JOHNSON CITY - An anticipated showdown between Congress and President Bush over the controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys is good for democracy, former Tennessee U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford Jr. said Wednesday.
Ford, whose political and private-sector career has taken off since he narrowly lost his U.S. Senate bid to Republican Bob Corker last November, spoke to East Tennessee State University's Social Work Career Day program.
The ex-congressman from Memphis is now the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) chairman, a senior policy adviser for Merrill Lynch, a Fox News commentator, and a visiting professor at Vanderbilt University.
Ford told a D.P. Culp Center crowd of students and well-wishers that the firings of those U.S. attorneys - all Republicans appointed by the Bush administration - deserve to be investigated.
"All facts should be put on the table," he said of the situation. "Democrats should stop asking for (Attorney General Alberto) Gonzales or (presidential adviser Karl) Rove to be fired until all the facts are on the table. The White House ought to give all the facts to them."
One branch of the U.S. government "can't tell the other branch what they are going to do and to accept it," Ford said of Bush's refusal to allow members of his administration to be questioned by Congress under oath.
"If you have a Congress and senators who want to be at the top and a president who wants to hold on, it's good that they go at each other a little bit," Ford said. "It creates a healthy tension. There is no Democrat or Republican way to lie. There is no Democrat or Republican way to tell the truth. They ought to put the facts on the table and let the facts guide them. ... Based on what we've seen and read so far and if they turn out to be true, then the attorney general may have to find another job soon. I don't know how you have confidence in the lead law enforcement and legal official in the president's administration if he is hiring and firing people based on pursuing a political agenda as opposed to this little thing called justice."
Here's what Ford had to say on other selected topics:
â€¢Ford said his Vanderbilt students were surprised to observe he was friends with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich when Gingrich came to speak to his leadership class.
"They've grown up in an era where they think politics is nothing but a fight," Ford said.
â€¢On Bush's troop surge to accelerate an end to the Iraq war, Ford said: "I think leaving prematurely would be more damaging ... but if all we're going to do is continue to do the same thing, then I think we should leave. I do hope Congress will maintain its pressure on the president because ... when you're held accountable, good things happen. There's nothing wrong with being wrong. People make mistakes ... daily, hourly. The real test of leadership is what you do when you realize you're wrong."
â€¢Ford talked about the field of 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls after posing for a number of pictures with crowd members. He said that as DLC chairman, he's not allowed to endorse or hold fund-raisers for any of them. Among those presidential hopefuls, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama campaigned with Ford, while U.S. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chris Dodd both raised money for him.
"I hope the presidential contest at the end of the day boils down to who has the best ideas, who has the best framework for combating global terrorism, who has the best plan for helping American workers deal with the rising forces of globalization, and who will inspire America as a better place going forward," Ford said.
Ford also said he will again be a candidate for public office - but he didn't say what office he will seek.
"The private sector is a remarkably exciting, fast-paced place to be right now," he said. "I haven't thought about when or what and how we do it exactly, but public service is who I am. It's part of my DNA."
For more about the DLC, go to www.ndol.org.