Interview on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews

May 25, 2006

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL": Can your party win control of Congress come November?

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Yes. If we campaign hard in all 435 districts with a unified message, we're going to be in control of the House and we may well take back the Senate as well.

MATTHEWS: Have you got that unified message?

DEAN: I think we do. We want openness and honesty in government, American jobs that will stay in America, a real security program which depends on telling the truth to our soldiers and citizens before we send troops abroad, a health care system that works for everybody. These things are things that I think Americans really want, and I think they really want change and we'll provide that.

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about honesty in government. What's your main bull's eye there in terms of dishonesty, because clearly you're pegging it to something in the news?

DEAN: Well, we're pegging it to sort of a culture of corruption that the Republicans have brought not just to Washington, but to a lot of state governments as well. You've got the White House with Karl Rove in it, who leaked security information during a time of war, still has a security clearance.

The procurement officer was arrested at the White House. That hasn't happened for several hundred years, or 135 years. We've got the vice president's chief of staff indicted, the Republican leader in the House indicted. His successor got rid of all the ethics legislation that was pending. The Republican leader of the Senate under investigation for insider trading.

People want a change. They're tired of this. We need honesty again in government. We're not perfect, but we will pass ethics legislation in the first 100 days that prohibits free trips on planes, prohibits free lunches, and stops people from sticking things in appropriations bills after they've already been passed that gives away billions of dollars to oil companies and folks like that.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you demand that the vice president come clean in his role in the CIA leak case? He seems like he gets a free ride from your party. You never hear anybody out there yelling. We've got Scooter Libby on trial for 30 years, facing 30 years imprisonment, all kinds of filings coming from the special prosecutor, and your side of the aisle, politically, just sits there and watches and never excoriates the man who's more and more at the center of this situation.

DEAN: Chris, there's two reasons for that. The first is, the American people know what Dick Cheney is. His popularity rating is in the 20s. Secondly, we need a positive agenda. It's not enough to complain about the Republican corruption. We need a positive agenda out there.

MATTHEWS: You just went through an entire list, like a wanted list, of all the Republican officeholders or ex-officeholders who are guilty of corruption and now you're saying you don't want to run a negative campaign. You just did.

DEAN: Our major part of our message is what we're going to do, not what the Republicans have done wrong. We know what the Republicans have done wrong.

MATTHEWS: What are you going to do with the Honorable Bill Jefferson?

DEAN: I think that Leader Pelosi has made it very clear that she thinks that the congressman ought to step aside from the Ways and Means Committee. I think we do have to understand that he's not indicted. If that happens, I think he's going to have more serious troubles.

We're going to be tough on everybody. We're not just going to be tough on Republicans. The biggest failing of the Republicans is they let the Ethics Committee lapse, essentially, for years, and they don't police their House, and we will police it when it's our House.

MATTHEWS: What are you going to do? I mean, jobs are a big issue in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, all the industrial states. Clearly we're facing a manufacturing challenge like we never did before, but what are the Dems going to do about it? Are you going to put up barriers to trade? Are you going to raise the minimum wage again?

What are you going to do to get jobs that are being—have been done in the United States being shipped to either down below the border or offshore to South Asia? How are you going to stop that?

DEAN: Two major plans. First, we are going to raise the minimum wage. It hasn't been raised for a long time federally—as soon as we get back in control. We believe if you work hard, you ought to be able to make enough of a living to support your family.

Secondly, we're going to create a new industry, an energy independence industry to retrofit tons and tons of American houses and businesses to save by conservation and to create a new industry which produces solar wind, ethanol, anything but oil.

We've got to get ourselves off the oil industry. And Pennsylvania, of course, with a huge coal industry, is made for a clean coal industry. Wind power out of the plains, rebuilding the electric grid so we can carry the power from where it's generated by renewable means to the big cities.

There's a lot of jobs there and we ought to have those jobs and we can create those jobs if the willingness—if we're willing to have a real renewable energy program.

MATTHEWS: Four out of five Democrats, according to most polls, say they think we should have never gone to Iraq. I think that's your thinking.

DEAN: I agree with them.

MATTHEWS: Why don't you have your party unified behind that belief?

DEAN: Well I think there are a lot of people who would like to get us out of Iraq. The question is how.

MATTHEWS: Well wait a minute, can you answer that question? Why can't you make your belief the belief of the Democratic Party in some sort of official statement?

Why don't you simply say "Our party, the Democratic Party of the United States, thinks it was a mistake to go to Iraq, we don't like that policy. We want to change." Why don't you just say that?

DEAN: We have said we want to change. I think sometimes when people vote one way, they find it hard to back themselves off into a different position. But the policy of the Democratic Party now is to turn this over to the Iraqis. But there are many people, including myself, who said we should not have gone in the first place.

Many of us believe now that the president has created such a dangerous mess for America that you can't take everybody out all at once, that you've got to leave some kind of a force behind in order to deal with the terrorism that's been there since we got there.

MATTHEWS: Can we change our policy as long as we have the ideology—to have it governing our country that took us into this war? Or don't we have to have a regime change in the sense of ideology here at home? Can we still have this point of view of forward-leaning, aggressive, go to the other side of the world to fight war? As long as we have that philosophy in the White House, won't we just have more and more wars? Iran is next, then Syria, and just keep coming into different countries over there?

DEAN: I think the best way to put it is the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans will be tough and smart. We need to be tough, it's a dangerous world out there. There are terrorists there, but we've got to be smart.

MATTHEWS: Is Joe Lieberman smart?

DEAN: Joe disagreed with me in the war, but that doesn't mean he's not smart.

MATTHEWS: Should he be re-elected in Connecticut?

DEAN: I do not get involved in primaries. I'm at the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Our rule says that we do not get involved in primaries and I'm not getting involved with that one.

MATTHEWS: So you're not endorsing any incumbent Democrat to re-election.

DEAN: We never endorse any incumbents that are challenged in the primary, even incumbent Democrats. We have stayed out of primaries, that's the job of the DNC. We don't get involved in primaries. We're there to build the party. It's not up to us to decide which Democrat, we just want to make darn sure there is a Democrat.

MATTHEWS: Well I now want to bring up to you a topic that I thought would be something that might come up six months from now or a year from now, it's come up as you know, yesterday. “The New York Times,” at the top of the page, of the front page, ran a big story on Bill and Hillary Clinton and it led with the question of this: “When the subject of Bill and Hillary Clinton comes up for many prominent Democrats these days, topic A is the state of their marriage.” Is that a true statement?

DEAN: No. I think that's ridiculous. That's just gossip and I would expect that to be in the “New York Post,” not “The New York Times.”

MATTHEWS: What's the gossip in saying that party leaders are worried about the marriage?

DEAN: I think it's untrue.

MATTHEWS: They're not worried? You don't talk about this? Are you sitting here and telling me that when you sit down with the big mockers in the party, the guys that have to make decisions about big campaign investments in this campaign of Hillary Clinton, don't whisper back and forth “Is everything OK? Are we going to get embarrassed next year by something with regard to that marriage?” You're saying this story is essentially not true?

DEAN: First of all, I don't sit down with those people because I don't get involved in presidential primaries either. I think she's [Hillary Clinton] focused on running for re-election and I think that's a good thing.

Secondly, yes, what I'm saying is that is not Topic A on anybody's list. That is gossip. I think most people are not going to vote on gossip.

MATTHEWS: Well, let me tell you what my observation is. I talk to a lot of people in politics, in and out of it, journalists and everyone else, and they talk about it, because they want to know what will be coming next year. People try to figure out what's coming next in American politics.

DEAN: Most people are worried, Chris, about gas prices and how we're going to get out of Iraq.

MATTHEWS: No, they're worried about who's going to get elected. Governor, you know the questions: who's going to get elected president and what things along the way are going to affect who gets elected. It's not gossip; it's trying to figure out the lay of the land, politically.

Let me read you something from a man I know you respect, David Broder of the “Washington Post.” In today's column he said, “The very fact that “The New York Times” has sent a reporter out to interview 50 people about the state of the Clinton's marriage and placed the story on the top of page one was a clear signal, if any was needed, that the drama of the Clinton's personal life would be a hot topic if she runs for president.” Is that a fair statement?

DEAN: I think that's also gossip. Listen, I'm going to be tough on this stuff. I think gossip and silliness like that, in the long run, do not overcome the fact that somebody's got to do something about gas prices, that we've sent a ton of jobs to China, that we have a budget that's so far out of balance that our kids are in debt. Those are the issues that matter, not salacious gossip. And I don't care who writes it. I have a lot of respect for David Broder and “The New York Times." It's still gossip.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much for your clear statement. Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which does not engage in gossip.

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Originally posted on MSNBC.



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