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Senate Race Standoff

November 2, 2006
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First Lady Laura Bush and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum applaud during an Oct. 28 campaign rally for Santorum in Philadelphia. Photo by Getty Images
 THE INCUMBENT

 What are the differences between you and your opponent when it comes to Israel and American policy in the Middle East?

I think there's a huge gap in the depth of understanding in all of the issues around the region. Casey doesn't understand the issues, he doesn't understand the interrelationship between the different forces in the Middle East. I think you'd see that if you look at what I've done. I'd match up with anybody in the Senate. I think you know where I stand on Israel. I'm very proud of the record I've put together as a supporter of the only democracy in the Middle East.

I've been trying to direct the administration -- I've been trying to direct my colleagues -- that it's Iran, Iran, Iran. I've written about it, I've given speeches about it, and I hate to say I was right, but I think it's clear I am right.

What's the difference between Bob Casey Jr. and myself? Bob Casey is never going to lead this country to the kind of stance that we need to take in order to confront the most serious enemy that has ever confronted this country.

When it comes to the prospect of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, what are America's options? Do you believe sanctions and diplomacy can work?

I am not for diplomacy. I'm against negotiating with Iran. Look, I'm critical of the State Department as you know. The State Department has a useful purpose when it comes to people who actually want to talk. It could be completely counterproductive when it comes to people who don't want to talk and who want to use the State Department service and our diplomats to bide time to do what they want to do. And that's what Iran is doing. The fact that we have negotiated with them undermines our ability to develop pro-democracy movements within Iran. It doesn't hurt [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad's credibility, it hurts our credibility. Now that North Korea has the bomb, we need to be much more aggressive and deliberate.

What is your prognosis for Iraq?

I feel like there obviously is a dynamic situation on the ground, with increasing amounts of sectarian violence. Iran is in Iraq for two reasons. Number 1, they want to destroy any opportunity for democracy in the Middle East. Second, they want to kill Sunnis. They want to destroy us, but if they have the opportunity to kill Sunnis and take a more dominant position in the Muslim world, they will because they say all the time that they are the legitimate rulers of Islam.

The Iraqi government at this time seems incapable of handling the problem. In part, the Iraqi government is part of the problem. The ruling coalition has Muktada al Sadr in the coalition, and he controls the interior department, and foreign ministry, both of which I'm told are completely dysfunctional. In all likelihood, it's because al Sadr wants them to be.

I think we need to look at how we will change policy in Iraq to address the Iranian threat. From a political position, partition -- which is separating the Sunnis from the Shi'ites and the Kurds -- is increasingly desirable from our perspective. Or whether it's going after al Sadr himself, and going after the Shia militias -- to me, those are options that we better be putting on the table. It just seems that we are trying to manage chaos at this point.

If you ultimately lose the race -- and all the analysts declare after Election Day that Iraq was a major reason why --would the war in Iraq still have been worth?

Whether Rick Santorum wins an election or not, in the great scheme of things, is not all that important. Whether leaders at the time are honest people and tell them what's necessary, that's important. I've sort of made my decision -- I made it a long time ago -- that I was going to go out and talk about important things that confront this country.

I'm giving a message, and a lot of people don't want to hear it. I fear that we won't win this war against Islamo-Fascism because people don't take the threat seriously enough. We can either face that evil -- confront it when we have the ability to stop it. Sure, we'll take some casualties, but it's nothing compared to what could potentially be in store. We will stop this not by defeating Islam but by setting up an opportunity for moderate Islam to defeat radical Islam. That's what Iraq is all about.

People hear this and they say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe he's talking about more troops.' The alternative is to let Iran [do the moral equivalent of] taking the Sudetenland. Unlike the Germans, they have the oil not only to fund their global jihad but to choke the world and hold it hostage.

To a large portion of the Jewish community, you are the icon who represents the Christian Right.

I would just say that the fear of the Christian Right is the greatest misplaced fear to have. The Christian Right is a great believer in religious freedom. The Christian Right is a great supporter of the State of Israel. What Jews should be afraid of is secular Europe. That's where anti-Semitism is at this time. That's where the real threats to the Jewish people are.

Look, you don't want to separate people of faith from the public square. Faith is at least one barometer of morality. It's not the only one, it may not be the prevailing one, but you can't exclude them. You don't want a naked public square where you have just one idea and it's not connected in any way to any kind of faith tradition.

I think a lot of your audience needs to sit back and think about where the great threat to the Jewish community comes from.

Is illegal immigration primarily a security threat or an economic concern?

It's a security threat. I think the number is 1 in 12 people crossing the border have a criminal background, and many of them go on to commit crimes here in this country. But we don't know who these people are. What we are seeing is an increasing number of people from other countries, other than Mexico, being able to enter this country. This is a national security issue. This is a domestic security threat, as well as an economic and cultural issue. It comes down to, does the country have a right to protect it borders? If the answer is yes, then we have to do something.

Your position on abortion appears to differ with the majority of the Jewish community? How have you worked to bridge that gap?

I take a principled position. But I look for areas of common ground. By supporting adult stem cell research, I tried to get around some of the difficult issues surrounding the destruction of human embryos.

I'm a leader in this country on fighting the global AIDS epidemic. I've been able to keep our commitment to the global fund in spite of the fact that many Christian conservatives have come out strongly against the actions that I'm doing. I know that it funds programs that I would not necessarily embrace as far as prevention is concerned. People who have been involved on this issue are not necessarily people I would agree with ideologically. But I believe we have an obligation to fund it. 
 

THE CHALLENGER

What are the differences between you and your opponent on Israel and American policy in the Middle East?

I'll talk about it in the context of what my priority will be, and I'll leave it to others to do a comparison. I have always been a very strong supporter of the State of Israel. The position I have was strengthened and informed by the trip I took there in November of 2005. I was able to see so much, and that will inform what I will do if I am fortunate enough to get into the Senate. I think if anything, it reinforced for me the ties that bind our two countries together. The mutual interests we have, our belief in democracy, our belief in the importance of building a strong economy and our beliefs in protecting the world and ensuring that [we are] ever vigilant about terrorism. So I had a great experience, and I think it will stay with me for a long time.

Some have criticized the Bush administration for not being engaged enough with the Israelis and Palestinians. Do you share that view?

I do share that they have not nearly been engaged enough in the peace process, as I'm afraid that they haven't been engaged enough in the threats from both Iran and North Korea. But I do think that it should be the policy of the Bush administration -- as it should be the policy of a Democratic administration -- to make it crystal clear that we support the State of Israel and that we make that claim up front. It doesn't mean that an American administration cannot be a force to bring about a two-stage strategy and peace with security and all the things that we hope for.

Your opponent said that he's against negotiations with Iran. Do you agree? Are you prepared to support force as an option?

I certainly would support force. But I think it's very important to make sure that the policy of this White House, or the policy of this or the next congress, be to take steps -- to pursue every option short of a military one. Military force should always be the last option. We should always use our political power, our economic power and our diplomatic power with regard to Iran, as well as with regard to North Korea.

Unfortunately, a lot of the power that is non-military has been degraded. Your diplomatic power is diminished substantially when a lot of leaders around the world seem not to believe the president of the United States when he says something or don't have the same confidence in his word or policy that we've had in the past when people think of the leader of the free world.

What you've had is a very weak Congress, which has done little more in my judgment than rubber-stamping this administration -- and I think we're paying the price for that. We're not saying change because Democrats have all the answers. Democrats don't have magic wands, but there's an urgency for change because people see us headed down the wrong path.

Considering Iraq, what are America's options at this stage?

I don't support a timeline or a withdrawal date. Some people in the party that I'm a proud member of don't agree with that.

The American people certainly believe, and I believe, that we were misled, hopefully not intentionally, but I'm afraid that's the case. The most important accountability measure involves [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. I think he should be fired. You can't say we're going to have a different strategy, a better strategy, that will be more successful, without changing the leadership.

We need clear and measurable benchmarks. Getting Iraqi oil production above pre-war levels -- that's a necessity for stability. The benchmarks on electricity and water, the basic necessities of life, so to speak. Making sure these government ministries are functioning in a way that can inspire confidence -- that can help on the security question. The interior ministry, right now, is riddled with corruption.

I don't know if it will dramatically change what's on the ground, but what we've been doing over there isn't working. You can't have a new strategy without new leadership.

What's your stance on immigration reform?

It's a very difficult, complicated issue. Frankly it's an issue my opponent hasn't done much about. Since he's been a Senate Republican leader and the president has been in office, the numbers have been going in the wrong direction. Illegal immigration from Mexico is up 87 percent.

If the the choice was between doing nothing and voting for the Senate bill [as opposed to the more punitive House Bill passed last year], I would vote for that bill. When that happened, Rick Santorum said, 'Ah ha, now I have an issue.' So he started his campaign talking about this issue.

I'm going to work very hard to ensure that we focus on border security first and that we get that right. It may mean that that's all Congress can do in the short run. It may mean that we can't deal with all of these issue in one bill. It's important to be honest about that.

When it comes to the issue of abortion, your position differs from most in the Jewish community. If elected, how would you work to bridge the gap?

I think it's important on this issue to show respect for differences of opinion, which never happens in Washington. We should focus on what I think is a consensus in this country -- that most people want to reduce the number of abortions. A big part of the way you do that is to support family planning, support funding increases for it, support emergency contraception, and strategies and programs like that. I share that consensus and I don't think that my opponent does.

When politicians on the right and in the Republican party use words like life and family and all that, we need to start holding them accountable for freezing, or cuts to, Head Start and child care, while at the same time giving their friends in the top income bracket hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts.

If the Democrats take back the House or the Senate, what will the tone of the 110th Congress be? Will the priority be to rack up the partisanship, or to reach across the aisles?

You don't abandon your principles. We need a new direction and that has to have meaning. A new direction has to be a better strategy for fighting terrorism. A new direction also means raising the minimum wage, focusing on deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility, and returning to a balanced budget.

But along the way, if Democrats do to the other party what they've been doing to us, and we just fight and nothing gets done, we're going to be in big trouble.We should put our state and our government ahead of party. Frankly, I don't think Sen. Santorum has been doing that.

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