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ABC News "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. Since his surprise loss to Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire, Barack Obama has picked up a string of high powered endorsements topped by our headliner this morning, the Democrat's nominee in 2004, John Kerry.

Welcome back to "This Week."

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): Glad to be here.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you have longstanding political ties to the Clintons. Of course, you picked John Edwards as your running mate in 2004. Why Barack Obama now?

SEN. KERRY: Because I think the times demand real change. I know that word is getting overused, but it's a reality. I believe that Barack Obama has the ability to be a transformational leader.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?

SEN. KERRY: It means that there are big shifts, tectonic shifts in American politics. Whether it was Reagan, Kennedy, Roosevelt, there were moments where America is ready to move in a different direction. I believe this is one of those moments. If you go back, George, to the end of my campaign, at Fennel (ph) Hall, I talked of the conversation I had with President Bush at the end and I warned the president, and I said this at that moment, of the division in our country, the desperate need of people for unity and of trying to come together in a different way and I really believed that as a result maybe there would be a moment of healing for the country, of a better politics.

It didn't happen. It's gotten worse. This city is worse than I have ever seen it in all the years that I've been here. And I think we need a fundamental break with the past.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And Hillary Clinton can't be that fundamental break?

SEN. KERRY: Well, she might be able to be, but I believe that Barack Obama has the better opportunity to be. I think he brings something special to this race. First of all, leadership -- and I'm confident your next guest, New Gingrich will echo this -- requires the ability to inspire, the ability to create a movement, the ability to mobilize people around ideas. I think Barack Obama is showing the ability to do that and has shown the ability to do that.

Remember, when Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill, the pen he gave -- the first pen -- was to Martin Luther King. In 1970 when I was first involved in the Earth Day, something some people scathe at today, but 20 million Americans came out one single day and said, we're tired of living next to toxic waste sites, we're tired of seeing the Cuyahoga River burn. And that movement then targeted 12 congressmen. They were labeled the Dirty Dozen. Seven of them were beaten and the result was we passed the Clean Air Act, we passed the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act. We created an Environmental Protection Agency, which a president -- Nixon -- was forced to sign into law.

I believe that Barack Obama has the ability to inspire hope and define our aspirations as a nation in a way that reaches not only Americans, but reaches the world.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You made an artful reference there to Martin Luther and Lyndon Johnson. Senator Clinton got in a little bit of trouble this week where she seemed to downplay Martin Luther King's contribution at the expense -- I mean, enhance Lyndon Johnson's reputation at the expense of Martin Luther King. Here's what she said.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) Dr. King's dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And yesterday, she said that the Obama campaign was distorting those words. She blamed the Obama campaign.

SEN. CLINTON: (From videotape.) I am particularly offended at the way that some have taken out of context and apparently deliberately tried to mislead others about what was said.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the Obama Campaign owe Senator Clinton an apology?

SEN. KERRY: George, I don't know what the back-forth has been and I'm not here to get in between the sort of two campaigns and how they're interpreting that. History knows that it was those folks crossing that bridge at Selma and facing those dogs and those batons and bloodied heads. History knows that it was kids getting on the buses and the freedom rides and going down to the South, people being blown up in Birmingham and dozens of other places in the South. History knows that it was the courageous, nonviolent movement inspired by Martin Luther King that forced politicians to confront these issues, just as it has been for women, for the environment, for children, for a host of other issues. Yes, it takes a president obviously in the end to do that.

I believe Barack Obama has the ability to bring both of those qualities, inspire and be a president. And I think there's a reason, George, that Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Tim Kaine of Virginia and others --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All Republican states.

SEN. KERRY: -- are saying -- all Republican states, red states, difficult states are saying we believe Barack Obama can unite, can create this fresh and new beginning. The other thing, and I look around our country. I came into public service to try to make a difference, like most of us. I see my colleague, Ted Kennedy, who does a superb job of leading on these issues on the Health and Human Services Committee, frustrated, struggling to deal with an education system that we still know isn't working. Who better than Barack Obama to talk about, and just by his person signify to the world the difference that it means to get an open door to a good school? Who better than Barack Obama to talk to young blacks in America or disaffected young people or anybody and sort of say, you see what happens if you have a dream and you pursue it and you work at it?

I was just in South Africa and I picked up the newspaper one day and there was a big headline on the second page, Obama says the following.

They have a huge issue there of credibility of their leadership on the issue of AIDS. I personally believe having been 20 years, 24 years on the Foreign Relations Committee that Barack Obama can say things to African-American leaders that a white president just can't say, and I think there's a power in that.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But a lot of Democrats are worried that he can't get there and one of the arguments of the Clinton campaign has been making -- you say that one of the reasons to support him is because he wants to end the politics of swift-boating. One of the arguments of the Clinton camp is that he will fall victim to the politics of swift-boating -- that he's unknown, untested, not tough enough.

SEN. KERRY: No. He won't. He won't, nor will any Democrat ever again. And you're looking at the person who understands that better than anybody. We made the miscalculation that we had answered the lies enough. They were answered. They were answered, contrary to myth, on day one -- instant one, counter press conference. And the mainstream media wrote the truth, but unfortunately when lies are put out on television sufficiently and unanswered sufficiently, they can make a difference. That will never, ever happen again, not to Barack Obama --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though Barack Obama is brand new?

SEN. KERRY: -- not to Hillary Clinton incidentally either. Whoever our nominee is, I intend to fight like crazy and I will lead the effort personally -- (inaudible).

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But there's a difference, isn't there? Senator Clinton is a known quantity. That's one of the arguments her camp makes. Barack Obama is not and he'll be defined.

SEN. KERRY: I think Barack Obama knows and the campaign knows that that definition process has to begin immediately and any effort to define him will be countered immediately and he will have the money to do that immediately. That's one of the differences. We were stuck in the federal financing, he is not, and he will have the ability to be able to redefine himself immediately.

But come back to the larger issue here. Look at what's happening in Washington. This place is just in gridlock and stuck. Barack Obama stood up and passed one the most important -- the single biggest ethics reform package that we have passed. He did that immediately. On legislative record -- yes, he's a young man, but he's older than Bill Clinton when Bill Clinton became president. He's older than John Kennedy. He's older than Teddy Roosevelt. He's only three years younger than Abraham Lincoln, who lost his seat for the House after serving only two years, lost a race for the Senate, lost a race for the Illinois legislature and became our greatest president.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And he has also been making the argument that judgment is also key, especially on the Iraq war. He says he was against it from the start. President Clinton -- we all saw it this week -- was out saying it's a fairy tale that Barack Obama's record is very different from Senator Clinton's on this score because he's voted for the funding, because he said -- basically -- at your convention that he's not sure how he would have voted.

SEN. KERRY: Well, no. That's -- I beg to differ with you. If you take the complete quote of what he said at my convention, he said that -- he said, I believe it is my judgment the case has not been made.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And what he said exactly was --

SEN. KERRY: That's the end of the sentence.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- "I'm not privy to Senate Intelligence reports. What would I have done, I don't know. What I know is that from my vantage point, the case was not made," and that's one of the quotes President Clinton is referring to.

SEN. KERRY: Correct. And not only did he say the case has not been made, which was a very diplomatic way of saying John Edwards and John Kerry made a mistake at a convention where he was about to speak and I was the nominee, so in effect he showed considerable diplomatic tact and he managed to duck you guys because you might have had a story that my keynote speaker was in fact in a different position, which he was. He spoke at an anti-war rally of some several thousand people in which he talked about not being against all wars, but being against a war where it didn't make sense and the case had not been made. So I don't think there's any question but that Barack Obama had a position against the war, and he --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about the argument that he then came into the Senate and voted for funding?

SEN. KERRY: -- made it clear. And I have said since then, George, that that vote was a mistake. I believe it was a mistake because we gave power to the president that he abused. Now, you can make arguments about what the vote was at the moment you made it, but in the end it turned out to be a mistake and the country now knows that overwhelmingly and Barack Obama had the right judgment.

I think that you also measure a life. In the end, Barack Obama has more legislative experience than Hillary Clinton directly because he served eight years in the Illinois legislature and now three years in the Senate. Hillary Clinton's had one term plus this year and a bit since then, so you measure the whole life. And I think when measure Barack Obama's life, a guy who went to Columbia as an undergraduate and his daddy didn't help get him into an Ivy League school. He went to Harvard Law School, became the first African- American president of the "Harvard Law Review," which as you know is no small task. It goes on from there. Instead of going to Wall Street to make millions, he goes to Chicago to help organize in the streets. He's a civil rights lawyer. He stood up and helped change the death penalty situation in Illinois. He fought to get children tax credits.

I think he's had the right instincts. I think he had the right instinct to say this is a moment for America to change and to take the risk and decide to run for president. And look at what's he's achieved against all of the forces arrayed against him, and he is now attracting people like Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Governor Janet Napolitano. I don't think that's insignificant.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question. You made a strong case for Senator Obama. One question about Senator Edwards because there are many here who say there's bad blood between you. Your former strategist, Bob Shrum, wrote that you were queasy about Senator Edwards when you actually met with him to talk about the vice presidency after he told you a story about a promise he made to his dead son, Wade, a story he said he'd never told before. He then went on to write, Bob Shrum did --

SEN. KERRY: George, can I stop you right there?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me show you, let me show you this --

SEN. KERRY: I know, but it's just not worth it. It's a waste of time because those kinds of Washington books and Washington stories are part of the problem of what's going on here.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, is the story true or not?

SEN. KERRY: It doesn't matter.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not?

SEN. KERRY: Because just like the "Des Moines Register" that made the decision -- having endorsed Edwards four years ago, they endorsed Hillary Clinton this year because this is a different moment. This is a different time with different demands for our country and I'm here supporting Barack Obama not against Hillary, not against John Edwards, either of whom would take this country and fight to take this country in the right direction. It's my belief that Barack Obama has the best chance of being transformative, of confronting the issues, of building the movement, of reaching out to the world to change America's perception in the world and that he has the best opportunity to try to change our reputation and restore our moral authority on a global basis faster than anyone.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I take you at your word and this is just a simple yes/no question. Is that story true, and is it true that he promised you to -- (inaudible).

SEN. KERRY: I have not read precisely how it was reflected. I have not read it and I can't tell you how it's been -- (unintelligible).

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that's why I wanted to show. He said --

SEN. KERRY: It's a waste of time. It's a Washington deal. Let's deal with much more important things than the gossip of a book.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This was direct charges that he made. I just want to know -- (inaudible).

SEN. KERRY: Well, it doesn't matter, George. I'm telling you.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you just don't want to comment.

SEN. KERRY: I don't want to comment. I think it's a ridiculous waste of time.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. Senator Kerry, thanks very much.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you.


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