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Democratic National Committee, Arizona Democratic Party, and CNN Sponsored Presidential Debate – Part 1

Location: Phoenix, AZ


October 9, 2003 Thursday

HEADLINE: Democratic Presidential Debate

BYLINE: Judy Woodruff, Jeff Greenfield, Candy Crowley

Democratic presidential debate.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening and thank you for joining us. We are here in Arizona with all nine of the Democrats who want to be president of the United States.

We're here because just in a few months the people of Arizona and voters across this nation will be going to the polls to choose the one among these nine that they want to be the nominee of the Democratic Party, the person who will face George W. Bush in the polls next November.

So we want tonight to introduce you to these gentlemen and lady again. We want to tell you as much as we can about them. We want to let them speak for themselves. And we want to learn how they differ from one another, because we think that's how you, the voters, are best going to be able to make up your minds.

So let's introduce them.

Beginning on the left, from the state of—and please hold your applause until the end—from the state of Illinois, former Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun.

From Arkansas, retired General Wesley Clark.

From New York, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

From North Carolina, Senator John Edwards.

From Missouri, Congressman Dick Gephardt.

From Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry.

From Vermont, former Governor Howard Dean.

From Ohio, Representative Dennis Kucinich.

And from the state of Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman.

You may applaud.


The format tonight, very simple. In the second half of this debate, we are going to be taking questions from a group of Arizona voters who are here with us tonight at this theater.

But in the first part, I'm going to be joined by two of my colleagues from CNN, our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.


And my colleague, Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent.

Jeff and Candy.



Again, very simple, what we will do, is Jeff, Candy and I will take turns asking questions of the candidates. They'll answer. They'll have about a minute to answer, then we'll have another three minutes or so to discuss their answers among all the candidates.

So, let's get started. The first question goes to Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun.

Ms. Ambassador, the people of the state of Arizona opened their newspapers this morning to learn that yet another young Arizonan has died in the war in Iraq. He was 20-year-old Spencer Carroll (ph). He was an Army specialist. Now you've been very clear, you opposed the idea of going to war in Iraq in the first place.

All of you on this stage have been very critical of President Bush in his conduct of the aftermath of the war.

But my question is, what about going forward? We know that you and others want the allies involved. We're not sure if they're going to come in at all. We know that you want the Iraqis themselves to be more involved. We're not sure if they're ready.

My question to you is, what would you do if you were president? Would you send in more troops? And if you did, for how long?

CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the first instance, we don't as Americans cut and run, and we've blown the place up, blown up Iraq. We have a responsibility to build it back and leave it at least in as good shape as we found it.

To me, that means that we have to burden share with our allies, to bring NATO in to take the place as opposed to putting in additional U.S. troops to engage and work with the United Nations and work with our allies.

I know they've so far been cool, but then that's after this administration thumbed their nose at our allies and really resisted their involvement.

I think we have to work well with others and begin to bring our troops home with honor, with the honor of having not left Iraq in worse shape than we found it so that we can pursue a real war on terrorism.

WOODRUFF: So you would send more troops to Iraq?

MOSELEY BRAUN: No, I would not send more troops. We're already at a troop complement that should be sufficient.

WOODRUFF: But the ones who were there are exhausted, many of them need to be rotated out. So you would bring...

MOSELEY BRAUN: The rotating out is different than sending more. I don't believe that the troop complement—we're at 140,000 roughly. I wouldn't see sending in more troops than we have there already, but certainly to provide relief to those soldiers and provide them every support they need in the field so that our men and women are not sitting ducks and so that they are not just out there without the kind of support they need to do the job that they're there to do.

WOODRUFF: And how long should the U.S. remain in Iraq?

MOSELEY BRAUN: I don't know that you can put a time line on this. It's a matter of getting us out with honor as gracefully and as graciously and as sensibly as we can manage.

We shouldn't have been there in the first place. This administration failed the American people, misled the American people by sending our troops there to begin with. But now that we're there, we've got to come out with some honor.

WOODRUFF: All right.

General Clark...


WOODRUFF: General Clark, you're very familiar with the way the military works. Is that the right solution?

WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think she's given us a lot of great ideas.

Let me tell you the problem with what we did there. We went into it without a strategy for success.

WOODRUFF: With all due respect, General, we've heard about the criticism of President Bush. What I am trying to determine here is what is the differences among the nine of you.

CLARK: Well, what I say we should do in Iraq is we should have a strategy for success. The administration doesn't have one. They need to lay it out. They need to lay it out block-by-block. They need to turn the economic and political piece over to the United Nations. They can do it best. They need to keep control—we need to keep control of the military piece and support our armed forces. We need to bring our allies in around us and we need to work for that success strategy.

Then we need to do one more thing, Judy. We got to change the dynamic in the region. Right now what we've got is we've got an atmosphere of war in that whole region, so that Syria and Iran have a vested interest in making sure we don't succeed in Iraq.

We need to change that.

WOODRUFF: Well, but, General—and I'll ask some of the others of you to pick up on this—you make it sound very simple. We'll go to the U.N., they'll bring their—there will be other countries that will bring it. We're finding out that's been very, very difficult to do.

So what's the answer, Congressman Gephardt?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president is failing in his responsibility to get us the help that we need. It is four months since he landed on the aircraft carrier in his flight suit and said the war was over. We've almost lost 800 soldiers to injury since then. We've almost lost 100 soldiers who have been killed. And it's incomprehensible that he's not been able to go to the U.N. and get the help we need.

WOODRUFF: But I'm...

GEPHARDT: Give them the civil authority. You remember on your report card you had your English grade and your history grade, and then it says, "plays well with others"? He flunked that part of his grade school.

WOODRUFF: But my question is...


But my question is going forward, if you were president starting a few days from now, you would be picking up a situation as it exists, what would you do differently?

GEPHARDT: Judy, you've got to get the help of our friends. He keeps saying we've got 30 countries helping us. Yes, Togo sent one soldier.


That isn't what we need. We need France, Germany, Russia. There's only three countries in the world that can give us both the financial and the military help that we need.

He needs to go to those countries. He needs to go to the U.N. He needs to build the consensus. He needs to collaborate. He needs to communicate.

He doesn't do any of those things. It's an abysmal failure of a foreign policy both there and across the world.

WOODRUFF: All right.


Jeff Greenfield has a question for Senator Edwards.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Senator, I have a feeling we're going to get back to Iraq, but I've got a more specific question about your campaign theme.

More than anybody else, you stress the modesty of your roots. Your dad was a mill worker. Your mom worked in the Post Office. You are the first in your family to go to college.

The two most revered members of your party, John Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt, weren't exactly born to hard scrabble lives. They were sons of wealth and privilege, and they were regarded a lot more favorably in your party than, say, Richard Nixon, who was born under modest circumstances.

The question is: Why should any voter care any bit—why should it give you any more points with that voter because of who you are any more than a voter should resent you now because you're a multimillionaire?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The only relevance of your background and the way you grew up is the credibility it gives to your vision and your ideas for what need to be done with the country.

For example, when I lay out of college-for-everyone plan that allows any young person in America who's qualified to be in college and willing to work for it, to go to college, that's personal to me. I was the first person in my family to go to college.

When I fight for allowing people to buy a home, make a down payment, be able to save, be able to invest, that's personal to me. I grew up in that kind of family.

When I fight to make sure that the middle class in America, not just the wealthy, gets a chance to do what they're capable of doing, that's personal to me.

You're right about one thing. The biography in the abstract is not important. But what is important is when you lay out your ideas, your vision for the country, and you have lived it, every day of your life, from the time you grew up, through today, then the American people know that, and it gives you credibility on those ideas and that vision. That's why it's important.

GREENFIELD: So, if Senator—if I may...


But if Senator Kerry or Governor Dean, both born in more comfortable circumstances, lay out their vision for health care and education, is there any reason why we should be more suspicious of them because they didn't share your background?

EDWARDS: No, no. First of all, you've identified two great presidents who come from similar backgrounds. We grew up a very different way, Senator Kerry and Governor Dean and myself.

What I would say to the American people, if you are looking somebody to stand on a stage with George Bush in 2004, which I intend to do, and make our case to the very group of Americans who he has to get in order to be reelected, the working middle class of this country, that we have a more powerful case to make if in fact our advocate, our voice, is somebody who has grown up with it, lived with it and fought for those very people their entire life.

That doesn't mean that Governor Dean and Senator Kerry aren't completely sincere in their ideas. I think the world of both of them. And I think that their heart is in the right place, they want to do the right thing. They have terrific ideas for the future of this country.

But it is a significant difference, and it is a difference between me and at least some of these candidates.


WOODRUFF: Well, let's hear from Senator Dean—Senator Kerry and Governor Dean on this very quickly.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I was just going to say, I guess you could say that not just their heart, but their wallet's in the right place, too.


That's bad.

Can I say that when I was serving in Vietnam on a small boat, the one thing I learned was nobody asked you where you came from. Nobody worried about your background. You fought together, you lived together and you bled together.

And I came back here to a country where I saw a whole bunch of people who'd served in Vietnam discriminated against, a lot of them from Arizona, a lot of them from New Mexico, Southern California, because Latinos and African-Americans I saw were drafted and on the front lines in far greater numbers than my friends from Yale or other people.

What I learned there is an indelible lesson: that what matters in life is what you fight for, the principles and values that you carry into the struggle.

And I will tell you that throughout my life, I believe I have stood up for democratic values, I have fought hard to hold government accountable, and I think I stand here with a broader base of experience, both in domestic affairs and in foreign affairs, than any other person.


WOODRUFF: Governor Dean?

I know you want to applaud for all of them, but the more you applaud, the less time we're going to have for answers.

HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As long as you deduct that from Senator Kerry's time, not mine, I'm happy.

You started off saying you wanted to find out what the differences were between us.


DEAN: The last poll I saw showed that there are five of us up here that are going to beat George Bush. So the question is not whether we're going to beat George Bush, but what kind of a president do you want.

Here are the differences between me and the other folks, from Washington.

First, our campaign is changing the political system in this country. Last time, last quarter we raised more money than any other candidate by three times, 200,000 donors, average gift $72.

Secondly, I have a record. Everybody is going to talk about health insurance. Every kid under 18 in my state has health insurance. A third of all the seniors have prescription benefits. Working poor people have health insurance.

And the third area is the war. General Clark, a year ago today, advised Katrina Sweat (ph) to support the resolution. Senator Kerry, Senator Lieberman, Representative Gephardt, Senator Edwards, all gave the president a blank check to go to war in Iraq, putting people today in the position of having to decide whether we're going to spend $87 billion on health care or spend it in Iraq.

If you want real change in this country, then I'd like your support.

WOODRUFF: We're going to have to have a rebuttal now from General Clark.

CLARK: Well, I'm certainly going to rebut it.

I think my position on Iraq has been very, very clear from the outset. It was an imminent—it was not an imminent threat. I looked at Saddam Hussein. I was one of the guys in charge of striking Saddam Hussein in Operation Northern Watch. I saw all of the intelligence.

When I heard that the administration was moving in there I figured, is there anything new? There wasn't.

It was never an imminent threat. It was a problem. I fully supported taking the problem to the United Nations and dealing with it through the United Nations. I would never have voted for war. The war was an unnecessary war, it was an elective war, and it's been a huge, strategic mistake for this country.

WOODRUFF: All right, I know a lot of you want to get in on this, but we want to give everybody a chance to have a question.

Candy has a question now for Congressman Kucinich.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Congressman Kucinich, I'm going to give you a chance to sort of expand on this just a little.

When President Clinton was in office, you were critical of the bombing in Kosovo. You have been critical of the bombing and the invasion in Afghanistan. You opposed the war in Iraq.

If you were commander-in-chief, what criteria would you use to justify the use of force? Is anything worth fighting for? And what is that?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, as a matter of fact, it's a foundational principle of our country that we have an obligation to provide for the common defense. Unfortunately, in the case of Iraq, our involvement in Iraq was based on lies. This administration tried to tell the American people that Iraq had something to do with 9/11, with al Qaeda's role in 9/11, with the anthrax attack, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq had the intention and the ability to attack this nation. All of those things are not true. So I think that the cause of defending this country must first and foremost be true.

I want to comment as the only person on this stage who actually voted against the war in Iraq.


KUCINICH: I want to say that Governor Dean's answer was incomplete before, because he told CNBC two weeks ago that we have no choice about funding the $87 billion. And this morning in the New York Times, he wouldn't take a position on the $87 billion, and the governor says that he's still for keeping 70,000 troops in Iraq.

Now, he's either right or wrong. If we're wrong to be there, as I believe we are, we should get our troops out. I have a plan to get the U.N. in and the U.S. out, and that's one of the things I want to talk about tonight.

WOODRUFF: All right, Senator Lieberman has been trying to get in here.




Not always easy with this crowd. Thank you very much.

This is a very important discussion, because each of the nine of us want to be the commander in chief of the United States military and protect the security of this country. That requires a clarity of judgment and the courage to stick by the judgment you've made.

Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean, Al Sharpton, Carol Moseley Braun—they were clear and consistent against the war. I was for it clearly and consistently, but I respect them for that clarity.

I must say that I've been very disappointed since Wes Clark came into this race about the various positions he has taken on the war against Saddam Hussein.

Howard Dean is right, last fall, a few days before the voting in Congress, he said he would have recommended it and would have supported the resolution. After the war, he wrote a piece in the Times of London praising President Bush and Tony Blair for their resolve. When he became a candidate he said he probably would have voted for the resolution.

There was an uproar. Then he said: I never would have voted for the resolution.

The American people have lost confidence in George Bush because he hasn't leveled with them. We need a candidate who will meet the test of reaching a conclusion and having the courage to stick with it. And I intend to be that candidate and that kind of president.

WOODRUFF: All right, General Clark, looks like two of them are after you.

CLARK: Well, Judy, I would like to rebut this. I am not going to attack a fellow Democrat, because I think everybody on this stage shares the same goal.


I think it's a little—I think it's really embarrassing that a group of candidates up here are working on changing the leadership in this country and can't get their own story straight.

Let me tell you what my story is. I always supported taking the problem of Saddam Hussein to the United Nations and bringing international resolve to bear. I would never have voted for war. The Congress made a mistake in giving George Bush an open-ended resolution that enabled him to go to war without coming back to the Congress.

WOODRUFF: But you acknowledge you made a...

CLARK: And that's the simple answer to it.

WOODRUFF: You acknowledge...

CLARK: At every stage as we walked down through this resolution, since I wasn't in Congress and I was a CNN military commentator, I took the situation as it was and necked it down to look for the least worst choice.

I did praise George Bush and Tony Blair for sticking with the offensive in Iraq once it had begun. But I also noted in every op-ed and every comment I ever made that there was not enough forces there, there was not a plan for dealing with it afterwards.

And I've said all along, it was not an imminent threat.

WOODRUFF: But you acknowledge...

CLARK: I think that's a very clear answer, Judy.

WOODRUFF: But you acknowledge there were some changes in your statements about Iraq...


WOODRUFF: ... after you announced as a candidate.

CLARK: I had a discussion with a newspaper reporter that—when I said what I was trying to say, I took an answer. The answer is very clear. The answer is, I would have voted for a resolution that took the problem to the United Nations. I would not have voted for a resolution that would have taken us to war. It's that simple.


WOODRUFF: All right. A number of you are trying to get in and because of the time constraints that we all agreed on, you all and CNN, we're going to have move on.

The next question is for Governor Dean.

Governor, eight years ago—and this has been raised several times in the campaign, I'm going to ask you again about a subject that you've been asked about—you advocated cutbacks in Medicare and in raising the Social Security retirement age in order to balance the budget.

Since you've become a candidate for president, you have changed your position on this, even though the budget deficit has ballooned enormously. It's now approaching $500 billion, well over what it was then.

You have a reputation as a straight shooter. So what do you say to those who say Howard Dean has misrepresented his views of eight years ago when he says he didn't change? If you're a straight shooter, how do you explain it?

DEAN: First of all, I've never said I didn't change. I'm a strong supporter of Medicare. I'm a strong supporter of Social Security.

I think Medicare is a badly run program, and I've said so repeatedly.

We are not going to take away Medicare or Social Security. That was part of the social contract passed with Lyndon Johnson and FDR.

What we are going to do, however, is change those programs so they can do better.

The people that have criticized me on this stage have never delivered health insurance. What I have done is, one-third of all of my seniors have prescription benefits. No one else has delivered prescription benefits to seniors.

Our children have health insurance. And that's not true in any other—all of our children—it's not true in any other state.

So I am a strong supporter of Medicare. I'm a strong supporter of Social Security. I was willing to work with President Clinton and others in order to preserve Social Security, as some other senators such as Bob Kerrey, were. And those programs will never go away as long as I'm president.

WOODRUFF: Reverend Sharpton?

REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me say on three things I've been trying to get in, do this...



... on three things that I want to be clear on.

One, I think that in order for us to get our allies, or the rest of the world, to help us in Iraq, we need to go to the United Nations and be honest. The president went to the U.N. and said, "Help us on my terms."

If I were president, I would go in and say, "We were wrong." Tony Blair and George Bush had a meeting, acted as though it was a world summit. Two guys in a phone booth acted like the whole world had met.


And they made a wrong move. I think if we were not inflexible, we could get more support and withdraw.

Secondly ...

WOODRUFF: But right now there's not a country...

SHARPTON: Are you going to take that out of my time?

WOODRUFF: No, I'm not.

SHARPTON: Because you wouldn't let me talk.



WOODRUFF: Go ahead.

SHARPTON: Secondly, when you brought up about Senator Edwards, and we are running against each other, but I disagree with he and Dean and Senator Kerry.

I think it is important he tell that story, from a different vantage point. The reason is, I think it inspires young people to know that they can start somewhere in life with disadvantages and become what he's become.

And I think that that kind of intangible inspiration it good. It has nothing to do with votes. It has something to do with hope. And as someone that came out of the projects that needs to hear somebody like him say, "I rose from being a mill workers's kid to being a successful lawyer and a presidential candidate," it may mean that I will to choose a different route in life, and he ought not be criticized for that. I think he ought to be saluted.


I think, lastly, the whole notion of our showing our differences is good. But let us not forget that our differences should be toward the aim of winning against Bush.

We are 48 hours away from watching an actor that couldn't win an Oscar winning to be the governor of California.


We need to deal with how we beat George Bush in 2004.


WOODRUFF: All right. I think ...


Ambassador Braun, very quickly, because we're almost out of time.

MOSELEY BRAUN: Very quickly, if you really want to change the political system and the political culture, my approach is that I am the clearest alternative to George Bush. You guys have—the men have ruined it.


Our country is in a been a mess. It's time to give a woman a hand, a chance...


... to help provide for the harmony and the security of the whole community, get our economic house in order, to bring the American family together and to stop the pandering to fear that has turned this country into a hostage of the right wing.


WOODRUFF: And you're saying you're the only one up here who can do that?

MOSELEY BRAUN: I think I am the only one that can do that. I'm the one who's had a record of doing those kinds of things, building bridges, bringing people together over time.

WOODRUFF: Thank you.

Next question for General Clark from Candy Crowley.

CROWLEY: General Clark, let me try and go at this one more time.


You said about five months into the Bush administration, this Bush administration, at a Republican Lincoln Day dinner, you praised the president and his cabinet at a time when the tax cuts were almost passed by the U.S. Congress.

In the midst of the Iraq war, in the London Times it's been refereed to, you wrote, "Liberation is at hand." You said that liberation justifies painful sacrifice, erases doubt and reinforces bold action.

Now you're talking about the president recklessly taking us into the war in Iraq and his reckless tax cut. So if you could square that circle for us.

CLARK: Well, I'll be happy to.

You didn't read the rest of the quote on that London Times piece because I went on in that, as I remember it, to point out what was the problem now about taking us forward.

Look, I want this country to be successful. And I don't believe we should pay any more taxes than we have to in this country. But this administration didn't have a good plan. It doesn't have a good record. And things have changed radically since 2001.

I worked with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell and Don Rumsfeld. But I'm very, very disappointed with how they and this administration have led this country. And so are the American people.

I'm travelling all around this country. I'm getting tremendous response, response from Democrats, independents, people who've never been engaged in politics and Republicans who are looking to us, to me, for a new vision and new leadership to take this country forward.

And that's why I'm up here and that's what I'll provide.


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