Matt Lauer Hits John Edwards from the Left on Democratic 'Cave-In'

Updated with video below fold.

NBC's Matt Lauer spared no punches when he interviewed John Edwards on this morning's Today show, trouble is they were mostly left jabs. After a David Gregory report on the war funding bill, the Today co-host didn't waste any time launching into Edwards as he demanded to know why his fellow Democrats had to "cave-in."

Lauer: "David calls it a compromise, whatever we call it, let's talk about this deal that was struck in Congress. They, basically, the supplemental funding bill has 18 benchmarks the Iraqis have to hit on political progress, security, economic progress. Reports from the White House to Congress, July 15th, September 15th. But, and this is a big but, the headline here is no deadline for U.S. troops. Why did the Democrats cave-in?"

Video (0:27): Real (736 kB) or Windows (828 kB), plus MP3 (379 kB).

Apparently not satisfied with Edwards' response Lauer, again repeated: "Why'd they cave-in then?" After that, Lauer, still pressing from the left, regurgitated Edwards' own talking points to him:

"Here's what you said recently: 'We need to stand our ground against this President. You can't negotiate with him. Congress should send the same bill back to him again and again,' and you're talking about that deadline-inclusive bill, 'until he realizes he has no choice but to start bringing our troops home. The funding power is the only way Congress can force Bush to end the war. If Congress gives him yet another blank check to fund the war, we're going to get what we've gotten every time before- yet another year of war.' Is this the case in point?"

Edwards: "It is! I mean the, the Congress needs to stand the ground against this President and force a change in policy. George Bush has shown over and over again that he's stubborn, that he's bull-headed, that he doesn't think he can do anything wrong. He will not change unless the Congress forces him to do it and they need to force him to do it."

Lauer did bring up the idea that violence will increase if the U.S. troops leave as he glumly noted: "We are doing a bad job there, in terms of stopping sectarian violence, but just by our presence we must be stopping some." But then Lauer returned to smacking Edwards from the left as he threw Barack Obama in his face:

"This, this is the issue of the, of the campaign right now. Let's face it. And, and I'm not trying to hand out gold stars and take gold stars away here. But, but why shouldn't a Senator Barack Obama be able to look at you and Senator Clinton and say look, 'When this was first discussed in 2002, I wasn't in the Senate but I spoke out against it. Senator Edwards voted for authorization. Senator Clinton voted for authorization. So on this paramount issue of, issue of paramount importance I had the best judgment.'"

Lauer then concluded the segment with a bit of liberal guilt-speak when he questioned Edwards on his credentials to talk about the "have-nots," when he, in fact, was a "have."

Lauer: "Another subject. There, there seems to be a bit of a growing PR problem in your campaign and it's this idea of two Americas. The, the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' and a candidate who is clearly a 'have,' who has multi-million dollar residences, who's, who's worked for, as an adviser, to a hedge fund and received about a half-a-million dollars in payments. Received a $40,000 honorarium or payment from a public university for sharing ideas on poverty. The haircut, we've all heard about. So how are you gonna change this perception that you aren't just a rich guy talking about poverty?"

The following is the full interview as it occurred on the May 23, Today show:

Matt Lauer: "Former Senator John Edwards is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Today he's delivering a major speech at the Council on Foreign Relations on what he would do in Iraq and elsewhere. Senator, good to have you in the studio. Good morning."

John Edwards: "Glad to be with you, Matt."

Lauer: "David calls it a compromise, whatever we call it, let's talk about this deal that was struck in Congress. They, basically, the supplemental funding bill has 18 benchmarks the Iraqis have to hit on political progress, security, economic progress. Reports from the White House to Congress, July 15th, September 15th. But and this is a big but, the headline here is no deadline for U.S. troops. Why did the Democrats cave-in?"

Edwards: "Well the Democrats should be standing their ground. I mean the American people said very clearly in the last election that they wanted to see a different course in Iraq. They sent a mandate by putting the Democrats in charge of the Congress and it's very clear that George Bush has no intention to compromise. And what the Democrats need to do is to [stay] strong, stand their ground and continue-"

Lauer: "Why'd they cave-in then?"

Edwards: "Well I don't know. I mean, I think what they, what the American people wanted them to do was stand their ground, force this President to start withdrawing troops from Iraq and continue to submit bills to him with the timetable withdrawal."

Lauer: "Is, is it possible, Senator, this is all about the Democrats' fear that they'll be seen as unpatriotic and not supporting the troops?"

Edwards: "This should not be about politics at all, Matt. I mean we have men and women dying in Iraq. I was listening to your newscast just a few minutes ago. This is about life and death. This is about war. We have families who are sending young men and women over there to put their lives on the line. We need to stand our ground."

Lauer: "Here's what you said recently: 'We need to stand our ground against this President. You can't negotiate with him. Congress should send the same bill back to him again and again,' and you're talking about that deadline-inclusive bill, 'until he realizes he has no choice but to start bringing our troops home. The funding power is the only way Congress can force Bush to end the war. If Congress gives him yet another blank check to fund the war, we're going to get what we've gotten every time before- yet another year of war.' Is this the case in point?"

Edwards: "It is! I mean the, the Congress needs to stand the ground against this President and force a change in policy. George Bush has shown over and over again that he's stubborn, that he's bull-headed, that he doesn't think he can do anything wrong. He will not change unless the Congress forces him to do it and they need to force him to do it."

Lauer: "You're, you're gonna talk about your plan before the Council on Foreign Relations today and your plan includes 40 to 50,000 U.S. troops coming out immediately, the rest of the troops out by the end of the year and the critics say, and they're critics of not only your plan but similar plans, say that as the U.S. troops leave you're gonna hear a giant sucking sound and that's gonna be a vacuum. And it's gonna be created and the violence that we see now is gonna get larger and fill that vacuum and it could spill out throughout the region. How do you, how do you say that you're right and they're wrong?"

Edwards: "Well all of this doesn't depend on us, it depends on the Iraqis. It depends on what the Sunni and the Shia leadership do. If they can reach some political reconciliation."

Lauer: "Which they haven't."

Edwards: "They will, they have not, that will help squelch the violence. And the question is how do we shift the responsibility to them to reach a political solution?"

Lauer: "But you have to figure that just by our presence we are stopping. We are doing a bad job there, in terms of stopping sectarian violence, but just by our presence we must be stopping some. So if we take our troops out who's responsible for stopping that violence? The Iraqi's troops?"

Edwards: "Yeah, the Iraqis themselves. I mean we have to shift the pressure to them, Matt. That is what has not happened. They don't feel the heat, they're not reaching a political solution.. And can I just add, as we start to pull our combat troops out of Iraq we do need to maintain a presence in the region. I mean we're gonna need to keep troops in Kuwait. We need a naval presence in the Persian Gulf."

Lauer: "This, this is the issue of the, of the campaign right now. Let's face it. And, and I'm not trying to hand out gold stars and take gold stars away here. But, but why shouldn't a Senator Barack Obama be able to look at you and Senator Clinton and say look, 'When this was first discussed in 2002, I wasn't in the Senate but I spoke out against it. Senator Edwards voted for authorization. Senator Clinton voted for authorization. So on this paramount issue of, issue of paramount importance I had the best judgment.'"

Edwards: "Well I think the answer to that is I've said, very clearly, that I think my vote was wrong, I've taken responsibility for it. I hope that it indicates something about how I would lead as President of the United States. Openly, honestly, so that the American people know when I, when I believe I've made a mistake and change course. All of us are human. We've never had a president who wadn't [sic], we're never gonna have one idn't [sic] and we need to be able to have a President who will be honest and open with the country."

Lauer: "Another subject. There, there seems to be a bit of a growing PR problem in your campaign and it's this idea of two Americas. The, the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' and a candidate who is clearly a have, who has multi-million dollar residences, who's, who's worked for, as an adviser, to a hedge fund and received about a half-a-million dollars in payments. Received a $40,000 honorarium or payment from a public university for sharing ideas on poverty. The haircut, we've all heard about. So how are you gonna change this perception that you aren't just a rich guy talking about poverty?"

Edwards: "Well Matt I am a 'have,' there's no doubt about that. I mean it's not where I come from. I come from being a 'have-not.' But I've been lucky in my life and I'm a 'have,' now and if you look at what I've spent my life doing, just since the last election. I mean I've helped raise the minimum wage in six states, helped organize workers into unions all over this country. Started a college program for kids, who otherwise couldn't go to college. I've been all over the world doing humanitarian work."

Lauer: "So you're saying you can relate?"

Edwards: "Oh, oh I don't think there's any doubt about that and I think the American people will see that. They're gonna look at me. They're gonna judge me as a human being whether I have the characteristics, integrity, honesty, openness to be President of the United States. And whether it's specific things I want to do on issues like the war in Iraq, makes sense to them."

Lauer: "How's Mrs. Edwards feeling?"

Edwards: "She's actually doing very well. Thanks for asking."

Lauer: "Good. It's nice to have you in the studio and you're giving a speech, again as I said, a little later this afternoon here in New York."

Edwards: "Thanks Matt, thanks for having me."

Lauer: "Thanks Senator."

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.