GWEN IFILL: And we are joined now by senators who plan to vote for and against Condoleezza Rice's nomination: Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California; and Sen. Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona. Welcome to you both.
Sen. Boxer, in listening to this debate today, I wonder whether today's debate was really about confirming Condoleezza Rice for secretary of state or re-fighting the war.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, certainly it's about this particular nomination because here you have a very important key nomination, secretary of state, you know, our face to the world, someone who is definitely intelligent and qualified and all of those good things, but someone who was intimately involved with the events leading up to the war in Iraq that has taken the lives of almost 1,400 of our soldiers, over 10,000 wounded a third of whom will come back in need of mental counseling. So this is a very serious debate.
And Condi Rice, Dr. Rice, with all of her attributes brings to the table a very spotty record -- comments that she made on your show and on other shows that weren't true at the time. I gave her a chance to explain them. She never really did and therefore I think it's a very important vote about this particular nominee at this particular time.
GWEN IFILL: Sen. Kyl as a supporter of Condoleezza Rice's nomination, do you believe this kind of debate is useful or is not useful at this time?
SEN. JON KYL: It depends on how the debate is conducted. A rehashing of the Iraq War can be useful to at least to historians, although that was done during the campaign and the American people rendered their verdict, re-electing George Bush, who I think is entitled to select the person that he wants as secretary of state if she's otherwise qualified and certainly Dr. Rice is.
But the debate is not helpful if it mischaracterizes. And I want to make reference to something that Sen. Kennedy was just quoted as saying in the lead-up to our interview here: And that is that the administration and Dr. Rice specifically exaggerated or misrepresented the intelligence.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence rendered a report about six months ago in which it specifically said -- and this was a bipartisan and unanimous report, so Democrats and Republicans both agreed that there was no effort by anyone in the administration to mislead or exaggerate on the matter of intelligence.
It turned out that the CIA was wrong, but that doesn't make the administration spokesman or us or anyone else who repeated that wrong information a liar.
GWEN IFILL: Excuse me. So are you suggesting, Sen. Kyl, that the Democrats -- their theme today has been that Condoleezza Rice should be held responsible -- that there should be some accountability -- you're saying because of that misleading information there should be no accountability applied to people who are seeking higher office?
SEN. JON KYL: The accountability should be in the people who rendered the bad advice, who had it wrong. And that's the Central Intelligence Agency and George Tenet specifically. Remember in Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack," allegedly the president himself said to George Tenet, are you sure this information on WMD is correct?
And Tenet is supposed to have said "it's a slam dunk, Mr. President." So is it any wonder that the president or Secretary Powell or any of the rest of us wouldn't have repeated that information?
GWEN IFILL: What about that, Sen. Boxer? A lot of people including a lot of Democrats voted to support the president's action in Iraq based on this information. Is Condoleezza Rice the only person who should be held accountable on this?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Oh, I think there will be lots of people held accountable when history is written. But we're not here to talk about that. The fact of the matter is Dr. Rice made certain statements all over television. She looked in the camera.
She told the American people that those aluminum tubes that Saddam was buying could only be used for nuclear weapons when she knew at the time -- because we have the facts -- that there was a dispute among the agencies there. She said that no one-- this is a direct response to you in one of your shows-- she said, you know, we never said that Saddam could have a nuclear weapon within a year.
Well, nine months before she made that statement on your show, the president had said just that. And then a year after your show she went back to repeating that he could have had a weapon in a year. She made the links to al-Qaida when the State Department had a very important brochure that everyone knew about a month after 9/11 that said there wasn't a trace of al-Qaida in Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq.
So I gave her this chance to explain why she kept on saying these things over and over. And, to be honest with you, she did not respond. She did not clear up the record at all. And she got even deeper in some issues regarding torture and other things.
GWEN IFILL: As you know, Sen. Boxer, some Republicans have accused you and other Democrats of basically using this as a way to... the term that Sen. Allen used was "petty obstructionism" -- that is this nine-hour debate today.
And I want to ask you about one thing which appeared this afternoon in Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, which reports that you have written a letter to the Democratic senatorial campaign committee, a fundraising pitch, in which you cite your opposition to Dr. Rice for this job. To what extent can people seeing this kind of link between fundraising pitch and opposition say it's all politics?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, first of all, I want to talk about the petty politics. The fact is if you read the Constitution, the Senate has an advice-and-consent role. When you opened up your very wonderful piece, I thought, you had on the screen "advice and consent." We have an obligation to look at all these nominees and we're going to do it.
Now, many of them are going to go with flying colors, not even a recorded vote. We'll have a few that will pass that way tomorrow it's my understanding. But a couple you have to say have to be held accountable for their own words and responsible.
In terms of telling the grassroots that we need more Democrats in the United States Senate to hold people accountable that's something the Republicans do every day of the week and I think it's just off the point. It's a way of diverting attention from the fact that Dr. Rice had a whole two days' worth of hearings to straighten the record out. And she refused to do it.
Even other colleagues took her on, on some of her comments. For example, when Sen. Biden said, how many Iraqi troops are ready to take over security, she said without blinking an eye 120,000. Well no one is saying that. None of the military people are saying that.
And Joe Biden, who really is a very kind man, said to her, look, we're here now. I hear it's 4,000 of these troops. This is very important because how are we going to get our troops out if they're not trained? She stuck to the 120,000. She won't admit anything she said in the past was incorrect or wrong.
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask Sen. Kyl about that because it does seem there have been some things that have come out of the questioning in these hearings about mistakes that she has conceded may have been made. Do you think that's useful?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, sure it's useful to try to uncover mistakes as long as you don't try to beat a dead horse. On this matter of troop level I think it's all a matter of definition. There are about four thousand Special Forces -- maybe between four and six thousand Special Forces. There are about 120,000 if you count all the regular army kind of forces. And maybe the number is somewhere in between. But that is the administration number.
But on two specific matters with all due respect to my colleague Sen. Boxer, she's dead wrong on the facts. On the matter of the aluminum tubes everybody talks about it was the majority view in the intelligence community that those were going to be used for centrifuges. Now, that may not be correct at the end of the day but I served on the Intelligence Committee at the time. And I can quote to you from the national intelligence estimate in which that's the point that's made.
And on the matter of al-Qaida connections in Baghdad, the intelligence is replete with references to al-Qaida people including al-Zarqawi, for example, and Abu Abbas, Lyon Klinghoffer's killer, of al-Qaida people being in Baghdad and making deals with the Iraqi government at the time. So these are not mistakes or errors that Condoleezza Rice has made.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I need to really respond to that because the fact is that I spent, you know, literally weeks going through every statement she made. And on the aluminum tubes, I also got those briefings as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
And there were arguments right in front of the committee between several of the agencies, and the lead agency on nuclear weapons, Department of Energy, had told Dr. Rice in a written memo-- and this came out of the 9/11 Commission hearings-- that those tubes could never be used for nuclear weapons.
As a matter of fact, in an in-depth investigative report in the New York Times which no one has ever refuted, one of those Department of Energy experts said you know let them buy those tubes because they're a waste of money. They can't be used for nuclear weapons.
GWEN IFILL: If you....
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: And the other points my colleague made, with all due respect, the CIA has put out a document as recently as last week saying they don't even think there was any contact between Saddam and Zarqawi.
GWEN IFILL: If you will allow me, Sen. Boxer, I know it's tempting to re-fight a lot of the arguments you're not going to agree on but I want to ask you both to look forward a little bit -- Sen. Kyl first.
We heard both Condoleezza Rice and President Bush speak about the, in grand terms in the last week in the inauguration speech and in her confirmation hearings, about the transformational power of democracy, about the ability, she said or the responsibility of the United States to wipe out tyranny everywhere you see it.
President Bush used the same language. What do you think that tells us about what to expect in foreign policy from this president and the secretary of state who even Sen. Boxer admits will be confirmed probably tomorrow?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, I would hope this would be something we could agree on because Natan Sharansky in his book reflecting on his experiences in Russia as a refuse-nik made the point, and the president has certainly incorporated it in his inaugural address, that freedom is something all people yearn for and that even in societies that repress people for decades, there is an opportunity for freedom if they are given hope and a chance.
And what the president was trying to do in his inaugural speech was to say the American people believe in you, they believe in the power of freedom, and we will back you; we will support your efforts. And he made the point this is not always by arms, in fact not usually by arms. It's the power of the idea that counts.
GWEN IFILL: And before I turn the same question to Sen. Boxer I just want to ask you at what cost. Today we hear the president is going to ask for $80 billion more coming up to maybe $300 billion for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. At what cost are these goals achieved?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, of course the goal in Afghanistan and Iraq was not simply to create an opportunity for democracy though that has been one of the great benefits and results of it. The case in Afghanistan -- one of the most effective operations in the history of warfare -- we defeated the Taliban and kicked those people out of the country.
And they've now had their elections. They have a chance at democracy. And the same thing is going to take place Sunday in Iraq. So that is a great benefit, if you will, to our effort to eliminate the terrorists from those two countries. And, yes, the cost is high. Freedom isn't free.
GWEN IFILL: Sen. Boxer, let me ask you about that. The sweeping language, the great goals plus the costs; what do you think?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Well, let me talk about that a minute. But I have to pick up on something my colleague said which is that we wiped the terrorists out of I think he said Iraq and Afghanistan. The terrorists are now in Iraq. It's a hotbed of terrorism very sadly.
And my view has always been if we had focused-- and I voted to give the president the authority to go to war against al-Qaida and bin Laden -- if we hadn't turned away, we wouldn't have that situation in Iraq. And we could have worked with the world to get rid of Saddam another way.
But that's, you know, the past. Let's look ahead. I think the president to his credit, you know, delivered a tough, strong speech about freedom. And I was trying to figure out exactly what the implications were on policy. And there was confusion. The first President Bush had to come out and say don't worry; we're not suggesting a new type of foreign policy, but the fact is America has always been a beacon of hope and freedom.
And one of the reasons - and one of the ways we did it is by being a model here at home. And I guess what I was disappointed in when I listened to the president, I really didn't hear much about a domestic agenda. How are we going to make sure that all of our children grow up to be educated, educated about freedom, knowing history, how are we going to make sure that they have jobs and that this economy works and balance the budget and all those things?
So I guess my feeling is of course we want to be a beacon of freedom but we ought to do it by being the very, very best that we can be here at home.
GWEN IFILL: Sen. Boxer how many Democratic votes or Republican votes, for that matter, do you think you'll have against Sen. Rice's confirmation tomorrow?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Republican votes? I don't think --
GWEN IFILL: Democratic?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: I don't know; I haven't counted. But I can predict this. It will be more than double than what we got in the committee.
GWEN IFILL: Sen. Kyl.
SEN. JON KYL: She will be overwhelmingly confirmed obviously. And, by the way, if you're interested in the president's domestic agenda, stay tuned for the State of the Union speech next week.
GWEN IFILL: We'll be doing that. Thank you both, Sen. Kyl, Sen. Boxer.
SEN. BARBARA BOXER: Thanks.