MELISSA BLOCK, host:
For Democratic reaction to the president's speech today we're joined by Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Thanks for being with us.
Senator BARBARA BOXER (Democrat, California): Sure.
BLOCK: Senator Boxer, when the president says U.S. pullout before Iraq is ready would be disastrous, do Democrats have a unified response to that?
BLOCK: We've been very unified on the fact that this is the time to start redeploying our troops out of Iraq. Almost every Democrat in the Senate actually voted for that and this was going to be the year of transition. We don't know of any other country on the face of the earth that can be a country unless it can secure its own borders, unless it can, in fact, defend itself.
So we think what's happening here is that the United States is stepping into the middle of a situation where it's making matters worse. It's fueling terrorism. It's making us less safe at home. It's actually a diversion from the war on terror which, by the way, every single Senator voted to go to war against Bin Laden and, you know, that's not going very well and we're not as safe as we should be.
BLOCK: On this question of the fight against terrorism, what is the Democratic message and how do you counter the Republican message that we're on the offense and we're not going to stop until we win. That's a pretty potent thing that's resonated with voters in the past.
Senator BOXER: It doesn't resonate with people anymore because they're (unintelligible) Republicans, number one, they're the most compliant Congress we've ever had. Number two, this administration is soft on homeland defense. They are soft on homeland defense, meaning that they're not doing what the 9/11 Commission said they should do in terms of interoperable communications, in terms of inspecting cargo at the ports, at the airports, in terms of bringing more protection to chemical plants, nuclear plants, our infrastructure and so on. So the fact is, they can keep saying what they're saying. It just doesn't make it true.
BLOCK: Senator Boxer, don't the Democrats have to offer something more than we will do better. We will be different.
Senator BOXER: Absolutely.
BLOCK: Vote for us instead of them. I'm not hearing exactly what it is that Democrats are saying they could do better.
Senator BOXER: Well let me say it again. Almost every one of us, save, I think, two, voted to say that '06 is the year of transition in Iraq, that we will begin bringing the troops home. That is quite different than what is happening now, isn't it?
BLOCK: And in terms of the broader fight against terrorism? What about that?
Senator BOXER: Well, that's separate from the war in Iraq. Now you're doing it, too. You're saying what about that? I will reiterate - this administration is soft on homeland defense. That's the war on terror.
BLOCK: Right. And I'm asking you, what would Democrats do differently than what the president's doing now?
Senator BOXER: Well again - again - we have fought hard and we have offered amendment after amendment for stronger aviation security, cargo screening. We have fought hard for defenses against shoulder-fired missiles, for interoperable communications so that law enforcement can speak to each other. We have fought hard for transit and rail security, nuclear plant security, chemical plant security, border security and bioterrorism/avian flu prevention.
So the fact is, it is part of our message. Our message this year is very clear. We need a new direction in America. Our very first example of that is we're going to protect the American people.
BLOCK: How realistic do you think it is that Democrats will be able to translate the anti-Republican incumbent sentiment that we're seeing the polls, translate that into actually taking control of one or both houses of Congress in November? It's a very tall order.
Senator BOXER: Well, we're going to find out in November. I'm not one of these people that says I can predict. But I can tell you that right now today, things are going well for us.
BLOCK: Okay. Senator Boxer, thanks very much.
Senator BOXER: Thank you.
BLOCK: Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, speaking with us from her home in Rancho Mirage.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.