Monday, February 28, 2005

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware yesterday called himself a strong maybe for the 2008 presidential race, but predicted his Democratic colleague Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York would win, while California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was uninterested in the White House.

Mrs. Clinton “is likely to be the nominee,” Mr. Biden said of the former first lady. “She’d be the toughest person, and I think Hillary Clinton is able to be elected president of the United States.”

“I think she’d be incredibly difficult to beat. I think she is the most difficult obstacle for anyone being the nominee,” Mr. Biden told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Schwarzenegger, a former film star and bodybuilding champion, predicted during the 1977 Cannes Film Festival that he would one day be president, but he wrote off those comments yesterday as a joke.

“Well, you’ve got to have a little bit of sense of humor about all this,” said the actor-governor.

“But, I mean, no, my goal was not to run for president. My goal was to run for governor, to become governor, and then to reform the system, and to do the kind of things that no one wanted to do because it’s too dangerous in politics to do,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

“I have never thought about running for president, and this is not my vision,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” the governor poured more cold water on the possibility of his becoming a federal candidate by refusing to address any national issues or to comment on policies being pursued by President Bush.

On Social Security: “I’m not getting involved at the federal level, because I’m not a senator, I’m not a congressman. I only take care of California. So I don’t get involved. That’s Bush’s responsibility. He has to take care of that, and Senate and Congress back there has to take care of that.”

Asked about Supreme Court nominees, Mr. Schwarzenegger said: “I don’t get involved. It’s not a decision that I have to make.”

He also declined to give his opinion on Mr. Bush’s immigration guest-worker proposal, saying “it doesn’t matter what is mine, because it is a federal issue.” However, the Austrian-born governor said the issue of illegal immigration must be resolved.

“We know that the amnesty program didn’t work. We have done that once before under the Reagan years, and it backfired big-time,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

Mr. Biden said that he is seriously considering a second bid for the presidency.

Asked by host Tim Russert whether he was running, he said: “The answer is there’s a lot at stake, and I might.”

Mr. Biden withdrew from the 1988 primary amid criticism over revelations that some of his speeches were plagiarized from other works, primarily those of Neil Kinnock, then the leader of Britain’s Labor Party.

“The fact of the matter is, I was lazy. The fact of the matter was I was arrogant about how I went about it. I hope I’ve learned something from that in the last years,” said Mr. Biden, who said he will make a decision by year’s end.

While some Democrats are hoping to revitalize their party with an infusion of religion and moral issues to attract more voters, Mr. Schwarzenegger separated himself from the issue, which motivated the Republican base to turn out in droves during the last election.

“As a matter of fact, religion should have no affect on politics,” said the governor, who is Catholic but has opposed church teachings on abortion and stem-cell research.

“I am representing the people of California. The people of California, all of them are not Catholics. So, therefore, I do not bring my religion into this whole thing,” Mr. Schwarzenegger said.

But any speculation about the charismatic action hero running for president faces the enormous obstacle of the Constitution, which forbids foreign-born citizens from holding the office.

Lawmakers said yesterday there is little inclination in Congress to amend the Constitution. Mr. Biden and Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” they would not support such a change, even for Mr. Schwarzenegger.

“I don’t see a great need to change that area of the Constitution,” Mr. Santorum said. “I think there’s a lot more pressing issues to change than allowing people who are born overseas here, so I don’t see any reason.”

While jokingly saying that he wanted to help Mr. Schwarzenegger “any way I can,” Mr. Biden said he is “incredibly reluctant to amend the Constitution for any purpose.”

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