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White House tears into Dems over Lieberman loss

Published: Wednesday August 9, 2006

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White House press secretary Tony Snow today launched into a lengthy diatribe regarding the loss of Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) in yesterday's primary election--before stating the President has no official comment to make on the subject, RAW STORY has learned.

Snow, commenting from a middle school near President's ranch in Crawford, Texas, seemed to be attempting to use the loss to portray Democrats as weak on issues relating to national security.

A transcript of Snow's comments follow the video excerpt below:


SNOW: As for the primary election in Connecticut last night -- I know there's a lot of concern and interest about that -- Democratic voters in Connecticut have made their choice, and they have chosen Ned Lamont over Senator Lieberman.

Just a couple of observations:

Key leaders in the National Democratic Party have made it clear -- no, let me back up -- this is a defining moment, in some ways, for the Democratic Party. I know a lot of people have tried to make this a referendum on the president. I would flip it. I think instead, it's a defining moment for the Democratic Party, whose national leaders now have made it clear that if you disagree with the extreme left in their party, they're going to come after you. And it is probably worth trying to trace through some of the implications of that position, because it is clearly going to be one of the central issues as we get ready for the election campaign this year, that is, the midterm elections.

First, let's think about Iraq. One of the positions is that we need to leave Iraq. We need to do it on a timetable, and we need to do it soon. It's worth walking through the consequences of that position.

First, simply to walk away on a timetable without examining the conditions on the ground and without making sure that you have the ability for the Iraqis to stand up and also assert sovereignty over their territory and have a freestanding democracy would create a power vacuum and encourage terrorists not only Iraq but throughout the region and throughout the world.

One of the problems that often besets democracies, which is impatience and hard times, in fact serves as a motivation for terror groups. Osama bin Laden some years ago said that one of the keys is that if you simply stay at terror long enough, the West is too weak; he said the Americans were too weak and would stand down.

A second consequence would be it would create a failed state in the heart of the Middle East with the second-largest oil reserves in the world.

Now, if you think about what happened in Afghanistan, Afghanistan, a nation with far fewer resources, when it was able to serve as a terrorist training and staging ground, was able to do considerable violence to the Untied States and pose a threat to the rest of the world.

Number three, another consequence would be that it would inflict incredible damage on America's credibility. We have made it clear and this president has made it clear that we are in it to make sure that the people of Iraq do in fact have the opportunity to live free and in a democracy. And to walk away from that vow would send not only a sign of weakness but also of American unreliability, and it would enable forces of oppression and totalitarianism to rise again within Iraq and elsewhere. A white flag, in short, means a white flag in the war on terror.

Prime Minister Maliki, when he spoke before Congress, made it clear that Iraq remains a central pivot in the war on terror, because it is where many terrorist groups are going to test the will of the American people and also of the international community. This president does not intend and will not walk away from the promises he has made.

The other thing you might want to take in -- now expand the view a little bit, because I think one of the arguments that is now being knocked around is whether in fact we're seriously engaged in a war on terror. Let's take a look at the global situation. You have Iran remaining not only stubborn in the face of the international community saying that Iran needs to suspend nuclear activities, but also encouraging the destruction of Israel and continuing to serve as a financier and organizer of terrorist organizations around the world.

We know that North Korea also poses certain threats. We know that terrorist organizations around the world have already expressed their desire to disrupt democracy and also to disrupt civilization in many places, including Indonesia, India, Pakistan; Amman, Jordan. We remember the bombings also in Madrid and London. It's a serious battle. Hezbollah remains also an independent actor which is operating with the support of Iran and Syria, firing not only Katyushas but Zelzal rockets into Israel, with the desire not only of fomenting larger hostilities but also hoping to destabilize the prospects for democracy in the region.

The reason I say the stakes are high, it's an important debate to have. And it is clear that at least some of the leadership in the Democratic Party believes that the proper way to address this is to point a finger at the United States and to counsel walking away.

The view of the president is that this is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. And let me outline that part.

Democracies operate on different principles than totalitarian states. In a democracy, you have to respond to the will of the people. In a democracy within the United States, whether it be Joe Lieberman and Ned Lamont competing for votes in Connecticut or on the local level dealing with the needs for people to have safe streets, good schools and services they can depend upon, those are the things -- you respond to the state desires of the people. In totalitarian states, the despot alone has the opportunity to declare what he or she wants to do, and frankly, quite often they are much more war-like.

The president believes, and history will bear him out, that free and democratic states are far more peaceful and create the basis and opportunity, especially in an unstable part of the world, for economic, social, political ties that in the long run are going to be a lot closer than they are today. So those are some of the issues that are raised.

As for -- the president has no comment on the winner or loser of the race. That is for the Democratic Party and Democratic voters in the state of Connecticut. But it is also clear because of the attention being paid to it that there is a significant political argument under way, and it's one that I think is as important for the American people to have -- I say "I think" -- that the administration thinks is important for the American to have.

And with that, I will take questions.


QUESTION: On Lieberman. Are you telling us you now want to make the November election a referendum on the Democrat's position on the Iraq war?

SNOW: No, I'm saying that there's some Democrats who have said that the key issue is leaving and that there are some elements within the Democratic Party who are pushing hard to say, "Look, if you don't agree with us, you no longer belong in the party." You know, you take a look at the pillage today, they're pretty hot.

And the real question for the American people to ask themselves is, do you take the war on terror seriously with all the developments going on around the word? And if so, how do you fight it to win?

There seem to be two approaches, and in the Connecticut race, one of the approaches is ignore the difficulties and walk away. Now, when the United States walked away in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that American's were weak and wouldn't stay the course, and that led to September 11th. And it is important to realize that terrorists are not simply inspired by American engagement in the world, but they have their own agenda. And it is an agenda that if we turn around and look the other way, they're not going to ignore, they will continue to build strength, and they will continue to build it here.

And it is a vitally important debate to have, and it's really up to Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party to figure out how they want to stand in the war on terror. Do they want to have the sort of timetable approach, leave by a date certain? Do they not want to have something constructive to say about gathering threats from Iran and elsewhere? Or do they want to acknowledge the fact that in a dangerous world it takes commitment, it takes persistence? Throughout American history, generation after generation has been faced with difficulties, and each generation has risen to the challenge. And we're confident that this generation will do the same.

QUESTION: Tony, just to follow up on that. Does this shake up the political landscape conventional thinking of how November mid-terms are going to go, perhaps you're looking forward to `08?

SNOW: I don't think so. I mean, if you take a look at the mid-terms, again, every candidate's going to tell you that his or her campaign is a local campaign, and quite often, locals can do -- issues are going to condition them. There has been some attempt on the part again -- you have a lot of Democratic leadership getting involved in this Connecticut race trying to nationalize around one issue. That is obviously a key issue.

But on the other hand, everybody has known all along that that's a key issue. The president's view has always been that good policy is good politics. We are sticking with the positions we have taken. We think that they're the right positions to take, and we think that -- one of the interesting things that happened in this Connecticut race, by the way, was there appeared to be some buyer's remorse as election day approached, that -- maybe the polls were rigged.

Maybe the polls were bad. But at least the lead that Mr. Lamont had went from 13 points to 6 to 4 on election day. That indicates that even in a fairly liberal state like Connecticut, where this was the one issue, where you had a well-financed candidate who had more money than the incumbent, that you still had a 50-50 split, more or less, within the Democratic Party on this issue. It's going to be up to the Democrats to see exactly how they want to play it.

I will tell you the president's position, which is the war on terror is vital, not only because the stakes are high but also the rewards are high. At the end of -- when you have created a democracy, when a democracy is able to stand up in Iraq, and when a democracy is able to stand up in Lebanon, when a democracy is able to function in -- with -- for Palestinians, you send a powerful message that these things are possible anywhere in the world. And you create ties that are motivated no longer by ideology or sectarian hatred, but instead by self-interest, which means ties of trade, ties of politics, and real opportunities for closer relations throughout the world. It makes it a more peaceful world.

QUESTION: Tony, is the president preparing to go out on the campaign trail -- (unintelligible) -- the Democrats?

SNOW: You know, I think what the president's going to do in the campaign trail is talk about the issues and the issues that are important. We're going to be in Wisconsin tomorrow. We're going to be talking about the economy. There's a good economic message to discuss.

So the fact is, this is -- when people go to the polls and people also start thinking about issues, they do think about the war on terror.

QUESTION: (unintelligible.)

SNOW: Hello!

But in addition, you've got -- you got bread-and-butter issues here at home, too. So there are a whole series of issues. All of them come into play, and I'm sure the president will talk about all of them.


QUESTION: Tony, today in Ohio, Ken Mehlman delivered a speech in which he talked about the Lieberman loss as an example of the defeatism and isolationism of the Democratic party. It seems like, based on what we're hearing from you, this is part of a coordinated Republican effort to broaden this Lieberman race out to a more national --

SNOW: Well, that's -- again, I think what you've had is you've had a lot of national figures within the Democratic party making this point, and that's why I tried to couch it in terms of responding to the arguments that were made in that race. Again, it's up to Democrats. Is this the national message they wish to run on? If so, it's going to be something that I think the American people are going to want to hear all sides of.

QUESTION: (Off mike) -- national message for you to paint Democrats as the cut and run party, the defeatist --

SNOW: I don't believe I used any of those terms.

QUESTION: But Ken Mehlman used defeatism and isolationism.

SNOW: Well, Ken's running the Republican National Committee. I'm speaking for the president.

QUESTION: Tony, another question?

SNOW: Yeah, let's -- go ahead, Peter.

QUESTION: You said that the Lieberman loss is a defining moment for the Democratic party. What does it say about the Republican party, the result in the Michigan primary, where a moderate Republican who has -- who has been in somewhat agreement with the president on immigration issues was defeated by the conservative in the Republican party? And is that a defining moment?

SNOW: I -- you know, it'll be interesting to see how that plays out. That is a race that, I must tell you in all fairness, that I did not look at with as much care or thoroughness. So I'll try to get you a more thorough answer, but it appears that you had a self- described moderate being defeated by a self-described conservative. Beyond that -- I wish I could give you more context, but I can't, and I'd be making it up.

QUESTION: Tony, do you anticipate the president will do anything to help Senator Lieberman get elected now as an independent?

SNOW: No. I mean, again, Joe Lieberman has been a Democrat all his life. He's had a long Democratic career. He says that if elected as an independent, he would caucus as a Democrat. Again, the president's going to stay out of that one.

QUESTION: But he'd prefer to have the Republican nominee in Connecticut --

SNOW: Well, again, I'm -- as you know, there's an interesting situation in Connecticut. I think at this point, we'll just see what happens.

All right. Anything else on these two issues?

QUESTION: Tony, -- (inaudible) -- than have to have Lieberman, a moderate Democrat, back in the Senate?