KING: Do you have a preference among Kerry and Edwards?
SHARPTON: No. Let me say something, I'd have disagreements with both. I disagree with Kerry's vote on Iraq. I disagree with Edwards on the Patriot Act.
But I think, on their worst day, they are better than George Bush. I think they have integrity. I think they have vision. And I think they can be talked to.
I think that we're dealing with a president that wants to gay- bash. What about the other 10 Commandments? Let's make a constitutional amendment against president's that lie. Let's deal with the whole thing.
KING: Congressman Kucinich, do you have a preference? Do you have a preference of these two? Do you have a...
KUCINICH: I'd be proud to have any of these gentlemen up here as my running-mate. And I'd also like to say...
I would also like to say that I think that the way we win, Larry, is to be able to appeal to people's practical aspirations for health care for all, for jobs for all, for education for all, for retirement security and for peace. And that's what we need to be talking about tonight.
BROWNSTEIN: Let me turn to another...
KERRY: Do you mind? Because I think the question was asked about the influence of money in the Democratic Party about John and myself, and I'd really like to make a statement about that.
I teamed up with Paul Wellstone, and we fought and created the most far-reaching campaign finance reform law in the history of this country called Clean Money, Clean Elections. It would have gotten the money out of politics.
When I first arrived in the Senate, I ran the first PAC-free-political-action-committee-free-Senate race in the nation.
I am the only United States senator who's been elected four times currently serving who has never accepted political action committee money in any of my races for the United States Senate. No checks from those interests.
The only people who've contributed me are, yes, some people who lobby. The total amount in lifetime amounts to about 1 percent of all the money that I've ever raised.
But what's important is I've stood up for the important fights over the course of time, and so has John Edwards. We both stand up and fight-he fought for the patients' bill of rights. I fought against the clean water, clean air destruction by Gingrich. I led the fight to stop the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge against big oil companies.
BROWNSTEIN: You've raised questions, though, Senator Edwards, about whether Senator Kerry is as separated from the Washington system as he presents it.
There was a report in The Washington Post today that, in addition to the question about lobbying contributions, he's also raised money from interests that are involved in setting up off-shore companies and off-shore tax havens.
Do you view Senator Kerry as part of the solution or part of the problem in the way Washington works?
EDWARDS: I think we have to change what's happening there. And Washington lobbyists who-which you just asked about-Senator Kerry made this point about himself. I've never taken money from a special interest PAC, myself. But I also don't take any money, not a dime, from Washington lobbyists.
And I think we have to go further than that. I think we ought to ban the contribution of Washington lobbyists. Those people shouldn't be able to make contributions to the very people that they're lobbying.
We've got people who are going through this revolving door from the government into these high-priced lobbying firms, going back into the government.
We ought to shine a bright light on what these lobbyists...
EDWARDS: If I can just finish this-what these lobbyists-because these people are stealing the democracy of the American people.
They are there every single day...
BROWNSTEIN: But in the choice facing voters...
EDWARDS: The choice is...
BROWNSTEIN: Is there a difference in your commitment to this cause and what you see from Senator Kerry, based on both what he's said and what he's done?
KING: Fair question.
EDWARDS: Yes. The answer is there are two differences. I commend Senator Kerry for the work he's done on public financing of political campaigns, which I know he believes in deeply. So do I. That's the ultimate solution for this.
But there are two differences. One is, if we're going to change the way Washington operates, my belief is we need somebody who comes from outside that system. That's number one.
Number two, I also think we need to change the influence of Washington lobbyists. And that is a distinction. It's an important distinction, because I think these Washington lobbyists have entirely too much influence on what happens every day.
The best example is this recent prescription drug Medicare reform bill, you know, where everything that could've been done to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for the American people, the drug companies and their lobbyists were against, so it all came out.
It's wrong. We need to cut off these people's influence, and stop the...
BROWNSTEIN: He is saying many of the same things. Are you saying that he is less committed, based on what you have seen?
EDWARDS: I'm simply saying there is a difference between the two of us. No more than that. I don't take Washington lobbyist money. I think we ought to ban their contributions. I don't think the should...
KING: But, I mean, do you criticize him for doing it?
KERRY: If I can just point something out. And I don't think there fundamentally is a difference. I mean, John has raised almost 50 percent of his money from one group of people in the United States of America. Now I don't suggest ever...
KING: Is that the trial lawyers?
KERRY: That's correct. And I don't ever suggest that he is beholden to them. I think he's-because I know he stood up on the patients' bill of rights. And he is prepared, as I am. And I don't think there is a difference. I know he's looking for some differences because you need them. But there's not really a difference in this race between us in our commitment to get the lobbying out.
And you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to issue an executive order that prohibits anyone from going from lobbying-from government directly into lobbying for a period of five years. And we're going to make every meeting of a lobbyist and a public official a matter...
KERRY: ... of public record subject to the scrutiny of the American people.
KING: And Dennis wants to say something.
Would that be the first executive order you'd issue?
KERRY: One of the first.
KING: What would be the first executive order?
KERRY: Reverse the Mexico City policy on the gag rule so that we take a responsible position globally on family planning.
KUCINICH: My first executive order will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO...
KING: Cancel it?
KUCINICH: ... and return to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.
Now, to people watching this discussion who do not have any health insurance at all-and, you know, there's a direct connection between the lack of health insurance in this country and the control which the insurance industry has over Washington-and the control that it has over our Democratic Party, too.
Larry, in 2000 -- Larry? In 2000, I brought...
KING: I'm paying attention to you, Dennis. Dennis, I can hear and look over there at the same time.
KUCINICH: I didn't want you to miss this because this is something that...
KING: It's an old Jewish trait. We can do two things at once.
KUCINICH: This is something...
SHARPTON: Let's not get ethnic, Larry. Let's not get ethnic.
KUCINICH: This is something I know...
KING: Let's not get ethnic?
See how we're uniting. Even I'm saying, let's not get ethnic, Larry.
KING: Sorry, Dennis.
KUCINICH: I think the American...
Well, I'm glad to point out something that all those people who don't have health insurance and all those people who have seen their premiums go up 50 percent in the last three years already understand. And that is that Washington right now is controlled by the insurance interests and by the pharmaceutical companies. And our party, our Democratic Party four years ago, John and John, I went to our...
... Democratic platform committee with a proposal for universal single-payer health care. And it was quickly shot down because it offended some of the contributors to our party.
I just want to state something: We must be ready to take up this challenge of bringing health care to all the American people. And that's what I'm asking everyone here to make a commitment to. Single payer...
KING: We're going to turn now to Iraq, and Janet...
SHARPTON: Larry, just before you turn to Iraq, I think that answers your question why we're in the race.
It's not just who is going to head the ticket. But we will have delegates at the convention to shape the platform and hold whoever wins of the four accountable. That's why we are picking up delegates.
KING: All right. That's fair.
SHARPTON: This is not a coronation, this is a convention.
KING: Janet, let's...
SHARPTON: Who is going to represent us?
KING: Let's turn to Iraq. Janet?
CLAYTON: Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry, you both try to portray yourself as different types of people in Washington. But you both voted for the Iraq resolution, which basically gave the president power to use any means that he deemed necessary and appropriate, including military force, to respond to the perceived threat of Saddam Hussein.
How can you criticize the president on his Iraq policy when both of you handed him a blank check to do whatever he wanted?
EDWARDS: Who do you want to start?
KING: Either one. Go ahead, Senator.
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I did what I did after giving an awful lot of thought and study to it. I was worried about it. All of us were. I took this responsibility very seriously.
I also said, at the time that the resolution was voted on, that it was critical that, when we reached this stage, that this not be done by America done, that it not be an American occupation, that it not be an American operation. That it needs to be...
KING: And it wasn't.
EDWARDS: But it is. It is now. This is not internationalized. I mean, we have some help from the British, but for the most part, it's America doing it alone, which I believe is an enormous mistake. It's the reason we're having one of the...
CLAYTON: Well, then, why didn't you not vote for it? Why didn't you insist on caveats? It was a blank check. Why?
EDWARDS: But those-but those-what we did is we voted on a resolution.
The answer is, what we did is we voted on a resolution. It is for the president of the United States to determine how to conduct the war. That's his responsibility.
KING: So you trusted...
EDWARDS: No, I didn't trust him.
What this comes down to is this president has failed in his responsibility. It's a completely legitimate criticism. Neither of us would've conducted this operation the way he conducted it.
First of all, we would've done the groundwork to reach out to our friends and allies around the world before we even went to a military intervention.
CLAYTON: So are you saying you were suckered?
EDWARDS: Wait, let me finish this, please.
And we also made clear, and I made clear, that in order for this to be successful, at this point, we should have NATO involved in providing security. We should have the United Nations involved in overseeing the transitional government in Iraq. We need to get on a real timetable for the Iraqis to govern themselves and to provide for their own security.
These are not things that I'm saying today for the first time. These are things that I said at the time.
And this president has failed in his responsibilities. It's that simple.
KING: Do you regret your vote? Do you regret your vote?
EDWARDS: I did what I believed was right at the time.
KING: Do you regret it?
EDWARDS: I believe I did what was right.
KING: Do you regret it?
EDWARDS: We don't get to go back, Larry. Five hundred...
KING: Well, you can regret something.
EDWARDS: Wait a minute. Five hundred-over 500 men and women have lost their lives in this cause.
All of us did what we thought was the responsible thing to do at the time-wrong or right. We're not perfect. You know, I did what I believed was the responsible thing to do at the time. And if we did what we were supposed to be doing right now and what we said should be done right now, we would be-this policy would actually be successful.
KING: Senator Kerry and then Dennis and...
KERRY: Let me return a favor from the last debate to John. You asked a yes-or-no answer: "Do you regret your vote?"
The answer is: No. I do not regret my vote. I regret that we have a president of the United States who misled America and broke every promise he made to the United States Congress.
And here is a-and I have a slightly different take from John on this. Let me make it very clear: We did not give the president any authority that the president of the United States didn't have. Did we ratify what he was doing? Yes.
But Clinton went to Haiti without the Congress. Clinton went to Kosovo without the Congress. And the fact is, the president was determined to go, evidently. But we changed the dynamics by getting him to agree to go to the United Nations and to make a set of promises to the nation.
Promise number one: He would build a true global international coalition. Number two: he would honor the U.N. inspection process. And number three-and this is most important-it's important to me and to any of us who served in war: He said he would go to war as a last resort.
He broke every single one of those promises. And in the end...
KING: Would you leave now? Would you leave...
KERRY: No, Larry...
KING: You don't agree with Dennis.
KERRY: No, I would not leave now. I think that you can't leave now. The impact of leaving now on the war on terror, on the Middle East, would be disastrous.
But what underscores how bad this administration is...
What underscores this administration's failure of leadership in foreign policy across the board-North Korea, AIDS, global warming, Russia, the Middle East and, of course, in Iraq-the failure is that Europe has an enormous interest in not having a failed Iraq on its doorstep.
KING: We've got to take a break.
KERRY: Well, I want to finish. The Arab community has an enormous interest in not having a failed Iraq as its neighbor. And notwithstanding the legitimacy of that interest, this administration has failed utterly to bring the international community to the table.
KUCINICH: Could I just follow...
KERRY: I will bring that...
KING: Dennis and Al have to get a word in. But let's do this, let's take a break and we'll come right back with more on Iraq. We can't put that away.
You're watching the Democratic debate on close to the eve of Super Tuesday co-sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times.
We'll be right back.
KING: Welcome back to this special debate co-sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times, coming to you from the University of Southern California with Ron Brownstein and Janet Clayton.
And we have statements from Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton about Iraq, and then we're going to move to domestic issues.
KUCINICH: Larry, as the Democrat who led the effort in the House of Representatives challenging the Bush administration's march toward war in Iraq, I'm very concerned about Senator Kerry's answer, because to say that there are no regrets in light of the fact that we know now that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, with al Qaeda's role in 9/11, with the anthrax attack on our country, that Iraq had neither the intention nor the capability of attacking this country, did not have weapons of mass destruction, it puts us in a position where we're endorsing the continuation of a war.
And I'm very concerned that our party...
KERRY: Dennis, I didn't say I had no regrets. I said I had a regret about the actions of the president.
KUCINICH: Well, I can say that if you don't have an exit plan, if you don't have...
KERRY: I do.
KUCINICH: ... if you don't have a way to get the U.N. in and get our troops home-there are Army reservists and there are National Guardsmen and women who are waiting to hear if they're going to be brought home.
KUCINICH: Or are we looking at a draft? Because you've said you want to send 40,000 more troops there.
KERRY: No, I haven't said that.
KERRY: I have never said that.
KUCINICH: You never said you wanted to bring 40,000 more troops ever?
KERRY: No, I said what we need, because our troops are over- extended in the United States, and we've turned the Guard and the Reserve into almost active duty, we're hurting families all across the nation who are paid less in the military than they were in the private sector.
And our military is so overextended that what I said is, on a temporary basis, we need two additional divisions in the overall standing Army of the United States, because when we rotate the divisions back this spring, we will only have two divisions active that are able to be deployed.
KUCINICH: See, I've seen nothing that suggests that you would bring our troops home. If you're saying it now...
KUCINICH: If you're saying it now that you'll bring our troops home, then that's real progress in this debate.
SHARPTON: I think that's why it's important that we have delegates at the convention to hold whoever the nominee is accountable on issues like Iraq, on issues like the Patriot Act. This is not just about coronating a winner, it's about a direction of the party.
Hundreds of thousands of us were marching against this war while they voted for it.
And I think that to vote against that and not to have us represented at the convention is wrong.
Right now we have foreign policy questions. I'm going to Haiti. People are not even discussing Haiti. We don't have delegates at the convention.
A lot of the concerns of many Americans won't even be discussed if we don't have delegates.
When I came in tonight, Ron, the first thing I asked on the way in is, "How do I get out?" I wouldn't have voted for Bush to go in if I didn't know his exit plan out. That doesn't make sense to me.
BROWNSTEIN: You've brought up Haiti. Before we turn to domestic issues, let's talk about this quickly. If you were president today, what would you be doing, Senator Edwards, about the crisis in Haiti?
KING: Adding that the Caribbean nations today announced that +a multi-national force should go in.
EDWARDS: Yes. That's correct, by the way, that's exactly what should happen.
What I would do is, ultimately we have to have a political solution for this problem. And what I would do as president of the United States is pick two or three respected world leaders, like President Clinton did back in the '90s with Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn, and, I believe, Colin Powell, if I'm not mistaken.
KING: Right, those three.
EDWARDS: Send them to the region. Work on a political solution. You know, the framework, I think that probably makes the most sense is some...
KING: It might be too late.
EDWARDS: Maybe. Maybe. But if we can stabilize the situation first, work on a political solution, and I think the framework of that political solution is some shared authority, and then setting a real timetable for a democratic election. I think that's the frame that needs to be in place.
But can I say one other thing about this? We should not be in this place. We are in this place because this is so typical of this president's disengagement in this entire hemisphere. In fact, he's done it all over the world. But this is a perfect example.
What he's done in Mexico, what he's done in Haiti. The reason we're in this place is because this president has not been involved, not been engaged. He's had complete...
KING: Are you saying he could have prevented this?
EDWARDS: I'm saying, if we had stayed involved, we would have seen this coming a lot sooner, and we could have gotten...
EDWARDS: ... could have gotten involved and engaged...
KING: All right. Senator Kerry and then Janet. I know that Al's going there Wednesday.
KING: I know. Senator Kerry and then you.
KERRY: Actually, I disagree with John a little bit, in that the president...
... the president himself, wasn't engaged, but his administration has been. And his administration has been engaged in a very manipulative and wrongful way.
EDWARDS: Are you saying they were engaged but wrong engaged?
KERRY: Here's what I'm telling you. Here's what I'm telling you. This administration set up an equation. They have a theological and a ideological hatred for Aristide. They always have.
And they approach this so that the insurgents were given-empowered by this administration, because they said to the insurgents, "If you...
"... Until you reach an agreement with Aristide and the government about sharing power, we're not going to provide aid and assistance."
So we empowered them to simply veto any agreement, which is what they're still doing with respect to a power-sharing in another government.
What this president ought to have done is to have given them an ultimatum: Either we're going to restore the democracy, have the full democracy in the region-notwithstanding that I think Aristide has some problems, and I do.
And I think there have been serious problems in his police, the way they've managed things. But our engagement should have been to try to restore the democracy, to bring those people together. That's what president...
KING: All right. Janet has a question.
CLAYTON: But as a practical...
KERRY: ... and that's what we should be doing now.
CLAYTON: But as a practical matter, if thousands of starving Haitians get in a boat tonight -- 500 have already been turned away-if thousands of starving Haitians come to the coast of Florida, would you embrace them, as the U.S. embraces fleeing Cubans? Or would you turn them away?
SHARPTON: See, I think that's a critical question. I have visited the Krome Detention Center. Mr. Bush says we give political asylum to people coming from Cuba, but he says we would not do it from Haiti.
Now we saw an exact opposite when we saw Haitians flee. And I've seen Haitians. I've been to Krome Detention Center in Miami twice. I am going to Haiti in a few days.
I think that the real issue is why this country continues to block resources there that could have built the infrastructure, provided jobs; why we blocked a $500 million approved loan from the World Bank. I think that we've got a responsibility.
I'm disappointed in some things President Aristide has done. I said that to him on the phone. I've said that to the opposition leaders.
But I do not think we can undermine a democracy. And we can't have different strokes for different folks at the border in Miami.
KING: Janet's question, though, is would you take them in?
Senator, would you take them in?
EDWARDS: Those who were fleeing for political asylum, yes.
KING: You would take them in.
EDWARDS: Those who were fleeing for political asylum, yes.
KING: Would you take them in?
KERRY: I think you'd have to for temporary reason. But you have to immediately move to get an international force in there to restore order.
KING: All right, let's go to the...
BROWNSTEIN: Let's move to domestic issues, in particular health care.
KING: That's right.
BROWNSTEIN: About one in five Californians lack health insurance, one of the highest ratios in the country. In the last few weeks, Senator Kerry, Senator Edwards has been saying your health care plan is too expensive, it's unaffordable, it's unrealistic.
Does his plan cover enough people? Is it ambitious enough?
BROWNSTEIN: Go on.
Don't let me stop you.
SHARPTON: But that was a yes or no, John, that time.
EDWARDS: Yes, but what time is it now?
KING: We've got a little while.