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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

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MSNBC Meet the Press - Transcript

Transcript for April 9
John Kerry, Henry Bonilla, Luis Gutierrez, J.D. Hayworth

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: Should the United States consider an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq? And what should be done about allegations the president authorized the release of highly sensitive intelligence information to refute critics of the war? With us: the man who challenged George W. Bush for the presidency in 2004, Senator John Kerry, Democrat from Massachusetts.

Then, immigration. Should we build a fence on our southern border? And what should happen to the 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States? With us, three members of Congress with very different views:

Representative Henry Bonilla, Republican from Texas; Representative Luis Gutierrez, Democrat from Illinois; and Representative J.D. Hayworth, Republican from Arizona.

But first, the man who received 48.3 percent of the popular vote in 2004 in his race against George W. Bush. John Kerry is back on MEET THE PRESS.

Welcome.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Well, I'm glad to be here. I thought it was 49.2, but that's OK. Who's counting?

MR. RUSSERT: Forty-eight-point-three, but who's counting?

You wrote an interesting essay this week talking about our situation in Iraq.

SEN. KERRY: Yeah.
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MR. RUSSERT: And here's what appeared in The New York Times: "Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15 to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military. If Iraqis aren't willing to build a unity government in the five months since the election, they're probably not willing to build one at all. The civil war will only get worse, and we will have no choice anyway but to leave." In five weeks, pull the troops out if the situation is status quo.

SEN. KERRY: Tim, it's unconscionable that any young American is dying because Iraqis, five months after an election, are dithering and squabbling and cannot find the ability to compromise and come together in a democracy. Our kids didn't die for that. Our kids didn't go over there to do that. Our soldiers have done their job. They've given them several elections, three elections. They've given them a government, the opportunity to have a government. And now is the time to get tough. You have to set a deadline because they only respond to deadlines, is what they've proven.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Joe Biden, your fellow Democrat in the Senate, said this about your proposal: "The problem with John's plan is it sets a date, but it doesn't tell you what happens when the rest of the world falls apart - when you have the Turks and the Iranians in Iraq and there's a regional war. He doesn't tell you that part."

SEN. KERRY: Well, actually I disagree with Joe. I do set forth what you need to do in that part because there's a complete absence of diplomacy here, Tim. I mean, you remember the times of Henry Kissinger, shuttle diplomacy, an incredibly engaged effort to try to get resolution in the Middle East? Do you remember Jim Baker moving around, talking, unbelievable engaged effort to help build a coalition for Desert Storm? You don't see any of that taking place here. There's a complete absence of real diplomacy.

MR. RUSSERT: The secretary of state went to Iraq and suggested that Prime Minister Jaafari step aside and allow someone else to emerge.

SEN. KERRY: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: An Iraqi said, "We resent that American interference."

SEN. KERRY: That's not the way to do it, Tim. What you need and what I've suggested is that you have a date in the accordslike summit where you bring all the parties together—and I mean all the parties. You need to bring Iraq's neighbors together. Khalilzad has now been authorized to talk to the Iranians. Bring the Iranians, bring the Syrians, bring the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians and others. You have a conference at which you have the United Nations, the Arab League and all of the factions. And you sit there, and you pound out the differences.

Now, it may be that ultimately you can't find a resolution on the constitutional issues and you have to embrace something like Les Gelb's original proposal, the former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, who said you may have to divide it up into three parts. I don't know the answer to that today. What I do know is unless you get that conference, unless you combine that with the threat of withdrawal and unless you set a date to move forward, it's not going to happen.

MR. RUSSERT: But Senator...

SEN. KERRY: You continue with the squabbling that's taking place.

MR. RUSSERT: ...if you pull out all American troops in five weeks, you could have the Iranians come into Iraq.

SEN. KERRY: Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT: You could have the Syrians come into Iraq. You could have thousands more of al-Qaeda come into Iraq.

SEN. KERRY: No.

MR. RUSSERT: You could have militia...

SEN. KERRY: No. Mm-mm.

MR. RUSSERT: ...of, of the Shiites vs. militia of the Sunnis. You could have complete chaos, a haven for terrorism all around the world, and the country will fall apart.

SEN. KERRY: Tim, that's not what I've suggested. And it's really important to look at what I've proposed. The first step is you've got to have a government. Our troops are trapped in the middle of a civil war and our troops can't do anything about a civil war, so you have to sit here intelligently and analytically and say, "OK, if we're in a civil war, what are we going to do?" Well, part of the reason we're in a civil war is we don't have a government five months after an election. And if they can't put a government together under the threat that the United States is going to withdraw, they're not going to do it. Then they want the civil war, then they have to fight their civil war. And as General Casey has said, nothing our troops can do will change—this can't be won militarily, it has to be resolved politically, and there's no significant effort on the political side to resolve it.

MR. RUSSERT: So if they don't put it together in five weeks, let them have...

SEN. KERRY: Well, you—it's...

MR. RUSSERT: ...let them have their civil war.

SEN. KERRY: But, but stop for a minute. It's going to take you at least five or six months to go through the process of withdrawal, it just does. Jack Murtha is correct about that.

Secondly—let me put this to you, our goal is to train 272,000 security forces. The president's policy, supposedly, is to stand down as they stand up. Well, the administration has been bragging that we've trained 242,000, we're only 30,000 away from the goal we supposedly have as our final goal. If it's true that we've trained 242,000, where are the troops that are standing down? The president's policy is to stand down as they stand up; they've stood up, supposedly, 242,000, we're not standing down.

Secondly, the fact is that I have recommended, as Jack Murtha has, and others, that you have an over-the-horizon capacity. You don't withdraw completely from the region, you don't leave it exposed to the Iranians and others. And all of this has to happen with this date and accordslike summit taking place at the same time. The absence of diplomacy in this effort is, is, is negligence. I mean, it's stunning, and you cannot begin to resolve Iraq unless you have that kind of diplomatic effort. That's—you get the stakeholders—if, if in—if, if the Jordanians, if the Saudis, if others, are truly concerned about the region, and they are, if they're concerned about chaos, and they ought to be, then the threat of our withdrawal is what is going to finally get them to step up and be involved. But the United States has to lead that effort, and we're not leading it.
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MR. RUSSERT: But by setting a specific date for withdrawal—and you say immediate withdrawal—it is a, a change in your thinking. Now, if you go back to March of ‘04...

SEN. KERRY: Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: ...'04, this is what you said. "Kerry says, he is committed to finishing the mission. ‘My exit strategy is success,' he says, ‘a viable, stable Iraq that can contribute to the stability and peace in the Middle East.'" And then a month later, you offered this.

(Videotape, April 14, 2004):

SEN. KERRY: I think the vast majority of the American people understand that it is important not just to cut and run. And I don't believe in, in a cut-and-run philosophy. I think that would be very damaging to the war on terror, it would be very damaging to the Middle East, it would be very damaging to the longer term interests of the United States.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: And last January of, of last year, I asked you specifically about...

SEN. KERRY: Yeah, I remember.

MR. RUSSERT: ...what you are now proposing. Let's watch.

(Videotape, January 30, 2005):

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe there should be a specific timetable of a withdrawal of American troops?

SEN. KERRY: No.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: No. Now you're saying yes.

SEN. KERRY: There's no change. Yes, I am saying yes. And what I said back then was based on the fact that the presumption of everybody, Tim, was that we were fighting al-Qaeda principally and that we were looking at the, at the, at the war on terror. The fact is that 98 percent of the insurgency has now been transformed into Iraqis, into indigenous population of Iraq. There are probably less than 1,000 foreign jihadists there. And in my most recent trip to Iraq, it became very, very clear to me, as it has to others, that the Iraqis themselves will not tolerate the jihadists staying on their land.

So the key here is you now have a civil war. This is the third war in Iraq. The first war was the war against Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. The second war was the war against the jihadists with the president's statement, "It's better to fight them over there than here." We accepted that. And under those premises, we didn't want to be automatically moving. Now we have no choice, because the administration did none of the other things that I also recommended at that point in time, including, may I add, this concept of bringing together the parties in the region and having a major diplomatic resolution.

If you talk to, to leaders in the region and others here in the United States, who look at this issue carefully—experts—they will tell you that Iran is delighted that we're in Iraq. They love it. And we're going to strengthen our hand with Iran when we get out of there. We're going to strengthen our hand with Russia, we're going to strengthen our hand with China, we're going to strengthen our hand in the Middle East. And I think it is now imperative to be clear about forcing the Iraqis to stand up on their own. And General Casey, incidentally, has said the large number of American forces there is reducing the willingness of Iraqis to do that.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me go back to October of 2002, when you stood up on the floor of the Senate and said Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, biological, chemical, the means to deliver them perhaps to the U.S., potentially nuclear weapons, and then voted to authorize the president to go to war. Your running mate, the man you selected to be the next president of the United States, John Edwards, was on this program. He wrote an op-ed piece first in The Washington Post, and he wrote this: "I was wrong. Almost three years ago we went into Iraq to remove what we were told - and what many of us believed and argued - was a threat to America. But in fact we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction when our forces invaded Iraq in 2003. The intelligence was deeply flawed and, in some cases, manipulated to fit a political agenda. It was a mistake to vote for this war in 2002. I take responsibility for that mistake." Was it a mistake for you to vote for the war in 2002?

SEN. KERRY: Absolutely. I've said so many times, many times since then.

MR. RUSSERT: And you take responsibility for it?

SEN. KERRY: You better believe I take responsibility for it. And that's one of the reasons why I'm here today, Tim. You know, last night, late at night, I went down to the Wall, the Vietnam Wall. I was amazed by the numbers of people there, 10:30, 11:00 at night, it's incredible. You walk down that ramp, and as you go down it gets deeper and deeper, and the wall gets higher and higher, and you see these names after names after names; thousands, tens of thousands. They were added to that wall. They died after our leaders knew the policy wasn't working. And I believe I have a moral responsibility, as we all do in America, to get this right for our soldiers.

Our soldiers have done their jobs. They can't resolve this issue. This is not to be resolved militarily, it can't be done from a Humvee or a helicopter. It has to be done politically, diplomatically. You've got to resolve the difference between Shia and Sunni. You've got to give the Sunni enough power to be safe. You've got to give them a source of revenue. You've got to reconcile these differences. And Ambassador Khalilzad, who's a good man, and struggling to do this, cannot do it alone. The absence of the president, the absence of real leadership, the absence of this diplomatic effort is the key, and I refuse to be a member of the United States Senate and add people to the next wall for Iraq because we didn't do what was necessary to protect our troops.

MR. RUSSERT: Of all the votes you've cast in the Senate, is the vote in favor of the war in Iraq in October 2002 the one you would most like to take back?

SEN. KERRY: Profoundly.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Iran. Headlines in The Washington Post today:

"U.S. is studying military strike options on Iran." And in this article it says the United States is contemplating the use of tactical nuclear devices against Iran. Would you support that?

SEN. KERRY: No. I think that it—that is, that is another example of the move-from-the-hip—shoot-from-the-hip, cowboy diplomacy of this administration. For the United States of America, at a time when we're already trying to wrestle with Iran and the, the proliferation of nuclear weapons—and North Korea, that is not paying attention to the six-party talks, partly because of what's happening in Iraq, and they don't need to—for us to think about exploding tactical nuclear weapons in some way is the height of irresponsibility. It would be destructive to any nonproliferation efforts, and the military assessment is it won't work. That even this bombing strategy itself would not work. Once again, the administration is not engaged in the real kind of diplomacy—now, when President Clinton had to deal with Bosnia, sat down with Yeltsin, persuaded him that it was in the interest of Russia even to be involved there, I think that—you know, you—we, we've got to have leadership that stops proceeding so unilaterally, and in, in such a, a, you know, sort of overtly militaristic way, and start putting people together to resolve this.

MR. RUSSERT: But the, the Iranians have said, "Get out of our life. We, we are going forward with our program no matter what you do."

SEN. KERRY: Yeah, but what you don't have...

MR. RUSSERT: So you seem to be accepting the Iranians having a nuclear bomb.

SEN. KERRY: No, I'm not accepting it, and I've said point blank that you leave that option on the table for the end, but I don't think using tactical nuclear weapons still makes sense. But you leave the military option on the table. But it's a terrible option fundamentally, and they know it and everybody else knows it. What you really need here is China and Russia to join with the United States and others in serious sanctions, ultimately if that were necessary. And in the meantime, you've got to have a more realistic approach to President Putin. I think we should have been tougher with respect to the G8 conference. We gave them something for nothing. And the point is...

MR. RUSSERT: You mean to boycott it? Would you boycott it?
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SEN. KERRY: I think it's difficult now to boycott, but I wouldn't—I would consider leveraging that, certainly, and I think that it's important for the president to have thought that through ahead of time. Are we going to go there and not get their help with respect to Iran? I don't think that makes a lot of sense.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the whole release of declassified intelligence information. In the trial of "Scooter" Libby, the special prosecutor said that Mr. Libby put forward this notion that President Bush authorized Vice President Cheney to provide him information to help refute war critics. The attorney general of the United States was asked about this at a congressional hearing as to the legal foundation for it, and this is what he had to say.

(Videotape, House Judiciary Committee Hearing):

MR. ALBERTO GONZALES (U.S. Attorney General): I think the president has the inherent authority to decide who in fact should have classified information and if, and if the president decided that, that, that a person needed the information, that he could have that information, sure.

I believe the president would have the authority to simply say, "This information's no longer classified for the purpose of sharing it with this person."

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Does the president have to make a finding that declassifying something is—does not injure the national security, or can he do it for political reasons?

MR. GONZALES: The president has the constitutional authority to make the decision as to what, what is in that national interest of the country.

REP. NADLER: For whatever reason he feels like.

MR. GONZALES: He has the authority under the Constitution to make that determination.
REP. NADLER: OK.

(End videotape)

RUSSERT: Do you agree with that legal reasoning?

SEN. KERRY: I think it's time for the attorney general to start standing up and protecting the Constitution and the country, and not the politics of this administration. The fact is, on, you know—I mean, on one side, this is the first evidence we've had that the president was actually in the White House loop. On the second side, it is wrong for the president of the United States, who has the right, obviously, to declassify material, to declassify it selectively in order to buttress phony arguments to go to war, and not declassify the counter arguments. And it is wrong for the president to do it in a way that attacks people politically. That's what this was for. This was not a declassification in order to really educate America. This was a declassification order to mislead America, in order to mislead them about that yellow cake from Nigeria, the uranium material, and in order to buttress their phony argument about the war. And I think it's a disgrace. The fact is...

MR. RUSSERT: But it's not—it's not illegal.

SEN. KERRY: Well, the president has the right, obviously, to declassify. Whether he has the right to declassify for these kinds of political purposes, I don't know. Let me read you what his father said. Do you know what his father said? George Herbert Walker Bush said in 1991 at the dedication of the George Bush CIA headquarters, he said, "Even though I'm a tranquil guy now at this stage of my life, I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors."

MR. RUSSERT: But there's no one suggesting...

SEN. KERRY: George Herbert Walker—no.

MR. RUSSERT: ...there's no one suggesting that President Bush revealed the name...

SEN. KERRY: No, absolutely nothing. But one thing led to another, Tim. This administration did reveal the name. We know repeatedly now from the Fitzpatrick documents that not only Scooter Libby but Karl Rove and others told the name to people. They were using the name, and, and I'm—I just think all Americans are tired of this. We now have evidence in a court in San Francisco that documents show that they were eavesdropping through I think it was AOL, that they were getting into American accounts. So there's now evidence, not just of foreign eavesdropping surveillance, but of domestic eavesdropping surveillance on a blanket basis.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Russ Feingold, your Democratic colleague from Wisconsin, said the president should be censured for his eavesdropping program because he did not seek authority that Feingold insists is demanded by statute. Would you vote to censure President Bush?

SEN. KERRY: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: What would be the penalty?

SEN. KERRY: The penalty is the censure itself, is the reprimand by the United State Congress for action that is inappropriate.

MR. RUSSERT: Did he violate the Constitution?

SEN. KERRY: He violated the law, in my judgment.

MR. RUSSERT: Is that impeachable?

SEN. KERRY: Well, I think this impeachment talk is a waste of time. I don't want to go down that road. What I want to do is get to the things that really matter to Americans. You know, all this, this politics is driving people nuts. Now a censure for inappropriate behavior is appropriate, but you know what they really want us to do? They want us to get something done for America. This is a country that—I mean, I saw this when I was running for office. There's a great optimism in America. There's a great sort of tenacity in the American people. And they're sick and tired of the bickering in Washington. They want us to do health care for Americans. They want us to get the deficit down. They want us to...

MR. RUSSERT: Health care. Governor Romney, Governor Romney did it in Massachusetts.

SEN. KERRY: And it's terrific. Well, Governor Romney, I hope, will sign the bill that the legislature's been working on for quite a few years. And...

MR. RUSSERT: Bipartisan. Let me show you what's happening in Washington. Let me show you what's happening in Washington. This is The Washington Post, hardly an organ for Republican views.

SEN. KERRY: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: This is their editorial about immigration reform. And here it is: "Democrats - whether their motive was partisan advantage or legitimate fear of a bad bill emerging from conference with the House - are the ones who refused, in the end, to proceed with debate on amendments, which is, after all, how legislation gets made. The unfortunate result is that the momentum toward balanced reform my be lost. ‘The Democratic leadership played politics with the prospect of 10 million immigrants getting on a path to citizenship,' said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigration group. ‘It seems that Democratic leaders wanted an issue, not a bill.'" Your colleague, Ted Kennedy, said the politics got in front of the policy. Why not have a vote on these issues?

SEN. KERRY: Yeah. But let me tell you whose politics. You always, historically—I've been here 22 years now, Ted Kennedy's been here 44 years—you reach agreements that are bipartisan, where you get a majority in the Senate that is in favor of something, and that majority of the Senate agrees on many occasions that there will not be outside amendments that change with that agreement is. That's what happened. They reached an agreement, and Senator Frist and the Republicans were unable to hold their part of the agreement. There's nothing new in the—in the, in a, you know, in the majority of the Senate coming to agreement on a piece of legislation. And I believe that if Senator Frist and the Republicans had not had their own internal squabble, we would have had an immigration bill that would be done today based on the agreement that a majority of the Senate came to.
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MR. RUSSERT: And the Democrats didn't play politics at all?

SEN. KERRY: Well, the Democrats were not going to allow amendments that were going to undo the agreement that had been reached. That's a normal procedure in the United States Senate. And I think it was a valid one. When you shake hands on an agreement, you say, "We're delivering on this agreement." And it happens all the time in the Senate, that people band together and don't allow amendments to undo what the majority reached as an agreement.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it can be put back together?

SEN. KERRY: I hope it can. We desperately need to do this for the country and all of us.

Look, the system is broken. Americans are right to be frustrated about people crossing the border illegally. People are being hired illegally. Companies are breaking the law every single day. We need to crack down. But we also need to understand that kids who've been born in the United States of an illegal immigrant are American, and we're not going to be a country that separates people who've been here for 20 years and paid their taxes and have been good members of a community and stayed out of trouble and contributing to the well-being of our country. And so we have to have a balance, Tim, and that's what I think people are finding. That's part of the optimism and the sort of broadly shared values of this country which people would like to see Washington reflect, rather than this bickering.

Look, I will offer to the president—they have never, ever called me and asked me, "What should we do in Iraq?" Maybe they've read my speeches and they know what I've said. But we've never had a conversation. This should be bipartisan. We need to find a solution for our country. This is not about politics. It's about our soldiers, it's about our nation, it's about our vital national security interests. I believe if we get tough together with the Iraqi government, we can get a real government. I believe we can withdraw our troops and stand up the, the, the Iraqi forces, and I believe, ultimately, we have to get the stakeholders of the region to be part of this. If we don't, this administration is courting disaster.

MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to run for president in ‘08?

SEN. KERRY: I don't know. I'll tell you this. It was an unbelievable privilege to be the nominee of my party. And the issues that I fought for, Tim, every one of them—health care for Americans, jobs here, a more competitive America, a stronger America, to be safer in the world—all those issues are as alive today as they were when I ran and I'm looking at it hard.

MR. RUSSERT: When's decision time?

SEN. KERRY: Sometime the end of this year.

MR. RUSSERT: The Boston Globe, your hometown paper, did an article on this subject. They quoted Don Fowler, the former chairman of the Democratic Committee, and he said in the party, "Many in the party remain upset about Kerry's inability in 2004 to refine his policy positions into a coherent vision, a shortcoming that crystallized with his statement that he voted for Iraq war funding before he voted against it." Fair criticism?

SEN. KERRY: Well, as I said in the debate with the president, I made a mistake in the way that I talked about the war, but the president made a mistake in going to war. Now, which is worse? I could have done a better job in the campaign explaining what I meant. I voted against it because I believed we should pay for it, and because they didn't have a plan. And our mistake was one of a campaign strategy of not going out and explaining that. I voted out of principle, and I will continue to vote out of principle.

I have a short plan for America, Tim, and I—you know, it's called, "Tell the truth, fire the incompetents, get out of Iraq, have health care for all Americans." These are pretty simple messages, and they're worth fighting for today.

MR. RUSSERT: Joe Klein has a new book out, and he writes in Time magazine today that when you heard about the prison torture at Abu Ghraib, your instinct was to say something, but your political consultants urged you to take a focus group. And the focus group came back with a mixed message, and therefore you remained silent, never raised the issue in your acceptance speech or any of the three presidential debates. Is that true?

SEN. KERRY: I know nothing about a focus group being ordered, I had no knowledge of it, didn't order a focus group to be ordered, and I did speak out on Abu Ghraib. I asked for Donald Rumsfeld to resign. I called for his resignation, I talked about not having accountability up and down the line. I talked about the fact that in Abu Ghraib, the, the, the soldiers at the lower end were paying the price, not the people at the higher end. And I talked about its immorality in any number of locations.

MR. RUSSERT: What was the biggest mistake you made, the most important lesson you learned from the presidential race?

SEN. KERRY: Tim, I can go down that road and we can spend a lot of time talking about it. I, I—let me just say this: I made some mistakes. I know what they are and I take responsibility for them. My campaign, I take responsibility. I think the most important thing would have been to spend more money, if we could have, on the, you know, advertising and responding to some of the attacks. But we...

MR. RUSSERT: The swift boat ads?

SEN. KERRY: Yeah, but we—people forget, we had a 13-week general election; they had an eight-week general election. We had the same pot of money. We had to harbor our resources in a different way, and we didn't have the same freedom. I think the biggest mistake was probably not going outside the federal financing so we could have controlled our own message.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator John Kerry, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you, sir.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, immigration. The debate continues in the halls of Congress, and all across the country. Three congressmen with very different views are next, debating immigration.

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