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Public Statements

CBS Face the Nation Transcript

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BOB SCHIEFFER, host: And with us now from Boston, Senator John Kerry. Joining in the questioning this morning Karen Tumulty of Time magazine, part of our continuing series of interviews today with the various people seeking the Democratic nomination. A little later in the broadcast, we'll be talking to Republican Pat Roberts.

But, Senator, I want to start by asking you about this series of attacks. This morning now, another one in Israel. Prime Minister Sharon has canceled or postponed his visit to Washington because of that. Earlier last week, we saw these attacks in Saudi Arabia, also in Morocco. It appears that al-Qaida is back in business. I wonder if you have some comments on that.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Al-Qaida never went out of business, Bob. And I think that the triumphalism of this administration, the--the president's comments and others about al-Qaida on the run has really exceeded reality. What--what's happened is we broke the beehive but we didn't kill the bees and we certainly haven't killed the queen bee.

I think it underscores the enormous strategic error that I pointed to many months ago at Tora Bora and Anaconda where we failed to capture and kill 1,000 al-Qaida, including Osama bin Laden, and there is evidence that one of those people who escaped from Tora Bora was one of those who planned the Riyadh attack. We need to be stronger and smarter and tougher, and particularly, we've got to have a more effective outreach in our foreign policy to build the cooperation necessary to truly wage a war on terror.

SCHIEFFER: Now, Senator, last week on this very broadcast, Bob Graham, the senator from Florida...

Sen. KERRY: Yeah, I do know.

SCHIEFFER: ...who's also running for the Democratic nomination, said that he believed that the war to not--take out Saddam Hussein had turned into a diversion and, in fact, had made the United States la--less safe than it was before. Now you voted to give the president the authority to take military action in Iraq. Do you think Senator Graham is right when he says that?

Sen. KERRY: I think that it is good that Saddam Hussein is gone. I think it was right to want to disarm him. I supported that, and I think the key, however, what I said all along from day one--and the reason as some people sort of said, 'Well, what's Kerry saying about this?' is I said, 'You have to build a strong coalition in order to win the peace.' Winning the war was never in doubt for a nation that built a military to defeat the Soviet Union and another war in the Far East at the same time.

Winning the peace is more complicated. And we've seen that this administration has been in complete disarray. They did not have a plan ready. They haven't built the kind of coalition to deal with the three parts of winning the peace: part one, security; part two, the humanitarian assistance; part three, the governance and infrastructure. I believe that th--those other two parts, governance and--and the humanitarian, need the rest of the world to be involved in order to reduce America's carrying all the risks and all the costs, in order to reduce the targeting of American soldiers and in order to maximize our ability to wage a war on terror in that region and elsewhere.

And I think the administration got overly focused on Iraq to the exclusion of building the kind of relationships in other parts of the world that do increase your ability to fight a war on terror. We can do this tougher, we can do it smarter, we can do it more effectively, and we can be on the offensive which is what we ought to be.

SCHIEFFER: Karen.

Ms. KAREN TUMULTY (Time): Well, Senator, last October when you cast that vote for the war in Iraq, you said that your primary reason for casting that vote was that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Specifically, you said, 'We know through intelligence that he not only has kept them but he continues to grow them.'

We've been looking for those weapons now for over a month. This morning's Washington Post points out that we--when we went into the site that was number 26 on their list what we found were vacuum cleaners. Does it matter that we haven't found those weapons, and what is the fact that we haven't found them suggest about the intelligence that you were relying on and that Colin Powell took to the UN?

Sen. KERRY: Well, it raises a lot of questions about it. What we did know, obviously, Karen, is that for the eight years we had inspectors there, what have we found? We found that--that the Iraqis were further along in the development of nuclear weapons and that they had more chemical and biological than we had ever seen before, number one. Number two, they've been uninspected for four years, and we did know that they had precursor chemicals and other efforts going on, according to our intelligence. We also had evidence through the intelligence community that they were engaged in activities with other terrorist organizations and so forth. I mean, I think it does raise questions about the intelligence we've got.

I will tell you this, our intelligence has clearly improved since then. It is one thing--I will give credit for, the intelligence community. They knew that some of these attacks were going to happen in the last days. But what--i--it's insufficient for this administration to say we notified them but they didn't do anything. It's the--it's the obligation of this administration to make sure that they are doing something, and you don't do it by passing on a communication and then sitting there.

You have to be engaged. And many people are wondering whether we have been tough enough in our relationship with Saudis--with Saudi Arabia and whether or not we are beginning to face this great question. Is it the extremists who are going to be isolated or is it the United States? I believe this is a war of ideas and we need to be more engaged in that war with a more robust and aggressive foreign policy.

Ms. TUMULTY: And--and...

Sen. KERRY: So it's intelligence and it's foreign policy.

Ms. TUMULTY: Bringing up the Saudis, do you, in fact, think that we've been tough enough on them? Because we've known for a long time that many of the roads to al-Qaida lead through our ally, Saudi Arabia. And yet there are--have been reports as recently as this week that they are either, A, uncooperative; or, B, incompetent.

Sen. KERRY: I think that we have not had the kind of engagement, not just from the Saudis, but from other countries in the region. Our own foreign policy, our own State Department, our own administration has not been sufficiently focused and energized in terms of building those relationships. Osama bin Laden is probably in the north of Pakistan. What is the relationship with Pakistan and the legitimacy of their efforts to ferret him out? What are we doing with respect to our overall effort to--to market the ideas and--and--and values of the United States beyond the military excursions we engage in?

And the war on terror, Karen, is not just an--a--a war that we'll be engaged in by the military. In fact, it will be less engaged in by the military. It is much more an intelligence operation and a law enforcement operation. And to win that war you have to have the most robust, aggressive, forceful foreign policy. This administration has been disengaged in the Middle East, lackadaisical about the relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I think we can be tougher and I think we can be smarter in how we protect Americans.

SCHIEFFER: Well, S...

Sen. KERRY: A--but--and...

SCHIEFFER: ...Senator, let's just get--talk about 'let's be tougher.' Now the United States sent five separate people over there to warn the Saudis that there was some trouble coming, including the deputy national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, who went and called on them and said, 'We need some help here.'

Apparently, the Saudis did nothing in reaction to that. We have now dispatched scores of FBI agents to Saudi Arabia. But we're now told that the Saudi interior minister, and let's all remember he is the one who said on the record that he believes it is the Jews who were behind the attack on 9/11--he is now quoted as saying, "Yes, we're going to let them observe but we're not going to investigate." Let's say John Kerry was president and he was confronted with that kind of situation. What would you say to the Saudis, specifically, right now?

Sen. KERRY: Well, if John Kerry were president, I would long ago have engaged in an effort to move America towards a different energy policy so that we aren't as reliant as we are on 46 percent of the oil reserves of the world that come from Saudi Arabia. This administration has no energy policy. And moreover, there are ways to raise and ratchet up the dialogue between nations. There's a capac...

SCHIEFFER: Well, th--let me just...

Sen. KERRY: Let me just say, Bob--you can go public. You can go public and begin to ratchet up the cooperative level. The Saudis in the end also need the United States of America. I mean, remember, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, it was Saudi Arabia, to a certain degree, that was at risk in the long run in terms of the oil fields. It wasn't just about the liberation of Kuwait. It was also the protection of the Saudi fields and the Saudi and Kuwaiti and other interests in the region. We need to remind people of that linkage and we need to be more forceful and aggressive in that effort. That's what good diplomacy is about.

These--you know, this administration walked away from the Middle East for about 14 months. And the Afghanistan job is not finished. Almost any observer will tell you that we're not rebuilding Afghanistan. The great test of this is wi--is Iraq. We have to win this effort now of the peace in Iraq. The entire direction and course of the war on terror, the entire direction in the Middle East will depend on our success in Iraq. We can win it, but it's going to take a longer, more sustained, more expensive effort than this administration ever acknowledged to the American people. And we now need other people involved in this.

SCHIEFFER: OK.

Sen. KERRY: We have to open it up.

SCHIEFFER: But let me--let me go back to my original question, because if you do become president, the same energy policy that's in effect now will be in effect when you get to be president. You're still going to have to deal with the Saudis. What specifically would you do? How can you bring pressure on the Saudis to help in this?

Sen. KERRY: Two months ago--two months ago, Bob, or s--around there, I--I gave a speech in which I laid out an alternative foreign policy vision. And in that speech, I suggested we need a greater Middle East initiative that begins to engage in that region, not just in Saudi Arabia, but Egypt and other countries, to help take nations where you have 65 or 70 percent of the population under the age of 30, 50 percent of the population under the age of 18--they are unemployed and they are unemployable. And as long as they are educated in schools which teach them to hate, to hate Israel, to hate us, and to--to give them the capacity to become terrorists, we need to change that relationship.

I suggested that we need to engage in a major transitional effort in their governance practices, in their economic policies and educational policies, to bring them to a better place. That is now possible through what is happening in Iraq. But clearly, this administration didn't even understand the implications of its own victory in Iraq. I mean...

Ms. TUMULTY: Well, s...

Sen. KERRY: Sorry. Go ahead.

Ms. TUMULTY: Well, Senator, a couple of minutes ago you suggested that we basically kicked over an ant hill in Tora Bora. How worried are you, now that we've seen two major terrorist attacks in the last week? How worried are you about additional attacks in the United States?

Sen. KERRY: This administration has told us, 'It is not a question of if, it is a question of when.' Those are their words. So if those words are true, it also raises the question of why firefighters are being laid off in America, why police programs have been cut, why front-line responders and trainers have not been trained, why they haven't been given the equipment they have.

It raises the extraordinary question of why we have not fully funded communities in their efforts to have adequate homeland security and relieve the pressure on states instead of giving the wealthiest Americans yet another tax cut. The priorities and choices of this administration are wrong, and we need to move in the right direction in this country, in homeland security and in our efforts to be prepared for the possibility of those attacks.

SCHIEFFER: Senator...

Sen. KERRY: I--I just read that of the 55,000 screeners in our airports, 22,000 have not been checked for criminal records, but the very reason we federalized it was to do that.

SCHIEFFER: Senator, let me ask you just one question on straight politics. Senator Lieberman, who's also seeking the nomination, says that he would be in favor of a plan where all the Democratic ma--candidates, starting in July, held a debate once a month. Would you be willing to do that?

Sen. KERRY: I think we have a lot of debates coming up. Look, I love debates. I...

SCHIEFFER: But, I mean, would you be for that, one a month?

Sen. KERRY: I had--I had nine one-hour televised debates with Governor Weld in my race with him. People know I love debates. But I also need to raise money, build an organization and move around the country. I don't know what Joe's strategy is. There's going to be a lot of time...

SCHIEFFER: OK.

Sen. KERRY: ...for us to debate. We'll see where we go.

SCHIEFFER: Well, let me just--I'm going to check it off here. Do I put you in the yes or the no column?

Sen. KERRY: I'm happy to have debates. We will have debates, but I'm not sure my schedule will do it once a month.

SCHIEFFER: OK. Thank you very much, Senator. We'll talk to you again as we get further down the campaign trail.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you very much.

SCHIEFFER: Thank you. Back in a moment with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

(Announcements)

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