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Condoleezza Rice Appears Before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

January 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Now, for more on Condoleezza Rice’s testimony we turn to two members of the Foreign Relations Committee who questioned her today: Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska; and as the hearing, as Kwame just noted, is still continuing as we speak, we hope to be joined shortly by Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

Senator Hagel, we’ll start with you until Senator Feingold arrives. After what you heard today, are you prepared to support the nomination of Condoleezza Rice?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Gwen, I will support the nomination of Dr. Rice. She’s eminently qualified, well prepared. And I think she’ll be an excellent secretary of state.

GWEN IFILL: Were there outstanding questions that you were questioning her on today that you felt were satisfied or were not satisfied during the course of the confirmation hearing?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: We, as you note, are still going. That’s about eight hours’ worth of questioning. I think Dr. Rice has handled herself very well.

I think almost each of us on the Foreign Relations Committee have had disagreements with this administration on specific issues, policies. But overall I thought she did very well, and she answered my questions.

We went back for two rounds, three rounds. And I thought there was a very, very wide deep and range of issues that I thought she masterfully handled.

GWEN IFILL: What was her most significant outstanding question that you wanted to pose to her today?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I think obviously Iraq is the most significant question for all of us. That also connects to terrorism, it connects to America’s standing in the world, how we’re seen in the Muslim world, the Arab world.

I think it also connects to the Israeli Palestinian issue, many questions there. I asked those questions, as did many of my colleagues.

But all of these issues are woven into the same fabric, Gwen, and I don’t think you can take any one of those alone. They all have to be brought together, and most of the questions were about those general areas.

GWEN IFILL: I gather we’re now joined by Sen. Russ Feingold who just came over from the committee room. Thank you. Welcome, Senator. Thank you for joining us.


GWEN IFILL: I’ll ask you what I just asked Senator Hagel, which is based on what you’ve heard so far in today’s eight hours of hearings, are you prepared to support Condoleezza Rice for our secretary of state?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I’ve been leaning towards supporting Dr. Rice all along. But I am troubled by what we heard this afternoon.

When Senator Dodd gave Dr. Rice the opportunity to condemn torture, in rather specific terms, she essentially begged off.

She was specifically asked about what would happen if this happened to American soldiers, and I was very troubled by her inability to specifically condemn specific types of torture that we as Americans should show the whole world we condemn.

I was very pleased with her statements about public diplomacy, the fact that we need to very specifically reach out to the rest of the world, government officials and as individuals, teachers, farmers, carpenters, you name it, we need to get out there and actually connect with the rest of the world and also listen to the rest of the world.

So there were high points and low points, and I will continue to evaluate the nominee.

GWEN IFILL: Do you feel that Condoleezza Rice successfully or adequately for you answered questions about the justification that the United States presented for going to war in Iraq?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: No, I am not even remotely satisfied with Dr. Rice’s answers with regard to the reasons for going to the war in Iraq, nor am I satisfied with the president’s answers.

I’m sitting here with a Republican, who had the integrity at hearings from the very beginning to ask the right questions, to ask about situations that may not be certain to have happened in Iraq, but which could have happened and they did happen: Looting, problems with people not greeting us.

And you know what, we never got a good answer then. Senator Hagel tried; Senator Lugar tried; it was a bipartisan effort. There never was a good plan for this situation, and there never was a clear understanding of what the real justification was.

So I remain very dissatisfied with the Bush administration’s way in which they took us into Iraq and I think it has actually hurt us in the fight against terrorism. I think it has detracted from the overall war against terrorism.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask Senator Hagel whether he, after having raised those questions, as you pointed out early on, was satisfied today by the answers that you got from Condoleezza Rice.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I have disagreed with this administration on a number of specific issues starting with how we went into Iraq, the conduct of our post-Saddam activity and action and policy in Iraq.

I’ve been consistent on that point. But I have, first understood and I think we all do, and we need to push this issue, up to a point, that there is accountability.

And this administration should be held accountable for its actions. But at the same time we are where we are in Iraq, we’re not going back, and unwind some very bad decisions I believe were made.

It is too dangerous to lose. We need to now move forward, work with our allies and our friends and strengthen those alliances and look to the Iraqi people for the future.

And, yes, there’s a balance between accountability of what they did in the past, and I’m not happy with some of it either and I disagreed with it and I still do, but nonetheless, this is about the future.

This is about how do we move forward over the next four years.

GWEN IFILL: Well, Senator Hagel, let me pick up on that point; let’s talk about the future, but also to something you alluded to early on, which is the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ role in that.

As you know, Dr. Rice was put in charge of that at some point during her tenure at the National Security Council. Were you satisfied in talking to her about that issue today that the United States is prepared to take the role you would like to see it take?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I was to a point. Words and testimony are one thing, but actions are quite another.

She assured the committee today that she, the secretary of state, would be deeply engaged in moving forward with the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, working as a leader with the quartet effort there.

I asked specifically about a special envoy, had she decided on that yet, had she thought it about it; had she talked to the president, she said she was open to that.

But she said enough to give me some confidence that you will see in the next year or two or however long it takes a newly engaged administration. Now that was her assurance to the committee. Now whether that happens or not we’ll wait and see.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Feingold, what do you make of that? Do you think there’s a possibility that there is going to be a newly engaged administration on this matter?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: I was more pleased with that aspect of Dr. Rice’s testimony. I do believe she sincerely wants to be a leader on this issue. She understands that we were not sufficiently engaged, in part understandably because of Yasser Arafat.

She understands the historic opportunity here. She understands the great disappointments we’ve suffered after having seen the historic agreement on the south lawn about ten years ago; I think so many of us thought this was finally resolved.

So I think she does want this to be a hallmark as her time of secretary of state, and I will do everything I can to assist her in that regard; it would be an enormous contribution to the world.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Feingold, I want to continue with you for a moment, because one of the more interesting conversations that went back and forth today was about the United States’ role toward allies like Russia when they do things we disapprove of, like disposal of fissionable materials and how it behaves toward non-allies like Venezuela.

Did you feel that those two things sorted themselves out and that, or are they in mortal conflict?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, I think Dr. Rice said many of the right things with regard to Russia, and the fact that it is moving in the wrong direction and this is not what we signed up for in terms of having a good relationship with Russia.

She certainly indicated that we need to be firm and tough with regard to the very tragic departure from democracy that is going on in human rights that is going on in Russia.

I was less happy with what she had to say about Venezuela. There was a bipartisan effort on the committee not to embrace Hugo Chavez but to take an opportunity to say “look maybe there’s a chance here to have a real relationship.”

But she was absolutely rigid about it; she was absolutely unbending in willing to consider the possibility that we’d do better by somehow trying to engage with Venezuela through the people in that country, in particular, Hugo Chavez.

So I was disappointed in that answer and I thought it was one of the weaker moments.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Hagel, same question to you.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: I think we have not paid near as much attention to the western hemisphere as we are going to have to pay. For a moment just think, what is our most important group of allies?

I would say it would probably be Canada and Mexico. Why is that? Because we share two long borders on the North and South.

Half of the immigration flow into this country is of Hispanic descent. And the western hemisphere is our hemisphere.

And we have let, I think, a lot of that western hemisphere policy drift, drift into a dangerous position, and the next dynamic of that, and it hit the news this weekend, is the possibility of international terrorists using western hemisphere vehicles, essentially humans, moving through our border on the south into the United States.

Now, we must have immigration reform, and the president has talked about that.

So that dialogue, that give and take today on that specific area, western hemisphere, was very important, and I think that’s an area that Dr. Rice knows that we’re going to have to pay attention to.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Hagel, I’ll ask you to be brief on this final question and also you, Senator Feingold. When Condoleezza Rice says that the time for diplomacy is now, how did you interpret that; what do you think that means?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL: Well, I’m not sure exactly, but I was glad to hear it, because I think we have given up way too much in the field of public diplomacy and we’re paying a high price for it.

GWEN IFILL: Senator Feingold, same question. How did you take that?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, as I indicated at the outset I was very pleased about her statements on public diplomacy; the problem though is that that’s all about an effective fight against terrorism.

And when we get bogged down in Iraq and let essentially the tail wag the dog with regard to Iraq and the fight against terrorism, it is a regrettable situation and Dr. Rice has been a part of that policy.

That has to change. We have to have a clear focus on those who attacked us on 9/11 and I think the Bush administration has failed in that regard.

GWEN IFILL: Sen. Russ Feingold and Sen. Chuck Hagel, thank you very much for joining us.