Interview with CNN's Judy Woodruff on "Inside Politics"
June 3, 2005
WOODRUFF: Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean has been leading his party for a little more than a hundred days now and so far he's spent a lot of time meeting with the Democratic rank and file. Howard Dean is here in Washington today. He joins me to talk about his plans for the party and more.
Good to see you. Thank you very much for being with us.
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Thanks for having me on, Judy.
WOODRUFF: I appreciate it.
Governor, you -- many Democrats are saying that this filibuster judicial deal is a victory. You have said that these judges, who are apparently going to be confirmed, aren't qualified to be on the bench. Which is it?
DEAN: Well, I think both. I think there are three judges going on that ought not to go on. However, it's a victory in this sense. First of all, it's a real blow against the right wing. Seven Republican Senators had the courage to stand up and do what was right and loosen the death grip that the right wing has on the Republican Party. And I think that's really important. And that is a victory. It's a victory for the country.
We don't know if this is a victory in the long run or not. I mean, there was ambiguous language about the filibuster and so forth and so on. I think the key to finding out how big a victory this is, is when a nominee for the Supreme Court comes up, will that person be an extreme person as some of these folks are? Will the president, for the first time, consult with Democrats, as Bill Clinton used to do, before he sends up a nomination. If he does that, then we really will have loosened the death grip of the right wing on the Republican Party and that will be good for the country.
WOODRUFF: But if these nominees are, as you said, not qualified to serve on the bench, what happened to principle here? There are other Democrats who agree with you about that.
DEAN: Well, you know, in politics, the principles collide. That's what politics is about. Is what do you do when have you two really important principle? The first principle is to preserve the right of the 48 percent of us who didn't vote for George Bush to have something to say about how the country runs. That's been a principle that's gone back to Jefferson, is that the minority still has some say even though we didn't win the election. That was an incredibly important principle to preserve.
The second principle is, you don't have unqualified people on the bench. Well, we're still going to have a vote about that but we did preserve the right of the minority, which is a critical part of American democracy, and I think that's...
WOODRUFF: The Congressional Black Caucus has just put out a statement saying it strongly opposes this compromise. Says it was more of a capitulation. Are they wrong?
DEAN: Well, we don't know that for sure. We do know that, as I said before, the death grip of the...
WOODRUFF: Well, they say they know it was a mistake.
DEAN: Well, we can't know that until we see what happens when the president sends up a Supreme Court nominee. Will this person be...
WOODRUFF: So you're saying these appeals court judges don't matter?
DEAN: They matter some. This is a compromise. Obviously I'd be happier if we didn't have these three people going on the bench because I don't think they belong there. But the right of the 48 percent of us that didn't vote for George Bush is preserved. We still get something to say about the country. That's important for America.
So I don't think I agree with the congressional black caucus. I don't think this is a capitulation. But they may end up being right. Two months from now or two years from now or two weeks from now when the president sends up his first Supreme Court nominee, if that person is an extreme judicial activist, which is the kind of judge these people are, then we need the right to stand up and say no.
WOODRUFF: Let me turn to something that a lot of people have been talking about, Howard Dean and your rhetoric. Some of the language you've used from time to time as chairman of the party, even earlier. At one point you said you hate Republicans. People asked me why did he use that word? Why did you use the word hate?
DEAN: What I -- I hate what the Republicans are doing to this country. I clearly don't hate individual...
WOODRUFF: But you said, I hate Republicans.
DEAN: Well, that's, you know, that was, you know, as you know, the print media sometimes pick things out of context. That was actually in the context of saying, but I admire some of the things the Republicans do in order to win elections in terms of their organization. Look, I hate what the Republican Party is doing to America. They have -- they have abusive power.
They have an elected leader in the Congress who has been reprimanded by the ethics committee, three times under investigation. They have a president who suppressed a report showing that mercury was highly toxic to allow his agenda to go through. They lied to the Congress about how much the Medicare drug program was going to cost. These are not -- this is -- when you have one party in charge of everything, that's a huge problem. The Republicans have abused their power. I don't like what they're doing to America.
WOODRUFF: I hear you. But when you use words like that that get picked up as the press will, doesn't that distract from what else you're trying to say?
DEAN: I can't worry about what the press does. The press has done what they do since I've been running for office. My job is not to worry about the press. My job is to worry about the American people and the Democratic Party.
WOODRUFF: But you are concerned about the impression you leave.
Let me ask you about...
DEAN: Well, I'm concerned about it but I've learned during my presidential campaign there's not much you can do about it. The press will write what the press will write, whatever it's accurate, whether it's out of context. Whatever it is, there's not much I can do about it. I don't worry about it. I say what I think.
WOODRUFF: So you don't acknowledge that sometimes your rhetoric was -- your words were ill chosen.
DEAN: You know what, Harry Truman in 1948 was told by one of his supporters, "give them hell, Harry." And what he said was, "I don't give them hell, I just tell the truth and the Republicans think it's hell."
WOODRUFF: Your counterpart in the Republican Party, Ken Melman (ph), has made a point of reaching into the Democratic Party base. He's courting Hispanics. He's courting African-Americans. We're now starting to hear from Democrats who say, this is what Howard Dean should be doing. He should be looking to the center, even looking into the Republican Party, rather than focusing so much on the liberal base of the Democratic Party. Should you be doing more of that?
DEAN: We are doing that. What you just told me was the product of one reporter who has, as often is the case, got the story wrong. The truth is, I've been in 18 state, eight of them have been so called red state, Republicans. We have targeted already 10 states, nine of which are states which voted for Republicans. We're putting a ton of money into organizing states that voted Republican the last time.
We're going to organize every state in the country and we are starting with red states. I hardly think that that is catering to my base. It's part of my job to cater to the base. We need to strengthen our community. We need to do African-American outreach just as much as we need to do outreach any place else because we owe it to our most loyal voters to be in their communities at all times. But we are -- most of my trips are investments have been made proselytizing, reaching out to voters who did not vote for us the last time. We want them to vote for us this time.
WOODRUFF: You're not worried about Ken Melman and other Republicans reaching into the Democratic base?
DEAN: They have nothing to say to Democrats. Look, Ken Melman is going to some African-American churches. About time. I think that's terrific. His party is trying to cut Social Security. They're cutting back on health care. They're sending our jobs to China. That's not only not good for the African-American community, it's not good for working Americans. I'm not worried about Ken Melman getting a whole lot of African-American support.
The thing I can do to prevent that is to be in the African- American community now, not wait until four weeks before the next election to ask for their vote. If we show up, we will get the vote but we've got to show up, we've got to make our case, we've got to treat people as if they're swing voters, we've got to ask for their vote and that's what we haven't done a very good job in the past.
WOODRUFF: Two other quick things.
Some Democrats I hear them saying, Howard Dean needs to spend more time talking about what the Democratic Party will do in a positive sense rather than criticizing Republicans.
DEAN: I've done that very thing. You've (INAUDIBLE) in the print press only to print the hot stuff. They don't print the agenda. Television, fortunately, is the media where you do actually get your say. The agenda is very clear. We want a strong national defense with honesty when we talk to our parents and support for our troops when they come home and become veterans, not just when they get sent off. We want an economy where we keep jobs at home, where we balance the budget. We want individual freedom and personal responsibility. The president talks about freedom in Iraq. What about the freedom of leaving the politicians out of personal family decisions like who's to die and who's to live. The government doesn't belong in a decision like that. That's a private, personal decision.
WOODRUFF: A very quick question. Pennsylvania Senate race, the leading Democrat challenging the incumbent Republican Rick Santorum is Bob Casey. He's strongly anti-abortion. Your party has traditionally been the party of abortion rights. Is it still?
DEAN: Look, we are the party that believes a woman has a right to make up her own mind about her health care, not politicians. However, I welcome pro-life Democrats to our party because the difference between pro-life Democrats and pro-life Republicans is, pro-life Democrats actually care about kids after they're born. They'll support all those childhood programs which make it easier for a family to raise moral children in a moral society. I think Bob Casey's a fantastic candidate and I'm very much hoping he's going to become a United States senator.
WOODRUFF: Howard Dean, 100 days and counting.
DEAN: That's right.
WOODRUFF: As the chair of the Democratic National Committee.
DEAN: Thanks, Judy.
WOODRUFF: It's very good to see you, Governor. Thank you very much.
DEAN: And good luck.
WOODRUFF: Appreciate it.
DEAN: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: Thank you.