Attached is a full transcript of Al Hunt's interview with Senator John Sununu (R-NH) airing this evening on Bloomberg Television.
Political Capital with Al Hunt airs on Bloomberg Televsion on Friday at 11:00pm and is rebroadcast on Saturday at 12:00am, 2:00am, 4:00am, 6:30am (on E! Network), 9:30am, 10:30am, 12:30pm, 7:30pm, and 10:30pm Eastern time and on Sunday at 1:30am, 4:30am, 7:30am, and 10:30am Eastern time.
By Nicholas Johnston
July 20 (Bloomberg) -- New Hampshire Senator John Sununu said he won't campaign with George W. Bush next year ``in this climate'' because of the president's low job-approval ratings. Sununu, a Republican facing a tough re-election, said ``the president's popularity, unfortunately, is at a fairly low level.'' He spoke in an interview with Bloomberg Television's ``Political Capital with Al Hunt,'' scheduled to air today. Bush campaigned for Sununu in New Hampshire twice during the 2002 election, when Sununu beat Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor, by about 20,000 votes. Shaheen, who hasn't declared her candidacy, led Sununu 56 percent to 34 percent in a Concord Monitor poll of likely voters conducted this month. Bush campaigned for Sununu twice in 2002, including one visit three days before the election. First Lady Laura Bush visited the state two days before the Nov. 5, 2002, contest. Sununu said his support for Bush's Iraq policies won't hurt his re-election bid. Opposition to the war helped unseat both of New Hampshire's Republican members of Congress in last year's election. ``We certainly went through a very difficult election in 2006, but the electorate hasn't changed dramatically in New Hampshire since 2004,'' Sununu said. ``No one is happy with the progress we're making in Iraq.''
`Not Sound Policy'
Sununu, 42, opposed a Senate proposal this week that would have required most U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq by April 30, 2008. He said it was ``not sound policy'' to announce to U.S. enemies when troops would begin pulling back.
He said he would consider giving U.S. commanders more time to quell violence in the country if they ask for it when General David Petraeus, the top U.S. officer in Iraq, presents a report to Congress in September.
``It depends why,'' Sununu said. Whether they request ``more time, more troops, fewer troops, a quicker withdrawal, a slower withdrawal, whatever it is, why are they making those recommendations? That's what Congress needs to react to.'' Sununu suggested he doesn't support a proposal by Republican Senators John Warner of Virginia and Richard Lugar of Indiana that would require Bush to submit a new plan for the war by Oct. 16.
``I don't think it makes sense to tell General Petraeus or the administration exactly what kind of a report they have to prepare and when,'' he said.
Instead, Sununu has joined a group of senators backing a measure that would make the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, such as increasing diplomacy with Iraq's neighbors, official U.S. policy.
``As far as proposals go, that's the most complete, the most comprehensive,'' he said. ``It builds on some good bipartisan work that was already done, and I think it presses the administration to do a little bit more aggressive job on diplomacy and a few other areas.''
Sununu said the U.S. has had ``real success'' in fighting al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and that many members of the group have been killed in Iraq. The U.S. should focus more on reducing the threat from the terrorist group in Pakistan, he said.
``The northwest territories in Pakistan are rugged and that's where the al-Qaeda remnants have been pressed to,'' Sununu said. ``We've got to work with the Pakistani government now to address that situation.''
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: After an all-night debate, Senate Democrats could not muster votes for a mandatory troop withdrawal from Iraq. Only four Republicans voted with the Democrats. Our guest this week, Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire, was not one of them.
Senator, thank you for joining us. Why not?
SENATOR JOHN SUNUNU (R-NH): Well, the proposal they have basically announces to everyone, to our enemies, to militias, to insurgent groups in Iraq, what day we’re going to begin withdrawing troops and what day we’re going to end. And that’s just not sound policy. As much as I want to shift responsibility to Iraqis, as much as I believe that no service member should serve a day longer than necessary in Iraq, and as much as I believe that the goal of withdrawing troops in 2008 is very real, you shouldn’t announce the date that you’re going to withdraw, and I think their timetable was very compressed, and that does risk unrest and chaos in Iraq.
MR. HUNT: Earlier this week, General Odierno, the second-ranking general over there said that September will not be the really big report. That will be an interim report. We really need to wait until November to find out whether the surge is working, whether we need to keep those troops there. Are you willing to wait until November before you consider other positions?
SEN. SUNUNU: Well, what I feel about the timing of the reporting doesn’t matter, because there will be an assessment in September, and it will be an important assessment.
If they were to say, we’d like to wait one more month or another six weeks and give a more complete evaluation, Congress will react to that. But everyone knows there is going to be an assessment in September, and I think there is going to be a lot of weight placed on it.
MR. HUNT: What I’m trying to get at is, is the view you hold today that we don’t want to set any mandatory timetable for withdrawal, is that a view that you’re going to hold as long as they say we’re doing fine over there or is there a point at which you have to withdrawing as far as Senator Sununu is concerned.
SEN. SUNUNU: If you really believe, as I do, that you’ve got to set the partisan posturing aside in this case, look hard at the situation, and take action that you really think is in the best interest of the United States national security policy, then you have to react to exactly what you’re hearing, the best information from the ground.
And that means not saying here is what I’m going to vote on in November or December or January; it means saying that assessment in September, when it is provided, is going to be meaningful and important, and I think we should base our policy decisions around what General Petraeus says and Ryan Crocker, the ambassador, says at the time.
MR. HUNT: And if they ask for more time, you would be inclined to give them more time.
SEN. SUNUNU: It depends why; what’s their rationale; what’s their argument; what has happened on the ground that supports that recommendation that they might be making, whether it’s one that asks for more time, more troops, fewer troops, a quicker withdrawal, a slower withdrawal, whatever it is, why are they making those recommendations? That’s what Congress needs to react to.
MR. HUNT: The national intelligence estimates came out this week that suggested al Qaeda may be as strong as ever. If four years ago, the United States had focused more in Afghanistan and Pakistan and not invaded Iraq, do you think we would have had more success against al Qaeda?
SEN. SUNUNU: Not a great deal more, no. The evening that you mentioned that we were going late into the night, I went over to the Intelligence Committee and read the full classified NIE. The unclassified summary, I think, is reasonably accurate. The point it makes is that we’ve had some real success against al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The counter-offensive in Iraq is putting great pressure on them, and we’ve killed and captured a lot of the members of al Qaeda in Iraq. But the northwest territories in Pakistan are rugged and that’s where the al Qaeda remnants have been pressed to. And we’ve got to work with the Pakistani government now to address that situation.
MR. HUNT: Are we safer today than we were four years ago or when you were first elected to the Senate?
SEN. SUNUNU: That’s the toughest question of all to answer. How safe are we? We haven’t had an attack in over five years. I think that’s very positive. I think our intelligence community does a better job of sharing information between of foreign intelligence gathering like the CIA and the FBI. Local law enforcement is more attentive, more reactive. I think Homeland Security, while they’ve done a lot of things right, it’s taken a lot of time to integrate all those different agencies and programs, to put together.
MR. HUNT: So bottom line; it’s a mixed picture.
SEN. SUNUNU: Yeah, of course it’s a mixed picture and you always want to do better. The fact is that we’ve been living with this threat for a long time, and I think we are better prepared now to deal with it.
MR. HUNT: Turning to politics for a moment, in 2002, you welcomed President Bush and his wife to New Hampshire three times. He campaigned for you four days before the election. Some think it made a difference. If he offers, would you have him come and campaign for you next year?
SEN. SUNUNU: It all depends on time and place and whether I think he can be effective campaigning for me.
MR. HUNT: Right now, could he be effective campaigning for you?
SEN. SUNUNU: No, I think the president’s popularity, unfortunately, is at a fairly low level. Certainly, it’s not very high in New Hampshire. And in general, campaigns, especially in New Hampshire – town-to-town and it’s person-to-person. You have to let people know who you are, what your priorities are, and what kind of voice you provide to your state.
MR. HUNT: So you’d be better off campaigning on your own rather than with the president?
SEN. SUNUNU: With the president? I think so at the moment.
MR. HUNT: I mean, you’d be better campaigning on your own.
SEN. SUNUNU: In this climate, I think so.
MR. HUNT: There was a poll that showed you 20 points behind your opponents of last time, Jeanne Sheehan. Does that reflect New Hampshire becoming a more Democratic state?
SEN. SUNUNU: No, I don’t think so at all. Look, just go back to 2004. New Hampshire had a Republican governor, all Republican Congressional delegation – U.S. senators and House – Republican control in the statehouse as well. We certainly went through a very difficult election in 2006, but the electorate hasn’t changed dramatically in New Hampshire since 2004. I think people just want us to focus on a fiscal responsibility, and Republicans in Washington moved away from that. There were a lot of scandals in Washington. That really turned people off the national scene. And no one is happy with the progress we’re making in Iraq.
MR. HUNT: Will your war votes hurt you in reelection next year?
SEN. SUNUNU: I don’t think so. If it was only about the war, even in 2006, then Linc[oln] Chafee would have won in Rhode Island. Linc was an outspoken opponent of the war from the very first day. And he lost by a significant margin in Rhode Island. So voters are, I think, looking at a whole set of issues. And they want to look at the personality and the approach, the decision making of the candidate. They know, even as important an issue as Iraq is, they’re not going to agree with me or any other elected official on every issue.
MR. HUNT: Final question – there is a pervasive scare about unsafe goods coming in from China. Other than more funding for the FDA, is there anything specifically the Congress should do about this?
SEN. SUNUNU: There are probably some modifications to the law that we can accomplish; there is probably some additional funding we can provide. As you mentioned FDA, Consumer Product Safety, NOAA, which has responsibility for the fisheries – and there’s been some problems with tank and seafood as well. I think we can do a slightly better job all around.
MR. HUNT: John Sununu, thank you very much for joining us today. When we come back, we’ll have more on those Chinese products with a report from Beijing, and Ben Bernanke faces Congress, after the break.