John Edwards photo

Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS News' "Face the Nation"

February 25, 2007

SCHIEFFER: Senator, thank you for coming this morning.

EDWARDS: Good morning.

SCHIEFFER: I know you've been out on the campaign trail. I found it very interesting, what Governor Schwarzenegger said, number one, about Iraq. He said, "Look, the Congress should either cut the funding on Iraq or it should let the president do what he wants to do."

EDWARDS: Yeah, I think we should do the former. I think the Congress should use its authority, its funding authority to bring down the troop level an initial 40- to 50,000 out of Iraq, and continue to use that authority to redeploy troops out of Iraq over the next year or so.

SCHIEFFER: So you--you basically agree with Governor Schwarzenegger. I mean, on what the Congress ought to do.

EDWARDS: Well, I think he agrees with me.

SCHIEFFER: He agrees with you.

EDWARDS: No, I'm just teasing. I think--I think that we are in agreement about that, as long as he's not suggesting we let the president continue on the course he's on now, which I do not think Congress--do not believe Congress should do.

SCHIEFFER: He also said the whole debate ought to be elevated over and get beyond whether or not Hillary Clinton ought to apologize for her vote on the war. Now, you have talked about that.

EDWARDS: Yeah. I--I think that there are two issues. One is what the situation--difficult situation we're in, in Iraq now, what's the right and responsible course, and telling the American people and the world, for that matter, the truth about that. I also think it's important for those of us who were responsible for voting on the resolution in 2002 to say whatever the truth is for us about that vote. For those who voted for it, including me, if we believe we were wrong--and I believe I was--I think it's important to be honest about that and to say it. But I think that's an individual decision to be made by those who were responsible.

SCHIEFFER: You were up in New Hampshire yesterday, and you told people at a health care forum, "If you don't bring it up, I will,' talking about the war in Iraq.


SCHIEFFER: Is this whole election about Iraq?

EDWARDS: No, I think it's about--I think the dominating issues will be Iraq, health care, energy. I think those are the likely dominating issues. There'll probably also be a lot of discussion about the continued economic disparity in America between those who're doing well and those who aren't. But I think those are the--the most important issues.

SCHIEFFER: You--you had been saying that you are, quote, "the candidate of fundamental change." But again, going back to Iraq and the public debate over it, when I see the United States Senate unable to get a consensus over whether they ought to talk about it, and--and--and debate a nonbinding resolution...


EDWARDS: I think it is. I think it is as long as the president of the United States is inspiring Americans to take responsibility for their country and to--and to join in the debate, to not just wait for politicians to fight with each other in Washington. I think it's important for the president to make the case both on establishing America's moral leadership in the world and what to do about Iraq, how we transform the way we use energy in this country and get off our addiction to oil and deal with this huge issue of climate change, how we move toward a universal health care system. And I think that case has to be made, not just behind closed doors to politicians in Washington. The case has to be made to the American people, because I think on all those issues, the American people are actually ready for serious transformational change.

SCHIEFFER: Some of your opponents would say that the fundamental changes have been in you and your record, that you've changed your position on a lot of things, not just on Iraq.

EDWARDS: Well, I've--you know, what happens is, for all of us, I hope, is we evolve, we mature. In my case, there was a lot of seasoning that's gone on, both during the last campaign and since that time. I've done a lot of work overseas, for example. And I've learned. I hope we all continue to learn. And I don't think there's been any change in me as a human being, what my fundamental values are. You know, I still want every American to have the kind of chance that I've had, coming from a pretty modest background to having absolutely everything. That's sort of at the heart and soul of why I want to be president. But I think all these pieces--universal health care, changing the way we use energy, dealing with the war in Iraq and elevating the way America's viewed by the rest of the world--are things that I--that I believe deeply.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let's just talk about Iraq, and let's try to get past whether somebody ought to apologize or not. Let's say that you become president and you'll have the opportunity to do everything you want to do about this. What would you do? I mean, isn't there something to what the president says when he says if we just leave there that--that you'll create this haven for terrorists, that they can operate out of there? What's going to happen if your recommendations are followed, I guess, is what I would say.

EDWARDS: Sure. It's a very fair question. I think no one knows what's going to happen. What we're doing is--what I'm doing is using my best judgment under very difficult circumstances. And, as president, the first thing I would do is say to the American people, "We cannot predict with any certainty what will happen.' Now, what I would do if I were president today is draw down 40- to 50,000 troops out of the north and south, continue over time a redeployment--over about a year or so--a redeployment of our combat troops out of Iraq. I'd maintain a presence in Kuwait, probably redeploy some troops to Afghanistan, where we'd need some additional help, maintain a naval presence in the Persian Gulf. And while I was doing that, I would engage the Iranians and the Syrians directly, both of whom have an interest in a stable Iraq, particularly with America leaving Iraq. I will say that I think it's also the responsibility of the president, while that is occurring--or whatever path we're on--to prepare a plan, a strategy, to deal with containment in case this thing does, in fact, go in the wrong direction. Because it could. No matter what course we take, that could happen, and we have to be prepared for that.

SCHIEFFER: When you say you just don't know what--what will happen, can a person run for president making a statement like that, "I don't know what will happen if we leave'?

EDWARDS: It's the truth. It's clearly the truth. I mean, I think the American people know that. I have, I guess, enough faith in our people to think they can accept the truth. I think it's really important for our next president to be viewed as open and honest and decent, to re-establish the trust relationship between Americans and their president. And, by the way, I think it's also going to be crucial for that relationship to be re-established between the president of the United States and the rest of the world.

SCHIEFFER: What happened? How did we get to where we are?

EDWARDS: Oh, I think that there are a lot of different things that happened. What's happened in Iraq has obviously been a bleeding sore for America. But I think, beyond that, what we've seen over the last six or seven years is that raw power alone does not make you a world leader. You actually have to have the moral authority to lead, and, in order for that to be true, people have to see America as a force for good, not a country that they perceive--for right or wrong--to be a bully that's only interested in its own selfish short-term interests. So that means the world--we have to change. We have to tell the truth about Iraq, we have to--we have to start leaving Iraq, but we have to also demonstrate, I think, that we're willing to do things that are beyond our own selfish short-term interests, to lead on things like climate change, the genocide in Sudan--in Darfur, the spread of HIV/AIDS, I mean, things that don't on the surface appear to be in our short-term interest, but are crucial for America to be able to lead. And for America to be able to lead goes to the heart of whether we live in a stable or chaotic world.

SCHIEFFER: Are you going to have to raise taxes to pay for your health care plan?

EDWARDS: Tax--the tax cuts that George Bush gave to people who make over $200,000 a year will have to go away to pay for my health care plan. My universal health care plan costs 90- to $120 billion a year. I do not believe, having spent a lot of time on this, that you can achieve universal health care without--without finding a revenue source, and that's my revenue source.

SCHIEFFER: Just on the straight politics, you, some people say, are the one Fmr. Sen. EDWARDS: Oh, I think it's a bunch of silliness. I was in New Hampshire yesterday, I met probably over 1,000 New Hampshire primary voters, and, in the course of having a bunch of house parties, and you'd be shocked to hear, the only people who asked me about this were reporters. I didn't have a single New Hampshire voter ask me about this. What they're asking about is what are we going to do about Iraq, what are we going to do about Iran, what are we going to do about health care, the thing's you'd expect them to be concerned about.

SCHIEFFER: Why would you tell people they should vote for you instead of one of those two?

EDWARDS: Well, I think I've been through this. I have the seasoning, and--I hope--the seasoning and depth and maturity that's required to do the job. And second, I think it's time to move past these incremental steps, these baby steps, and have real and serious transformational change on some of the issues that we've talked about today, and those are the things that I'm--I'm for.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Senator, we want to thank you, and I hope we'll see you again down the campaign trail...

EDWARDS: Thanks for having me, Bob.

SCHIEFFER: well. Good luck to you.

EDWARDS: Happy birthday to you, by the way.

John Edwards, Interview with Bob Schieffer on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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