For Immediate Release
Office of the Vice President
March 2, 2004
VP Interview with Brit Hume, Fox News
The Vice President's Ceremonial Office
10:30 A.M. EST
Q Mr. Vice President, it appears clear that John Kerry is the overwhelmingly likely Democratic nominee and he has said in a letter that this administration has attacked him on his Vietnam record and, in effect, on his patriotism. What's your response?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, it's clearly not true. I think everybody respects John Kerry's service in Vietnam and that's never really been an issue. What we're concerned about, what I'm concerned about, is his record in the United States Senate, where he clearly has over the years adopted a series of positions that indicate a desire to cut the defense budget, to cut the intelligence budget, to eliminate many major weapons programs, to vote against, for example, the first Gulf War resolution back in 1991, and his inconsistency with respect to Iraq.
So it's not a question of whether or not he served in Vietnam; he did. He served very loyally and very courageously and we honor him for that. The question, though, that you have to ask a would-be president is what kind of decisions would he make in that capacity about national security, and I would say, based on 19 years in the United States Senate, Senator Kerry's record is one that I think many Americans would have trouble supporting.
Q You've been in the legislature, served in the House. You know how often you end up voting for an amendment that appears to go one way and then voting another way on final passage because you're just trying to work your will.
Isn't it fair to suggest that the apparent inconsistencies of Senator Kerry's record are the inevitable result of his service in a body where you have to work your way and work your will in various ways?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I served 10 years in the House of Representatives and there was never much doubt about where my record put me in that. If you're talking about one or two votes, certainly. But we're not. We're talking about a whole series of votes over almost two decades and they, without question, position him as a man of a certain view, a perfectly legitimate view, I just think it's wrong.
Q Is there anything about his record after he came back from Vietnam, on that war, when he became a very sharp critic of the war -- some even would say an anti-war radical -- that you think is legitimate territory to discuss or criticize in this campaign?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I haven't gone into that at all, certainly, nor has the President. There may be others who discuss and debate what he did in the period after he came back from Vietnam, but what we're really focused on are those things that would most indicate his qualifications to serve as President: what kind of a strategy would he pursue in the war on terror, what capacity does he have based on his policy decisions or recommendations to deal with the threat that the United States faces now and will face in the years ahead. And I think all of that's legitimate subject for debate.
Q In April 1971, as I'm sure you know, he gave some very strong testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in which he related tales he'd been -- had heard and evidently believed of hideous atrocities committed in volume by American forces there. What do you say to that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I've not seen any evidence to support that, but obviously, I'm also not an expert on his testimony in 1971. He clearly was one of the leaders in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War when he came home. That's his right and prerogative as an American; people have to judge that for themselves as to whether or not that is relevant in terms of his current pursuit of the presidency.
Q It appears now that the United Nations is going to conclude in a report that it believes there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 1994. This mirrors to some extent what David Kay said is his view of the matter. Are you now satisfied that that was the case?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's important for us to be precise here in terms of what we're talking about. It's clear that Saddam Hussein had produced and used chemical weapons in the past. It's clear that he'd pursued aggressively nuclear weapons, biological weapons, et cetera. It's also clear that, even as David Kay said, that he had the capacity, in terms of his labs, in terms of the technology, in terms of the personnel who were familiar with all of this capability, to produce those kinds of weapons on relatively short notice, especially with respect to biological weapons, for example, or chemical weapons.
We still haven't completed the search. There's still a lot more work to be done before the Iraqi Survey Group will be able to say that they've turned over all the rocks and looked in all the crannies and nooks in Iraq.
My judgment is, and even based on what we've seen now since the war, that, without question, Saddam Hussein had the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had a track record of producing and using them in the past and the only conclusion you can draw based on that is that he was, in fact, a danger. And I firmly believe that.
We can have a debate over, well, did he have any chemical weapons stockpiled, where did it go at a moment's notice. So far we haven't found any. We may yet; we don't know. It's only a matter of weeks to produce a biological agent sufficient to kill thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people.
So the threat, I think, was clearly there. And the question that ultimately will finally be resolved once the Iraq Survey Group completes its look at it is exactly what shape it was in or what form it was in at the time. But to date, we've not yet, obviously, found large stockpiles of weapons.
Q Does your gut tell you that someday they will be found or -- either in Iraq or somewhere else?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I just don't know, Brit. It's such a big place. We've just found in Libya, where we've now been invited in, because of the President's leadership and the way we used force in Iraq, I think -- we just were taken to a turkey farm by the Libyans where we were shown a very large quantity of chemical weapons.
We've got -- in Iraq, we've still got a large part of the country to search. It's an area the size of California. The major emphasis has been on the security threat and dealing with getting a new Iraqi government in place so there's still a lot of work to be done to exploit all the documents and all the personnel that have been captured, as well as look at all the sites. And we won't know the total, final, complete picture, I think, on exactly what stage his WMD programs were at for some time yet, but there's no question -- even David Kay will say this -- there's no question but what he had programs.
Q Apart from the allegation that's been made by some who have been in touch with Jean-Bertrand Aristide that he was basically hustled out of Haiti against his will by the United States, in effect, at gunpoint. Setting that aside -- that's obviously been firmly denied -- what about the charge that the U.S., by virtue of waiting as long as it did to do anything militarily, in effect, participated in a coup there.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think it's not a valid charge. This is not the first time I've watched a Haiti crisis unfold. Unfortunately, it happens every 10 or 12 years and it happened when I was Secretary of Defense.
I think we moved very rapidly and decisively. The President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense all did a great a job. And the fact of the matter was that Mr. Aristide had worn out his welcome. He was democratically elected but he didn't govern in a democratic manner. And it reached the point where clearly the opposition groups, the rebels were increasingly successful at undermining his authority and he made the choice to leave. He resigned the office of his own free will. He left on a civilian aircraft which we chartered for him. He left with his security detail and this was his decision to go.
Q No American armed men around him?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No American armed men around him as -- we didn't coerce him to get on the airplane. We helped facilitate his departure when he indicated he was ready to go. We think it was the right decision, or the right decision for the people of Haiti. But now the key is to stand up a new government to get the democratic processes reenergized and we're prepared to do that.
Q On the economy, the Democrats, led by John Kerry, are saying that the tax cuts manifestly haven't worked, the economy has failed to recover in a way that would generate job-creation of the kind that everybody obviously wants. What's your answer to that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: I think the economy is significantly improved. I think all of the data point in that direction. We inherited a recession, a recession that began either shortly before or about the same time that we got into office. We'd had the economy complicated by the attacks of 9/11 and all the disruption that put in. The President went forward with his tax cuts in the spring of '01 and '02 and again in '03, and I think it's precisely the right medicine for the economy.
We're now to the point where the last half of last year, we grew at better than six percent, one of the highest rates in 20 years. All the indicators are headed in the right direction.
We are creating more jobs, not as fast as we'd like. We need to continue to work on that, but the fact of the matter is, we've made major progress. And what the Democrats are offering at this point are tax increases at exactly the wrong time, the kind of tax increases that would choke off the recovery.
Q The deficit has obviously grown. It looks huge. There are those who say that it is a real threat to the economy at these levels, and that you put that together with a vast unfunded --unfunded entitlements that lie out there in the future, about ready to hit, and that the administration has really not effectively dealt with that issue. What's your response to that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: We have inherited a situation in which it's been necessary. It's, in effect, been driven by the economy into a deficit status, the budget has. The fall-off in federal revenue is primarily due to the recession -- accounted for about half of the increase in the deficit.
We're also at war; we've had to spend a lot more on defense and homeland security and those are all legitimate reasons for running a deficit. I think we'd be subject to legitimate criticism if we didn't go forward on those initiatives.
And the fact is, over the course of the next several years, the President's budget calls for cutting the deficit in half, by 50 percent. The deficit today relative to the total size of the economy is not as big as it was back in the '80s or the early '90s, so to try to cast this as some sort of economic crisis, I think, is not true. I think the budget is a good budget. We need significant discipline on Capitol Hill. We're working on that. I think we'll get a lot of success this year, that Congress with cooperate. The President is going to fight hard to make certain we hold the line on spending and if we implement his budget, I think that will address the deficit issue as it should be addressed.
Q That mysterious person that Russell Baker once referred to as the "Great Mentioner", has begun to mention other people as possible replacements for you on the ticket. What about that?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, the President the other night said he'd put me in charge of the search committee, as he had four years ago and I came up with the same answer again. He told that jokingly, obviously.
But he's asked me to serve with him on the ticket again for the next four years and I'm happy to do that. As long as I can be of assistance and he wants me in that spot, I plan to serve.
Q Mr. Vice President, my time is up. Thank you very much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
END 10:41 A.M. EST