NBC's Lauer Applauds Honesty of "Superstar" John Edwards

On Monday’s Today co-host Matt Lauer interviewed 2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards about the Iraq War and his healthcare plan. Lauer did asks some tough questions such as challenging Edwards’s call for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq within the next 18 months. Lauer read the National Intelligence Estimate, which said that would be a disaster, and he asked "so why are you right and why is an intelligence estimate, that’s basically a compilation of the best ideas of 16 intelligence groups in this country, wrong?"

However, Lauer offered some praise for this liberal former Senator. When Edwards painted a grim situation in Iraq, Matt Lauer exclaimed "I applaud your honesty." At the end of the interview Lauer showed his love for Edwards when he stated, "you’re a superstar as well." The entire transcript is below.

Matt Lauer: "The war in Iraq is the thorniest issue facing former Senator John Edwards and the eight other Democrats running for the presidency in 2008. Of course, the Senator was John Kerry's running mate in the last presidential election. Hi Senator. Good morning. Good to see you."

John Edwards: "Good morning Matt. Good to see you."

Lauer: "You've been somewhat critical of the of your fellow Democrats on this issue of Iraq, and I know you're going to talk health care with us in a second. But, here's what you're saying as the Senate's preparing to take up this non-binding resolution: 'They're counting on us to be weak, to be political, and to be careful. This is not the time for political calculation. This is the time for political courage.' So when you look at the stance so far of some of your key opponents, like Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, are they being calculating and weak?"

Edwards: "Well, I think this is still playing itself out right now Matt. I have, I have a very simple view about this. We shouldn't be worried about politicians and speeches and non-binding resolutions. We need to stop George Bush from escalating this war. And the Congress has the power to do that, and they should use that power."

Lauer: "You basically said, 'look if we have to, we should cut off funding for additional troops in Iraq.' Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have said we should cap troop levels. Is this a game of semantics Senator. Are they are saying the same thing you're saying but they're unwilling to use the word funding?"

Edwards: "I don't think it's semantical. There is, there is actually a law, a piece of legislation introduced by Senator Kennedy that would make it impossible for George Bush to escalate this war without first coming to Congress and getting permission. I don't think Congress would give him that permission. That's what we should be doing. We should be using that power that's available to us to ensure that this war is not escalating. I mean, most of these troops, Matt, are already in Anbar province, Marines, Army in Baghdad. They've been through two or three tours of duty and they're scheduled to come home. They deserve to come home. Their families deserve to have them come home."

Lauer: "You, you want troops out of Iraq between 12 and 18 months. You'd like 40,000 troops to come home immediately. Last week, let me read you something that came out of the National Intelligence Estimate that was released last week: Quote, 'if coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this estimate,' which by the way is 18 months, 'we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq.' So, so why are you right and why is an intelligence estimate, that's basically a compilation of the best ideas of 16 intelligence groups in this country wrong?"

Edwards: "Well, first of all, I'm not talking about a rapid withdrawal of troops. This would be done overtime in very orderly and thoughtful way."

Lauer: "But over the same period of time that the intelligence estimate is talking about."

Edwards: "But, it wouldn't be done in isolation, Matt, which is what they're talking about. It would be done in combination with shifting the responsibility for political reconciliation to the Malaki government, to the Sunni leadership, even though they're disorganized, and an engagement with Iran and Syria so that they can help stabilize the situation in Iraq. You can't do one thing without the other. These things all in combination, I think create the best chance of success. But I, I'd be the first to tell you whatever path is taken in Iraq, no one can guarantee the results. The situation on the ground is very volatile right now."

Lauer: "I applaud your honesty. You basically have come out say, 'look I want universal health care for everyone in this country and I'm going to raise taxes to accomplish it.' Senator Obama, Senator Clinton also would like to see universal health care. What's the major difference in your plan versus theirs?"

Edwards: "Well, I haven't seen a plan from, from either one of them. I think I'm the first to announce the details of the plan. What we're going to do is cover every single American including the 47 million who don't have coverage. We're going to bring down costs for everybody and for most Americans. We're going to help them pay the costs. It's based on a concept of shared responsibility. In the case of employers, we're going to ask them to do more to either insure all their employees or to contribute to their being insured. The government will help subsidize the health care and create health care markets, so we have more competition, and deal with issues like preventative care and mental health care to make sure those kind of things, chronic care, are in fact being done. And then finally, for individuals, we're going to make sure they have insurance. They have to have insurance so that everybody has health insurance."

Lauer: "Finally, Senator, after your appearance on 'Meet the Press' yesterday, the Republican National Committee sent out a press release titled, quote, 'Edwards Turns to the Dark Side. '04 golden boy tosses sunshine demeanor for '08 agenda of aggression and attacks.' Even the New York Times, in a front page article this morning, talks about you taking on a harder edge, a sharper tone. Is this a way you think you can get heard above the roar of the superstars like Obama and Clinton?"

Edwards: "You're not including me in that group?"

Lauer: "Oh, You're a superstar as well."

[Laughing]

Lauer: "Maybe they should be the ones shouting. I don't know."

Edwards: "No, Matt, I think the only difference in tone is that there is a seriousness and maturity they think is going to be required both in the campaign and in running this country beginning in January of 2009. And if there's a change in tone, that's what it is.