"The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer

January 23, 2007

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: As soon as the president ends his address, Democrats will begin their response, delivered tonight by a freshman senator, Jim Webb of Virginia.

They're already, though, talking very tough.

Joining us now, the Democratic National Committee chairman, Howard Dean.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Have you been able to come up with a consensus that all Democrats will be able to accept in Senator Webb's response tonight?

DEAN: A consensus about what?

BLITZER: About the response on Iraq, for example, that what he lays out...

DEAN: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: ... in his Democratic response to what the president will say in his speech is something that you and the different wings of the Democratic Party can all accept?

DEAN: Well, it's hard to agree ahead of time when you haven't seen the script, so I don't know what Jim is going to say...

BLITZER: You haven't seen what his agenda --

DEAN: ... you know -- no. We don't -- we don't control our members like that. You know, I think Jim is a star in the Democratic Party. He's -- he certainly knows what he's talking about when it comes to warfare, as a former Defense Department higher-up. And he's going to be a great spokesman for the Democratic Party, as he was during the campaign.

What he's going to say, in general, is we ought to be looking to get out of Iraq and not adding more troops and escalating the war. I'm sure he's going to say that. What specifics he gives, I don't have any advance knowledge of.

BLITZER: All right, one thing we do know is the president is going to be laying out what he says will be the consequences of failure if the United States simply picks up and leaves before the job is won, before victory is achieved.

To some, that may be setting up the Democrats, if you will, as a fall guy in case there is a failure.

DEAN: The president should have thought about the consequences of failure before he went to Iraq. He didn't tell the American people the truth about why we were going to Iraq. We still, to this day, don't know why we went to Iraq. And the consequences of failure are going to rest squarely on the Republican Party and the president that led us into this war.

The Democratic view is we need to find a way to get out of Iraq and minimize the casualties to our brave American troops. They were sent over there by a president who wasn't truthful with our troops, either. Now we need to end this -- this misadventure in Iraq. And we need to do it carefully and thoughtfully. We can't bring the troops all home at once. But we need to go in the opposite direction from where the president wants to take the country.

BLITZER: Does it mean cutting funding for the additional surge, the additional troops who are supposed go to over there?

DEAN: I think the first thing we have to do is pass a resolution -- which we're going to do with both Democrats and Republicans support -- saying that the president is misguided and the president is leading us in the wrong direction. We need to establish that there's a clear difference between the Democrats and the Republicans, on the one hand, in Congress who are going to vote for this resolution, and the president and those Republicans who vote for the...

BLITZER: But that's a non-binding resolution and...

DEAN: Yes...

BLITZER: ... if the president ignores it, what do you do then?

DEAN: Well, it's important, first, to establish for the American people that we're doing what we can. Then I do think if the president ignores it and ignores the will of the American people who elected these Democrats, then I think you will see some attempt in the Democratic Congress to place limits on what the president is able to do.

But don't forget, Wolf, that's a very hard thing to do. I was around during the Vietnam War and saw that happen four times and it was very, very hard to get the president to -- to change direction. In fact, when President Nixon finally decided that it was time to -- so-called Vietnamize the war, it was because his poll numbers looked a lot like George Bush's. So I think it's the American people that are gathering to provide the leverage to get us out of Iraq. And that is evidenced in the poll numbers that you are seeing today about how unpopular the president is. And worse for the president, the fact that most people don't think he's honest.

BLITZER: Before you became a politician, you were a physician. You're still a physician.

What do you make of the president's new health care initiative that's designed to make health -- health insurance more affordable for millions of Americans?

DEAN: Of course, it won't do that. It's very much like Iraq and all the other things the president's been saying -- he says one thing and does something else.

Let me tell you what the president's health care plan does. It offers a $7,500 tax deduction. The problem with that is if you're only making $50,000 a year or less, you can't use that deduction because you don't pay that much in taxes, in income taxes.

So what he does is tax the middle class people -- because he's now going to tax your health care plan -- he taxes middle class people and uses that to give tax deductions to people at the upper end of the income scale.

Once again, the president is very good to his people who support his campaign and support him, not so great to the 80 percent of Americans he left behind.

This is the wrong way to go, the opposite direction from the direction we should be going in. You cannot fix health care by taxing health care benefits for ordinary Americans and then giving enormous tax deductions to the people at the top.

BLITZER: So many issues to discuss, so little time. But we'll continue this down the road.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

DEAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on.

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Original transcript from CNN Transcripts.



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