August 31, 2003 Sunday
HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and presidential candidate, discusses the 2004 campaign, the war in Iraq and his views on foreign and domestic policy
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA): I'm glad to be here. Thank you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: On Tuesday, you are announcing for president of the United States.
SEN. KERRY: Yes, sir.
MR. RUSSERT: This is the way your hometown paper The Boston Globe described your announcement. I want to talk about it and give you a chance to respond. "Senator John F. Kerry plans to make a Sept. 2 public announcement that he is running for president. That is not news. The news is where he plans to tell us what we already know: Not in Massachusetts but in South Carolina. Last month, after 'two days of meetings with 21 top political aides,' Kerry discussed his plans for a 'formal announcement speech possibly set against a backdrop of the USS Constitution' in Boston Harbor. ... So, why the change of venue? ... A Boston political consultant and Kerry supporter who did not want to be named summed up the campaign strategy ... 'We're in this no matter what happens in Iowa and New Hampshire.' South Carolina, Michigan, those places down the road might be the salvation if we don't prevail in New Hampshire. ... To political junkies, Kerry's revised itinerary speaks volumes. ... current polling snapshots do not paint a breezy political picture for Kerry presidential campaign in Iowa or New Hampshire."
Why South Carolina?
SEN. KERRY: It's a great place to begin. I want to prove that my campaign is prepared to go all around the country. It is. It also works out in terms of the logistics. We ran into problems the week afterwards because of the Congressional Caucus debate. I like it. I'm glad I'm going to South Carolina. I have a campaign that will speak to the country, and I look forward to showing the nation that I have the judgment, the experience, the leadership skills and I'm ready to be president of the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you and our viewers those polls in Iowa that people are talking about. Here's Iowa: Howard Dean at 25, Gephardt at 21, John Kerry at 16. And look at New Hampshire, in February, you were ahead 26 to 13. Now, John Kerry trailing Howard Dean by 21 points in New Hampshire, neighboring state to Massachusetts. What happened?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, I'm not concerned about it. I think that, you know, the summertime is not when presidential races are won, number one. Number two, Howard Dean's done a good job. I give him great credit. He's been out there, very visibly spending money on TV and elsewhere. We haven't done that. But more importantly, I don't think I've kicked my campaign off sufficiently. We are coming out this week. I am going to reach out to the country and be as clear as a bell about the leadership that I offer, the experience that I offer, the strength and the vision that I offer for our country. And my vision, I think, is stronger and better than Howard Dean's and I look forward to sharing it with the nation.
MR. RUSSERT: How and why? Democrats are being asked to make a choice. Compare and contrast John Kerry with Howard Dean.
SEN. KERRY: Well, first of all, I think George Bush has proven that the presidency is not the place for on-the-job training in this new security world and foreign policy challenges. For governors, Howard Dean has zero experience in international affairs. This is a moment to make America safer, stronger and more secure. And I have years of experience in helping to do that.
Number two, I differ with them on issues. I think that the middle class needs to be helped in America. Howard Dean, Mr. Gephardt, several other candidates want to raise taxes on the middle class. I don't want to do that. They want to get rid of the whole Bush tax cut. I think the problem in America is not that the middle class has too much money, Tim. They're hurting. And I don't want us reinstating the marriage penalty. So we say to people, "Hey, if you get married, we're going to charge you more in taxes." I don't want to take away the child care credit from people and I certainly don't want to reach out to the people we Democrats fought hard to protecta waitress or a construction worker or, you know, a student who's earning money on the side and say to them all of a sudden, "Hey, we're taking back the $300 and the $600." If you're a $40,000 income earner, Howard Dean's going to raise your taxes more than 20 times. And I don't want to do that.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that Howard Dean is ready to be leader of the Free World?
SEN. KERRY: Well, that's for the voters to judge. I just believe there are big differences in our experience and differences in what we offer the country. This is a dangerous world we live in. September 11 was our December 7, Tim. And people all across America are frightened about the physical safety in their homes, let alone the security of their jobs and their future. This is a time for tested leadership for America, and I believe that my foreign policy leadership through the years is what the country needs. We need someone who understands that you don't rush into war without a plan for peace and who knows how to make that plan effective, somebody who can move proliferation to the level that it ought to be on the international scale, someone who's had experience with global warming issues and international environmental challenges, who knows how to lead America to a better place.
And I'll tell you, after I'm sworn in, one of the first things I'm going to do is go to the United Nations and turn over a new chapter in America's relationship with the world, one that strengthens our security and our safety.
MR. RUSSERT: Your campaign manager is quoted as follows: "Howard Dean is a very crafty, very calculating politician." Do you agree?
SEN. KERRY: I don't want to make any characterizations. I wish my campaign were not making characterizations of people publicly and I don't like that.
MR. RUSSERT: Howard Dean has suggested that he may not take public financing of campaign contributions but, rather, fund his campaign...
SEN. KERRY: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...only on private contributions. Your response.
SEN. KERRY: My response is that only a month or two ago he was talking with great passion about how important it is for Democrats to live up to the standards of campaign finance reform. Paul Wellstone and I wrote the clean elections law for the country. The problem in America is there's too much money in the political system, and I have worked all my career to try to reduce the amount of money and influence in politics. I'm the only person now serving in the Senate with four terms who's run for election not with special-interest money, not with PAC money, not with soft money, not with independent expenditures. The only people who've elected me are individual Americans. And I think it's important to live by the campaign finance reform standard if we can. Now, if Howard Dean goes outside of that, I will reserve the right to do what I need to do because I don't believe in unilateral disarmament, but I think it would be better if every candidate lived by the standards.
MR. RUSSERT: But if he opts out, you may also?
SEN. KERRY: I will reserve the right to not unilaterally disarm because I think it's important to have a president who understands the importance of campaign finance reform, as well as these other issues.
MR. RUSSERT: John Zogby, the pollster who took that poll in New Hampshire, was asked to compare John Kerry and Howard Dean, particularly John Kerry who's visited New Hampshire 38 times, who has eight regional offices there, who in his last Senate campaign flooded Boston television with campaign ads which were seen in New Hampshire. And he said this is what's going on: "It's message vs. no message. Dean is focused. His messages can fit on a bumper sticker. They're clear. You know who he is and you know where he stands. ... Kerry just hasn't found a focus yet. He is all nuances. He can give you competing arguments on all the major issues and have you walk away and say, 'Yeah, but where does he stand?'"
And Joe Biden, fellow Democratic senator, friend of yours, had this to say about your candidacy: "The guy I'm most inclined to support would be John Kerry. But John, I think, has to become, quite frankly, more decisive. ... I think John's being sort of modulated by a lot of the 'pros' around him instead of just saying what he thinks."
SEN. KERRY: That's obviously an impression that people have. I can'tif that's what they're saying, that's what they're saying. But that's not what I'm doing. And, Tim, ask me any question, I'll tell you exactly where I stand. I'm prepared to tell the American people precisely where I stand.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that we should withdraw American troops from Iraq?
SEN. KERRY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe we should put more American troops in Iraq?
SEN. KERRY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that we should reduce funding that we are now providing for the operation in Iraq?
SEN. KERRY: No. I think we should increase it.
MR. RUSSERT: Increase funding.
SEN. KERRY: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: By how much?
SEN. KERRY: By whatever number of billions of dollars it takes to win. It is critical that the United States of America be successful in Iraq, Tim. And it is essential that we also recognize what's happening to the military of the United States of America. Our Reserves are overextended. Families are being hurt, badly in the United States. People are going from one deployment to another. We can't have a military that is stretched as thin as the one we have today, and so I will tell you something that doesn't meet conventional wisdom.
I believe, and this is not for Iraq, I do not want more American troops in Iraq, I want foreign troops, and I think this administration has made an extraordinary, disastrous decision not to bring the United Nations in in a significant way. I have said repeatedly that we must go to the United Nations, we must internationalize this effort. We have to reduce the sense of American occupation, we have to take the target off of American troops, we have to maximize the capacity for success, and we should go to the United Nations and do that, and tomorrow morning is not too early.
Now, that said, we need more troops in the military. We need two additional divisions in our military for the time being, because of the threats in the world. One of those divisions should be combat. One of those divisions should be for civil activities, police affairs, construction and so forth. But we cannot have a military that is as strapped and as stretched as the one we have today. We have...
MR. RUSSERT: Where do we get them, Senator, and how do we afford it?
SEN. KERRY: I will pay for it. It's $5 billion to $8 billion, and I will pay for it by not adding one cent to the budget. There are reductions we can take out of the military budget and other sectors of the military today. Personnel is the most important thing we should do.
MR. RUSSERT: You say go to the United Nations.
SEN. KERRY: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: We tried that in Somalia, a U.N. command, and we had American soldiers dragged through the streets of Mogadishu.
SEN. KERRY: That's not what I would do. What I would dothere are three parts of the mission in Iraq. One part of the mission is security. The other two parts of the mission are the humanitarian component and the infrastructure governance component. I would put those two clearly under the United Nations, and have the United Nations begin to build them. They were extraordinarily successful in East Timor, they were successful in Namibia. We had a joint command in Kosovo and Bosnia. And we can work out the details whereby a United States commander is still in direct command over U.S. troops, but we are diminishing the sense of American occupation.
I want the target off those troops. I want American troops protected, Tim. You go down to that wall in Washington, D.C., and you look at the names on one side of that wallalmost half the names there are the result of false pride that got in the way of good decisions. The best decision is a decision that protects the troops, and the best way to protect the troops is to get Arab-speaking Muslim troops on the ground in Iraq. And the fact that there was not sufficient for planning for this ought to leave every American angry and exasperated at this administration's arrogance.
MR. RUSSERT: What if the British and the United States go to the United Nations and are told by the French, the Germans, and the Russians, "OK, fine, we'll help you out in Iraq but we want to share in the administration of the country. We want to also have some of those oil profits, if you will, and help set up the government, and we want U.N. command not United States military command," what do you say to them?
SEN. KERRY: I would say, "We should share."
MR. RUSSERT: Command?
SEN. KERRY: Share. Now, we can leave an American commander in command of American forces but we can share in a way that draws the worldlook, this is serious stuff.
MR. RUSSERT: Are we in danger of losing Iraq?
SEN. KERRY: We are in danger if we don't do what we need to do in the next months of having an enormous quagmire, of having a very serious challenge. These are enormously challenging moments.
MR. RUSSERT: Quagmire?
SEN. KERRY: It is possible, Tim, if we don't do what we need to do. And what we need to do clearly requireslook, when you're putting American forces on the ground anywhere in the world, and this is what I said repeatedly leading up to this war, we need to do the maximum to protect the troops of the United States of America. As president, you have the responsibility to make the choices that advance the cause of your country, as effectively as possible. Not as politically as possible. Not as ideologically as possible. As effectively as possible.
And as one of those troops once, who was on the ground, who knows what it means to be an instrument of war, my heart is with those kids on the ground in Iraq who don't know how to separate friend from foe, who are standing fixed guard at a banking facility or somewhere, who get shot trying to get a drink of water. We need to guarantee we do the most to protect them and the way you do the most to protect them is to maximize international involvement and minimize the sense of American occupation.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you want those same American G.I.s taking orders from a U.N. blue helmet?
SEN. KERRY: They wouldn't be, not under my scheme. No. We never cede command. That is an American tradition, not of American troops. But we can share the objective and we did that effectively in Bosnia and elsewhere.
MR. RUSSERT: Newsweek talked to Americans about what happens in Iraq if American troops continue to be attacked, and look at these numbers. Forty-eight percent of Americans say withdraw, 47 say no. Democrats, 61 percent say withdraw. Also, increasing troops, 55 percent of Americans say do not increase more US troops; 64 percent of Democrats. And this number, in light of your recent answer just moments ago: "Should we have current levels of spending in Iraq?" Yes, 34, no 66; 77 percent of Democrats say reduce spending in Iraq, totally contradicts your view. How do you deal with that? Are you out of sync with your party?
SEN. KERRY: You lead. You have to lead. The president of the United States has not shared with Americans, and unfortunately, his credibility is tarnished, badly tarnished. He has not shared with Americans the rationale for why this is so critical to us, Tim. I think to not be successful now in this transition in Iraq would put in danger other governments in the region. It would put at risk the war on terror. It will send a signal to all in the world that the United States of America is neither capable nor willing to take the risks to live up to what we all know we have to post-September 11. Look, there are a lot of people angry about what has happened, but nobody in this country should be angrier than the families of those in those buildings on September 11th. And the fact is that we have an enormous challenge in the world.
This administration is going about it so badly, backwards. They are not bringing other nations in. Even the problem with North Korea is a reflection of their ideological rigidity. I know how to make our nation stronger and safer and more secure. But, Tim, we have to be successful in transitioning Iraq because if we're not, we will leave a failed state behind us, and if we leave a failed state behind us, the implications with respect to the war on terror and the long-term confrontation with al-Qaeda will be even more expensive and more costly in terms of lives and money.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you voted for a resolution in October of 2002 authorizing the president to go to war in Iraq, but you've also been critical of his policy. Joe Lieberman, one of the contenders for the presidency, fellow Democrat, said you've been sounding an uncertain trumpet, that you've been ambivalent. Tom Oliphant, Boston Globe columnist, said you've been ambivalent on the war. You went to New Hampshire in June, and Ron Fournier of the Associated Press was there and captured your comments, and let me share them with you and our viewers: "'He misled every one of us,' Kerry said. 'That's one reason why I'm running.' Kerry said Bush made his case for war based on at least two pieces of U.S. intelligence that now appear to be wrong, that Iraq sought nuclear material from Africa, and that Saddam's regime had aerial weapons capable of attacking the United States with biological material. ... 'I will not let him off the hook throughout this campaign with respect to America's credibility and credibility to me because, if he lied, he lied to me personally.'"
That doesn't sound like someone who's supporting the war in Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: Wrong. I supported the notion that we must as a country hold Saddam Hussein accountable for what he was doing. I supported it under President Clinton. In 1998, I suggested that President Clinton should go to the United Nations and raise the issue of Saddam Hussein's non-compliance in the international arena. It would have been inconsistent for me, with President Bush, not to suggest that the security issue of 1998, after we knew we had been finding weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological, after we knew we had been destroying them, after we knew he still had more and we left the country without inspectors for four years, it would have been irresponsible not to stand up and say, "We need to hold him accountable."
But I warned all along, Tim, and this is the difference between experience in foreign policy and the lack of it, it was right to hold him accountable. It was right to have a threat of force because it's only the threat of force that got Hans Blix and the inspectors back in the country. The difference is, I would have planned, I would have been patient, I would have worked with the United Nations. I would have exhausted the remedies which were available to us. In fact, I wrote that in The New York Times, that to build the consent and the legitimacy of the American people, you need to exhaust the remedies available to you.
This war was fought, Tim, on our schedule. We started the date it started. We determined when it would go, and it is inexcusable that this president did not do the planning that was necessary to know we had to secure a nuclear facility, that we had to secure Baghdad, that we needed trained police, that that needed to restore the facilities of Iraq. And so I'm running because I'm angry at the mismanagement of how we worked with our colleagues in the world and how we, in fact, have conducted the war. And I believe it was correct to defend America's security interest but we should have defended it more effectively.
MR. RUSSERT: No regret over your vote?
SEN. KERRY: My regret is that the president of the United States didn't do what he said he would do. Look, he told us that he was going tothat we needed to do this because they had the capacity to deploy weapons in 45 minutes. Not true now. He told us that he would go as a matter of last resort. Not true. He told us that he was going to build a real international coalition. Not true. They told us that there were unmanned vehicles that were able to fly. They even showed photographs. Not true. We haven't found them anyway.
MR. RUSSERT: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on, Senator.
SEN. KERRY: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: I went back and re-read your speech on the floor of the Senate October 9, and I want to share that with you and our viewers...
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: ...because you repeated many of exactly the same claims and concerns that President Bush did.
SEN. KERRY: Correct.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's watch.
(Videotape, October 9, 2002):
SEN. KERRY: Iraq has some lethal and incapacitating agents and is capable of quickly producing weaponizing of a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery on a range of vehicles, such as bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers and covert operatives which would bring them to the United States itself.
In addition, we know they are developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents.
According to the CIA's report, all U.S. intelligence experts agree that they are seeking nuclear weapons. There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop them.
In the wake of September 11, who among us can say with any certainty to anybody that the weapons might not be used against our troops or against allies in the region? Who can say that this master of miscalculation will not develop a weapon of mass destruction even greater, a nuclear weapon?
MR. RUSSERT: Unmanned aerial vehicles...
SEN. KERRY: Sure.
MR. RUSSERT: ...a nuclear threat. Those are exactly the things that you suggested in New Hampshire President Bush had lied to you about.
SEN. KERRY: That's precisely the point. That is exactly the point I'm making. We were given this information by our intelligence community. Now, either it was stretched politically in the many visits of Dick Cheney to the CIA and the way in which they created a client relationship, but the information we were given, built on top of the seven and a half years of what we knew he was doing, completely justified the notion that you had to respond to give the president the right to put inspectors in. The president said when he put them in "War is not inevitable." Colin Powell said to us, "The only rationale for going to war was weapons of mass destruction," and it was legitimate to hold Saddam Hussein accountable to get the inspectors in. I'm saying to you that I don't believe this president did the job of exhausting the remedies available to make us as strong as we should have been in doing that and certainly didn't do the planning to be able to win the peace in the way that we need to. And I still think we can do it, Tim, but we've got to get about the business of doing it.
MR. RUSSERT: But you had access to the intelligence. You had access to the national intelligence estimate...
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: ...which said the CIA had a low confidence in Saddam Hussein using weapons of mass destruction or transferring the terrorists. And the State Department, which is included in the national intelligence estimate, said there was not a compelling case, that he reconstituted his nuclear program.
SEN. KERRY: I didn't base it on the nuclear, but the most important and compelling rationale were the lack of inspections and the non-compliance of Saddam Hussein. Even Hans Blix at the United Nations said he is not in compliance.
MR. RUSSERT: Were you misled by the intelligence agencies? Were you duped?
SEN. KERRY: No, we weren'tI don't know whether we were lied to, I don't know whether they had the most colossal intelligence failure in history, I don't know if the politics of the White House drove them to exaggerate. The bottom line is that we voted on the basis of information that was given to us, that has since then been proven to be incorrect. The bottom line is also, Tim, the president had an obligation to put the United States in the strongest position possible. I warned the president in January, "Mr. President, do not rush to war. Take the time to build the coalition. Take the time to exhaust the remedies." And when he made the decision, I said, "I would have preferred that we took further time to do further diplomacy." I think we should have.
MR. RUSSERT: What Democrats are saying is that there's a difference in tone from John Kerry, different emphasis. Back last fall, when the war was popular, he was for it. Now that Howard Dean is surging, he's a little bit more ambivalent. This is what Ron Brownstein reported you saying in January, telling a questioner, "If you don't believe Saddam Hussein is a threat with nuclear weapons, then you shouldn't vote for me."
Howard Dean crystalized it. This is what Mr. Dean said way back in February: "What we can't have is somebody who says to you in Iowa the Iraq war is bad, goes back and votes in favor of the [Senate war] resolution and then comes back and tells you at your county dinners why it's not a good thing."
And Deborah Orin in the New York Post cast it this way: "Kerry Follows Dean's Lead. Call him Copycat Kerry. The best proof of how Howard Dean has spooked the other 2004 Democratic presidential candidates can be found... in the shrill tone of John Kerry's slashing attack on President Bush, all but painting him as liar-in-chief. 'President Bush should tell the truth - and get out of the way and let us find the truth - about the intelligence gap,' fumed Kerry, claiming Bush is stalling probes into 9/11 and fudging the facts on Iraq. ...Kerry sounded as if he was trying to sound just like Dean. In fact, it sounded as if Kerry was kicking himself - hard - for having ever voted for the Iraq war last fall and wishes he had been a naysayer from the start, like Dean."
SEN. KERRY: I don't wish I'd been a naysayer from the start. I did the right thing. My vote was a vote for the security of the United States of America based in the information we were given. Tim, for seven and a half years, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and we found them. We destroyed them. We knew they were there. We also knew there were some there that we hadn't finished destroying, at which point the inspections stopped. For four years you had no inspections. During that time, we are told by our intelligence community and by the president the following things are happening: he's reconstituting, he's building. We were even shown photographs: "Here's what's happening in this building, Senator."
MR. RUSSERT: Where are they?
SEN. KERRY: That's exactly correct. Now, we may find them in the next months. I don't know the answer to that. What I do know is that it was right to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, absolutely correct. And anybody who doesn't believe it wasn't correct ought to go dig around in those graves or even make a judgment about what would happen if you left Saddam Hussein alone to do this.
Incidentally, Howard Dean supported the Biden-Lugar resolution. Howard Dean said himself, after Colin Powell's presentation at the U.N., "I believe he has weapons of mass destruction." So everybody accepted the notion that there were some weapons.
MR. RUSSERT: Biden-Lugar resolution, to the American people, explain that.
SEN. KERRY: There was a resolution which would have required the president of the United States to go through certain diplomatic efforts, come to the U.N., then come back to the Congress and report on what was happening.
MR. RUSSERT: So you're suggesting Howard Dean was in favor of the war in Iraq.
SEN. KERRY: No, I'm saying that whathe was in favor supposedly of holding Saddam Hussein accountable somehow. He's never really explained how. He has said there were weapons of mass destruction. Presidential leadership, Tim, requires taking a position. If you don't have to vote, you don't take a position. I took a position to protect the security of the country, but I also took the position to do it in a way that defended America's values, that defended the troops. I believe those troops deserve to have every asset going their way. That means every country possible at our side. I believe the United States deserved to have the broadest coalition, just like his father built, which we didn't build this time. I believe there was a rush, ultimately, to war and that put us in jeopardy, and I regret that. I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, but this president, because of his rush, did sooner what he could have done later in a position of greater strength, and the lack of that strength is now creating an enormous challenge for us in the region.
MR. RUSSERT: By voting in October the way you did, contrary to what your colleague Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts voted, who said it was in effect giving the president too much authority, yielding our constitutional authority to the Senate to declare war. Robert Byrd, a Democrat, said it was giving the president a blank check. Do you regret giving the president authority way back in October of 2002?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, I have enormous respect for both Senator Kennedy, my friend and my colleague, who I'm proud is supporting me in this race, and Robert Byrd, who's one of the most eloquent, capable people in the Senate. But let me tell you this. I disagree with them on that. The president of the United States had the inherent authority of the presidency. And if he wanted to go, he would have gone and could have gone anyway merely to protect and defend the interests of the United States. And the fact is in the resolution that we passed we did not empower the president to do regime change, we empowered him only with respect to the relevant resolutions of the United Nations.
Now, the president, as we saw with Bill Clinton, had the powerPresident Clinton went to Kosovo without any authority from Congress. President Clinton went to Haiti without any authority from Congress. The president has the inherent authority, he had the authority anyway, and I believed, as Joe Biden believed, as Hillary Clinton believed, as Tom Harkin believed, and many thoughtful people, that by voting the way we did, we were getting the United Nations and the inspections in place and we couldand the president made his word to us that they would build that coalition and do it properly. The president, in my judgment, broke his word to us and to the American people and we have a difficult situation on our hands.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to Cuba before we take a break. This is what John Kerry said a few years ago regarding Fidel Castro in Cuba. "Senator John Kerry...said in an interview that a re-evaluation of relations with Cuba was 'way overdue.' 'We have a frozen, stalemated, counterproductive policy...There is just a complete and total contradiction between the way we deal with China, the way we dealt with Russia, the way we have been dealing with Cuba...The only reason we don't re-evaluate the policy is the politics of Florida.'"
SEN. KERRY: That's an honest statement.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you consider lifting sanctions, lifting the embargo against Cuba?
SEN. KERRY: Not unilaterally, not now, no.
MR. RUSSERT: Would you lessen travel restrictions?
SEN. KERRY: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: How?
SEN. KERRY: I'd like to get people traveling in there. I think that people traveling in there weakens Castro. I want to do what it takes to weaken Fidel Castro. I don't like Fidel Castro. Some people have cottoned to him in our party and go down and visit. I went to Cuba once and I purposely said I don't want to. I...
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, we trade with Russia, we trade with China, why not trade with Cuba?
SEN. KERRY: I don't think we should do that automatically. Because I think you want to get something for something, and I think that you should re-evaluate, and I agreeI mean, I don't change what I said. But I think we need to move step by step in a way that begins to engage and see what we can do. But I wouldn't just give him a reward for nothing, no.
MR. RUSSERT: Howard Dean said that we should re-evaluate but then he's now says because of Castro's treatment of dissidents over the last few months he's reconsidering his position.
SEN. KERRY: Well, he said he wouldn't lift the embargo.
MR. RUSSERT: And?
SEN. KERRY: That's what he said. But re-evaluating means how do you get rid of Castro? How do you try to begin to push the capacity for change in Cuba? I think we ought to look at that question.
MR. RUSSERT: In travel? What else besides travel?
SEN. KERRY: Possibly flow of money, funding, Ithere are things to look at. I think we just have to re-evaluate it. And that's what I said. It's an honest statement.
MR. RUSSERT: And you're not concerned that this may cause you election difficulty in Florida.
SEN. KERRY: I think there are many different views in Florida, Tim. I think many people feel that, you know, Castro uses his isolation, frankly, to have the most Stalinist, tough secret police, you know, eliminate your opposition regime in the world. I think the more you can put the pressure and heat on him, the better. I'd like to find ways to do it. And that's my policy, to try to liberate Cuba, not leave it in the hands of a Stalinist police state.
MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about the economic situation in the country, the Bush tax cut, and a whole lot more. We'll continue our conversation with John Kerry, Democratic senator from Massachusetts and candidate for president.
MR. RUSSERT: Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Senator Kerry, this week you unveiled a new economic plan.
SEN. KERRY: That's right.
MR. RUSSERT: You talked about rolling back, rescinding the Bush tax cut except for the middle class, which is quite striking because I asked you about that in September of 2001. Let me show you exactly what you said.
Question: "Are you prepared this morning to suggest that President Bush and the Congress roll back the tax cut that was enacted earlier this year?"
Kerry: "No, the last thing...when you have a downturn in the economy, the last thing you do is raise taxes or cut spending. We shouldn't do either. We need to maintain a course that hopefully will stimulate the economy."
And now you've flipped and said roll it back.
SEN. KERRY: No, it's actuallyit's not a flip at all. It's completely consistent. At that point in time, Tim, we were at the beginning of the recession, we were in a very different situation economically and we hadn't passed the Bush tax cuts. Now, Bush has passed three separate tax cuts, the last one of which we all said even more so is lopsided toward the wealthiest Americans. That's why I want to protect the middle class tax cut. Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt and others don't want to protect the middle class tax cut. I do, because it's consumers who've held our economy up over the course of the last two years.
MR. RUSSERT: But you want to raise taxes on wealthier Americans, those who create jobs and help stimulate the economy.
SEN. KERRY: Tim, you know, if that's what you want to call it, fine. I want to roll back this bum-rushed, fast tax cut that Bush is trying to rush in so that he can argue that we're raising taxes. If that's the argument, I'll take it. If President Bush wants to go around this country saying, "I think people earning $200,000 a year ought to get a tax cut, and I don't think people ought to have health care, I don't think we ought to fund education," that's a fight I look forward to. I think we ought to have health care for every American, and I have a plan to do it, to be precise. I think we would to fund education in America. We ought to fully fund special needs education. We ought to fund Title I. And if he wants to defend a tax cut for people earning more than $200,000, let him do it. That's a fight I welcome.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, we have a $500 billion deficit and you're talking about all the programs you want to fund.
SEN. KERRY: I'm going to cut the deficit in half in the first four years. I'm going to do exactly what Bill Clinton did. And if you liked the economy under Bill Clinton, America, you're going to love it under John Kerry.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, if you eliminated the entire Defense Department, you could balance the budget. If you eliminated Social Security, you could eliminate the deficit. If you eliminated Medicare, you could eliminate the deficit. If you kept Defense, Social Security and Medicare and eliminated all the rest of the government, you would still have a deficit. How can you possibly cut the deficit in half when you listed all the programshealth care, educationthat you're for? It doesn't add up.
SEN. KERRY: It goes add up. It absolutely does add up, and I have been very careful in doing this. I have gone to some of the best people who've already been tested in this 'cause they did it with Bill Clinton. People like Roger Altman and Gene Sperling and Alan Blinder and others are working with me; Bob Reischauer, who was at OMB. We've crunched the numbers, and when you get rid of the top end of the Bush tax cut and put back in some of the inheritance tax, you get more money than I am spending.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you include prescription drugs?
SEN. KERRY: You bet.
MR. RUSSERT: Did you include increased...
SEN. KERRY: I included Iraq which George Bush doesn't do. George Bush doesn't even include Iraq, Tim. I do.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to something else you said about Social Security. This is how Glen Johnson of The Boston Globe reported it in August in your hometown paper. The headline: "Kerry Hints at Reform for Social Security. Declaring 'I am blessed to be wealthy,' Senator John F. Kerry said that, if elected president, he would consider some form of means-testing for rich Americans as part of a broader review of ideas to shore up the Social Security system. ...Another idea Kerry said he would consider is raising the cut-off point after which people no longer pay into the system. Americans pay Social Security taxes only on the first $86,000 they earn in a year."
SEN. KERRY: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: 6.2 percent. So if you raise that cap, say from $86,000 to $120,000, a husband and wife making $60,000 each, you're going to raise their taxes up $2,000.
SEN. KERRY: No, I'm not. I'm not touching their tax. I wouldn't touch theirs. That's not what I said and let me...
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to raise the cap above $86,000?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, let me be very clear. Let me very clear. Glen called means-testing something that I don'tit's not means-testing. I'm not for means-testing. I'm not for breaking anything in the Social Security compact that's existed from Franklin Roosevelt. I'll tell you what I won't do before I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm not going to privatize Social Security. I'm not going to lift the retirement age or make it harder for hard-working Americans to retire. We ought to try to retire earlier in America and I'm not going to means-test.
What I talked about was that today people are living longer. If you're very, very wealthy, and you live beyond 77 years old, which most people do, if you live to be in the 60s, you're going to live to be in the 80s. Someone who's very wealthy is fully repaid in their Social Security by the time they are 77 years old. So that wealthy person may be drawing down money they didn't put in, plus interest, from somebody earning $20,000 a year. Now, as a matter of fundamental fairness, I don't understand why John Kerry and Theresa ought to be getting from someone earning $22,000, if I were lucky enough to live into the 80s, money from them. I think we have to look at how we make it more progressive, and all I said was, "Today, there's a cutoff at $86,000." Now, I wouldn't start with the people at $86,000. I'd start with the wealthiest people in the country if you need to...
MR. RUSSERT: How much?
SEN. KERRY: I don't know yet. I have no idea. I simply said we have to look at this because we have to guarantee that Social Security is whole. It starts running out of money in 2027 and we have a generational responsibility to make it strong.
MR. RUSSERT: In '96 you told The Globe you would look at raising the retirement age. Youno?
SEN. KERRY: I would notI said that was one of many options that were out there that people would put on the table. Back then we were talking about putting everything on the table. I would not do that, period.
MR. RUSSERT: You're now taking it off the table?
SEN. KERRY: Well, somebody else may put it on the table, but it's not happening in a Kerry administration.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to affirmative action. In 1992 you went to your alma mater, Yale, and gave a now highly noted speech about theaffirmative action.
SEN. KERRY: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: This is what you said, that "...today the civil rights arena is controlled by lawyers and the winners and losers determined by...rules most Americans neither understand nor are sympathetic with. ...This shift in the civil rights agenda has directed most of out attention and much of our hope into one inherently limited and divisive program: affirmative action...We must be willing to acknowledge publicly what we know to be true: that just as the benefits to America of affirmative action cannot be denied, neither can the costs...The truth is that affirmative action has kept America thinking in racial terms."
This week in Boston, your hometown, a federal court said that four white firefighters must be given their jobs because they had been passed over by black applicants who had tested lower on the test. Do you agree with the court decision?
SEN. KERRY: Yes.
MR. RUSSERT: The court also said the city no longer has to hire one black for every white they hire. Do you agree with that?
SEN. KERRY: Yeah. Tim, let me explain exactly what I said. Affirmative action, if you recall, back in the 1990sBill Clinton said this, tooneeded to be mended. I was one of the early people saying we have to mend it, don't end it. That's precisely what we did. We tried to end the quota concept and make sure we kept affirmative action. I have always supported affirmative action. I even had that very paragraph bracketed. On the front end of the paragraph and on the back end of the paragraph, I said, "I support affirmative action. We need to mend it, don't end it." That's what we did, and I'm glad the Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed that we need to continue.
MR. RUSSERT: In the '90s, you talked about affirmative action, you talked about teacher tenure, perhaps looking at that or even taking it away, and you...
SEN. KERRY: No, not taking it away. Let's be very clear.
MR. RUSSERT: Amending it. Amending it.
SEN. KERRY: We changed it in Massachusetts. We have what's called a fair dismissal law.
MR. RUSSERT: But there's a lot of discussion in the '90s about you trying to cast off some of the orthodoxy of the Democratic Party, being described as a New Democrat. What caught a lot of people's attention was the 1994 election, when the Republicans won both houses of Congress, Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House, and this is what you told the Boston Herald: "Sen. John F. Kerry broke from Democratic Party ranks, saying he was 'delighted' by the GOP election purge and laying the blame on the doorstep of President Clinton and arrogant House leaders. ...'I want this change. I'm delighted with seeing an institutional shakeup because I think we need one,' Kerry said in a Herald interview. 'The Democrats have articulated in the last two years a very poor agenda. It's hard for me to believe that some of these guys could have been as either arrogant or obtuse as to not know where the American people were coming from.' Kerry deliberately set himself apart from Kennedy...He said Kennedy and Clinton's insistence on pushing health care reform was a major cause of the Democratic Party's problems at the polls. When told his calls for 'change' did not match Kennedy's re-election rhetoric, Kerry smiled and said: 'I'm amazed people didn't pick up on it.'"
MR. RUSSERT: You were clearly separating yourself from Clinton and from Kennedy on the issue of health care...
SEN. KERRY: I was upset, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and delighted by Newt Gingrich?
SEN. KERRY: No, I was upset at what had happened in 1994. And if you recall, many of us were pressing for campaign finance reform. We wanted to achieve campaign finance reform while we had both houses and the presidency. I, in fact, visited with President Clinton at the time with Bill Bradley and Senator Joe Biden. That agenda we didn't get. On health care, I did not sign on to President Clinton's plan. I had a different approach. I thought we should have done something less complicated. We had a compromise which Bill Bradley, Senator Chafee, Senator Dole, a group were working on. Now, you know, it didn't work either.
Sometimes in politics and in life you take a different course from what's expected of you. That's leadership. I expressed a point of view of frustration and anger at the time. President Clinton, amazingly, turned around, did a number of extraordinary things, you know, came back from the 1994--and, you know, if you look at what Newt Gingrich said in his speech and then look at what he did, they were two different things. I was reacting to where, you know, there was a great deal of frustration in Washington. I do believe since then I stood up and fought almost everything Newt Gingrich did because he proved that rhetoric and actions are two different things.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the man you'd like to unseat if you become the Democratic nominee, and that's George Bush. You'd spoke to Vogue magazine in March, and said this. "Kerry is unguarded in his comments about the man whose job he is currently after. He says his colleagues are appalled at the president's 'lack of knowledge'... And...he says, 'They have managed him the same way they managed Ronald Reagan. They send him out to the press for one event a day, they put him in a brown jacket and jeans and get him to move some hay or drive a truck, and all of a sudden he's the Marlboro Man. I know this guy. He was two years behind me at Yale, and I knew him, and he's still the same guy.'"
What does that mean?
SEN. KERRY: I believe that President Bush is a very likable fellow, and I respectI think he's a good man who wants to do good things.
MR. RUSSERT: Does he lack knowledge, as you say?
SEN. KERRY: I disagree with the president's approach to almost everything he's doingalmost everything. And you look at America and the choices we face today, Tim. On the budget, he's favoring the wealthy in America at the expense of the middle class. He has ignored the plight of job loss in America. He has gone backwards on the environment, backwards on cities and urbanlook, we've given a tax cut to people while states are being forced to raise taxes and cut services. He's gone backwards in the international community. He is not making us safer in the world. He has ignored the problems of North Korea to the point that they're a crisis. We should be freezing right where we are with North Korea today. We should be dealing with Russia and the problem of loose nuclear materials more effectively. We should be leading the world on global warming.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, you said that you knew him, that he's the same guy he was at Yale. What does that mean?
SEN. KERRY: I think, Tim, the important thing is, what is he doing as president. As president I don't believe he's offering the kind of leadership our country needs. That's what this struggle is about. This is about the presidency of the United States and the direction of our country. And I believe President Bush is not making our country safer and stronger abroad, and I think he is ignoring the choices here at home that make a difference to the quality of our life. And, generationally, as a member of the same generation, someone who came from the same institution, I have a very different vision of where America ought to go. I want us to lead.
MR. RUSSERT: But are you appalled by his lack of knowledge?
SEN. KERRY: I am appalled by the lack of his agenda, by the lack of direction, by the lack of leadership, by the lack of willingness to show a vision that takes America to a better place, by his willingness to divide America, to use the politics of wedge, of driving between people, like the Michigan case, or calling things quotas that aren't quotas, or beginning toor appointing judges who are ideological, who want to take away the right of privacy, take away the right to choose, someone who wants to pack the court system of America, someone who doesn't do the hard work of bringing Congress to the table, and helping to lead us to find the common ground. You know, John McCain and I found the common ground. This president doesn't try.
MR. RUSSERT: You both were members of Skull and Bones, a secret society at Yale. What does that tell us?
SEN. KERRY: Not much, because it's a secret.
MR. RUSSERT: Is there a secret handshake? Is there a secret code?
SEN. KERRY: I wish there were something secret I could manifest there.
MR. RUSSERT: Three twenty-two, a secret number?
SEN. KERRY: There are all kinds of secrets, Tim. But one thing is not a secret. I disagree with this president's direction that he's taking the country. We can do a better job. And I intend to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be watching. Be safe on the campaign trail. John Kerry, thanks for joining us.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you, sir.
Copyright 2003 National Broadcasting Co. Inc. NBC News Transcripts