenges are mounting.  Positive signs are we've got superb men and women of the armed forces, we've got strong leaders in Iraq, we've got a fine man in Negroponte and General Casey.  So the team in place, in my judgment, is the best.

The problem as I see it right now is that we put our whole case, resting our case, on the ability to bring in the Iraqi people and train them in police, national guard, army duties and security forces.  And there we're doing an all-out battle.  We visited, Senator--I mean--excuse me.  Senator Levin and I, Petraeus, saw his team being put together.  But, Tim, the raw material is lacking in the willpower and commitment after they receive this training to really shoulder the heavy responsibilities.

Isolated spots, they're doing very well.  But when you look at the totality of 100,000, in my judgment, they would rank in terms of capability to take on responsibilities at what we call C-4 in the military, bottom level.  They don't have the leadership, the top military officers.  They don't have the non- commissioned officers and so many of them desert and go back home after they receive the training.

Now, I don't fault what we've been doing.  I'm just being realistic and saying that we put all of our cards on trying to put this force together.  We're doing our best.  But in my judgment, it is falling behind in its capability and commitment to pick up the job and carry it forward, particularly at the time of the election.  And that election will go forward.  I'm confident.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, did you find the same kind of reluctance amongst the Iraqi people to step up, be accounted for in terms of joining their own police force and security forces?

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D-MI):  Well, mainly among the Sunni Arabs.  That's going to be the issue.  Whether or not that particular segment of the Iraqi community will participate in the election is the key issue that we face in the next 40 days and everything needs to be focused on that.  We need a policy change which will involve our country reaching out to other countries, particularly in the Muslim and the Arab world, to gain support from them for the Sunni community inside of Iraq participating in this election despite the insecurity that is going to exist.

Now, that's going to take some new thinking on our part in two ways.  One is a decision to involve others, to reach out to others, which has not been the hallmark of this administration to date.  Secondly, it's going to require a change in how we approach putting together an Iraqi army.  Sure, we need a ground-up approach.  We've got to attract people into that army and train them, but we need leadership in that army and that means following the Allawi initiative.  Allawi, the prime minister of Iraq, has proposed that we reach out to former officers that are clean, that have been vetted, to make sure that they don't have blood on their hands, to set up headquarters and to have some of that being part of a buildup of the army.  The parallel approach, bottom up, but also top down with clean, vetted former non- commissioned officers and the mid-level officers of the Iraqi army.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Biden, you were in Iraq a little over a week ago.  You came back and appeared on the "Imus in the Morning" program and said this. "We were in Fallujah spending time with the operational commanders in there. As I'm leaving, they're putting on a Black Hawk helicopter.  One of the commanders...with stars on his shoulder waited until the noise was loud enough and leaned up and"-- he--"said, `Senator, anybody tells you that we have enough troops here, you can tell them they're a GD liar.'"

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D-DE):  Absolutely true.  Look, we all agree what the situation is now.  We're paying a terrible price for the fundamental mistakes we made from the beginning that a majority of people around this table warned the administration against it.  The de-Ba'athification in the extreme that took place was a serious mistake.  Dick Lugar and I sat there almost two years ago with the then-envoy we had there, Mr. Bremer, and said this is a mistake. We went in with too few troops, we went in with too little legitimacy.  The training program--I came back with Lindsey Graham, appeared on your show about eight months ago, and said it was a joke.  There was no training program.  Our own civilian director of the training facility in Iran, in a room alone with three senators, I asked her, "Is it worth it?"  She said, "No.  This is a joke."  Came back and told the administration that.  They paid no attention to it.

What's happened is about now four weeks ago, Petraeus started to get in gear, first-rate fellow.  The reason why these guys are running is because they go back to the--these police officers are trained, they go back and get put in a police unit, they don't have the equipment, they don't have backup, they don't have training.  They get a total of six weeks training.  They have no follow-up.  There's not a single cop in America, for the smallest town in America, you'd trained in six weeks and expected to do something.  And the fact is we're only now beginning to realize that we have made these terrible mistakes.

Is there enough time?  The key here is simple.  You need to have enough force on the ground to give the Iraqis who do want to participate in the army, who do want to participate in the police corps, that they will have enough backup that when you equip them and you put them out and train them, you're not sending them on a kamikaze mission, which is what most are doing.

And the concluding point I'd make is that we have to reach--I spent three hours with Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh.  He asked me to come down and see him, so I got in the plane and flew down from Iraq.  He said, "I can train many more Sunnis."  Sunnis.  "I can train many more Iraqis."  Your administration won't ask me to.  The French have offered to train out of country.  You guys just came back from Iraq.  The Germans have offered to train out of country. They're not even staffing up this college, this staff college, that we're supposed to have outside of Baghdad requiring 3,000 forces to protect it to train Iraqi elite.

So that the point here is we are now just starting to build from the ground up for the first time.  We had two years to do it.  Can we do it in the next six months?  And I say six months because this first election will take place. The real election is going to take place a year from now.  Are we going to have enough Iraqis in place to sustain their own country?  Real serious question mark.  Need a lot of change in policy here in order to make that get done.  Toss-up question.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Lugar, what's your read?

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR, (R-IN):  I go back to your poll to begin with, 48 to 41 Americans think that we may be losing the war.  I think we better define the war right now in terms of the insurgents that are killing Iraqis and trying to kill our troops and our allies.  That's the war that is on the ground there. And it's touch and go.  Now, when President Yawer of Iraq was here, he said that in fact the insurgents, we believe, come from former Saddam forces supplemented by soldiers, forces from outside, believe eventually they are going to discourage enough Iraqis from joining the police or to shoot the ones who are in training.  They will shoot enough Americans to discourage us, so the 48, 41 becomes a more awesome figure the other way, and that they're going to win.

Now, that's a point that really has to be coming through.  The winning of the war in terms of a broad scale, we won a long time ago.  On the ground, Iraqis from the very beginning, the ones each of us have seen, are reticent to play a role in democracy.  Certainly with the polling stations being shot at and Iraqis killed now, it's tough even to get the people registered and to get the thing on track.

The key factor is this training exercise.  Now, we had better try out everything we can.  We'd better take up the French and the Germans and train outside if necessary.  We ought to pick everybody up we can that's going to help train these people.  Because, as one of our generals said, maybe inadvertently, that is our ticket, U.S. ticket, out of there.  There will not be a successful negotiation of American withdrawal under terms that we find satisfactory until there are Iraqis that can patrol their streets and can secure their country.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why is the president reluctant to do that?

SEN. LUGAR:  I don't think he's reluctant to do it.  I think the president really needs people in the Department of Defense and in our military, in the Congress, for that matter, to support this that understand that we need to do so that that is our objective rather than a broad appropriation debate over X number of dollars.  The question is specifically:  How can we direct our forces, our attention, our allies to this training exercise?

MR. RUSSERT:  We're talking about the will of the Iraqi people and the will of the American people.  Let me show you something from the Dallas Morning News that really caught my attention.  "Army Reserve recruiting is in a `precipitous decline' that, if not slowed, could provoke new debate over a draft, the Reserve's top general, [Lt. Gen. James R. "Ron" Helmly] said. ... If the Army Reserve and other Reserve components fail to reverse recruiting shortfalls they have suffered this year, that could fuel debate over whether the country needs to abandon the all-volunteer force and return to conscription," the general said.  ..."If the strains of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan erode the Pentagon's ability to field an all-volunteer force, `We will force the nation into an argument over that,'" meaning the draft.

Senator Warner, the country's not meeting its goal.  People are not joining the Reserves because they don't want to go to Iraq, plain and simple.  We've tripled the number of bonuses and on and on and on.  At the end of next year, we will run out of Reserve and National Guard troops.  They'll have done their 24 months duty.  What do we do?

SEN. WARNER:  We're not going to have a draft.  Let's make that clear.  I served in the Pentagon when we did have a draft as secretary of the Navy, and shortly thereafter, we took the gamble to eliminate it and go to the all-volunteer force.  That force has been the finest force we've had in our military in the contemporary history of America.  And at the moment, we are seeing some drop-off because of the stresses of this rotation policy.  I'm not faulting the rotation policy.  It's a matter of necessity.  When we met with General Casey, he said, "I need additional troops" and the president and the secretary of Defense responded.  He's getting them.  He has them.  But the point is, Congress has to make the decision on the draft, and the facts are not there now to propel Congress into considering that draft.  Remember it was during the political election, that straw man was raised, and it was knocked down quickly on both sides.

MR. RUSSERT:  Can we maintain 150,000 troops in Iraq without the Reserves meeting their targeted goals?

SEN. WARNER:  I'm confident we can maintain it.  It will put further stress, but those recruiting things turn around.  Our Armed Services Committee has taken a lot of steps in this most recent piece of legislation to provide health care for reservists, additional G.I. benefits.  I think this is a temporary drop and that it will swing back up.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think it's temporary?

SEN. LEVIN:  No.  I think that the war in Iraq has got to be resolved and the Iraqis have got to take over and that this administration is reluctant to do what is necessary for that to happen, because it does mean reaching out to countries which have not supported us before, including the Germans, for instance.

There is no excuse, it seems to me, for this administration to not recognize that in order to succeed in Iraq we need tremendous support of other nations and more important than anything for this election to succeed, to be credible, and that's going to require the involvement of the Sunni Arab community in Iraq, which in turn is going to require this administration to reach out to Iraq's neighbors and to find ways that they can let the Sunni community know inside Iraq that they should participate and that if they don't, they're not going to find any particular support from their Sunni brothers in the country.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Senator, 40 percent of the soldiers in theater are Reserve and Guard.  If the Reserve and Guard do not meet their goals by the end of next year--excuse me--can we maintain 150,000 Americans over there?

SEN. LEVIN:  Only by adding more full-time professional troops, and we are adding 30,000 or 40,000 to the Army.  But otherwise, we've got to bring this Iraq effort to an end.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Biden, Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi told Mark Shields in a column in The Washington Post that you can buy radio jammers for $10,000 to put in the trucks and Humvees in Iraq, and that they would pick up these improvised explosive devices which account for half the deaths and half the injuries.  Why haven't we put these radio jammers in these vehicles?

SEN. BIDEN:  Look, I just think it's part of the ideology that sort of propelled us into this war.  Let's-- I'm going to get in trouble with my colleagues here, but the fact of the matter is from the very beginning, the Pentagon civilian leadership believed this could be done much cheaper, with many fewer troops and much more quickly.  Almost all of the outside experts left and right said that wasn't possible.  So we started off with a significant deficit.  We sent young troops over there, whether we like to admit it or not, without the body armor.  We sent them over without the armor for their vehicles.  We sent the 1st Calvary over there without all of their mechanized divisions that they wanted to have there.

And the truth of the matter is there's been this overwhelming reluctance to acknowledge the mistakes we made or hold anyone accountable.  I don't care about holding anyone accountable.  But when the production lines of the two outfits that can make the kits to provide the armor for these Humvees and the Humvees are telling us that their production lines could produce a lot more than they're doing now, we act like, "Oh, no, we didn't know that."

The truth of the matter is there seems to be a reluctance within the civilian leadership of the Pentagon to acknowledge any of these things.  And let me tell you something.  I don't know about these guys, but when I come home from these trips in Iraq--this is my first one--I meet with the National Guard folks, I meet with the guys who have been there and come back.  Almost to a person, they're proud but complainant about what that young man from Tennessee said.  They don't quite understand.  We just sent a Black Hawk helicopter crew over.  I get calls from the wives.  They wanted fabric for seats because the seats were torn.  Imagine that.  And this Pentagon and this president acts like, "Oh, no.  They've got all they need."

This is the last thing I'll say.  On your program before the election, I said to you that they were going to call for an additional 12,000 to 20,000 troops before this election came up.  President, the secretary of defense, everybody said, "Absolutely not.  We have all the troops we need."  Day after the election, bang, 12,000 more troops.  Everybody knows the truth.  The truth is we have not armed these kids well enough.  We have not done all we can do from those jammers right through to the armor.  That's part of the reason why I believe, in addition to the war, people aren't signing up.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Lugar, Senator Frist and Senator McConnell, the leaders of the Republican Party, both issued statements in support of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.  John McCain said he has "no confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld."  Trent Lott from Mississippi, Republican, says he's not a fan of the secretary:  "I don't think he listens enough to his uniformed officials." Should Secretary Rumsfeld be held accountable for what's going on in Iraq? Should he stay in office?

SEN. LUGAR:  He should be held accountable, and he should stay in office.  He needs at this point to listen, and he is listening.  My own assumptions are much as Joe Biden's.  We have heard in our committee, and I'm sure John and Carl have in theirs, about the deficiency of the equipment, about the difficulties.  We've had 23 hearings.  We've heard it all.  We have made recommendations.  When a sergeant stood up, however, in that public meeting and said something, he got some action, $4.1 billion more security suddenly moving ahead.  I say more power to him.

The fact is that change of leadership in the Pentagon at this point might be as disruptive as trying to get somebody in homeland defense.  We really cannot go through that ordeal.  We have to hold accountable the secretary of defense and those who are responsible.  Maybe we should be more vigilant and outspoken, and probably we all will be because this is crucial.  In terms of the safety of our troops, not only their signing up, but their being effective out there now.  And even more importantly for their safety, getting Iraqis able to patrol their own streets and patrol their own destiny.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Warner, Bob Novak quotes you as telling a colleague "I've had it with him," regarding Rumsfeld?  Is that accurate?

SEN. WARNER:  Bob's going to follow on after we leave here.  I'd like to have an opportunity to see him, and I would simply say I don't have any recollection of that.  Matter of fact, I get up sometimes in the morning and look at my myself in the mirror and say, "I've had it with you, Warner.  Shape up."  But let me say, I have served...

MR. RUSSERT:  But do you have confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld?

SEN. WARNER:  I'll answer that.  Give me a few minutes or a second.  I have served with 11 secretaries of defense, three when I was secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon, and since then, now 25 years, on the Armed Services Committee.  They're all different.  But I assure you that in the three-plus years that I have worked with Secretary Rumsfeld, we've had our differences. We still have some.  But I have confidence in my ability and his ability to continue to work together as a team for the common goals of the men and women of the Armed Forces and to support the goals of the commander in chief.

We're at war.  And you're right, Dick, we should not at this point in time entertain any idea of changing those responsibilities in the Pentagon.  We're going to go through this election.  We're going to have a tough period after that election.  And we should express our confidence in the commander in chief and his principal subordinates.  The president makes the choice, and we're going to back the president and support his choice and make it work.

MR. RUSSERT:  How do you feel?

SEN. LEVIN:  If I thought a change at the top of the Pentagon would change the policy of this administration, I'd be all for it.  I was opposed to going to war unilaterally.  I voted against that because I thought it was a mistake, a policy mistake, to go without greater support in the international community.  The mistakes, the policy mistakes, which have put us into this war with inadequate equipment because we went so quickly we cut off U.N. inspections were policy decisions of the president of the United States.

So I've had a lot of differences with Secretary Rumsfeld.  I'm a critic of much of his rhetoric.  I think he does try to pass the buck, but that pass-the-buck philosophy starts right at the top in the White House.  That's where the buck should stop.  That's where the policies are made.  And as far as I'm concerned, unless those policies change, which is a presidential decision, it's not going to help just simply to change the leadership in the Pentagon.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Biden?

SEN. BIDEN:  I'm tired of talking about Rumsfeld.  The only thing that bothers me about it is this arrogance of not acknowledging obvious mistakes. I mean, that's the part that bothers me.  And I think that Carl is right.  I mean, look, the president makes these decisions.  Granted he delegates them to Secretary Rumsfeld, but, you know, the--it's just an arrogance of not acknowledging that there's been any mistake on anything and people are dying.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Warner, have mistakes been made?

SEN. WARNER:  Clearly.  Take, for example, the Boeing airplane contract, which Senator Levin, Senator McCain and I and many others, we stopped it.  Had it not been for the Senate Armed Services Committee, that thing would have gone forward.

MR. RUSSERT:  But how about in Iraq?  Has the president and Secretary Rumsfeld made mistakes?

SEN. WARNER:  You bet they have.  And guess what?  They've learned from those mistakes.  You talked about the IED, these road bombs and you somehow didn't quite finish your answer in terms of that question from the House.  I assure you that our committee in the past 60 days have looked into every facet of what America is doing to protect those soldiers from those insidious roadside bombs and the RPGs ripping into those trucks.  We're going ahead with an up-armored program.  We've got the body armor in place now and the whole scientific community in this country have been invited to contribute their ideas as to how to stop these bombs from blowing up the trucks.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think are the biggest mistake the president and Secretary Rumsfeld made regarding Iraq?

SEN. WARNER:  Probably the rapid expanding of the military forces that Iraq had in place and not trying to maintain some of it in place to have continuity and to rapidly put together a security force.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to the future of Iraq and these elections on January 30.  And, Mr. Lugar, I'd like to get your response first.  This is David Ignatius' column in The Washington Post on Friday.  "If you had asked an intelligence analyst two years ago to describe the worst possible political outcome following an American invasion of Iraq, he might well have answered that it would be a regime dominated by conservative Shiite Muslim clerics with links to neighboring Iran.  But just such a regime now seems likely to emerge after Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.  Iran is about to hit the jackpot in Iraq, wagering the blood and treasure of the United States.  Last week an alliance of Iraqi Shiite leaders announced that its list of candidates will be headed by Abdul Aziz Hakim, the clerical leader of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.  This Shiite list, backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, is likely to be the favorite of Iraq's 60 percent Shiite majority and win the largest share of votes next month."

So the United States loses 1,200 men, 10,000 injured, and the Iraqis vote for someone who is sponsored by the Iranian government next door.

SEN. LUGAR:  Well, that column is joined by others who feel that somehow we are not sufficiently involved in a politically savvy way in trying to arrange the election, the list, how it may come out.  Now, others are writing equally distinguished columnists that we already are deep in the weeds, that the CIA is manipulating the various parties and so forth.  Both cannot be right at the same time, and the knowledge about what we are doing is interesting.  I would just say, however, at the end of the day, the results of this election, the results of the constitution, the compromises that are made, may be very unsettling for many Americans who had anticipated democracy more of a Jeffersonian-Madison variety and are going to find an Iraqi form of democracy that has a heavy religious overload to it and a number of people not interested in so many checks and balances and human rights.

MR. RUSSERT:  But remember when the United States supported Saddam Hussein as a counter checkpoint to Iran?  How do you believe the American people will respond?  How would you respond if the net result of deposing Saddam Hussein was replace him with a radical, Islamic fundamentalist regime with an alliance with Iran?

SEN. LUGAR:  Well, my guess is that there will be at least some ties with Iran, but the Iraqis and Iranians are two different situations.  They are not going to come together due to some political subterfuge at the convention. And I would just say, ultimately, at the end of the day, we are hopeful that the Iraqi democracy, in fact, offers a model or at least a beginning for the Iranians, for the young people there that want to get rid of the old folks who were in the theocracy, quite apart from installing them in both countries.  I think that is a reasonable proposition.  But it's going to take very sophisticated diplomacy that needs to begin very shortly.

MR. RUSSERT:  Might we prepare ourselves for such an event?

SEN. BIDEN:  Yes.

SEN. LEVIN:  I think it's possible.

SEN. BIDEN:  There's not going to be a democracy like the president has talked about, nor was there ever going be one in my lifetime, in my view there.  But what you will see is some surprises.  I think you'll see some independent voices elected.  I think you'll see it--and virtually impossible for the Shia majority to dominate the Kurds in the north.  I think there will be accommodations made.  I think you'll see some Sunnis that decide they must get engaged.  And I think you will see a government, though, on balance, leaning closer to Iran than the last government did.  But I do not see a theocracy there, although it is possible.

SEN. LEVIN:  The alternative to an election is disintegration and civil war. That is in no one's interest.  Even those of us who opposed going in.  And the countries that opposed going in, which is most countries of the world, want stability in Iraq.  That is in everybody's interests.  And that's why everybody should pull together in various ways to make this election succeed as best as possible.  It won't be perfect, because security won't be perfect. But, nonetheless, the results, it seems to me, of an election are a lot better for everybody, including the Iraqis, than a disintegration and a total collapse.

SEN. BIDEN:  One thing that the Sunnis don't get to participate fully, we should be thinking now with our Sunni friends in the region how they can, in a sense, get compensated in this election.  This election, remember, is to elect people to write a constitution.  There should be some balance if it's proven they cannot get to vote.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Warner, analogous to this situation has been the investigation in the corruption of the oil-for-food program, Saddam Hussein and the United Nations.  Do you still have confidence in Kofi Annan as secretary-general of the U.N.?

SEN. WARNER:  Clearly his reputation has taken a tough blow in this, but I believe that we've got to wait until the Volcker report and other reports are in.  Give him the fairness to have the case displayed before the world.  But, Tim, it was an extraordinary amount of money that leaked through there and into pockets, and he was the boss, and he's got to be held accountable.  But give him a chance.  Look at the record.  Let the rest of us look at it.  And then the decision be made.

MR. RUSSERT:  Anyone disagree?

SEN. LEVIN:  No.

SEN. BIDEN:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Lugar, Ukraine.  You were there as an observer for the United States government.  I want to show you and our viewers, this is a photograph of Viktor Yushchenko, there he is, before and after he was poisoned by dioxin.  He had dinner with this man.  We'll put him on the screen.  That is Ihor Volodymyr who is head of the Ukrainian security service.  Do you have any doubt that he was intentionally poisoned by the Ukrainian security service?

SEN. LUGAR:  No.  I think he was poisoned.  And I think it's amazing he is alive and could be a competitor and so vigorous in the campaign.  But let me just say a word about the Ukraine people.  This is a resilient group of people.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is he going to win?

SEN. LUGAR:  Yes.  I think--unless there is a total demolition of all of the polls and all of the rest of it, he will win.  And the important thing is that even the supporters of the prime minister, the government candidate, are saying now, "We're not going to tear the country apart.  Ukraine is going to be a solid country.  We are going to have relations with Russia.  But we also are going to look toward the West, toward Europe, toward the United States." This is a pivotal moment, historically.  As you take a look at Europe, whole and free, the development of democracy, the possibilities for Russians, Russians, not just the Ukrainians, to begin thinking about democracy again. And a pushback which was so clearly exemplified by those out in the streets in Kiev.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think Russian President Putin will try to rig the Ukrainian election?

SEN. LUGAR:  I think it's beyond his ability to do that.  Now, he vigorously campaigned.  And when I was there, I was covered by Russians at every stop. This was a man-to-man defense or offense, as you may look at it.  They worked very hard at it.  And they lost.  Now, the facts are that rather than exalting in that, because the Germans have a relationship, and I came by to see the chancellor of Germany, and he said, "How about trans-Atlantic relations?"  I said, "This is the moment.  This is the one you seize.  You know, let's forget for a moment about Iraq, important as it is.  Ukraine, let's talk about that." And he did talk about it.  He brought his people in.  The Europeans got interested.  Now, let me just say we need to push and make certain that this is consolidated, that this gentleman who has been poisoned not only is cured of the poisoning but has solid support.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, Time magazine, this is the Person of the Year. "`For sticking to his guns (literally and figuratively), for reshaping the rules of politics to fit his ten-gallon-hat leadership style and for persuading a majority of voters this time around that he deserved to be in the White House for another four years, we name...'"--George W. Bush, Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2004.

I'd like to ask each of you in our remaining moment.  Senator Biden, what does George W. Bush have to do to have a successful second term?

SEN. BIDEN:  Talk to other people.  Sort of shed--put some other ideas in that 10-gallon hat.  Mix it up a little bit and back away from sort of an ideological perspective on things.  He can do it.  This is a time of great opportunity, and I stand ready to support him if he does.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Warner?

SEN. WARNER:  You know, he started his first term under a severe handicap because of the closest election and the problems in Florida, but he withstood that.  And when he was called on in 9/11 to stand up and lead the nation, it was his finest hour.  I mean, each of us around this table had to reach into our souls and say, "Could we have done any better?"  No.  And he's done a remarkable job to bring this nation to grips with the war on terrorism.  Now that he moves into this next four-year term, with the reassurance of a strong election--I wouldn't call it an overwhelming mandate, but a strong, clear equivocal voice for the people, we repose our trust in you, I think you'll be surprised at the maturity and the growth that this man will show in the coming years.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Levin, what must he do?

SEN. LEVIN:  Learn from his mistakes, learn how to change course, learn how to be graceful in that process, to reach out to others, including people who have not supported him before.  But unless--learn how to change course, I would say, in a graceful way.  Learn how to use the Lugars and the Warrens and the Warners and the Hagels and the McCains in the Republican Party and to reach out to some of the Democrats who want to help him succeed.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Lugar?

SEN. LUGAR:  Tim, both parties appeal to their base, and it's almost a 50/50 election again.  The president has a great opportunity, as all of us have been saying, to reach out, really to establish large majorities in this country for the foreign policy of our country, for the reform of Social Security and Medicare and the domestic situation.  I hope he will do that.  He has the skill, the charm, the ability to do that, and clearly that should be his destiny.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senators Lugar, Biden, Warner, Levin, merry Christmas, happy holidays.  Thank you all...

SEN. BIDEN:  Thank you.

SEN. WARNER:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...for an interesting discussion.

SEN. BIDEN:  Thanks for having us, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Coming next, insights and analysis from John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, the fallout from Bernard Kerik, and who will head the Democratic National Committee?  All coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Our political roundtable with Bob Novak and John Harwood after this brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.  Welcome both.  Let me show you once again, the person of the year, Time magazine, George W. Bush.

John Harwood, are you surprised?

MR. JOHN HARWOOD:  No.  I don't think it's a surprise, but it is remarkable that George W. Bush has, as that article says, rewritten the rules of politics to some degree.  He did not run the traditional campaign in the center that tries to persuade swing voters to go with you.  He started with his base.  And he's going to have to do exactly the same thing with his domestic agenda on Social Security and tax reform.  We saw in our Journal-NBC poll this week, both of those are still very controversial issues with the American people. He's going to have to start on his side and build out from there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Any surprise?

MR. ROBERT NOVAK:  No.  I think that was the easiest bet in the world that they were going to pick him.  If I was picking, I'd pick Karl Rove because I'm a little bit contrarian.  But I thought George...

MR. RUSSERT:  The president's political adviser.

MR. NOVAK:  ...political adviser.  He kind of constructed that campaign.  But I think George W. Bush is a very good pick.

MR. RUSSERT:  Two difficulties confronting the president.  One is this continuing debate about the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.  We just heard our senators talk about it.  Bill Kristol, one of the leading advocates of the war in Iraq who heads up The Weekly Standard magazine, wrote this:  "We have a pretty terrific Army.  It's performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has.  ...  Surely Don Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary Bush would want to have for the remainder of his second term. Contrast the magnificent performance of our soldiers with the arrogant buck-passing of Rumsfeld.  ...  All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments.  Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments, but have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck? ... These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have."

Bob Novak, that's Bill Kristol's view, and yet four senators around the table, all who express concern about some of the things the secretary's done, not one of them said he should step down.

MR. NOVAK:  This is a funny town.  The way this thing achieved some gravity was a soldier being prompted--a Reservist from Tennessee--being prompted to ask this question.  Suddenly--the question had been asked in many hearings by senators--and suddenly achieved gravity.  And then this op-ed page column by Bill Kristol in The Washington Post really elevated the "we've got to get rid of Rumsfeld."

A couple of things, you know, about Bill.  Bill Kristol is a very able guy, old friend of mine, but he is a neoconservative.  And the neoconservatives are the people who have been yelling for this war, saying it was going to be a--many of them said it was going to be a cakewalk.  Then you get to the question of-- I don't think Rumsfeld was ever a neoconservative.  I think he was cautious about going into the war, finally as a secretary of defense did the president's bidding, and he's going to be the scapegoat for the whole thing.

Rumsfeld is a prickly person.  He is very difficult to deal with.  He treats everybody like a dog, including soldiers and colleagues and people that work for him.  But the idea of Bill Kristol and the neoconservatives saying that after they went--urged the country to get into this war, which was very difficult and saying it's all Rumsfeld's fault, I don't think it sits very well.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, you did have John McCain and Trent Lott, two Republicans, also express concern.  What's the future of Secretary Rumsfeld?

MR. HARWOOD:  I think you can expect him to stay around at least until the annual defense review is completed later this year.  Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, tried to put a stop to some of this talk of replacing Rumsfeld by putting out a statement late last week, but I think a lot of this reminds you of the discussions about whether Dick Cheney would be replaced on the presidential ticket.  People say he's a polarizing figure, maybe the president needs another running mate.  When you look at the top of the ticket, there's a polarizing figure there.  Don Rumsfeld is implementing George W. Bush's policy.

MR. RUSSERT:  If the president were to replace the secretary of Defense now, wouldn't it be an acknowledgement that the war had been mismanaged and George Bush would never do a thing like that?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, you bet.  And in terms of Don Rumsfeld's arrogance or stubbornness or whatever, these are the qualities that George W. Bush has also displayed in terms of sticking with his guns that the American people endorsed in the election.  I don't think he's going to change course now.

MR. NOVAK:  The problem is that George W. Bush can say the same thing, and, of course, there's a lot of Bush haters, but he comes over as an amiable person, while Rumsfeld--and this isn't just since he got to be a millionaire CEO.  He was always that way.  When he was a young congressman, he got--the Old Guard hated him.  He tends to be very abrasive.  It's his personality. You know, some of us, Tim, are kind and gentle and some people are abrasive. He's abrasive.

MR. HARWOOD:  Tim, I'll tell you one thing George W. Bush would not like and that is if, as appears to be the case, Don Rumsfeld was signing letters to deceased soldiers' families by autopen while George W. Bush was signing them in his own hand.  That's something that he wouldn't appreciate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Normally when someone is nominated for a position, like Homeland Security, and a scandal breaks, and they don't get the job, like Bernard Kerik, the story goes away after a few days.  This one seems to linger.  Potential financial and legal problems for Mr. Kerik.  But also what impact might it have on Rudy Giuliani if he decides to run for president of the United States because Mr. Kerik was his police chief in New York?

Deborah Orin of the New York Post wrote it this way, Bob Novak.  "The exploding Bernard Kerik mess is raising questions about whether Rudy Giuliani Inc. is ready for the kind of prime time that he'd face in a 2008 presidential race.  Even fans shake their heads at Giuliani's apparent ignorance of the tangle of skeletons trailing his pal and business partner. `There is no way that he can run for president with Bernie Kerik as his business partner after this,' predicted a senior GOP strategist.  `It's going to be open season.  It's takes away his halo,'" meaning Giuliani.  The mayor himself has said, "If I do get back into politics, I don't know how this will play out."  What's your sense?

MR. NOVAK:  It's devastating.  I've checked with a lot of Republicans.  Rudy Giuliani, as a potential Republican presidential candidate, has a lot of problems.  He's wrong on the bulk of the party on many issues, including abortion, same-sex marriage, gay rights, affirmative action.  So he is a great figure in fighting terrorism, very charismatic, but a lot of problems.  And this is just a level of incompetence that we've never suggested before.

Can I say a thing about the Kerik thing?  I think it's very damaging to this administration because when you talk to people close to the president, talking about this second Cabinet mostly consisted of insiders and staffers and kind of a dull Cabinet, they needed somebody in there with a little pizazz.  I was told two things.  We're going to get somebody in Homeland Security if we're talking about Kerik and we're going to get rid of John Snow at Treasury and replace him with somebody more dynamic who can lead the business community. They decided to keep Snow.  Mainly, they couldn't find anybody else.  They didn't want anybody else, but Kerik is really a very serious commentary on the competence of this administration.  If they did not check out--it isn't just the nanny, that he had a nanny that he didn't pay taxes on.  That's just a small part of the problems.  This person was unconfirmable.  If this stuff hadn't come out, it would have been a bloodbath in the confirmation hearing.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, the fallout of Bernard Kerik and Rudy Giuliani.

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, on Rudy Giuliani, I think Bob put his finger on a lot bigger problems that Rudy Giuliani is going to have than Bernard Kerik.  It's his position on social issues.  When he has to run the gauntlet of Republican presidential primaries, that's going to be very, very difficult for him to do.

As for Kerik, it's certainly an embarrassment for the White House.  The president was very taken with the personality of Bernard Kerik, half Andy Sipowicz, half Dirty Harry.  You know, a lot of tough, macho man of action about him.  But I really think the bigger problem for the administration is what happened to John Snow at Treasury.  You have huge domestic issues on tax reform and on Social Security, and the Treasury secretary is now limping into those debates.

MR. RUSSERT:  On Giuliani, the fact is he did emerge as one of President Bush's prime surrogates in this campaign.  He played to huge crowds all across the country.  And in many polls we have seen, Republicans seem to gravitate to him.  Is that something that will change once they get to know his positions, or does he supercede all of the social issues because of his strong presence and performance on September 11?

MR. HARWOOD:  I'm not sure you can ride over the top of the Republican stance on social issues because of your position on terrorism.  That is certainly useful in the campaign.  And when Rudy Giuliani spoke at the Republican convention, very, very helpful to George Bush and his party that you had a--someone with different positions on social issues but an identity with the war on terrorism speak and endorse George W. Bush.  It's a lot different thing when he's running on his own hook in Republican primaries and trying to get the votes of a lot of people who just disagree with him very, very strongly on a core issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Must you have the "right" position on abortion, gay rights, gun control, in order to be nominated?

MR. NOVAK:  Absolutely.  There's no question about it.  This is a conservative party.  The base of the party is tied to the religious conservatives.  If we had a different kind of system, Tim, in that you had somebody sitting around a room of elitists and picking somebody, they--Colin Powell might have been a presidential nominee in 2000.  But it doesn't work this way.  You have to run the gauntlet of the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary, and then all these issues come up, and be--and it's very difficult to get through them.

MR. HARWOOD:  Any you couldn't survive Democratic primaries if you were against abortion rights either.

MR. RUSSERT:  Where do the Democrats go from here?  Who will become the chairman of the Democratic Party?  We're going to take a quick break.  A lot more with John Harwood and Bob Novak coming up, right after this.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Let's talk about the Democrats.  Al Hunt in The Wall Street Journal wrote this:  "Social or moral concerns are important in much of America--blue as well as red states--and that's a recurring problem for the Democrats. ... These voters are limited to the evangelicals or `Jesus freaks' depicted by some on the left.  The one-third electorate that ranks social concerns paramount cuts across demographic lines, notes [pollster Peter Hart].  `These voters come from all parts of the country and all occupations.'" ...[Bill] McInturff," a pollster, also said, "`Democrats are kidding themselves if they believe this is a small cohort, isolated to simply evangelical religious conservatives.'"

Last week, Howard Dean was on this program, the former governor of Vermont. He wants to be chairman of the DNC.  I asked him about pro-life Democrats, and this was his answer.

(Videotape, December 12, 2004):

DR. HOWARD DEAN, (D-VT):  I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats.  The Democrats that have stuck with us through their--who are pro-life, through their long period of conviction, are the kind of pro-life people that we ought to have deep respect for.  But we can have a respectful dialogue and we have to stop demagoguing this issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  And if you became chairman of the party, you would actively reach out to pro-life Democrats?

DR. DEAN:  I have--in my campaign, supposedly this liberal campaign, we had a number of pro-life people.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  John Harwood, are Democrats rethinking their position on cultural, moral issues, on abortion?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, they're rethinking their position on cultural and moral issues, and especially their message to voters who are motivated by those, but I don't think they're rethinking their position to abortion.  That's part of the core of the Democratic Party, financially and in terms of votes.  I don't think that's going to change.

MR. RUSSERT:  Could they entertain the possibility of parental notification with a judicial bypass where minors would go to their parents for consent before an abortion or would they entertain perhaps a third- trimester, some restrictions?

MR. HARWOOD:  They can look at things like that, and Mark Warner, for example, governor of Virginia, somebody who Democrats look at as having survived a red-state election and done very well appealing to culturally conservative voters, is for parental notification.  Those are the kinds of things.  But when you get down to Roe v. Wade and whether or not abortion rights are going to be generally and widely available, they're not going to change on that issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Bob Novak, are Democrats rethinking their positions?

MR. NOVAK:  They've suddenly, some of the smart ones, have come to the conclusion or are beginning to realize that single-issue voters on abortion are generally anti-abortion voters.  Those are the people who really will go in there and vote only on that issue.  You have many fewer who are just pro-abortion voters.

Now, the question is if you have the Democratic Party getting wishy-washy on these issues and talking about parental notification, partial birth abortion, and those sort of things, they then begin to turn some of the pro-choice women into single-issue voters and say, "Hey, the one thing we don't need is two anti- abortion parties."  I think the Democrats are in a terrible box on this. And the idea that Tim Roemer, former congressman from Indiana, member of the 9-11 Commission, the latest flavor of the week as a possible Democratic national chairman--he happens to be pro-life--him being the Democratic national chairman had a very bad reaction in part of the Democratic base.  So they're in a dilemma and a conflict on this issue.  Everybody said that abortion was going to kill the Republican Party.  I think it's hurting the Democrats.

MR. HARWOOD:  And you know, the best thing that could happen to the Democrats is if somebody like Rudy Giuliani rises in Republican politics, begins to blur that bright line a little bit and diminish the fervor of anti-abortion voters to flock to the Republican Party.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is there a front-runner in the race to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee?

MR. HARWOOD:  Well, I think Howard Dean is the front-runner in the race. He's the most prominent candidate.  He's the one who's demonstrated that in an era of campaign finance reform, Democrats can raise a lot of hard money, so-called deregulated money, and John Kerry followed some of those lessons in his campaign.  But I think at the end of the day, you're going to see a coalescing around an anti-Dean candidate.  It's going to be very, very difficult for Howard Dean ultimately to get that chairmanship.

MR. NOVAK:  Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association, says there will be a moderate from a red state.  That is not Howard Dean.  He is a left-winger from a blue state.  I think that Dean--not what I think but what a lot of Democrats think, but Howard Dean would be a terrible message for the Democratic Party.  He indicated to hell with you for all the people who voted for Bush, and I think it will be somebody else.  I don't know who it's going to be.  They haven't found him.  They're looking for a young Bob Strauss and they haven't found one.

MR. HARWOOD:  The message is the key factor.  You tend to solve the last problem you had.  They're doing OK financially.  They want to look for somebody who can have a more broadly acceptable message.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we'll watch it.  Have a great Christmas and holiday, guys.

MR. NOVAK:  Merry Christmas.

MR. RUSSERT:  We'll be right back.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.  Merry Christmas.

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