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CNN Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics Transcript

Location: San Francisco, CA


ANNOUNCER: He raised $7 million this weekend. But President Bush is slipping in our polls. We'll speak with one of the Democrats who wants Mr. Bush's job.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we've learned that we don't need a learning curve in the presidency on foreign policy and security.

ANNOUNCER: Just six months until the Iowa caucuses. We'll count down to the first presidential contest by judging which candidates are hot and which are not.

The Reagans. From the White House to a TV movie. But who's going to play the Gipper?

Now live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

For the second time in less than a week, President Bush is playing host to a world leader who was a solid supporter of the U.S.- led war in Iraq. And like his earlier comments when joined by Britain's Tony Blair, Mr. Bush took time at today's news conference with Italy's prime minister to defend the decision to go to war and to vow success in his post-war policies in Iraq.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... extension of hostility is really a part of the war to liberate Iraq. There are people in Iraq who hate the thought of freedom. There are Saddam apologists who want to try to stay in power through terrorist activity. And I explained to the prime minister we're patient, we're strong, we're resolute and we will see this matter through.


WOODRUFF: Those comments came as the president's post-war policies are under continued assault from his political rivals. A new ad paid for by the Democratic National Committee points to the now- discredited line from the State of the Union Address and accuses the president of misleading the nation.


BUSH: Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.


WOODRUFF: The ad will see limited airtime. It will run for about a week in the Madison, Wisconsin market.

Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of the president on Iraq.

I spoke with the senator a short time ago from San Francisco and started by asking him if his vote to authorize the president to go to war was a mistake.


KERRY: No. What I authorized was the president to be smart, to go to the United Nations, to do what he said he was going to do, which is build a coalition and go forward in a way that represented the highest values of our country. And I believe that I made it very clear in my speech on the Senate floor.

In fact, I warned the president in January, don't rush to war. Do this in a way that builds the position of strength of the United States, because it's not the winning of the war that's complicated; it's the winning of the peace. And I believe it was correct to protect the security of our country, but to do it in a smart way. And I think the president didn't do the hard work of diplomacy.

WOODRUFF: But right now, the administration is working hard to get international support. They're even considering going to the U.N. Do you think it's helpful for you and others to be criticizing the president on this at a time when U.S. soldiers are dying practically every day in Iraq?

KERRY: Judy, when I was in Vietnam and people were dying, I learned that we were forsaken by the leadership. And if you look at the wall in Washington, almost half of the wall is made up of the names of people who were lost because pride got in the way of our decision-making. I read in "The New York Times" on Saturday that the administration thinks it would be, quote, "humiliating" to go the United Nations now and bring them into this.

I believe that that is false pride. You want to build the strongest international coalition possible, because that's the way you share the burden, that's the way you end the sense of American occupation, and that's the way you take the target off of American troops.

WOODRUFF: Senator, what do you say to former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who says the Democrats who voted for this war now have a credibility problem; that it's not enough to say the president misled them—meaning you?

KERRY: Oh, well, that's just politics. Look, I voted to protect the security of the United States of America based on the information that we were given, and I voted correctly to put the United States in a place to go to the United Nations and hold a clearly miscalculating evil person accountable to the United Nations standards.

We had every right in the world to expect the president would live up to his promise of making the words "last resort" mean something. I believe the president didn't do that. The president did not do this as a last resort. And clearly the information, which was given to the world, as well as to the United States Congress, has enormous credibility questions.

WOODRUFF: I do want to ask you about the campaign. You are probably the best-known candidate among those—the Democrats running. You've got more money in the bank than anyone else. You've certainly got a top staff of people supporting you.

And yet, the former governor of the little state of Vermont raised more money than any other, including you, in the second quarter. He's got so-called buzz. He's holding his own in the polls. How are you going to beat Howard Dean?

KERRY: I'm just going to continue to tell the truth. We're on our game plan. I'm doing exactly what I wanted to do and what we set out to do, and I'm very confident about my campaign. It's growing day by day.

I believe that I present our party with the ability to bring experience in making America safer and stronger to the table. I think we've learned that we don't need a learning curve in the presidency on foreign policy and security. I bring years of experience in foreign policy and national security. I think I can bring the strength to our party that we need to make America safer and stronger. I know how to put people back to work. I have a health care plan that will insure all Americans. I have the strongest and longest, broadest record of protecting the environment.

And I'm going to continue to talk to the American people straight-forward, candid, with a clarity about what we need to achieve in our country. And I'm very confident about my campaign.

There's always going to be somebody else who is going to be contesting. I understand that. But in the first quarter, it was someone else; in the second quarter, it's someone else. But I've been there both times, Judy, and I intend to be there through the end.

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