'This Week' Transcript: EXCLUSIVE: Vice President Joe Biden

ABC's George Stephanopoulos Goes Behind the Scenes with Vice President Joe Biden in Iraq

July 5, 2009 —


STEPHANOPOULOS: Major milestone this week here in Iraq with the American troops pulling out of the cities. And I wonder if you can put the broader American mission in context. Are we in the process of securing victory or cutting our losses to come home?

BIDEN: Securing victory. Look, the president and I laid out a plan in the campaign which was twofold. One, withdraw our troops from Iraq in a rational timetable consistent with what the Iraqis want. And the same time, leave behind a stable and secure country.

And one of the reasons I'm here, George, is to push the last end of that, which is the need for political settlement on some important issues between Arabs and Kurds and among the confessional groups. And I think we're well on our way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, your predecessor doesn't seem convinced.


STEPHANOPOULOS: John Hannah, Vice President Cheney's national security adviser, wrote this week that under Obama, Bush's commitment to winning in Iraq has all been vanished. The vice president warned against a premature withdrawal.

He said: "I would not want to see the U.S. waste all of the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point."

BIDEN: You know, it's kind of ironic. It's their timetable we are implementing. Cheney and Bush agreed with the Iraqis before we were elected that we'd have combat troops out of the cities by June 30th.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So he's wrong to be worried?

BIDEN: Well, I mean, it's -- I mean, for this he can't have it both ways. He negotiated that timetable. We have met the commitment the timetable the last administration negotiated with Iraqis. And we're totally confident that is the right thing to do.

So I find it kind of ironic that he's criticizing his own agreement that he negotiated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're also facing a little bit of criticism from the Iraqis. You know yesterday you stood up there with Prime Minister Maliki and talked about your commitment to solve these political problems, yet his spokesman came out after the meeting and said: "This is purely an Iraqi issue, we don't want the Americans to get involved."

What do you say to that?

BIDEN: Well, that's that not what -- that's not what the prime minister said. The prime minister said that we may need you to get involved.

What we offered the prime minister, as well as the speaker, as well as the two vice presidents, was that to the extent -- let me give you an example. The United Nations has started a process to deal with what they called the "disputed internal borders." And that is the debate between the Kurds and the Arabs as to where the line is.

Kirkuk is probably the biggest flashpoint. And we were asked that we would -- would we be helpful to the United Nations in doing this? I was further asked that would I communicate to the Kurdish leadership, who I have a close relationship with, that their passing a constitution through their parliament in Kurdistan was not helpful to the process that was under way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's going on here? Maliki says one thing and his spokesman says another.

BIDEN: Well, look, I think that it's very important that Prime Minister Maliki and all of the Iraqi leaders are able to in fact communicate, which is true, to the people of Iraq, that they're now a sovereign nation.

They take directions from no one. That they are able to handle their own internal affairs. And the fact -- my guess is, if the spokesman said that -- which surprises me, if the spokesman said that, I'd imagine they're worried about an upcoming election, making it look like the United States is going to continue to try to direct things here.

We are not. That is not why I'm here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're not going to direct things, but what if the Iraqi people -- they've been dealing with these political disputes for an awful long time, what if they can't solve them, the violence flares up again?

BIDEN: Well, that's going to be a tragic outcome for the Iraqi people. We made a commitment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But are we going to put our lives on the line again?

BIDEN: No. We made a commitment to withdraw our troops from the cities by the 30th, to withdraw our combat brigades from Iraq by next summer -- the end of next summer, and withdraw all troops according to the SOFA, that agreement we negotiated with them, by the end of 2011. That is our intention.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But no matter what, 2011, American troops all gone?

BIDEN: That is the intention. We believe the Iraqis will be fully capable of maintaining their own security. And we believe that with the time frame, with their upcoming election -- you know they're having an election in January, I know you know that, they'll form a new government early -- in late winter as a consequence of that election.

And it is our expectation that that election will come off peacefully and that their democracy is gradually maturing, so.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to Iran. We're three weeks out from their election.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have any doubt it was stolen?

BIDEN: Well, look, what I don't want to do is play into the hands of the supreme leader and Ahmadinejad like they're blaming the British now. You know, there -- that the reason why there was unrest is outside influence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They're saying they have confessions from reformers saying that.

BIDEN: Well, you know, they say a lot of things. That's simply not true. The -- I think the dust hasn't settled yet in terms of?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Still, three weeks ago.

BIDEN: Well, no, now here's what I think. I mean, I think it's clear that the consequences of the way the election was conducted and the way that the election was declared -- who was declared the winner and how, is going to have a rippling effect.

What that effect will be, I don't know. I think we have to wait to see how this settles out and -- before we can make a judgment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there's no doubt now that they responded violently to the election.

BIDEN: Oh, there is no doubt about that. There is none. The whole world saw it. And it is -- we have to acknowledge as a free and sovereign nation that we abhor the violence that took place. We think it was inappropriate, the way in which they treated those protesters.

And so there is no question, we and the rest of the world looked at them and said, my lord, this is not the way to conduct?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do you respond to critics who say the United States should have come out forcefully right away, right away and said, this is wrong, stop it, and they say that would have made a difference?

BIDEN: Well, I don't -- I think the president was absolutely pitch-perfect. I think what the president did is exactly the right way. I think the president did not allow us to be used to as the scapegoat, us to be used as?

STEPHANOPOULOS: There were some reports that you were arguing for a more forceful response earlier.

BIDEN: Well, I think the president did it exactly right. I think he was correct.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And going forward, what next? What should the strategy be right now?

BIDEN: Well, look, the Iranian government has a choice. They either choose greater isolation, and from the whole world, or they decide to take a rightful place in the -- in civilized, big, great nations. They can -- that's the path they have to choose.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Haven't they already shown evidence in the last week of what their choice is?

BIDEN: Well, they have in terms of the way they conducted their election, but they haven't in terms of whether -- the real key issues to now, are they going to continue the nuclear program? Are they going to be braced by what happened? Is this going to alter their behavior internally or externally?

Look, responses that they saw on the street in any country have consequences. It's hard to predict what those consequences will be.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But what are the consequences for the U.S. relationship? I mean, the president had said he wants to meet with the Iranians over the nuclear program through the P-5. But how does he engage with the Iranians now without breaking faith with those reformers?

BIDEN: Well, the way you do it is if they choose to meet with the P5, under the conditions the P5 was laid out, it means they begin to change course. And it means that the protesters probably had some impact on the behavior of an administration that they don't like at all. And it believes and I believe that means there's consequences to that.

Now, if they in fact decide to shut out the rest of the world, clamp down, further isolation, I think that takes them down a very different path.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to those who say that it's the United States now that should hit the pause button, there should be a cause correction, and we shouldn't rush to sit down...

BIDEN: Well, we're not. We're not rushing to sit down.

As I said to you, we have to wait to see how this sort of settles out. And there's already an offer laid out there by the permanent five plus one to say we're prepared to sit down and negotiate with you relative to your nuclear program. And so the ball's in their court.

STEPHANOPOULOS: When I saw President Ahmadinejad back in April, his response to that was that we need to see more from the United States first.

Is it fair to say now that there will be absolutely no more concessions to the Iranians in advance of those discussions?

BIDEN: It's fair to say the position the president has laid out will not change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But there will be engagement -- if the Iranians want to...


BIDEN: If the Iranians seek to engage, we will engage.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, the clock is ticking...

BIDEN: If the Iranians respond to the offer of engagement, we will engage.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the offer is on the table?

BIDEN: The offer's on the table.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it pretty clear that he agreed with President Obama to give until the end of the year for this whole process of engagement to work. After that, he's prepared to make matters into his own hands.

Is that the right approach?

BIDEN: Look, Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?

BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.

What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues.

If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

BIDEN: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say we can't dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike.

BIDEN: I'm not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Meanwhile, North Korea...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... seven missile launches in the last 24 hours, 11 this week. Anything the United States can do about it?

BIDEN: The question is, is there anything that we should do about it?

Look, this has almost become predictable behavior. Some of it seems like almost attention-seeking behavior.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you don't want to give the attention?

BIDEN: And -- no, I don't want to give the attention, because, look, I think our policy has been absolutely correct so far. We have succeeded in uniting the most important and critical countries to North Korea on a common path of further isolating North Korea. They're going to be faced with a pretty difficult choice, it seems to me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not a task that includes very forceful enforcement of the sanctions. The Russians and the Chinese blocked any boarding of the ships, didn't they?

BIDEN: No, no. Well, what they did was, if you noticed, the ship had to turn around and come back. Why? Because no port would allow them into their port.

There was no place they could go with certitude that they would not be, in fact, at that point, boarded and searched. And so I would argue that it, in fact, worked.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is our policy now though basically waiting for the Kim Jong-il regime to collapse?

BIDEN: Our policy is to continue to put united pressure from the very countries that North Korea was able to look to before with impunity. They could take almost any action and got no reaction, no negative reaction.

That's changed. And it is -- there is a significant turning of the pressure. And there are going to be some very difficult decisions that that regime's going to have make.

There's a real debate going on right now, George, about succession in North Korea.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Reports that he's tapped his youngest son.

BIDEN: That is the report.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe it?

BIDEN: Well, if I had to bet, that would be my guess. But I don't think anyone knows for certain.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The clock is also ticking on Afghanistan. Key members of Congress made it pretty clear during the war supplemental debate that they're going to give until early next year to see progress in Afghanistan or they're going to cut off the funding, move to cut off the funding.

Is that the right approach?

BIDEN: Look, I think the right approach is one we have chosen, the Obama/Biden administration.

We did a thorough review of what our objectives and policies were and should be in Afghanistan.

BIDEN: We set in motion a policy which is now only beginning to unfold. All the troops we agreed to increase are not even all in place at this point. And we also believe, as General Jones accurately said, that, ultimately, the success or failure in Iraq will not rest not on a military outcome, but on a both economic and political outcome internally, getting better governance in place and economic development in that country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do Americans have a right to expect that if we don't see continued progress in the next six to nine months, six to 12 months, then we should think about cutting back and pulling out?

BIDEN: Look, I think the Americans have a right to expect success. And I think the success is measured by how we defined it.


BIDEN: No. Success. And if they conclude that, whatever the policy that's being undertaken by any administration as not succeeding, they have a right to say, look, cease and desist. But I don't think that's where we're going, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There were some reports this week that the president has already made the judgment sending General Jones over to Afghanistan with a clear message -- no more troops. This is it, this is all you can get.

And Bob Woodward wrote about it. He talked about the general meeting with various military figures in Afghanistan, and this is what he said -- this is what he reports that General Jones said: "If there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment. Everyone in the room caught phonetic reference to WTF -- which in the military now sort of means, what the (blank)."

Are you concerned that this is sending some kind of a chilling message?

BIDEN: No, not at all. Look, here's...

STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't want to hear the advice?

BIDEN: Look, no, no. We got the advice.

We spent five months with the entire national security team, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security adviser down in that tank, down in that Situation Room, laboriously banging out the plans. The military came in with explicit requests. The president gave them what they asked for. It hasn't even been implemented yet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You were on the other side, it was reported, that you didn't want an expansion of troops.

BIDEN: No, no. I did want an expansion of troops. There was a slight difference about how to layer them, how to proceed.

The president -- we all ended up in -- you know, this was an open discussion. And the thing I like about the president, he seeks everyone's opinion.

Well, we reached a consensus opinion, and the consensus opinion of the national security team, of which I'm a part, was to do exactly what's under way.

The point is -- I suspect the point that Jim Jones is making is, hey, it hasn't even been implemented yet. Troops are still on the way. Slow up, guys.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But to be clear, you're saying if the military believes there should be more troops, they shouldn't be afraid to give that advice. They should give that advice?

BIDEN: They should not be afraid to give whatever advice from the field or from the Pentagon to the president and the secretary of defense that they think they need.

STEPHANOPOULOS: While we've been here, some pretty grim job numbers back at home -- 9.5 percent unemployment in June, the worst numbers in 26 years.

How do you explain that? Because when the president and you all were selling the stimulus package, you predicted at the beginning that, to get this package in place, unemployment will peak at about 8 percent. So, either you misread the economy, or the stimulus package is too slow and to small.

BIDEN: The truth is, we and everyone else misread the economy. The figures we worked off of in January were the consensus figures and most of the blue chip indexes out there.

Everyone thought at that stage -- everyone -- the bulk of...

STEPHANOPOULOS: CBO would say a little bit higher.

BIDEN: A little bit, but they're all in the same range. No one was talking about that we would be moving towards -- we're worried about 10.5 percent, it will be 9.5 percent at this point.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But we're looking at 10 now, aren't we?

BIDEN: No. Well, look, we're much too high. We're at 9 -- what, 9.5 right now?


BIDEN: And so the truth is, there was a misreading of just how bad an economy we inherited. Now, that doesn't -- I'm not -- it's now our responsibility. So the second question becomes, did the economic package we put in place, including the Recovery Act, is it the right package given the circumstances we're in? And we believe it is the right package given the circumstances we're in.

We misread how bad the economy was, but we are now only about 120 days into the recovery package. The truth of the matter was, no one anticipated, no one expected that that recovery package would in fact be in a position at this point of having to distribute the bulk of money.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No, but a lot of people were saying that you needed to do something bigger and bolder then, including the economist Paul Krugman. He's saying -- right now he's saying the same thing again -- don't wait. You need a second stimulus, you need it now.

BIDEN: Look, what we have to do now is we have to properly, adequately, transparently and effectively spend out the $787 billion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's your job. You're in charge of that now.

BIDEN: That is my job, and I think we're doing it well. If you noticed, George, I mean, there were other predictions. This was going to be wasteful and all these terrible projects were going to be out there, and we're wasting money. Well, that dog hasn't barked yet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Senator Coburn has identified some.

BIDEN: Yes -- no, he hasn't, but he did, he identified one hundred ? forty-eight of which we had already killed. And so -- and the rest I dispute. So the bottom line though is, I think anybody would say this has been pretty well managed so far.

The question is, how do you now -- do we -- what we have to do, George, is we have to, as this rolls out, put more pace on the ball. The second hundred days you're going to see a lot more jobs created.

And the reason you are is now all of these contracts for the over several thousand highway projects that have approved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're also seeing states across the country cutting back on their programs. Many of the people on unemployment?

BIDEN: Sure.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ? today are going to run out of unemployment in September. That means for a lot of those people, if there is not a second stimulus, they're going to be out in the cold.

BIDEN: Well, look, we have increased the amount of money unemployed -- those on unemployment rolls have gotten, 12 million are getting more money because of the stimulus package.

We've increased the number of people eligible by 2 million people. We've given a tax cut to 95 percent of the people who get a pay stub. They have somewhere -- $60 bucks a month out there that's going into the economy.

There is a lot going on, George. And I think it's premature to make the judgment?

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no second stimulus?

BIDEN: No, I didn't say that. I think it's premature to make that judgment. This was set up to spend out over 18 months. There are going to be major programs that are going to take effect in September, $7.5 billion for broadband, new money for high-speed rail, the implementation of the grid -- the new electric grid.

And so this is just starting, the pace of the ball is now going to increase.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're in charge of the stimulus. You're the president's envoy here in Iraq. You're supposed to settle this dispute between the director of national intelligence and the CIA over who is going to appoint the station chiefs. By the way, have you solved that one yet?

BIDEN: I think we've solved that one.


BIDEN: Well, let me put it this way. I think we're well on the way to that being solved.


BIDEN: They both won.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So they're going to share the responsibility to appoint to station chiefs?

BIDEN: Not done yet. Let me comment on that next week to you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Well, let me get to the broader point then. You've fixed -- you say you've fixed a problem that will?

BIDEN: Well they fixed the problem.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ? to find out that they fixed the problem -- look to find out the details on all of that. But you've got all of these discrete projects now. And when you came in you talked a lot about how you didn't want to get bogged down in individual projects because you wanted to be, you know, the president's primary adviser.

Are you're worried you're going to far in the other direction?

BIDEN: No. Because all of these projects have end dates on them. You know, they all have sell-by dates, because -- and that's I think that -- I hope I've brought some real expertise to this job, available to the president.

The things he has asked me to do. I hope I'm relatively good at. And -- but all of them have specific objectives.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Sarah Palin.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You were the last person to run against her.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Were you surprised by her decision to step down?

BIDEN: Well, look, you and I know -- and I shouldn't say that because that implicates you in my answer, so. But those who have been deeply involved in politics know at the end of the day it is really and truly a personal deal.

And personal family decisions have real impact on people's decisions. I love reading these history books and biographies of people, the reason they made the choice to run or not run was because the state of the economy.

It maybe had a lot to do with what the state of their life was, and the state of their family, et cetera. So I'm not going to second guess her.

STEPHANOPOULOS: She cast herself as the victim of political blood sport in that press conference. Is that how you see it?

BIDEN: No. I respect her decision. I don't -- I don't know what prompted her decision to not only not run again and also to step down as a consequence of the decision not to run in 2010. And I take her at her word that had a personal ingredient in it. And you have to respect that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.

BIDEN: Thank you.

life was and the state of their family, et cetera. So I'm not going to second-guess her.

STEPHANOPOULOS: She cast herself as the victim of political blood sport in that press conference. Is that how you see it?

BIDEN: No. I respect her decision. I don't -- I don't know what prompted her decision to not only not run again and also to step down as a consequence of the decision not to run in 2010. And I take her at her word that it had a personal ingredient in it, and you have to respect that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much.

BIDEN: Thank you.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And when we come back, we'll get the roundtable's take on Palin's big news Friday. The big question, does she have a political future and does she even want one?



PALIN: Life is too short to compromise time and resources and though it may be tempting and more comfortable to just kind of keep your head down and plod along and appease those who are demanding, hey, just sit down and shut up. But that's a worthless, easy pass out. That's a quitter's way out. And I think the problem in our country today is apathy. It would be apathetic to just hunker down and go with the flow. We're fishermen. We know that only dead fish go with the flow.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Only dead fish go with the flow, the latest entry in Safire's political dictionary from Sarah Palin on Friday. Let me bring in our "Roundtable" to talk about it. I'm joined by George Will, Matthew Dowd, political strategist for George Bush and a lot of Democratic candidates as well. Tony Blankley, columnist for "The Washington Times." Todd Purdum of "Vanity Fair," you have a big story in this month's issue, "Sarah Palin: The Lies, The Meltdowns and the Moose Sighs Ambition." And Cynthia Tucker of "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution." Welcome back.

And I do want to bring in everybody on Sarah Palin. But first, let's watch a little bit more of the press conference. A lot of people might have been driving on Friday. Here's a little bit more of Sarah Palin, harkening back to her days as Sarah barracuda on the basketball court.


PALIN: A good point guard, here's what she does. She drives through a full-court press, protecting the ball, keeping her head up because she needs to keep her eye on the basket. And she knows exactly when to pass the ball so that the team can win. And that is what I'm doing. I thought about, well, how much fun some governors have as lame ducks. Maybe they travel around their state, travel the other states, maybe take their overseas international trade missions. So many politicians do that. And then, I thought, that's what's wrong. Many just accept that lame duck status and they hit the road. They draw a paycheck. They kind of milk it. And I'm not going to put Alaskans through that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) STEPHANOPOULOS: Not going to put Alaskans through the rest of her second term. George, what do you make of it?

GEORGE WILL, ABC NEWS: I read it once, and seen it twice and I still have no idea why she did this. In one phrase, she seems to say this, will help the nation. It will free her up to help the nation. On the other hand, she says it's her family, which I understand. She's been fairly much impoverished by litigation that's hurt her family and she may be wary of being referred to, as for example, a retarded flight attendant, by one HBO comedian.

Be that as it may, the one that rings most hollow is she doesn't want to put Alaska through the terror of being a lame duck governor. If she is just weary of it, one can understand that. Still, she made a contract with them to serve out her term. And she said, in her own words, she now is a quitter.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And one friend of Sarah Palin's told me, Cynthia, she just wants peace.

CYNTHIA TUCKER, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: Well, if she just wants peace, then we won't be seeing her on the campaign trail, if that's what she wants. Because if she intends to seek high office, she won't have peace.

The simple fact of the matter is if Sarah Palin thinks that she's had it tougher than anybody else, that she's been more harshly criticized, I have two words for her -- Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton was savaged for eight years. There were even jokes about her daughter, Chelsea, who was much younger then than Bristol Palin is now.

It's not fair. It's not a good part of the political process. But that is the stage that you take a lot of criticism and quite frankly, women take a lot of criticism.

So, if she isn't ready for that, then she doesn't need to be playing on the national stage. And if she thinks it's tough being governor of Alaska, it would be a whole lot tougher being president of the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Todd, you were up in Alaska and things were getting tough.

TODD PURDUM, VANITY FAIR: Things were getting tougher. She wasn't having any fun running the state. People told me that. People told me they didn't expect her to run for re-election. I don't think anybody thought she would resign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no inkling from that?

PURDUM: No hint from that. Strong suggestion that she wouldn't run for re-election, strong suggestion she was unhappy and not enjoying life, not enjoying having to go to Juneau, she didn't like Juneau. She didn't like running the government, which had become very difficult for her, especially since last fall. STEPHANOPOULOS: And while you were up there, you've already seen Sarah Palin's lawyer hit back at the suggestions that there's another shoe to drop. There's another scandal. Any hint of that?

PURDUM: I don't look for that. I wouldn't be -- I can't rule it out. I have no knowledge that there isn't one. But I think, more of what has happened here, is people told me if there's any predictable thing about her, it's unpredictability and this is one of those.

TONY BLANKLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES: I think she's currently the best intuitive politician in the Republican Party.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean, intuitive?

BLANKLEY: That she's got a good, political gut sense of how to talk to the American people and how to advance herself. And I would bet on her intuition over the analysis of a lot of people right now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you think that performance connected the way, for example, her convention speech did?

BLANKLEY: I'll say something odd. There was a poll last week. So, before the announcement, but recent, that she has an 80 percent approval in the Republican Party, has a 47 percent plurality positive in Independents and is only negative amongst Democratic Party, self- identified people.

Given the really ferociously bad press she'd had for the last nine months, those are impressive numbers. I think she's doing something right that those in Washington don't sense.

MATTHEW DOWD, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: You know, I think she is a good, natural politician and has an intuitive sense. I agree with Tony on that. But just like an athlete, because we have all these analogies, it only doesn't take natural ability. It takes discipline and focus. And she doesn't have it all.

There's been a ton of athletes in this country, football players, quarterbacks, baseball players, that had a great natural ability that never were able to make it on the national stage because they didn't have discipline, they didn't have a focus.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And taking Tony's points on her political situation, it was even better coming out of the election. But she squandered those last several months?

DOWD: Well, that's the other thing about this. To me, if you're a conservative or if you're a Republican, part of what you say as leaders, that you're supposed to be the adult in the room. You're supposed to concentrate on governing. And her statement basically that says, I have a year left in office and I'm not going to do that to people of Alaska.

There's a lot of politicians out there, like Ronald Reagan, who spent the last two years of presidency and he was a lame duck, who did a lot internationally. But she basically decided that no politician can serve well if they don't have an election on their deadline.

BLANKLEY: Let me just make a point on that because she is kind of uniquely situated serving in Alaska. We've all worked or seen politicians who are running for another office. They're based in one city or another, down here in the lower 48. They're an hour and a half away wherever they need to go, in the pre-campaign campaign. They can do day trips and they can be back home and they can be back home and seen on the job and doing on the job, even though they're doing their campaign work.

She can't physically do that from Alaska. So, she's sort of uniquely vulnerable to the charge of not doing their job, if she's down here campaigning. I'm not saying that's the reason why.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I was going to say, that would suggest that indeed she does want to run for president. She does seem to be smarting at the criticism from some who are saying, no, she's out, her political future is over.

She put up something on Facebook yesterday. Let's show everyone what she is telling to her supporters there. "I've never thought I needed a title before one's name to forge progress in America. I'm now looking ahead in how we can advance this country together, with our values of less government intervention, greater energy independence, stronger national security and much needed fiscal restraint. I hope you will join me. Now is the time to rebuild and help our nation achieve greatness."

George, regardless of motivations on Friday, is there a plausible comeback strategy here?

WILL: I don't think so. I can see her in Iowa because Iowa has a large evangelical Christian component, in the Republican nominating electorate. Beyond Iowa, no. She is now not going to be presented as someone that's only a first-term governor of Alaska, she's not even a first-term governor.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's especially true if she's not ready for criticism, as you pointed out.

TUCKER: Absolutely. I just don't see that this is a beginning of a political comeback for her in that rambling an incoherent press conference in which the only thing I really enjoyed actually was her using a sports metaphor. I think it's neat for women to use a sports metaphor. But it was very difficult to follow.

But the one thing that came across, I thought, was not only that she was smarting from all this criticism, but she came across as petty and vindictive, Richard Nixon without the policy knowledge or the experience. And I think that comes across for her, time and time again. And again, if you are not ready to put up with all that criticism and shrug it off, then you don't have any business on the national stage.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, two years later, after his famous -- Richard Nixon's press conference, Richard Nixon was on his way to the White House.

And, Todd, on the point of motivation, one of the things you write about in "Vanity Fair" and let me quote it here is that you say, "Several people told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of narcissistic personality disorder. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," talking about Sarah Palin. And I guess that some sense that this would explain what we saw or some of what we saw on Friday.

PURDUM: A lot of people did tell me something that Cynthia said, which is that she takes everything very personally. She has this sort of grandiose sense of her own place in the cosmos. She has an unrealistic sense of what people should expect of her and what she should be required to deliver.

I think, in some ways, as puzzling as her statement was on Friday, it's at peace with that. It's at peace with this person who does not seem to operate in any conventional sense as a politician would who knows she has to live to fight another day, who should keep her friends close but her enemies closer. It's very personal for her.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does it make you think she wants to come back, wants to get back on all of this?

PURDUM: I think she wants to get back at whatever she feels has wounded her and aggrieved her. But I take her to her word at some level, that she wants to have a hiatus in her life. I think the last thing she must really want is to be in the thick of it because if you can't take the heat in Juneau, Washington is a lot hotter.

BLANKLEY: She's both a narcissist and she wants people to stop pay attention to her. Look, narcissism is the disease of the age. A lot of folks suffer from it. The statement about narcissism reminds me of the Goldwater campaign, where 1,000 psychiatrists signed an ad saying he was nuts. We throw around these charges.

My sense is, that the thing she most needs is a good, small team of advisers who are shrewd and she feels comfortable with. Because obviously there's been a scattershot of folks the way she's presented herself. I think it's fixable. And as you mentioned, when Dick Nixon said you won't have Nixon to kick around, he subsequently got elected twice to the presidency.

DOWD: Well, I think -- I mean, obviously, all these terms (inaudible) about politicians being narcissistic is not page one.


I mean, almost every one that we all know is narcissistic. That's why they run for office.

The question, though, becomes, that their celebrity that they have, either they have when they come in, like Ronald Reagan, and what they use it for, and that adulation that they have.

Because they're all, sort of, self-involved. All of them are. How do they use it? Do they use it about "me" or do they use it about "we"?

And I think part of the problem with Sarah Palin is not her advisers and is not all that kind of stuff. And it's not necessarily that she's a narcissist, which all these politicians typically are. It's what is she using that for?

And most politicians, like Ronald Reagan, use it to advance a bigger cause And something bigger -- more than about themselves, and use that celebrity status, just like Barack Obama, I think. You can criticize his policies -- and he has celebrity status. He's trying to...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's what she's saying she's going to do here.

DOWD: Well, that's the question, though, is that she has not demonstrated. And the one place she could have demonstrated substantially, which I believe that, if she really wanted to have a political future, she would have shown what she could do in Alaska, and say, "I'm not going to pay attention to what's going on down in the 48 states. I'm going to do my job. And if I do my job well, then maybe I have a future."

But quitting in the job that -- the only place she can do it seems bizarre to me.

WILL: She's a lagging indicator of American political developments. There's a rising generation of young Republicans, men and women, governors, senators, et cetera. And why in the world, with this budding all-star team, there, would they turn to Sarah Palin? STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me push you on that, a little bit. Because Sam Tanenhaus in the New York Times today, who's authored a new book on the rise of the -- rise and fall of the conservative movement, points out -- he says that the Republican party "used to be a model of lockstep discipline. Now it has entered a period of inner confusion, verging on dysfunctional."

Well, the title of the book is "The Death of Conservatism, yet another obituary.


It's quite a good book, actually.

Republicans were never that disciplined. They've always been tough, but they unite at the end of the fight. That's different from discipline, all the way down the line.

It is the case, however, that, facially, there are competent people that you don't have to begin with the problem of saying, actually, appearances notwithstanding, this person is competent.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Fewer in the last couple of months, with -- Sanford's out. Ensign's out. Palin, we'll see.

BLANKLEY: Yes, look, I mean, I think the Republican Party is going through what parties go through when they're smashed, which is chaos and inner fighting, and you don't know what you stand for. And first, you're defensive and you say, we just weren't loud enough and clear enough. and then you figure out you've got other problems.

I mean, the Democrats went through that, after '80 and again after '94.

So I'm not particularly concerned about, I think, what's, sort of, typical for what happens to a party, at this point. What I do know is that the only positive energy being driven by a politician in the Republican Party right now, of any substance, is coming from her. And to -- you may not like it. But the fact is, that she

STEPHANOPOULOS: Positive energy?

BLANKLEY: For the Republicans. Yes, I mean, she -- who's drawing a crowd? She can draw a crowd, more than other contenders can draw a crowd. We can't -- the media can't take their eyes off her. There's a lot of pulsating going on there.

Now, it's got to be managed. It could be destructive. We'll see. But you don't -- I don't -- I wouldn't want to walk away from that level of energy for a prospective candidate who might be good.

DOWD: I just -- one thing I want to say, and that is, it's like -- to me, that's akin to saying a circus comes to town and everybody's running and screaming about it.

BLANKLEY: Have you noticed presidential campaigns DOWD: Well, I have. And that's the ones that you just (inaudible) that don't have something substantive to offer. I think -- I agree with George. I think this is systematic of a problem, that everybody's focused on Sarah Palin, when we have nothing else to talk about, from a vision perspective, in the Republican Party.

And if Sarah Palin is generating that kind of energy, it's a huge problem.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And creating an opportunity, probably, for the president. One of the things that he's seen in the last several months is the fact that his opposition is divided and fractious has helped him on his agenda.

But I want to go back to Vice President Biden's interview now. A fairly significant concession there from the vice president, we "misread the economy." And that could end up being, if it doesn't start to get better, the Achilles' heel of the Obama administration.

TUCKER: Absolutely. I think, first of all, that the Obama administration deserves to be hammered, and they are being hammered, for having so misjudged on the economy.

Back in January, the president said, unless we pass this stimulus package, the economy -- unemployment rate might be as high as 9 percent. Well, now, it's about 9.5 percent. And so, he's rightly being hammered on that.

It's also true that his approval ratings are softening a bit. And I think part of that softening has to do with the economy.

When Ben Bernanke was saying, about a month or so ago, that there were now green chutes, suggesting a recovery, the simple fact of the matter is, for most working folks, there were no green chutes.

And so, unless we see something that turns around in the economy significantly by the end of the year, this is going to be a major problem for the administration and perhaps keep them from accomplishing those other big-ticket items they're trying to push through, like health care and climate change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is the question, George.

You know, the vice president didn't want to bite on this idea of a second stimulus package, now, and he's already on the line with the first one.

WILL: The first one that you're calling a first one was the second stimulus package...


... the Bush -- the Bush-Pelosi stimulus package, that people perversely saved instead of spent, in February 2008, when the unemployment rate was 4.5 percent. They actually said, Cynthia, that, unless you pass our stimulus package immediately, by 2010, the unemployment rate might get to 9 percent. Now, it's halfway to 10 percent. And we're halfway through 2009.

DOWD: You know, it's interesting to me, when I watch these figures, there's been 2 million jobs lost under the Obama administration. Since he took office, 2 million jobs have been lost.

And I remember the intense criticism, working on the Bush campaign, and President Bush took, that in March of 2004, 2 million jobs had been lost over 3 years. And it was the Herbert Hoover -- worst economic recovery since Herbert Hoover. What has he done? He hasn't done -- he lost over 2 million jobs.

He has done -- Barack Obama, whether or not he's trying to blame Bush or not. We tried the same thing. Oh, it was Al Gore. We inherited this bad thing and all this, but you couldn't...

But I don't think...

STEPHANOPOULOS: It worked for Reagan for a while, President Carter.

DOWD: If he is faced -- he is faced, now, with the fact that he has to find 2 million jobs to go back to zero, which is where he started, that's a very difficult prospect to be in at this point.

PURDUM: The one thing I'd say is, he does have what Matthew said, which is was enormous discipline. And when he saw, all during the campaign, when he seemed to falter; when there seemed to be trouble, he could refocus; he could recalibrate. He could put his shoulder to the wheel and come back.

So I suspect they're far more worried at the White House than we are about it here at this table. And I don't know if they can do anything about it. But I'm sure they're not...


STEPHANOPOULOS: And their answer, though, is still, we're not -- what we want to focus on are the next items coming up on our agenda that Cynthia mentioned.

Health care, clearly number one -- and you're getting back to that this week; the climate change bill, even though there are concerns, Tony, about the deficit, and even though they're getting hammered from the left, people calling him to again go for more stimulus now.

BLANKLEY: Well, it's interesting because they clearly want to -- the president wants to advance his domestic agenda on health and energy. And he's going to be judged, I think, without doubt, on whether the public's satisfied with how he dealt with the economy.

And so, I think he runs a risk. Now, he may win it all. But he runs a risk. Now, as far as the vice president's statement that they were underestimated, I'm puzzled by that. Because, if you remember, President Obama was talking about the economy being in such a bad situation, it might never recover. And then he was urged by friends, "Don't be quite so negative," and he started becoming a bit more positive.

STEPHANOPOULOS: To give us some hope.

BLANKLEY: So I think that they were seized early on, and correctly so, at the dire condition of the economy. So I rather doubt that they really were surprised that the economy's bad.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, he got a little bit more help, this week, with his agenda, potentially more help. Al Franken finally made the senator, 60th senator for the Democrats, in the Senate, right now, from Minnesota. Here's Al Franken.


SENATOR-ELECT AL FRANKEN, D-MINN.: The way I see it, I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator. I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from the state of Minnesota. And that's how I'm going to do this job.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, George Will, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican Party says, "OK, you've 60 votes now in the Senate. You own everything. It's your burden. It's your show. Go to it."

WILL: That's true. They have custody of the whole country. And they have no excuses. They do have Arlen Specter. So subtract one. Because he's -- he is, to say no more, unreliable.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, unreliable, except that Arlen Specter now has a primary challenge, Congressman Joe Sestak, of Pennsylvania. And that can concentrate someone's mind. He's already come out and said, pretty much, I'm going to be for health care.

But, Matthew Dowd, there are a fair amount of Democrats who don't necessarily want to be that 60th vote on a lot of these issues.

DOWD: Well, to me, it's interesting. I think, when I reflect back on the Bush administration, when you take a look at it, in 2002, when the Republicans took the Senate over. And they had the Senate, and then the House and the White House.

To me, that was the beginning of the end of Bush's sort of style of "I want to be bipartisan." At that point, he no longer needed to be. He didn't have to talk to Democrats. He didn't have to reach across the aisle and all that.

As soon as they took the Senate, it was like, we can do this all on our own. And to me, that's the most problematic thing. If Barack Obama thinks, OK, I got the votes now; I can just jam through any policies I want, I think, in the end, that is not going to benefit him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He probably knows better. And, Cynthia, the other thing, if you saw Bill Clinton's experience, he actually had probably more success politically -- even though he passed his agenda with the Democrats in the first year, '93, but after Republicans take control in '94, his political comeback begins in '95.

TUCKER: Well, George was saying earlier, George Will, that Republicans were never actually that disciplined. Well, they simply -- they looked very disciplined, compared to Democrats.

As Will Rogers famously said, "I belong to no organized political party. I'm a Democrat." Having 60 votes doesn't mean a great deal for the Democrats, as it turned out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They've been pretty disciplined so far this year.

TUCKER: They have been somewhat disciplined. But you remember, George Bush got those 60 Republican senators to march in lockstep with him throughout most of the time that they had those votes. Even as his popularity with much of the public was beginning to decline, he still got Republicans to march in lockstep.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Tony Blankley, 15 seconds left. Can Barack Obama get that same discipline?

BLANKLEY: I think they are pretty disciplined right now. I think Franken is an important vote. It's not decisive, but it means that Collins is less decisive in shaping the final deal on a bill, because Franken will be, if anything, to Obama's left, not to his right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, I want you guys to continue this in the green room.