'This Week' Transcript: Shimon Perez, Sens. Dick Durbin and Mitch McConnell

Jan. 4, 2009 — -- ABC'S "THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS"

JANUARY 4, 2009

SPEAKERS: GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOSTSEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.SEN. RICHARD J. DURBIN, D-ILL.SHIMON PERES, PRESIDENT, ISRAEL

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice over): Ground war in Gaza.

(UNKNOWN): Now is the time to do what needs to be done.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back from Hawaii, Obama challenges Congress.

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: If we don't act swiftly andboldly, we could see a much deeper economic downturn.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that Illinois governor sparks aconstitutional clash.

GOV. ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, D-ILL.: I am appointing Roland Burrisas the next United States senator from Illinois.

DURBIN: He has forfeited his moral authority to fill the Senateseat.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Topics, this morning, for our exclusiveheadliners, Israeli president Shimon Peres, the Senate Democraticwhip, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and the most powerful Republican inWashington, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell.

George Will, Cokie Roberts, Katrina Vanden Heuvel and JonathanKarl debate all the week's politics on our roundtable. And, asalways, the Sunday funnies.

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": The bad news for GovernorBlagojevich is that there's no chance that President Bush will pardonhim because Bush can't even pronounce his name, so...

(LAUGHTER)

ANNOUNCER: From the heart of the nation's capital, "This Week"with ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos,live from the Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello again. There is no easing into the newyear, these first few days of 2009. President-elect Obama beginslobbying Congress tomorrow to pass his massive jobs plan, just as afull-scale ground war in the Middle East presents his first diplomatictest.

We're going to dig into both those challenges this morning withour guests, plus the controversy over Obama's now vacant Senate seat.

But we begin in Israel, where heavy fighting continues todayafter thousands of Israeli ground troops moved into Gaza last night.More than 500 Palestinians have been killed and 2,400 wounded sinceair strikes began last week.

But that has not stopped Hamas from firing rockets into Israel,killing four and injuring more than 70 Israelis. Hamas vowed today to make Gaza a graveyard for Israeli forces.

And, for more on this, we now have an exclusive interview withIsrael's president, Shimon Peres.

And, Mr. President, thank you for joining us.

As you know, Israel is under pressure, on many fronts, to curtailthis operation. The U.N. secretary-general told your prime minister,today, to end the operation. The president of the General Assemblysaid, today, that "the Israeli invasion is a monstrosity."

How will Israel respond to this pressure?

PERES: Well, clearly, if there is somebody can stop terror witha different strategy, we shall accept it. We shall not accept theidea that Hamas will continue to fire and we shall declare a cease-fire. It does not make any sense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no cease-fire?

PERES: Yes, they said they are going to have a cease-fire. Theydidn't respect it.

They did things which are unprecedented in the history even ofterror. They made mosques into headquarters. They put in bombs inthe kindergartens, in their own homes. They are hiding in hospitals.They are shooting endlessly for no reason, for no purpose, without anyexplanation and without any hope.

They are now beginning to feel the weight of their mistakes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There is some confusion over the Israeli endgame. The prime minister said the goal is not to crush Hamas, but theforeign minister told me, just the other day, that Hamas in power is aproblem for Israel, and eventually they must be removed.

Other Israeli officials have said the same thing. Can there be anegotiated peace with Hamas, or must Hamas be removed?

PERES: We don't intend neither to occupy Gaza nor to crushHamas, but to crush terror. And Hamas needs a real and seriouslesson. They are now getting it.

We were careful. We restrained. We waited. We gave them manychances. At the beginning, they say, you occupied Gaza. But we leftGaza completely. We dismantled the settlements. There wasn't asingle Israeli.

They cannot explain why are they shooting, what for are theyshooting, and they cannot hide that they are acting by orders fromIran. Iran has two satellites in the Middle East, the Hezbollah inLebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

They are serving a foreign country at the cost of their ownsecurity and lives of their own children and own people. STEPHANOPOULOS: You say you don't want to occupy Gaza, over thelong term, but then how can you be sure that you will end the terror,that you will end the rocket firing on Israel?

And how will Gaza be governed?

Who can come in and offer some hope to the Palestinians who areliving in Gaza and turn it into a functioning state?

PERES: Gaza is part of the Palestinian Authority. The presentHamas group revolted against their own authority. The head of theauthority, the president of the Palestinian people, Mr. Abbas, wasduly elected by 62 percent. They should come under the government ofthe Palestinian elected authority.

Anyway, we are not going to mix in in their politics, but we havedecided not to permit to shoot against us. We have the means. Nobodyelse has the means. When they will stop terror, then we shall returnto normal life.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hamas was also elected in Gaza. Isn't -- won'tit be a problem for Fatah leadership to come back or try to come backinto power after an Israeli invasion? Won't they lose credibilitywith their own people?

PERES: Maybe, but that's not a reason to shoot at us. That'snot a reason to kill our children. That's not a reason to have 80 or90 missiles every day, for no reason (inaudible) civilian life. Wecannot answer their questions, but we have to answer our own. Ourgovernment, with all due respect to public opinion, to pressures andso on, we have by law and by reason to defend our people, and nobodyelse has suggested how to do it otherwise.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir...

PERES: And for that reason, the Arab world is -- I'm sorry. Andfor that reason, the public opinion even in the Arab world is divided,because they understand that there is a senseless bloodshed, initiatedand conducted by the Hamas people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, sir, the head of the Shin Bet generalsecurity services told a cabinet meeting in Israel today, it's beenreported, that Hamas has eased its demands for a cease-fire withIsrael. Can you elaborate on that?

PERES: Yes. They made the demand, they made the suggestion tohave a cease-fire and open the passages. To open the passages withoutcontrol means to enable them to bring in more rockets, more missiles,more weapons, more supply from Iran. Doesn't make any sense that weshould do it. Because it started with open passages. They could havemoved around without any difficulties. We even permitted the supplyof money, not only medical supply, money that we have collected to theHamas. So what do they want, that we should open to them again, tohave more supply of weapons and bombs? We say that they are -- we are not going to. And even today, bythe way, one of the passages is open, because there is no shortage ofbasic needs in Gaza. We take care that medical equipment and food andfuel will arrive to Gaza, even today.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Mr. President, thank you very much for yourtime this morning.

PERES: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now for reaction here in the United States, I amjoined by the number-two Democrat in the Senate, Senator Dick Durbinof Illinois, the senior senator of Illinois.

Good morning, Senator. Let me get your reaction right away toPresident Peres. You clearly saw him, heard him this morning, nocease-fire, no withdrawal now. Is that wise?

DURBIN: Well, it's understandable. The Israeli people, ofcourse, have been the victims of the terrorist attacks by these Hamasrockets, which are now capable of longer ranges and more damage andbloodshed, and the Israelis want to bring an end to this.

When they left the Gaza strip, it was to try to bring peace tothis area, return it to the hands of the Palestinians. And sadly, thePalestinian people have been victimized by incompetent and corruptleadership, and at this point in time, I think the Israelis have saidwe have to put an end to these attacks from Gaza into Israel.

A cease-fire, I hope, occurs quickly. I hope it is of apermanent and verifiable nature. But it's understandable. Israel haswatched as these rockets have been launched from Gaza time and again,killing innocent people in their territory.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, let me turn to the situation in your ownstate. Governor Blagojevich, of course, as you know, appointed RolandBurris to fill the Senate seat this week. Mr. Burris said last nighthe is flying to Washington tomorrow. He says he is ready to serve thepeople of Illinois. Have you spoken to him about what will happenwhen he comes to Washington this week to claim the seat he thinks ishis?

DURBIN: Well, I've spoken to him repeatedly, and I've knownRoland for over 30 years. And George, if you listen to the commentaryof those of us in Illinois, who know Roland Burris, no one has raisedany questions about his integrity or his personal background.

DURBIN: It's a question about the process. This governor, RodBlagojevich, has taken the appointment of a Senate vacancy to a levelno one even imagined. I mean, to think, in these words out of his ownmouth, from the wiretaps, verified, to think that he believed this wassome sort of an auction process, that he could find some politicaladvantage, even some resources and money coming his way if he pickedthe right person, has really raised a lot of questions with(inaudible)...

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator, there's no evidence -- there's noevidence that the appointment of Burris himself was corrupt, andBlagojevich is the governor right now, so isn't this a legalappointment?

DURBIN: It is -- I have to look at it in this fashion. Thegovernor of Illinois has the state constitutional authority to fillthe vacancy. The Senate of the United States has the U.S.constitutional responsibility to decide if Mr. Burris was chosen in aproper manner, and that is what we're going to do.

Senator Reid has said from the beginning, and I agree with him,we have to look at this carefully, because Rod Blagojevich has broughtquestions -- raised questions by his conduct as to how this processunfolded. Not reflecting personally on Roland Burris, but to makesure that in the end, the person representing the state of Illinois,serving with me in the United States Senate, was brought to thatposition properly.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back in 1996, Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisianawas elected under contested circumstances. There was an investigationof the election, but she was seated provisionally by the Republicanleader of Congress at that time. Will the Democrats seat Mr. Burrisprovisionally, as this investigation goes forward?

DURBIN: I don't believe that is the intention. And there's areal difference between what happened with Senator Landrieu. In hercase, it was a matter of counting the votes. And that hastraditionally been the reason for any election contests and recounts,as we have in Minnesota.

In Illinois, sadly, because of the allegations against GovernorBlagojevich, there's a question of corruption, as to whether or notsomething was done which was entirely improper. Not a question ofcounting the votes. So I think that's the distinction, and why we're looking at thisdifferently. There is no precedent. Nothing like this has occurred,at least in modern memory, in the U.S. Senate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There is also the question of race. CongressmanBobby Rush, an African-American congressman from Chicago, has comparedthe Senate blocking Mr. Burris to some of the most notorioussegregationists of the 1950s. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOBBY L. RUSH, D-ILL.: I'm talking about George Wallace,Bull Connors. And I'm sure that the U.S. Senate do not want to seethemselves placed in the same position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: On top of this, you have reports in the ChicagoSun-Times that your leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, advised GovernorBlagojevich not to pick African-American members of Congress, likeJesse Jackson Jr., like Danny Davis. Are you concerned about a racialbacklash here?

DURBIN: First, let me say this about the allegations againstSenator Reid. It's an outrage, that the Blagojevich people, in thelast days of their administration, facing impeachment in Springfield,are now flailing in every direction, trying to show defiance in theappointment of Roland Burris and attacking everybody in sight.

Harry Reid did in this circumstance what anyone would have doneas majority leader of the Senate. He called the governor to discussfilling the vacancy. He's done that, of course, in the states of NewYork, in Colorado, and in Delaware. It is the normal thing. I didthe same. I announced at a press conference I was going to speak withthe governor.

But to think that this governor, on his way out, is now flailingin every direction, trying to attack everyone, is just plain wrong,and the people of Illinois see through it.

Now, the bottom line is this -- this is not about race. We areso proud in our state to have elected great African-Americans. Thefirst in our history was Roland Burris, elected statewide, and thenJesse White, our secretary of state, and of course Barack Obama as theUnited States senator. We have a proud record in the land of Lincolnof electing African-American candidates to statewide office. There isno question about race. When we said at the beginning, Democraticsenators said we are not going to seat an appointment of GovernorBlagojevich, it was before he'd chosen anyone, black, white or brown.So it has nothing to do with race.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK, Senator, let me turn to the economic plan.President-elect Obama of course is going to meet with you and othercongressional leaders tomorrow. Our next guest, Senator McConnell,the Republican leader of the Senate, has warned that this processshould be transparent. Let me show you a little bit of what he said.He said that we hope that Democrats in Congress don't attempt to shutthe American taxpayer out of this process by trying to pass a billthat hasn't been the subject of bipartisan review and that hasn't beenavailable for public inspection.

Specifically, he and other Republican leaders and calling forpublic hearings in the appropriate committees, and for the details ofthis bill to be available online for the entire American public toread for a week before there's a vote.

You know that President-elect Obama has promised a moretransparent government. Will you accede to these demands?

DURBIN: I can't tell you what the particulars are. I know thatSenator Reid is meeting with Senator McConnell to discuss how we'll dothis.

DURBIN: The bottom line is this. Mitch McConnell and Harry Reidboth know that we can't pass the economic recovery plan that thisnation desperately needs without bipartisan cooperation.

We've got to put aside a lot of the squabbling that in the pastand come together under this new administration and new leadership, toget the American economy back on line.

We need to create good American jobs, investing in Americanworkers. We need to have the kind of investments that will help usexpand our energy opportunities. We have to make sure that we havehealth care investments which make it more affordable and safer forpeople to go to the hospital.

And we have to invest in our libraries and laboratories andclassrooms, for the 21st century.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The other...

DURBIN: This economy is in a tenuous position.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The other big concern of Republicans, and manyDemocrats as well, is preventing a huge increase in the long-term debtof this country.

What can you do to assure that there will be come kind of fiscalresponsibility at the back end?

For example, will you institute pay-as-you-go rules for newprograms? And at one point will they take effect?

DURBIN: George, we're facing a terrible dilemma, at this point.We have a national debt that is going to haunt future generations, andwe have to deal with it.

But, at this moment in time, I think everyone agrees, economistsboth Republican and Democratic, that we need to stimulate this economyand spend money, despite this national debt, but spend it in athoughtful way, investing our future, making sure that the decisionswe make today can be justified in the long term, investing in thiscountry in terms of good-paying jobs, right here at home; in terms ofour schools, our health care and energy, so that, in the long term, wecan say that was an investment worth the additional debt that itincurred.

But to do nothing and to hold back and to be meek in our approachmay have the opposite effect. We may spend a little money and notreally turn this economy around. And that would be a disaster.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Senator Durbin, thanks very much for yourtime this morning.

DURBIN: Thank you, too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And now I have, here in the studio, theRepublican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

You heard Senator Durbin, there. Have your concerns been calmeddown?

MCCONNELL: Look, I think everyone knows that half the Americanpublic is represented by a Republican senator. And all we'resuggesting, here, is that we be a part of the process.

The president has said he wants to create 3 million new jobs,presumably as a result of this economic stimulus package. We want tomake sure it's not just a trillion-dollar spending bill, but somethingthat actually can reach the goal that he has suggested.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So how do you do that?

MCCONNELL: Well, let me make some suggestions. First of all,the president, incoming president, has said he would like for 80percent of the jobs created to be in the private sector.

Well, do we really want to create 20 percent of the jobs in thepublic sector?

That would be 600,000 new government jobs. That's about the sizeof the post office workforce. Is that a good idea?

That's something that strikes us that we ought to take a look at.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You don't think it is?

MCCONNELL: Well, it may not be, but I think, at least, hearings,and some kind of bipartisan considerations would be helpful.

There is a bill, ready to go right now, George, that would spend$400 billion. That's the nine appropriation bills from last year thathave already been vetted, been looked at by both Democrats andRepublicans, could pass, on a largely bipartisan basis, very quickly.

We could pass that bill. Much of that spending is related to thekinds of items that may well end up in the trillion-dollar spendingpackage.

So that's a place to start. Another example of something that Ithink ought to be considered: We could do a middle-class tax cutimmediately. Right now, the middle-class tax rate is about 25percent.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, President-elect Obama says he does want todo that, a $500 tax credit. MCCONNELL: Yes, right. This is the sort of thing we could -- wecould have bipartisan agreement on. But Republican, by and large,think tax relief is a great way to get money to people immediately.

A possibility would be to take a look at the 25 percent ratecurrently applied to the middle class, lower it to 15 percent.

And with regard to the money to the states, one item -- oneapproach that I think we ought to take a look at, that I have afeeling won't be in the recommendation of the administration, is tomake this money for states alone, rather than a grant.

You know, the way we're operating, under the TARP, the TroubledAsset Relief Program, the money that's being lent to financialinstitutions is at 5 percent over five years. And if it's beyond fiveyears, the rate is 9 percent.

There are some states that are in good shape. In fact, I canthink of at least two who have said publicly they don't want any ofthe money.

MCCONNELL: So why should we automatically provide funds tostates...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there are several states struggling...

MCCONNELL: ... that don't want it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: ... as well. Is that a red line for you? Ifthese are grants to the states, you're not going to support it?

MCCONNELL: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying we want to be apart of the process. And it might make sense to lend the money to thestates. It will make them spend it more wisely.

I think nobody thinks we ought to be spending this money onthings like Mob museums and waterslides. And if the money were lentrather than just granted, states would I think spend it wisely, andthe states that didn't need it at all wouldn't take any.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Two other ideas the Democrats are discussing onCapitol Hill right now are extending unemployment benefits to part-time workers and expanding health care benefits for the unemployed.Can you support that?

MCCONNELL: I might, but those are very big, systemic changes.What the speaker said last year with regard to stimulus packages Ithink makes sense -- timely, and temporary, and targeted. Do we inthe name of stimulus want to make long-term, systemic changes thatwill affect spending every single year? I think that's at least worthconsidering, having hearings about, having bipartisan discussions.

What I worry about, George, here is the haste with which this maybe done. This is an enormous bill. It could be close to a $1trillion spending bill. Do we want to do it with essentially nohearings, no input, for example, in the Senate from Republicansenators who represent half of the American population? I don't thinkthat's a good idea, and I don't think that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you think it's unwise for the Democrats topush for this to be done by the time that President-elect Obama takesoffice?

MCCONNELL: No, it shouldn't be done. I don't think that theyeven seriously can defend, and I don't think my friend Dick Durbin wasdefending doing this without bipartisan consideration. And I -- youknow, this was, I think, the Democrats in Congress idea, not thepresident's idea, to have it on his desk by January 20th. That's justnot a practical thing to do.

If we want to do a bill immediately, again, my recommendation isthe omnibus appropriations bill. It's ready. These were nine billsthat were not passed by October when they should have been passed.They're ready to go. They've already been vetted by both sides, wouldpass on an overwhelming, bipartisan basis, and much of that spending,George, would be on things similar to what the president may be askingfor in that package.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But isn't a lot of that money already out therethrough the continuing resolution? A fair amount of that money is...

MCCONNELL: No -- well, some of it is, but it's not -- it's notvery targeted. A continuing resolution doesn't target things verymuch, doesn't have any congressional input in it. And it could bedone quickly. If we want to do something quickly, let's do somethingthat's already been vetted.

I don't think we have to delay the stimulus package for a lengthyperiod of time, but I've given you three ideas today that make a lotof sense, that ought to be considered.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bottom line, will President-elect Obama get the80 or so votes he's looking for in the Senate?

MCCONNELL: I think if they pursue a fair process, in the Senateat least, where fairness is typically the rule, and give both sides anopportunity to have input, to have it -- a true bipartisan stamp --he's likely to get significant support.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you support the Democrats' refusal to seatRoland Burris?

MCCONNELL: I think there ought to be a special election inIllinois. Again, Senator Durbin suggested that initially, and thendid a 180 today after that, and decided they didn't want to have aspecial election. I think the fear is that Republicans might somehowwin the seat in Illinois if there's a special.

But the process is so tainted, it is such a tangled mess, as youcan see, that the only way to clear the air and to have a successorchosen in Illinois that everybody can have confidence in, and aprocess that they can have confidence in, would be to have a specialelection.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, we're just about out of time, but doyou agree with Senator Durbin that Israel's ground operation now inGaza is understandable?

MCCONNELL: Absolutely. Hamas is a terrorist organization.Imagine in this country if somebody from a neighboring country werelobbing shells at our population. We'd do exactly the same thing. Ithink the Israelis are doing the only thing they can possibly do todefend their population.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator McConnell, thanks very much for yourtime this morning.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, George.

END

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