Richardson: I Won’t Be Anybody’s VP

Gov. Bill Richardson answers questions in our presidential mashup.

The following is an unedited transcript and may contain typos or omissions. Click here for more on the presidential mashup.

Rose: Gov. Richardson, let’s start talking about Iraq. What’s your assessment of the testimony by Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker?

Richardson: Well, both are very distinguished public servants, but they’re basically serving an administration who has a failed policy. They’re being team players. So, I’m not convinced. In my judgment, the surge is not working. There’s only a political solution to this disastrous war. There is no military solution. In essence, what they’re talking about is that there’s going to be a withdrawal of 30,000 troops in a year. That basically means the status quo, because there’s 130,000 troops now. If you add the surge troops, the 30,000, it’s 160,000. But the big difference in all the positions, Charlie, of the presidential candidates is that I want to know why the three candidates, Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, want to leave troops behind, 50,000, 75,000, whatever it is. I leave no troops behind. So, I’ve issued this challenge to the other candidates. What is the justification for leaving American troops behind? In addition to that, they’re saying that what they want to do is only combat troops are withdrawn. And then if you take the combat troops out, who’s going to defend the other American troops that are there? In my judgment, this war cannot end unless all our troops are out. The reconciliation, the rebuilding of Iraq, the possible partition, the all-Muslim peacekeeping force that I’ve proposed. So, I want an answer to that. I can’t get it in other debates, so I’m hoping that today—this will be a challenge to the other candidates, why and for how long will they keep troops behind?

Rose: You’re suggesting that they should not—by the end of the 2008, when the election comes, there should be no troops in Iraq?

Richardson: Well, here’s my position and their position. I am saying that I would withdraw troops within six to eight months immediately. But what they are saying, the other three candidates, is they will start a gradual withdrawal of troops, but in the end, for a number of years, leave 75,000 or 50,000 troops behind. I believe that policy is indefensible. If you really want to end this war, we have to take our troops out because our troops have become targets. Our troops have done a magnificent job, but if you leave them there, the Iraqis won’t be serious about starting the political reconciliation, and we would be unable to bring an all-Muslim peacekeeping force, a reconstruction process of donor countries that would include Iran and Syria.

Rose: Let me get in a user question. This comes from Austin Murnane, who says, “If the nation of Iraq collapses into a rouge state or failed state similar to Somalia or pre-2001 Afghanistan, how serious would be the consequences for the Iraqis, the United States, and the neighboring countries?”

Richardson: Well, here’s my view. There’s already a civil war. There’s sectarian conflict. This Iraqi situation’s about to implode. If we withdraw all of our troops, then a possible rebuilding of Iraq can happen with a political reconciliation talks pushed by the United States. I would push it personally if I were president. A date and type agreement that would involve a partition, that would involve Iran and Syria being part of a reconciliation so that Iraq doesn’t implode. What brings everybody together, what unites all the region together, Charlie, is that nobody wants thousands of Iraqi refugees. Nobody wants an implosion. Refugees don’t—the Saudis don’t want refugees to come in, Iran doesn’t want refugees to come in, neither does Syria, neither do other countries in the region. I know the region. I was U.N. ambassador. I spent 80 percent of my time on Iraq. As energy secretary, I went all over the Persian Gulf. I believe that a package can be put together.

Rose: All right, let me turn to health care. Do you favor universal coverage without exception, and how would you pay for it and how do you differ from the other candidates?

Richardson: Well, I do favor universal health care, no matter who you are, rich or poor, black, brown, white, that has to be the fundamental point in my health-care plan. Secondly, I believe the way you do it is by, one, having no new bureaucracies, giving choice to everybody to keep the health-care plan, if they have it, but what I would do is I would first focus on the fact that we spend $2.2 trillion on health care, yet 31 percent of that goes to administration and bureaucracy and lack of electronic records. Where I differ with other candidates, especially Sen. Edwards, is I don’t propose a new tax or any new bureaucracy. What I believe we need to do is focus more on prevention, on getting rid of junk food in schools, cancer research. I would allow everybody to participate in the congressional plan. I’d lower Medicare to 55. It’s today 65 and over. And I would allow veterans, Charlie, to get a heroes’ health card where they can get health care anywhere they want. But I would have a shared responsibility. Everybody participates, especially employers, in my health-care plan.

Rose: All right, let me introduce a user question. This from Claremont, Calif. Minor Collinsworth says, “Will your health-care plan cover illegal aliens in the U.S., and if it will, how will you keep millions more illegal aliens from entering the U.S. in order to take advantage of health care?”

Richardson: Well, you know, today, we’re already paying for undocumented workers when they go into emergency rooms. It’s the law. Under my plan, what you would do is everybody that pays into the system would be covered. Now, what we need is comprehensive immigration reform, which the Congress and the president refuse to do, which would set the appropriate standards for health care and on immigration, what we need to do is secure the border, we need to—secondly, those that knowingly hire illegal workers should be punished. Third, there has got to be a stronger relationship with Mexico so that they don’t send their poor to our country. And lastly, an earned legalization process where you establish those standards. Like, you don’t give them amnesty, you don’t give them automatic citizenship, but if they learn English, if they pay back taxes, embrace American values, pass a background check, they can stay and eventually apply for citizenship.

Rose: With respect to health care, do we need to take a new look in America at the way we view it not beyond the financing question and the coverage question, how we look at health care in this country?

Richardson: Yes, we do. We don’t focus on prevention. What we do is we focus today on end-of-life ailments, on the fact that Medicare—33 percent of it is diabetes. We need to focus on prevention, on cancer research, stem-cell research, autism, heart disease research. But also, Charlie, getting rid of junk food in schools, having mandatory phys ed, giving incentives to companies that allow workers to work out, to promote wellness. We have to look at prevention substantially more than we have in the past, and the president needs to lead. We need a national goal to be healthier within 20 years.

Rose: Turning to education, what ought to be the debate about education in America?

Richardson: The debate should be the fact that our high-school curriculums are not competitive. We are 29th in the world when it comes to science and math scores in K through 12 compared to Europe and Japan. The debate should be not just emphasizing science and math, but art in the schools, civics. Revise high-school curriculums. We gotta start earlier with preschool, early childhood, for every child under 4. Full-day kindergarten. We have got to pay our teachers better. I’d have a minimum wage for teachers. We’ve got to scrap this No Child Left Behind, which is a one-size-fits-all testing that is hurting disabled kids, gifted kids, English-learning kids, that humiliates schools that are not doing well. If a school isn’t doing well, what you do, Charlie, is you help that school. And finally, I would have a national goal that in 15 years, America will be No. 1 in science and math, because that’s competitiveness. That means that the Chinas and Indias that graduate many more engineers than us are going to be enormously more competitive than we are.

Rose: Would you change visa policy with respect to people who come here to study and might be willing to stay if they had their visas?

Richardson: Yes. That means H-1B visas, that means looking for workers in this country that we need in certain sectors. This means focusing not just on illegal immigration, but legal immigration. There’s a huge backlog of enormously talented people and workers that, because of red tape and bureaucracy, can’t get in, especially in the computer sector, especially in health-care areas. Yes, I would. Those H-1B visas, I believe, need to be increased to permit more skilled workers to come into our work force. This enhances our competitiveness.

Rose: What have you learned about education as governor?

Richardson: What I’ve learned is that I am hands-on. All these issues you’ve talked to me about, education, health care, I have to manage them. I have to balance budgets. I see directly whether a child is increasing his proficiency or his testing scores. I see, for instance, how one out of two minority kids in this country are not graduating from high school. As a governor, I’m able to put money in education to build schools. I’m very proud of the fact that I boosted teachers’ salary. We used to be 48th in the country in New Mexico. We’re 28th. So, I have hands-on experiences that a lot of these other candidates don’t. They all have their 10-point plans. I’ve actually done a lot of good things in education that involves helping a child and making us more competitive.

Rose: For this “mashup” online, we have invited Bill Maher to submit questions to each candidate. And here on videotape is his question.

Bill Maher: Gov. Richardson, what criticism would you apply to the voters? Do you think they’re fair with you guys? Are they fickle? Are they shallow? Do they make informed choices? Do they pay attention to the right things? Do you ever, on the real now, feel like we’re spoiled brats who can’t take the truth and have to be lied to?

Richardson: My answer to that is, thank God for the voters. Thank God especially in the small living rooms in Iowa and New Hampshire that know how to scrutinize a president and know how to ask the right questions. My big concern is that 48 percent of the American people of our voters turn out when they elect a president, and it should be 90-plus percent. I have a lot of faith in the voters. What I worry about is our institutions. The national media, for example, in Washington and New York that likes to tell the American people who’s going to win, what the polls are saying. I feel that the American voter is substantially well-informed, and it’s up to politicians and political leaders and parties to stimulate greater voter turnout, and that means talking honestly about issues. That means ethics reforms. That means campaign-finance reform. That also means that my judgment, some kind of public financing to restore faith. The voters are losing faith in our institutions. And they feel that too many lobbies and too many special interests dominate us. And they are right. What we need is for political leaders and political parties to speak frankly to voters, to get exposed to them—not just the candidates that have the most money, but the candidates that are truest in terms of their views and what they stand for. I would just conclude—I just believe that with the voters, what they want is who can bring change and who has the most experience. And I believe that, humbly, I bring both.

Rose: What do you say to those people in the media who suggest that, while you would very much like to be president, while you have an impressive résumé, that this campaign may very well be about the vice presidency for you?

Richardson: Well, I would say to them, Charlie, that I want to be president. I believe I’m the most qualified because of my ability to bring change and experience. I’ve done a lot of these things that everyone talks about in their 10-point plans. I’m not interested in being vice president. If I’m not selected, I will return to the best job in the world, governor of New Mexico. I’ll start riding my horse again. I’ll have a normal life. I have four years to go. Being a governor, the CEO of a state, is the best job I’ve ever had. So, I would not leave the arena, sadly.

Rose: So, you wouldn’t leave the governorship of New Mexico to be vice president on anybody’s ticket?

Richardson: No, no. I’m very happy where I am.

Rose: Thank you, Gov. Richardson.

Richardson: Thank you.