CBS’s Mitchell Throws Softballs at Biden, NBC’s Lauer Asks Real Question

On Wednesday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Russ Mitchell began an interview with Senator Joe Biden on the testimony of General Petraeus before Congress this way: "As a long-time critic of the way the Bush Administration has handled the war, were you encouraged by anything General Petraeus said yesterday?" After Biden responded by saying "I'm not at all encouraged that the president has any plan to end this war," Mitchell followed with a setup for Biden to propose his own plan: "You have said you cannot think of a circumstance where General Petraeus, or any military leader, would recommend withdrawal. At this point specifically, what are you proposing?"

On Wednesday’s NBC "Today," co-host Matt Lauer began his interview with Biden with a similar question to Mitchell’s: "Yesterday as you heard the General say, he said the progress is real but it's fragile and reversible. Did he say anything yesterday that changed your mind?" However, unlike Mitchell, Lauer actually followed up with a challenging question: "In, in terms of the security improvements that have been made and General Petraeus laid those out, while addressing the challenges that remain with the Iraqi government. When he, when he uses those words "fragile," and "reversible" Senator, are you okay with the fact that withdrawing troops might take us backward in Iraq?"

Clearly not accustomed to such a challenge, Biden lashed out at Lauer:

No, look Matt, we, we can debate whether or not the cost of drawing down troops will hurt. That's debatable. For example, as many military experts argue that if we were to withdraw gradually and more, more substantially from Iraq that al-Qaeda would be hurt more than if we stayed. I asked yesterday, I asked our ambassador and I asked Petraeus, where, where's the greatest threat from al-Qaeda? In Afghanistan, where we don't have enough troops to fight them, by their own admission, or in Iraq? And they said well they are more dangerous in Afghanistan. We don't debate the cost of staying, Matt.

Lauer attempted to continue, but Biden barely let the "Today" co-host get out the next question:

BIDEN: The cost of staying are immense as our, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said, the chairman of the Army --

LAUER: Right.

BIDEN: --the vice chairman of the Army--

LAUER: Yeah but Senator--

BIDEN: .--it's killing us.

LAUER: --Senator, General Petraeus says here's what he wants to do. He wants to continue this scheduled rollback of surge forces, get down to the pre-surge number, then he wants to pause and evaluate the situation. It seems--

BIDEN: No Matt, with all due respect, I know I don't, I shouldn't correct you, you got the microphone. But he said, get down to 140,000. That's 10,000 over the pre-surge--

LAUER: 10,000 over the pre-surge.

BIDEN: --and freeze, and freeze at that. Pause at that.

LAUER: But to evaluate the situation and see what happens. That seems kind of level-headed, why does that bother you?

BIDEN: Well it doesn't seem level-headed when you don't have any plan. What, I asked him, what are the conditions you're gonna look to, General, to determine whether or not you can further draw down? And in the meantime, General, we're having trouble finding $150 million to deal with what every military man says we need to deal with to stabilize Pakistan. General, we don't have the money for that because all of it is being spent in Iraq. Which is a higher priority, General? Stabilizing Pakistan or bringing down another 10,000 troops? Matt these are tough decisions and he's focusing, as he acknowledged, only on Iraq not on our overall security.

Meanwhile, in a more friendly environment on the "Early Show" Mitchell concluded the interview by asking: "On the Democratic side you are one of the last holdouts. It is a gorgeous morning here on the east coast. Who are you going to endorse? Senator Obama or Senator Clinton?"

Here is the full transcript of the "Early Show" segment:

7:12AM

RUSS MITCHELL: The war in Iraq takes center stage again on Capitol Hill this morning as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, returns to give more testimony. Yesterday Petraeus and the U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, faced a battery of questions from senators, but refused to budge on troop withdrawals before President Bush leaves office.

DAVID PETRAEUS: We haven't turned any corners. We haven't seen any lights at the end of the tunnel. The champagne bottle's been pushed to the back of the refrigerator, and the progress --

MITCHELL: And joining us from Wilmington, Delaware, is Senator Joe Biden, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Senator, good morning to you.

JOE BIDEN: Good morning, Russ. How are you?

MITCHELL: I am doing just fine, sir. As a long-time critic of the way the Bush Administration has handled the war, were you encouraged by anything General Petraeus said yesterday?

BIDEN: I was encouraged by the bravery of our troops and how they've done what they've been asked, but I'm not at all encouraged that the president has any plan to end this war, doesn't know when to bring the troops home, even if to bring them home. And it's clear to me, and I think to my Republican colleagues as well, the president just says his only plan is to keep roughly 140,000 troops there until the next president becomes president and hand off problem to him or her.

MITCHELL: You have said you cannot think of a circumstance where General Petraeus, or any military leader, would recommend withdrawal. At this point specifically, what are you proposing?

BIDEN: What I'm specifically proposing is that we have a political solution and we do the following. We engage both the Iraqis, the Iranians, the Syrians, all the neighbors, the Turks. We agree on what there is written in the constitution, that there be local governments have considerable power. That is, a federal system. And you basically separate the parties politically, give them control over their own areas with a weak central government.

MITCHELL: After another busy day on Capitol Hill, Americans are wondering, 'okay, we heard a lot about the war yesterday. Where do we go from here? What happens next?'

BIDEN: Here's the deal. The cost of leaving the wrong way are debatable. It may be that Al Qaeda gets stronger or weaker. It may be Iran, you know, Iran gains influence or doesn't. But the cost of staying at 140,000 troops indefinitely are knowable. We are not battle-ready. Are -- the Vice Chairman of the United States Military says, 'hey, look, we don't have any leftover forces to deal with any contingency.'

MITCHELL: Senator, let me ask you this very quickly. All three senators still in the hunt for the White House had a chance to question General Petraeus yesterday. On the Democratic side you are one of the last holdouts. It is a gorgeous morning here on the east coast. Who are you going to endorse? Senator Obama or Senator Clinton?

BIDEN: I'm not going to do it. I speak regularly, at least once a week, with both Obama and Clinton. I think they're both fully qualified. I am not going to make that decision.

MITCHELL: Senator Joe Biden, as always, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot.

 

Here is a full transcript of the "Today" segment:

MATT LAUER: Alright David, thank you very much. Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. The former presidential candidate, by the way, has not yet made an endorsement in the race. Senator, good morning to you.

JOSEPH BIDEN: Good morning, how are you Matt?

LAUER: I'm alright, thanks very much. You didn't wait to hear from General Petraeus. Last week you said the surge is a failure. Yesterday as you heard the General say, he said the progress is real but it's fragile and reversible. Did he say anything yesterday that changed your mind?

BIDEN: No, look what I said was that the military side of the surge works. It's brought down violence. But, you know, we went from drowning to treading water and now we're having 30 to 40 Americans die a month. 320 or 225 a month wounded. And we're spending $3 billion a month, with no end in sight, Matt. They have no plan how to get down below 140,000 and they have no plan, how to end this war, and they have no political prescription as to how to bring the parties together.

LAUER: In, in terms of the security improvements that have been made and General Petraeus laid those out, while addressing the challenges that remain with the Iraqi government. When he, when he uses those words "fragile," and "reversible" Senator, are you okay with the fact that withdrawing troops might take us backward in Iraq?

BIDEN: No, look Matt, we, we can debate whether or not the cost of drawing down troops will hurt. That's debatable. For example, as many military experts argue that if we were to withdraw gradually and more, more substantially from Iraq that al-Qaeda would be hurt more than if we stayed. I asked yesterday, I asked our ambassador and I asked Petraeus, where, where's the greatest threat from al-Qaeda? In Afghanistan, where we don't have enough troops to fight them, by their own admission, or in Iraq? And they said well they are more dangerous in Afghanistan. We don't debate the cost of staying, Matt. The cost of staying are immense as our, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has said, the chairman of the Army --

LAUER: Right.

BIDEN: --the vice chairman of the Army--

LAUER: Yeah but Senator--

BIDEN: .--it's killing us.

LAUER: --Senator, General Petraeus says here's what he wants to do. He wants to continue this scheduled rollback of surge forces, get down to the pre-surge number, then he wants to pause and evaluate the situation. It seems--

BIDEN: No Matt, with all due respect, I know I don't, I shouldn't correct you, you got the microphone. But he said, get down to 140,000. That's 10,000 over the pre-surge--

LAUER: 10,000 over the pre-surge.

BIDEN: --and freeze, and freeze at that. Pause at that.

LAUER: But to evaluate the situation and see what happens. That seems kind of level-headed, why does that bother you?

BIDEN: Well it doesn't seem level-headed when you don't have any plan. What, I asked him, what are the conditions you're gonna look to, General, to determine whether or not you can further draw down? And in the meantime, General, we're having trouble finding $150 million to deal with what every military man says we need to deal with to stabilize Pakistan. General, we don't have the money for that because all of it is being spent in Iraq. Which is a higher priority, General? Stabilizing Pakistan or bringing down another 10,000 troops? Matt these are tough decisions and he's focusing, as he acknowledged, only on Iraq not on our overall security.

LAUER: Let me ask you two political questions.

BIDEN: Sure.

LAUER: Did Americans learn anything yesterday from the statements or questions from the three senators running for president that should help us make a decision as to be, who should be the next commander-in-chief?

BIDEN: The only one I heard was Barack Obama and what they learned from him was that he has an exact opposite idea of John McCain. He says, "Look if the Iraqis can't welcome the Iranians into their capital and Ahmedinejad, we should at least be talking to them." Because everyone acknowledges, including Petraeus and our ambassador that there's no ultimate solution in Iraq without the cooperation of Syria and Iran and yet we're not talking to them.

LAUER: And finally, you were a candidate for the nomination on the Democratic side until January when you, when you pulled out.

BIDEN: I was. $100 billion short.

LAUER CHUCKLING: Yeah when...just a drop in the bucket, right?

BIDEN: Just $100 billion. That's right.

LAUER: So now we've got a lot of talk about this battle, this ongoing battle between Senators Clinton and Obama. Has it gone on too long? Should Senator Clinton get out, in your opinion?

BIDEN: No, look it's the best thing that happened to the party. We have more people registering in the Democratic Party now as a consequence of this, of this competition than we've ever had. A couple hundred thousand more Democrats in Pennsylvania. These people are registering to vote in the primaries, Matt, as Democrats. They're gonna vote in the general election. This has been healthy, in fact, and I think as a former president said, we should all chill out a little bit. I think everything's gonna be fine. Just think of the enthusiasm that has been generated in the Democratic Party. The Republicans are tearing their hair out as how many Republicans and independents are switching to Democrat and they'll stay Democrat.

LAUER: Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Senator, always good to talk to you. Thanks very much.

BIDEN: Good talking to you Matt, thanks a lot.

MEREDITH VIEIRA: I feel like I should loan him a couple of bucks or something, you know?

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC