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CNBC Capital Report Transcript

Location: Unknown

October 17, 2003 Friday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses the vote on Bush's $87 billion Iraqi spending plan and his campaign


ALAN MURRAY, co-host:

Our top story: Both houses of Congress have now passed the president's $87 billion Iraqi spending plan, but not without a hitch in the Senate. Several Republican senators broke ranks with their president and crafted an amendment to make $10 billion of that money a loan, to be paid back with Iraqi oil revenue. We'll talk to two of those GOP rebels in just a moment.

But first, joining us from Capitol Hill is Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, who voted against the $87 billion package.

Senator Kerry, thank you very much for being with us.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Massachusetts; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Thank you.

MURRAY: Explain to me—you voted for the congressional resolution that got us into this war against Iraq. Now you're voting against the cleanup. Why support one and then oppose the other?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I'm in favor of the cleanup. I'm in favor of spending whatever we need to spend, and I'm in favor of, obviously, supporting the troops. But I want to do it properly. I want to do it in the most effective way. I want to do it in the way that reduces the risk to our troops, and I believe this administration has stubbornly refused to share the burden of paying for this by asking some of the wealthiest people in the country to give up a small portion of their tax cut. I think it's wrong not to bring more nations into this effort. Their United Nations effort is really a paper sort of fraudulent coalition, the same way that they went in. We learned in the beginning that they're not to be trusted in what they say to us, and I believe we need to have greater accountability in this spending.

MURRAY: Well, now the administration says they're going to this donors' conference in Madrid next week, and that if they don't have strong backing from Congress for the $87 billion, it's going to be that much harder to get other countries to pitch in. So why vote against it?

Sen. KERRY: They have strong backing. This is going to win overwhelmingly. I'm voting against it to make my position clear: This administration has not done the hard work of diplomacy. They'll get tokenism at this donor conference. They will not get the kind of participation that we should have and could have. They still don't have an effective plan for precisely how they're going to administer this. A lot of my colleagues are voting because they're worried about this argument about the troops. I believe in supporting the troops, but the way you support the troops is to guarantee we do this right.

MURRAY: Well, let...

Sen. KERRY: But we have to get more support on the ground.

MURRAY: Let me read you something that your opponent in the Democratic presidential primary, Howard Dean, said this morning in a statement. He said, quote: "Too many in my party, like Senators Kerry, Edwards and Lieberman and Congressman Gephardt, allowed the president to get us into this misguided war. It is clear General Clark also supported the war at the time. The right choice would have been voting no last fall. Voting no now cannot erase the poor decision then. Trying to have it both ways demonstrates neither strong leadership nor good judgment."

Are you trying to have it both ways?

Sen. KERRY: Not in the least. I could not have made it more clear when I voted what the standards were the president needed to apply to make this happen properly. The president told us he would build an international coalition; he broke his promise. The president said he would respect the UN process; he broke his promise. The president said that he would not go to war except as a last resort; he broke his promise. The fact is that a president could have carried out this authority properly if this president wanted to exhaust the remedies of diplomacy and have shown, frankly, greater patience and greater leadership. The fact is also that Howard Dean supported a resolution that would have given the president authority; Howard Dean said he thought there were weapons of mass destruction there. Howard Dean has no policy except saying no.

It's very easy to be outside of Washington and not have to vote. I took the tough vote for the security of my country. I'm taking the tough vote now for the security of the troops and to be able to do what is right in order to be victorious the right way. And I am convinced my vote is correct and consistent.

MURRAY: You're also convinced, it sounds like, that this bill will pass, regardless of that vote.

Sen. KERRY: It will get about 90 votes, maybe 85 votes. There's no question it will pass. But I think it is important to make it clear to America this is not the right way. We are—I mean, look, we're spending $30,000 for pickup trucks in this bill. We've got $6,000 cell phones. We're building prisons for them for years to come. We have an extraordinary amount of padding in this expenditure, and we do not have the kind of support on the ground that really protects our troops. There's a better way to carry out this policy, and I intend to stand up and fight for America's interests, for our troops' interests, for the long-term security of our country, and that's what I'm doing with this vote.

MURRAY: Senator, let's turn now to the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, because you have this unusual situation where General Wesley Clark, who's only been in the race for two weeks, seems to be leading in some of the national polls, has even suggested that he is the front-runner in this, while you've been out there slogging through this for a year. How do you explain that?

Sen. KERRY: Well, it's very easy to explain. When you get a whole big bounce of publicity, it's name recognition. The national polls don't mean anything right now. The polls that mean something are the polls where there's really a campaign taking place: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, other places. I like where I am. I like what we're doing. We've got a great campaign on the ground. I'm going to provide health care to all Americans. I'm going to provide an economy that grows, that puts people back to work. I think I have a better plan to educate our children than President Bush, and I know that I can do a better job of providing security for our nation.


Sen. KERRY: So as we go forward here, I'm quite confident the American people are going to focus on who can really be president and lead our nation to a safer, more secure future.

MURRAY: Does it bother you that Howard Dean is now leading you in both Iowa and New Hampshire? Those are the first...

Sen. KERRY: Oh, they're very close races. Al Gore was behind Bill Bradley in both states, or at least in New Hampshire at this point in time, and he turned around and won. I'm absolutely confident about the long term here.

MURRAY: General Clark, by the way, has suggested that he...

Sen. KERRY: You guys pay too much attention to these momentary flashes of polls. And what you really need to do is come up and watch this campaign and spend some time with what we're saying.

MURRAY: Well, we're going to do that. We're going to come up there...

Sen. KERRY: Look forward to it.

MURRAY: the weeks before the primaries. We'll be in both states.

Sen. KERRY: Good.

MURRAY: And General Clark—it's interesting; he suggested he doesn't have to take a position on the $87 billion because he's not a senator like you are.

Sen. KERRY: Well, there's an act of leadership. There's a man ready to lead America—not take a position on one of the hot-button issues of our time. I think Americans are owed positions, and I think it's important for people to say what they'd do. I think people really want real leadership, not consultant-driven slogans.

MURRAY: But people would also say, if you succeeded with this vote, if this bill went down, then Iraq would be a mess.

Sen. KERRY: I would never allow the troops to be deserted. I would never allow the troops not to have the funding they need. And I've made that very clear. That is not what is happening. That hypothetical is phony. I'm voting because there's a better way to be able to make our troops safer, and I'm going to stand up and fight for the troops and the security of our country. It is disgraceful that we didn't do better diplomacy at the United Nations beyond this little papered-over resolution that barely brings nations, really, to our side. Everybody knows it's phony. Front page in the newspapers today, even as they say it was a victory for the administration, they say this is 'papering over the differences.' America deserves more than papered-over differences. We deserve real leadership.

MURRAY: Speaking of victories and defeats, did you watch the Red Sox last night?

Sen. KERRY: Oh, God, I'm in mourning. That was the hardest thing I've seen in a long time.

MURRAY: Senator Durbin wrote a poem for the Cubs. Do you have a poem for the Red Sox, or is that...

Sen. KERRY: No, I just have a requiem for it. I mean, this is so sad. They're a great team. Pedro is a great pitcher. They pitched brilli—I mean, what can you say? It just—for those of us who've lived with the curse for a long time now, as I get older, I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm really going to see this thing broken.

MURRAY: Well, hang in there. Let me ask you one other thing before I let you go.

Sen. KERRY: OK. Hang in there? I don't have any choice!

MURRAY: Let me ask you one other thing before I let you go.

Sen. KERRY: Yeah.

MURRAY: Senator Joseph Lieberman proposed a tax plan this week that would take the top tax rate on affluent people all the way to 44 percent, but then would cut middle-class taxes even deeper than President Bush has proposed. Now you're in favor of middle-class tax cuts. What do you think of Senator Lieberman's plan?

Sen. KERRY: Oh, I'm not for raising income tax levels on Americans. I think if we got back to where we were with Bill Clinton, that's the top level that I'd want to see for the moment. And I think we can protect the middle class, as I do, but we can grow our economy more effectively, I think, by dealing with some tax reform, closing some loopholes. I mean, allowing Tyco to leave New Hampshire and go to Bermuda, leave the jobs here in America, leave the plant in America, leave the products being made in America, just move the address and take $400 million off our tax rolls—that's not only unfair; it's not patriotic. And it's stupid economics. Those are the kinds of things that we need to focus on. We need to make our economy fair. But I don't want to raise income tax rates above what we had in place before President Bush became president.

MURRAY: All right. Senator John Kerry, thanks for being on CAPITAL REPORT.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you very much.

MURRAY: We'll see you in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Sen. KERRY: You got it.

MURRAY: And in a moment, two of the GOP renegades tell us why they broke ranks with their president on giving money to Iraq. And later, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson on how he manages to survive in this very strange world of cable news. Stay with this cable news show.

You're watching CAPITAL REPORT on CNBC. Don't go away.

Copyright 2003 CNBC, Inc. CNBC News Transcripts

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