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MSNBC Hardball Transcript

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January 27, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: HARDBALL For January 27, 2004

BYLINE: Tom Brokaw; Tim Russert; Campbell Brown; Joe Scarborough; Howard Fineman; Lester Holt; Jacques DeGraff; Chris Matthews

GUESTS: Joseph Lieberman; John Kerry

HIGHLIGHT:
John Kerry wins the New Hampshire primary. How will this affect the upcoming primaries and caucuses as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination goes forward?

BODY:
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Thank you, Chris.

Before we hear from Tim, we're going to go directly now to The Senator John Kerry headquarters Here in Manchester. The senator joins us now.

Congratulations, Senator, for a strong, very impressive showing tonight, the second one in a row, Iowa last week, tonight New Hampshire.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Tom, very much.

I'm very grateful to the citizens of New Hampshire. They, like the folks in Iowa, kept their minds and their hearts open. And I think it was a great victory for what we're trying to achieve, which is to make America more fair, to take on these powerful interests that are really distorting the real concerns of America.

BROKAW: Senator, some of the toughest attacks against you here in New Hampshire came from the second-place finisher, Vermont Governor Howard Dean, saying, you voted against Operation Desert Storm in 1991. You voted for this war against Iraq, but then voted against the $87 billion.

To be a devil's advocate for just a moment, I can see the Republicans in the White House taking those Dean comments, packaging them for their own benefit, and saying, this is just another weathervane liberal from Massachusetts.

KERRY: Well, each of those positions ran counter to people's intuition.

I thought they were courageous and important votes. One of the lessons I learned in fighting a war, Tom, is that the responsibility of a president is to bring the country along in the decision of whether or not you send young men or women off to die. In the case of the first Gulf War, I thought we ought to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. I was ready to use force. But I thought the country needed to sort of come together a little more and it was a matter of timing, not a matter of whether.

With respect to this time, I know it was the right vote to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. There was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. And almost everybody in the world now knows that George Bush chose the wrong way to do it, because he didn't build a legitimate global coalition. He didn't give the inspections the time to work through. And he went to war not as a last resort, but on his own schedule. And I believe that breaks faith with the American people.

BROKAW: Senator, how do you think the president is doing in the war on terror, because he's obviously making this a centerpiece of his administration, as he did just the other night in the State of the Union address? Would you do anything differently in the war on terror, because, after all, there has not been an attack against this country since 9/11?

KERRY: Tom, I'd do a lot of things very differently.

There are some things that are happening that are very good. And we all acknowledge them. I think the FBI performance has improved. I think the CIA is doing better than it was. But there's still a long way to go. Yes, we have intercepted potential attacks. No question about it. But the question is not, are we-have we sort of staved off an attack? The question is, are we as safe and ready as we ought to be?

And I believe the answer to that is no. And the reason is, they've turned their back on some of the homeland security demands. And they have breached relationships all around the globe, which are the very things we need to be most successful in a war on terror. So, I'll have a lot more to say about this as we go forward. But I have a more effective way of making America safer and stronger.

BROKAW: Senator, as you know, the president put cultural issues on the table the other night in his State of the Union speech as well, talking about the Defense of Marriage Act and his resistance to the idea of gay marriages. That's going to become a big, contentious issue in your home state of Massachusetts. The Republican governor has come out against it.

You voted against the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you think that you are vulnerable on that issue?

KERRY: Not in the least, Tom, because I made it very clear that I do not also support a gay marriage. I don't support gay marriage.

But I also don't support the United States Senate being used for gay bashing and for driving wedges between people. I think that's unbecoming of the Senate. And I think it's wrong for a president to try to drive a wedge between people in America. That's what the American people are tired of. Our Constitution affords all Americans equal protection under the law.

And it is possible to give people rights, rights, that protect them without getting into the whole issue of church marriage and marriage, unless you're purposefully trying to create a political issue and divide people. I think we deserve a more honest conversation in America. And I think Americans are looking forward to that. And so am I.

BROKAW: And, finally, Senator, your opponent, Howard Dean, said tonight that he still is better positioned to run against George Bush because, as he described you, you are a Washington insider, carrying a lot of baggage.

KERRY: Well, I'm going to let the voters of Iowa and the voters of New Hampshire and the voters of the next states make that decision.

I think they decided here that I'm the strongest candidate to beat George Bush. And that is because I have 35 years of experience fighting against powerful interests on the domestic front. And I have 35 years of experience in helping to make America stronger and safer abroad in foreign policy and in military affairs.

And, as George Bush has proven to America, the White House and the presidency are not the place for on-the-job training.

BROKAW: Senator, thank you very much.

KERRY: Thank you.

BROKAW: You had a very strong showing here in New Hampshire tonight, as you did in Iowa.

KERRY: Thank you.

BROKAW: And based on everything that we're seeing in our exit poll tonight, it's across the board. On all the issues, you really have energized the Democratic base.

KERRY: Thank you.

BROKAW: The only thing I worry about is that your staff still has not delivered you that sandwich. And I know that you've gone without food since noon today. So we'll let you go now, so that you...

KERRY: I'm wasting away here.

(LAUGHTER)

KERRY: Thank you, Tom.

BROKAW: We'll do what we can to get a little NBC help.

Thanks very much, Senator. Congratulations.

KERRY: Thank you.

Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.

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