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John Kerry's Interview with Don Imus

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October  28,  2003

The Don Imus Show

IMUS: Good morning, Senator Kerry.

KERRY: Good morning, Don Imus. How are you?

IMUS: I'm irritable.

KERRY: Well, God, I did notice that you know. I questioned whether I was going to sick quickly or something. I'm glad to be with you. I haven't talked with you since the big fight with Bernie and Sid.

(LAUGHTER)

IMUS: You're not glad to be with us because your staff keeps jerking us around, we can't ever get you on. So...

KERRY: I just fired them all; they're gone.

IMUS: So there must be some reason that you wanted to be on this morning.

KERRY: Listen, I just learned that they had been jerking you around. So they're in trouble.

IMUS: Howard Dean is pulling 21 percent in Iowa but you're pulling 20. That's a lot better than the perception is, at least my perception and everybody in this room.

KERRY: Yes, no, it's good. I mean we're moving as fast as you're changing nannies.

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: We're going well. You know a lot of people don't see the fight that's going on. I mean, these national polls are really meaningless right now and I'm very excited about where we are.

I'm not as far behind in New Hampshire as Al Gore was to Bill Bradley at this point in time. And you know, you've got to go up there and prove yourselves and I'm going to do it.

I've got an economic plan that's going to put people back to work. I've got a sensible plan on taxes. Unlike Howard Dean, I'm not going to raise taxes on the middle class; I want to protect the middle class. And you know I think I have the experience to lead the country in a time of war compared to somebody who has no experience at all in foreign policy. So I look forward to the next months.

IMUS: Do you still support the Bush tax plan essentially or...

KERRY: No, I don't, Don. I think that the Bush plan—I mean, we can't afford it; it's very simple. We're piling debt onto our children and we're not growing jobs.

And what I want to do is roll back the high end of the Bush tax cut but I want to protect the middle class. You know I don't want young families, people who are raising kids to suddenly pay more because we take away the child credit. I don't want people to get married in America to pay a higher tax just because they get married. I mean those are great strategies: "Here come the Democrats, they're going to tax you if you get married in America."

And then, you know we have a 10 percent bracket so people at the low end of the income scale don't start paying as much right off the bat. But if you put, you know, what Dean and Gephardt want to do, they're going to wind up getting rid of that so you start people taxed at the 15 percent, which for the average person in America is real money. I mean, right now folks, you know the health care costs are going up, prescription drug costs are up, the tuitions are up and salaries are not up. So I think the last thing you want to do is shift that burden to the middle class of America.

IMUS: You know I haven't been paying much attention—like I can't watch these debates that you guys have because I don't know, it just gets—but I'm starting to, sort of, get interested now. I wonder if that's true with everybody.

KERRY: That's exactly what I think is going on. I mean people are only just now really beginning to pay attention. And I'm very happy; I made it to the final nine.

(LAUGHTER)

IMUS: Do you like these debates? What's your view of...

KERRY: No, not particularly, because they're not really...

IMUS: Shy not?

KERRY: They're not really debates, number one. And number two, there are so many people it's just very, very difficult. I mean, you get 60 seconds to talk about the country every 11 minutes or so and it's pretty hard.

IMUS: Reverend Al really just steals the show every place, doesn't he? I mean...

KERRY: You know, I got to tell you, he is really funny and he has a way of just summarizing it. Boy, I tell you, I'd love to have his skill. He's very, very good. Very good.

IMUS: I saw him last night with Chris Matthews. There's no answers to him, his solutions are moronic. So...

KERRY: Well...

IMUS: Don't you agree?

KERRY: Well, that's a pretty harsh word.

No, I think he has a sense of right and wrong and I think he has a sense of direction and I think he's motivated by—look, the special interest in this country, Don, are out of control. I mean, look, it's hard to find the words that people don't say, that's, sort of, rhetoric or something.

But look take a company like Tyco in New Hampshire; it was at Exeter, New Hampshire. They just moved their address to Bermuda. They left the people who do the work in Exeter, they left the buildings there obviously, and the products that they make are still made there. They moved the address to Bermuda. And just by moving the address to Bermuda they took $400 million off the tax rolls, that's what they saved themselves.

But guess what? They stick the average worker with that bill; they've got to make up the difference. So, you know, right now we've gone from about $200 billion of offshore assets about 15 years ago to $5 trillion of offshore assets. You've got American companies moving profits abroad, moving work abroad and he American worker is really beginning to feel desperate about it. People can't pay their health care, they can't get health care. The companies are having a harder and harder time paying for it.

I have a plan to lower the cost of health care for Americans, Don, but it's a tradeoff. You got to get rid of the high end of the Bush tax cuts, and if we do, we can lower the cost of health care for every American and make companies more competitive. I think that's what elections are about are those kinds of choices.

IMUS: Well, for example Chris Matthews—not to paraphrase all of it—but asked Reverend Sharpton about—Reverend Sharpton wants to provide guaranteed health care for every person in America, which is a noble goal and there's nobody who wouldn't want that.

KERRY: But it's achievable. It is achievable.

IMUS: OK, but how is it achievable?

Well, first of all, Reverend Sharpton said he would do it by—talking about these offshore companies—by taxing—by the trillions of dollars we would get—but how are you or Reverend Sharpton or anybody else as president going to do that?

KERRY: Well, here's what—I mean, that's what—I mean, when Franklin Roosevelt came in with the New Deal, he had a Congress that he was able to pass it with and there were desperate situations in America. We hope we don't go back to that kind of desperation, but I'll tell you, 3 million jobs have been lost.

This is the worst jobs economy since Herbert Hoover was president. This is the worst growth rate in our economy in about 45 or 50 years. And it's been the biggest transfer of wealth: We've gone from $5.6 trillion of surplus to $2 trillion of deficit, which adds to the debt, which adds to the interest rates we pay every year the interest payments go up—and all over the country governors are having to raise taxes and cut services for $90 billion total deficit across the country.

You know, Joe Biden and I brought in an amendment a week or so ago to try to pay for the $87 billion to Iraq. Instead of piling it onto the deficit, we thought that wealthiest people in the country, just like the reservists who are spending an extra year in Iraq—who are sacrificing—that the wealthiest people in the country could sacrifice something. So instead of giving them a $690 billion tax cut over the next 10 years, we thought they might be happy with a $600 billion tax cut over the next 10 years.

No way. The president opposed it, the Republicans opposed it, it's not going to happen.

So there's no sense of shared sacrifice here. There's no sense of fairness in this process.

You know, in the last tax cut we had 54 percent of the tax cut went to the top 1 percent of income earners in America. Meanwhile, you know, everybody's grandmother, aunt, uncle, father or mother is struggling to pay for the nursing home costs to keep their families together. Tuitions went up 20 percent last year. Who's helping those people pay for their kids to go to school?

I mean, you know on the front there's a story today in the New York Times about how the president—I guess it was Paul Krugman's column on the op-ed page—you know, the president says he doesn't read the newspapers. He gets his news from a filtered source. The filtered source is his staff. I mean this is craziness. And the result is, he really isn't in touch with what's happening in a lot of America.

IMUS: What should he read, the New York Times?

KERRY: Well, I think he should read a lot of papers.

IMUS: Get it from Jayson Blair?

(LAUGHTER)

Well, in that answer of yours about providing health care for everybody, I didn't hear how you were going to do and who's going to pay for it.

KERRY: Here's what I'm going to do. Out of the tax cut at the top end that you get rid of there is enough money to create a federal fund. The federal fund is about $35 billion. With that federal fund, we're going to say to all the companies in American, "If you're covering your employee and you promise to give any savings I give you back to your employee and you agree to have a health wellness education plan in your company, so you teach people about early screening for cancer, diabetes or nutrition"—that's all you have to do; those are simple things -- "that federal fund is going to pay 75 percent of the cost of any catastrophic case $50,000 or more that falls into your risk pool, the pool you're paying insurance for."

That means that every premium in America will go down at least $1,000, it means that health care will be more affordable to people because the premiums will be lower, and it means that businesses will be more competitive because they're not going to have to put in as much money to match the money for their employees. So you can lower the cost of health care.

You know, we spend $1.4 trillion a year on health care in America. $350 billion of that is not for care, it's all for administrative costs. I mean, no company in America works at 25 percent overhead costs, so we have to reduce the overhead.

If you take money out of a bank it costs you about a penny a transaction. You walk into a hospital and pull a hospital record, it costs you $25 to pull a record. In an age of computers and, you know, modern technology, we can reduce the cost of health care significantly but you have to invest in it to do it and we're not doing that.

IMUS: So does that mean all companies like those small companies that have four of five employees, I think those kinds of companies or...

KERRY: And we're going to give them a 50 percent tax credit to help them to be able to purchase the health care. And since we're lowering the cost by paying the catastrophic cases the health care costs will go down.

We're also going to cover all children in America automatically, immediately, day one. We're going to take over Medicaid from the states.

And all this is affordable. I've had some of the top health care experts in the country working on this. They've done all the cost analysis, the experts have gone over it and it's a tradeoff. If we don't do the Bush tax cuts at the high end we can afford to have health care for all Americans and we can lower the costs. If we don't do that we can go on, you know, having an economy that becomes more and more unbalanced, more and more jobs lost. You know, it's getting tougher for a lot of people.

IMUS: Don't take this the wrong way, Senator Kerry—I mean you've been on the program a hundred times—but have you figured out now what your answer is to you've voted for the war in Iraq and it didn't go well and now what? What are you saying now?

KERRY: I think I was correct from day one. I think my position as the New York Times wrote—has been absolutely consistent from day one.

I believe we ought to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. I believe it was the right vote and the right thing to do, I'm convinced of that, in order to protect the security of our country. But it was right to do it right.

The president did not.

Now, I learned in Vietnam what happens when you're one of those troops who's there because the guys in Washington aren't getting it right. And one of the things I remembered is my obligation to those people to get it right. And I think that president—look, he broke every promise. He said he was going to build that coalition realistically. This isn't a real coalition, Don, and everybody in the world knows it.

The president has rushed to war without a plan to win the peace. And it would be irresponsible of me not to stand up and say, "There's a better way to protect our troops."

There is a better way to protect our troops, there's a better way to win. I'm for winning. That's my other lesson from Vietnam. The lesson of these things is, is called, you know, what's the exit strategy? The exit strategy is victory. But I'd like to do it at the least cost to our soldiers and at the lest cost to the American taxpayer and there's a better way to do this. It's a very simple equation.

IMUS: Well, what is it? What is this better way?

KERRY: The better way is to bring the international community in, to get off our high horse, to properly go to the United
Nations, to bring other countries in, get Muslim troops on the ground, have a broader coalition on the ground, get the world to share the risks and burdens, and not just to protect Halliburton and a bunch of your cronies and have this grand design where you're unwilling to do this using the global institutions that we've worked for several hundred years to put in place.

IMUS: You know what's really great is how it irritates all these other candidates when you, appropriately in my view, bring up Vietnam? Do you still have any of your old uniforms? You probably could still wear one, couldn't you? You ought to wear one to one of these debates. Wouldn't that be great?

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: Yes. I thought actually I had a different strategy for
winning: Based on Arnold I thought I ought to go to become Mr. Universe first and then run.

IMUS: What would you do, if you were president now, to—I was going to say get us our of Iraq—I guess I'll go with that, to get us out of Iraq or to solve the situation?

KERRY: If I were president today, I'd go back to the United Nations with a little more humility, a little more invitation for...

IMUS: Well, I know you said but I mean, I'm just talking about what you would do to get us out of this mess.

KERRY: Well, I think you have to be successful, Don. I think it is critical to us. It's critical to war on terror in the long run that we're successful here. I mean if we left Iraq in total disarray, the implications for Pakistan, for Al Qaida, for the Shia, for people in Iraq, for Israel, for Saudi Arabia, Egypt would be disastrous. I mean, we obviously have to complete the job and I understand that.

What I want to do—look, you know, you've got an obligation as president to be able to look into the eyes of parents who lose their kids and be able to say to those parents, "You know, I did everything possible to protect your son and daughter."
And the fact is that as long as the United States is occupying another country almost by itself in the Middle East we are making our soldiers targets. You know, it's like Foreign Policy 101, U.S.: Don't occupy a nation in the Middle East all by yourself.

And so, why we're not going to the United Nations and bringing other countries in and saying, "Hey, this is in your interest too. You all have an interest in not having a world of terror. Get your asses on the ground in Iraq with us." I mean, there ought to be some effort here to follow through.

And you know the secretary general of the United Nations offered that. When that statute of Saddam Hussein was torn down in Baghdad, the United Nations offered to get involved but the administration said, "Oh no, no, no, we don't need you." And the reason they did that is because they were mad at France and mad at the Russians and they wanted to have total control over the contracts and over the disbursements and so forth and indeed control over the process.

But I don't think that's the smart way to do it. The smart way to do it is to have those other countries sharing the burden.
The United Nations is better at nation building than the United States military. And Don Rumsfeld's own memo now says that; he says, "We're not winning this thing." I mean, how extraordinary that the secretary of defense is saying one thing
publicly and privately they're telling the American people something completely different.

IMUS: Gee, what a surprise, like McNamara and that bunch.

But I don't see—and here's what I don't see—and I listened to what you said. I don't see how you ever get at this point—consider what's happened—how you get the U.N. to cooperate?

KERRY: Now it may be difficult, but I really have a belief that under the right circumstances it could happen.

I've talked to the secretary general in the last weeks. My sense is, they're prepared to be responsible providing the United States is being responsible. But they can't do it if the U.S. is insisting on a level of authority that they're just, sort of, using the U.N. but leaving it the way it is today. That's not going to happen.

So the president and his lack of diplomacy are responsible, you know, for a significant part of our own problem.

IMUS: Do you think because there's 35 -- on average, I guess, around 35 attacks a day, that barring participation by all of
these folks at the U.N. that maybe the mission isn't accomplished and one solution would be to send a lot more troops in and consider that the war is in fact still going on?

KERRY: Well, the war is going on. Nobody...

IMUS: But they're not approaching it that way, they're just trying to just like they're running around sticking fingers in a dike.

KERRY: Yes, I think nobody should make the mistake. I mean, the war is going on, we are at war. America is at war. And we need to understand that the mission was not accomplished. The president again misled America with that landing on the aircraft carrier saying, "Mission accomplished." It wasn't accomplished. And people who knew what they were talking
about said it wouldn't be until you've set up the right kind of ground operation.

Now, I'll say this: Can they be successful the way we're going today? Yes, it is possible, but at enormous costs beyond what it has to be; both cost in lives as well as, you know, money to the American taxpayer. So we could be and we can be but it may take more troops. We'll have to wait to see what happens but we certainly could be successful.

But I think Americans have the right to ask, "Why aren't we getting this right at the beginning?" You know, that's what we elect the president to do and I think we deserve a president who gets it right to start.

IMUS: It would greatly contribute to our enthusiasm for any future appearances by you were you to somehow win, like in Iowa or New Hampshire, because if you don't I don't know, I...

KERRY: I intend to give you enthusiasm.

IMUS: I mean, we would always have you on because we like you and because you represent a state where we do well, Massachusetts. But it's just that, I mean, you can't get beat by a guy like Howard Dean. I mean, you just can't.

KERRY: Yes, sir. I don't intend to.

IMUS: Thanks, Senator.

KERRY: Good to be with you. Thanks a lot. Take care.

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