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Sen. Barack Obama greets workers at a turbine manufacturing facility in Fairless Hills, Pa., on Tuesday. The state's delegate-rich primary is April 22.
Sen. Barack Obama greets workers at a turbine manufacturing facility in Fairless Hills, Pa., on Tuesday. The state's delegate-rich primary is April 22. Jemal Countess/Getty Images
Legislative business brings all the Senate's prodigal children home from the presidential campaign trail.
A day after Sen. Hillary Clinton said the results of Michigan's Democratic presidential primary should count, Sen. Barack Obama says that wouldn't be fair — and do-overs in that state and in Florida wouldn't be realistic.
The Democratic primaries in Michigan and Florida didn't count because those states held them earlier than allowed by national party rules.
In an NPR interview that aired Thursday, Clinton said the Michigan and Florida primaries were fair and should be honored, and that Obama chose to take his name off the ballot in Michigan.
Obama laughs at that contention.
"We were told that these contests would not count," he tells Steve Inskeep. "Sen. Clinton agreed. Our name was taken off the ballot in Michigan, and in Florida we did no campaigning. Now, if people think that that is a normal democratic way of running an election, then that's not the America that I know."
Clinton said a complete re-do of the two primaries would be acceptable to her. But Obama says he's not sure that's such a good idea.
"Our position consistently has been that the Michigan and Florida delegations should be seated [at the Democratic National Convention] and that we should come up with a system that is fair to all the parties involved," Obama says.
"My understanding is that the full primary is just not realistic," he says. "It's not on the table because neither state wants to pay for it and there are all sorts of problems. In Michigan, for example, the Republicans control the [legislature] and they would have no reason to agree ..."
"Look, we're going to abide by whatever the Democratic National Committee determines is fair," he says. "But the important point is ... that we agreed not to participate in this process. Not just me, but Sen. Clinton did as well. If you ask my 6-year-old, should that election count, she would probably be able to figure out that that's not fair."
The Experience Question
Clinton has questioned whether her Democratic opponent has enough experience to be president and has touted her foreign policy experience as first lady.
Obama has said that experience perhaps matters less than the question of judgment. George W. Bush was praised for his judgment during the 2000 campaign. So what makes Obama's argument different than that made for Bush eight years ago?
"Because I've had to weigh in on some of the most significant foreign-policy decisions that face this country over the last five years — something that George Bush didn't have to do," Obama says.
"And on critical issues like Iraq, on critical issues like Pakistan, on critical issues like Iran, I think the voters have been able to see how I exercise that judgment and can have some confidence that my concerns and projections in terms of how problems might arise as a consequence of an invasion in Iraq or saber-rattling with Iran or cozying up to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf, have played out badly for the American people."
"The issue is not that experience is irrelevant, the issue is whether or not experience has given you better judgment," Obama says. "And I would argue that on critical issues like Iraq, my judgment has been superior to" those of Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain.
In reference to a now-famous Clinton campaign ad about her readiness to be president, Obama says he hasn't "answered the 3 a.m. phone call ... but neither has Sen. Clinton."
Obama says he struggles with issues daily. "Every time I have to make a decision about how I view our exit strategy out of Iraq. Every time that I have to make a decision about how do I talk about our health care crisis in this country and how we solve it."
A Flexible Withdrawal Plan for Iraq
Samantha Power, who recently resigned as an Obama foreign policy adviser, has said that his plan for withdrawing from Iraq within 16 months was only a "best-case scenario" and that he would not follow a pullout plan he developed as a presidential candidate.
"No, I don't think that is necessarily an accurate quote of hers," Obama says. "But let me tell you very clearly what I've said, which is that I will begin withdrawing immediately. I will do so in consultation with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders on the field. My best understanding at this point is that we can safely remove our combat troops out at a pace of one to two brigades a month.
"What I've also said — and I've always said this — is that, as commander in chief, I reserve the right to get new information and modify decisions based on what the national interests of the United States are going to be."
So is Obama's plan a "best-case scenario"?
"I don't necessarily think it's a best-case scenario," he says. "I think that ... there are tactical issues and then there's strategic issues. The tactical issues involve, how do we remove our troops in a way that's safe and maintains stability in Iraq? There's a broader strategic issue, which is the wisdom of perpetuating an occupation in Iraq for potentially 100 years, as John McCain has said.
"I've been very clear on the strategic issue. I think Iraq was a mistake from the start. I think it continues to be a mistake. I think it distracts us from [the war in] Afghanistan. I think that we have fanned the flames of anti-American sentiment. It needs to end.
"The tactical issues, in terms of how best to remove our troops in a way that's safe is one that I will constantly monitor based on the best information that I get from the commanders in the field," Obama says. "But I am very clear that I want to set a timetable and send a clear message to the Iraqi government that we are not going to be there in perpetuity."
A Difficult Decision
Obama says it was difficult for him to vote against continuing funding for the war as proposed by President Bush. "That was a very difficult decision because my general view had been, and continues to be, that when we send troops into a battlefield, that regardless of the political debates we have an obligation to make sure that they have the equipment and the support that they need.
"I came to a difficult conclusion that, given George Bush's general view that he was going to double-down — actually send more troops in and continue this process — that the only way to get him to negotiate and sit down at the table was to not give him a blank check. But that was a very difficult decision — not one that I came to easily at all."