Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), on ABC's "This Week" says the Democrats want 2007 to be a year of transition--even if the Iraq Study Group does not declare that the U.S. needs to fashion some kind of withdrawl plan from Iraq.
The recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton group could come out this week. Watch for a big rollout.
And here is the latest from Durbin on the status of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), mulling a White House bid.
DURBIN: I did speak to Barack just a few days ago in Washington and I know that he and Michelle were sitting down and making some hard choices at this point. It's an important personal and family decision.
Click below for full comments of Durbin, who will be the Senate whip after the new Democratic controlled Senate convenenes in January.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back now with the No. 2 Democrat in
the Senate, Dick Durbin of Illinois, and Republican Sam Brownback of
Kansas. Welcome back to "This Week" to both of you, gentlemen.
BROWNBACK: Thank you.
DURBIN: Thanks, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, let me begin with you, with a
question I asked King Abdullah. Is it time for President Bush to
deliver an ultimatum to the Iraqi prime minister?
DURBIN: I think it's past time. When you consider the fact that
we have given basically a blank check to this Iraqi government -- the
president has said repeatedly, don't worry about what you hear in
America, we're there for the long haul, we're going to stay with you
-- I don't think that creates an incentive on the part of the Iraqis
to stand up and defend their own country.
The fact is, 150,000 of our best and bravest American soldiers
are caught smack dab in the middle of a civil war in Iraq. That isn't
what we bargained for. We were going to depose Saddam Hussein and
watch as democracy would thrive in this country. And here we are now
in a war that's lasted longer than World War II, having lost 2,782
American soldiers, with no end in sight.
It is time to tell the Iraqis that unless they're willing to
disband the militias and the death squads, unless they're willing to
stand up and govern their country in a responsible fashion, America is
not going to stay there indefinitely.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Brownback, I know you've resisted calls
for a withdrawal. But wouldn't that kind of a threat reinforce the
BROWNBACK: Well, I think it would do that, but it would also
probably strengthen the militias, George, if you really look at the
facts on the ground. When we threaten to withdraw and on a very short
timeframe, people start saying, well, what am I going to do when this
security vacuum is present? And the answer is, well, we're going to
have to form up militias.
I think, though, realistically, George, clearly we are in a short
timeframe. We cannot face the public again in 2008 with the current
situation still in hand for the United States. We have to get to a
political solution in the region. We have to push a political
solution in the region, and I think we've really got to start pushing
people there on the ground and in the area to come together, to work
together because we can't have this same situation 18 months from now
facing the United States.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's exactly what the White House is
doing right now with this diplomatic push. They had Vice President
Cheney in Saudi Arabia yesterday, President Bush heading to Amman. I
guess the question is, how much time do they have, and what should the
United States do if Prime Minister Maliki simply can't bring these
divided forces in Iraq together?
BROWNBACK: Well, I think what we've got to do is go around the
Maliki government in certain situations. Let's do some of our
reconstruction money through the military people that we have there on
the ground. Let's work with other groups, and let's get regional buy-
in into this.
BROWNBACK: Now, we've had difficulty with that all along, but I
think like King Abdullah was talking about, you've got a whole set of
issues in the region, and I would think it would be in the region's
interest now, George, for them all to come together and say, let's
deal with this together. We may have had problems or difficulties on
issues in the past, but we've got to start dealing with the new
realities that are here on the ground and bring everybody, including,
if we can, the Iranians and Syrians together in some sort of
discussion how we deal with all of these issues in a political, a
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, it does appear that that's what
former Secretary of State James Baker is likely to propose, part of
My question to you is, if the Baker commission either fails to
come to agreement or comes up with a plan that does not include a
phased withdrawal of troops, as you recommend, will Democrats in the
Senate get behind it or go their own way?
DURBIN: Well, I think overwhelmingly the Democrats in the Senate
have said this has to be a year of transition. Carl Levin, who being
our new chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Jack Reed, our
senator from Rhode Island, who had served in the military and went to
West Point, came up with a proposal that 80 percent of the Democrats
supported, that basically said we have to start a year of transition.
And I hope that's what Secretary Baker leads us toward.
But put it in perspective here: We are dealing with the worst
foreign policy decision that's been made in America since Vietnam. It
is a terrible situation, not easily resolved and not quickly resolved.
When the Democrats take control, you're not going to see a change
overnight. We have to work very carefully with our Republican friends
and with the administration to find the best way to bring this to a
STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you want to work with the Republicans in
the Senate and the administration, but I guess -- that's the idea
behind the Baker commission as well, kind of a bipartisan agreement,
and that's why I want to ask the question again. If that bipartisan
commission does not recommend phased troop withdrawal, will the Senate
Democrats get behind it?
DURBIN: I think what you're going to find first is a series of
hearings, which I think are very important and long overdue, and we've
had chairman -- now soon to be Chairman Levin of the Armed Services
Committee and Joe Biden of the Foreign Affairs Committee, they are
going to have a series of hearings about just exactly how we should
address this. I don't think you're going to see anything that is
precipitous or is done in a manner that doesn't take into
consideration the delicate balance that King Abdullah referred to in
the Middle East.
But, yes, there is a strong national sentiment for change and new
direction. And, yes, the Democrats in Congress want to work with this
administration and move us toward that day more quickly.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Brownback, one of your Republican
colleagues, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, has an op-ed in The
Washington Post this morning where he says it's time to leave Iraq
honorably. He says we have to begin to prepare for phased withdrawal,
then goes on to say this -- "We are destroying our force structure
which took 30 years to build. We've been funding this war
dishonestly. Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibility in
the past four years. It is not too late. The United States can still
extricate itself honorably from an impending disaster in Iraq."
How do you respond to Senator Hagel?
BROWNBACK: Well, I wouldn't agree with what all he is saying
there. I just think what we've got is a situation that we have to
have a different situation within probably the next 18 months, outside
two years. And I think we've got to be starting to deal with that in
the current realities. And if we need to separate ourselves somewhat
from the Maliki government, go through our military leaders in
reconstruction, we should do it. We've got to get people involved in
the political solution. We need to push a reconciliation process
between Sunnis and Shiites.
Clearly, things have to be different, and we've got to move in a
different direction. I don't think I agree, though, with all of these
premises that he puts forward.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, let me switch subjects to the
issue of judges. Both you and Senator Brownback sit on the Judiciary
Committee, and a lot of your colleagues have already said -- Democrats
on the committee -- have already said that President Bush is going to
have to come up with dramatically different picks for the federal
courts if he expects to get them through in his final two years. Is
that your approach?
DURBIN: Absolutely. And when Senator Harry Reid and I met with
the president, this is one of the issues. We really urged the
president, look for centrist, more moderate candidates to serve on the
federal judiciary for these lifetime appointments. Let's not get into
a cat fight over some extremist who really shouldn't be nominated to
The president kind of laughed when we made this suggestion, but I
hope he took it to heart. This was a lesson learned by the Clinton
administration when they lost control in Congress and had to send up
more moderate nominees. I think that is a lesson that most American
people would agree with. Let's not have someone too far to the left
or too far to the right. Let's try to find more moderate people, who
can serve our nation well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Brownback, you're actually standing in
the way of one of those consensus nominees right now, Judge Janet Neff
of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She was nominated by the Democratic
senators. President Bush went on to nominate her formally, but you're
putting a block on her consideration, because she once attended a
commitment ceremony for a lesbian couple.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Judge Neff says that was purely in her personal
capacity. It was in the state of Massachusetts, where she has no
Anyway, do you accept her explanation, and will you release that
BROWNBACK: Well, myself and several others -- and I'd also point
out that when Senator Durbin talks about people too far to the left or
too far to the right, this is the president that nominated John
Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court who I think have done
outstanding -- or are key individuals. I'm still looking at the Neff
situation, and I will in the future.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me press you on that. What's wrong with
attending the commitment ceremony of someone who is her next-door
neighbor? Why should that disqualify someone from the federal bench?
BROWNBACK: Well, I don't think it necessarily does, but what I
want to know is what does it do to her look at the law? What does she
consider the law on same-sex marriage, on civil unions, and I'd want
to consider that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin?
DURBIN: This is unfortunately been the kind of the playbook that
we've been living by for the last several years. If you happen to
check box that says I was a member of the Federalist Society, if you
made certain that you did certain things during campaigns in the past,
you have a much better chance to make it to the federal bench.
I think we ought to step back and move away from the political
agenda for a moment. You know, these are important lifetime
appointments. These men and women who serve on the bench, we really
trust their judgment and their wisdom and giving these political
litmus tests I don't think is in the best interest of justice in
STEPHANOPOULOS: To be clear, Senator Brownback, you're saying
now that the attendance at the commitment ceremony is not a reason for
Judge Neff to be blocked from the court even though that's what you
said in your letter to her when you announced the block?
BROWNBACK: That's not what I said in the letter to her. What I
said was that's something I want to see what is the factual situation,
and then I also want to consider and see what is it that she would
look at in that area of the law.
This is an area of the law that's developing. It's an area of
the law that's contested about what is it that civil unions are to be
regarded as in this country. And I was curious about her viewpoint of
that and does this indicate her viewpoint of how she would review a
civil union, a same-sex marriage when it comes in front of the courts?
To me these issues shut be decided by the legislative bodies, not
by the judicial bodies, and it seems to me this may indicate some view
of her on the legal issue. And that's what I'm concerned about here
is her view of the legal issue involving same-sex marriage.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, let me turn to the issue of
Congressional ethics. The Democrats in the house have said that their
number one piece of legislative business when they come in is going to
be to pass ethics reform, a ban on gifts by lobbyists, meals, travel
Number one, will the Senate Democrats also do that, and two, will
you add to that an independent ethics board to oversee the issue of
ethics in Congress?
DURBIN: The first item of business in this new Senate is going
to be ethics reform. I talked to Senator Harry Reid just yesterday
about this, and we are committed to it. We passed a good bill in the
Senate. I think we can pass an even better bill in the future.
I happen to support the position. I don't speak for Senator Reid
or the caucus, but I support the position of Senator Obama for this
independent ethics board. I think that it'll start to restore some
confidence in the public and the people who serve.
And I'll just tell you, George, overwhelmingly the men and women
who serve in the House and the Senate of both political parties are
honest, hard-working people. But clearly, the image of Congress is
terrible, with people going to prison and all sorts of allegations of
misdealing. So we need to move forward first in restoring confidence
in the integrity of Congress and then get down to the important work
that lies ahead.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Brownback, can you go along with that? s
BROWNBACK: Absolutely. And I think in anything we can do to
clean up and straighten the system, I think is important that we do.
The people that have violated the law are going to jail, and that's
important, and that's as is it should be. But if we can get some
major ethics reforms on through, I think that is good. I think it's
good for the system. I think it's good for the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Over the next couple of weeks, you're going to
be taking a public AIDS test and spending a night in prison. That is
not standard constituent service for a senator, Senator Brownback.
Why are you doing it?
BROWNBACK: Well, it's important issues, though, that are coming
up. One is a big conference I'm doing with Rick Warren, and Senator
Obama is going to be at that. That brings together the left and the
right to discuss issues of poverty in Africa and global health-care
issues, and one of the things I'm going to do is to take an AIDS test
to show to people that we should be doing that particularly, if you're
in particular areas that may have had the exposure.
The second is on prison reform, and this is an issue that I've
dealt with for some period of time. Right now in America, if you go
to prison, two-thirds of the individuals that go in once will be in a
second or more times.
We really need to reduce that recidivism rate, so I've been
trying to highlight alternatives, particularly faith-based prisons
that have got that recidivism rate down below 10 percent.
BROWNBACK: That's what I'm going to be highlighting on that
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, you kicked off Senator Obama's
nascent presidential run about six months ago, in June. You, kind of,
urged him into the race.
He certainly seems to be taking it seriously. Any decisions over
DURBIN: No, not that I know of, although I did speak to Barack
just a few days ago in Washington and I know that he and Michelle were
sitting down and making some hard choices at this point. It's an
important personal and family decision.
But I'll tell you this. During this last campaign, Barack Obama
was the most sought after Democrat in campaign after campaign across
He visited 30 different states, 50 different public meetings, red
and blue states alike. And the crowds that he drew in those states
This broadcast today is coming from St. Louis. And the Sunday
night before the election, he was at a rally for Claire McCaskill here
in St. Louis with 3,000 people. He came back the next day, bone-
weary and told me, I think she's going to win.
It just tells you what he means to these campaigns that that was
the knockout punch, the closing act, in terms of Claire McCaskill's
campaign in one of the battleground states. Now translate that into
the presidential race and you can see the potential.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, if he's listening to you, he's going to
run. Senator Brownback, you said you'd decide about your own
presidential race before the election.
Have you made your decision? What's it going to be?
BROWNBACK: Well, we're very close with announcements. My wife
and I and our family have spent a lot of time thinking about this,
praying about it, and really considering whether we could bring a
message to the country that needs to be discussed.
I think there is room, on the Republican side, for somebody
that's a full-scale conservative, that's an economic and fiscal and
And I think there's room on our side, and need on our side, to
develop some new plays, particularly on the compassionate conservative
agenda. So we'll be making some announcements, soon, about that. And
you'll be one of the first to know, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I can tell from that smile that you're in.
That's not very coy at all.
BROWNBACK: We'll see.
STEPHANOPOULOS: ... Senator Durbin, thank you both very much.
The roundtable is next with George Will, Donna Brazile, Torie
Clarke and E.J. Dionne. And later, the Sunday funnies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, THE LATE SHOW: But every year President
Bush gets to pardon one turkey. And this year, it was Donald
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our Voice this week, Maggie Rizer. One of the
world's top models, she's now moving behind the camera to film a
documentary on AIDS. Heading into World AIDS Day this week, more than
28 million people have died from the epidemic, including Maggie's
RIZER: Basically, since as long as I can remember, I knew that
my dad had HIV. My sister and I grew up knowing it. My parents both
talked openly about it.
I was always expecting him to die. I knew it was inevitable.
But I think when it came down to it, you're never prepared for it.
I'm sad that we're still, you know, here dealing with this
disease. I wish we could -- I wish it wasn't here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: So what are you supposed to be using?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RIZER: I hope on World AIDS Day, people -- I hope schools
celebrate it and, you know, talk to their students about it, talk
openly about it. With AIDS, you can be aware, be safe, protect
yourself. Use condoms. Don't share needles.
It's just like putting your seat belt on when you get in a car.
You know, take care of yourself. Because if you're not looking out
for yourself, I mean, nobody else is.
Think about your mother, your dad or your best friend, and think
about not having them there, because that's what this disease is doing
to people everywhere, all across the world. It happened to me. I
lost my father, the person, you know, that helped raise me.
I think people should try and just take one second and think
about losing the most important person in your life, and knowing it
was caused by a disease that, you know, is preventable.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You can hear more Maggie Rizer and the rest of
the today's broadcast on our web site. Just go to abcnews.com and
click This week.
And now, the Sunday Funnies.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's our show for today. Thanks for sharing
part of your Sunday with us. We'll see you next week.