CNBC Capital Report

March 4, 2003

Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean Discusses the Situations in Iraq and North Korea


ALAN MURRAY, co-host: Welcome back to CAPITAL REPORT. I don't know about you, Gloria; I am not ready for presidential politics.

GLORIA BORGER, co-host: I am. Sorry.

MURRAY: I suspect you are, but the Democrat--Democratic candidates are already lining up at the gate.

BORGER: And, Alan, they're talking about war. And we've got with us former Vermont Governor Howard Dean who thinks it's a bad idea. Welcome, Governor Dean...

Former Governor HOWARD DEAN (Democrat, Presidential Candidate): Thanks for having me on.

BORGER: CAPITAL REPORT. Thanks for coming on my first show.

Mr. DEAN: Your first show, this is great.


Mr. DEAN: Exciting.

MURRAY: It's a big event.

Mr. DEAN: It is.

BORGER: For me.

MURRAY: For all of us.

BORGER: Thank you very much. Do you agree with Senator McCain, who seemed to be saying that the administration was downplaying North Korea because it's preoccupied with Iraq.

Mr. DEAN: I do. I think that Senator McCain is absolutely right. I think North Korea is a full-blown crisis. This is a country that does represent an immediate threat, an imminent threat to the United States should they de--develop nuclear weapons much more so than Saddam Hussein. I think the--the priorities of this administration are simply misplaced.

BORGER: Who...

MURRAY: So if you're--you're president of the United States, what do you do about North Korea?

Mr. DEAN: You begin by talking to them. I disagree with Secretary Powell. I think we should engage in bilateral discussions with North Korea. As Yitzhak Rabin said when he shook hands with Arafat on the--of--on the lawn of the White House in 1995, 'You don't make peace with your friends. It's important us--for us first to begin talking.' I would then negotiate an agreement where they s--would stop in their tracks and we would...

MURRAY: Well, we did this before; it didn't work.

Mr. DEAN: It--well, it didn't work because it wasn't verified and it wasn't followed up. And it needs to be verified and followed up. The stakes are too great. They are perhaps months away from developing a credible nuclear threat to the United States. This is an ur--urgent crisis. We are not paying attention to it; we need to pay attention to it.

BORGER: Can you imagine any situation when, as president of the United States faced with the situation we have with Iraq right now, that you would make a unilateral decision to invade Iraq?

Mr. DEAN: Sure. What I have said is that if Iraq or any other country poses an imminent threat to the United States, we have a right to defend ourselves.

BORGER: Isn't this imminent?

Mr. DEAN: No, it's...

BORGER: Don't we think this is imminent?

Mr. DEAN: How is Iraq a threat to the United States?

MURRAY: Well, they have stockpiles of VX nerves gas. They have stockpiles of biological agents.

Mr. DEAN: They've had the--they've had these stockpiles for many, many years. Here are the conditions under which I believe Iraq becomes an imminent threat to the United States. One, they possess nuclear weapons, which K--North Korea is about to do on this president's watch. Two, they have a credible nuclear program, which there's very little evidence that they have.

BORGER: Well, we don't know.

Mr. DEAN: We don't believe they have, and nobody's made a good case for it. And three, I don't think the secretary has made the case that they are giving weapons of mass destruction to the terrorists, which is also--would be an imminent threat to the United States. On the other hand, we have Korea which--North Korea, which is clearly about to develop a nuclear weapons capa--capability. That is an imminent threat, and we're doing very little about it.

BORGER: So would you set a deadline? N--if--if you were facing this United Nations problem right now, would you set a deadline and say the inspectors have to be done by X or then we'll go in?

Mr. DEAN: We have--look, the United Nation's job is to disarm Saddam Hussein. We have contained Saddam Hussein for 12 years successfully at a cost of $30 billion. Now the president wants to spend $90 billion or $100 billion, where he won't give $5 billion to the states for homeland security. I think his priorities are simply misplaced. Al-Qaida is more of a danger, North Korea is more of a danger. We need more focus on al-Qaida and North Korea and less focus on Iraq.

MURRAY: Do you honestly think that Saddam Hussein would not work with al-Qaida or terrorists on some sort of scruples?

Mr. DEAN: There's--there's very little evidence that he has. I don't think Saddam Hussein has any scruples whatsoever. He's obviously completely immoral and a dreadful person. But it is his own--it is not in his own best interest to work with al-Qaida and that's why I don't think he has. And I think there's very little evidence. I saw the presentation of the secretary made to the United Nations. I thought there was very good evidence that they were hiding nuclea--excuse me, nerve gas or some chemical weapons. I thought there was very little evidence that they, in fact, were giving weapons to the terrorists.

BORGER: If the president decides to go to war with Iraq, what will your posture be?

Mr. DEAN: Well, my posture is always I support the American troops because I visited the troops. I was in Paris Island a few weeks ago pr--for that express purpose. You always support American troops abroad even if you disagree with the policy.

BORGER: But you'll still continue to speak out against it.

Mr. DEAN: Well, yes, I suspect I will.

BORGER: OK. Well, we're going to have to leave it for there for one second, but we're going to come back to you in just a moment and we're going to ask you about what the president--about the president's Medicare plan.


MURRAY: And welcome back to CAPITAL REPORT. We're here with Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean. Governor Dean, thanks for staying with us. You have described yourself as being the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. What do you mean by that?

Mr. DEAN: I mean the Democrats, in order to win, have to stand up for Democratic Party principles. I'll give you a quick example. The president proposes a $640 billion tax cut; the Democrats propose a $136 billion tax cut. We have the largest deficit in the history of the country. The debate now is about how big should the tax cut be. I think the debate should be about whether we ought to have a tax cut at all if we have the largest deficit in the history of the country and a war coming up with no way to pay for it.

MURRAY: OK, zero tax cut. Then what do you do--what do you do on the health care front. There's a tril--almost a trillion-dollar health care plan out there. Is that what you would subscribe to?

Mr. DEAN: Yeah, but you've got to roll back the president's tax cut that's already done the damage for those who ma--make more than $300,000 a year and use that money for the health care plan.

BORGER: How are you going to win a presidential race by telling people to--that you're going to repeal their tax cut?

Mr. DEAN: Because they didn't get a tax cut. If you ask people would you rather have the president's tax cut or a prescription benefit for Medicare? Would you rather have the president's tax cut or fully fund special education? Would you rather have the president's tax cut or would you like the road money that the president took to help balance the budget, which he didn't do? They're going to pick roads, education and health care every single time. Most average people in this country did not get any tax cut.

MURRAY: How about gay marriage? That's something you supported in Vermont.

Mr. DEAN: I su--I never supported gay marriage.

MURRAY: Civil--well, civil unions.

Mr. DEAN: Well, it's not the same thing. There's a big difference.

MURRAY: OK. Explain to us the difference and what's the Democratic position on it?

Mr. DEAN: Our law says--our law say--well, I can't speak to the Democratic position because I don't speak for the Democratic Party.

MURRAY: Well, no, you're the Democra--Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.

Mr. DEAN: Oh, I see. Every American ought to have equal rights under the law. Ours does. Our bill says marriage is between a man and a woman, but same sex couples may enter into civil unions which allows them the same rights that I have--hospital visitation, health insurance, inheritance rights--the same rights that I have. Vermont is the only state in the country where everyone is equal under the law, and I'm proud of that.

MURRAY: And--and you would favor that in every--every state.

Mr. DEAN: No. I believe that's none of the gov--federal government's business. What I federal--what I favor is federal recognition of civil unions, but I don't favor forcing Minnesota and Alabama to have civil unions if they don't want to. Same reason I think the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. That is not a prerogative of the federal government, it's a prerogative of the states.

BORGER: Governor, you're also a doctor. Talk to us about what you think about the president's Medicare proposal that he outlined today...

Mr. DEAN: I think it's a disaster.

BORGER: ...which he says would allow the elderly to get their prescription drug benefits.

Mr. DEAN: It will do no such thing. This president--this is a political document. The president has never--if if passes, I can guarantee you it won't insure a single senior because they actually passed something like this in Nevada and not one senior got health care. You can't do prescription benefits the way the president wants to, and he knows perfectly well it won't work, and he has no intention of ever funding it.

MURRAY: Well, le--let--let's take a look at some of the details of that plan. I'd like to understand exactly why you think it's--it's a disaster. He's talking about spending $400 billion over the next 10 years, which is not a small amount of money, provide all seniors with a drug discount card and subsidize low-income seniors.

Mr. DEAN: Only if they get out of the guaranteed Medicaid and go to a w--into an HMO. The subsidy is sufficient if you're an--if you're in an insurance program and out of Medicare. And they tried that in Nevada. No self-respecting insurance company is signing up for this. In fact, HMOs are dumping their Medicaid patients as fast as they c--Medicare patients as fast as they can because an insurance company can't keep up with a product that's going up five times the rate of inflation. They tried this in Nevada; it failed. This is a political document, not a serious public policy document.

BORGER: Governor, I--I want to get something that John McCain was saying.

Mr. DEAN: Mm-hmm.

BORGER: And he clearly felt very strongly about it when he said the Democratic candidates ought to essentially renounce Al Sharpton, not stand on platforms with him because he represented the extreme of the party in the same way that Jerel--Jerry Falwell represents the extreme of the Republican Party. What's your response to that?

Mr. DEAN: My response is anybody in America has a right to run for president. I don't think it's up to me. It's up to the voters to decide who is unqualified and who is not. And I think it's--I think it would be a mistake t--for me to denounce anybody and claimed they were unqualified.

BORGER: Could you see running on a ticket with Al Sharpton?

Mr. DEAN: I think that's extremely unlikely because I think Al Sharpton is going to have a tough time getting a significant number of votes, but I think Al Sharpton has a right to run. I don't think it's up to us to decide he shouldn't run.

BORGER: OK. Governor, we're going to have to leave it there.

Mr. DEAN: Thanks very much.

BORGER: Thank you very much for being with us. Thank you.

MURRAY: And we'll be back in a minute with a final word on war and the president's Medicare plan. Don't go away. We'll also tell you how you can ask a question when we interview the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday. Don't go away.

Copyright 2003 CNBC, Inc.

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