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Lieberman Holds Press Conference

Aired December 16, 2002 - 11:35   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go right now to Senator Joseph Lieberman.

JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: ... Senate office building. A new day has dawned, and with it, as is always, the case particularly here in America, new possibilities.

In January of 2001, I said that if Al Gore ran for the Democratic nomination for president in '04, I would not be a candidate. I felt that was right then, and I continue to feel it right through yesterday, this morning.

Al Gore has given, over the course of his career, tremendous leadership and service to America. As a member of the House of Representatives, of the Senate of the United States, as vice president, he provided unique and constructive leadership in a host of areas from national security to economic growth, from environmental protection to governmental efficiency.

He has been my friend for more than 15 years. When I arrived in the Senate, he welcomed me here. We worked together then, and in his eight years as vice president. And then he gave me the extraordinary opportunity to be his running mate in 2000.

I can never thank Al and Tipper enough. My wife, Hadassah, joins me in these expressions as do all of our children. Our two families really have become very, very close to one another. And we wish Al and Tipper and their family all the best in the years ahead.

The decision that Al made yesterday and announced ends one chapter in his life and career, but he has much to look forward to in the chapters yet ahead.

And I would say that our party and our country would benefit from his continued counsel and service.

In any case, his announcement yesterday makes what has, up until now, been a 50-50 possibility as to whether he would run or not into a reality, which is that he is not going to run.

And therefore, I am going to very seriously consider the awesome opportunity that I now have to become a candidate for president of the United States. I intend in the next few weeks to speak with my family and friends and supporters, particularly friends and supporters at home in Connecticut and then to announce -- to make a decision and announce my plans early in January.

But for now, I want to simply say thank you to Al Gore for his leadership, for his service and for the opportunity he gave me to be his running mate in 2000, which makes possible the decision that I'm going to make in the next couple of weeks.


QUESTION: ... yesterday?

LIEBERMAN: He let me know yesterday afternoon what the decision was going to be. We communicated two or three times during the evening, and it was all very personal and warm.

QUESTION: Did you actually talk to him, though?

LIEBERMAN: As befits our relationship in the 21st century, our communications were by e-mail.


LIEBERMAN: Or by -- I don't want to do a product promotion -- but it was by Blackberry (ph).

QUESTION: Did he initiate the contact...

LIEBERMAN: He did. He initiated the contact yesterday afternoon to, as he said, give me a heads up that he was going to make this announcement on TV last night.

And it came as a total surprise to me. Like most of you, I assume, I expected that his decision would not come until after the first of the year.

QUESTION: What would prevent you?

LIEBERMAN: Well, to go back to what I said a moment ago, what was until yesterday only a possibility, an abstraction, this morning becomes a reality, a concrete reality.

And it is an awesome opportunity, one to be taken with the greatest seriousness. I owe it -- it's an enormous decision, personal decision and family decision. And I owe it to my friends and my family to speak with them over the next couple of weeks about it.

But as I have said to many of you when you ask me how likely was it that I would run if Al Gore did not run, I said I probably would run if Al Gore doesn't run. And that remains the case.

It's also true that later this week, I'm going to leave on a long, scheduled trip to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East to meet with American military personnel, the increasing numbers of American men and women in uniform who are deploying there to bring them greetings over Christmas from all of their fellow Americans and to thank them for the service that they are giving us. So I'm going to be out of the country from later this week until right before New Year's, and then we'll finish our deliberations and hope to announce a decision shortly thereafter.

QUESTION: Senator, if you run, will you seek Vice President Gore's support, and would you expect to have it? have it?

LIEBERMAN: I would certainly seek Vice President Gore's support.

But I do want to say that I'm not assuming anyone's support at this point. In other words, I'm not concluding automatically that I have anyone's support.

If I run, I'm on my own out there. And I take it to be my responsibility to earn the support of Al Gore and as many other Democrats and Americans as I possibly can.


QUESTION: ... suggested to you that you would be able to get his support?

LIEBERMAN: We have not talked about that at all, because up until yesterday, it was at least a 50-50 possibility that Al would himself be a candidate for president.

QUESTION: Senator, what do you think you offer the Democratic Party and the country as its potential nominee, as opposed to those who are also mulling this?

LIEBERMAN: Well, let's -- it's difficult for me and you to have me answer the question the way I'm about to, but until I decide to become a candidate for president, I think I'll wait to answer that question.

My record is what it is, and I intend to run consistent with my record and what I take to be the needs to be -- the particular needs of our country at this time.

QUESTION: Senator, how did your family react to this? Did they have reservations about you seeking the presidency?

LIEBERMAN: My family is like most everybody's family, they have differing opinions. But we're very close with one another. I think, differing opinions in the sense that they understand how big a decision this is and what it will mean to us as a family because we like each other, you know. And when you run for president, you don't get to spend as much time with your family as you'd like.

So that's something that we have to accept as part of a decision to try to serve this country that we all love in yet a different way.

QUESTION: Is your wife supportive of this?

LIEBERMAN: Well, as always, not only do I not speak for Al Gore, I don't usually speak for my wife. (LAUGHTER)

LIEBERMAN: But the truth is that my wife is very supportive. My wife was a star during -- became a star during the 2000 campaign. She's just so genuine. She connects with people. Her story is such a classically American story -- born in Europe after the Second World War, coming here as an immigrant, experiencing all the opportunity that America provides. Really the American dream. And I think she testified to that in her own genuine way, and in that sense, gave so many other Americans hope for their own upward mobility, if I can put it that way.

So I'm lucky to have Hadassah as my partner. And whatever we do, whatever we decide, it's going to be together.

QUESTION: You had said that you were travelling the country as though you were campaigning to get the infrastructure in place. Howard Dean is in Iowa today. Senator Kerry's filed an exploratory.

Have you lost time or are you confident that you're in step?

LIEBERMAN: Well, it's still early. I guess I should leave the political analysis to the political analysts. I've spent a lot of time travelling around the country. I've been to more than 30 states in the last -- well, since the 2000 election was over.

I've met a lot of people around the country. Tried to speak to what's on the mind of the American people, the quest for security and victory in the war on terrorism, the need to get our economy going again, the need to make the American dream real, grow the Middle Class.

And no, it's early, but look, I'll repeat what I said before: I expected this decision by the former vice president to come in January, early January. So I'm going to take a few more weeks to do some final thinking. This is a big decision. It has to come not just from my head but from my heart and soul and then to announce it early in January.

And remember, there's still a good long year between January of '03 and January of '04 when this all really starts.

Thank you.

HARRIS: Senator Joseph Lieberman stepping into the spotlight for the race for the presidency in 2004 -- almost, he didn't come out and say he was going to run, but he says he's going to seriously consider taking this awesome opportunity to run for president.

Let's bring in -- since he suggested we leave it to the analyst, let's bring in our Bill Schneider, who does our analysis, as well as our Wolf Blitzer, who is standing by in Doha, Qatar.

Bill, what do you make of what you just heard there? Does that sound like a man who has not yet made up his mind? WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Sounds like a man who said exactly what he said. He's probably going to run, he is open to do that now that Al Gore is not a candidate, he is going to talk to his family about it. He has to take that last step. He sounds like a guy who's probably going to run, just as he said.

HARRIS: All right. Well, what would be his strength, his strong suit?

SCHNEIDER: Name recognition is one of them, certainly. That's what candidates spend a lot of time and money trying to get, but Joe Lieberman is already a well-known commodity. He has run for national office in 2000 as Al Gore's running mate, and a lot of Democrats respect him, admire him, have learned a lot about him. He talked about his wife's story. He is a Jewish candidate, not the first Jewish candidate for president.

Arlen Specter briefly ran, Milton Shapp ran back in the 1970s, but they didn't get very far in the campaign, and I've heard the question asked by an awful lot of people, how will a Jewish candidate do for president if he becomes, as is likely with Lieberman, a serious contender, and the answer is, we don't know. It's never really come up as a serious candidate's issue before.

I can tell you this, when he ran with Al Gore in the year 2000, the fact that he was Jewish seemed to have, really, no impact. But you didn't find any evidence of anti-Semitism. But running for president is a very different ball game from running for vice president. When Geraldine Ferraro ran as Walter Mondale's running mate, no one blamed her for Mondale's loss. But when a woman runs for president, it's a very different picture.

HARRIS: Well, we know he's a smart guy. He mentioned his wife in glowing terms. Let's go to Wolf with -- a maybe more difficult question. Wolf, what could you imagine would be the reason why he would not run?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, one of the reasons might be if he determined that the fact that he is Jewish, not only Jewish, but an observant Jew. He's orthodox, that means he observed the Sabbath, Friday night and Saturday, he doesn't drive, he adheres to the very religious portions of the Jewish faith, that could be a factor.

There could be a conclusion that maybe there's a hidden anti- Semitic vote out there that could undermine his candidacy, although I agree with Bill Schneider, I didn't see any of that; I certainly didn't feel any of that coming through when he was the vice presidential running mate with Al Gore. He seemed to be pretty popular out there. There were no overt expressions of anti-Semitism.

But certainly, those are factors he's going to have to weigh very carefully as he considers this very, very difficult decision to throw his hat in the ring. Over these past several months, while other Democrats like John Kerry or Howard Dean or John Edwards could go out to New Hampshire and go out to Iowa and start the ball rolling, if you will, he had this difficulty because he had made it clear that if Al Gore were to run, he would not run because of his loyalty to Al Gore, and the opportunity that Al Gore gave him to emerge from just being a senator to being a vice presidential Democratic running mate.

But now that Al Gore is out of the mix, he can certainly take those steps, put together a staff, and sound out voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and elsewhere around the country, and Democratic organizers and political leaders to see how much support he might have. So these are all very sensitive, very difficult issues he's going to have to weigh very carefully.

HARRIS: All right. Well, we appreciate you giving us your insight, you weighing in for us. Thanks to you as well, Bill. Bill Schneider in Boston and Wolf Blitzer standing by there in Qatar.


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