Casualties continue to mount in Iraq. Yesterday, two Black Hawk helicopters crashed, killing 17.
In Washington, the Republicans reached a Medicare deal but many Democrats are not so sure.
And the Democrats' search for a presidential nominee continues.
All issues for one of the most influential Democratic leaders, Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Doyle McManus of the "Los Angeles Times" joins in the questioning and I'll have a final word on: Is Iraq a replay of Vietnam?
But, first, Senator Ted Kennedy on Face The Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face The Nation with CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now, from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: And good morning again.
Senator Kennedy is in the studios in Washington with us this morning. Joining in the questioning, Doyle McManus of the "Los Angeles Times."
Senator, again today more terrible news from Iraq on the front pages of our newspapers. This time two helicopters have collided. Apparently, at least 17 people are dead. One helicopter apparently trying to avoid ground fire. You were against going into Iraq and made no bones about it. But let's put that aside for a minute. Whether we should have gone or not, what should we do now?
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, D-MA: We have to recognize that unless we are really going to make a solid effort to bring the international community into every aspect of the Iraqi life -- I mean by that the reconstruction, helping them to establish election procedures and also sharing the military aspect. I think we're really just reshuffling the -- the deck chairs on the ship.
There's been an announcement this past week about how the administration is accelerating the election process, but as long as we are the ones that are selecting the local leaders, setting up the local elections, establishing the process and the procedures, then our servicemen and women are going to be in the bull's eye.
They're going to have the crosshairs placed upon them.
That is the real danger, and I think we are committed -- all of us ought to be committed to try to make sure that Iraq is going to not just to be left in by side but is able to come out of this period of time. We're all committed to that. I think those of us who had strong -- took strong exception to going into Iraq in the first place, but beyond this, what is happening today is that we have taken our gaze off of what is happening in Afghanistan. There, we're seeing the Taliban reorganizing, al Qaeda becoming more active. We are also seeing the side results that are taking place in Turkey.
Terror is still the number one problem. If Afghanistan becomes unstable, we're -- still are going to be dealing with the challenge of terror for the future. And the only way that that is ever going to be successful is by an international community.
KENNEDY: We have to give up this going alone, my way or the highway, which has absolutely dominated American foreign policy.
SCHIEFFER: Well, do you think we can get other countries to join us in this? So far, nobody's shown much interest in that.
KENNEDY: Well, there's -- I've listened enough as a member of the Armed Services Committee to Secretary Rumsfeld and others talking about how there are -- it's the coalition of the willing, but those -- we all understand that that is not the kind of base commitment. We have, even though we've gone to the United -- United States...
KENNEDY: ...United Nations and we have a resolution, it is not the kind of resolution which has -- really recognizes that there has to be a serious departure in our policy. This was a -- more of a feel-good resolution.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what you're saying then is go back to the United Nations. Let me ask you about something that you said early on. When we were thinking about going in, you said, 'There is no imminent threat, that was made up down in Texas. The whole thing is a fraud.'
You were severely criticized by the president's supporters when you said that. Did you take it too far when you said that or do you still believe that's the case?
KENNEDY: No, I believe that the whole policy was based on the quicksand of false assumptions, that -- one, that Iraq was involved in 9/11, which they weren't; secondly, that they were dominated by al Qaeda, which they haven't been; third, that they had a nuclear capability that was going to threaten the United States in a period of months. That hasn't been the case. That their weapons of mass destruction posed an imminent threat. That wasn't the case. Next, that they were going to be able to restore their own country. That has not been the case. These were the statements that were made by the administration, and they were false. And all of us know...
KENNEDY: ...and having listened to this, that there was a selective use of intelligence. And I think when the final studies and reports are going out, we'll find that that is all the case.
SCHIEFFER: Is it your sense that the president knew this was not the case...
SCHIEFFER: ...or do you think he was mislead?
KENNEDY: Well, the information that was used by the administration was clearly selective, and there was no doubt in my mind that there was a judgment in the decision within the administration that they are -- going to war with Iraq was the next step after going to Afghanistan. And that, I think, has been pretty well documented.
SCHIEFFER: Is what you're saying, Senator Kennedy, is that the administration decided it was going to war with Iraq and it didn't really care what the information was?
KENNEDY: Well, I'd say that -- I'd put it in my own words, that Secretary Powell thought that Saddam Hussein was actually contained all the way up through the summer of 2001, that George Tenet said the number one threat to the United States' security was al Qaeda and not Iraq. And then all of that shifted and all of that changed, and neither the intelligence that was provided the Armed Services Committee or to many justified that change.
SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you one more question about this. You say we need to bring in the international community. If the international community won't come, what do we do then? Go home?
KENNEDY: Well, I'm not -- I don't believe that that's the case. I don't think it's really been tried, I don't think, in the way that it should have been tried. I've had the opportunity to talk to Kofi Annan and to the other decision-makers up there. We haven't gone to the United Nations and said, 'Look, we've made a mistake. We need their help. We want you to be part of the reconstruction, to help establish the political process, and we want you also to help and share in terms of a providing relief for American military forces.'
KENNEDY: That has not been done and it should be.
DOYLE McMANUS, "Los Angeles Times": Well, now, Senator, just this last week the Bush administration and the Iraqis came up with a new plan that was supposed to, as you say, have elections and put sovereignty in Iraqi hands by the end of June. Now that -- one of the things administration officials say is that that should make it easier to get other countries to do exactly what you'd like them to do. Are you willing to grant that the administration is moving in the right direction?
KENNEDY: Well, there's a change of policy, but I don't see how that is really going to move the perception that is taking place in Iraq, that the United States is still the major factor, a major force and they are the ones that are calling the shots. And I believe that the process is going to be suspect in establishing the election procedures, the candidates are going to be suspect of being tools of the United States.
I think the only way that you're going to be able to ensure both the real progress in Iraq, plus the safety of American soldiers is you have to change this mix in the perception of Iraq, that there are others, not just the United States, calling these shots, and accelerating the elections and moving in these other candidates is not going to do it. I don't think that that is going to make a significant difference in terms of the perception about who's calling the shots.
McMANUS: Now the two big things the administration is doing -- setting up this new government and talking about withdrawing some American troops -- are both happening in the middle of a presidential election year. Do you think what they're doing here is based on sound strategic thinking or do you think they're thinking about that presidential campaign?
KENNEDY: Well, I think they're -- we would hope that they're doing it for the right reasons and not because it's tied into a presidential election. That would certainly be our hope. But I'm not confident that the way that they are going to proceed we're going to see a lessening of the violence, a lessening of the security factor over there the way that they're moving. And that is the path -- they continued on the path that I think has to be altered and changed.
SCHIEFFER: Senator, let's switch to something that's certainly of interest to millions of Americans, and that is Medicare. We have learned that the Republicans and some key Democrats have come up with an agreement on how to add prescription drugs to Medicare, basically one that will cause seniors to pay higher premiums, but as a result, that the government will pay for -- what? -- 75 percent of the drugs they get. If -- you can clarify that if it's not exactly what's right. I just want to ask you, is this going to be something that's going to be OK with you? Because I'm told that you have some concerns about it.
KENNEDY: Well, I don't think that bill will pass the United States Senate.
SCHIEFFER: You do not.
KENNEDY: Now let's just go back to what the situation is. We've got 40 million Americans. I was there in 1965 when we passed Medicare. We guaranteed all health care for our seniors. If the -- but we did hospitalizations and physicians' fees. We didn't do prescription drugs and we have to do that. But the Medicare system is working and working well. It's a beloved program. People believe in it, they trust in it. They know how essential it is. And what we did in the United States Senate is that we built on the Medicare system with a bipartisan prescription drug program that got 77 members, Republicans and Democrats alike, 10 for -- Democrats voted against it, 11 Republicans voted against it. So this was 77 to build on the Medicare system.
In the House of Representatives, they had a strictly partisan bill by the Republicans, who are committed to undermining Medicare. And they have been able to, in the course of these negotiations, ensure that the Medicare program, which they have never supported, which they've never bought into, is going to be threatened, I believe, in a very significant and a dangerous way for our senior citizens.
And we all know what's going on here. Basically what their proposal is, is to make sure that the private sector is able to take the healthier seniors and the younger seniors off into the private sector and make a profit off them and leave Medicare with the sicker and older. And a result of that, all of the premiums are going to be up...
KENNEDY: ...and it's going to be more costly for our seniors.
SCHIEFFER: Let me -- let me...
KENNEDY: And that is the beginning of the end of the Medicare system as we know it.
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just cut to the chase here. Senator Kennedy, you are not going to support this bill. Would I -- is that your answer to be that?
KENNEDY: That -- I would -- I would not support it, absolutely.
SCHIEFFER: Are you closing the door on supporting this in any way, shape or form?
KENNEDY: Well, I'm hopeful, quite frankly, when the numbers, I think, in the Senate are demonstrating that they will not support it, that at least maybe the negotiators will come back and recognize what we need to do is pass a Medicare plus a prescription drug program, and we shouldn't be undermining the Medicare system. As a result of this proposal, you're going to find out that there are a number of seniors that have prescription drugs that are going to lose it, you're going to find out that some of the poorest of the poor that are receiving prescription drugs under Medicaid are now going to have to pay for -- more, up to six million, are going to have to pay more for it. There is nothing in here to deal with the cost of prescription drugs. This is a factor, availability of prescription drugs, and the cost, and our Republican friends have abandoned it.
SCHIEFFER: Well, can you -- do you think this bill can be fixed in a way that Republicans would support it?
KENNEDY: Well, I think you really could have a bill that had a bipartisan support. I'm absolutely convinced that the bill that passed the Senate by 77 votes would have passed the House of Representatives as well, but we've never been given a chance on it.
SCHIEFFER: But this bill won't pass.
KENNEDY: This has been a litmus test by those who have never supported...
KENNEDY: ...and trusted Medicare, to make sure that they had the provisions in there that was going to begin the dismantling of Medicare and that's unacceptable.
McMANUS: Senator, the AARP, the Association of Retired Persons, has said that there are things in this bill that they like a lot. They like getting prescription drugs in. If AARP endorses this bill, have you lost that fight? Is that bill going to right through?
KENNEDY: No. But, first of all, they've all -- continue to express serious reservations. They have been against what we call the premium support aspect, which is the privatization of Medicare; that is the privatization. They've indicated opposition, and they want to see the end of this. There will be $400 billion in this bill. The seniors spend a trillion, 700 billion. This would be about 22 percent of all of their expenditures on this. But to do this, they -- the fact is that our Republican friends have taken money out of that, for example, to create a $12 billion -- what they call stabilization fund, which is basically a slush fund for the private sector. And they have increased the payments for the private sector 110 percent of what they will do for Medicare which is another subsidy for it.
So this is right back where the Republicans are looking out after the insurance industry and the drug industry, and they're leaving the seniors behind. It doesn't make sense.
SCHIEFFER: Let's take a break here and when we come back, we'll talk about presidential politics, in a minute.
SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Senator Ted Kennedy. We want to go to Doyle McManus, who's been out covering this campaign amongst the Democrats.
McMANUS: Senator, let's talk about politics. Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor, seems to be surging ahead in the polls in New Hampshire. He's raising a whole lot of money. But he's a Northern liberal. Now since your brother won the presidency in 1960, Democrats have won four times, and each time was a Southerner. They've run Northern liberals four times and lost all four times.
Can Howard Dean possibly win a general election in this country?
KENNEDY: Well, I think Howard Dean has run a strong campaign. He's activated a whole new generation of activists. And I think that that's enormously important for the party and whoever the nominee is going to be. I, quite frankly, think that my colleague, Senator Kerry, has the breadth of experience and the depth of conviction to make him the strongest candidate.
I know there's been a flurry of activity this past week in terms of the staff shakeup, but people go to the polls. They don't vote on the questions of staff. They vote on the questions of who can best be the most articulate and effective spokesperson and carry the case against the Republicans. And I've seen John. He's always at his best when he's battling, always been the best when he's been behind. That's been true in Massachusetts, any campaign.
McMANUS: Why hasn't his campaign caught fire until now?
KENNEDY: Well, I think it's -- I think Howard Dean got a very, very fast start at the beginning. I think there's pretty much a group setting out in Iowa. And John's probably somewhat behind in terms of New Hampshire. But I -- quite frankly, up to now, people -- reports are basically about staff, they're about polls and they're about money. Now people are making up their minds about the issues. And I think John is at his best when he is behind, and he's in a strong position to be successful, and I think he'll demonstrate that.
McMANUS: If Howard Dean beats him in New Hampshire, right next door to his home state and yours in Massachusetts, can he credibly run in other parts of the country?
KENNEDY: Well, he does well out in Iowa and it's nip and tuck up there in New Hampshire, I think there are other additional primaries that people will take a look at, and it may -- this whole nomination process may last longer than we had thought earlier.
SCHIEFFER: Well, let's get back to the original question. Do you think Howard Dean is electable? If it winds up that Howard Dean is the Democratic nominee, can he beat George Bush?
KENNEDY: Well, I believe that the Democrats -- a Democratic candidate -- I think Howard Dean will; I think the other Democrat candidates would as well, because of what has been happening in terms of a failed and flawed and basically bankrupt foreign policy, and because of -- the state of our economy is not producing the jobs. Health-care costs are out of control. The...
SCHIEFFER: The economy seems to be coming back a little bit...
KENNEDY: Not with regard to jobs. Not with regards to the jobs. And look, this is the administration that's against an increase in minimum wage, extending unemployment Compensation.
At the end of December, 80,000 workers a week are going to lose their unemployment compensation. We are in the last hours of this session of Congress. Has -- you heard a single word from a Republican about extending the unemployment compensation so that these workers could go back and take these jobs? The overtime pay -- there's an intensity, a feeling that's out there that is very strong. And I think...
SCHIEFFER: You know...
KENNEDY: ...this is the Democratic year.
SCHIEFFER: ...one of the things we didn't talk about when we were talking about your opposition to this latest Republican plan on Medicare...
SCHIEFFER: ...I'm told that you're under tremendous pressure from other Democrats to make sure this doesn't happen because they don't want to go into the election with George Bush saying he got together a plan to give seniors prescription drugs.
KENNEDY: Well, I helped lead the fight with Senator Baucus and Senator Breaux to help pass that just a few weeks ago. So if that was the case, I didn't get the message in the earlier time. I think what the Democrats have to do is set the bar high, and if the bar is met, we ought to --we -- that's why we're in public life and why we're in the Senate that we ought to pass it.
SCHIEFFER: Senator, we're at the end of the interview. I wanted to ask you, next weekend, of course, is the anniversary of that awful weekend in America when your brother was killed. As you think back on it now, what are your thoughts as we come into that weekend?
KENNEDY: Well, there's the continued deep-seated sense of loss that I feel about all the -- both my brothers and other members of the family, but I'm -- continue to be -- inspired by them, their strong appeal to bring out really the best in terms of our ideals and our values and the importance of trying to give something back to the country. They were my heroes.
SCHIEFFER: I know it's very difficult for you, but do you think that weekend changed America?
KENNEDY: Do I think we can change?
SCHIEFFER: That weekend changed America?
KENNEDY: Oh, weekend changed America. Well, it certainly did in terms of my life, and -- but the -- and our families' lives, but they understood that Americans are, I think, best when they are challenged. I mean, both my brothers did. I think we all -- understand, we're best when we're challenged.
We were coming out of the Depression. My brother saw that experience in War World II, where this country was able to do it. He saw it when we were able to reach the -- head to the moon and bring our economy back. And so his appeal to these higher motives and to the best instincts was a driving force. In fact, it had helped set this country on a course. That's out there now. It's deep-seated. He believed that it is deep-seated. And that wasn't destroyed, and I think what's out there is -- is for political leaders to be able to appeal to that and this country's going to be in fine shape.
SCHIEFFER: Senator, thank you so much...
SCHIEFFER: ...for being with us.
SCHIEFFER: We'll be back with a final word in just a second.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, I never thought Iraq was another Vietnam. It was a totally different situation. But reading through some of the Face The Nation transcripts from the Vietnam era the other day, I was struck by how much what officials said then sounds like what the government has been saying lately. No matter how bad the news from Vietnam was, official after official came on Face The Nation to say progress was being made, the press just wasn't reporting it.
From the day the war turned bad in Iraq, you could take the words that were said back then and put them into the mouths of today's administration spokesmen and never notice the difference, 'Good things are happening, if only the reporters would report it.' And then last week, when the violence reached levels that could no longer be ignored, we finally began to get a story that was closer to reality. Major combat was not over, we learned, because despite previous denials, an organized, tightly controlled guerrilla force was coordinating the increasingly deadly attacks on Americans. One general said that thousands of Saddam's forces had not quit the war, as it had appeared when the Americans rolled into Baghdad, but had fallen back, and further, were using weapons pre-positioned for the kind of attacks we're now seeing.
All the talk this week has been about how the United States is speeding up giving political control over Iraq to the Iraqis. But just as important, I think, is the new candor about how the war is going militarily.
During Vietnam, three administrations tried to build support for the war by hiding the bad news and emphasizing the happy news. It didn't work then; it hasn't worked now. Maybe this new candor means the administration has finally figured that out.
That's it for us. We'll see you next week right here on Face The Nation.