'This Week' Transcript: Powell and Dudley

Transcript: Powell and Dudley

May 30, 2010 — -- TAPPER: And joining me this morning from Houston is BP managing director Bob Dudley.

Mr. Dudley, thanks for joining us.

DUDLEY: Good morning, Jake.

TAPPER: So top kill failed. Should the American people prepare themselves for what looks like an uncomfortable fact, that this hole will not be plugged until August at the earliest?

DUDLEY: Well, the relief well at the end of August is certainly the end -- the end point on this game. We failed to wrestle the beast to the ground yesterday. We're going to go in and put a cap on it. We'll be able to produce the fluid. The next step is to make sure that we minimize the oil and pollution going into the gulf.

We'll take a look at it and look at ways to improve it since then. The main thing now is to contain it, and that's -- that's exactly what everyone would expect us to do, is not stop after this setback yesterday.

TAPPER: As you know, there are serious questions about whether or not corners that have been cut, perhaps, for safety -- safety corners -- resulted in this accident. The New York Times is reporting that almost a year ago BP engineers were expressing concern about a metal casing used at the well, one that is, they feared, would buckle under the high pressure of being 5,000 underwater, one that was the riskier option. Why did BP use this riskier option?

DUDLEY: I'm not sure it is a riskier option, Jake. The casing designs that are used in the Gulf of Mexico, we've used those in other places. I think those are statements that an investigation needs to go through and look at. Cutting corners is not the way I describe how we do our business, and the men that work out on those rigs are no more conscious of safety. They have to live out there, and that's what they focus on. So I wouldn't call it cutting corners in any way.

TAPPER: In March, BP told federal regulators that they were struggling with loss of well control. Why were operations not shut down immediately until well control was restored?

DUDLEY: Well, that's -- that is another issue that the -- the investigation is going to look at very, very carefully. There were issues of well control, signs out there, and there are strict procedures that are written -- the rig owners to walk through well control. That's what the investigation will take minute by minute and investigate that.

The failure of the -- the fallback, failure of the blowout preventers is something that's also very, very troubling. It will impact the industry. It is the piece of equipment that is not expected to fail, and that's going to have implications for everyone around the world.

TAPPER: But why didn't you just stop operations? BP knew. BP engineers said they were losing well control. Why didn't you just stop operations then? Why is that not just standard operating procedure?

DUDLEY: It can be standard operating procedure. There's a company that is used there to drill the well. A contractor drills the well, is responsible for some of those items. We're not going to point fingers, and I'm sure there was a lot of discussion around it out there, but that is what the marine board investigation will pull apart step by step.

Certainly, some of the equipment should have worked simply by closing in the well. That did not happen; we need to find out why. And the fact that that equipment failed is why we have an oil spill today.

TAPPER: All right. We only have time for one more question, but your company had a spotty safety record before this incident. Here is the administrator of OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, David Michaels, on Thursday, and I want to get your reaction to what he had to say.


MICHAELS: I don't understand why BP doesn't make these changes that we require. It may be a simple calculation. They see the cost of fixing the refineries in a way that would satisfy OSHA as being too expensive. They're going to wait until more people are killed or more explosions occur, and then they'll hope for the best, make the changes later.


TAPPER: I have never heard an OSHA administrator say about a company that they're going to wait until more people are killed or more explosions are going to occur. Do you have any response?

DUDLEY: There was -- he's -- he's referring to an explosion that happened in a refinery in Texas in 2005. Since that time, we've laid out a plan and have spent more than $1 billion making those changes. We are systematically taking -- and have taken that refinery apart, rebuilt it, and now we're going through our entire refining system and changing valves throughout the plant in a sequenced way, a plan that we've laid out and reviewed with them many times.

TAPPER: All right. BP managing director Bob Dudley, thanks for joining us.

DUDLEY: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: I was in the gulf earlier this weekend and caught up with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal for an exclusive Sunday interview. He had just met with President Obama, and I asked him what he told the president he still needs to battle the spill.


TAPPER: Joining me again, General Colin Powell. General, again, thanks for joining us.

POWELL: Thank you, Jake. Good to be here.

TAPPER: As a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what do you make of this push-and-pull between the federal government and the states?

POWELL: When I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and as -- and as secretary of state and national security adviser, I have watched a number of these kinds of crises come and go. I've seen hurricanes, tornadoes, riots in Los Angeles, the tsunami.

And in every instance, what I have sort of learned from all these is that the national government, the federal government, the president has to get involved as quickly as possible. And if you don't, then public opinion starts to drag you, the media pushes you.

And so when something like this clearly is going to get beyond the capacity of whoever caused it, get beyond the capacity of local authorities, I think the federal government has to move in quickly and move in with -- to use my favorite expression -- decisive force to demonstrate that it's doing everything that it can do.

TAPPER: And you didn't see that in this case?

POWELL: I think the president correctly said the other day that he'd been monitoring and following it and essentially been on top of it from the beginning, but that impression was not conveyed to the American people, and the comprehensive speech he gave the other day, I think he would have been better served and the nation would have been better served if he'd given it a few weeks earlier.

But I think the federal government now is fully engaged, and it's become more than a problem of just stopping an oil spill. It's an environmental problem, an economic problem, the welfare of the people in -- in the gulf region, and how do we get it all cleaned up and how is it affecting people?

So it's more than BP and a hole in the -- in the ocean floor. It is a major problem that can only be dealt with by the federal government and all the resources of the federal government. And that's what the president is now doing.

TAPPER: Some are calling for the military to take charge of the whole operation. In fact, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida said it should be put in the hands of a solid figure, like a retired General Colin Powell. I assume you don't want that job, but do you think the military can do a better job than is being done right now?

POWELL: It depends on what you want them to do. The military brings organization, it brings control, it brings assets. Whether it's the right combination of assets that you need right now, I don't know, but certainly I'm sure my colleagues in the Pentagon are looking at it, and what you want is somebody who is in the military now, not somebody who used to be in the military, somebody who is controlling troops now.

What we would do in -- in my time, we would assign it to one of our Army commanders. The Second Army would go in on Hurricane Andrew and -- and take charge of things. But whether that's the right combination of assets, now, I'll have to leave others to decide.

You've first got to figure out, what do we need? Do we need people to clean beaches? Do we need people to put out skimmers? We have lots of fishermen and others down there who are available who want the work and know the water a lot better than an Army unit coming in.

But whether it's Army, Coast Guard, local forces, it is time for a comprehensive, total attack on this problem, to protect the shoreline, to protect the livestock, to protect the wetlands, but most of all to give the people in that part of our country a sense of hope that this is going to be solved.

Sooner or later, they will stop the leak. And after that comes the problem of cleaning up. And after that comes the problem of, OK, this safety system didn't work. What do we need in the future if another safety system doesn't work? What kind of standby capacity do we have to have to deal with this kind of problem if we are going to do more drilling offshore?

TAPPER: I want to move on to some of the other items in the news. Obviously, big news in the last few days with the House of Representatives voting to allow President Obama, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the secretary of defense to repeal "don't ask/don't tell," the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military, if those three figures decide that it's appropriate.

Here you are in 1993 testifying in favor of this ban.


(UNKNOWN): The question is, do you believe that homosexuality is compatible or incompatible with military service?

(UNKNOWN): Incompatible.

(UNKNOWN): Incompatible.

POWELL: Open homosexuality in a unit setting is incompatible.

It involves matters of privacy and human sexuality that in our judgment, if allowed to exist in the force, would affect the cohesion and well-being of the force.


TAPPER: How do you feel today?

POWELL: Things have changed. That was 17 years ago. And you'll notice that we were uniform in our opinion. All of the chiefs were -- were speaking and sitting next to me. It was the secretary of defense, Les Aspin, who also felt the same way.

TAPPER: Democratic administration.

POWELL: Democratic administration. And the compromise we came up with was "don't ask/don't tell." There were worst options -- there were worse options that were being considered at that time, total ban. The compromise was, if you want to serve, keep your sexuality, the identification of your sexuality to yourself.

TAPPER: Where are we today?

POWELL: And today we've changed. The country has changed. I think we are at a point now where the policy -- which is not a policy, it's a law -- should have been reviewed. It's been reviewed. And I have always believed -- and I said this many times recently -- that you ultimately have to listen to the military authorities and what they think is good for the force and whether or not the force is prepared to handle this.

I think that the position taken by Mr. Gates, Secretary Gates, and Admiral Mullen, and the chiefs was a sound one: Let's study this. Let's accept that it's a decision. The president said we're going to do it. It's a decision. And the Congress has to pass the law to allow that. And so let's take the time to make the study, see what the implications are.

Congress has decided recently -- not a done deal yet, because the Senate hasn't acted -- that we should pass the law repealing "don't ask/don't tell," but not put it into effect until these studies have been made and the military has certified.

But I think, at the end of the day, the law will change and "don't ask/don't tell" will go away. But don't underestimate some of the issues that we dealt with in 1993 and that we're dealing with now.

I think it would have been far more difficult to do it in 1993 than it is today with the open attitudes, but there are issues of same-sex marriage, there are issues of domestic partnerships, there are issues of billeting, and that's what this study is going to work its way through, not for a way -- not to find a way to not accept the judgment of the president and the Congress, but how do we actually implement this in a way that strengthens the force?

But I think it will happen, and I think the military leaders are speaking out on this, and they're not all uniformly of the same view, but they will execute this, and they'll execute it like they execute everything else they're -- they're given as a mission. They'll do it well.

TAPPER: Are you personally in favor of it?

POWELL: I'm personally of the view now that attitudes have changed and I think it is perfectly acceptable to get rid of the law and the policy, but I think before we actually do it, we have to hear clearly from the officers and men and women who are in charge of executing that policy.

It's one thing to sit here in Washington, D.C., and say, "It's no problem. Do away with it." I think it's important to listen to the troops who are affected and take into account the views of the senior leadership and military leadership of the armed forces.

TAPPER: All right. And let's move on to Afghanistan. This fall, operations in Afghanistan will be nine years old, an operation that began when you were secretary of state. Even when all the troops get in there, we'll have about half of what we had in Iraq in a country much larger and much less advanced -- far less advanced.

Here's General Stanley McChrystal on PBS this month.


MCCHRYSTAL: I think that in the last year we've made a lot of progress. I think I'd be prepared to say nobody is winning at this point, where the insurgents, I think, felt that they had momentum a year ago, felt that they were making clear progress. I think that's stopped.


TAPPER: Now, the Powell doctrine is overwhelming force...

POWELL: Decisive force.

TAPPER: ... decisive force...

POWELL: Be very precise.


TAPPER: I'm sorry. It's your doctrine. You get to tell me what it is.


TAPPER: But decisive force, and at the same time, support from the public.

POWELL: Right.

TAPPER: Right? That's a key component. This war right now does not have support from the public. And I don't know if it -- the force is decisive. If General McChrystal is saying, after all this, the improvement means we're at a draw, I don't know if that's decisive. Are they adhering to the Powell doctrine?

POWELL: Well, the Powell doctrine is the Powell doctrine. It's not in any military magazine or military field manual. But what it reflects is classic military thought.

And what's called the Powell doctrine is essentially the principle of objective and mass. You decide what it is you're trying to achieve, and then you apply the mass needed to achieve that objective...

TAPPER: Are they?

POWELL: ... in a decisive way. The president has added close to 68,000 troops in the last year, since he came into office, not just the 30,000 you hear, but the others that were added before that. So 68,000 troops were added to it.

That is a significant number. And, remember, they're not going after a fixed enemy. They're trying to control ground. They're trying to give some comfort to people that their life is going to get better.

And I'm sure anywhere you put an American infantry or Marine battalion or one of our NATO battalions, things are going to get quiet, things are going to get better. But as Stan McChrystal said, at that point, it is still a draw, because you have to bring in Afghan national authorities, you have to bring in the Afghan army and the Afghan police to take it over. You've got to get the people to buy into it.

So I don't think he was saying it's a draw forever. What he was saying is, we have stopped the Taliban advance. We have contained that. And now it is time...

TAPPER: Well, no, the opposite of it's a draw forever. I mean, he's saying, when we withdraw, they might take over again.

POWELL: That may well be the case, because ultimately the -- the United States Army and Marine Corps cannot remain in Afghanistan forever as police forces.

The -- the challenge here -- and the president will have to face this late next year, as he said he would -- is, OK, we have had this additional input of 68,000 soldiers, bringing it to over 100,000 soldiers. We have done what we said we were going to do. Have the Afghans done what they must do, build an army that is capable, an army that is connected to the central government, an army that the people believe in? And do we have a police force that is not corrupt? And do we have a government in Kabul that is really reaching out and connecting the people together into some kind of political system that people believe in?

So ultimately we can do just so much, but to win this conflict and to create the kind of Afghanistan that we all want to see, it ultimately is going to be in the hands of the Afghans, just as Iraq is ultimately going to be in the hands of the Iraqis.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that, because this week for the first time ever there are more U.S. troops in Afghanistan than Iraq. The U.S. is preparing to withdraw all combat forces. There's still a lot of sectarian violence in Iraq. Is Iraq ready for the U.S. withdrawal?

POWELL: Well, ready or not, it's going to happen, and I think it is ready. There -- there are bombings taking place, but it's nothing like it was two or three years ago. It might be 10 or 12 a day compared to hundreds a day that used to be the case.

And it's not clear that it is the outbreak that kind of sectarian war that we saw in 2005 and 2006. And it has -- it has not reached a level where the government starts to look like it's going to collapse.

What we're seeing is an -- is an -- is an interesting democratic process, where they're trying to figure out who the next prime minister is going to be. We've gone through this right here in this country, as you recall, my friend. And so they'll have to go through this and come up with a government that represents all parts of Iraqi society.

And if they do that, and if they build up their army, if they continue to show the effectiveness that their army has shown recently, they should be able to contain this and hold it as we continue our withdrawal.

We're not going to withdraw to zero. We're going to withdraw to a lower number that is there to help them, to train them, to provide military assistance to them, to protect our installations that are still there, but they have to do whatever fighting is required.

And so far, it's moving in the right direction, and I think the president is correct to keep it on track and continue with the drawdown.

Sooner or later, we cannot maintain this level of deployment forever.


POWELL: It not only is a burden on our troops, it is enormously expensive in a time of budget deficits and national debt.

TAPPER: In fact, the national security strategy President Obama revealed this week talked a lot about deficits.


TAPPER: Moving to neighboring Iran, sanctions have so far -- the three previous regimes of sanctions have so far not convinced that country to stop its nuclear program. Here you are in March.


POWELL: I don't yet see a set of sanctions coming along that would be so detrimental to the Iranians that they're going to stop that program.


TAPPER: Now, since you said that, there is a new regime of sanctions at the U.N. It would ban sale of heavy weapons to Iran. It would create cargo ship inspections and tighter sanctions on Iran's banking and financial sector. Is this strong enough, do you think?

POWELL: I don't think so. The Iranians have been around for thousands of years trading and selling and getting around various constraints and whatnot. They're very clever. And they know what sanctions might be coming. And I'm sure that they have done their own planning and have their own counter-sanctions strategy.

So I don't see that this causes sufficient pain that will cause them to say, gee, why didn't we realize we were so off on this and we're going to stop all of our nuclear program?

The nuclear program is there. It's operating. And I don't think they're going to give it up easily. I think we may have to eventually reach a point where we say, well, maybe we have to accept a nuclear program that's designed strictly for power generation and for their medical research reactor.

But they say they don't want a weapon. So let's put them to that test and put in place a set of inspections and a regime of inspections and the IAEA and the international community that if they violate, if they agree to these constraints, because they say they don't want a weapon, and then they violate them, then the hammer comes down in a way that they cannot ignore.

But right now, it's a dangerous situation. I wish they were not pursuing any nuclear program. But the fact of the matter is, whether we argue about whether they should or shouldn't, they have it. The centrifuges are spinning. They're producing the material. And the policy so far has not caused them to stop doing that.

TAPPER: Education is an issue near and dear to your heart. You and your wife, Alma, started an America's Promise foundation, which announced in March what Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama, a program called Grad Nation, a 10-year campaign to reverse the dropout crisis. Tell us about that.

POWELL: Let me start it this way. In another generation, the minorities of America will constitute the majority of Americans. And the minorities of American -- of America are not finishing high school at an acceptable rate. Fifty percent of them are not finishing. Among all Americans, a third of our kids are not finishing high school. Three hundred million Americans are now competing with billions of people around the world. This is unacceptable.

So we've got to do something about our graduation rate, and that's why we have started Grad Nation, on top of a lot of other programs. And Grad Nation essentially says all of us have got to get together and focus on the 2,000 schools that are responsible for most of the dropout problem that we have and get into these schools.

But we also have to remember, it's not just the schools. If youngsters show up from a home that is not secure, if they show up and they haven't been fed breakfast, if they show up and nobody's ever read to them in the home -- so it's an entire community problem that goes from high school all the way back to kindergarten, all the way back to prenatal care.

And so don't just think it's a high school problem, we have to deal with the teachers in the high school. We've got to work with the whole system, and that's what Grad Nation is all about. And if we don't solve this problem, America is going to be in very, very deep trouble as we try to compete in a flattening, globalized world.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir -- first of all, on this Memorial Day weekend, thank you for your service. Recently, the 1,000th U.S. servicemember killed in Afghanistan. I believe his name was Jacob Leicht. He was a Marine. There are different counts.

But Memorial Day is tomorrow, and you'll be speaking at the yearly Memorial Day concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol. What does this day mean to you?

POWELL: It's an important day for me. It's a time when all Americans pause and pay tribute to Americans of every generation who went in harm's way and were willing to -- willing to go in harm's way and perhaps lose their life so that we could have the freedom of speech you and I are enjoying right now, so we can argue with each other as we do so vociferously in this capital and this country.

That's what democracy and freedom is all about. And it didn't just drop down on us. We fought for it. And hundreds of thousands of Americans died to protect it. And this is the day -- this is the weekend when we stop and pause and remember and thank every generation of G.I.s who sacrificed for us, and we thank their families.

And it's something we all should do, and we should do with solemnity and with praise and with the sincerest thanks.

TAPPER: Well, we thank you for your service and also for coming here today to share your views with us.

POWELL: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: The roundtable is next with George Will, Clarence Page, Matthew Dowd, and Joan Walsh. And later, the Sunday funnies.



MURPHY: When I served in Baghdad, my team did not care whether a fellow soldier was straight or gay. With our military fighting two wars, why on Earth would we tell over 13,500 able-bodied Americans that their services are not needed?

PENCE: The American people don't want to see the American military used to advance a liberal political agenda.

MCKEON: Congress acting first is the equivalent of turning to our men and women in uniform and their families and saying, "Your opinions don't count."


TAPPER: Some sound from the floor of the House as they debated "don't ask/don't tell" and the repeal that successfully passed. And we're joined here to talk about this on our roundtable with George Will, as always, Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune, Matthew Dowd, former Bush adviser, and Joan Walsh of Salon.com.

And I should disclose Joan hired me for a job in 1999 at Salon.com, and so credit or blame goes to you.


WALSH: Thank you. I take all the credit.

PAGE: It's payback time.

TAPPER: That doesn't mean I'm going to be easy on you this morning.

WALSH: No, I'm sure...


TAPPER: So, George, let's start with -- with oil, with the oil spill. Is President Obama being unfairly blamed or is this just part of the job?

WILL: He's being unfairly blamed, and it sort of serves him right. I'll tell you what I mean by that. June 3, 2008, the end of the Democratic primaries, he gives a speech in St. Paul and he said, "This is the moment at which people will say the rise of the oceans began to slow," in other words, a kind of grandiosity has been part of his and the modern presidency's narrative.

Progressive politics from Woodrow Wilson to Obama have said concentrate power in Washington, concentrate Washington power in the executive branch, concentrate within the executive branch lots of experts, and there's no telling what wonders government can do. This just strikes at the narrative of competence that all of this depends on.

TAPPER: Clarence, you have a column today in the Tribune, "Is This Obama's Katrina?" Is it?

PAGE: Not yet, but it could be, depends on how he handles things from here on. You know, it was interesting. Secretary Powell earlier said that President Obama's press conference the other day might have been better to have made those statements earlier, a few weeks earlier. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But George is right in the sense that, you know, President Obama benefited politically, you could say, from President Bush's Katrina. That was kind of a standard set then rightly or wrongly that presidents are supposed to respond to crises like these in a very visible way and try to capture the public mood right away or suffer consequences, whether they could do something about it or not.

And, you know, I -- years ago, Mike Royko, the columnist, said that we should -- we should appoint a king along with the president who could handle the ceremonial functions and the hand-holdings, the ribbon-cuttings, the -- the speeches after great -- major tragedies, et cetera, so while the president goes about the task of the real management.

In some sense, we're seeing this here, where President Obama is being asked to perform both those roles.

TAPPER: Matthew, you were with President Bush during Katrina, and that was -- you and I have talked about this -- that was something of a tipping point for his presidency. Is this that for President Obama?

DOWD: Well, for the -- for President Bush it was a tipping point, because there was a series of things that had happened before that that built up. The Iraq war, people turned on the Iraq war, and that was a horrible summer for the president, where he -- he didn't meet with the peace marchers, he spent most of his time on vacation, he didn't show up for -- for Katrina right away, and so that basically -- the public finally said, "That's enough. We're done."

And after Katrina, he never recovered. He never got above 43 percent or 44 percent job approval.

I don't think it's this president's Katrina yet. I think the public still is giving -- going to give him room to maneuver and do things. My guess is, it's not until after the midterms when the public finally says, OK, has he done the job? Has he not done the job?

But in the end, whether it's his fault or not, if you want the pomp and you want the power, then you've got to take the pain of the job, and this is part of the pain of the job, when you live in the White House and you fly around on Air Force One. Whether or not you could actually do something on this incident, you have to take responsibility for it.

My question for the president is no longer -- he -- I think he showed up too late. I think he showed passion too late. But today it's no longer about press conferences, and it's no longer about visits. It's about fixing the hole in the ocean floor and cleaning up the beaches. If he does that well, he'll recover; if he doesn't do that well, then he can't recover from it.

TAPPER: Joan, you know who he's getting the most guff from is not even Republicans, in a lot of ways. It's -- it's -- it's liberals, it's Democrats.

Here is former Democratic Congressman David Bonior and James Carville.


BONIOR: They may have had this as their top priority, but they did not communicate that to the American people. You've got to show emotion. This is an emotional issue.

CARVILLE: Man, you've got to get down here and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this thing, and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here.


TAPPER: Anyway...


TAPPER: ... what's your take? I mean, those are -- that's the president's supporters nominally.

WALSH: Nominally. Nominally. Look, I'm going to -- I cut James Carville a lot of slack. He is suffering. He lives down there. The whole other bunch, not so much.

I saw Bonior say that the other day, that he needs to be more emotional. I want to add to Clarence's point. We don't need just a president and a king. Apparently we need a daddy. There's this great call for a daddy, and especially among liberals. And I kind of -- I find it ridiculous.

You've got Maureen Dowd today calling him Spock again, calling the president Spock. She loves that. Arianna Huffington is calling him nowhere man, because he's daring to still have a state concert honoring Paul McCartney.

And I think it's really -- it's a stand-in for a sense of helplessness. When we sit here and as you -- the point you made in your interview earlier in the show, there really was a pattern of negligence and there really were warning signs on that rig in the -- in the months certainly -- months, perhaps, and that's what we need to get to the bottom of.

I don't care -- I don't care if he emotes. I don't care. I don't need a daddy. I had one. He was great.

WILL: That's what -- I think the danger isn't that this is his Katrina. It's that it's his Iranian hostage crisis. That happened to Carter in his first and, it turned out, only term. So it wasn't like Katrina, which was sort of beside the point. Bush was a spent force by then anyway.

And it reinforced the perception -- people said Carter is well-meaning, like him, intelligent fellow, but maybe he just isn't up to the job. And the jury's still out on that for Barack Obama.

TAPPER: Is that fair, Clarence?

PAGE: Yes, I said that in my column, in fact, that -- that President Obama needs to get ahead of this story without being held captive by it. One of President Carter's mistakes was he committed himself too early to saying, "I'm not going to rest. Every day, you're going to see me out here."

Well, suddenly now he's committed himself regardless of what else happens to reminding everybody daily -- in fact, there was an ABC program that rose up -- wasn't it called "Hostage in the"...

WALSH: "America Held Hostage."

TAPPER: "America Held Hostage."


PAGE: Right, right, you know, a nightly program that became "Nightline."


PAGE: You know, and all of that held the presidency captive.

DOWD: I think the Democrats in Congress better be real careful in their criticism of the president in this, because the only person holding them up at all politically right now is the president, because their numbers in Congress are in the 20s. His still is in the high 40s, low 50s.

So of all the popularity of Democrats around the country, Barack Obama is probably the most popular. And so how much you criticize him going into a midterm is not necessarily the best strategy.

TAPPER: Well, let's turn to President Obama and the Congress working on the repeal of "don't ask/don't tell." First of all, Joan, it's not actually technically a repeal, right?

WALSH: Right.

TAPPER: What passed?

WALSH: He gets permission to repeal it once they finish this -- this set of studies. And...

TAPPER: Why not just wait until the studies are done?

WALSH: You know, Jake, there's never -- it's never the wrong time to do the right thing. And I think that's -- I think that's what they're saying. People are calling this political and are not going to sit here and be naive and say it's not political.

But they're not studying whether it should be done. As General Powell made the point today on the show, which was excellent, they're studying how to do it.

So it's not a matter of they still don't know if they're going to do it. There are -- there really are logistical questions. Those are fair questions. They will -- they will be presented with findings.

But there's -- there's no doubt that they're -- that they're going to do it. And so do the Democrats want this vote to please their base? Yes. But did -- did they make a campaign promise that they want to keep? Did Obama? Yes, he did. Is that -- is that bad? I don't think so.

TAPPER: Your son, Daniel, Matthew, just finished five years in the armed forces. What does he think of this?

DOWD: Well, it's interesting. When they talk about the military -- and Republicans criticize this, said we shouldn't do this, the men in uniform -- from my son's perspective -- this has already been decided in their mind and they're basically saying we don't -- shouldn't have "don't ask/don't tell," that when they take a -- raise a hand and said, who thinks that we should have gays in the military? Ten years ago, it used to be 80 percent against it; now it's 80 percent for it.

My son explains they all sit around and talk about it. They go to high school with kids that are now openly gay. They socialize with kids that are openly gay. And all of a sudden, they go into the armed services, somebody gives them a rifle, and they're not supposed to be around gay people anymore?

It doesn't make any sense. It's long been decided in the public's mind. I think the Republicans are so far out of step on this, where the country is, especially the generation...

TAPPER: Well, it's Republican officeholders, right, because Republican people are in favor of repealing the ban.

DOWD: Yes, Republican officeholders are so far out of step with this. And so, especially the generation of folks that are under 35, who basically are socialized to this, they see it in television, they see it in the movies, and they act it in their daily life. So from my perspective and my son's perspective, it's way overdue.

TAPPER: And you are a veteran. You served in the Army during the Vietnam era.

PAGE: The Vietnam era, thank you.

TAPPER: Got to be precise, got to be precise.

PAGE: For the record, never saw combat, were never in Vietnam...


PAGE: I was in the service for two years. And surprise, surprise, there were homosexuals in the service 40 years ago, and 400 years ago, for that matter. The thing is -- the thing is, the military does have its own culture, and that needs to be respected. This was dealt with in a way that -- you know, people whom you knew personally you would cover for them if you liked them. If you didn't, maybe not, you know, I mean, that kind of thing.

But nonsense now. I mean, this younger generation is beyond that. The only question I have now -- and this, too, is serious -- how much recognition are we going to have? How normalizing is it going to be? If you've got two gay military people who decide they want to get married in Massachusetts or Iowa or whatever, they want to live in base housing that is for married couples, how will the military handle that?

And those are the kind of nuts-and-bolts questions that I think the commanders are going over now. That's why this year-long study is necessary.

But I think as far -- this train's left the station. It's going to happen.

WILL: Exactly. For people of Matt's son's generation, being gay is like being left-handed. It's not really very interesting.

Now, you do raise a point. I mean, there is a gap -- a different culture between the military and the civilians, and we want it that way, because we ask them to make terrible sacrifices and do difficult things.

That said, I was struck by your interview with General Powell and the demonstration that from '93 to now, 17 years is a very long time in the United States. The Supreme Court has a famous phrase it used in some opinion, the evolving standards of decency that mark a maturing society. Clearly these are evolving, and the case is over, basically.

TAPPER: The case is over. But why is there such a fight by Republican officeholders? If you look at polling...


TAPPER: ... the public is overwhelmingly supportive of lifting the ban. Conservatives support it. Republicans support it. White evangelicals support it. What's going on with the Republicans in Congress?

WILL: They're not being very intelligent.


PAGE: Thank you.

TAPPER: All right. Moving on to another topic, there was a lot of sturm und drang and debate and kerfuffle -- and intrigue over the whole question of what the White House offered Congressman Joe Sestak in order to not run against Arlen Specter. It came out at the end of the week that President Clinton had offered Sestak, according to this story, a non-paying job to not run. Here is Congressman Sestak and one of the big Republicans leading the charge for a special prosecutor, Darrell Issa.


SESTAK: I merely looked at this as just another effort by the Democratic establishment in Washington, D.C., not to have me in the race.

(UNKNOWN): So was it inappropriate or was it not?

SESTAK: No, President Clinton -- there was nothing wrong that was done.

ISSA: It's for either the attorney general using the special prosecutor or the FBI to do the independent investigation, get the on-the-record testimony from people such as President Clinton, now we discover, and make a decision. It's not for members of the House, Republican or Democrat, but it's also not for the White House to whitewash their own actions.


TAPPER: Matthew, the White House's explanation of this basically is, there's no crime here, there's nothing unethical, it's politics as usual. But does that hurt the Obama brand?

DOWD: Well, it is politics as usual. I don't think this should be prosecuted. I think most people think this goes on every day. The only question here is how competent they are in doing their politics. They weren't even able to promise something -- an unpaid thing to get him out of a race, so I don't know if that raises any degree of competence.

But I think this issue is -- is -- it is -- it is a political issue. And it does hurt his brand, because he came to Washington and said, "I'm going to change things. I'm going to do things differently. I'm not going to be like Bush and Cheney. We're going to do a whole new politics. We're going to bring people together. We're not going to do all -- we're not going to politicize things."

And then all of a sudden, their excuse now in this thing, "Everybody does it, so we do it." That's a problem for his brand.

TAPPER: George?

WILL: Politics is a transactional business. Candidates go to voters and say, "You vote for me, I'll do this for you." That's what we do in this business, and there's nothing wrong with it. That's called democracy and free government.

Obama was seriously trying to act as the leader of his party to get what he thought was the -- he was wrong -- to get the strongest candidate in the race in Pennsylvania. Nothing the matter with this. And the -- for Republicans, of all people, to try and resuscitate that Frankenstein monster of the independent counsel is preposterous.

DOWD: And there -- the interesting thing to me about it, too, is if they were successful, they would be faced with the fact that they'd probably lose this race in the general election. If they had been successful getting Sestak out, if Arlen Specter was the Democratic nominee. Sestak is a much stronger Democratic nominee in the fall and will likely keep the seat. That's what's funny. If they had been successful, they probably would have lost the seat.

PAGE: And that's the marvelous irony of it all. I mean, the system actually worked in this case. The question of whether Sestak was actually offered or whether this was a trial balloon kind of floated in a conversation -- hey, did you ever think about being on an unpaid advisory position in the Obama administration? You know, that kind of hair-splitting is what you would get down to if somebody really did try to prosecute this case.

But what's really important here is that, you know, Obama gets criticized just as much for not being political enough, for not being hardball enough. Anybody who knows his biography knows that the very first time he ran for office in Illinois, there was behind-the-scenes work done to eliminate his competition from the ballot. It worked. He got in.

He knows how to play hardball. If you want to call that the Chicago way, that is not -- there's a lot of different Chicago ways, let's say. You know, but this is -- I mean, this kind of business as usual is not typically what's going to cause wars (ph).

WALSH: I don't -- I don't see it hurting his brand at all. I mean, you know, people supported him, they didn't expect him to be Jesus in the White House.

TAPPER: Some might have. Anyway...

WALSH: Yes, a couple people did...


DOWD: He was the one.

WALSH: He was the one.


TAPPER: And then he became "that one."

WALSH: "That one."

TAPPER: Anyway, go on. Yes.

WALSH: So I just don't see this hurting him at all. Darrell Issa needs to go back to California. That's where I'm from. We have real problems. This is silly.

TAPPER: All right, moving on to one last topic, and that is immigration. President Obama this week also announced he was sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. Here is the response from Senator John McCain.


MCCAIN: What happened yesterday in what was clearly a P.R. stunt, the president announced 1,200 National Guard to the border. Now we find out they're going to do desk jobs. One of the things that we have found out is that the presence of a uniformed American on the border has a very significant effect on the drug cartels, because the only threat they feel in Mexico is from the Mexican army.


TAPPER: George, Senator McCain calls this P.R. Is it P.R.?

WILL: It is P.R. It's not very convincing P.R. Bush, I think, sent 6,000 troops to the border.

DOWD: Right.

WILL: It didn't have much effect. The number of border agents has increased 80 percent since 2004, and we now have learned exactly what slows down illegal immigration: a real, serious, world-class recession.

PAGE: That's true. That's true. You know, the Posse Comitatus Act says military people can't make arrests, so -- but they can offer support. President Bush did send 6,000 troops down to kind of be placeholders until more border guards were brought in, which is what has happened.

This is really kind of -- kind of a bone tossed. McCain wanted 6,000; Obama gives 1,200, at least (inaudible) the border. But it's more symbolic than real, I think.

TAPPER: Very quickly, Matthew, President Obama says Republicans need to work on comprehensive immigration reform. You can't solve it with National Guard troops. Here are some National Guard troops anyway. Are -- is he right in that Republicans are not working with him on this?

DOWD: Well, yes, there's not many Republicans that are willing to stand like President Bush did or when he was governor. And, basically, if they took his plan that he offered Congress, that is actually the plan that would solve much of these problems.

Republicans, they're benefiting from the short term. The American -- the country likes this. They want their border protected. But it's like a virus. They're going to contract a virus. And over the long term, they're going to get really sick from it, because the fastest growing group of voters in this country are Latinos, and Republicans right now look very, very, very intolerant of Latinos.

TAPPER: Joan, very quickly, was this a good move by President Obama or not?

WALSH: I think it was a fine move. I think, once again, he made John McCain look like the guy telling everybody to get off his lawn, you know...



TAPPER: The -- the roundtable continues in the green room on abcnews.com. And later, check out our fact checks. "This Week" and PolitiFact have joined together to fact check our newsmakers.


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