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Des Moines Register Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate - Part 4

Location: Des Moines, IA

ANGER: Gentlemen, now that we have that settled, we're going to go to Senator Kerry.


KERRY: Howard, Joe raised the question about things you say versus things that you do, and things you sometimes say and then change.

For instance, you said that if George Bush released his records, you would release your records. Then when you found out George Bush had released his records, you changed.

Another example of that: When you were asked by the Concord Monitor about Osama bin Laden, you said we couldn't prejudge his guilt for September 11th. What in the world were you thinking?

DEAN: I'll tell you exactly what I was thinking, Senator. I understand that Osama bin Laden has essentially claimed responsibility for these unbelievable terrorist acts. And as an American, I want to see Osama bin Laden get what he deserves, which is the death penalty.

But I was asked that question as a candidate for president of the United States, and a candidate for president of the United States is obligated to stand for the rule of law.

I was asked yesterday by Newsweek what would I do if I was the president and the troops had Osama in their sights -- we would shoot to kill. But the fact is, if we captured him alive, we have to stand for the rule of law.

I have no doubt that if we capture Osama bin Laden, he will end up with the death penalty. But as president of the United States, I'm obligated to stand for the rule of law.


KERRY: Well, actually, Governor, what you've just said is even different from the release that your office put out clarifying the comment you made to the Concord Monitor. And this is the pattern: You've said on one occasion that we shouldn't go to war without the permission of the U.N. You've said that we have to prepare for the day when America isn't the strongest military. You've said that -- you yourself have said you sometimes shoot from the hip. You've said that the president of the United States had prior warning about September 11th, you got it off the Internet, you passed it on to national television.

I think these changes, even the difference of what you've just said now which is different from your own clarification, raises a serious question about your ability to be able to stand up to George Bush and make Americans feel safe and secure.

ANGER: One last comment.

DEAN: Two quick comments.

First of all, in general, there's been a lot of talk about this from the Washington politicians. And a gaff in Washington is when you tell the truth and the Washington establishment thinks you shouldn't have.

Secondly, Senator, you better go back and look at the quote, because you are doing exactly what so many of you all have done over the past year with my record. You better go look what I said about Saudi Arabians tipping off the president -- I said I didn't believe it and I said it right on that show.

KERRY: Can I just come back to say...

ANGER: OK, we're going to...

KERRY: Could I say...

ANGER: We're going to have to move on, Senator.

KERRY: The question...

ANGER: Senator, we're going to have to move on.

We have a round of questions now to be asked by our panelists. And as an indication of the time remaining, candidates, you're going to have 30 seconds to answer. We will not have time for rebuttals, so play nice.


Michele Norris and David Yepsen will alternate, and David is first.

YEPSEN: Senator Lieberman, you've not campaigned in Iowa. A year ago at this time, the polls showed you were at the top of the pack of candidates; now you're in single digits. Why should Democrats think you are competent to run a good general election campaign?

LIEBERMAN: The decision not to campaign in Iowa had everything to do with the fact that the calendar has changed this year and there are going to be nine primaries and/or caucuses in the first two weeks.

I have loved my time in Iowa. I am grateful for the -- to the people who supported me in 2000 and again so many who came to my side this year. I left my office open here. I have Kevin McCarthy still working with me. Why? I intend to come back as the Democratic nominee. And as Governor Vilsack was kind enough to say, if I come back as the nominee, Iowa will be Lieberman country because I'm a Bill Clinton Democrat: center out, strong on jobs, socially progressive and strong on security.

ANGER: Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: That's the way we're going to defeat George Bush.

NORRIS: Governor Dean, you said this week that you plan to begin including more references to God and Jesus in your campaign swings to the South.

Some of your critics and columnists immediately seized upon this and said it smacked of political opportunism, which goes to something I hear from Democratic voters time and time again this year, a frustration that the Democratic Party seems to have a difficult time talking about religion and matters of faith.

DEAN: You know, I have grown up in the Northeast my entire life. And in the Northeast, we do not talk openly about religion. I've spent a lot of time in the South. I have a lot of friends from the South. In the South, people do integrate religion openly, easily into their lives, both black Southerners and white Southerners.

I understand that if I'm going to campaign for the presidency of the United States, I have to be comfortable in the milieu that other Americans are comfortable, not just for my own region, for everywhere else.

I think any columnist who questions my belief is over the line. But I do believe that it is important for the president of the United States to be comfortable everywhere, and I plan to learn how to do that.

YEPSEN: Congressman Gephardt, Iowans know you well. You've been here a lot of times. But yet I hear a lot of Democrats say, "Dick Gephardt's had his chance. We need a fresh face." How do you respond to those people?

GEPHARDT: I say this: If you're looking for the fresh face or the flavor of the month, I'm probably not your candidate.

But if you're looking for the candidate who has the most experience with all the foreign and domestic issues this country's had to face, then I may be your candidate.

I've also taken that experience and translated it into the boldest and best, the most realistic ideas to solve the biggest problems this country faces.

NORRIS: Senator Edwards, with the U.S. military at war and America under constant threat of terror, foreign policy and experience in foreign policy seems to be very important in these times.

With less than one full Senate term under your belt, how do you convince American voters that you can go head to head with the Bush foreign policy team?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I have more foreign policy experience than Governor Dean, than President Clinton had when he came to office, than Governor-then Reagan had before he came to office, than others who have led this country.

Secondly, I've laid out -- and more importantly, I've laid out the most specific, comprehensive vision about how we address the problems we have around the world. I've been to these parts of the world. I've met with the leaders in these parts of the world. I've met with our own security operation in these parts of the world.

And if I can just close with this, there's been a lot of rhetoric used in this campaign about working with our allies. I know that I have specifically proposed, for example, a global nuclear compact where America doesn't just work with its allies, but we show some leadership working with our allies to address one of the most serious problems that we face on this planet.

YEPSEN: Ambassador Braun, you've not campaigned here in Iowa very much, nor in many other early primary states. Why should voters honor you with their votes, when you won't honor them with your presence?

MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, you know, when you start off being different, you have to campaign differently. And we've done the best we can within the resources that we have to get around to the states that are involved in this process.

I have done more with less money. One of our people said we squeezed the dollars until the eagles grinned.

And we've been here in Iowa -- certainly I've never missed a single occasion that's been hosted here. And I have campaigned here to the best of my financial resources.

YEPSEN: Thank you.

NORRIS: Senator Kerry, if I have my history right, no Democratic president has carried a majority of white voters since the 1960s. I believe the last to do so was Lyndon Johnson.

Senator, how do you plan to broaden the base and reach out to those voters, particularly Southern white voters who no longer even consider Democratic candidates?

And what can you point to in your political experience to suggest that you will have success in this task?

KERRY: I can point to what is happening in South Carolina right now and in other parts of the South, where people are supporting me because I represent leadership, tested experience that has the ability to make America safer in a very dangerous time.

I am a veteran. I've fought in a war. They particularly respect service to country in the South.

I also have fought as a law enforcement officer. I led the fight to put 100,000 cops on the streets of America.

I'm going to talk mainstream American common sense to our country.

And there are incredible numbers of people in the South who are losing education, losing health care, losing their jobs, because they are being drawn away by slogans, rather than real choices.

And in the end, if I'm the nominee, I could always pick a running mate from the South, and we'll do just fine.

YEPSEN: Congressman Kucinich, I talked to a lot of Democrats who say they really like what you have to say, but they don't think you're electable. What do you say to those Democrats?

KUCINICH: Well, you know, I'm electable if you vote for me.



YEPSEN: Then why...

KUCINICH: You know, frankly, you know, I've won a lot of...

YEPSEN: Then why are your poll ratings in single...

KUCINICH: Pardon? I can't hear you.

YEPSEN: Then why are your poll ratings in low single digits?

KUCINICH: Oh, well, they're just about to come up. I mean, the people watching this show will know that I'm the only Democrat here that's going to get us out of Iraq. When people hear that, they're going to say, "I want to go to the Iowa caucuses for Kucinich."

So you have a choice now. Thank you.


ANGER: For our next round, candidates, we're going to ask you all the same question.

Several Iowans point out that there is a lot of denial and finger-pointing in politics these days. We'd like each of you to take 30 seconds, own up quickly to a mistake you've made in the past, and tell us what you learned from it.


Congressman Gephardt, I'm sorry, you're first.


GEPHARDT: I voted for the Reagan tax cuts in 1981. I tried to pass an alternative that I thought was much better, much fairer. We didn't get it done. And then I had to face a vote of, "Are you for a tax cut at all or not?" I voted for it. I thought we needed a tax cut to get the economy moving.

In retrospect, that wasn't a good vote. And if I had it back, I would have voted the other way. But you learn from experience. I've got a lot of experience.

ANGER: To Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: I voted for No Child Left Behind, because I believe in accountability, I believe in standards, I believe that every child is entitled to a quality education.

But the truth is that we put too much faith in a Bush administration administering that policy.

And I've seen what's happened on the ground. It's been devastating, not just here in Iowa, but all over this country.

And it's clear that there are changes that need to be made, changes in the standards. We need to make whatever system we have for public education work for people who are actually dealing with it every day on the ground.

ANGER: Ambassador Braun.

MOSELEY BRAUN: I went to the funeral of a friend who had been assassinated, and the right wing was able to convert that into dancing with dictators and overturned a 25-year record of fighting for human rights.

Having worked on every human rights issue from the time I got into public life, to see that one funeral visit, memorial service visit, turned into the kind of political issue that it was for me was really devastating.

What did I learn? I learned: have press conferences before you go on any kind of trip outside of Illinois.


ANGER: Thank you.

Senator Kerry.

KERRY: In the first race I ever ran, I came under withering attack. And it was the first time that some negative advertising had taken place, and even negative attacks from the newspaper.

I made the great mistake of thinking you didn't have to defend yourself. I have learned now, and I will never, ever make that mistake again.

And we saw Max Cleland suffer from the same thing. He regrets he didn't defend himself.

I will not stand for Tom DeLay, Dick Cheney, President Bush or others challenging the patriotism or the ability of Democrats to question the direction of our country.

And I'll use everything in my power to stand up to them to present what I think is the real definition of patriotism in our country.

ANGER: Congressman?


KUCINICH: I was mayor of Cleveland over 25 years ago, and one of the things I'm proud of is I saved the municipal electric system.

And one of the things that I'm not so proud of is that -- and the biggest mistake I think I made was I fired the chief of police live on the 6 o'clock news...


... on Good Friday.


Now, if any of you can top that, I'll yield to you.


But let's say that, in the years since, I have learned a certain amount of diplomacy...


... and actually have reconciled with that gentleman.

ANGER: To Senator Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: Paul, your question about mistakes, I cannot resist telling a quick story about my mother in 2000, when I was on the ticket. Larry King interviewed her and said, "Mrs. Lieberman, what do you say to you son when he makes a mistake?"

And my mom said, "Mistake?"


LIEBERMAN: But I do make mistakes, believe me, many of them. I would say the one that comes quickest to mind is that early in my career in the state senate in Connecticut I was more focused on the rights of criminals than the rights of victims of crime. I think in our system of justice, we have to be focused on both, and I have been since then.

ANGER: And to Governor Dean.

DEAN: Well, as you know, I have a reputation for saying exactly what I think. And while the words may not be precise, the meaning is not hard to figure out.

But one of the mistakes I've made was in this campaign when I accused John Edwards of having said one thing to the California state convention and something else to his position. I was wrong about that. I wrote him a letter of apology, and I apologize again today.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Howard.

ANGER: Thank you.

For our next round, another quick round this time, candidates. You'll have 30 seconds to answer. There is no rebuttals in this round either. I will ask the questions.

To Governor Dean, would you propose amnesty for undocumented workers, and why or why not?

DEAN: I would propose earned legalization. I think if you've lived here for some time, you've worked hard, you paid your taxes, you have a job, you know, a good job, you've raised your family, you haven't had any criminal record, then I think you ought to be able -- you've already demonstrated that you can be a good citizen of the United States, and we ought to have an earned legalization program.

ANGER: Very good.

Congressman Gephardt, more National Guard and Reserve troops have been called up for overseas duty than at any time since the Korean war. Would you change the size of the regular military, and also how we use the Guard and Reserves?

GEPHARDT: I would not. I was in the Air National Guard in Missouri, and I know what a disruption it is to these folks that are called up. But I don't think we need to add more soldiers, and I'll tell you why.

The biggest failure of this administration in this whole period has been the president's inability to get the help that we need in Iraq and other places around the world.

We had the whole world sympathizing with us after 9/11. He had a moment to bring the whole world in to fight this international problem, and he hasn't done it. And it's why I've said many times that his foreign policy is a miserable failure.

ANGER: To Senator Edwards, would you disqualify candidates from the Supreme Court based on their positions on specific issues? And if so, which issues?

EDWARDS: No, the answer is no. I think it's a mistake to apply any specific litmus test to someone who's going to serve on the federal bench, including the Supreme Court, for life.

I do, however, believe that we have to have justices on the Supreme Court who have a clear and established history of being willing to enforce civil liberties, constitutional rights, our civil rights laws, our equal rights laws, even when there's tremendous public pressure to do otherwise.

Because I've seen myself the importance of having judges in the South -- I'm not having to learn about the South, by the way.

Howard, you could tell by the way I talk.


But we've seen in the South the critical nature of having federal judges who are willing to have the backbone and courage to desegregate our public schools.

ANGER: To Ambassador Braun. Ambassador, one of our readers wrote to us, quote, "I'm a lifelong, straight-ticket-voting Democrat, but I'm not crazy about any of you candidates."


What would you say to her?

MOSELEY BRAUN: What would I say to her? I'd say, take a look at George Bush, and let's go down the list.


The worst environmental president we've ever had. The worst president on the economy, in terms of jobs, 6 million jobs lost. They haven't been recreated. The worst on issues of bringing us together as a community.

We have found the American people are in fear now and are being manipulated by it. They use words to mean just the opposite of what it is they're doing.

I think this administration is such a failed administration that any one of us would do a much better job and put this country on the right track.

And I say to that person, if you want pay equity, if you want good jobs, if you want health care reform, then you've got a choice of any of these individuals. We'll deliver for you; George Bush won't.


ANGER: Next is Senator Kerry.

Senator, you've decided to forgo federal matching funds and loan your campaign $6 million of your own money. Given your means, how do you relate to the man or woman in the street who is struggling to make ends meet?

KERRY: Because all my life my parents taught me that it's not where you come from, it's not the money you have or what you do -- it's what you do with your life. It's what your value system is. It's what you believe and what you fight for.

Sitting in this audience is a young man from -- I'd still call him young -- from Ames, Iowa. He was a gunner in the back of my boat. He's an electrician today, a union member. But he's one of my best friends, as are all the members of my crew from Vietnam.

And I have been judged by a lifetime of fighting to open up the doors of opportunity for all Americans, for everybody, without regard to where you came from or what your bank account is.

And I will do that as president of the United States.

If that were the disqualifier, we'd have never had Franklin Roosevelt or John Kennedy or others be president of the United States.

ANGER: Thank you.

KERRY: It's what you believe and what you fight for that makes a difference in America.

ANGER: To Congressman Kucinich. Congressman, the meat industry is in a precarious position due to mad cow disease, particularly with our international trading partners.

Given your personal decision not to consume animal products, how can you assure livestock producers you will be an advocate for them as president?

KUCINICH: Well, you know, the farmers I've met in Iowa, you know what they've told me? They've told me they want a president who can make sure that a farmer can get parity, that he can get his price for his product, that he can get his goods to market. They're not so interested in what any of us eat as where we stand with the farmers.

And so, I told them that I'll work to break up the monopolies in agriculture. I'll make sure that the farmers have a way to count on the Food and Drug Administration as well as the USDA to have a tracking system that will help them with the challenges like mad cow.

Farmers want someone who is going to stand for them. They are less concerned about what a president eats than whether or not he is going to have policies that will enable the farmer to be able to feed his family.

ANGER: Senator Lieberman, a Register reader remarks that environmental issues often take a back seat to economic factors like jobs and development. Under what, if any, circumstances do you think it's appropriate for jobs to come first and the environment second?

LIEBERMAN: You know, I regret that we haven't talked more in this debate and other debates about environmental protection. The fact is that George W. Bush has been the worst environmental president in our history.

Environmental protection has been a passion of my public service. The fact is that it is a false choice to pose between environmental protection and economic growth. If you're smart you can have both.

In fact, when it comes to investing and the battle for energy independence, if we do it right, we'll not only have cleaner air, we'll create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

So public health is on the line; jobs can be protected. We, with the right leadership, can have both for the American people.

ANGER: Thank you.

Candidates, we're now on the home stretch. It's time for closing statements. Each of you will have 45 seconds, and the order was established by what else, a drawing.

We apologize for the short time, but we're about done here.

Congressman Gephardt, you are first.

GEPHARDT: I'd like to end with my philosophy of life, because I think it will give you a good sense of how I'll look at every issue when I'm president.

I think we're all tied together. Martin Luther King, I think, said it the best. He said, "I can't be what I ought to be until you can be what you ought to be." And that's what I really believe.

My own life is a good example. I grew up in a poor household. My dad was a truck driver. It was the best job he ever had. We didn't have a lot of money, but I got a great education in the public schools in the city of St. Louis. I had church loans, government loans, scholarships, whatever my parents could save.

I had three jobs. I got a great education. And now I'm running for president of the United States, from that background. When I'm president, on every issue, I'll be trying to figure out how every person in this country can fulfill their God-given potential.

ANGER: Thank you.

And to Ambassador Braun.

MOSELEY BRAUN: When the Constitution was written, I wasn't included. Blacks couldn't vote; women couldn't vote; poor people couldn't vote. But our country has made progress in the direction of inclusion and sharing the blessings of liberty with all Americans.

I want to bring the perspective of someone who can stand on this stage because of the struggle of people who have gone before to open the doors of America to bring all the talent that can be brought to bear in making our country -- keeping our country strong, keeping our country great.

I want to make sure that our generation leaves this the land of liberty and leaves it the land of opportunity, and that we give the next generation of Americans no less opportunity, no less hope, no less optimism about the future than we inherited from our ancestors. A generation ago, one income would support a family; now, people are struggling on two just to make ends meet.

I want to work with others in the international arena, with the Congress, to give Americans income security, health security, retirement security, education security, and protection of our environment.

ANGER: Thank you, Ambassador.

And to Congressman Kucinich.

KUCINICH: The president of the United States released a budget which shows cuts in veterans benefits, in education, in health care, in housing and a whole range of -- and job programs.

I contend that this is related directly to the drain on the federal budget that's occurring because we're in Iraq.

Fear led us into attacking Iraq. Fear led us into passing the Patriot Act. My candidacy is about the end of fear and the beginning of hope for America -- hope that we can reconnect with the world community, which will enable us to bring U.N. peacekeepers in and bring our troops home; hope that we can reestablish our civil liberties; hope that we can once again become a nation where we are respected around the world for the quality of our morality, for our willingness to work with our hands instead of our arms.

Iowa caucus-goers can change this whole debate and this whole election nationally by voting for someone who will take this country out of Iraq and reconnect with the world community.

ANGER: Thank you.

To Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: You know, I've been in all 99 counties. And I've not just been talking; I've been listening to Iowa caucus-goers. And this is what they say to me, very direct: Are you ready for this fight?

I am here to say to every single person who goes to the Iowa caucuses, I am so ready for this fight. I have been preparing for this fight my entire life. I fought in courtrooms for 20 years for you. I come from you. I have fought on the floor of the United States Senate, passed the patients bill of rights.

The truth of the matter is, we need to not just change George Bush and his presidency; we need to change America.

And if you believe we can change America with people who spend most of their lives in politics or have been in Washington for decades, you have other choices.

I believe that you and I can change America together. I can't do it alone. But we can do it together.

And I believe in you. And don't you deserve a president of the United States who actually believes in you?

ANGER: Thank you. And to Senator Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Paul. I am running for president of the United States because I love this country, and I hate the direction in which George Bush is taking us.

I'm running for president of the United States because I believe I'm the Democrat who can get elected, who can deny George Bush a second term and give the American people a fresh start.

We're not going to defeat the extremism of the Bush administration with extreme anger of our own.

For 30 years, I've been working in public life, rejecting the extremism of both parties, bringing people together to fight for what's right, based on our shared values and our common goals.

I want to reach out to all segments of our party and unite them. And then get the support we need for my new ideas, for strong on security, for pro-growth in the tradition of Bill Clinton, for social progress, health care reform.

Anger and negativism and division don't win elections in America. It's unity, constructive new ideas and hope that win them.

That's what my candidacy is based on. And that's why I thank you for the opportunity you've given me here today.

ANGER: Thank you.

Governor Dean?

DEAN: The front-runner in this campaign is George W. Bush and all the powerful people who have given him millions of dollars and benefited from his policies. The underdog is the American people.

The biggest lie that people like me tell people like you at election time is, "If you vote for me, I'm going to fix all your problems."

The truth is, the power to change this country is in your hands, not mine. You have the power to take back the Democratic Party and give us new leadership so we can beat these Republicans again. You have the power to take back our country so the flag of the United States is no longer the sole property of John Ashcroft and Rush Limbaugh and Jerry Falwell; it belongs to every single one of us again.

And together, we have the power to take the White House back in 2004. And that is exactly what we're going to do.

ANGER: Thank you.

And Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Paul, thank you.

The decision is now in the hands of Iowa caucus-goers. And this is the most important election of our generation.

George Bush has taken America in a radically wrong direction. And, yes, we can't beat him by being Bush-Lite, but we also can't beat him by being light on national security or light on fairness for working Americans.

We can't go back to raising taxes on the middle class. We need a president who has the temperament and the judgment to be able to convince America that we know how to make this country safe.

We need a president who can give confidence to Americans that we will take on powerful special interests. And I've been doing that all of my life.

George Bush intends to make national security the key issue of this campaign. He has to. There's nothing else for him to run on.

Well, I have one message for him: I know something about aircraft carriers for real. And if he wants to make national security the centerpiece of this campaign, three words he understands: Bring it on.

I'm ready for that debate. And we can win that debate.


ANGER: Thank you, Senator.

Thank you all.

Our debate has now ended, but the campaign goes on. In 15 days, the Iowa caucuses. In July, Democrats will convene in Boston to answer the big question: Who will oppose President Bush? In September, the Republican convention in New York will celebrate the president's nomination. And in November, we all know what all of our responsibilities are.

I want to thank David Yepsen and Michele Norris for joining us. Special thanks to the candidates: Senator Lieberman, Congressman Kucinich, Senator Kerry, Ambassador Braun, Senator Edwards, Congressman Gephardt and Governor Dean. Thank you so much for joining us.

For Iowa Public Television and The Des Moines Register, I'm Paul Anger. Thank you for joining us.

Content and programming Copyright 2004 Cable News Network Transcribed under license by FDCH e-Media, Inc.

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