Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) was one of eight congressmembers to vote against the House war-spending bill last week that set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. We go to Capitol Hill to speak with Kucinich about the bill, why he thinks impeachment "should be on the table," the corporate media’s coverage of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and more. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: On Capitol Hill, the Democratic-led Senate has moved closer to passing a war-spending bill that will give President Bush $100 billion more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and also require U.S. combat troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq. On Tuesday, Republican lawmakers attempted to pass an amendment removing the troop withdrawal plan from the bill. But the amendment was defeated by a 50-to-48 vote after Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska voted with the Democrats on the measure. President Bush has vowed to veto the legislation if it includes a timetable for withdrawal.
Meanwhile, antiwar activists continue to pressure lawmakers to reject the bill, as well, because it allows for the war to continue for another year. In Burlington, Vermont, police arrested eight protesters yesterday after they refused to leave the offices of Senator Bernie Sanders, who has been a longtime opponent of the war but supports the spending bill. Sanders said it would be counterproductive to vote against the spending bill. He said, quote, "That would mean voting with the Bush administration and congressional Republicans and handing a victory to those who want to continue and perhaps expand the war into neighboring countries."
Last week, eight antiwar Democrats voted against the supplemental spending bill when it came before the House. One of those lawmakers, Congressmember Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, joins us from Capitol Hill. Congressmember Kucinich is also running for the Democratic presidential nomination.
We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Congressman Kucinich.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. First of all, as you stand overlooking the Capitol, talk about your vote against the war-funding bill.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, we were given false choices. We were told that we either buy into President Bush’s plan, which would keep the war going indefinitely, or accept the Democratic version of the war in Iraq, which would keep the war going for another year or two. I say those choices weren’t sufficient. The Democrats could have refused to send a bill forward. We didn’t have to fund this war. We’re not under any obligation to keep the war going. And yet our leaders took another path.
Furthermore, Amy, you may be interested to know that the 2008 budget, which is before Congress today and which will be voted on tomorrow, contains another $145 billion for the war, and on top of that, they’re putting another $50 billion for the war in fiscal year 2009. So this talk about ending the war by March or by September belies the fact that the budget has money in it to keep the war going into 2009. And I think that’s wrong. I think the American people will reject that type of thinking. And I’m standing strong to say get out now. I put forth a plan embodied in H.R. 1234 to accomplish just that.
AMY GOODMAN: But what do you say to those who make the argument that if President Bush has on his desk a bill that gives money, gives a fortune in continuing the war, and he has to veto it, because he doesn’t like the timetable, that this puts him in a very difficult position?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Our decisions have to be way above politics. We have the lives of our troops at stake here. There’s no military victory in Iraq. We’re there illegally. The occupation is fueling the insurgency. Democrats can still—after President Bush vetoes the bill, which he will, Democrats can still take the right position, which is refuse to fund the war, use money in the pipeline to bring the troops home.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the pressure from the leadership, the Democratic Party, from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, all of the stories going around of congressmembers voting for the funding so that they could help out the spinach farmers, etc.?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: On matters of war and peace, I think people have to vote their conscience. I can say I wasn’t pressured.
AMY GOODMAN: But what about those that were? And what about the spending bill going way beyond funding war?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: It’s a legitimate concern. I mean, if you’re for peace, you vote for peace. If you’re for peace, you don’t vote for war because somebody’s giving you a plum in a bill that’s designed to keep a war going. I think the American people want new leadership which understands that if you’re for peace, you vote for peace, you don’t fund wars.
And so, I’m moving forward with a plan—it’s embodied in H.R. 1234—that would stop the funding and the occupation, close the bases, bring the troops home, and set in motion a parallel process that would stabilize Iraq with the help of the international community, which will only help, by the way, unless—you know, if the United States takes a new course and ends the occupation. So my plan envisions that America will take a new direction.
But what’s happening right now, Amy, is we’re looking in this budget, and people that—and Democrats that look at this budget today are going to be surprised to find out that our leaders are proposing keeping the war going into 2009.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me play a clip of you, of House Speaker—for you, of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushing for the passage of the supplemental spending bill. This was her comment after the bill passed.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: Proudly, this new Congress voted to bring an end to the war in Iraq. It took one great, giant step in that direction. We voted "no" to giving a blank check to an open-ended commitment, to war without end, to the president of the United States, and "yes" to begin the end of the war and the redeployment of our troops.
AMY GOODMAN: I then want to play for you a clip of President Bush, President Bush’s comment after the House passed the spending bill last week.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This bill has too much pork, too many conditions and an artificial timetable for withdrawal. As I’ve made clear for weeks, I will veto if it comes to my desk. And because the vote in the House was so close, it is clear that my veto would be sustained. Today’s action in the House does only one thing: It delays the delivery of vital resources for our troops.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Dennis Kucinich, your response?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, the Democrats’ position should have been, and can still be, that we refuse to fund the war, that we don’t give this president a dime to keep the war going, that we use money in the pipeline to bring the troops home and set in motion a parallel process that would secure Iraq. We’re under no obligation to keep this war going.
But I would say, Amy, that if you look at the budget, which is facing Congress tomorrow, it provides not only $145 billion for fiscal year '08 for the war, for all of it, but another $50 billion for fiscal year ’09. I wonder how that squares with Democratic leaders' position that they want to bring the troops home in March or in September of next year. There’s something that’s contradictory here. And so, I’m going to try to see if I can reconcile that today in Congress by talking to leadership and alerting my fellow members that money is in the budget to keep this war going past President Bush’s term.
President Bush has been very clear: He’s going to keep this war going through the end of his term. I say that America should get out now, that it’s not a choice between President Bush or keeping the war going another year, year and a half. We need to get out now, and we need to let the troops know we truly support them by bringing them home.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, what would getting out now look like? I mean, do you mean, for example, today, you begin the process, and when would the soldiers be home if—well, if you were president, Dennis Kucinich?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I crafted my plan with the help of people at the U.N., and I will tell you that they say that it would take about two months to three months to mobilize a sufficient force that would replace U.S. troops leaving. So I’d say two to three months we could have troops home and have an international force that would help stabilize Iraq. But the international community will not become involved as long as the United States intends to occupy Iraq and keep bases open. So we need to take a new direction.
My plan would be as follows: to put in place the provisions of H.R. 1234, which ends the occupation, closes the bases, sets in motion a plan to bring the troops home, bring in international peacekeepers, and stop the privatization of Iraq oil. One of the things in the bill that passed the House was a demand that the Iraq government pass a hydrocarbon act, which sets the stage for broad privatization of trillions of dollars of Iraqi oil interests.
Now think about it. If Democrats had told the American people last October that if you vote Democrat in November, we’ll not only give you enough money to keep the war going through the end of President Bush’s term, but we’ll also privatize the oil of Iraq and then help the U.S. oil companies win the prize that I think the war was about from the very beginning, I don’t think the people would have voted Democrat. So Democrats have to keep faith with the American people.
And my plan would do that, by returning full control of the Iraqi oil assets to the Iraqi people; put in motion a plan for reconciliation between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, which cannot happen as long as the United States occupies; provide for honest reconstruction. You know, none of these contractors from the U.S. can be there. They’ve stolen money from the Iraqi people and also from the U.S. taxpayers. And we have to give the Iraqi people jobs with Iraqi contractors doing the work. We have to provide for reparations, so that we can pay money to the Iraqi people who have lost their homes or lost the lives of loved ones. We have to stabilize energy and food prices. And when Iraq goes to the international community, make sure that Iraq doesn’t suffer from the structural readjustment provisions of the IMF or the World Bank.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response, Congressmember Kucinich, to Halliburton saying they’re moving to Dubai?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I think the honest thing would be to have a good attorney general call Halliburton in and start to question them about their conduct, and I think that they should not be immune from prosecution simply because they’re moving to Dubai.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, we have to break. I’d like you to stay with us, and I do want to ask you also about other issues involving the attorney general, as well as the president of the United States. Congressmember Kucinich, Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential hopeful. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with Congressmember Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, Democratic presidential hopeful. He is standing just outside the Capitol right now. You mentioned Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. What do you think should happen to him?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: It’s very clear that the Justice Department has become so politicized that it cannot function in the interests of the American people. The honorable thing would be for Mr. Gonzales to resign.
AMY GOODMAN: And if he doesn’t resign, should he be fired? Should the president fire him?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think he’s doing what the president has asked him to do. The question here is: What’s his sense of honor about his responsibility to the law and to the American people? That’s going to be his decision.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of the president, what do you think should happen to President Bush? Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said that impeachment is off the table. What are your thoughts?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I don’t think that it’s wise for the House and the Congress, a co-equal branch of government, to essentially give the president carte blanche with his decision making by saying, no matter what you do, impeachment is off the table. I think that impeachment has to be on the table, and I also think that it’s time to have a national conversation in cities and towns all over America about the appropriate conduct for a president and a vice president, about whether it’s right for a president and vice president to lie to the American people and take us into war, about the erosion of civil rights in America and how that’s come about as a result of this administration’s conduct of the war. I think that it’s time to have that kind of a discussion, and I’ve urged that from my website at kucinich.us, and I’m asking to hear from people about what they think. And I think that we need to make sure that this president understands that he can’t do whatever he wants, that he is bound by the Constitution, that he is bound by national and international law.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, you’ve mentioned the word "treason." What do you mean?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I don’t think I mentioned the word "treason."
AMY GOODMAN: Have you talked about President Bush and treason?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: No, I’ve never—I never mentioned the word "treason." I do think that "accountability" is a key word here. And I think the president and the vice president must be held accountable. That’s why I think it’s a mistake for anyone to say impeachment is off the table. At the same time, we have to take a responsibility as members of Congress to uphold the Constitution of the United States. That’s our obligation as a co-equal branch of government.
And so, I’m waiting to hear from the American people. I would ask people who are listening or watching to go to my website at kucinich.us. I’d like to hear from you. What do you think? Should the House move forward with a resolution of impeachment? And what do you think the dimensions of it should be? I want to hear from the American people on this.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the Center for Constitutional Rights going to Germany to file a complaint against Dennis—against former congressmember—or rather, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld? And it’s not only against him, it’s against Alberto Gonzales, it’s against General Sanchez and Miller for torture, over the issue of torture.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I think that all members of this administration, including the president, the vice president and all the other officials you mentioned, should be held accountable under international law, and that that accountability does not expire with the expiration of the term of this president. America at some point is going to have to restore its moral equilibrium, which has been lost, because this administration took us into a war based on lies. They all have to be held accountable. They must be held accountable, not only under national, but international, law.
AMY GOODMAN: When you came to the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis, you talked about holding hearings around the FCC, heading up a committee that is responsible for the FCC. I think it’s the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight on Government Reform Committee.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you plan to do?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, our committee just started its work last week. The Domestic Policy Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission. It’s been 20 years since we’ve had any hearings at all on the Fairness Doctrine. It’s been a long time since Congress has held hearings on the concentration in the electronic media.
And so, I want to proceed with hearings sometime in the next few months that would review the—those animating principles of the FCC embodied in the Federal Communications Act of 1934. And that is that the electronic media shall serve in the public interest, convenience and necessity. I want to hold that up and see if today’s condition corresponds to what it was that gave the public the inclination to cause electronic media to be licensed and if the licensees have kept faith with the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, you also just returned from New York, where you held a news conference on universal healthcare. How does your plan differ from, for example, Hillary Rodham Clinton? The New York senator, also Democratic hopeful—presidential hopeful, also said she supports universal healthcare.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, it differs in every way. I mean, everyone in this campaign is for universal healthcare. But what Senator Clinton, Senator Edwards and others are talking about is having the insurance companies still in charge of healthcare, of having the government subsidize the insurance companies, of forcing people to buy insurance or have the government subsidize the purchase of insurance.
Look, a president of the United States shouldn’t be an insurance salesman. President should stand for a position where everyone is covered. That’s what my bill does, the Conyers-Kucinich bill, and that’s H.R. 676, Medicare for all. It ends for-profit medicine. It is a single-payer system which recognizes we’re spending $2.2 trillion a year on healthcare, but 31 percent of that, or $660 billion, goes for the activities of the for-profit system. Take that money, put it into healthcare, and you have enough money to cover every medical need, including dental care, vision care, mental health, prescription drug and long-term care. Healthcare is a right, it’s not a privilege. Senator Clinton’s plan helps the insurance companies. It keeps the for-profit system going. And my plan ends the for-profit system and uses the savings to provide healthcare for everyone.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you think of the media coverage of the Democratic presidential race right now? A lot of attention on both Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Senator Obama and Clinton. Of course, last time you also ran for president, and there was a major issue the day after you took Ted Koppel to task at ABC for asking questions about polls and money as opposed to issues of your positions. The next day, the so-called embedded reporter in your campaign was pulled, the ABC reporter. What about the coverage now?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, my concern wasn’t so much whether reporters were embedded in my campaign, as much as it was the fact that mainstream media reporters were embedded with the war.
But as far as my own campaign, look, I’m bringing issues forth to the American people. We’re organizing in places like New Hampshire, where the Democratic Party just came out in favor of single-payer healthcare, not for profit. My campaign is about organizing door-to-door and grassroots fundraising, and people who want to get involved can go to kucinich.us and help us.
I’m not going to be on my knees begging for attention from the mainstream media. They have to realize that they have a responsibility as broadcast licensees to provide coverage to all the candidates. After all, this isn’t American Idol. We’re choosing a president of the United States. And the American people have the right to a substantive discussion about those issues that affect their lives, such as war and peace, such as poverty or prosperity, healthcare for all, or keep the insurance companies in business in healthcare. We need a new discussion, and I appreciate the chance to be on Democracy Now!, because I know your audience is an audience of people of principle, of activism, and I’m confident that when they hear what I stand for, they’ll be interested in joining this campaign.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, President—finally, Congressmember Kucinich, the men and women who have gone AWOL—there have been thousands of them—some are being court-martialed, like Lieutenant Ehren Watada will be court-martialed again. There was a mistrial in his first trial, first officer to say no to war, to deployment to Iraq. What do you think should happen to these men? Agustin Aguayo, an Army medic who applied for CO status, didn’t get it and is now in prison in Germany. Do you support their saying "no"? Do you support their refusing to go to Iraq or redeploy to Iraq?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: I support the troops who serve and also those who don’t feel it’s right to serve. I think we have to ask our troops to be able to reserve the right of their conscience, and if they feel it’s the right thing to go forward, then we support that. If they feel it’s not the right thing, we should support that, too. I think we’re at a point in the history of this country where many people have looked at the war and realized that it’s wrong. Some of those people are soldiers. Soldiers are put in an impossible situation, not only those who are committed to serving in Iraq, but also those who know that the war is wrong and who have questioned the war. I think we have to love our troops, whatever their situation we find—they find themselves in.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they should be court-martialed?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: And the way to support them is to bring them home.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think they should be court-martialed?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: You know what? I don’t think that anyone who’s taken a principled and conscientious position should be subject to a court-martial. They should be permitted to leave the service if they so desire, but not be forced to that kind of a process. I think, you know, there has to be an underlying truth here, and the underlying truth is the war was wrong, period. The war is based on lies. We should support our troops by bringing them home, and we should support those who have challenged the war by giving them a chance to leave honorably.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Kucinich, I want to thank you for joining us from the Capitol, Ohio Congressmember and Democratic presidential hopeful.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report.