PLEASE CREDIT ANY QUOTES OR EXCERPTS FROM THIS NBC TELEVISION PROGRAM TO "NBC NEWS' MEET THE PRESS."
Sunday, July 3, 2005
GUESTS: Senator Arlen Specter, (R-Penn.) Chairman, Judiciary Committee; Senator Patrick Leahy, (D-Vt.) Ranking Member, Judiciary Committee; Senator Chris Dodd, (D-Conn.) Foreign Relations Committee; Senator Chuck Hagel, (R-Neb.) Foreign Relations Committee; Representative Duncan Hunter, (R-Calif.) Chairman, Armed Services Committee; Nina Totenberg, National Public Radio; Pete Williams, NBC News, Justice Correspondent; John Harwood, Wall Street Journal
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Andrea Mitchell - NBC News
MS. ANDREA MITCHELL: Our issues this Sunday: The first woman on the Supreme Court Sandra Day O'Connor announces her retirement paving the way for an intense political battle over the next nominee.
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: The nation also deserves a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate.
MS. MITCHELL: With us, two senators who will be front and center in the confirmation fight. The
chairman and ranking member the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Then the war in Iraq--as public concern over the U.S. involvement grows, President Bush addresses the nation and promises to stay the course.
PRES. BUSH: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.
MS. MITCHELL: With us to discuss the war on terror and the insurgency both in Iraq and Afghanistan, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, of Nebraska, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, Republican of California. Then our political roundtable, insights and analysis into Justice O'Connor's legacy, potential nominees for the court and the politics of the confirmation process. With us, legal affairs correspondent for National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg, justice correspondent for NBC News Pete Williams and national political editor of The Wall Street Journal John Harwood.
But first, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Arlen Specter and Senator Patrick Leahy.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R-PA): Thank you.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D-VT): Nice being with you, Andrea. Thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: Nice to be with you. Senator Specter, the president said that he is planning to meet
with Democrats and Republicans from your committee. Is this consultation pro forma or is he really
going to listen to what the Democrats have to say?
SEN. SPECTER: I think it's a very serious consultation effort. The president has talked about consultation for some time, and now with the vacancy, he promptly announced on Friday that the first day he's back on G8 on June the 11, he's going to be sitting down with Senator Leahy and the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, and Bill Frist, the majority leader and myself on consultation. He wants to hear the views of both sides.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator, let's take a look, though, at what Senator Ted Kennedy, a prominent member of your committee, had to say just the other day. And I wanted to ask you whether this is getting off to the right start.
(Videotape, July 1, 2005):
SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D-MA): If the president abuses his power and nominates someone who threatens to roll back the rights and freedoms of the American people, then the American people will insist that we oppose that nominee and we intend to do so.
MS. MITCHELL: What is your reaction to that, first you, Senator Specter?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, my reaction is that it'd be very useful for the country if the rhetoric were to be toned down. I think when Senator Kennedy makes a statement that if the president doesn't make a nomination in accordance with Senator Kennedy's core views of the Constitution, that he's laying down a marker. You could say he's picking a fight. I don't think that's the best way to proceed. Senator Leahy and I have been talking about this confirmation process for weeks. We've talked about it early again last week, and as soon as the vacancy occurred yesterday, he and I were on the telephone talking. We have laid plans for a professional approach where we're going to keep the rhetoric down. If there is to be a fight, neither Pat Leahy nor Arlen Specter will run from it, but I think at the outset, the very day that Justice O'Connor retires to come up with fighting words isn't in the best way to approach the issue.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Leahy, what about your colleague, Ted Kennedy? Is that not the best way to approach this? Is he picking a fight?
SEN. LEAHY: I have a great deal of respect for Ted. He's gone through more confirmation hearings on the Judiciary Committee than all of us, but I agree with Arlen. Let's take it easy. I had a long talk with the president on Friday. He assured me then that he wants to consult as he has before. I think the meeting with Senator Specter, myself and the Republican and Democratic leader of the Senate in a week is a very, very good start. I would urge that the groups on both the right and the left calm down a little bit. Let's see who the nominee is and trust the Judiciary Committee to do a good hearing. You know, the irony is if Sandra Day O'Connor was being nominated today, the left would start complaining that we can't have her, she's a conservative Republican. The right would complain, "We can't have her. She's too much of a moderate and a consensus builder," and yet every one of us will agree she's been a darn good justice.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Leahy, let me bring you back to Friday. You were holding a news conference back in Burlington, I believe, and an aide stopped you and interrupted you.
(Videotape, July 1, 2005):
SEN. LEAHY: I'd probably have to take a break.
Speaking of consultation, may I be excused just a moment. I've got to take a call from the president.
MS. MITCHELL: Can you share with us what did he say to you?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, that wasn't...
MS. MITCHELL: Reality television our style.
SEN. LEAHY: Yeah. I'd just been asked a question, "Are you going to have any consultation with the president?"--and Chuck Ross came over and told me, "The president's on the phone." I thought at first it was a setup. And then I realized, of course, it was the president. You know, the thing is, I've advised the president--I won't go into the details of the private conversation, but parts of the things I've said publicly before: get somebody who will unite the country, not divide the country. This is going to be part of his legacy, just as it was part of President Reagan's legacy when he nominated Justice O'Connor. We don't want to have somebody who's going to be there just for the Republicans anymore than we should have somebody there just for the Democrats. This should be somebody for the whole country, should unite the country. After all, the Supreme Court's supposed to be an independent branch of government. It's supposed to be truly there for checks and balances and I would hope that's who the president would nominate. There are a lot of excellent jurists out there who would have the votes of virtually every Republican and every Democrat in the Senate.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Specter, does the fact that this vacancy--somewhat surprisingly to most people, including the White House, is Justice O'Connor and not Justice Rehnquist as some might have expected. Does the fact that it is the key swing vote dictate that the president ought to choose someone who is more moderate, who would fill that seat rather than a hard-line conservative?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, I believe that it's the president's call. But I do think there's a difference if it had been a replacement for Chief Justice Rehnquist contrasting with the replacement for Justice O'Connor. And I think that's already been intimated. You knew where the chief stood on a block. It's true that Justice O'Connor has been the swing pivotal vote. And I think that there are different considerations. There's the gender factor. Should he appoint another woman? So it's a different approach. And I think the president will factor that in.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, both of you have suggested today that you want to take a constructive approach to this, not to pick fights. Yet, take a look at what the conservatives are already doing--conservative groups against Alberto Gonzales. Take a look, both of you, at today's New York Times lead story. Conservative groups are already rallying against Alberto Gonzales as the potential justice. Gonzales, by the way, showed up today in Baghdad for consultations with officials there. But we've heard already The National Review, in its editorials already out, saying that conservatives will be appalled and demoralized if the president chooses his attorney general. Senator Specter, what is your reaction to that?
SEN. SPECTER: My reaction is that people ought to hold their fire and stand back and realize that it's President George W. Bush who's elected with the constitutional authority to make the designations. I think Senator Leahy made a very important point when he chastised groups on both sides. I believe that when you have these wars with the groups organizing and spending a lot of money and perhaps, for them, more importantly, raising a lot of money, that it's counterproductive and sometimes it's insulting. Listen, but we senators know how important this nomination is. In 1987 when Judge Bork was up for confirmation proceedings and I was awakened early one morning by a commercial with Gregory Peck trashing Judge Bork, I almost changed my opinion. I think the conservatives are entitled to express themselves. But I think they ought to have some respect for the president. And Attorney General Gonzales is a very well-qualified man. And I don't think he really deserves to be criticized. But people ought to stand back. There's time enough to criticize after the president has made a move.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, Senator Leahy, listen to what candidate Bush said when Tim Russert first asked him back in 1999 what kind of person he admires on the Supreme Court.
(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, November 21, 1999):
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Which Supreme Court justice do you really respect?
GOV. BUSH: Well, that's a--Anthony Scalia is one.
MR. RUSSERT: Will your judges and judge appointments to the Supreme Court be similar to Scalia in
their temperament and judicial...
GOV. BUSH: I don't think you're going to find many people to be actually similar to him. He's an unusual man. He's an intellect, he's witty, he's interesting, he's firm. There's a lot of reasons why I like Judge Scalia. And I like a lot of other judges as well. I mean, it's kind of a harsh question to ask because it now puts me--some of whom are friends of mine. I mean, and so, in all due respect, Judge Thomas...
MS. MITCHELL: Now, conservatives say that they will hold him to that campaign promise and will demand that he appoint someone in the mold of Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas. Senator Leahy, what will Democrats do if he does exactly that?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, of course, we have an easy thing on this one. Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas are already on the court so they're not the ones that are going to be nominated, it's not as though it's going to be for chief justice. But we have 280 million Americans and this justice is supposed to be there for all of them, not for any special interest group, whether it's the left or the right. There are 101 people who will have to make the decision on whether this person goes on the court, has to the decision for 280 million Americans, first and foremost, of course, the president with his nomination. But then 100 United States senators have to decide does this person truly reflect America? Is this person somebody who will uphold the rights of all Americans, whether they're Republicans, Democrats, liberal, conservative or anything else. That's an awesome responsibility for the president, but it's also an awesome responsibility for us. And I agree with Senator Specter. The groups on the right and the left have an absolute right to go out and say anything they want. But ultimately we're the ones that are going to have to make that decision...
MS. MITCHELL: But Senator...
SEN. LEAHY: ...and it's our responsibility to make it.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Leahy, if there is a real hard-liner, would you support a filibuster?
SEN. LEAHY: Well, I would hope that we don't reach that point. That's why we're going to meet with the president in about a week. We're going to urge that he put somebody who would unite the country, not divide the country. If you had somebody on the extreme right, just as if you had somebody on the extreme left, that's not going to unite the country and that's going to bring about a fight in the Congress. I heard some senator say, "Well, all he needs is 51 votes." You know, when you stop to think about it, if you had a justice on the Supreme Court who only got 51 votes, that's not a very good signal to the rest of the country.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, Senator Specter, do you think that the replacement for Justice O'Connor should be someone who upholds Roe?
SEN. SPECTER: I think that it's a matter for the nominee to decide. We each have a function, Andrea. I think that Roe is relatively secure. Nothing is really secure in our world. It's a--there's a 6-to-3 balance. And whatever the views are of the nominee, I think there still will be a majority for Roe. But the president has the authority to make the nomination and we have the responsibility to confirm and the nominees have the responsibility for making their judgments, and that separation of power has worked out reasonably well.
I have voted in the past for nominees who were pro-life and I don't think there ought to be a litmus test. And I'll tell you this, Andrea, you're never going know. When Justice Souter was up for nomination, people didn't know what he was going to do. Justice O'Connor was a big surprise. There have been more surprises by the nominees as to how they turned out than falling into some pattern of predetermined line.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, in fact, Senator, in your book, you wrote in your judgment, "the Senate should
resist if not refuse, to confirm Supreme Court nominees who refuse to answer questions on fundamental issues. In voting on whether or not to confirm a nominee; senators should not have to gamble or guess about candidate's philosophy but should be able to judge on the basis of the candidate's expressed views." That was what you wrote in "Passion for Truth."
So you believe that you and the others in the Judiciary Committee ought to be able to pin down these nominees or this nominee.
SEN. SPECTER: Well, I certainly think that statement from "Passion for Truth" is true just like all the rest of the book. It's still on sale.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, there's a planning memo...
SEN. SPECTER: When you...
MS. MITCHELL: Senator, there's a planning memo...
SEN. SPECTER: When you talk about the...
MS. MITCHELL: Let me ask you this. There's a planning memo that The Washington Post reports today from the Republicans on your committee saying that the nominee should be counseled to avoid disclosing his or her views. How do you reconcile this two?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, in this way, Andrea, I don't think you should ask a nominee--listen, a senator can ask you any questions he wants. The nominee has the stature to respond as the nominee chooses. I don't think it would be appropriate and I wouldn't say "Are you going to uphold Roe?" But I would ask a nominee, "What is your view of star decisis." When you have a decision which has been in effect for decades and people have come to rely upon it, what kind of circumstances, how extraordinary must they be, because customarily, the court likes to establish--follow established precedence. And I think that there are ways of getting at the judicial philosophy. I did that in detail with Chief Justice Rehnquist on the issue of whether Congress had the authority to take away jurisdiction. And I did it with Justice Thomas and Justice Souter and Justice O'Connor and certainly with Judge Bork. We know how to get at it and still remain within the realm of professionalism and non-incursion on inappropriate lines.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Leahy, what will Democrats so if Republicans try to protect some of these
SEN. LEAHY: Well, I don't...
MS. MITCHELL: ...or protect a nominee...
SEN. LEAHY: You know, I think...
MS. MITCHELL: ...from being asked?
SEN. LEAHY: I have faith in Senator Specter conducting an impartial, a good hearing. Every senator is going to ask the questions that he or she feels they should ask, and they should have that right. I mean, they--we have a constitutional duty to ask these questions on behalf of all Americans. We're not doing it just for ourselves. We're doing this for 280 million Americans who expect us to ask the questions, to make sure we're going to have an impartial justice who's going to sit there.
Now, on questions, whether it's Roe or anything else, Senator Specter's absolutely right when he says that there's a real reluctance to overturn some of law. Can you imagine a court overturning Brown vs. Board of Education? Every police officer gives Miranda warnings. That's the basic thing settled into law, and the same is the case with Roe. I think in some ways, Roe becomes a bit of a red herring. We have an awful lot of other rights that are involved of Americans that also have to be considered. And I think it's incumbent upon every senator to not sit in there and say you're going to be a cheerleader for the president or a cheerleader for either the Republican or Democratic Party. You're supposed to be in there asking questions on behalf of all Americans to ensure all Americans--not just the right, not just the left-- but all Americans, that this is going be a fair and impartial justice. We really don't carry out our duties as senators if we do anything less than that.
MS. MITCHELL: And finally, Senator Specter...
SEN. SPECTER: Andrea, let me ask...
MS. MITCHELL: Yeah, do you have...
SEN. SPECTER: May I add...
MS. MITCHELL: Yes, go ahead.
SEN. SPECTER: ...one point? Because I think it's really important on this precise point. When you had Roe vs. Wade challenged in 1992, Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, you had three nominees supported by Republican presidents who upheld Roe. Now, nobody expected Justice Kennedy to uphold Roe. People were ambivalent as to what Justice O'Connor would do; maybe Justice Souter would uphold it. But there you are; Roe vs. Wade, established in a long period of time, and there you have very strong pro-life judges upholding Roe where you see why there is reason to think Roe is secure because of the stare decisis and the precedent. But it's all open for question, Andrea, and that's why these hearings are so important.
MS. MITCHELL: And finally, Senator Specter, just briefly, do you have any indication--do either of you have any indication--that Justice Rehnquist may be deciding to retire?
SEN. SPECTER: Well, my instinct there is rank speculation. But when I saw him recently and saw how well he looked compared to how he was when he administered the oath to the president a few months ago, and having some insights myself fighting Hodgkin's cancer, I think--I thought the chief was going to stay on, and I said so publicly. I think it's very important for him to wake up every day knowing he has something important to do. I like to wake up every day thinking I have something important to do.
SEN. LEAHY: I'm hoping...
MS. MITCHELL: Well, you certainly both do this summer...
SEN. LEAHY: I'm hoping that the chief justice gets a chance to be at his home here in Vermont. That's going to rejuvenate him more than anything else.
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you both, very, very much.
And coming next...
SEN. SPECTER: Thank you, Andrea. Nice being with you.
SEN. LEAHY: OK. Thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: Good to be with you.
And coming next, the war on terror with Senators Dodd and Hagel and House Armed Services
Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter. Plus our roundtable on Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement and
the vacancy on the court.
MS. MITCHELL: The war on terror and our political roundtable, after this brief station break.
MS. MITCHELL: We're back. Welcome Congressman Hunter, Senator Hagel here in the studio and Senator Dodd in Connecticut.
Welcome to you.
SEN. DODD: Thank you, Andrea.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, in the president's speech, gentlemen, on Tuesday night, gentlemen, he
repeatedly tried to connect the war on terror to 9/11 and the war in Iraq, making that connection. Senator Dodd, is that a good justification for the war?
SEN. DODD: No, it's not. And it was said over and over again by a number of other people. Clearly,
they're separate events here, and although today as a result of what's going on in Iraq, we could very
well see, of course, Iraq become the epicenter of terrorism if this all falls apart, but to make the connection between 9/11 and the ouster of Saddam Hussein is just categorically wrong, factually wrong. It's a harder argument to make about why we're in Iraq and what we need to do than it is to link them to terrorism, so I understand the president's desire to link 9/11 with these events but it's really wrong to do so and it makes it harder I think for the American people to understand why we need to be there and why we need to complete this job which I support, by the way. We've got a lot of things we need to do.
Certainly on a day like this, this weekend, the Fourth of July, it'd be wrong for us not to begin any conversation without thanking the men and women in uniform who are serving there, serving in Afghanistan in harm's way. I attended a funeral here in Connecticut yesterday of a young man, Chris Hoskins, who lost his life a week or so ago in Iraq. I'll be attending another one in the next few days with a Major Reich in Connecticut who also lost his life in Afghanistan.
Getting it right, getting the regional governments to support what needs to be done, equipping our troops, making sure the Iraqis understand this is really their battle in the long term and they're going to have to do more to stand up to government, get their constitution adopted. We need to work with other governments in the area to make sure they're going to be more cooperative, secure that border with Syria where a lot of these outsiders are coming in, the suicide bombers. These are the tough questions. The president began a dialogue the other night which I commend him for. He needs to do more of it in
my view in the coming days to make it clear to the American people why we're there and what we need
to do. But this is serious and it's not going in the right direction.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, this is only one example of what the president said was at stake. Let's give a listen to this part of his speech.
(Videotape, June 28, 2005):
PRES. BUSH: After September the 11th, I made a commitment to the American people this nation will not wait to be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Hagel, is Iraq the latest battlefield in a war that really began on September 11?
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R-NE): Well, unfortunately, it is now a battle about terrorism. It wasn't when we went in to Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Iraq had nothing to do with September 11. Factually, as Senator Dodd noted, Saddam Hussein had no relationship with al-Qaeda or terrorists. Our objective, if we recall, going into Iraq almost two and a half years ago, was to strip Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction, regime change, and make the Middle East a more peaceful and stable area. Now, it has shifted to, in fact, a real battle against terrorists. And as we see, as General Abizaid said before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, we're seeing more insurgents pour into Iraq, terrorists, across those borders that Senator Dodd talked about. So it has widened now into a deeper and wider effort.
And I think it's very important that the president define the objectives, as will be the case as we've got coming up here on July 11th, when the Pentagon is due with a report to Congress, which my colleague, Chairman Duncan Hunter, knows an awful lot about on the progress--the matrix. David Broder talked about it in The Washington Post this morning. The American people need to have some kind of measurement standard in Iraq, and not only the objective of what we have now, but the progress report so that we don't drift and just every now and then get a new speech saying, "Well, we're doing fine and just stay the course." Stay the course is not a policy.
MS. MITCHELL: Congressman Hunter, what about the demands by even some in your own party-- Senator Hagel here--for a timetable or some sort of markers as to how much is being achieved?
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, (R-CA): Well, I think--at first, I think that Iraq is central to the war against terror. I think the clear message from 9/11 and events subsequent is if we don't change the world, the world's going to change us. And if we're successful in Iraq--and I think we're going to be--and Afghanistan, and Qaddafi continues to unload his weapons apparatus out of Libya and ship it to the United States and doesn't destabilize at some point, we will have neutralized three potential launching points for terrorism over the next many years. So Iraq is a central point. And I think the war is going-- it's working along and I think that the progress is steady and the handoff--the exit strategy is a stand-up of the Iraqi military. We've got our best, most-talented military leaders over there, people that even the critics will concede are real talented people with lots of management skills. David Patreaus, former head of the 101st Airborne, is training up the Iraqi military. I think they're going to hold. And, General McCaffrey, who has been a critic in the past, had something I thought was pretty instructive. When he was there last time, he said there was a core--a core of tough, patriotic individuals in the Iraqi military who are taking on the insurgents, who are going to be the backbone of this military. So the key question is, will they stand and fight? Will they have enough momentum to protect their civilian government that they're standing up? And will they be able to handle an external threat? I think they will. There will always be bombs going off in Iraq. Lord knows if money and resources could stop bombs from going off, they wouldn't be going off in Israel. But I think that this thing is going to take and the Iraqi people have shown an enthusiasm for freedom and the key here for us is stay steady. If we stay steady, we're going make this hand-off and we're going to have achieved a lot in the Middle East that will benefit future generations. It may not have an immediate impact, but it will benefit future generations of Americans.
MS. MITCHELL: Now, the political debate here at home has certainly heated up. Take a look at what John Kerry said on the "Today" show on Friday.
(Videotape, "Today," Wednesday):
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): He has completely morphed the rationale of weapons of mass destruction first into a rationale of democratizing Iraq and now into the hot bed of terror. It has become the hot bed of terror because American troops are there and since our invasion and that's part of the problem. The presence of American troops is a magnet for jihadists.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Dodd, are we creating more terrorists in Iraq because of our presence there than there were before?
SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D-CT): Well, that's the point that Senator Hagel made and I tried to make here. Making the linkage, as the president did the other night, I think doesn't help his cause. Clearly it's becoming that, as Duncan Hunter has pointed out as well here, and that's really the battle. That's why this becomes important. But when the president constantly refers back and tries to link it, he doesn't mention Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden was the person who attacked us on 9/11. It was not Saddam Hussein. The reason I voted to send troops into Iraq was because of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, not because it was just regime change in Iraq. In fact, if that had been the argument, there wouldn't have been a vote in the United States Senate. But nonetheless, we're there. That's where we are today. We can go back and debate how we got there. How do we get out of here and how do we get out of here with an Iraqi government that is capable of taking care of itself? And I think, first of all, the president needs to do more of what he did last Tuesday. He needs to speak with the American people more frequently than he has, to tell them how things are going and what his plans are. Secondly, we need to get more support from regional governments in the area. We only have one country in the area who has an embassy or an ambassador, rather, in Baghdad, that's Turkey.
MS. MITCHELL: In fact, Senator Dodd, just today, at least from the early reports, the Egyptian
ambassador in Baghdad was kidnapped. We don't know exactly what the situation is yet. But it shows you that that is a very dangerous assignment for anyone.
SEN. DODD: Huge problem, but you have to have regional support if we're going to contain these borders and Syria and Iran, if you're going to get the kind of cooperation that you need to stabilize the area, that has to be done. We need to make sure our troops are well-equipped. We had legislation that I authored over a year and a half ago to help provide additional body armor and so forth for our troops in the field. The Pentagon still hasn't done anything to implement that legislation. So these are the kinds of things that need to be done if we're going to contain the situation, build the support here at home, attract the kind of support we need around the globe as well as in the region to really do exactly what Duncan Hunter has described, and that is to make sure we stay the course. And personally I'm worried about the steps we're taking. We're going to lose that support at home, we're losing a lot internationally and that speaks for trouble down the road.
MS. MITCHELL: Congressman Hunter, as the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, you yourself have complained about the failure to properly arm the Humvees against roadside bombs with arms underneath--with the--excuse me, the conditioning underneath the Humvees. Now, why has that not been done? Why are troops left so unprotected?
REP. HUNTER: First of all, I think so that moms and dads throughout this country don't think their kids don't have body armor in Iraq, we've got 260,000 sets of body armor. We've got approximately 137,000 troops. MS. MITCHELL: But it was late in coming there.
REP. HUNTER: Well, but the senator talked about legislation to get that there. I don't want people to
think that--there are two sets of body armor, enough for two sets for each person in country right now.
MS. MITCHELL: And what about the Humvees...
REP. HUNTER: They...
MS. MITCHELL: ...which has been one of your concerns...
REP. HUNTER: We've got...
MS. MITCHELL: ...which are not properly armed?
REP. HUNTER: We've got 27,000 Humvees operating in theater; 25,000 of them have some type of armor on them. The ones that...
MS. MITCHELL: Well, some of it is homemade. I mean, you know that.
REP. HUNTER: Well, the ones that don't have armor are in forward operating basis. We got after the Marine bureaucracy because I looked at the--at a reaction that we need to make to a new tactic that the insurgents have in western Iraq. The bureaucracy had not moved fast enough. They had a load of steel sitting in Kuwait that should have been moved up to the western AO and put under those doggone Humvees under the--to handle what is known as triple stack mines. They didn't move quickly enough. We had a hearing on it. They're moving that steel out of Kuwait right now.
But of the 27,000 vehicles, Humvees that are in Iraq, 25,000 have armor. Only a few of them don't have at least what is known as level one or level two, which is either the factory armor or the add-on kits. But clearly, we've got a big bulky bureaucracy in acquisition in the Pentagon. It's largely been built by Congress. You got to cross a lot of T's and dot a lot of I's. And we have to give them the same sense of urgency, the bureaucracy, the acquisition bureaucracy, that the war fighters have so when they don't do it right, we pull them up and we make them do it right. Right now, that steel is being moved out of Kuwait.
MS. MITCHELL: Senator Hagel, you were very negative today and also in some comments you made to U.S. News. What you said to U.S. News is that "Things are not getting better, they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. ...It's like they're just making it up as we go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."
Now, both Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney took you to the woodshed saying that you are flat wrong. Do you still feel that we're losing in Iraq?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, I don't just come up with these comments and make some judgment out of thin air. I mean, if we look, as I said earlier, at some measurements, some standards, I mean, where are we? for example, the last two months our casualties are up, American casualties are up. There are higher casualty rates than average at any time since we've been there almost in the last two and a half years. Last two months, the Iraqi armed forces, the worst two months, bloodiest two months.
General Abizaid's comments to the Armed Services Committee last week with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld sitting there, saying more insurgents are in there today than they there were six months ago. They keep pouring in. Less oil being produced, more insurgency pipeline attacks, less electricity being produced, quality of life going down, more unemployment. Are there some success there? Of course, the $34 billion that was obligated, committed two years ago from our coalition partners, of that $34 billion--the president talked about that--$20 billion's coming from the United States, $14 billion from our partners, but only $2 billion of the $14 actually been committed, $18 billion the Congress committed a year and a half ago to economic development, about $6 billion of that spent. Our coalition partners the president talked about, over a dozen of them have pulled out. Two of the largest, Ukraine and Poland, will be out sometime later this year completely. So I make some measurement here before I speak. I also said I think we can win. I also said we must win. I also said we need to make some adjustments. For example, regional-provincial successes we've had, why aren't we focusing there? Because when you're in a counterinsurgency war, it's not about military only, it's about a political settlement. And the Sunni tribal dynamic of this, I think, makes us close to probably some real very serious internal conflict going on. So those are why--those are some of the reasons why I made the statement I did.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, not surprisingly, MoveOn.org, a liberal action group, took your words to heart.
Here's a portion of the television ad that they put up.
(Videotape, "MoveOn PAC" ad):
Announcer: Now, even a Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, is saying, "The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along." Iraq: We got in the wrong way; let's get out the right way.
MS. MITCHELL: Aren't you undermining your own president on the war effort?
SEN. HAGEL: Well, Duncan Hunter and I served in Vietnam. I watched, as Duncan Hunter watched-- and he can speak for himself; he will. I watched 58,000 Americans get chewed up over a process of 1961 to 1975--that's the casualty rate during that time--during a time when, in fact, we had a policy that was losing. And the members of Congress were interestingly silent and absent in asking tough questions. As long as I'm a United States senator, I will do everything I can to ensure that we have a policy worthy of these brave young men and women who are sacrificing their lives and doing the things that they do for this country. I don't think that policy is there today.
And as I am sitting here today and still in the United States Senate, however long it takes, I will ask the tough questions. I will provide alternatives and solutions. I owe it to the people. I owe it to the country. And when I don't say anything, I fail those I served with, I fail those 58,000 Vietnamese families--or Vietnam victims, and I fail the families of those who already lost their lives in Iraq and been maimed. So I don't apologize for questioning. That's part of my job. And I will stand on my record against anyone having the right to ask those tough questions.
MS. MITCHELL: Congressman Hunter, you have a son serving in Iraq.
REP. HUNTER: Yeah. Yeah.
MS. MITCHELL: How do you feel about the criticisms from within the Republican Party, from the man sitting next to you?
REP. HUNTER: Well, I think there's a major difference between the operation of Iraq and Vietnam is-- and one of the great aspects of this administration, one of the things they do well, is let the military leadership in Iraq run the operation. So you have--General Abizaid is head of CENTCOM, you've got General Casey, head of the theater, and you've got, again, David Petraeus, the former head of the 101st Airborne, running this training of the Iraqi military. All parties agree that they are absolutely the most talented people that we've got, that they're doing a good job.
In Vietnam, we had politicians in Washington, D.C., in the White House, running the war on a tactical level at times. We are allowing our military leadership to run that stand-up of the Iraqi military. I think it's proceeding to pace. I think it's going to work. And I didn't do anything special in Vietnam. I know Chuck has a very distinguished record there. I think I took--had fewer incoming rounds in a year than my son did in a day in Fallujah. But let me tell you, the American military has a great team there right now, and right down to the tactical level, to the the platoon level, our people--our superb soldiers and Marines and sailors and airmen--they're doing a wonderful job. I think this thing's going to work, and there's a couple of indicators. One was the elections. And the other was the ripple effect in other countries, like Egypt, talking about the first multiparty elections in years, like Lebanon pushing back on Syria. If we can change the world and prevent another country from becoming a potential springboard for terrorism, we will have benefited future generations, and this argument over whether or not we went in and whether or not Saddam Hussein was connected with 9/11 will be an old argument. Senator Kerry looked like he was in the last phases of the campaign there last year.
MS. MITCHELL: And finally, Senator Dodd, what about Afghanistan, the sometimes forgotten war?
It has been a lethal week in Afghanistan, with the taking down of our helicopter and the loss of all those men. What do you think is happening in Afghanistan? What do we need to do in Afghanistan?
SEN. DODD: Well, I'll point that out, and one of those 16 troops was from here in Connecticut, Major Reich. We lost a very, very fine young man in this state in that helicopter disaster in Afghanistan. I still have a lot of confidence about Afghanistan because the pieces are in place. You have President Karzai, who enjoys pretty broad support in the country. We don't have a similarlike leader in Iraq today, or at least we don't yet.
Secondly, you've got a lot of coalition forces there. We have long and strong participation by the international coalition there, which I think is a positive sign as well. You're getting cooperation out of Pakistan, which is critically important. We don't have similar cooperation in the area of Iraq with its neighbors. So I'm more optimistic in the long term about Afghanistan. A lot more work needs to be done, but it seems to me the pieces are in place there for getting the kind of result we desire.
What we're looking for, and what I think Senator Hagel has pointed out here, is we need to get the pieces right in Iraq. I think all three of us here want to see this come out well. We're willing to stay the course on all of this, but asking these young men and women to put their lives in jeopardy every single day without doing what needs to be done to make sure the policy's working right I think poses some serious threats.
MS. MITCHELL: Thank you very much, Senator Dodd, Congressman Hunter...
REP. HUNTER: Good to be with you.
MS. MITCHELL: ...Senator Hagel.
SEN. HAGEL: Thank you.
MS. MITCHELL: We have to leave it there.
SEN. HAGEL: You bet.
MS. MITCHELL: And coming next, two reporters who cover the Supreme Court, Nina Totenberg of
NPR and Pete Williams of NBC News, plus John Harwood of The Wall Street Journal, on the politics
of the future nominee when we come back on MEET THE PRESS.
MS. MITCHELL: And we're back. Welcome all.
Nina Totenberg, what is the legacy of Sandra Day O'Connor?
MS. NINA TOTENBERG: Well, she was not only the center of the court and embodied sort of the balance of the court between right and left and pragmatic solutions to difficult legal problems, but as the first woman--you know, young women today may not remember, but I was there and it was an incredibly moving moment when she was named to the court. And I covered the court back then and I was amazed at myself, at how emotionally caught up I was in it. At that point in the profession, there were almost no women judges. There were very few. There were almost no women lawyers. There were very few women in law school. Today, there are women all over the federal and state bench, lots of chief judges and state chief justices. The majority of law students in major American laws schools are women. So she essentially became the symbol, the opening of the doors, as she said to me in an interview last year. It sort of threw open the doors and the profession that was once an almost exclusively male club is now a totally integrated club.
MS. MITCHELL: And, Pete, does the fact that the first vacancy now is--the first vacancy in 11 years.
It's extraordinary. I was reading that it's been since the 1820s that we went such a long period, 11 years,
without a president having the chance to name a justice, and this is going to be such a pivotal choice. Because it is O'Connor and she was the person on--the swing vote on so many major issues, instead of Rehnquist, as many had expected, you on Friday said that this is the nightmare scenario for the nomination process. Why?
MR. PETE WILLIAMS: Well, because groups on both sides have been all dressed up with no place to go for all that time. And, you know, we talk about this battle between the White House and the Congress. This is really going to be a battle between very conservative groups and very liberal groups, both of whom have extremely definite and rather inflexible ideas about what a Supreme Court nominee has been. And you're replacing someone, as Nina said, who has providing the deciding fifth vote to uphold affirmative action, to rein in the government involvement with religion; so many critical areas that she has been the deciding vote on. So it really does--whoever this new nominee is could--if it's more conservative than her, could push the whole court on a more conservative direction. So the stakes are very high.
MS. MITCHELL: John Harwood, you know politics better than anyone I know, what is the politics of this? Does he--the president now have to name a woman so that there isn't only one woman? Does he use this opportunity to name Alberto Gonzales, despite as we see today in The New York Times, you know, liberal groups would perhaps go for Gonzales but conservatives are absolutely aligned against him. Does he go for his base at this point?
MR. JOHN HARWOOD: Well, it's an interesting choice for the president. He's got a lot of pressures on him. But, you know, there's a possibility--Nina talked about the way women felt watching Sandra Day O'Connor ascend to the court. The White House is very cognizant of how Hispanics would feel if Alberto Gonzales goes to the court and there's some strong arguments for picking him despite this flak on the right.
First of all, Hispanics are the key swing vote in American politics. Democrats just watched Antonio Villaraigosa sworn in as the mayor of Los Angeles. They have high hopes that he can be a leader in helping them reverse the tide. President Bush has made progress among Hispanics. Alberto Gonzales would be a powerful counter to that. Secondly, the objections on the left for Gonzales would most likely come in a security area, how he has advised the president on enemy combatants, that sort of thing. The security argument is one that Democrats lose. If they get into an argument over whether Roe v. Wade ought to be overturned, that's an argument that Democrats win because politically the American people, by 2:1, don't want Roe v. Wade overturned.
MR. WILLIAMS: And yet that's where conservatives feel the most--the strongest. And if you ask the people who are running these conservative interest groups, "What's the one issue?" Is it affirmative action? No, no. It's abortion. And that's what they're worried about Gonzales about.
MS. MITCHELL: Well, speaking about abortion, you know, let's take a look at some of the women candidates who have differing views on abortion, in fact. Is there such pressure now for him to name a woman? You've got Edith Jones from the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, Edith Clement, also from the 5th Circuit, Janice Rogers Brown, the U.S. Court of Appeals, recently survived a very tough confirmation battle, Alice Batchelder, from the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Which of these women, as you handicap it, might be leading contenders?
MS. TOTENBERG: Well, Jones and Janice Rogers Brown would sort of guarantee war. The right would love her, the left--would love either one of them. The left would hate them. And it would almost guarantee either a filibuster, I can't--I mean, that would be nuclear war on the floor of the Senate. The other two are relatively unknown. But also one would have to say in the legal world, they're perfectly good judges, but they're not the stars. If you look at the stars, even among conservatives who are women, I know, having talked to White House sources, that they've done complete evaluations of some of those women. They're just considered not conservative enough. And so therefore they're out of the running and, in the women category, there are not the equivalents of some of the men they were talking about when we were talking about a vacancy for chief justice.
MS. MITCHELL: So if it's not Gonzales, let's take a look at some of the white men who are leading conservatives, Justices John Roberts from the D.C. Court of Appeals, J. Michael Luttig from the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Michael McConnell from the 10th Circuit in Utah, Samuel Alito from the 3rd Circuit, Philadelphia. Who would be the most hard-line in this bunch? Who might set off a war?
MR. WILLIAMS: Probably Michael Luttig because he's been so dependably conservative; former Scalia clerk, when Judge Scalia was on the D.C. Court of Appeals, although he did clerk for Warren Berger on the Supreme Court; knows the justices very well, helped get Thomas and Souter through their confirmations, voted against the Violence Against Women Act, although the Supreme Court ultimately agreed with him on that. Harder than perhaps than the rest of the Court of Appeals on the recent cases about the administration's powers to detain enemy combatants. But because of his solid conservative record and the fact that he's been on the Appeals Court now for--What?--14 years, he has a long paper trail. And that would probably be the toughest nominee to get through, just on the opposition to a conservative, from the Democrats' point of view.
MS. MITCHELL: He has a fellow justice--judge, rather, on that circuit who is Harvie Wilkinson...
MR. WILLIAMS: J. Harvie Wilkinson, right.
MS. MITCHELL: But he is older and so we think that they want somebody in their...
MS. TOTENBERG: Fifties.
MS. MITCHELL: ...50s, late 40 or 50s. To get a sense of the fight that has already become engaged, let's take a look at two ads that went up right away. I mean, one of the ads was up within an hour of this announcement, one had even started beforehand. The first is from liberal group MoveOn.org, followed
by conservative group Progress for America.
(Excerpts from political ads)
MS. MITCHELL: Just what we need, more fake news reports. They're going to spend $18 million to $20 million, each side, on this. John Harwood, this is a political campaign.
MR. HARWOOD: Clearly a political campaign. Look, there's a lot of money to be made by these various groups and by the consultants working for them.
MS. MITCHELL: Energizing their troops.
MR. HARWOOD: There's a lot of energizing to be done as we look forward to the '06 election. But I think we can't ignore the fact Democrats want this fight a little bit more than Republicans do. They think they've been doing just fine this spring with drag-out fights over John Bolton, over Social Security and over other issues. The president's poll ratings are down. The ratings of Republicans who, after all, control political Washington are down. They don't mind that at all. And there's also the pressures of Democratic presidential politics in '08. You've got five sitting senators, Democratic senators, who are looking at running in 2008. They're going to feel a lot of pressure from their constituency groups to engage in a fight on this. The one exception might be Gonzales. If it's Gonzales, there might not be a fight. There'll be carping on the right, but I don't think the people on the right are going to defy President Bush on a nominee.
MS. MITCHELL: He may well also, by the way, have a Bolton recess appointment in the next days or
weeks as well.
MS. TOTENBERG: I don't know how it plays, though, because the subject gets changed to a domestic subject, which is--which always is less good for this president than a foreign policy and security argument. On the other hand, foreign policy hasn't been going so well for him at the moment.
MS. MITCHELL: And, Pete, finally, if you had to bet today, do you think that he would go for the
legacy, go for Gonzales, especially since we all believe that Justice Rehnquist at some point will be leaving before the Bush term is up?
MR. WILLIAMS: You know, we don't know. My guess was that if it were--if it looked like Rehnquist would step down, they would almost certainly go for him now. But if now they're going to have two
shots, maybe they'll go with someone else and hold Gonzales for later.
MS. MITCHELL: OK. We have to leave it there. Thank you all very much.
And we will be right back.
MS. MITCHELL: That's all for today. Tim Russert will be back next week at our regular time with an exclusive interview with Bob Woodward on his new book, "The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat." That's next Sunday, right here on MEET THE PRESS.
If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS. And happy Fourth of July to you all.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints