The following is an unedited transcript and may contain typos or omissions. Click here for more on the presidential mashup.
Rose: Joining us now is Sen. Hillary Clinton from New York. On Iraq, what’s your assessment of the Petraeus and Crocker testimony before the House and Senate committees?
Clinton: Well, I think they became the spokesmen for the president’s failed policy, and I have a high regard for each of them and for their service to our country and the fact that they are facing an incredibly difficult and dangerous situation in Iraq. But the fact is that the president tomorrow night will announce that he’s going to withdraw 30,000 troops by next summer. That would have happened anyway, Charlie, because we have to start withdrawing the so-called surge troops and get back to the pre-surge number, which we know is already too high, of 130,000. Then, I’m afraid, based on what we’ve heard from the general and the ambassador, that’s where it’s going to sit under this president until he leaves office.
Rose: You said yesterday it required a willing suspension of disbelief. Meaning that you questioned either his veracity or his judgment in what he said.
Clinton: No, what I said was meant to convey my very strong feeling that no matter how flat the pancake, there’s always two sides. The problem is that what the administration’s report intended to do was was to take anecdotal evidence and actually gild the lily once again, making it seem as though there had been much more progress than I think you can actually justify. For example, they take tremendous credit for what’s happened in al Anbar province in terms of the coalition with the Sunni tribal sheikhs. That was going on before the surge. In fact, when Gen. Petraeus testified during his confirmation hearings last January, he alluded to the progress that was going on, the sheikhs were already turning in the face of the barbarity and violence of al-Qaida in Iraq. And there is no getting away from the fundamental problem, which is there is no military solution. And everyone has to admit that the Iraqi government has failed politically, and the Bush administration has failed to pressure the Iraqi government and has totally missed the boat when it comes to the diplomatic offensive that should have been undertaken.
Rose: Two quick questions, finally, about Iraq. Do you think there’s anything that this administration can do that it’s not doing to bring about a political reconciliation?
Clinton: Absolutely. They could set up a process that they worked at 24/7. You know, the ambassador is a very able diplomat, but he’s pretty much out there on his own. You know, they set conferences months ahead. There needs to be a presence on the ground. I think the United Nations could be usefully involved. I think that there has to be a parallel process with the neighbors in the region as well as beyond. You don’t get a sense of urgency on the political and diplomatic front that really matches the extraordinary heroism of the military front. So, yes, I think our government and the Iraqi government have dropped the ball, and it’s been disastrous.
Rose: Did you think the Moveon.org advertisement about Gen. Petraeus was either appropriate or necessary?
Clinton: You know, I think that we should focus on what the problem is here. The problem is a president who has a policy that flies in the face of reality. I don’t fault people who are serving their country and fulfilling the mission that they have been given. Both the general and ambassador were there implementing the president’s policy, and I think we should remain focused on this president, and frankly, I’m getting enough Republican support to force the president to change course.
Rose: You have been involved with health care for a long time. Turning to health care. You have yet to release your plan, and I’d be pleased if you would give me the headlines in this conversation.
Clinton: Actually, I will be releasing the third part of my plan on Monday. You know, I have a three-part plan. I’ve already given two major speeches. One, on how we could lower costs for everyone. The second about two weeks ago about how we can improve quality for everyone, and on Monday how we can cover everyone. Obviously, I hope the headline is that, you know, Hillary is back, and we’re going to get it done this time, because we tried and were not successful in ‘93-’94. And as we all know, the problems of the uninsured and the underinsured, the pressures on doctors and nurses and hospitals, the loss of jobs with employers struggling to maintain health insurance is all much worse than it was when we were trying to do this before.
Rose: Because of your long involvement, some are saying we should have expected you to be not sort of issuing your third part on Monday, but you should have been first out of the gate on health care especially.
Clinton: Well, I’ve been at the gate and out of it for 14 years, and you know when we weren’t successful with the overall reform, I moved ahead and was one of the people responsible for the children’s health-insurance program and trying to make sure drugs were safe for kids, and dealing with aftereffects the Gulf War veterans suffered. So, I’ve stayed consistently focused on health care and am engaged right now in this battle with the president over his threatened veto of the children’s health-insurance program. But I learned, among other things, that we’ve got to build a consensus. A plan is necessary but not sufficient. We’ve got to have a political consensus in order to withstand the enormous opposition from those interests that will have something to lose in a really reformed health-care system.
Rose: As you know, those interests help defeat the health-care plan that you were trying to put together during the Clinton administration. Should the insurance industry be kept out and not make contribution to—not should they be kept out, but should candidates not take money from insurance companies?
Clinton: Well, I can’t, you know, say how you prevent people who have legitimate businesses in America from participating in the political process. I think it’s somewhat silly that anybody would look at me with the record that I have and the extraordinary incoming fire that I’ve taken for 15 years and suggest that talking to people, even working with them, is somehow out of bounds. You know, nobody is going to be surprised when I unroll my coverage plan that I intend to dramatically rein in the influence of the insurance companies, because frankly I think that they have worked to the detriment of our economy and of our health-care system. So I think the plan that I have should be judged on the merits, but I’ve learned in my own years in the White House and my years in the Senate, that a president, no matter how well-meaning, cannot just direct that something pass the Congress. You’ve got to work with Republicans and Democrats, and I think I’m better positioned with, frankly, a better set of experiences to do that.
Rose: Because of your long history, do you take contributions from insurance companies?
Clinton: Well, I take from executives or people that work for them, just like I do from every part of the economy. And you know, I think it’s a little inauthentic for people to say don’t take money from lobbyists, but it’s OK to take it from their spouses, their children, their associates, and from people that work for the companies that employ them. That is, you know, to me, kind of an artificial distinction. What’s important here is, can you put together a strong enough political coalition to withstand the understandable efforts of interests in our government to try to turn the clock back? You know, one of the things about the American democracy is that everybody gets to express an opinion, and some unfortunately have a disproportionate opinion, and that’s why it takes a lot of strength and experience to stand up to them and keep moving forward no matter what the incoming fire might be. And I think I have proven that.
Rose: Turning to education. Has the debate so far in this campaign paid enough attention to education? And what ought to be the debate?
Clinton: I don’t think it has, Charlie. It’s interesting to me, because in the debates that we’ve had—and we’ve had a lot of them so far—education is an afterthought. But when I go out and campaign all over the country, it’s really on the minds of people. And I’ve outlined a very vigorous education agenda starting with universal prekindergarten, changing No Child Left Behind, which I think has really been an unfunded mandate on our schools, making college affordable, finding programs for training and apprenticeship for kids who don’t go to college, which is the majority of kids in any age group. But we also have to take a hard look at what the role of family is, and the role of society. You know, a family is a child’s first school, and I have a long history going back 35 years as a child advocate trying to help parents become their child’s first teachers. And in society, I think we have to ask ourselves, is education working in the 21st century? I think if you and I walk into a classroom today, other than maybe a computer sitting there, it looks pretty much like it did when we were in school, yet everything else has changed. So, I think we have to ask ourselves some tough questions about how do we better prepare our children, who live in a very media-rich environment, who are much more tuned into the rest of the world than I certainly was at their age. How do we get them to have the education they need for the 21st century?
Rose: Just a quick follow-up before I take a user question. Why do you think that is, that education has not come along as fast as other changes in our society?
Clinton: Well, I think it’s a combination of a lot of factors. I mean, one is frankly the fact that every one of us have gone through it, each person has opinions about it. You know, it’s not like your doctor telling you what you need with health care. Everybody is an expert on education because we went to school. And therefore, local control means that there are millions upon millions of opinions in America about what we should do. And I don’t think we have reached a consensus that, I think, reflects the reality today. Our public school system worked so well for America for so long. We’ve got to make sure it works as well for our future, and that requires people asking themselves, you know, just because I sat in a classroom with my hands crossed on my desk and with the teacher in the front of the room telling me what I was supposed to learn, that’s how we need to keep doing it year after year after year? So, I think that there are other reasons that people could point to, but it really comes down to how personally people feel about this issue.
Rose: This is a user question coming from someone you know, I’m sure: Jonathan Kozol, teacher and education writer. And he says, “How do you feel about the testing mania forced upon our children by No Child Left Behind?” Quoting him, “It’s driving out half the bright young teachers in our urban schools because they refuse to see their classrooms turned into robotic test-prep factories. Those of you in Congress, what do you plan to do to change it?”
Clinton: As I have often thought about Jonathan and his pioneering, passionate work on behalf of education, he has once again identified a real problem. Look, I believe in accountability. In 1983, I led the effort in Arkansas to improve our schools, and I do think there is a place for testing. But we should not look at our children as though they are little, walking tests, and we’ve gone way overboard. So I would like to see us do assessments, but understand we need a broad, rich curriculum that honors the spark of learning in every child. And I hope I can help bring that about.
Rose: Here is our final video user question on video from Bill Maher in Los Angeles.
Bill Maher: Sen. Clinton, all the senators here, except Sen. Obama, voted for the Iraq resolution in 2002, saying that their decision was based on intelligence that they believed to be accurate at the time. In other words, George Bush fooled you. Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?
Clinton: Well, Bill, it was a little more complicated than that. I sought out expert opinions from a wide variety of sources. People inside and outside the government, people in my husband’s administration. And I think it is fair to say that, at the time, I made it very clear I was against a pre-emptive war. And I believed that giving the president authority to go back to the United Nations and put in inspectors was an appropriate designation of authority. That is not what we have seen him do, and I’ve said that had I known then what I know now, obviously, I would never have voted to give him the authority. But the real challenge for America is the challenge I’m trying to address: What do we do now? George Bush is still president, despite my best efforts to end his term in 2004. And I intend to do everything I can as a senator to force a change in course, which means getting Republican support. All of us are working toward that end together, and I look forward to, you know, getting that additional support in the Senate. But if President Bush does not change course and we are still in Iraq when he leaves office, that will be the first thing I do as president. End our involvement, bring our troops home, and start paying attention to all the other challenges we face around the world and in America.
Rose: Sen. Clinton, thank you. I look forward to continuing this conversation at my table or some table somewhere in America, perhaps Iowa or New Hampshire.
Clinton: Thank you, Charlie. Good to talk to you.
Rose: Thank you. We’ll be right back. Stay with us.