Labor Day, and the political season is launched. On what issues will the elections turn? Terrorism or the sluggish economy? Will the ongoing debate over attacking Iraq affect politics? And what is at stake for President Bush?
All questions for the chairman of the two political committees: for the Republicans, Marc Racicot, for the Democrats, Terry McAuliffe.
Then we'll turn to Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, and talk about Iraq, our reluctant allies, and the conflicts within the Bush administration.
The mid-term elections and Iraq, on Face the Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with Chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from Washington, substituting for Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief White House correspondent John Roberts.
ROBERTS: And good morning, and welcome again to the broadcast. Bob Schieffer is off this morning.
Joining us now, Republic Party Chairman Marc Racicot and Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe.
Good morning to you, gentlemen.
TERRY MCAULIFFE, Chairman, DNC: Good morning.
MARC RACICOT, Chairman, RNC: Good morning.
ROBERTS: So Iraq is high on everybody's agenda this morning. Bob Dole has come out in an editorial in The Washington Post today saying the president needs to seek congressional approval; Senator John McCain has also said the same thing.
Governor Racicot, does the president need to go Congress for either a resolution or declaration of war before he goes into Iraq? Should that be his choice?
RACICOT: Well, as a matter of law, he does not. I think everyone unanimously agrees upon that particular concept. But he's already said that he intends to consult with Congress and with our allies, so I don't think there's any issue for debate there.
ROBERTS: But there's a difference between consultation and actually seeking approval.
RACICOT: Well, I think that the president has indicated that the exigencies or the circumstances at the time prevailing, and the requirements, the imperatives that have to have to be vindicated he'll address in a common-sense and thoughtful way, as the commander in chief.
That's what he's done from the very beginning. That's what I expect he'll do when these circumstances present themselves to him as well.
ROBERTS: Terry McAuliffe, House Minority Leader Gephardt said last week that it's got to come to a vote, some kind of a vote.
Do you believe that the president needs to go to Congress?
MCAULIFFE: Well, I think the president should. I think he needs to get a mandate from the American public and from Congress to go into Iraq. And I think it would be the smart thing to do to have all of America working together, because I think today, John, I think some Americans are very confused where we are with Iraq.
As you know, just last week, the president and Secretary Rumsfeld came out on the front lawn of Crawford and said we need to slow down, the media was moving too fast...
ROBERTS: Frenzy they called it, I believe.
MCAULIFFE: Frenzy. And then literally within three days, Vice President Cheney give a speech and says, "We need to go, we need to go immediately." So I think people are very perplexed to where we are.
I think when the president comes back this week, I think he needs to talk to the country, I think he needs to talk to the members of Congress, so that we can have a consensus as we move toward Iraq.
And as you know, there are a lot of issues within the Republican Party, within the own Bush family, about what we should do with Iraq. So let's get all those issues out of the way. Let's have a good, healthy debate and then make a decision.
ROBERTS: On that point, if you could consider former Secretary of State James Baker in the Bush family, he came out and said furthermore, the president needs to go to the United Nations.
RACICOT: You know, there's no mystery here, John. The fact of the matter is, this is a very open society, and it's a very open administration, as much as it can be open while also vindicating the requirements of being the commander in chief and serving the best national security interests of the American people.
This has been a debate and a discussion in public view. It's a process of probing and testing, so it's very healthy. There's no mystery here at all, it's just exactly what it appears to be.
ROBERTS: We also seem to see, though -- I mean, there's the external debate, but there seems to be an internal debate as well that's playing out in public. We have the vice president, came out last week and said, it looks like inspections won't work. He almost de facto said the military option is the only option. And then we have Colin Powell telling the British Broadcasting Corporation in an interview this morning, well, our initial goal is to get inspectors in. And the president has said, I haven't made up my mind, but I want Saddam Hussein out.
Can the administration back off? Can it say, OK, we'll get inspectors in there, we'll back off our goal on getting Saddam Hussein out, or does the president lose too much face doing that?
RACICOT: This is a process of constantly changing circumstances. Everyone unanimously agrees upon the threat, the danger that's there. And in an open democracy, there is a lot of debate and discussion, a lot of probing, a lot of discovery. And then the commander in chief distills that information and makes a decision. It's nothing more mysterious than that.
And that's what's going on, is this public discussion presently.
ROBERTS: Terry, do you expect that there's going to be an October surprise, if you will? Not necessarily in October, maybe late September, will the president announce action against Iraq and begin some sort of mobilization?
MCAULIFFE: I don't think so, but then again, I don't think President Bush is listening the chairman of the Democratic National Committee as it relates to his Iraqi policy.
But I don't think that we're going to go in before the elections, because, as we've talked about here, the American public are confused on the issue today. Within the Republican Party, there are may different positions on it; within, as I said before, the Bush family.
Before we go and commit our American men and women to go over there and fight in Iraq, I think we need to have a consensus of why we're going in, what we're going for, and the timing. I agree with Chairman Racicot that, listen, we need to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but it's an issue of timing.
When do you we do it? When do we do it so we would have the least casualties? And what's in the best interest of the United States of America?
And today, there's a lot issues out there, but I think they'll all be addressed when we come back this fall.
ROBERTS: Now, let's talk about the issues as they -- as we lead toward the mid-term elections on November the 5th. Six seats in the House, one in the Senate. Both houses have individually been as close, but to the best of my knowledge, together they've never been this close.
What are the issues that this election is going to turn on, guns or butter or both?
RACICOT: Well, I think that when you focus upon the domestic agenda that the president has focused upon all the way along -- this was the focus of his campaign, they are the issues that he's worked on diligently since he's been in office.
The Republican House of Representatives has passed scores of legislation, pieces of legislation, that now lie latent at the doorstep of the United States Senate, which hasn't even passed a budget yet, as required by the law.
I think the continuation will be a focus upon those issues. But we have a very good position to argue from, we believe, because we have actually moved forward in a very competent, very business-like way.
The House has been very thorough in their examination; they've been very efficient. They presented a litany of different pieces of legislation to the Senate.
The president has accomplished a great deal of his domestic agenda with education, with tax reform, with trade promotion authority, pension reform is pending, with the corporate governance issues. We also know he has an energy bill that's there, prescription drug benefits, all of those things, faith-based initiatives, are critically important to him and he continues to push on them.
I think when you talk about that in the context of national security, that what the American people have been able to see as a result of his performance there is someone who leads in a very clear and thoughtful way, and in a way that is allowing for the rest of the world to understand what our imperatives are.
ROBERTS: Well, going to Terry, in terms of clear and thoughtful way, you've been very critical of the president, saying every time President Bush's economic team opens their mouths, markets shudder, currencies collapse, Americans watch their 401(k)s diminish.
I mean, obviously it looks like you're going with the idea of the economy being one of the front-running issues, but at the same time, if you're so critical of the president and his handling of the economy and deficits, why is there no great hue and cry among Democrats in Congress to repeal the tax cut?
MCAULIFFE: Well, first of all, as it relates to what the president has done, I've said consistently I think this administration's agenda on the domestic agenda, the kitchen-table issues has been a disaster.
I mean, just look at the numbers. You saw the Congressional Budget Office just come out last week, a non-partisan, to say that, you know, we're spending the Social Security trust fund. We're in deficit spending, $458 billion, which is $183 billion, John, more than the White House had predicted. We don't have a prescription drug benefit today in this country.
So I think the issue is going to come down to who will do a better job on the domestic agenda, the kitchen-table issues, who's going to preserve Social Security, who's going to give us a real prescription drug benefit, not something that the Republicans passed in the House, which the pharmaceutical companies, as you know, put up $5 million to run ads.
Now listen, the pharmaceutical companies have been taking billions of dollars out of seniors' pockets. If they put up money to support a piece of legislation, that would make me worry.
I think we're going to do very well this fall. I think we're going to win anywhere from four to seven pickups in governorships, I think we win two to three Senate seats, and I think we win at least six House seats.
We're doing very well in the House races around this country, primarily first because of redistricting. We did a great job. They had predicted we'd lose 14 to 18 seats through redistricting; we didn't lose any seats, zero seats.
And right now, in the new seats, I can pick up five for you. I can give you two in Georgia, I can give you one in North Carolina, one in Arizona, one in California that today the Democrats are already picking up.
Then if you look at what we have out there in open seats, huge opportunities for us all over the country. In Tennessee, you look in Maryland, huge opportunity for us.
And then we have obviously incumbents in trouble in Maryland; we have three Republican incumbents in trouble in Iowa. So right now we're doing great, all because of the kitchen-table issues that the Democrats are out there fighting on the issues that matter.
ROBERTS: Pretty optimistic assessment in a year when many astute political analysts say it's difficult to ascertain whether one party is ahead or one party isn't.
But if history is any guide, Governor Racicot, the White House should lose some seats. Make the case that they don't, and counter Mr. McAuliffe's rosy expectations.
RACICOT: The kitchen-table issues that are described by the chairman I think are relevant and important. But the Democratic Senate has done virtually nothing to address those issues.
If they don't like the prescription drug benefit that has been passed by the House of Representatives, it would be, it would seem to me, logical for them to propose an alternative to it. If they don't like the energy bill that's passed or they don't like pension reform, if they don't like the budget, it would seem to me that as a part of this process they'd propose an alternative. They've done virtually nothing.
So the allegation that somehow they're making progress with the agenda of the American people amounts to nothing more than drivel in my judgment.
ROBERTS: But make the case here in terms of numbers though, that you retain control of the House and you regain control of the Senate.
RACICOT: I would realistically tell you that we do swim against the tide of history, obviously, when we hold on to the House of Representatives or we regain a seat in the United States Senate and maintain a majority within the governors.
But we feel this is a historic opportunity for us to be able to do that.
Now, I don't make the kinds of extravagant promises that Mr. McAuliffe does, but I think that we are inspired sincerely every day to believe that we can do those things.
But we know that it's very, very close. These are going to be driven by local issues, we think, around the country.
And as a consequence of that, we have a lot of hard work to do to make certain that the American people vest their confidence in us.
MCAULIFFE: On prescription drug benefits, I don't know where the chairman was for the last several months. He must obviously not been paying attention to what's going on in Washington.
Two pieces of legislation: One that would close the loopholes to allow seniors to go get generic drugs across this country, that would shut the loophole down that the pharmaceutical companies won't allow them to buy generics would save seniors $60 billion. That has passed the Senate. Let's get it through the House.
Also, we had a bill. The Graham-Miller-Kennedy bill which got 52 votes in the Senate before they adjourned for the summer recess -- 52 votes. If the president of the United States wants a prescription drug benefit, he should come back from Crawford, Texas, and work with the Democrats. We got 52 votes. We can get this. It is a much better bill. It covers 39 million of our seniors across this country who are looking for a good prescription drug benefit. Fifty-two, we can get to 60. We need 60.
And on the budget, we could pass a budget. We need 60 votes for a budget. Either you give us nine more United States senators or the president of the United States needs to come back from Crawford, work with the Democrats and we can have a budget.
ROBERTS: Let's take a look quickly at the way that this campaign is going. Seems to be, to some degree, a battle between George Bush -- and this is the way the Republicans are laying it out -- a battle between George Bush and Bill Clinton.
You're saying that the corporate corruption that we experienced this year was a result of the binge of the '90s during the Clinton administration.
You're reminding voters that the recession began in 2000. There was even a suggestion sometime back from the president's spokesman that President Clinton was responsible for the current round of violence in the Mideast.
Why do you think that's going to work, comparing President Bush against President Clinton?
RACICOT: I don't think that's the dominant theme, John. I know that there have been some suggestions offered from some quarters in sporadic fashion about where the responsibility lies.
I think that the response has been to those who allege that somehow that this administration is exclusively and solely responsible for the circumstances that prevail in terms of corporate America with, in very minor fashion, with an incredibly insignificant number of people in comparison to the whole number who are involved in serving on boards and in corporations, having abused their discretion.
We've said all along that the markets that exploded during the '90s are naturally going through a business cycle. We've said all along, the president has, that there were abuses that had occurred. They had to be addressed. He aggressively addressed them first not only through the directives that he gave in his own administration, but by advancing legislation through Congress.
So, I don't believe that there's been any effort other than to explain circumstances by the Republicans to try and somehow blame a ghost of the past for whatever it is that happens to prevail today.
ROBERTS: I know that Terry's just itching to come back on that, but we've only got a couple minutes left, so if I could just move on to another topic.
The Congressional Budget Office came out with new projections that we're going to stay in deficit spending until 2006, and the only way we'll get substantially back in the black is if the president's tax cut is allowed to expire after the year 2010, which is its last year as written.
Is now the time for the president to be proposing new tax cuts, particularly ones that seem to benefit wealthy investors more than they do middle-and low-income Americans?
MCAULIFFE: We're for tax cuts that are targeted to the middle class that will actually get people out to work again. If you can give employers an incentive to hire employees, and for people who lost a lot of their 140(k)s and have seen their stock market portfolio just shattered, you know, if we can do some type of incentive for those individuals, then the Democrats would all be for it.
We were against the president's -- many of us were against the president's tax cut last year, $2 trillion, because it went primarily to the wealthy of this country.
And I've said this consistently, John, it was based on faulty economic projections. The president said we could have the tax cut, we could balance the budget. We could have a prescription drug benefit, and we wouldn't have to touch Social Security. Wrong on all counts.
ROBERTS: So why is -- and I asked you this before, why no hue and cry to roll back the current tax cut?
MCAULIFFE: I think the main political reason is the president of the United States said, "Over my dead body." He made that statement when this was discussed months ago. So why do the Democrats want to get into the debate when the president said he would veto it over his dead body?
As soon as the elections are over, Democrats, Republicans, let's all come together, sit down at the table, not this photo-op thing they had down in Waco, Texas.
ROBERTS: But let's not do it before the election, right?
MCAULIFFE: I don't think we'll be able to do it with the political environment the way it is, John, I don't think we can do that. But after, let's all get together. Prescription drugs, let's get the economy moving again.
ROBERTS: Well, this is going to be one interesting political year. The race is so close and the playing field so level.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us, Governor Racicot, Terry McAuliffe.
RACICOT: Thank you.
MCAULIFFE: Thank you.
ROBERTS: We appreciate it.
We'll be back in just a moment with Tom Friedman from The New York Times. Stay with us.
ROBERTS: Welcome back. With us now is Tom Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times. He's also got a new book out called "Longitudes and Attitudes: Exploring the World After September 11th."
Tom, good morning to you.
TOM FRIEDMAN, The New York Times: Good to be here.
ROBERTS: So you've heard all the talk, the sabre rattling about Iraq. Most notably, the vice president came out earlier in the week and suggested that time is running short and that perhaps an inspection regime is not going to be everything that the world needs it to be.
Let's take a quick look at the speech before the V.F.W. of what the vice president said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some concede that Saddam is evil, power-hungry and a menace, but that until he crosses the thresh-hold of actually possessing nuclear weapons, we should rule out any preemptive action. That logic seems to me to be deeply flawed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: That seems to be a pretty pointed commentary toward people like Brent Scowcroft and James Baker, who've said, "Don't do it now, you'll blow up the coalition against terrorism. Seek a U.N. resolution first."
Then at the same time, in an interview with the BBC today, Colin Powell says, "Inspections need to be our first priority."
There's a lot of confusion and conflict here.
FRIEDMAN: Well, there's been a lot of confusion since the beginning of this debate, John.
What I really focus on is one issue. I think that there is a broad consensus that Cheney's right, that Saddam is a bad man; he's in violation of the U.N. inspection regime. And he's mixing things in his bathtub that can only be bad for a lot of people around the world.
The question is really, how do you get at it? And here I pay attention to three people. I pay attention to Powell, I pay attention to Tony Blair, and I pay attention to John McCain. I think they're the loyal opposition.
They're the only opposition that President Bush cares about. He couldn't care less what the Democrats say. I think he cares about those three people.
And if you listen to what those three people are saying, they're saying, "Yes, we agree with you on Saddam as a threat. But we need three things before you go to war with this guy: One, we need congressional support. I think that's very important, to know that the American people are behind this. Two, we need evidence of weapons of mass destruction. We don't need much, OK, but a few photos and a few lab samples would really go a long way here. And thirdly, we need a causus belli. We need you to go to the U.N. and simply say very simply to Saddam, 'Look, buddy, unlimited inspections any time, anywhere, any day starting tomorrow, yes or no, up or down. If it's no, we're coming."'
But we need to set that up. To go to war against Iraq, to break up another country from a standing start without those three things, I think the administration would have a problem with. And my gut feeling is the president understands that. And if you look at the reports coming out, you can see them sort of inching toward that kind of approach.
ROBERTS: Now, the president has been quite clear saying he wants regime change in Iraq. Can he step back from that? Can he say, "OK, let's do inspections," and not lose face, as Richard Perle from the Defense Policy Council has suggested he would?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I believe if it just ended with inspections, then the president would have a problem. But I think everyone believes that the minute we say to Saddam, "Look, fella, this is very simple. Inspections, free and unfettered and surprise, OK, or we're coming in," he's going say, "Sorry, I'm not going to go with it." And once he does that...
ROBERTS: But Cheney has said even that won't work, you'll never find it all.
FRIEDMAN: Well, I don't think that we really have to worry about that, because I think that it's true, you would never find it all, but at the same time I don't think Saddam is going to agree to any of it.
But I think if we step back, John, I think that the president does have more flexibility here than some of the people pushing him from the right, like Richard Perle and others would suggest.
I felt from the very beginning this Iraq issue was an elite issue. That is, I found in my own travels around this country not a lot of people coming up to me and saying, you know, "Geez, if the president doesn't invade Iraq tomorrow or next day or next week, if he doesn't fulfill this, you know, commitment, I'm not voting for him." I don't think this is a mass issue.
I think the people will go along with it if they're convinced that the world and the public are with us and that there's is a real causus belli, but I don't think they're driving it.
ROBERTS: Last week Dick Cheney quoted CBS News analyst Fouad Ajami who said, "If we liberate Iraq, people will be celebrating in the streets of Baghdad the same way though did in Kabul after we liberated Afghanistan."
But in your column in the New York Times today you say, well, that's fine the morning after, but what about the morning after the morning after? What then?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. I've no doubt that Fouad's exactly right, that we would be welcomed in Baghdad and around Iraq, number one. And I think that the operation would go relatively quickly.
These regimes always look strong until they crack. And then when they crack, they crack very quickly.
ROBERTS: (OFF-MIKE) nation-building?
FRIEDMAN: But the problem is when they crack, and the pieces you're left with on the ground. And what is the raw material you are going to be building with?
This country, Iraq, let's remember, has a lot more in common, say, with Yugoslavia than it does with Egypt. OK, it's not a homogeneous population, say, like an Egypt is. It's a country divided between Kurds in the north, it's the Shi'ites in the south and Sunnis in the center. It's a country that has a Shi'ite majority, like Iran, but with a Sunni minority that has traditionally ruled the place. It's a country with a long history of ethnic division.
It's not a country where we have the raw material to work with to turn it into a democracy tomorrow. That's not an argument against doing it, John. It's an argument for being prepared for a long haul.
ROBERTS: Tom, we've got about a minute left. Because your area of expertise is the Middle East here, so many Arab leaders, including Hosni Mubarak, are saying, "You go into Iraq before you solve the Palestinian question, the Mideast is going to go up in flames like a tinder box."
Is there a way to do it without the Mideast blowing up?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, I don't think these Arab leaders would be with us with the Arab-Israeli conflict settled or without the Arab-Israeli conflict settled.
These are deeply illegitimate regimes. I think they're afraid of their people. The only thing that brought them to our side back in the first Gulf War is that Saddam had a gun to their head. And had Saddam not had that gun to their head, they wouldn't have been any more comfortable being with us then. So, I really don't buy that argument.
But does solving or making progress on the Israeli, Arab-Israeli conflict, would that enhance our ability to operate out there? Absolutely, but it wouldn't be decisive.
ROBERTS: Well, we'll learn more what the president may have in store when he addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 12th.
Tom Friedman, thanks very much.
ROBERTS: We'll be back in just a moment with a final word.
ROBERTS: And that's our broadcast. Bob Schieffer will back again next week with a special one-hour edition of Face the Nation, on the war on terrorism and the events of September 11th one year later. The guests will include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Thanks for watching Face the Nation. I'm John Roberts. Have a good Sunday.