NBC "Today Show" - Transcript
MR. LAUER: Senator Edward Kennedy and Senator Barack Obama are both on Capitol Hill this morning.
Senators, good morning to both of you.
SEN. KENNEDY: Good morning.
SEN. OBAMA: Good morning.
MR. LAUER: Senator Kennedy, let me start with you and ask you not a political but a personal question. You and the Clintons go way back. You stood by President Clinton during impeachment. You welcomed Hillary Clinton to the Senate and showed her around. Your families have vacationed together. The Clintons have stood by your family through some very difficult and tragic times.
So how difficult was this in terms of a personal decision? Did you feel as if you were letting friends down?
SEN. KENNEDY: No, I have great respect for President Clinton and great respect for Senator Clinton. But this race really isn't about President Clinton. It's enormous -- it's a race of enormous importance and consequence for our country. The stakes are extremely high when we look at the challenges that we're facing here at home and abroad.
And I made a judgment and decision that Barack Obama has the ability and is the source of inspiration for our country at this time and can really make the difference, not only in this election but as president of the United States.
MR. LAUER: And you did that in a stirring speech, and you've made many of them during your political career. But some people who analyze speeches for a living, and perhaps analyze them too much, said they detected a mocking tone when referring, even in a veiled reference, to the Clintons.
SEN. KENNEDY: (Laughs.)
MR. LAUER: For example, when you said that Senator Obama would be ready to serve as president from day one, taking on one of Senator Clinton's number one stump points, and when you said that Senator Obama opposed the war from the very beginning -- "Let no one cast doubt on that" -- some people detected a hint of animosity there. Is there?
SEN. KENNEDY: No, absolutely not. I'm not against the Clintons. I'm for Barack Obama. And in the course of campaigns there are sometimes misrepresentations, sometimes distortions. And I think part of the challenge in the course of the campaign is to set the record straight. And I tried to set the record.
I remember very clearly the great debate about going to war in Iraq. It was a lonely debate. There was only a handful of us in those early days, and Barack Obama was there. That's enormously important. It reflects on his judgment.
MR. LAUER: Right.
SEN. KENNEDY: And that's an issue that's going to be in the course of this campaign.
MR. LAUER: Let me bring Senator Obama in.
Senator, if this is about tone, and if Senator Kennedy was disappointed with the tone of the campaign thus far, I guess I have to ask you a blunt and pointed question. Can you look at me and say that you on no occasion, or surrogates for you on no occasion, have promoted negativity in this campaign, either by leaking stories about the Clintons to the press or in any other way?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, Matt, there's no doubt that this is a fierce contest in the Democratic Party, but it's a contest within the family. And what I've tried to do throughout this campaign, the tone that I've set has been a positive one.
There are, no doubt, going to be arguments about policy. What I have tried to make certain of is that throughout this campaign that we have stuck to facts. We have not tried to make gratuitous attacks. It doesn't mean that we've been perfect. Politics is an imperfect business.
MR. LAUER: Let me take you back to South Carolina and that debate a week or so ago when Senator Edwards and Clinton both challenged you, Senator Obama, on your health care plan, both saying that it did not, by definition, meet the terms of universal health care.
Now, Senator Kennedy, you have pushed for as long as I can remember for universal health care. Does Senator Obama's plan meet the definition in your mind?
SEN. KENNEDY: Yes, it does. It's the passion of my life -- universal, comprehensive health care. And I wouldn't support Barack Obama unless I was absolutely convinced that he was for universal, comprehensive health care.
MR. LAUER: So when Senator Edwards and Clinton say that his plan leaves out certain numbers of people, you still feel that's comprehensive, universal health care?
SEN. KENNEDY: I have tried for 38 years to get universal, comprehensive health care. I have supported 12 different proposals to try to get there. Elect Barack Obama and we will get there. That's the way I feel.
MR. LAUER: Senator Obama, there's often been discussion about the weight of political endorsements. Some people say history shows at the ballot box they don't mean that much. But, boy, this is a big one.
Let me tell you something that Jay Carson, a campaign spokesman for the Clintons, said after hearing of Senator Kennedy's endorsement of you. He said, quote, "It ain't going to move three votes." How many votes do you think it's going to move?
SEN. KENNEDY: (Laughs.)
SEN. OBAMA: Well, there are a number of votes in the Kennedy family, I think more than three.
SEN. KENNEDY: (Laughs.)
SEN. OBAMA: So I think we'll move some votes. But, look, I am greatly honored to have Ted Kennedy's support and the Kennedy family's support. What is absolutely true is that ultimately the American people make decisions about the presidency based on who they think can help them on the critical issues that they're facing. Are they going to have health care? Can they stay in their home? Will they get a good job?
MR. LAUER: Right.
SEN. OBAMA: And so my job is to explain to them specifically how I want to help them with college affordability and how they're going to prosper, not only here domestically, but how can America lead in the world. I have to make my case, but obviously Ted Kennedy allows some people to listen who might not have listened otherwise.
MR. LAUER: And Senator Kennedy, in five seconds left, this morning are you and the Clintons still friends?
SEN. KENNEDY: Absolutely. And I've said I'm for Barack Obama, but I'm going to support Senator Clinton or Senator Edwards should they gain the nomination. It's imperative that the Democrats be successful. We need new directions here at home and overseas.
MR. LAUER: Senators, thanks to both of you for getting up this morning. I appreciate it.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you.