Transcript: George Stephanopoulos and Sen. Chris Dodd

We were back on the trail this week, this time in New Hampshire with Democrat Chris Dodd and his wife, Jackie.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Dodd has spent the last 25 years as senator from Connecticut.

"We need an American president who's ready to lead from day one. There will not be a single day, not a single moment for on-the-job training," he has said.

That experience is what Dodd is selling. And since he can't match the cash or crowds of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, he is counting on old-fashioned, kitchen-table campaigning.

Here in Nashua on Friday, the topic was energy independence, and Dodd's call for a new corporate tax on carbon. At Southern New Hampshire University later that day, we continued the conversation.

George Stephanopoulos: This issue of the corporate carbon tax that you called for kept coming up over the course of the hour. Are you worried, when you talk about taxes, that you're leading with your chin?

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.: Well, sure, I've thought about that. I mean, it would be foolish to say otherwise.

But I don't think you can have a candid conversation about global warming -- everyone gives this speech about how we want renewable technologies and conservation, efficiency, global warming, all of these goals that we all talk about.

Stephanopoulos: Now, Mr. and Mrs. Candidate, tell me how you get there? How do you get this done?

And if you're not willing to be honest about the answer of how you get there, then all the rhetoric about what you're trying to achieve seems rather hollow to me and it does to a lot of people. None of the other Democrats have called for one.

C. Dodd: No, I have, but I don't know how to do this.

As long as you have that great elasticity in price of fossil fuels, but you can control it, that they can drop that price, because we've seen them do this, making the alternatives less competitive financially, then it's always going to be people will opt for the cheaper -- the cheaper product, even though, I think, most people would prefer to use the more -- the safer, the cleaner technology and energy.

Stephanopoulos: The country has been consumed this week by the tragedy at Virginia Tech. And I was struck by the cover of Time magazine -- it came out today -- "Trying to Make Sense of a Massacre." How do you make sense of this?

Jackie Dodd: I think it's all on a very personal level. But, you know, I don't have the experience in any kind of police work or anything.

But I watched the events unfold and it was unbelievable to me that at some point someone didn't pick up on this eventuality and do something about it. And there are even people who had tried.

But right now, my heart and in my prayers for them -- the families and the friends and really the nation is at a time of sorrow right now, that we can't allow our children to go to college and have them in a safe place.

And so hopefully the lesson that will come from this is one of those learning moments that, as a mother of little children, I'm always looking for. Hopefully the lesson is going to be that we need to start the dialogue earlier and we need to start solving the problems before they become so enormous.

Stephanopoulos: The worst campus massacre before Virginia Tech was back in the University of Texas in 1966. And the day after that massacre, your father, Senator Thomas Dodd, called for new gun laws.

[INSERT SEN THOMAS DODD]Guns are not play things. I say it's insane for our society to permit this situation to continue.

Stephanopoulos: Will you do the same thing now?

C. Dodd: Well, he was a pioneer in this area. In fact, he started earlier than that. It took the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy before he was able to pass something called the Omnibus Crime Bill and the Safe Streets Act.

And I've been a strong supporter of gun safety issues. And certainly, putting aside the tragedy at Virginia State -- Virginia Tech, excuse me -- this is an issue that should be something we're willing to talk about in this country.

But I think if we limit it to that, as everyone has asked a question about gun safety over the last week or so, I think that Jackie's just suggested, in answering your question as well, that there are issues of mental health, what's on our television and video things.

It isn't just about legislation or regulation. It's having a leader in the White House that's willing to talk about these issues and bring the country -- offer some sort of ability to start that conversation about a whole set of other issues that need to be addressed.

Stephanopoulos: You don't think the president did that this week?

C. Dodd: I think he did it this week. But you can't just wait for these events to happen.

This is -- this is, I'd say -- you don't need to have an event to provoke that conversation. It's going on every day. We've got a problem of the coarseness in this country that needs to be addressed.

Stephanopoulos: How about the issue of guns, though?

In the past, you've been a strong supporter of gun control. Democrats coming out of other tragedies like this have called for new laws.

It's not happening this time, and a lot of people say Democrats are pulling their punches because they believe it's cost them elections -- the last three elections. Is that why?

C. Dodd: I don't know.

I mean, I think, first of all, people are saying, "What's going on here? What about this event?" This wasn't apparently an assault weapon, I gather -- and I haven't read all of the stories on this, George, but apparently this was at least a legal purchase someone said to me the other day.

For laws on the books, whether or not there was a waiting period that should have been provoked because of the record of mental illness ...

Stephanopoulos: Yes, there's some question on whether or not the Virginia records should have been ...

C. Dodd: So it's a question of whether or not the law is being implemented.

So before someone suggests in the case -- and I don't remember the events in Texas, but I suspect that was before the passage in '68 of these other two bills I mentioned to you, that a lot of these things that are just wild going on in the country ...

Stephanopoulos: But that's not what you would lead with now.

C. Dodd: I don't -- I think there's a tendency when asked-- it's not an insignificant -- it's a relevant question, it's just not the only question.

Stephanopoulos: Let's talk about Iraq.

Your leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, is taking a lot of heat today ...

C. Dodd: Yeah.

Stephanopoulos: ... for telling the president the war is lost.

[INSERT REID]: Now I believe, myself, that the Secretary of State, Sect of Defense and you have to go make your own decisions about what the President know, this war is lost."

Stephanopoulos: Has the war been lost?

C. Dodd: I don't think the war's lost -- the policy's failed.

Stephanopoulos: But is there a policy now that can truly lead to success?

C. Dodd: Yes, I think so, if you -- if you're willing to define success as stability, of involvement in the neighboring countries in the region, of providing some means by which these warring elements in the country are going to find some common ground to sit down on.

I think it's harder for people to come together in some instances when you're standing between them.

Stephanopoulos: Which is why you've called for all combat troops to be out by next March.

C. Dodd: I think that's ...

J. Dodd: Plus a surge in diplomacy as well. How do you bring others into the process, so it's not just the U.S. force right now?

Stephanopoulos: But why would they come in if we're pulling out?

C. Dodd: Because maybe they don't have any choice at that point. There's nothing like -- you know, every now and then saying to people, "This has worked in other places."

You know, I think part of the thing is they assume, "You know what, these guys are never going to leave." The Shias, they'll protect us from the Sunnis, Sunnis, they'll protect us from the Shias. We can use them to our advantage at various moments.

At some point here, setting clarity and saying, look, we're going to deploy. Because now you've got 300,000 people. You've got 10 divisions, 36 brigades, 118 battalions. It's not the 82nd Airborne, I know that. But they're certainly capable, if they want to, of sorting this out without the U.S. military having to do it for them.

Stephanopoulos: Your Connecticut colleague, Joe Lieberman says talk like that, talk of the pullout as doing Al Qaeda's bidding.

C. Dodd: Well, I don't -- with all due respect, I don't believe that to be the case at all. In fact, I think by our continued presence there adding to this chaos, we're fostering and breeding a generation coming along. They're going to be far more difficult for the coming generation to grapple with. Because, in a sense, we're radicalizing them in this process. The numbers are just there -- they're glaring for us.

And that's not walking away. I'm not suggesting -- and I thank Jackie for jumping in and making the point here -- that when you're attacking Nancy Pelosi because she's meeting with Assad in Syria. Why aren't you meeting with him? Why aren't your diplomats with him?

When I met with Assad in December -- with John Kerry we sat down -- I asked Assad, I said, "Tell me what you want in Iraq. Tell me what Iraq looks like to you in the most favorable circumstances in a year, five years, 10 years from now."

He said to me, "I want a pluralistic Arab state. I don't want -- the last thing I want is a Shia dominated…"

STEPHANOPOLOUS: But did you believe that?

C. Dodd: But he said it in English and until he says it in Arabic, in a public setting, I don't know whether to believe him or not. The fact is, he said it to me. The embassy staff was there. They reported it back in the cable traffic. I'm not a diplomat. That's not my job.

But it seems to me when a leader there with whom we have disagreement on Lebanon, and obviously in Israel as well, says that, someone ought to pursue it.

Stephanopoulos: I was struck by something you said at your lunch speech.

[SPEECH INSERT]: You are never going to convince me that the war in Iraq was exclusively about democracy and about Saddam Hussein, it was about oil, don't have any doubts about it

C. Dodd: Not all about…

Stephanopoulos: If that's true, why would you vote for it?

C. Dodd: Well, that I said I think it was not only about democracy but it was about oil as well, and then this weapons of mass destruction allegations -- and, George, look, you know, two things in public life never like to say: "I made a mistake" and "I don't know." And I made a mistake. I wish I hadn't. That's not the only one I've ever made and that's not the only one I ever will make, I promise you.

C. Dodd: But I did, and you ought to be able to say that

Stephanopoulos: Your husband's already thanked you for the assist on diplomacy ...

You worked on Capitol Hill. You've worked in the executive branch, the Ex-Im Bank. You're working in the corporate world right now.

What kind of role would you play in the White House?

J. Dodd: First of all, I'm mainly a mommy right now.

We have two very young ones that we came to this grade in life that we have a little girl, Christina, that just turned two, and Gracie is five now.

And so, they take most of my time and energy. And then I do a few things on the side as well, but that's where the real priority is. But I think that the real job of a spouse in my position is to make sure that the home life is completely a safe harbor for him. It's a place that's happy. The girls are doing well. And that's sort of what my focus has been ...

C. Dodd: I call in a lot, George, and I say, "Well, how are things going?" And I get this voice ... and I know it isn't quite as happy as the voice suggests.

J. Dodd: I tell him it's terrific. It's going really well.

Stephanopoulos: And that's what you're going to be focusing on in the White House too?

J. Dodd: Well, no -- of course, that's what I'm going to be focusing on. I think all parents focus on their children first, or at least we should try to focus on our little ones first.

Stephanopoulos: Let's talk politics for a second.

You don't register in the national polls right now. Even this morning when I was at that kitchen table discussion, the host said he's not convinced he's going to for you yet.

Sketch out how this is possible, how you're going to get from here to the nomination and the White House.

C. Dodd: Well, first of all, it's early, and ...

Stephanopoulos: It's very early.

J. Dodd: When people get to know him like I've known him for almost two decades, it starts becoming more and more clear.

Stephanopoulos: But there's a lot of other people in between.

J. Dodd: There are hundreds of people, and lots of good and honorable people also trying to do this job. But I think, when people get to know Chris, they're going to be able to see that, not only does he have a great charm and wit and self-deprecating sense of humor, but he has the intellect, and more importantly, he has the experience.

And he's been able to actually do what people talk about doing.

He reaches across the aisle, and he's done it for his entire career.

Stephanopoulos: But is it possible, in this world, now, today, running against big celebrities with an awful lot of money, to actually run the kind of campaign that Jimmy Carter ran in '76?

I was talking to him a few weeks ago. He said it's not.

C. Dodd: Well, obviously, I disagree. You know, I wouldn't be talking here today. I mean, we're talking about caucuses and primaries, at least in the initial states, that are relatively small in populations.

And it doesn't require the kinds of resources that seem to be raised in certain campaigns. You've got to have some. Obviously, you've got to sustain that. And you've got to have enough to be able to run a good campaign.

But this is an opportunity, here, for the country, as well as people in the states, to get to know you. This isn't going to be done by TV ads. It's going to be done by exactly what I was doing this morning, and that's sitting down and talking and listening to people.

And people want to know whether or not you're electable. They want to know what you stand for, what you believe in. But they don't want to be told the race is over. They're highly offended when people suggest this is only a race about two or three people, and they've got other candidates they want to hear from.

Stephanopoulos: Are you in all the way to New Hampshire?

C. Dodd: Absolutely.

J. Dodd: Absolutely.

C. Dodd: Absolutely.