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Durbin: U.S. has to plan transition out of Iraq--even if Iraq Study Group does not recommend phased withdrawl of troops. Obama "sitting down" with wife Michelle to discuss White House run.


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

president's diplomacy?

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

political framework.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Durbin, it does appear that that's what

former Secretary of State James Baker is likely to propose, part of

his proposals.

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 court.

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.


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

by lobbyists.

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

were amazing.

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

social conservative.

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.


Senator Brownback...

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.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, THE LATE SHOW: But every year President

Bush gets to pardon one turkey. And this year, it was Donald







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.


UNKNOWN: So what are you supposed to be using?


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 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.




And Barrack's discussion with Michelle, no doubt went something like this.."Honey,don't forget to go pick up my shirts! I'm leaving for New Hampshire, and oh yah..I'm running for President"! Don,t sweat it,Dick,it wasn't that big a decision!

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 26, 2006 4:37 PM.

Bush: To Estonia, Latvia and Jordan this week. Meets with Iraq Prime Minister al-Maliki and Jordan King Abdullah. King says key to solving Iraq is resolving Palestine-Israel conflict. was the previous entry in this blog.

Durbin launches petition drive to push Obama into White House race. is the next entry in this blog.

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