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CNN American Morning Transcript

Location: Mount Pleasant, SC

September 2, 2003 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Interview with Senator John Kerry

GUESTS: John Kerry

BYLINE: Soledad O'Brien

Democrat John Kerry will emphasize his military record when he formally announces his candidacy for president this morning. The Massachusetts senator, once considered to be the leader of the Democratic pack, now finds himself playing catch up.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Democrat John Kerry will emphasize his military record when he formally announces his candidacy for president this morning. The Massachusetts senator, once considered to be the leader of the Democratic pack, now finds himself playing catch up.

Senator John Kerry joins us this morning from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Senator Kerry, nice to see you. Good morning to you.


O'BRIEN: Many folks thought that you would be leading the pack about now, not only in money raised but also in name recognition. Let me read you the results of a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll. It found that of Democrats nationwide, you're in fourth place in registered Democrats, also trailing Howard Dean. What do you need to do between now and the primary to reinvigorate your campaign, sir?

KERRY: Well, we're just getting started. I mean, I haven't announced yet. I haven't been on television. We haven't done any paid advertising. Other candidates have. It's very, very early. People are just beginning to listen.

Look, what people really want to know is what are we going to do to make our country safer? And how are we going to put people back to work in America? How are we going to provide their health care? I have laid out a set of proposals that will do that.

I have years of experience at foreign policy and national security. I know I have the ability to make the United States safer than it is today. I can provide the leadership that would have avoided some of the problems we have in Iraq today, the problems we have with North Korea.

We can do a better job of making America safe, and we can put Americans back to work with a sounder fiscal policy. We cannot dump debt onto our children. We have to make responsible choices now. We have to have the courage to do the things that are right for America.

O'BRIEN: People say...

KERRY: And that means not having...

O'BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting you there. But you list a number of things that you'd like to do.


O'BRIEN: And there are many folks who also say, OK, well, how do we pay for that? For example, you said on "Meet the Press" this past Sunday that you would spend—this is a quote—"Whatever number of billions it takes to win in Iraq." With a deficit at $500 billion, with programs in education that you support with Title I that you continue to support, how do you actually go about supporting all of those things and paying for them?

KERRY: We're going to roll back the high end of the Bush tax cut. It is wrong to give the wealthiest Americans an enormous tax cut without doing the things we need to do to make America stronger and to put people to work. It's very simple. We have a choice, and that's what leadership is about. And I intend to provide a real choice to the country.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about other areas of leadership. For example, in North Korea, what do you think of how the Bush administration is handling the talks there? How would you convince the North Koreans to give up their nukes?

KERRY: I think that the administration has proceeded wrongly from day one. They began by not talking, cutting off any discussion. They have invited this crisis, to a certain degree, not withstanding that we know that the dictator, Kim Jong Il, was cheating. I understand that. But you have to negotiate. You have to negotiate directly, and you have to have the right negotiation.

I believe we have to freeze everything where it is. The North Koreans need to understand that we're not about to engage in the kind of preemptive war we did in Iraq, and they also need to understand that they've got to stop reprocessing the nuclear materials.

I believe the administration is just making demands. And if you simply make demands and leave them feeling as threatened as they are today, there is no way you're going to get what you're asking for. It's just not going to happen. It's the wrong negotiating equation.

O'BRIEN: You have said that you don't think more troops are needed in Iraq. So, then paint a picture for me, as specific as you can possibly be, about how the U.S. wins there, a definitive win where troops withdraw.

KERRY: The most important thing is to get rid of the sense of American occupation. This needs to become a global effort. The world has to be invested in the outcome in Iraq, because the world is at risk, depending on the outcome in Iraq. It will have a profound impact on our ability to deal with the war on terror.

I believe the president made a catastrophic mistake not to go to the United Nations, ask them to be involved and share the risk, share the burden, share the costs and especially take the target off of American troops. Our troops could be safer with a smarter policy in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: On this day after Labor Day, jobs are a big issue, certainly for President Bush. Explain to me how you plan to put Americans back to work.

KERRY: I plan to put Americans back to work in a number of ways. No. 1, I'm going to have a state tax, an education fund that will help the states to not have to raise taxes and not have to lay people off right now. Many states in the country are in deficit. They're having a very difficult time. We need to help them.

No. 2, I want to help the middle class. I'm going to provide a tax credit for going to college so we can ease the burden on parents. I want to have health care costs reduced. I will do that by taking catastrophic cases away from the average person, so they don't have to pay those.

And, in addition, we can lower energy costs in America so our businesses are more competitive.

I'm also going to have a business job creation tax credit and help manufacturing to be able to fight back against the loss of jobs abroad.

And finally, we need a major, new overhaul of how we are negotiating our trade agreements, so that we're not having this incredible rush to the bottom. We need labor standards and environment standards in our negotiations on trade, and if we do that, we will be far more competitive and we can create more jobs in this country.

We also need to push the curve on energy independence and on technology and science. If we push that curve, there's nothing the United States of America can't do. I'm an optimist about our ability to create those jobs. We just have to make better choices. You can't always have tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

O'BRIEN: Senator John Kerry announcing officially today for us from South Carolina. Nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

KERRY: Thank you very much.

Content and programming Copyright 2003 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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