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CNBC Capital Report Transcript

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And while the CIA director was on Capitol Hill talking about Iraq intelligence, as Norah just reported, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was in New York whipping into the president's record on Iraq and homeland security.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Presidential Candidate): How dare anyone say, 'Bring 'em on in Iraq' while leaving our first defenders without the resources to take them on in America? We need an administration less interested in double-talk and more truly committed to working double time to guard Americans from danger.

BORGER: We interviewed Senator Kerry earlier today, right after that speech, and we asked him: Does he really think Americans are no safer today than they were right after September 11?

(Excerpt from interview)

Sen. KERRY: The fact is that our police officers are not receiving the training necessary with respect to terrorism across America as they ought to be. The fact is that we're laying off police officers, we're laying off firefighters. In many firehouses across America, they don't have sufficient radios, building collapse equipment, breathing apparatus, and the firehouses' numbers themselves are down. I don't believe we're doing the broad training here at home.

ALAN MURRAY, co-host:

Senator, rough estimate, how much money are you talking about adding to the budget for homeland security?

Sen. KERRY: Less than we spend every day in Iraq.

MURRAY: So something less than $4 billion a month?

Sen. KERRY: Oh, in terms of--no, I'm not even talking about a month. In terms of the police program, it's not that expensive provided we just keep the 100,000 police officer program that we have started in place. They're cutting back on that program. In terms of the firefighters, it's about $3 billion.

BORGER: Senator, I want to switch the subject to Iraq for a moment if I might. You supported the war in Iraq, you voted for the resolution supporting the war. In retrospect, do you think that that vote was a mistake?

Sen. KERRY: What I voted for was the president's ability to have the threat of force to be able to build a coalition and hold Saddam Hussein accountable. I said before the war started that I thought the president ought to not rush to war and he ought to try to exhaust the remedies available. I did vote to give him the threat of force, because I thought it was the responsible thing to do for the security of the United States of America. But I, and all Americans, had a right to expect that the president would, in fact, build a sufficient plan to be able to bring other countries to the project and, particularly, to be able to win the peace. I think today you need to internationalize our efforts in Iraq, get the target off of American troops, and reduce the sense of American occupation of the country.

MURRAY: But just to stick with what Gloria was asking for a minute, knowing what you know today, and what you said today about lack of preparedness, etc., if you could go back and redo that vote, would you vote the other way?

Sen. KERRY: No, that's just not even--that's such a hypothetical question, it's not even relevant. What is relevant today is how do we win the peace. You know, I think that everybody in America had a right to expect that the president of the United States--when you're dealing with an issue of war and peace and the lives of young Americans, you have to make the words 'last resort' meaningful. You need to do the diplomacy necessary. You--I've said many times before the war you need to build an international coalition so that you are stronger. It's not a sign of weakness to work with other countries. It's a sign of strength that the world is with you, and regrettably, the United States and Great Britain are essentially alone and the rest of the world is looking on. I think we could bring them into this effort, but it will take great diplomacy by the administration to do that.

BORGER: Do you think the administration is at all interested in doing that? Do you think that they've sort of cut off all diplomacy at this point?

Sen. KERRY: No, I don't. I think that they are interested, but they're going through the back door, you know, rather than the front door. I mean, they're kind of reaching out to countries, but they're trying to keep it on the QT. A number of countries have said, 'Look, we're prepared to be helpful, but we think we ought to do it through the United Nations,' which is something that this administration, obviously, just hates to do. I think that when you're dealing with the lives of young Americans, you don't let pride get in the way. What you do is put the best policy in place to protect American troops, and I think the best policy is to get the target off of those American troops and to begin to share the burden of solving the problem of Iraq, and also, incidentally, get the costs off the backs of the American taxpayer.

MURRAY: Yeah. Senator, in your speech today you also talked about an intelligence gap. If you were in George Bush's shoes right now, would you fire your CIA director?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I would have hoped that if I were president of the United States today we wouldn't have gotten in the mess 'cause I would asked the right questions ahead of time about the kind of intelligence we were getting. Evidently, somebody didn't do that. I don't know who it is yet. So I'm not going to make any judgments about firings, but I know that we need to have a thorough investigation because the credibility of the United States of America, the credibility of our president and our government is at stake, with all other governments, as well as with the American people.

BORGER: Americans believe, though, in large numbers, 65 percent, I think it is, that George W. Bush is an honest leader. You talked today, in your speech, about stonewalling. You said that this administration was big on bluster. In the past you have said that the president misled the American people. Do you believe that George W. Bush is an honest leader?

Sen. KERRY: I think he's essentially a decent man. And, basically, I have no reason not to doubt that, but I do know that the leaders of a bipartisan commission--I mean, former Republican Governor Tom Kean of New Jersey said that the administration is stonewalling. It's not my words. This is what an independent commission has said, that John Ashcroft and the administration are making it very difficult for them to get the information to know what happened to us in the first attack.

We also know, to a certainty, that the president spoke words--I mean, he's acknowledged it--that were given to him that weren't accurate. We know that they told us they had weapons that could be deployed in 45 minutes. We don't know what happened to them. We know that Colin Powell told the Foreign Relations Committee the only reason to go to war were weapons of mass destruction. We know that they said that they had unmanned vehicles of some kind that could injure our troops. We haven't found them.

I think there's some serious questions here about the quality of our intelligence, and what I want the president to do is help us get those answers. I don't think it's enough just to say, 'George Tenet, the head of the CIA, takes the rap,' when we know that people in the White House knew that information was incorrect.

MURRAY: All right, Senator, stay with us. We've got a lot more to talk about. When we come back, we're going to ask Senator John Kerry why does he think Howard Dean is raising so much money.

BORGER: So find out next. You're watching CAPITAL REPORT on CNBC.


MURRAY: Welcome back to CAPITAL REPORT. We're back now with Senator John Kerry, who joins us from New York, where he has given today a major policy speech on Iraq and homeland defense.

Senator, thanks for joining us. Let's turn to economics for a moment. Yesterday, the administration announced new deficit numbers, $455 billion in the current year. You said that was irresponsible and immoral. I'd like to know what you would do now, in the current year, to get rid of that deficit. Would you get rid of any of the tax cuts that have taken effect?

Sen. KERRY: I would stop the high end of the Bush tax cuts and the inheritance tax. There's no way to avoid going back on those and still make choices to have health care, reduce the deficit, fund our education and be responsible. And...

MURRAY: But we're talking about the current year. I'm talking about tax cuts that people have already gotten in their paycheck.

Sen. KERRY: I'm talking about the current year.


Sen. KERRY: I would take back the high end, the highest end of the ones that go to the 35 percent and 38 percent. The wealthiest Americans, at this moment, should not be getting an additional tax cut, and I believe that we should do that in order to be able to afford to make a better set of choices for America.

MURRAY: Now you had proposed late last year a payroll tax cut, a holiday in effect, on the first $10,000 of earnings. Would you still push for that?

Sen. KERRY: Right.

MURRAY: And what effect would that have on the deficit in the current year?

Sen. KERRY: As long as we got rid of the high end of the Bush tax cut, I would do that because it's middle class, it's average working Americans who get the benefit of that. And what happens is we put about 750 bucks into the pocket of an individual, $1,500 into a married couple, and we begin to help move the economy out of the doldrums. I think you need a--it's only a one-year impact. It doesn't go out for 10 years, like the Bush tax cut, so it's not irresponsible. But in addition to that, I would spend some money in our communities in order to put people back to work immediately on construction, on roads, schools, hospitals, sewer systems. There's a lot we could do to start energizing American employment. And thirdly, I would have some business tax incentives to help move out of the sort of hangover of the 1990s, if you will. I think there are things we could do that would excite the economy. This administration has gone at it completely the wrong way. And they're building the deficits, they're borrowing from our children and burdening us with debt in order to give the wealthiest Americans a tax cut.

MURRAY: Just one other quick question. So your concern is clearly not about the deficit this year but about the deficit in the long run. A big piece of that in the long...

Sen. KERRY: Yes, I...

MURRAY: Yeah, go ahead.

Sen. KERRY: No, I was just going to say, you know, with President Clinton in 1993, we Democrats bit the bullet and we had the courage to make a long-term decision. We said we would balance the budget in 10 years. We actually did it in eight years. We ran a deficit for the first few years, but what was important was we had a plan, it was fair, and we knew we had the fiscal discipline to move down the road and get the economy moving. This administration has no fiscal discipline, no plan. Whatever plan they've had has failed. It moves money to the wealthiest Americans. It doesn't do what we need to do to stimulate the economy. It builds up the deficit and debt in a reckless way which crowds out private-sector investment in the marketplace.

BORGER: Senator, just a few short political questions. Since you are running for the presidency, you raised $5.8 million this last quarter, almost $5.9 million. Howard Dean, however, raised $7.6 million. How does anyone explain his success in fund raising so far?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I'm not worried about the specific number of another candidate. We exceeded the amount of money that we expected to raise. I have more money raised than any other candidate running. I have about $11 million already raised. That's about $4 million or $5 million or $6 million more than other candidates. And I think my campaign's doing just what I want it to do.

BORGER: Well, and let me then ask you one final question. How can any Democrat, including yourself, compete with the war chest of George W. Bush, who has raised $34 million?

Sen. KERRY: We're going to compete by telling the truth to the American people about a better set of choices for our country. I think there's a better vision for our nation. Americans want health care. I'm going to provide the same health-care plan to every American that the president and senators and congressmen give themselves. I'm going to hold the president accountable for making a mockery of the words 'leave no child behind.' I'm going to clean up the environment and be responsible to the next generation. And I think if we offer America a different, better vision than George Bush, I don't care how much money he has, I think Americans want to move in a better direction, they want to go back to work. They want to be safer in the world. And I can make us safer and put people back to work.

MURRAY: Senator Kerry, thank you very much for joining us on CAPITAL REPORT.

Sen. KERRY: Thanks.

BORGER: Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot. Thanks a lot.

MURRAY: Good to have you.

Sen. KERRY: It's great to be with you. Thank you.

Copyright 2003 CNBC, Inc.  CNBC News Transcripts

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