Transcript: Sens. Chris Dodd and Lindsey Graham

Exclusive interview with Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

ByABC News
June 7, 2009, 5:58 AM


JUNE 21, 2009




[*] STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello and welcome to "This Week."

Iran on edge.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The world is watching.

(UNKNOWN): We are witnessing a Tiananmen in Tehran.


STEPHANOPOULOS: On Capitol Hill, health care stalls.


(UNKNOWN): This is Hillary-care plus.

(UNKNOWN): We've come too far for our efforts to fail overdisagreement on one single issue.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Obama's top priority in peril? Should theU.S. take a harder line on Iran? Questions this morning for two keysenators, Democrat Chris Dodd and Republican Lindsey Graham, a "ThisWeek" debate.



OBAMA: This is when the criticism gets louder. This is wherethe pundits grow impatient.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The president's polls fall to earth. Is hegetting a free ride from the press? That and all the week's politicson our roundtable, with George Will, Sam Donaldson, Cokie Roberts,Robert Reich of the American Prospect, and just back from Tehran, NewYork Times executive editor Bill Keller.

And as always, the Sunday Funnies.


DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: They're recounting the ballotscast in the Iranian election, and today they found 14 more votes forNorm Coleman.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And happy Father's Day to all the dads outthere.

It was a momentous week here in Washington, with majordevelopments on health care and major tension with Iran, especiallyyesterday, when the president held several meetings on the violencethere. Hard information was hard to come by, but Saturday was clearlythe most deadly day yet. As many as 20 protesters killed in clasheswith state security forces, and the opposition leader, Mir-HosseinMousavi, reportedly told his supporters that he was prepared formartyrdom.

In response, President Obama issued his strongest condemnationyet. He called on the Iranian government to stop all violent andunjust actions against its own people, and he quoted Martin LutherKing. "The arc of the moral universe is long and it bends towardsjustice. I believe that, the international community believes that,and right now we're bearing witness to the Iranian people's belief inthat truth, and we will continue to bear witness."

For more on this debate, let me bring in two key senators.Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. Also, Democrat ChrisDodd of Connecticut. Gentlemen, welcome to both of you.

And Senator Graham, let me begin with you. Your friend SenatorJohn McCain and many other Republicans were pressuring the presidentall week long to take a harder line on Iran. Did he get it right withthat statement yesterday?

GRAHAM: He's certainly moving in the right direction, but ourpoint is that there is a monumental event going on in Iran, and youknow, the president of the United States is supposed to lead the freeworld, not follow it. Other nations have been more outspoken, so Ihope that we'll hear more of this, because the young men and womentaking the streets in Tehran need our support. The signs are inEnglish. They are basically asking for us to speak up on theirbehalf.

And I appreciate what the president said yesterday, but he's beentimid and passive more than I would like, and I hope he will continueto speak truth to power.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator, you know what the White House hassaid in response. They say that they don't want to become the playersin this fight and actually make the protesters seem like they're toolsof the United States. Henry Kissinger agrees with the White House.

GRAHAM: Well, these people are not tools of anyone. They're theones getting killed. No one in America is getting killed over there.

Any time America stands up for freedom, we're better off. Whenwe try to prop up dictators or remain silent, it comes back to biteus.

You know, Ronald Reagan spoke in front of the Berlin wall, hesaid tear it down, he's ready to negotiate. When he was silent on the1986 election in the Philippines, said there was fraud on both sides,that hurt the cause, so I would -- I would hope that the presidentwould speak truth to power.

This regime is corrupt. It has blood on its hands in Iran.They've killed Americans in Iraq, innocent Iraqi people; now they'rekilling their own people. Stand up with the protesters. That's notmeddling. That's doing the right thing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Dodd, has the president been timid andpassive, as Senator Graham says?

DODD: No, not at all. He's the president of the United States.He's not a member of the Senate or a columnist. He's got a verydelicate path to walk here. I think he's been strong. You don't wantto become -- you don't want to take ownership of this. The worstthing we could do at this moment for these reformers, theseprotesters, these courageous people in Tehran, is allow the governmentthere to claim that this is a U.S.-led opposition, a U.S.-leddemonstration.

This is 1979 in many ways all over again, and these areremarkable people doing remarkable things. The president has spokenout strongly. We adopted unanimously I think the other day, Lindsey,a resolution on the floor of the Senate in support of what theprotesters are trying to achieve. I think it's clear to them that westand as a nation behind their efforts. And the president I think ishandling this job as well as any president could, and that is speakingout against the unjust activities that are occurring, the violencethat's being brought against these protesters, the deaths that areoccurring. That's exactly the right message for an Americanpresident, but not taking ownership of this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Dodd, going forward, how does thepresident pursue his policy of engagement after we've seen what thisregime is willing to do to its own people? You have some suggesting,like the House Republican leader, John Boehner, that we should gostraight to tougher sanctions, stop all gasoline sales to the Iraniansnow?

DODD: Well, obviously this is a -- as someone pointed out theother day, this government is very fragile in Iran right now, andobviously we're deeply concerned about the security of our country andour allies with the possibility of, of course, developing and having anuclear arsenal.

And that's a tremendously high priority for us. And so you wantto put the pressure on we have collectively with the internationalcommunity. I suspect after the events of the last week, you'll seemore of that, additional pressure being put on it to make sure that wenot only see that these protesters and demonstrators who are seekingjustice in their country will achieve that goal, but also that thenear-term issue of dealing with nuclear weapons is also going to bedealt with.

That's a very delicate path of the president to walk.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So would you go along with tightening the nooseeconomically, stopping gasoline sales?

DODD: I would, but I would want to be collective with that. Ithink doing it alone on ourselves may not achieve the desired results.I think the effort to get the international community, as we have beenin getting more and more support for that, makes a lot of sense, ifyour true goal is to stop the Iranians from developing the nuclearweapons.


GRAHAM: Well, my goal is to make sure that we do not lose thismoment in history. If we could get the Iranian people to speak out --stand behind them as they speak out. They want more freedom. Theywant to be part of the international community. They do not like theway they're being lead, the way they're being isolated by the saber-rattling from Ahmadinejad. The supreme leader is losing credibilitywith their own people.

The regime, to me for the moment, is more important thannegotiating about nuclear weapons. If we could empower the Iranianpeople by giving them the moral support they deserve, then -- and dosanctions and stand tough against this regime.

It's one thing for me to talk here in South Carolina about Iran,the people who are out in the streets in Tehran are losing their livesare the ones that I admire. And we've got a chance here to stand bythese folks and give them the moral support we need.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So just to be clear, you're for regime change?Just to be clear, you're for regime change?

GRAHAM: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you, Senator Dodd?

DODD: I couldn't hear the question.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you for regime change now in Iran?

DODD: Well, I would love to see a different regime in Iran. Whowouldn't? My lord, what's going on there for the last 30 years hasbeen a disaster for the people in Iran. Certainly would like to seechange there.

But how you get there -- and this -- I think the point here, wedon't want to try to drive more of a wedge here, I think Lindsey and Iagree without any question here what we'd like to see occur.

The question is, should the United States take ownership of thisrevolution? I think we do great damage to the effort if it appearsthis is a U.S.-led effort. Then I think we do damage to the people --that's exactly what Ahmadinejad would like. It's what the supremeleader would like to say, this is a U.S.-led opposition, not ahomegrown, organic revolution being led by Iranians.

If we lose that argument, then these reformers, these people whoare courageous today could have a major setback, in my view.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me switch to the situation here at home,especially on health care. Senator Dodd, you're chairing the HealthCommittee in the Senate in the absence of Senator Kennedy.

It got pretty heated there on Friday afternoon. Let me show ourviewers a little bit of your exchange with Senator McCain.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ. I'll tell you, these hours have been awaste of time when we don't know what the bill costs and we don't knowwhat the employer mandates are, and we don't know what the governmentoption.

DODD: We can't run the numbers on it until we actually craft thelanguage and give him something. So they...

MCCAIN: They've run the numbers...

(CROSSTALK) DODD: ... various ideas.

MCCAIN: ... and it's a trillion dollars, one-third insured.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, Senator Dodd, that was only a partialreport by the Congressional Budget Office, but they did find it wouldcost a trillion dollars and you'd cover one-third of the uninsured, 16million uninsured. Is that too high a price to pay?

DODD: Well, George, we're not done with this at all. If thiswere easy, it would have been done decades ago. Sixty years, theeffort has been made to have a national health care program in thiscountry.

But it's almost 50 million uninsured, and those who are insuredpaying prices they can't afford and going to escalate every day,14,000 people a day lose their health insurance in the United States,14,000 a day.

This is very hard. This is very difficult. But we're going tostick with it. We actually had a pretty good week in many ways. Wedid a lot of work, a lot of amendments were agreed to.

You've had AARP come out in favor of a House plan. You had thepharmaceutical companies look like they're going to reduce some $50billion in cost. We're moving ahead. Max Baucus is moving ahead.

This is a difficult road, I'll be the first to admit it. Anyonewho has been involved in this issue over the years will tell you that.But we're going to get there, in my view.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator, bottom line, how much is thisgoing to cost and how many people are going to get covered? Becauseyou talked about Senator Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee, theysaid to get to something close to universal coverage, it would be $1.6trillion.

A lot of people had sticker shock over that as well.

DODD: Yes. We all do. And, look, we've got to make thisaccessible. We've got to make it a quality program. We've got tomake sure we can bring down these costs. We can't consume 35 cents inevery dollar as we could in the next 10 or 15, 20 years of our grossdomestic product if we don't change the system, fundamentally alterit.

DODD: That's what the effort here is all about. We're basicallysaying look, if you like what you have, you can keep it. If you want,you choose your doctor, your hospital, your insurance coverage. That'sfine, there's no one objecting to that whatsoever. But to focus onprevention, on quality, to dis-incentive a system where it rewardsthose who show up at hospitals and doctors offices instead of tryingto keep people healthy. That's the effort we're involved in here.

And it's not say to do this, but we're working at it. Thenumbers come back. We've got to obviously have better numbers thanthe ones we've seen. And we need to cover a lot more people thanwe're seeing. That's what we've been working on all weekend, in fact.And we'll work on it again this week.