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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Edward Kennedy

Aired April 20, 2006 - 21:00 ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, Senator Ted Kennedy, one of America's most influential lawmakers from one of America's most famous families making headlines on President Bush, the immigration debate and more. Senator Ted Kennedy for the hour is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Welcome to another edition of LARRY KING LIVE and a great honor to welcome to this program, whether you agree or disagree, certainly one of the most important, greatest Senators of all time, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

We all know him of Ted Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, author of the new book "America Back on Track." There you see its cover, an important work again whether you agree or disagree. Of course, he's the brother of the late president and the late Senator. He's also got a -- you got a children's book coming about a dog?

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: That's true.

KING: How did that happen?

KENNEDY: Well, I read every week at the Brent (ph) School just off the capital every Tuesday from 12:00 to 1:00 with a second grader and I've been doing it for probably 12 or 14 years and found out that they didn't have many books. And, I have two wonderful dogs and I thought, well, I'll write a book about a dog.

And then it developed that the book was being told, rather than me describing the dog and how legislation was made, it's done through the dog. The dog tells the story to the children and it's coming out shortly.

KING: Was that fun?

KENNEDY: It was a lot of fun. It's a great dog but today, today (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Today (INAUDIBLE) back on track. First though some comments on current things. I want to move right into the book.

KENNEDY: Sure.

KING: What do you make of the changes at the White House?

KENNEDY: Well, I think it's not untypical that a president in the second term is going to make these adjustments and I think particularly given the kind of conditions that he's facing in terms of the support that he has here at home and generally around the world that he's going to make some shifts and some changes.

I think the real overarching issue does this really mean a change of policy, a change in direction and priorities here at home? And, I think those are real legitimate questions and I doubt whether it will make much of a change in policy with regards to Iraq, which is the overarching issue of our time.

And it's on American minds or on the issues of the explosion and the cost of gasoline and the fact that the administration is not bringing the oil companies into the White House and jawboning them or asking the Federal Trade Commission to look into it and see if there's a collusion or to suggest that unless the oil companies are going to do something about the explosion of gas prices they're going to put on some kind of excess profits tax and rebate it to hardworking Americans.

I don't think we're going to get much of a change of a direction on domestic policies or in foreign policy but we'll have to see. Josh Bolton has been put in now as the president's chief of staff.

KING: Do you like him?

KENNEDY: Yes, I think he's a very competent person, worked with him in the past. He's tough. He's fair. He's very conservative. He's very loyal to the president. That's what a president needs and he'll serve the president well.

KING: Are you surprised at his low rating?

KENNEDY: Well, yes and no. I'll give it the upside is I think that the president has strong interpersonal skills. He's likable. He's agreeable. He's (INAUDIBLE).

KING: You get along with him right?

KENNEDY: Personally I do. But I think it's against also a background of the last several years and I think it's really been the issue of the politics of fear. We went through the period of 9/11 with this extraordinary assault on our country and Americans took that to heart. It burned very deeply.

We had 188 families in my own state of Massachusetts that were directly affected by that tragedy. And the depth of sadness and loss it was so real and so deep and Americans took this across the board very deeply.

But I think back in other times that this country is challenged and we were really facing almost annihilation, Cuban Missile Crisis, when we could have had a nuclear war, perhaps World War II, certainly Lincoln at the time we had the Civil War, Washington at the Revolutionary War.

And, our great leaders never went to the politics of fear. They had the politics of hope. We are going to do better. We are going to come together. Americans accept a challenge and we move on from here.

But it's been really the politics of fear that I think has really dominated the last four year and that has been something. It's Karl Rove's mantra to win political elections and that I think eventually catches up because -- if I could just one second further.

For example, in the United States Senate when we go back now in these next couple of months, you know the two constitutional issues we're going to be facing is a constitutional amendment on same sex marriage and a constitutional amendment on flag burning in order to whip up the base, whip up their base trying to get them out rather than dealing with the kinds of challenges that people are concerned about today.

And that is the cost of gasoline prices, the explosion in terms of tuition for their kids to go to school, the fact that people are concerned about whether their pensions are going to still be there now. I mean the range of different other issues, health care costs.

KING: Will that override the fear issue?

KENNEDY: Well, I believe so. I'm basically a politician of hope and I think people have really had enough of the past.

KING: The title of your book is interesting, "Back on Track."

KENNEDY: Sure.

KING: When were we on track? When did it go off track? Were we on track in the Clinton years?

KENNEDY: Well, let me put it in perhaps some historic times the way that I really sort of told the story in the book when I sort of entered the political process, helping my brother, seeing him get elected in the '60s.

We had a sort of a whole new generation that really came back in World War II and young people had accepted great responsibility. And then they got elected, went into public service and we had a vision about the Soviet Union. We're going to have containment of the Soviet Union. We were dealing with the issues of nuclear proliferation abroad.

And you know what we did here at home? We responded to the leadership of Dr. King and we addressed the issue which we have never been prepared to, which our founding fathers failed on, that is the issue of race. And we dealt with that in the early 1960s, Republicans and Democrats. The country came together, knocked down the walls of discrimination and made enormous progress.

We're not there yet but we've made enormous progress and we did it on gender, knocked down the Title 9, knocked down the walls of discrimination on gender, made enormous progress to include the disabled into the American family, 42 million of those.

At the same time what were we doing? We passed the Medicare program to make sure that our seniors were not going to live in poverty and be able to get health care, Medicaid to look after the neediest of the people.

And also made a commitment that we were going to educate every young person that they were able to get into school and college and not say that the size of their pocketbook and wallet was going to restrict them to go to any place. And we started out with the Higher Education Act that had 80 percent in grants rather than loans, so you weren't indebting all of these younger people.

We did all of this part here. This is with Democrats and Republicans. It was the vision. We were saying "What do we need to do here?" We did this and we had an economic prosperity at that time, economic growth.

Americans are prepared to respond and I look at where we are at the present time. We got more of the same going on in Iraq, the disaster and incompetence and Katrina, the failing to deal with this and with the issues on health care and education and the economy, the size of the debt. And I say is it the American people or the leaders?

KING: Let me take a break and come right back. The book is "Back on Track." The guest is Senator Edward Kennedy. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Senator Ted Kennedy. The book is "America, Back on Track." So, it went off track. Why?

KENNEDY: I think it was sort of the politics of 9/11 more than 9/11, 9/11 traumatized.

KING: Fear.

KENNEDY: It's the politics of fear. I mean this isn't an accident. I mean, you know, Karl Rove they have the tape before the Republican National Committee, the statements and comments how we're going to win the 2004, the 2002 election, the 2006 election. We're going to win it through the politics of terror and the politics of fear.

And that I've seen being effective because Americans are naturally, all people are concerned in terms of their security. I mean they're concerned with security generally about themselves and particularly about their families and they're concerned about the security, homeland security but...

KING: Is the administration doing a good job in those areas? In other words, if you're playing to fear, are you doing it well in the handling of it?

KENNEDY: Well, this is where I think as we're seeing Americans now are as I think they have been when given the two kind of options will go for the politics of hope and the possibilities.

I think individuals, I believe very deeply do best individually when they're challenged. Our country has always done best when it's been challenged, coming out of the depression, the Second World War we always have, Korean War. Let's go. We'll go to the moon.

We have always done best when challenged and when we are in this together. I think the country is prepared for that kind of challenge and change and I think it's waiting to do this.

In this book we've outlined some of the areas where I think we have to get it started I think. But this sense of hope and optimism is something that I believe in very deeply and I think that is the -- that is really the future. That's what the Democrats have to offer in this election.

KING: You called Iraq the overriding issue. You voted to go there or not?

KENNEDY: No. The best vote I cast in the United States Senate was...

KING: The best?

KENNEDY: The best vote, best vote I cast in the United States Senate (INAUDIBLE).

KING: In your life?

KENNEDY: Absolutely.

KING: Was not to go to Iraq?

KENNEDY: Yes, not to go to Iraq.

KING: Why did you vote against?

KENNEDY: Well, I'm on the Armed Services Committee and I was inclined to support the administration when we started the hearings in the Armed Services Committee. And, it was enormously interesting to me that those that had been -- that were in the armed forces that had served in combat were universally opposed to going.

I mean we had Wes Clark testify in opposition to going to war at that time. You had General Zinni. You had General (INAUDIBLE). You had General Nash. You had the series of different military officials, a number of whom had been involved in the Gulf I War, others involved in Kosovo and had distinguished records in Vietnam, battle-hardened combat military figures. And, virtually all of them said no, this is not going to work and they virtually identified...

KING: And that's what moved you?

KENNEDY: And that really was -- influenced me to the greatest degree. And the second point that influenced me was in the time that we were having the briefings and these were classified. They've been declassified now. Secretary Rumsfeld came up and said "There are weapons of mass destruction north, south, east and west of Baghdad." This was his testimony in the Armed Services Committee.

And at that time Senator Levin, who is an enormously gifted, talented member of the Armed Services Committee said, "Well, we're now providing this information to the inspectors aren't we?" This is just before the war. "Oh, yes, we're providing that." "But are they finding anything?" "No."

Because the answer was because they're moving things, because when we tell the team they're all infiltrated by Saddam's people and they're leaking that so that's the reason we're not finding anything.

They started giving all the places where we said there were places and they still couldn't find any. And at the end of now, history will show we never gave any information to the inspection team at all.

But I kept saying, "Well, if they're not finding any of the weapons of mass destruction, where is the imminent threat to the United States security?" It didn't make sense.

There were probably eight Senators on the Friday before the Thursday we voted on it. It got up to 23. I think if that had gone on another -- we had waited another ten days, I think you may have had a different story.

The sad aspect was that this administration, this president insisted that we have the vote prior to the election, prior to the election. What does that say to you that they wanted to have it so it was going to be used in the election, unlike his father that had the vote on the Gulf War after the election.

I thought that was an enormously interesting and powerful historical factor and I think that's why those that rushed us to war with inadequate intelligence, carefully selected and manipulated have real accountability in why they shouldn't be held accountable.

KING: We'll take a break and we'll ask you about Secretary Rumsfeld. The book is "American, Back on Track." Our guest is Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: None of us can foresee the course of events that will unfold if we go to war. Before Congress acts, the administration has an obligation to explain to the Congress and the American people the potential consequences of war. As of now it has not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: Our troops deserve better, Mr. Secretary. I think the American people deserve better. They deserve competency and they deserve the facts. In baseball it's three strikes you're out. What is it for the secretary of defense?

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well that is quite a statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Senator Kennedy. I know he was a friend of your brother's, Don Rumsfeld right?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: He was a friend of Bobby.

KENNEDY: That's right.

KING: What do you make of the -- and you asked him to resign some time back.

KENNEDY: After Abu Ghraib.

KING: Yes. What do you make of the former generals' critique?

KENNEDY: Well, I think they deserve...

KING: Unprecedented.

KENNEDY: It's unprecedented historically, unprecedented historically and therefore they have to -- they have to be listened to. I mean you can always say, well if they felt so strong about it they could have resigned during the process.

I can understand. I was in the military myself but a very junior, the private first class level, but it's always interesting to me when I listen to the generals who stand next to Don Rumsfeld, they said, "Well, any of these generals could have spoken up at the time. Anybody can speak up in any of these meetings and they'll be heard."

I said, "What part of the military did you belong to? I mean tell me. Am I listening to this thing right?" I mean the fact is these are very thoughtful, serious comments that relate to the leadership issues and I think that they ought to be carefully listened to.

KING: Is he incompetent?

KENNEDY: No, I don't think he's incompetent. I think that there was a rush to war. This is -- I mean if you go back to look at the total history of this at the time going back to President Bush, Bush I that made the decision and judgment not to go to Baghdad, if you remember that and there was a decision then by a number of people that made the public statements that they should have gone to Baghdad and that.

And, the principal architects of this war, Wolfowitz and Doug Fife and Rumsfeld were all part of the group that felt that they should have gone in. I don't think there's any question that at the time of the collapse of Afghanistan that increased the intensity to try and sort of clear up the Middle East.

There was a thirst to go to war. There was no question about it. And they carefully selected and picked intelligence and off it was. And, I think that that was a catastrophic mistake.

In the Armed Services Committee, of which I'm a member, I listed one day in the little six minutes that I had commanders of Navy ships that made very slight little slips as a commander, as a captain of a ship and were forced to resign on this. The Navy, the military understands that if you make a mistake on it, you pay with your career. That's very, very tough.

It's one of the reasons that we have the most respect because these men and women put their life on the lines, put their life on the lines for us and then suffered many of them greatly and lost great friends defending this country.

But they put their career, they make one mistake and they are gone in terms of the military and that is the way and they're still prepared to have a career in serving this country but not this crowd, this crowd made a whole series of mistakes on this thing and you don't have the accountability and this I think is (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But you won't call him incompetent just wrong?

KENNEDY: I don't think. He's absolutely wrong.

KING: Just wrong.

KENNEDY: He's wrong.

KING: By the way, there are a lot of other aspects to the book. I want to discuss your father. I want to get into immigration. But I never asked you this. Where were you on 9/11?

KENNEDY: I was in the Russell Office Building preparing for a hearing on education when Mrs. Bush was testifying. And the phone rang in my office. It was my wife calling. The first plane had crashed into the -- and I thought this is unusual, distressing, bizarre.

And then the second plane crashed and we obviously knew it was something and tried to get a hold of Mrs. Bush and she was already in the building, in the Russell Building.

And I remember going out to the door and seeing her walk down the corridor and probably the Secret Service had known just at this time but she was walking down. She was probably I don't know 50, 75 yards down the corridor walking in front of her Secret Service.

She came into our office. Senator Gregg from New Hampshire was there who was going to be joining in the hearings, the ranking member or I was the ranking member.

KING: What did you say to her? KENNEDY: We sat down on this in that office at this time and she was enormously elegant, dignified, a woman of great composure, strength.

KING: Did you talk about the...

KENNEDY: Talked, didn't have a real idea of the grasp of the situation, the depth of it but nonetheless she had her own sort of thoughts and you can imagine her thinking, her husband and children.

And then just within a half hour, 45 minutes, the room right opposite my office, which is the Senate Caucus Room was filled with the press because the fact that the first lady would come up and testify on an issue at this time was on early education, which is a very important policy issue.

We had worked with Mrs. Bush on this issue and we were very hopeful of getting -- making some progress. She was very interested and deserved a lot of credit for coming up and testifying, speaking to it.

And it was filled with press and then she went in and just spoke very briefly to the press about how we all had to maintain our calmness and that she had been thinking of those that were affected and then she...

KING: And how did you feel?

KENNEDY: Well, it's...

KING: Were you fearful?

KENNEDY: I don't think it was so much fear. I think there was a certain aspect of you that was numb from the tragedy, the human tragedy of this extraordinary dimension of the collapse of these buildings and thinking, always think of those firefighters and people rushing in at the time they're rushing out.

I mean these things are just emblazoned in your mind. You're numbed by that kind of extraordinary heroism and the incredible tragedy of people going off out of those windows at a time when, you know, there's planes around.

I mean we certainly had people, the Secret Service around but you're probably as safe and secure as you could expect to be. But, my lasting impression was about the, I think the elegance of Mrs. Bush.

KING: Interesting. More in a minute with Senator Ted Kennedy, don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: All of us deplore the acts of terrorism that we have seen in these past minutes and our hearts reach out to all of those who have suffered, lost their lives, and are injured right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Senator Ted Kennedy. This book, "America Back On Track," it's not just about politics. Your father's in it. What's the angle there?

KENNEDY: Well, one of the very wonderful letters that I had, my father was a wonderful letter writer to all the members, large family, nine of us. And when I was eight-years-old, I make a reference to a letter that he wrote me.

And he was in London, ambassador to London, the war was on. I had been over there and sent home when the bombing really intensified in London. And he wrote me a letter about the bombing and how it was destroying people's lives and how he would hope that when I grew up that, you know, you could work to try and avoid the wars and try and work to lessen the kinds of suffering that people would have as a result of conflict and war.

KING: He was quite a guy, old Joe Kennedy. Tough father?

KENNEDY: Yes, but a wonderful, inspiring, loving, caring, tough. He had a sense of expectation for each of us, and that always...

KING: It was high.

KENNEDY: ... he was high. There was -- my niece, Amanda Smith, did a wonderful collection of letters, put them together in a book, and my older brother Joe would write back "Dear dad, I got four A's and one B plus and I'm just going to work like anything to get than B plus up to an another A."

And my brother Jack would have two C's or three C's and a D and he'd be looking for his allowance. And then you could see as life went on, the letters from Jack began to get better and more eloquent.

KING: How old were you when Joe was killed in World War II?

KENNEDY: Well it was '44, I was 12.

KING: Why is immigration suddenly a big issue? It's always been the same problem. Why now?

KENNEDY: We have a -- it's really touched the souls of many people across this country in the recent times. I haven't seen anything that, unless we go back to probably the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, that has really sort of touched a raw nerve like we saw in so many different cities.

You wondered, who was organizing this? Basically, we know a lot of people that are involved with -- in labor and other communities, religious communities. But who was -- this thing was going to be spontaneous.

And I think that I think touched them was the fact that the House of Representatives bill effectively criminalized any of those that had come into this country or effectively overstayed in this country. And the criminalization of this thing was really sort of a touchstone that just really boiled the community because it was in some instances, these children are born Americans. And they're seeing their parents, the danger of being deported or cold criminal aspect of it.

But it's -- let me spend as much time or as little, but let me just say quickly, this is a national security issue without controlling our borders. We have to deal with it because it's a national security issue.

We've got the 12 million individuals that live here who, for the most part -- there are some bad apples. But for the most part, their hopes and dreams are to make a difference in this country. I believe they want to work hard, play by the rules. If they're going to work hard, play by the rules, pay a penalty and go to the back of the line and keep their nose clean for 11 years to earn their way into being part of the American system, seems to me an appropriate way of doing this.

KING: That's your bill?

KENNEDY: That's the bill that Senator McCain and myself. And we have a broad coalition of Republicans and -- president isn't quite where we are, but it's a great opportunity for the president to just to push this legislation over the goal line.

We'd welcome that opportunity. It's a great opportunity. We're effectively stalemated. Hopefully not, we'll have an opportunity to read this back in the Senate. But it is very close. And it's -- there is nothing like civil rights, immigration and basically the debates on AIDS that bring out sort of the rawness in terms of the debates on the floor.

They bring out enormous emotion. And we can understand because we're defining, in this case, in immigration, something that people hold sacred and that is citizenship and whether ought to be able to receive it and whether conditions that they ought to be able to.

And that's something that's enormously important, but it is for people that have worked hard and are part of this process that want to make a difference and here, see their children grow. For those that are here, we're getting some path towards that, is something I think is consistent with the values that we consider important.

KING: Our guest is Senator Edward M. Kennedy. The book is "America Back On Track." We'll be back right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: (SPEAKING IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: We're back with Senator Kennedy. The book is "Back on Track." John Walsh was on the show last night. And he wanted me to ask you, and I will, about reasons on the Senate has not been able to pass the law for national registry of sex offenders. He complimented you. He said you've been a great supporter of missing kids legislation, but it's stalled. Why?

KENNEDY: It should go through. I support it, and I'm very hopeful. I don't think it would take more than a couple of hours to go through it.

One of the issues in the House bill, they have this legislation, but they also include the hate crimes bill. And someone who -- with others, Gordon Smith, Senator Spector, who supported the hate crimes bill, we wanted to take 45 minutes or an hour -- we've already passed the hate crimes bill -- put these together and get them to conference and get it passed. That's something that I support. I know Senator Reid does support it.

KING: Will it happen?

KENNEDY: I certainly hope so. It makes sense. This bill that came out of our committee is a good bill. And I strongly support it.

KING: The next big -- if threat is the right word -- certainly the power that's going to be most influenced in the world is China. Right? And the Chinese president was at the White House today. How do you view that? Are they going to be our biggest rival? They're our biggest lender. We borrow from them.

KENNEDY: They have -- they're going to be and are an extraordinary force. They and India. They have 650,000 engineering graduates this year. We have 72,000. And half of ours are foreign students. The Indians are graduating 350,000 engineers this year. We are finding in India and Bangalore, IBM opening up advanced research centers, Intel opening advanced research centers. Many of our top companies are going to India and beginning to go to China to do advanced research into areas of technology.

And we have to understand that they're playing for serious. They're playing for keeps. And they are giving focus and attention in terms of high technology and in terms of competitiveness, all things that we -- and innovativeness. I mean, they've got -- there are a number of things, obviously, that the president is going to talk -- he's going to talk about can China be helpful with North Korea or in terms of arms control, can China be helpful in terms of refugees coming out of North Korea and treat them more humanely. He's going to talk about whether we're going to deal with some of the human rights abuses that exist in China. We're going to talk about currency fluctuations and how they manipulate their currency to disadvantage us. They're going to talk about piracy and different kinds of things. All of these items are out on the table, which are going to be considered.

And they're probably going to talk about the administration's proposal in terms of providing nuclear capability to India, which is in the region, and how China is going to react to all of this. So those are all current issues.

But if you're looking, what your question was, in terms of the long-term interest in seeing what is happening in China and their belief that they are the center of the universe by culture, and tradition and history, and they think they're going to have that back in another 100 years or another 200 years, we have to understand that they're in there for keeps, and we are getting an awakening call here in the United States.

We are going to -- I believe the challenge is to equip every man, woman and child here in the United States to be able to compete independently as an individual with the issue of what we call globalization, the rise of China, the rise of India. And we have to prepare our country to be able to do that so that we can maintain our position as number one country in the world, economically, and, therefore, militarily. And unless we do, we're in danger of being a second-level country.

KING: Wouldn't it appear to you that the tide is going the other way?

KENNEDY: Well, it doesn't have to. It's not there, it's not, you know, there yet, but there's strong indicators. I mean, if you look at the scientific journals, you know, we're the United States, we're contributing 40 or 50 or 60 percent of the technical journals now, which creeping increasingly into India and to China. I mean, there are all of the indicators. But they're still not there, and there is a ways to go.

What I would just say is that we got the wakeup call when the Russians fired Sputnik in the 1950s, '57. Republican president, Democratic Congress, we came together and we developed our capability to do it. We're getting the warning shots now. We ought to respond.

KING: Health care is going to be a major, major, major issue. I believe -- are we the only country in the world without national health care?

KENNEDY: With the exception of members of Congress. We all get health...

KING: Harry Truman proposed it...

KENNEDY: Proposed it.

KING: ... in 1948, Norman Thomas in 1932. Why don't we...?

KENNEDY: We're spending the money on this, and we have -- there's aspects of our health care -- let me just give you the encouraging aspect. We passed a good bill in Massachusetts this last week. Republicans and Democrats came together and passed a good bill in Massachusetts for our state. It wouldn't have been the one I designed, but I basically support it. And it may be something that other states are going to be able to replicate.

But that is what I was mentioning, which is the sort of the theme of this bill. We can come together on big issues, and we did in that state. We had really the best of Sal DiMasi and Travaglini, our two leaders in the legislature, came together with Romney and came together with the business community in that state. And we all worked it together, and we have something that's going to make a difference to people. Those -- that's what I'm -- that's what I'm thinking about.

KING: That's why the book is so important. The book is "America Back on Track." Right back with Senator Kennedy. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Senator Kennedy. Before I ask about Iran, you mentioned Mr. Romney. He ran against you...

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: ... then became governor. A Mormon in Massachusetts became governor and is hinted at as a possible Republican nominee for president. Would he be formidable?

KENNEDY: I think so. I think so. I had kind of a funny incident, when I left the floor when we finished up with our immigration bill with John McCain, he knew I was going up to be at the signing of the health bill up in Boston. He said, Ted, make sure you wrap both arms around Romney, will you? But Governor Romney, I ran against him. We have important differences, but we found ways to work together, and I think Republicans will make a mistake if they underestimate him. I mean, that's -- I think he'll do what -- he'll make his own case, but I think he'll -- he'll be a figure.

KING: Iran. What do we do?

KENNEDY: We welcome, first of all, always the interesting point is that the Iranian people are great people themselves are great fans of the United States.

They still -- there's an enormous reservoir of goodwill. It's always rather striking about countries where the people are upset with us and the leaders go along. And this is a case where the Iranian people have that, but we've got difficult leaders, obviously. What has been important has been one, we have -- we're working with our allies rather than initially going alone with regards to Iran so that we're going to try to have a common position.

And then secondly, we've also indicated a willingness to talk with them directly, which I think makes a good deal of sense. The idea that we were unwilling to talk with them made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

So there are a number of different kind of options. It will be more difficult to bring matters to the national security council or the security council of the U.N. because probably have China or Russia may very well get into a situation where they might veto.

But there are other kind of options in terms of trying to create a -- recognize that a nuclear Iran is a danger, certainly, to the security of the free world and to that region.

KING: Do you think, Senator, they will go ahead?

KENNEDY: Well either there's no reason to doubt that they're going to move ahead. And there's no -- they've indicated that. How far down the line, when they'd be able to make a weapon is something that has to be evaluated.

I don't think our intelligence is enormously knowledgeable about that part of the world. I do think you'd never take the military option off the table, but I don't think it does a lot of good to be -- and you have to be prepared for any kind of a situation.

But I think rattling the cards on that is not enormously useful or valuable at this time. They have some very important interests in terms of technology that they're very interested in. It's going to take a lot of skilled diplomacy and I think it's going to take a full- court press.

There's no question in my mind that Iran has been emboldened by the fact that United States has waited down in Iraq. There's no question that they -- were the country that were making the steps towards building the nuclear weapon. We have the wrong information with regards to Iraq. Iran was the real danger. We went and have been involved and now spending our time in Iraq, and I think that's one of the additional mistakes.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Senator Kennedy. The book, "America Back On Track," right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In our remaining moments, a couple of other things, how is Ethel Kennedy doing?

KENNEDY: She's fine.

KING: Haven't seen her in awhile.

KENNEDY: She's full of...

KING: Still in McLean?

KENNEDY: McLean, but the cape -- she's very much -- as she always is -- totally engaged and involved in the life of her children and her grandchildren. And they're active and involved and doing a lot of interesting things.

KING: Think you can take the Senate or the House or both?

KENNEDY: Oh, I believe so.

KING: Both?

KENNEDY: I believe so. I think the Senate is -- we've got a really superb opportunity, and my best source in the House is my son, Congressman Kennedy, and he believes that could be done in the House.

I think people are really ready for new and serious leadership that's going to really really get us out of Iraq with honor and prepared to end the sort of cycle of corruption in terms of the encronyism and favoritism and special interest which they've seen too much of in Washington.

KING: Do you expect Hillary to be your nominee?

KENNEDY: She's certainly going to be a strong contender. We've got a contender up in Massachusetts, too, my colleague. I expect John Kerry. He hasn't told me definitely whether he's going...

KING: You think he's going to try again?

KENNEDY: ... I would expect John would. He came very close last time.

KING: How good of a senator is Senator Clinton?

KENNEDY: She's good. I'm on two committees with her. Always gives you a better insight on the human resource committee. We work in areas of education and health and then on the armed services committee. I think it gives you really a great advantage to be able to be on these committees and you work and see people in there. She's very involved, engaged, she does an incredible amount outside of the Senate. But she's certainly involved in these issues.

KING: You've been there 44 years. Running again, right?

KENNEDY: Yes.

KING: Do you have any contenders?

KENNEDY: Well out there there's always people that are interested in the challenge, so we worked hard at it and we're going to continue to work hard.

KING: How long do you want to stay?

KENNEDY: I say until I get the hang of it. I usually get that question from my nieces and nephews, wondering, "How long are you going to stay?"

KING: But you've been called one of the great senators of all time, "Time" magazine dubbed you the deal maker. That must be a great honor to you. like the Senate, obviously.

KENNEDY: I enjoy it. "Time" didn't always have that, 40 years ago, they had another reference to me. I'm not going to tell you about it if you don't know.

But I have enjoyed the Senate. It's a great honor. I love representing Massachusetts. It's a terrific state. People care deeply about so many things that are so important. And there's such a wide diversity of so many different viewpoints. And they -- you learn something every time you travel around the state.

KING: Is your health good?

KENNEDY: It's good. I've got an old chronic back problem, most people do my age.

KING: I know where that came from. A plane crash, not many people have survived a plane crash. Do you think about it a lot?

KENNEDY: Well, when it's bothering me. I've always remember -- lost a great friend, Ed Moss. And I always remembered --- his father Birch Bayh really saved my life, dragged me out of that plane, risked going back to the plane because it could have gone on fire.

KING: Senator Heinz died.

KENNEDY: Senator Heinz died.

KING: Your nephew.

KENNEDY: Yes, planes are dangerous. Never fly in bad weather. If it's bad weather at all, it's very easy. I'll come next year at this time. Send me an invitation.

KING: Thank you, Senator.

KENNEDY: Thanks Larry, enjoyed it.

KING: Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the book is "America Back On Track." Tomorrow night, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. They don't often make media appearances together, they'll be with us for the full hour tomorrow night, starting a major tour. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill tomorrow night. Anderson Cooper, the host of "A.C. 360" is next. Good night.

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0604/20/lkl.01.html

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