Senator John Edwards, D-NC
September 28, 2003
TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: Joining us to talk about his presidential candidacy, from Lafayette, Louisiana, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.
Senator Edwards, Wes Clark joins the fray this week, immediately goes to the top of the list, at least in polls. Senator Joe Lieberman calls him a counterfeit Democrat. What do you think?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, D-NC: Well, I think anybody who got in the race this late and got some attention, particularly in this crowded field, would be expected to pop up as a result of that publicity. The same thing happened to me back in January when I first announced.
I think were now entering the serious stage of this campaign, where every candidate needs to lay out their specific ideas. And for me, that means real opportunity for everybody, doing things to lift up the middle class, college for everyone, making sure every young person in America has health care.
I mean, I think its incumbent on General Clark and all of the candidates to lay out their specific ideas, because I think thats what the voters are looking for.
SNOW: Well, youve heard General Clark take several positions on whether he supported the war in Iraq some months ago, the resolution of which you supported.
SNOW: You have heard the quotes of his praising the president and his entire foreign policy team as recently as May 2001. This has led to concern on the part of some Democratic candidates that this guys a Wesley-come-lately. What do you think about his credentials as a Democratic candidate?
EDWARDS: Well, Im going to let General Clark defend his credentials. I disagree strongly with the things he said a couple of years ago about President Bush, about Rumsfeld and Cheney and other members of the administration. I think he was wrong about that. That was during a time that a lot of us were standing up very strongly against some of the actions of the president. And I think General Clark will have to explain to the Democratic voters in the primaries why he did that and why hes changed positions.
SNOW: You said that you strongly disagree. He merely said the president has a good foreign-policy team. You dont think hes got a good foreign-policy team?
EDWARDS: I think he said more than that, if I -- and Ive only heard this anecdotally, but what I was told is that he gave great praise to the president, gave great praise to Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney and what they were doing. And at least from my perspective, I cant tell you how strongly I disagree with that.
EDWARDS: All right. Theres been a little skepticism also of his involvement with something called the Axiom Corporation. One of your home-state newspapers, the Raleigh News and Observer has a story about it. This is an outfit that gathers tons of information about peoples personal lives and than distributes it.
Do you have any concern with Wes Clark having earned his keep, at least working on the board of Axiom?
EDWARDS: Yes, I have some concern about it. I think general -- a lot of us are concerned about general privacy issues in this environment after September the 11th. And I understand that General Clark, while campaigning this week, said very strongly that he believed we need to be careful about making sure peoples privacy was protected and talked about this subject matter.
And the fact that he serves on the board and has worked with and for a company thats involved in this, and specifically I think had some involvement with Jet Blue and some problems with peoples privacy being violated, I think those are just all questions, since hes new to the race, that hell have to respond to. And there may be answers, but I think he has to give the American people those answers.
SNOW: Youve criticized the Patriot Act in blistering terms in a number of the debates. Among the things that you pointed to was the possibility of libraries being searched. And yet, subsequent reporting by the Justice Department indicates that there have been no requests to conduct such searches. And as a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, you get regular reports on that.
So you knew that there had been no library searches or requests for searches, did you not?
EDWARDS: What I know is that, according to the Justice Department, as of May, they were in contact with libraries. And actually, if I could step back to the premise of your question, Tony, what I actually have been critical of is the overall administration policy, including the attorney general, on a whole range of civil- liberties questions, things like their policy on enemy combatants that allows an American citizen to be arrested on American soil and kept indefinitely without seeing a lawyer or a judge, some of the relaxation of the rules that allow agents to go into political meetings or into synagogues, mosques, churches.
EDWARDS: I think those are very serious questions.
And I think we need to be very careful that, in this process of fighting the war on terrorism, which is important, that we dont take away the very things were supposed to be fighting for.
SNOW: Well, these are hypothetical matters. The question is, do you know of any specific instances? And again, you see the stuff, I dont, the public at large doesnt. But you get very detailed briefings on what theyve requested, what theyve gone to the court to seek and so on, so you know whats going on.
Do you know of any specific cases where any of these things have come to pass, other than what youre talking about, the detainees at Guantanamo?
EDWARDS: Well, what I know is, theyve dramatically changed our policy with respect to this issue of enemy combatants. I think thats a great concern. I know that the attorney general has changed the rules that allow agents to go into synagogues, mosques, churches and political meetings.
So I know there are some pretty significant changes going on that would allow some of this activity, and I dont know all the details of what the attorney generals doing. So, I think there is reason for concern.
And I would add to that, Tony, theres also the potential for a real chilling effect, because, when the American people hear that the attorney general of the United States, government agents can in fact go to libraries, find out what theyre checking out, go to bookstores, find out what books are being bought, whether theyre doing it or not, those are things that worry people.
And I think we have to be very careful, particularly in this environment, where people are worried about the potential for a terrorist attack, and understandably so, that we protect those very liberties that make America what it is.
SNOW: Well, Senator, during the debate about the Patriot Act -- the section that youre talking about is called Section 215. Russ Feingold, one of your colleagues...
EDWARDS: Thats correct.
SNOW: ... actually put together an amendment to tighten it up. You voted against that amendment and for the act.
EDWARDS: I did. I think there are some things in the Patriot Act that are actually very good. You know, for example, weve got some -- there were some serious information-sharing problems before September 11th with respect to intelligence, between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. That was changed in the Patriot Act. Thats a good thing. Some of the provisions of the Patriot Act updated our ability to use technology. I think thats a very good thing.
And specifically on Russ Feingolds amendment, at least from my perspective, it didnt approach this deficiency in the problem in the law the right way. I think it went further than we needed to go. And I think there has to be the correct balance between making sure that were prosecuting the war on terrorism and protecting peoples civil liberties.
So, bottom line is, there certainly were some things in the Patriot Act that were good, I still stand by them, they were the right thing to do. But there are some provisions that I think need to be modified, particularly given the discretion that the attorney general has.
SNOW: Lets turn to Topic A here in Washington, the war on terror, specifically $87 billion requested for Iraq. You have said you generally support the presidents request. Will you vote for it as is?
EDWARDS: What I will do is -- we have young men and women over there in a very dangerous situation, in a shooting-gallery environment where theyre very much at risk. It would be irresponsible for us not to support them, and I will certainly do that.
I will not support the additional $20 billion, $21 billion for reconstruction unless and until we get answers to some very serious questions, like, you know, what are we going to do to bring our friends and allies into this process, how long is this going to go on, what is the long-term plan, what do we expect the long-term cost to be?
I mean, I think these are very serious questions that members of Congress, members of the United States Senate are entitled to have before we go forward. We cant give the president a blank check under these circumstances.
SNOW: Senator, we often hear the critique that the White House has not estimated the costs properly and so on, and furthermore that Congress wants some concrete answers.
How would you go about calculating the future cost of operations in Iraq?
EDWARDS: Well, the first thing Id do, I think to have that information in any kind of accurate form, you have to know what the cost-sharings going to be.
And you know, Tony, that for about a year now, Ive been saying that it was critical at this stage of this operation, after the military conflict, but at this stage, trying to win the peace, that we have our friends and allies participating in this, both to help relieve the burden on American troops and also to help share the costs.
Well, I think until we get our friends and allies to the table, until we have them participating and helping us share the costs, so the American taxpayer is not paying for this by themselves, that it is very difficult to calculate.
SNOW: Do you...
EDWARDS: But thats the critical first step, and that should have -- can I just say, that should have been done a long time ago.
SNOW: What do you make of the idea of, rather than giving straight grants, to have instead loan guarantees for the Iraqis, when it comes to these reconstruction projects?
EDWARDS: Oh, I think the most -- how we go about financing it, I think, is something that there are many alternatives, many viable alternatives for doing it.
EDWARDS: But I will go back to what I said a minute ago. I think the most critical thing for us to do at this stage is to make sure were making a serious effort to bring our friends and allies into this process, so were not carrying this burden by ourselves. Thats the critical first step.
SNOW: Do you see any evidence that the administration -- I mean, heres the administration. It went and got a U.N. Security Council resolution, 1441. It lobbied hard and unsuccessfully before the Security Council.
The presidents been before the SecuritI sure do. I think, first of all, they took way too long to do this.
Second thing is, they have not made it clear to our allies that they will have a seat at the table, that theyre going to be able to actually participate in the decision-making. In fact, I think there are some new stories today to that effect. And we cant expect our allies to both participate with troops and money unless they are actually going to be able to participate in the decision-making process.
So, no, I dont think the presidents done up until now what needs to be done. If he had, we would, in fact, have our friends and allies participating in this. We wouldnt be doing this by ourselves.
SNOW: OK, final question. Howard Dean has suggested that Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz step down. Do you agree?
EDWARDS: I think what needs to happen is we need a new president. I think thats what we need to do. You know, this president chooses his administration. I will choose mine when Im president of the United States.
And when Im president of the United States, America will be strong, but we will lead in a way that brings others to us instead of driving them away.
EDWARDS: I think thats the solution to this problem.
SNOW: Well, you said he ought to be able to choose his administration members. Why shouldnt he be able to choose his federal judges, then?
EDWARDS: Well, you know as well I do, Tony, that the Congress and the United States Senate has an important role to play with respect to the confirmation of judges.
And my view is, some of the judges that the president has sent us for consideration -- not all, in fact, a large percentage of them I have voted for and have been confirmed. But some of the judges he sent, I believe, have a record that indicates they will not follow the law and will enforce the Constitution.
And I will not support a federal judge for a lifetime appointment to the bench that Im not certain will enforce our civil-rights laws and enforce our equal-rights laws, that will enforce the Constitution and protect peoples freedom.
SNOW: All right, Senator Edwards, well take up that topic some other time. Thanks so much for joining us today.
EDWARDS: Tony, thanks for having me.