Monday, August 07, 2006

Meet the Press about Lieberman-Lamont

From Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: Welcome both. Lanny Davis, friend of Lieberman; Jim Dean, friend of Lamont. Let’s go right to it.

Here’s the latest polling on this Senate race in Connecticut, let’s put it on the screen. Now: Lieberman 41, Lamont 54. Six months ago it was Lieberman 68, Lamont 13. What happened to Joe Lieberman? How could he lose 55-point lead?

MR. LANNY J. DAVIS: Well, I think from the very beginning he knew that his position on the war was contrary to the feelings of most Democrats, and that the challenge would be to try to convince Democrats to focus on the facts concerning his 30-year record as a progressive Democrat, and allow him to disagree, at least in part, on the war. He’s spoken out strongly against the conduct of the war. But I think he knew from the beginning that the war was a very dominant issue for Democrats, and it would tighten up.

MR. RUSSERT: Even amongst Lamont supporters, Mr. Dean, let me show you, this is quite interesting. Are you voting for Lamont, 30 percent; against Lieberman, 65. Is this a referendum on Joe Lieberman?

MR. JAMES H. DEAN: Well, I think you could probably say that, but I think more so, Tim, that it’s really a reference—a referendum, excuse me, on incumbency in general in Washington, and sort of the inertia that people have become to associate with getting things done in Congress. I think in a lot of ways, obviously the war, big, important issue among the voters, but I think we’re also need to talk about, you know, the fact that it’s been tough getting things done on health care, it’s been tough getting things done about our infrastructure and fully funding our schools. And while it’s unfair to hang any of that on Joe, because he’s fought for a lot of these things, I think there is a feeling that we need a change in Washington.

MR. RUSSERT: But the primary focus has been the war.

MR. DEAN: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: In reference to February of ‘05, this now-famous picture of President Bush leaving the rostrum at the State of the Union message, hugging, kissing Joe Lieberman...

MR. DEAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: evolved into this button that, “The Kiss: Too Close for Comfort!”

MR. DEAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: And many people refer to this speech Senator Lieberman gave in December of ‘05 as a real turning point. Let’s listen.

(Videotape, December 6, 2005):

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT): It’s time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge that he will be the commander in chief for three more critical years and that in matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: “In matters of war, we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril.” Is he suggesting that it is not patriotic to criticize a president’s conduct of a war?

MR. DAVIS: Absolutely not. The proof is in the pudding; he has criticized President Bush repeatedly for his inept handling of this war, for the lack of body armor, for the lack of the buildup with allies supporting the war. He’s actually said in 2003, “If I were president, I’d replace Donald Rumsfeld.” It is ludicrous to suggest that Joe Lieberman is against dissent in war. I was with Joe Lieberman in 1968 when he supported Robert Kennedy against an incumbent president. That comment was made about exploiting the war politically. He was referring as well to Republicans trying to use the war on terrorism for election purposes. That’s really the misconstruction of his comment. I think if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t have used those words.

MR. RUSSERT: When you heard those words, what was your reaction?

MR. DEAN: Well, actually, we did a petition drive on that, about those words, because we felt that, you know, there was an inference in here that dissent on this thing was wrong and, and we feel that, you know, we should be asking questions and dissenting on the wrong—dissenting on this war. So Democracy for America did a petition drive. I want to add also that Senator Lieberman, after that drive, met with both myself and several representatives of some of the groups in our network in Connecticut, which I—means a lot to me, and we had a, you know, a good dialogue about that. But again, you know, we’re in this race because we do believe in a change in Washington and we believe that we need some new voices in there and we believe we really need to consistently stand up against this president.

MR. RUSSERT: The only debate Lamont/Lieberman had, July 6th, Senator Lieberman said, “The situation in Iraq is a lot better than a year ago.” Is that his view?

MR. DAVIS: His view is to look at the facts that have occurred. There has been elections, a lot of people went to the polls under the worst of circumstances. I think every American—and by the way, Tim, I’m opposed to this war and I’m for Joe Lieberman. And there’s a reason that one can be against this war and in favor of Lieberman because of his progressive record for 30 years. But I was heartened when I saw those purple fingers in the air and I was heartened that people in Baghdad and throughout Iraq tried to show the ability to have democracy. So I think that’s what Senator Lieberman is talking about. But he does not deny that the inept handling of this war, that a borderline civil war that looks to be occurring, he’s not denying the difficulties that we now face, but he blames poor planning, ill execution, and he’s publicly criticized President Bush for that.

MR. RUSSERT: Rahm Emanuel, the congressman, the head of the Congressional Campaign Committee, is quoted in The Washington Post today saying the message out of Connecticut is don’t support the president on the war, that if you’re a rubber stamp for the president, it’s life-threatening. Do you agree?

MR. DAVIS: I agree that you shouldn’t be a rubber stamp for George Bush. And I think Rahm Emanuel was not talking about Joe Lieberman, because Rahm Emanuel knows about the facts. Joe Lieberman stood up to George Bush on every single tax cut for the wealthy, he opposed George Bush’s Social Security privatization plan, he led the fight against drilling in the Arctic Refuge, he supports stem cell research, he supports choice. Every major Democratic Party liberal organization—labor, environmentalists, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL—support Joe Lieberman. Rahm Emanuel would not call a Democrat who supports 90 percent of his fellow Democrats in the Senate a rubber stamp for George Bush. That Kiss button is a campaign of distortion. Just because President Bush reached over and made that gesture, to make that into a campaign issue constitutes a misrepresentation of the facts of Joe Lieberman’s record as a Democrat in the Senate.

MR. RUSSERT: But the primary issue in this primary is the war.

MR. DAVIS: Yes. And I think it is absolutely understandable and legitimate for any Democrat who considers this war the paramount issue and the only issue to vote for Ned Lamont. And I respect that. I’m against this war, as I said, and I disagree with Joe Lieberman on the war, but I hope that Democrats watching in Connecticut, who look at a record of 30 years of fighting for progressive causes, will not allow the distortions of Joe Lieberman’s record, the Kiss button, calling him a lap dog—outright distortions, ignoring all of the times he’s been out there fighting George Bush on every major issue. That should be the dominant issue that counts when people go to the polls.

MR. RUSSERT: I’ve read all of Ned Lamont’s public comments on the war in Iraq...

MR. DAVIS: Mm-hmm.

MR. RUSSERT: ...and I’m trying to pin down exactly his position. This was June 22nd Hartford Courant. His campaign manager, Tom Swan, “said that Lamont backed the Reed-Levin plan”—that was a phased redeployment—“even though it was ‘watered down.’” And he said, “Lamont was ‘sympathetic’ to the John Kerry proposal” of a date-certain withdrawal, “but he wouldn’t necessarily vote for it, because he wants to be a uniter among Democrats.”

Then the very next day, the same newspaper, I read this: “A second measure offered by John F. Kerry, D-Mass. ... would have all U.S. troops out of Iraq by July 1,2007 ... ‘I would have supported them both,’” meaning Kerry and the Reed-Levin. What happened in 24 hours, and what is his position? Is he for an immediate withdraw, date-certain of all troops?

MR. DEAN: Right. My feeling is that he’s signed on with the Democratic Party leadership to withdraw the troops—start withdrawing troops by the end of this year. The...

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think Kerry says all out by July of ‘07 that he would vote of Kerry? So that’s his position?

MR. DEAN: Right. Ned wants to get the troops out ASAP. I mean, we, we all do. And the thing about this is is that there’s been a lot of, you know, sort of back and forth in this on Congress. The Democrats—you know, he’s one of those Democrats that’s taking a stand to get the troops out, that he’s willing to stand up for that and take the heat for doing it. He’s willing to sign on to the leadership to start withdrawing the troops by the end of this year, and that is the kind of thing that we need to further this debate and to get the troops out, because if we don’t start standing up for these things we’re never going to get them home right now, if we listen to this sort of rhetoric from the administration about staying the course and all of that.

MR. RUSSERT: But would he have voted for John Kerry’s resolution to bring all troops home—all of them—by July of ‘07?

MR. DEAN: I’m not sure whether he would have or not.

MR. DAVIS: Can I comment, please? On the very same day he said he would support Kerry’s, then he said he wouldn’t support Kerry’s, then he said he supported Chris Dodd’s position, which was opposed to Kerry’s. And here’s a fact that everybody maybe doesn’t know. In February of 2005, after that shot of President Bush kissing Senator Lieberman, Ned Lamont wrote out a check to the Lieberman campaign. February ‘05. If he was so much against the war, why is he supporting Joe Lieberman in February ‘05? What is his position on a deadline? Does he feel that pulling out, leaving a rogue state behind, is a danger? He won’t answer those questions, and I respect Jim not being able to answer the question, because his candidate won’t answer the question.

MR. DEAN: Well, he has answered that question in that he feels very strongly that the key to Iraq becoming its own government and running its own country is for our troops to get out of there as quickly as possible. I think he’s been pretty clear about that. He may have written a check to Joe Lieberman in the past, because Ned has been involved in Democratic Party politics for many, many years. And that’s, you know, part of what happens when you are involved in politics. And it was also before he was running for office.

MR. RUSSERT: Another big issue in the campaign that emerged is Terry Schiavo. Joe Lieberman was on this program in March of ‘05. I asked him about Terry Schiavo, his support of federal legislation to, to review her case, and I asked him this specific question:

(Videotape, March 2005):

MR. RUSSERT: You would have kept the tube in?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: I would have kept the tube in.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Is that still his view?

MR. DAVIS: His view, along with every Democrat in the United States Senate, was to allow legislation to pass to give the family, the parents, another chance at the Florida court system. That legislation passed by unanimous consent. When Mr. Lamont criticizes Senator Lieberman on that vote in his advertisements—another distortion—he doesn’t say that every Democratic senator took the same position and allowed that legislation to pass.

MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, no Democratic senator objected. Tom Harkin, liberal from Iowa, was the one who was trying to fashion the compromise. Jesse Jackson, who was in Connecticut last week for your candidate, said that it was “cruel and crude” to remove the tube from Terry Schiavo. So is it fair for Mr. Lamont to use that as an issue when no other Democrat stood up and opposed it, and Jesse Jackson, his supporter, was saying “cruel and crude,” which is basically Lieberman’s position?

MR. DEAN: Yeah. You know, I think Ned’s position on this is that this isn’t and was not then and is not the federal government’s business. And I concur with that. I think this is a family decision. They’d certainly been through the state court system up and down. It’s a gut-wrenching situation for, for both sides of this. And this was not something that the Congress or the Senate or the federal government should be getting involved in.

MR. RUSSERT: I even asked your brother, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, why he didn’t speak up during the debate. He said, “I wish I would have.”

MR. DEAN: Well, again, Ned is extremely committed to the fact that the federal government really needs to stay out of issues like this among family members, as well as a lot of other personal and moral issues. People send their legislatures—or people to Congress, Tim, for them to solve the problems that we have of health care, solve the problems that we have of our schools, to solve our foreign policy and national security problems. They don’t send people to Congress to start telling them what they’re supposed to do in their personal life or make these difficult moral decisions.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me go to the nub of this campaign, because it has been focused on the war and whether Senator Lieberman is a sufficient enough Democrat. The Congressional Quarterly does a comparison of voting records, and this is what they found in 2005. Lieberman’s in agreement with the Democrat Party 90 percent of the time, and in opposition to the party 10 percent of the time. That places him equal or better than 17 other Democratic senators of the 44 who are there. Why is Lieberman being—alone being picked out for a primary of this nature, and not others, who also voted for the war?

MR. DEAN: Well, I think, you know, it’s—again, it gets back to this sort of culture of incumbency. And again, I’m not trying to hang Joe on this, but Connecticut is a state that gives a lot more than it gets from the federal government. I think the voters are OK with that there. I think the voters understand that solving some of these difficult issues of transportation and health care in Iraq take some time, but the problem is there’s a great deal of frustration among the voters now in Connecticut because these huge tax breaks to the energy companies that are going on, the huge tax breaks to big pharma, the $200 million bridges to nowhere—you know, they see their money just going directly out and going down the drain and getting nothing back, and I think that’s really contributed a lot. I mean, obviously, Iraq is a big deal. Senator Lieberman’s statements supporting the Bush administration, I think, have, have highlighted that quite a bit. But some of these other things that’ve been simmering for over 20 years are, are also coming into play here.

MR. RUSSERT: But money for I-95 or for ferries to lessen the traffic congestion...

MR. DEAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: ...bringing home the bacon for Connecticut...

MR. DEAN: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: ...would Lamont see that as part of his duties as a senator?

MR. DEAN: I think he would fight for that. And you know something, Joe has fought for that. But the real problem here is that we live in a system where there’s 63 lobbyists for every single person in Congress, and Connecticut is getting the short end of the stick.

No matter who wins this race, Tim, I don’t want them, six years from now, saying, “I saved 10 defense industry jobs,” because that’s all the defense industry jobs we have left in Connecticut. We’re playing a zero-sum game that we’re on the wrong end of, and we need someone who’s going to say, “the heck with this culture of incumbency, we got to get something done for the voters and taxpayers of our state.”

MR. RUSSERT: Lanny Davis, The New York Times watched this race very closely, and they weighed in last Sunday with an endorsement for Ned Lamont. And they said it this way: “It is critical that the minority party serve as a responsible, but vigorous, watchdog. That does not require shrillness or absolutism. But this is no time for a man with Mr. Lieberman’s ability to command Republicans’ attention to become their enabler, and embrace a role as the president’s defender.”

MR. DAVIS: First of all, I respect The New York Times, but I think the Connecticut newspapers that know the candidates best should probably be listened to more by Connecticut voters. All five Connecticut papers who have endorsed any candidate—all five—endorse Joe Lieberman, including Ned Lamont’s hometown paper, The Greenwich Time.

The New York Times devoted 11 paragraphs to criticizing Joe Lieberman without mentioning all of the specific instances where Joe Lieberman opposed President Bush, as I mentioned earlier, including on Abu Ghraib, in which he said that he was outraged; including calling the surveillance program illegal. The New York Times simply omitted those facts, and I was allowed to write a letter to the editor pointing that out.

But compared to five out of five Connecticut newspapers, including the Greenwich Time, his hometown newspaper—and if I could just respectfully suggest to my friend Jim--90 percent voting with Democrats is a fact. Another fact is that Ned Lamont, when he served on the Board of Selectmen, bragged, bragged to The Greenwich Time, the same newspaper that endorsed Joe Lieberman, “I support 80 percent of the time what my Republicans on the Board of Selectmen.” So those are facts that Mr. Lamont is not mentioning in his ad. When he clones and morphs Joe Lieberman—from the face of Joe Lieberman to the face of George Bush, that is a distortion of what you put on the screen, that Joe Lieberman votes 90 percent with the Democrats.

I’m accustomed to Republicans distorting Democrats in campaigns. We saw what happened to Max Cleland, being morphed into Osama bin Laden. When Joe Lieberman is morphed into George Bush, and Ned Lamont doesn’t say that he votes 90 percent with the Democrats, that’s a distortion, and the people of Connecticut should consider whether distorting Joe Lieberman’s record is a fair thing, and whether that’s something that Mr. Lamont should regret, before they vote for him.

MR. RUSSERT: Give you a chance to respond.

MR. DEAN: Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, you know, I think that 80 percent with the Republicans has been a little bit blown out of proportion. This is a select committee that’s dominated by Republicans, and we’re talking about pot holes in streets, here. But let’s go up to not 30,000 feet on this thing, Tim, but about 100 feet. If you look—I mean, both campaigns have given as good as they’ve gotten in this race, on both sides of it. But the overwhelming tenor, or, or, view of the totality of this race is the fact that the voters are getting very, very excited about the fact that they are empowered to set the course for Connecticut, set the course for their party. We have a situation right now where 11,000 people have registered, reregistered from being Independent to being Democrat. We have a lot of people that are engaged in this debate and getting very, very excited. And I think, really, that’s been the temper of this debate, and that’s, and that’s been the, the tone of this election more than anything else. It’s been extremely positive.

And I’ll say one thing about the party brass, most of whom were in Joe’s corner because of the convention, they’ve done a great job at handling this and keeping this debate civil. Nancy DiNardo, head of the party, it’s not been an easy three months, she’s done a great job. Chris Dodd with his statesmanship. This has benefited the three outstanding congressional candidates that we have: Diane Farrell, Chris Murphy, Joe Courtney. You know, that’s really been the tone of this. And there’s been some stuff in the direct mail on both sides of this. But that’s not really the—it’s about this big compared to everything else that’s going on.

MR. RUSSERT: In late June, Senator Lieberman said, “I’m a Democrat, I’ve always been a Democrat, I always will be a Democrat.” Twelve days later he started circulating petitions for an independent run; an insurance policy if he loses the Democratic primary. The last time there was an Independent running for the Senate in Connecticut who was a Democrat was 1970, and here’s the result: Lowell Weicker, the Republican, got 42 percent of the vote; Joe Duffey, the Democrat, got 34 percent of the vote, and Tom Dodd, the Democrat running as an Independent—father of the incumbent Senator Chris Dodd--24 percent. If Joe Lieberman loses this primary on Tuesday by a significant margin, will he still try to run as an Independent and risk losing the seat for the Democratic Party?

MR. DAVIS: The answer is he will run as a Democrat. He will run, he will win on Tuesday night, in my judgment. The facts will catch up, five endorsements by Connecticut papers. He will win Tuesday.

But in the hypothetical question you’ve asked, he is ahead by 24 points in a three-way contest. He will win Democratic support, Independent support, and moderate Republican support. He will caucus with the Democrats, and he will stand for a Democrat who’s progressive for 40 years that I’ve known him, reaching across the aisle...

MR. RUSSERT: So he’ll definitely run as an Independent?

MR. DAVIS: ... and caucus with the Senate. Yes, he will.

MR. RUSSERT: Will this risk losing the seat for the Democrats?

MR. DEAN: No. You know, these are really the two big players in this race—Ned Lamont, Joe Lieberman. I believe that whoever wins the Democratic primary in this thing will, will go to victory, and then keep—we’ll keep our Senate seat. In fact, I’m quite convinced of that.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you hope that Joe Lieberman would step aside if he loses the primary?

MR. DEAN: Well, you know, I, I’m only thinking one foot ahead of the other, Tim. I’m not the sharpest tack in the world. And you know, I can see my way right now through Tuesday, and then we’ll figure out everything else afterwards.

MR. RUSSERT: Lanny, you—Davis—your new book, “Scandal: How Gotcha Politics is Destroying America.” You’re very tough on the bloggers here. Is Joe Lieberman in trouble because of the bloggers or because of his support of—on the war for President Bush?

MR. DAVIS: He’s in a tight race because he’s on the opposite side of the way most core Democrats—I don’t blame it on the bloggers. But I do say that the virulence and the hatred where you can’t disagree with somebody, you just have to call them evil, is really what I’m addressing in that book, and which this campaign unfortunately has had too much of.

MR. RUSSERT: Lanny Davis, Jim Dean, thank you very much for...

MR. DEAN: Thanks for having us on, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: ...civilized debate.

MR. DAVIS: Thank you very much.

MR. DEAN: Yeah, appreciate it.

MR. RUSSERT: We’ll be right back.

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