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Posted at 2:04 PM ET, 09/21/2008

No Talk This Week

Zachary A. Goldfarb is on assignment.

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Posted at 2:27 PM ET, 09/14/2008

A Day of Debating Palin's Qualifications

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, continued to drive the campaign narrative this morning, as supporters said that she has energized swaths of the electorate and opponents declared her inexperienced.

"It is clear that she doesn't pass the test as a national security candidate," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who was a Cabinet official in the Clinton administration.

And Palin's predecessor as Alaska governor, Tony Knowles (D), said, "There has been no vice president that is less prepared in modern history."

Carly Fiorina, a top adviser to Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, responded that Palin "has transformed this race by energizing the Republican Party" and has even attracted Democratic women who "say it is the Republican Party who gets it, it is John McCain who gets it, not the Democratic Party who has taken their vote for granted."

And Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said Palin has "as much or more executive experience and leadership experience as Barack Obama does, and he's running for president."

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Posted at 10:22 AM ET, 09/ 7/2008

No Talk This Week

Zachary A. Goldfarb is on assignment. He'll resume covering the Sunday talk shows soon.

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Posted at 2:53 PM ET, 08/31/2008

McCain Suggests Bush Has Endorsed Torture

By Zachary A. Goldfarb

Sen. John McCain today issued some of his strongest criticism of President Bush over an aggressive interrogation technique, clearly suggesting that the president has endorsed torture.

During an assessment of the Bush presidency on "Fox News Sunday," McCain discussed the administration's use over "waterboarding," a technique that has been used to interrogate terrorist detainees.

"Waterboarding to me is torture, okay? And waterboarding was advocated by the administration, and according to a published report, was used," McCain said. "I obviously don't want to torture any prisoners."

McCain also said that he opposed the "spending spree" in the Bush years and wanted to take bigger steps to fight climate change. He gave the president credit for preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001.

The issue of waterboarding has been a central one for McCain, a former prisoner of war who sponsored in 2005 the Detainee Treatment Act. That legislation forbade the U.S. military from using waterboarding and other harsh tactics on prisoners, but it exempted the CIA. Bush signed the legislation grudgingly, adding a signing statement that stated the president will decide when and how the bill's limitations apply during wartime.

Earlier this year, McCain voted against making the CIA subject to the act. Bush later vetoed that bill. Democrats accused McCain of ignoring his principles to appeal to core Republican voters; aides rejected that, saying the vote was consistent with his long-expressed view on how best to prosecute the war.

McCain's comments, made in a taped interview broadcast the day before the Republican National Convention opens in St. Paul, Minn., came as Hurricane Gustav threatened to wallop the Gulf Coast.

In comments that previously had been released, McCain said his team was studying "various options" about changing the convention's schedule, "maybe devoting some of the activities to bringing [the] American people's attention to trying to help [the hurricane's] victims."

"We don't want to appear in any way festive when you have that kind of tragedy possibly revisiting itself on the city of New Orleans and areas around it," he said.

McCain faced questions about his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was announced on Friday.

McCain called Palin "a partner and a soulmate ... a person who will help me reform Washington and change the way they do business."

On ABC's "This Week," the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee said the choice of Palin was evidence that McCain had gone from being a "maverick" to an "erratic" politician.

In his heart, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) said, McCain wanted to pick former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a Republican, or Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut. Both are good friends of McCain, and both favor abortion rights.

"Rush Limbaugh and the right wing vetoed it," Kerry said. "John McCain was forced to come back and pick a sort of Cheney-esque social conservative who's going to satisfy the base."

Kerry said the choice of Palin links McCain even more to the Bush legacy.

"We've been warning against the third term of George Bush. With the choice of Governor Palin, it's now the third term of Bush-Cheney," he said.

Some political analysts have speculated that, by choosing a woman for his ticket, McCain was trying to attract wayward supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Kerry said McCain shouldn't count on it.

"The people who supported Hillary Clinton are not going to be seduced just because John McCain has picked a woman," he said. "They're going to look at what she supports."

Kerry said Palin fails the "threshold test" of a vice president: "to prove to the American people that the person that you've chosen can fill in tomorrow" as president.

Asked if McCain had picked someone who could lead the country if something happened to him, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a close friend of his, first sidestepped the question.

"I think what he was looking for is a partner to tell a story about what he wants to do in Washington," Graham said on ABC.

Pressed, Graham said Palin has far more of the right kind of experience for the job than does Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee.

"What has he done? What has he done? What has Senator Obama done in terms of managing a war?" Graham said.

On Fox, McCain cited several reasons that Palin's experience on foreign affairs surpasses Obama's. First, he said, she agrees with him on issues such as Iran and the Iraq war. Plus, he said, Palin, as governor, has headed the Alaskan National Guard.

In an ABC interview, McCain's wife, Cindy, noted that Palin is especially suited to confront foreign issues such as the resurgence of Russia because Alaska is in close proximity to it.

"Alaska is the closest part of our continent to Russia. So it's not as if she doesn't understand what's at stake here," Cindy McCain said.

Cindy McCain also addressed her just-completed trip to war-torn Georgia, calling it the kind of trip she said she'd like to take more often as a first lady.

"I don't represent the government or anything, but, from the humanitarian aspect, it's very important that we continue to get aid in," she said.

Cindy McCain also addressed Obama's acceptance speech at last week's Democratic convention, saying she took umbrage at comments that McCain has lived a lavish life and can't relate to ordinary Americans.

"I'm offended by Barack Obama saying that about my husband," she said. "My husband was a Navy boy. His father and mother were in the Navy. I mean, there's nothing elitist about that."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican who was passed over by McCain for Palin, said his fellow governor would bring real-life economic experience to the ticket.

"One of the objectives is to be able to relate to ... and meet and address the needs of average Americans," Pawlenty said on "Meet the Press."

And Lieberman also supported the pick, calling it "a bold choice" on CBS's "Face the Nation."

"If this is a change election, it's about changing Washington so that it works again," Lieberman said, "so that this alliance of partisan political power-brokers and special-interests peddlers is broken."

McCain said ads of his that compare Obama to celebrities and attack his record were not, in fact, negative.

"It's respectful. But first of all, I also at that time asked Senator Obama to go to town hall meetings with me. We could appear in front of the American people, the way Barry Goldwater and Jack Kennedy had pledged to do," McCain said. "I'll tell you, that changes the tenor of a campaign, I know because I've done them in the past."

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Posted at 1:24 PM ET, 08/24/2008

Debating the Wisdom of Choosing Biden

By Zachary A. Goldfarb

A day before the start of the Democratic convention, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani criticized the selection of Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) as Sen. Barack Obama's running mate, saying Biden underscores Obama's flaws.

"Senator Obama has made a choice more out of weakness than strength," Giuliani said today on ABC's "This Week."

Giuliani, who ran for the Republican nomination, said the presumptive Democratic nominee should have chosen Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Obama's chief rival in the nomination process.

"She had 50 percent of the Democratic vote. Obama has 50 percent of the Democratic vote," the former mayor said. "You almost have to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid her as the vice presidential pick of the party."

Giuliani was the only Republican to appear on the five interview shows.

Top Obama advisers, who declined Saturday to elaborate on how the Illinois senator made his selection, said today that the choice was anchored as much in Biden's biography as in his long experience in foreign affairs.

They emphasized Biden's "working-class" roots, as the son of a Scranton, Pa., car salesman, the fact that he works in Washington but commutes home to Wilmington each day, and the challenges he has faced, including the sudden death of his first wife and daughter.

"Senator Joe Biden's personal story has been tested many, many times," Robert Gibbs, Obama's communications director, said on "Fox News Sunday." He added that Biden has "unparalleled foreign policy experience."

"I think what attracted Senator Obama was Biden's wisdom," said David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, on ABC.

Axelrod said Biden's wisdom was gained not in Washington but "when you overcome adversity, tragedy in your life as he has. The kind of wisdom you get in the working-class communities of Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware."

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, one of Clinton's strongest supporters in the Democratic primaries, said an Obama-Clinton ticket would have been just as strong as Obama-Biden.

"They're equally good tickets. Hillary Clinton obviously has a longer relationship with a broader spectrum of voters, women voters," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "But Joe Biden's going to grow on the American people very fast."

Axelrod said that Obama sat down with Clinton shortly after the end of the primaries to talk about the vice presidential process.

"They had a discussion back in early June about it. And he spent more time with Senator Clinton alone, talking about issues than he has with Joe Biden or anyone else," he said.

He said it wasn't necessary to screen Clinton as a potential vice president as much as others.

Obama "knew her, he knew her very well, and so there wasn't the same need as there was for other candidates," he said.

Gibbs acknowledged that some Clinton supporters remain aggravated by the primaries' result. Polls show that, three months after the last primary, Clinton supporters have still not unified behind Obama.

"There's no question that people had strong feelings about their nominee. We went from beginning to end," he said.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) said the coming week would bring Obama and Clinton supporters together.

"I think that's going to be the role of the convention, to really be a unifying time," Ritter said. "I think it'll have a unifying effect."

Rendell said that Obama needs to do more to explain his specific policies to Americans.

"He's got to talk about economic issues, and he's got to be more clear," Rendell said, asking for more specifics about how the Obama tax plan would affect the working class.

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who was on Obama's shortlist for the Democratic ticket, agreed.

"We need, certainly, Senator Obama to let the Americans know what his plan is for, as president of the United States, how he's going to help rebuild, restore the middle class," she said.

Axelrod rejected the view of some liberals that Obama has failed to come up with specific policies that live up to his soaring rhetoric.

"I don't accept that that's what Barack Obama hasn't been doing, and I think that he will give a clear picture again this week of where we have to go," Axelrod said.

Gibbs was asked whether Biden's long experience in Washington -- 10 years more than John McCain's -- undermines Obama's promise to change the capital.

"Joe Biden works in Washington but he doesn't live there," Gibbs responded. "He is somebody who never has forgotten where he's from. ... He's a down-to-earth kind of guy."

Gibbs also faced clips from a Democratic debate where Biden, then running for the presidential nomination, expressed doubts about whether Obama was experienced enough to be president.

Gibbs said those kinds of clips are to be expected.

"You can pull up a lot of quotes from August when these two guys were running against each other," Gibbs said.

Gibbs acknowledged that Biden sometimes has an unhelpful tendency to be loquacious.

"He'd probably plead guilty to that," Gibbs said, adding: "We didn't hire him for his stunning good looks."

Gibbs rejected the notion that Obama advertisements attacking McCain over the fact that he could not recall in an interview how many houses he owns is an example of the "slash-and-burn" politics he once said he would reject.

"It's a legitimate issue. ... [McCain] either forgot how many he has or he just wasn't being truthful with those reporters," Gibbs said. "You're out of touch if you have seven houses and don't even remember."

On Fox, Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) said Biden's history as a son of a car salesman would appeal to working-class voters struggling in the current economy. Similarly, he said, Obama came from no wealth.

"These two candidates understand the plight of working Americans," Kaine said.

Kaine, who was also on Obama's shortlist, said on Fox that Biden would still help Obama win votes in his state, since he "comes from a state, Delaware, that borders Virginia." (The states are actually separated by Maryland.)

Kaine added that Biden is popular with military voters and "Virginia is a very military state."

Ritter said on Fox that Obama appeals to independent voters who have migrated to the Mountain West over the past six years.

"The West has changed. ... The independents in the West are really looking for leadership," he said. "The change that Obama speaks of, we've previewed it in the West."

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Posted at 2:31 PM ET, 08/17/2008

Gates, Rice say Russia will face consequences

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said two decades of work to bring Russia into the international community must be reassessed in the wake of its actions in Georgia, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned that Russia's actions "look like they do belong to the Soviet Union."

The Bush administration's two senior defense and foreign affairs officials made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows with harsh words for Russia, citing consequences for Moscow but offering few specifics.

"There's no doubt there will be further consequences," Rice said on "Fox News Sunday." "There have already been significant consequences for Russia."

She said, for instance, that "any notion that Russia was the kind of responsible state, ready to integrate into international institutions" is now a nation "in tatters."

Gates said Russia's march toward integration, encouraged by the United States, is being reevaluated. "I think that there has been an effort by three successive American presidents to try and coax Russia into an integrated role in the international community," Gates said on ABC's "This Week." "We thought that they were headed in that direction. ... We now have to reevaluate all that."

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Rice said Russia wants to have it both ways. "It wants to be part of these institutions that are so essential to the international economy and the international order," she said. But "it wants to engage in, kind of, Soviet- style behavior of intimidating and invading allies- or neighbors."

The secretary of state defended President Bush for forging a close relationship with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying it is Russia that wasted an opportunity.

"What the president has done is to open a path for Russia that would have been different than the path of the Soviet Union, ..." she said. "Russia that has misjudged what would happen if it did not take that path."

Rice said Russia is not complying with a cease-fire reached Saturday between Georgia and Russia, with troops still occupying parts of undisputed Georgian territory.

"It's not acceptable," Rice said. "It has nothing to do, obviously, with the conflict that began in South Ossetia."

Gates said the ultimate consequences for Russia would depend on how quickly they comply with the cease-fire. "I think that the whole world is looking at Russia through a different set of lenses. ... The longer they take to get out and to observe the cease-fire that's been declared and the arrangements that have been worked out, I think the greater those consequences will be," he said.

On CNN Late Edition, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russians are not relenting. "Russia has given continuous promises to hold [to the ceasefire], but in fact, they are continuing their actions. They are ... widening their zone of occupation," he said.

The chairman of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev, said troops would leave Georgia, depending on circumstances.

"Sooner or later, yes. But how much time it will take, it depends, definitely, on how Georgians will continue to behave," he said.

For a second week, the Russia-Georgia conflict spilled over into the presidential election.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a top supporter of Barack Obama, said John McCain's aggressive response to the conflict "began to ring like a political campaign instead of principled and strong diplomacy."

On Fox, she said it is "presumptuous is to try to undercut in any way the very difficult and tricky work that President Bush and Secretary Rice are trying to do right now."

Former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge, a big McCain backer, called McCain's response appropriate. "He called for an international peacekeeping force. He called for humanitarian aid. He called it exactly what it is -- unprovoked aggression," Ridge said.

On CBS, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), an Obama supporter, criticized McCain's statement that "we are all Georgians now."

"If we were Georgians and the Russians were invading our country and killing our people, we'd bet in a state of war," he said. "John sometimes ... [is] given to this kind of bellicose rhetoric, which has a tendency to inflame conflicts rather than to diffuse them."

But Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota said McCain has precisely the type of judgment one wants in a president. As an example, Pawlenty (R) cited McCain's early support for the troop increase in Iraq, which has helped to reduce violence.

"Senator Obama to this day, to this day denies the value and the strategic benefit of the surge," Pawlenty said.

But Obama supporter Thomas A. Daschle, former Democratic majority leader from South Dakota, said the obsession with Iraq over the years has distracted from important issues as Russia's relations with its neighbors.

"Because the Bush-McCain approach has been to focus almost exclusively on Iraq over the last five years, a lot of these issues have gone without the kind of attention they deserve," he said.

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Posted at 3:47 PM ET, 08/10/2008

McCain Aide's Georgian Ties Become an Issue

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
The presidential campaign veered Sunday into a discussion about the escalating conflict between Georgia and Russia, with a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama suggesting that Sen. John McCain's criticism of Russia stems from his campaign's connections to Georgian political leadership.

"His campaign is run by lobbyists that represent Georgia and other countries," New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) said on ABC's "This Week," a clear reference to Randy Scheunemann, McCain's foreign policy adviser, who has been a registered lobbyist in Washington for the Tbilisi government.

That drew a sharp response from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), reported to be under consideration as a McCain running mate. He said it was wrong for the Obama campaign to focus on any ties between members of the McCain campaign and the Georgian government.

Georgia is "an example of Senator McCain's push to spread democracy in that part of the world as a very important advance of America's interest," Jindal said on ABC. "I wish Senator Obama had actually confronted the issue, not trying to detract our attention by focusing on a McCain adviser."

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Posted at 2:04 PM ET, 08/ 3/2008

Kerry Accuses GOP of 'Character Assassination'

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee accused the campaign of Sen. John McCain of trying to impugn the character of Sen. Barack Obama in this year's presidential race.

"They're trying to scare you," Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "They are engaged in character assassination."

"They've decided they can't win on the issues, so they've decided to try to destroy his character," Kerry said, quoting his Senate colleague Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Kerry's comments alluded to a McCain TV advertisement that debuted last week. The ad, which compared Obama to celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, raised an important point, McCain ally Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said on NBC.

"Notwithstanding his celebrity status, is Barack Obama ready to serve?" said Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential candidate.

He said the question was particularly relevant after Obama's trip to Europe, where 200,000 people turned out in Berlin to hear him speak. "We're not deciding who's our favorite celebrity," Lieberman said. "We're doing something very serious."

Kerry countered, "It tries to insinuate that his celebrity is all [Obama] has." The Massachusetts senator added that, for McCain, who in the past has rejected negative campaigning, "This is a complete contradiction."

For his part, Lieberman focused on a statement by Obama last week that caused a stir. The Illinois senator said in Missouri that his opponents are going to try to instill worries in voters by emphasizing Obama is an unfamiliar figure who "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."

The McCain campaign quickly accused Obama of playing the race card.

"You're making a personal insult to John McCain," Lieberman said. "This man does not have a bigoted bone in his body," he added, noting that the Arizona senator and his wife have adopted a child from Bangladesh.

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Posted at 5:46 PM ET, 07/27/2008

McCain, Obama Spar Over the Other's Iraq Policy

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
In dueling appearances on the Sunday talk shows, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama attacked the other's foreign policy and refused to reconsider publicly their earlier positions.

McCain reiterated his view that Obama's policy of favoring a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq within two years puts politics before prudent policy.

"Senator Obama doesn't understand. He doesn't understand what's at stake here, and he chose to take a political path that would have helped him get the nomination of his party," McCain said on ABC's "This Week."

Referring to his call last year to increase the number of troops in Iraq, McCain said, "I took a path that I knew was unpopular because I knew we had to win in Iraq. And we are winning in Iraq. And if we'd have done what Senator Obama wanted done, it would have been chaos, genocide, increased Iranian influence, perhaps al-Qaeda establishing a base again."

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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 07/20/2008

Mullen Warns Against Obama's Iraq Troop Plan

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
The nation's senior military official warned against a plan, put forward by presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama, to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by early 2010.

"I think the consequences could be very dangerous," Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on "Fox News Sunday." "I'm convinced at this point in time that ... making reductions based on conditions on the ground are very important."

Obama has argued that a drawdown in Iraq is necessary to increase troop levels in Afghanistan. The Illinois Democrat was in Afghanistan on Sunday and reiterated his call to add up to 15,000 U.S. troops there.

"This is where [terrorists] can plan attacks. They have sanctuary here. They are gathering huge amounts of money as a consequence of the [opium] drug trade in the region," Obama said in an interview on CBS's "Face the Nation."

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