Interview on "The Situation Room"

July 7, 2006

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Governor Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee joins us from Burlington, Vermont.

Governor, welcome to the SITUATION ROOM. I want to begin with a simple yes or no question. Should the president of the United States in the wake of the North Korean missile launches meet with Kim Jong- Il?

GOVERNOR HOWARD DEAN, CHAIRMAN OF THE DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: I can't -- I don't want to get that far because I think that would be premature. I think the president of the United States ought to have a policy on North Korea that's better than 'let's see what happens'.

Here's the fundamental problem. The president's been there for six years. Iran has -- is well on its way to nuclear weapons. North Korea has quadrupled its size of plutonium. The president dithers and dallies and doesn't do anything about it because his administration is divided into a group of hard-lined ideologues who think North Korea somehow will collapse of its own weight and a group of pragmatists who are getting smaller and smaller by the day, who want to negotiate. The Democrats handled North Korea properly. We should negotiate. We should be tough and smart in defending America, not just talk tough at election time.

KING: Well, I want you to listen to something the president said today. Before I toss you that bite though, the White House would say -- and add this please to your next answer if you want -- because the White House would say the Democrats negotiated a deal with Kim Jong- Il. He signed it and then he promptly violated it.

But I want you to listen to something the president said today, defending his approach to handling this.


BUSH: Now that he has defied China and Japan and South Korea and Russia and the United States, all of us said don't fire that rocket. He not only fired one, he fired seven. Now that he made that defiance, it's best for all of us to go to the U.N. Security Council and say loud and clear, here's some red lines. And that's what we're in the process of doing.


KING: Now, you say he doesn't have a policy. You're the same party that said the president was a unilateralist cowboy when he went to war in Iraq. Now he's doing what you wanted then, going to the United Nations.

DEAN: The problem -- the president's timing is awful. Where was the president five or six years ago when North Korea was violating their obligations? He was divided because he wouldn't listen to the people who understood what was going on like Colin Powell. He was in the grip of these neoconservatives who had this bizarre world view of how things are going to work out.

The president's timing is awful. He's always making the wrong step at the wrong time. The fact that he's going to the security council is a very good idea. They've been fooling around with that for four years. What he should have done is gone to the security council a long time ago, made the deal with China, which was perfectly easy to understand.

What they want is food, fuel and ultimately a pact that we won't attack them. We could do that in response for a verifiable nuclear disarmament with people on the ground. It's a perfectly simple deal. This president seems unable to do it because of the divisions in his administration.

KING: I want to ask you a question about the potential domestic political fallout or ramifications of all this. You have North Korea on the front pages; the president, of course, is dealing with the Iran issue, which you mentioned as well. You have this foiled plot in New York today that the FBI and Mayor Bloomberg and others are talking about, an apparent terrorist plan that was foiled. Does it concern you at all that with national security and terrorism back on the front pages, that Republicans will benefit from that issue, as they have in the past two elections?

DEAN: They believe that. I believe the Republicans are done benefiting, because you can't trust the Republicans to defend America. Not because they don't want to, but because they have not applied common sense to their defense policy.

Again, the president's been there for six years. Osama bin Laden is still on the loose. Iran is now talking about developing nuclear weapons and moving every day towards that. North Korea is firing missiles. The president has done nothing. They talk tough, but you've got to be tough and smart. And I think that's what the Democrats can offer the American people to defend America.

We will have a bold vision, a clear vision right from the beginning when we take power again. And we will defend America the same way Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt did, the same way John F. Kennedy did.

KING: Well, I want to talk to you for a few minutes about what it means to be a Democrat. As you know, Senator Joseph Lieberman faces a primary challenge in his home state of Connecticut. Senator Lieberman's position seems to be, I'm a good Democrat unless someone dares to challenge me in the primary, then I reserve the right to get on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate.

Right now, is that a loyal Democrat? Is Joe Lieberman welcome in the Democratic Party, assuming he loses the primary, but wins the election?

DEAN: We don't get involved in primaries, the Democratic National Committee. Others can do that if they want to. We don't do that. We have to be an impartial arbitrator. What we do do is support Democrats and try to get Democrats to win.


KING: So help me. Let me just, let me ...

DEAN: And John, we allow the voters to decide who is a Democrat, so whoever the voters choose in Connecticut is who we're going to support.

KING: And would you then lean on the senatorial committee and use Democratic National Committee funds, if necessary, should Ned Lamont, if he beats Joe Lieberman in the primary, get financial support? Should Chairman Dean go up there and campaign for him? Should Democrats who are friends of Joe Lieberman go up there and campaign for him?

DEAN: John, I'm going to campaign for the Democratic nominee, and if it's Joe Lieberman, you're going to see me alongside Joe Lieberman. If it's Ned Lamont, you're going to see me alongside Ned Lamont. We don't get involved in primaries. We do support the Democratic nominee chosen by the people in the Democratic Party in Connecticut.

KING: Senator Lieberman has tried to hold out his position that, again, if I win the primary, great. If not, I'm going to get on the ballot anyway, even though I said I was running as a Democrat. He holds out that that position is better for the party in the long run, that he's trying to help the Democratic Party.

He says as much as you criticize Republicans for perhaps having litmus tests on abortion or litmus tests when it comes to taxes, that he doesn't want the parties to have a litmus test when it comes to Iraq.

Listen to something the senator said earlier this week on this program.


LIEBERMAN: The question that is being asked of the Democrats here in Connecticut is, will we impose a litmus test, the same kind of litmus test that we criticized the Republicans for imposing, particularly on one issue on which I have taken a principle stand, clearly not one that is to my political advantage, which is the war against terrorism.


KING: You ran for president. You were the antiwar candidate. You didn't get the nomination, but you had a pretty good following. Is opposition to the war in Iraq now a litmus test in the Democratic primary?

DEAN: You know, opposition to the war in Iraq is one factor among many factors that voters in Connecticut are going to make up their mind on. We do not get involved in primaries, I will say again. This is up to the voters in the Democratic primary in the state of Connecticut. They will choose. They will make ...

KING: I want to -- I want to jump in and talk to -- I want to jump in because we're almost out of time. What about nationally? You know what's going on in the party. You know what the base is saying on the Internet and everywhere else about this race. They are making this a defining choice for Democrats, watching to see what people do now that Senator Lieberman...

DEAN: The nice thing about our party is we don't dictate from the top down. We actually let voters make decisions. And I think that's a very healthy thing to do. I encourage voters to make decisions, and who they choose is who we support.

KING: Governor Dean, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Howard Dean, thank you very much for joining us.

DEAN: Thanks, John. Thank you for having me on.

KING: Take care.

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Originally from CNN Transcripts.



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