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CNN The Situation Room - Transcript

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BLITZER: And joining us now, two guests from Los Angeles., Congresswoman Maxine Waters -- she is a Democrat from California -- here in New York, "The Wall Street Journal" columnist John Fund.

Congresswoman, let me start with you, and ask you a blunt question, the same question I asked Congressman Ben Cardin.

If -- if -- the Democrats are the majority in the House of Representatives, would you support legislation that would cut funding for the troops in Iraq?

REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: No. That's certainly not what we are all about.

We are about not only protecting our troops. We want to get them out of there. But we know that they have to have the kind of gear and equipment that is necessary to protect them. And it's been Democrats who have led on making sure we get them the kind of armor that they have needed in order to fight this war.

We are not about cutting money from the troops. We are about stopping this war and bringing our soldiers home.

ZAHN: And that was a point John Kerry tried to make today, John Fund, and all the noise surrounding this -- this joke he said he tried to pull off at this event.

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, wait a second. Have you ever heard John Kerry tell a joke? This would be the first time he had ever attempted one.

ZAHN: Well, he attempted one. And he said he botched it badly. The president has called the joke insulting. He has called it shameful. People are asking for him to apologize. And he said he has no reason to apologize for criticizing the president and the president's policies.

FUND: Well, his fellow Democrats are the ones who are taking him to task.

CNN's Web site already has a piece in -- which all the Democrats saying, this is a needless distraction -- Steve McMahon, who was a top Democratic strategist, saying, John Kerry muffed this. He should have apologized, simply said, if anyone misunderstood me, move on.

Kerry's refusal to apologize brings back all of the bad memories about his nuanced stand on Iraq in 2004 and all of these other problems. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's let Congresswoman Maxine Waters weigh in.

What do you make about of this to-do about...

WATERS: Well...

BLITZER: ... about John Kerry?

WATERS: Well, it is clear that the White House is trying to make something out of -- the Republicans are behind. They are in desperate shape.

The Republicans are distancing themselves from George W. Bush. So, they grasp on to this mangled joke, and they try to make it sound as if Kerry does not respect the troops, and, somehow, Democrats don't respect our soldiers. That's not true.

He may have mangled a joke. But the president of the United States has mangled a whole war.

ZAHN: But, the bottom line, Representative Waters, some of the Democrats we have spoken to tonight, particularly our correspondents in the field who are out in the country where there are some really close races, are saying they are concerned that what John Kerry has done here might hurt any momentum they have.

WATERS: Well, I'm sure that they are concerned.

These are some close races. And, as you know, the president has been involved with accusing us of cutting and run. He has been involved in attacking our patriotism. So, we know that, whenever they take this kind of posture, that they may be able to get some people to believe them, because he is the president of the United States.

So, they are simply trying to turn this little bad joke into something that it is not. But it won't work. We are down the line now. Americans know...

FUND: Well...

WATERS: ... that this has been a bad mistake...

FUND: Congresswoman...

WATERS: ... that it has been mismanaged, and that we need to bring our soldiers home.

FUND: Congresswoman...


FUND: ... first of all, if you watched the tape, he wasn't telling a joke. He was deadly serious when he said this. Secondly, John McCain, who defended John Kerry against the swift boat attacks in 2004, says this is beyond the pale, he should apologize. And Kerry is rejecting the advice of his good friend John McCain. That's what's keep thing story alive. It is not the Republicans. It is John Kerry.

WATERS: It is all politics.

And it is an attempt to try and make John Kerry look as if he does not respect our troops. He is a decorated war hero. Give me a break. Not only does he respect and support the troops; you cannot turn him into someone who does not simply...

FUND: John Kerry is the titular head of the Democratic Party. And, clearly, in 2004, his position on Iraq was completely muddled.

And I think the problem is, this distracts from the Democratic message, and it makes people ask: All right, the Republicans are leading an unpopular war. But what is the Democratic plan to get the troops home?

And it is unclear. Nancy Pelosi wants to end the war. The only way to end the war, realistically, if the president doesn't want to, is to cut funding. This leaves this ambiguous.

WATERS: That's -- that's absolutely ridiculous.

As a matter of fact, the Out of Iraq Caucus that I have to organize have been working for over a year to try and get all of the members of Congress to have enough courage to pressure the president into correcting his wrong. He started this war.

FUND: Congresswoman, you...

WATERS: And those of you who -- those of you who protect him are simply...


WATERS: ... trying to say, yes, he started it.

FUND: Congresswoman...

WATERS: ... but, somehow we must come up with the answer about how to get our troops back out.

FUND: ... I'm not protecting President Bush. But I am from California.

WATERS: Yes, you are.

FUND: And I know lots of people in your district. And you have told people in your district you want to end funding for the war.

WATERS: No, I have not. And you don't know lots of people in my district. FUND: Yes, I...

WATERS: I'm sure...

FUND: I know lots of people in Compton.

WATERS: ... you would like people to believe that.

FUND: I know lots of people in Inglewood, absolutely.

WATERS: I do not represent anybody in Compton. So, let's get it straight.

You have been protecting the president. You have been trying to make sense out of this war that he got us involved in. We have almost 3,000 soldiers that have been killed, almost $400 billion of taxpayers' money that's been spent, between Iraq and Afghanistan. There's no end in sight.

FUND: So, you -- so, you would continue...

WATERS: We want our soldiers home.

FUND: So, you would vote to continue funding for the war as long as it takes?

WATERS: We want them back with their families.

FUND: You would vote to continue...

WATERS: I beg your pardon?

FUND: You would vote to continue funding for the war...

WATERS: No. I will not...

FUND: ... as long as it takes?

WATERS: No. What I said is, I will always...

FUND: That's an ambiguous statement, then.

WATERS: No, it is not. I will always support the soldiers. Democrats support the soldiers.

You're trying to turn this into...

FUND: So, you would vote to continue funding as long as it takes?

WATERS: You -- you are trying to turn this into the kind of debate...


FUND: No, I just want a yes-or-no answer. WATERS: ... once again try and make Democrats say that they are against the soldiers.

We are not. We love them. We support them. We want the president to straighten out this mess.

BLITZER: All right.

FUND: So, you would vote to continue funding?

WATERS: We want the president to straighten out the mess that he initiated, that he started. He started this mess. And he should have...

BLITZER: All right.

WATERS: ... enough wisdom to straighten it out.

BLITZER: Congresswoman...

WATERS: It has been mismanaged.

BLITZER: ... one final question for John Fund.


BLITZER: How much will the Republicans suffer next Tuesday because of the president's policies in Iraq?

FUND: Badly.

The war is not popular. And the president has not articulated a clear winning strategy. So, clearly, I would say about two-thirds of the Republican problems in this election are related to Iraq.

BLITZER: We got -- unfortunately, we got to leave it there, but a good, serious debate, and a good discussion.

John Fund, thanks very much for coming in.

Congresswoman Maxine Waters, as usual, thanks to you as well.

WATERS: You're welcome.


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