Tammy Haddad spoke with Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., for the June 13 edition of "National Journal On Air." This is a transcript of their conversation.
O: I'm Tammy Haddad. This is "National Journal On Air," and we're very happy to have with us Elizabeth Edwards. Elizabeth, I have to ask you first, because I know you were overseas, because we saw these reports that Senator Edwards would not be interested in the vice presidential slot. Is that true?
Edwards: Um. Well, of course it's true if he said something (laughter). He was asked, wouldn't you make a good vice presidential candidate? And John demurred and said, I've done that, and I want to be as helpful as I possibly can to Senator Obama, but this is not something to which I aspire.
We've been watching the John Adams series -- as well as a lot of people across the country have been -- where only terrible things are said about the vice presidency. And as we're listening, we're both nodding our heads, you know, listening to the thing. And, you know, I think there's a lot of ways John can be helpful. He'll do whatever, and so will I. Most Democrats will do whatever we need to make certain that this election gets us back on course.
Q: Well, there was a historic moment this week in the campaign when you were there with Senator Obama. But let me follow in the VP side, because Jim Johnson was named Senator Obama's pick to run the VP vetting process, and he had to withdraw his nomination this week. What is your reaction to that? Because he picked your husband.
Edwards: Well, yeah, so we like him better as a VP chooser than we did Warren Christopher, where John came in second, with Al Gore. But the sad thing about that is that we have in Jim Johnson an extraordinarily experienced man, a man with good, incredible judgment, a man with a very good opinion of the capabilities of women -- which is always a nice thing to have brought to the table -- and a man of, I think, exactly the kind of temperament we hope to have -- intelligent and thoughtful. So he will be very difficult to replace.
We're seeing now they're going after [former Deputy Attorney General] Eric Holder. You know, obviously this will disrupt the Obama campaign week. So now it's started -- maybe we shouldn't let it get started -- but now it is. I think the important thing is to push back and not let the [John] McCain campaign interrupt what's going to be a really important process for Senator Obama.
Q: Well, there's no better way -- I mean, Senator Obama has just said who he picks as vice president says who he is. So there's no better way to really stick a knife in the campaign, right? -- despite the fact that the McCain campaign has come out and said, you know, we're not going to fight dirty, we should be talking about issues.
Edwards: Right. You know, I hope that they'll get back on course on that. I mean, I know that also Democrats have spoken about some of the people that McCain has in his process. So, you know, I can't imagine people who are of less interest to the American public in general than the people who are evaluating the credentials of potential vice presidential candidates. The ultimate decision will be made by these two men.
Q: Elizabeth, this week a sight that was shocking to many Democrats, people who follow the election -- there was you at the Senator Obama rally there in North Carolina. Can you tell me how that happened?
Edwards: John and I had been overseas. John had done a number of speeches. We had heard that this, that it was going to be held in North Carolina on Monday. We were actually scheduled not to be in North Carolina on Monday, but we decided that it was important for us to be there, important for us to show united support for Senator Obama, and so we were glad to be there.
Governor [Mike] Easley, who is immensely entertaining, did a great introduction. He had a Republican woman who was having lot of problems and decided the Republican Party is not the answer for her, do the introduction of Senator Obama. And it was quite a nice event. Glad to be there. Glad to be indicating in that visual way our support. He'll have our support in lots of ways, but perhaps visually it was a good way to start.
Q: Well, he said specifically about you that the two of you will be working together on health care. Can you tell us about that?
Edwards: Well, I've had conversations with Senator Obama about health care. And ...
Q: And you've been critical. You were for Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Edwards: There are things I'd like to see improve. And he's been very assuring that the things that need to be fixed -- find out that these are real problems, that he wants to fix them. I have for some time been in communication with his health care team, informally. And have -- since Senator Obama spoke -- have spoken with the policy team about being involved in further discussions.
I think that it's a good sign that they're always interested in seeing how they can improve any policy -- both improve the policies themselves by additional incentives to get people involved, and for other things, other ways. And I think it's a good sign they're willing to be open to that. Sometimes you get politicians who dig their feet into the sand and aren't willing to listen to another voice. That's not the case with Senator Obama. I think that's a very encouraging sign about him.
Q: Will you go on the road with him?
Edwards: Well, I mean, at some point I'll go wherever the campaign thinks that I'll be useful. I have some hesitation -- when I was the wife of a vice presidential nominee, I didn't have much confidence that I wasn't really doing anything more than speaking to the converted. So I'm willing to do whatever makes sense.
Q: Well, you have in fact taken the biggest hit at Senator McCain and his health care plan. So what would be more powerful than to have you on the road with him or continue to talk about the issues on behalf of the Obama campaign?
Edwards: I agree that -- I think that Senator McCain's made a mistake. When they can't undo -- they open a Pandora's box, in a sense, by taking me seriously, and a number of the people who have been defending his health care plan actually refer to me. You know, one editorial referred to whether or not McCain's health care plan, such as it is, met the Edwards test. Well, good. I'm glad that's the test they're trying to reach.
But that's essentially, you know -- both because it's been an enormous part of John's campaign and the things I've talked about separately, but also because of the response of the McCain campaign -- I know I have a larger voice than I might have on this really important issue. And boy, I'm really glad, because it is so important.
Q: Were you surprised after the vaunted -- all the vaunted coverage of the excellent Republican campaigns over the years -- that they stepped right in that and gave you a huge window to walk through?
Edwards: I've been absolutely floored that they did that. He has added a new portion -- Senator McCain's health care plan, which was already pretty disastrous -- he added, in response to me, added a new section which was to put people with pre-existing conditions in high-risk pools.
I was calculating what that would cost. And you sort of have to get ready for this -- so we already know it's $3 trillion for the $5,000 tax credit he is giving out. $3 trillion -- it's a lot more than anybody else is thinking about, talking about spending. But if my computer calculator is correct, if people with pre-existing conditions who are currently covered by employer health care -- and he wants to sort of end employer health care -- if those people have to go to high-risk pools, which is what it looks like they'll have to do, the cost would be $450 trillion.
This -- you know, it's not just that this is a budget-breaker, you know. We thought that President Bush could do a lot of damage, did a lot of economic damage, in his seven years so far, but he's going to put him to shame if he is really talking about doing something like this.
Q: And, as you know, Senator McCain has asked Senator Obama to join him in town hall meetings this summer. Maybe, let me ask you this question -- we have Doug Eakins, who is a senior policy adviser, economic adviser, to the McCain campaign -- maybe an issue challenge to them, on the health care side, to debate you on these issues?
Edwards: I would be happy to sit down with 'em. I think it's good for people to hear both sides of what's good and bad -- been talked about by people who speak their language, don't try to speak above them and who can sort of call the other guy when it's, you know, a bunch of malarkey.
You know, everybody knows some of what politicians say is malarkey, and having somebody there to call them on it is good. I'd be happy to do that any time and any place.
Q: OK, great. Maybe we can do it on the XM Potus08 National Journal show. I'm going to ask him that later. Now Obama has launched a Web site -- and you came on my old show, "Hardball," and directly confronted Ann Coulter about this, her smear campaign against you, your family, Democrats and what she was just doing in the campaign. Do you think this is going to be an effective strategy of the Obama campaign -- to put all this stuff out there? All the things that people whisper that's not in the paper. Do you think that would work?
Edwards: I think that's not a bad idea. I mean, you know, John spent his early career as a trial lawyer. And one of the first things that you learn is, do not let the other guy say the worst facts that you have. You have to say the worst facts, because people will trust you more if they don't think you're trying to hide something. So if you say I'm not trying to hide that people are saying that I dye my hair green, you know, and so I'm telling you that you know when I was 25 I dyed my hair green, and in fact here's a picture of me -- boy, don't I look terrible? I learned my lesson.
You know, and you get some credence from that. You take all of the energy out of their attack -- you know, that you're a green-hair whatever.
Obviously, I'm making something up, because I don't know what the actual claims are. I suspect what some of them are. But it allows them to respond. I think you need to be -- I have not seen it, so -- the tone has to be not angry.
Q: It's just a recitation of what's out there and their reaction to it. It's very interesting, a different way of using the Internet. You've always been way far ahead on the use of the Internet. How helpful do you think it has been to campaigns -- if you can call the Internet one thing? Talk about the use of video, blogs, all these different ways that people are communicating with each other and the videos that people are putting up on behalf of candidates as they did for you and your husband and for Senator Obama now.
Edwards: I think it's really useful. It can be misleading, too, but so can the mainstream press be misleading. So you have to take everything you see with a grain of salt. But (inaudible) well, they said this, but it's out of context. And you won't have any way of getting the context. But then, what do you know, there on YouTube is the whole speech. I think it's really useful. It gives people -- normal people, who don't have a research staff -- the capacity to get out the truth more easily.
Q: Well, it goes around my friends in the newsroom -- I have to ask you about a front-page story in The New York Times today all about the media coverage of Senator Clinton, including my old colleagues at MSNBC and other cable channels and networks. Do you think the coverage of Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign was sexist? Katie Couric says so.
Edwards: It was sexist. I thought that it was extraordinarily negative, particularly at one point later in the process when it almost seemed to be an insult to the commentators on television that she was continuing to press her case, I thought, instead of viewing it as it really was, which I think it was a moment of incredible strength. She was winning these late primaries. She had a perfect right to take the position she did until it was -- until the case was clearly decided. And yet they treated it as if it was insulting.
I suspect they would've given the same treatment to a man, but I'm not positive. They didn't -- I don't remember hearing the same clamor for Howard Dean to get out, but the process hadn't gone as long as it had, so I didn't think that it was fair. I think that if any one of those people had been in her shoes they would've continued to try to get the nomination. Had any single one of them changed places with her, they would've done it -- man, woman, green hair or not.
Q: Considering how far the primary fight went after your husband pulled out, do you wish now that maybe you guys had stayed in longer?
Edwards: No. We had the idea that once it gets down to two people it's clear. If John had stayed in the race, he could've pulled together a hundred delegates, and we would've gone to an open convention -- John thought that that really wasn't in the party's best interest. So we wanted a quicker resolution, he would need to get out. And so he did. We didn't in fact get that quicker resolution. But we are going to go -- we aren't going to an open convention. You know, at least part of his expectations did play out. But as you saw, it got pretty nasty at times as you saw it move away from issues which were at the center of John's campaign. You had to say that for the grace of God go I.
Q: Well, now you're in a situation where the McCain campaign is mentioning you. Will Senator Edwards go on the road with Senator Obama, if asked?
Edwards: They've had initial conversations about doing that. John's happy to do it. I know he's a great advocate. I hope that Senator Obama will in fact use him. And John has procured promises both to Senator Clinton and Senator Obama before he left the campaign that they would, during the general campaign, have several days addressing poverty -- that poverty would be addressed at the convention. And some of his signature issues would be on the plate, on the table. If he does in fact follow through on that promise and have a three-day poverty tour, I would be surprised if John was not involved in that.
Q: Would we see you at the convention?
Edwards: We will be at the convention. Both of us.
Q: How about those fabulous children?
Edwards: I don't know. The convention is now going to be when their new school year starts. They're back at public school. They may not be there.
Q: Elizabeth Edwards, it's so great to have you with us here at "National Journal On Air." Best wishes for the summer.
Edwards: Thank you, Tammy. Really great to speak with you.