January 11, 2004 Sunday
HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses the presidential race
MR. RUSSERT: And Senator John Kerry is joining us from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Senator Kerry, good morning.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA): Good morning, Tim. How are you?
MR. RUSSERT: All right. Let me show you and America...
SEN. KERRY: How about our Patriots first?
MR. RUSSERT: We'll get to the...
SEN. KERRY: I'm sorry it's not the Bills.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll get to football. Let's do a little politics first. Let me show you and...
SEN. KERRY: Well, that's football, too.
MR. RUSSERT: ...America the very latest tracking polls from Iowa from MSNBC, Reuters and Zogby: Howard Dean at 25; Dick Gephardt, 23; John Kerry, 15; John Edwards, 14; Joe Lieberman, 3; Wesley Clark, 3. And the latest poll from New Hampshire, the American Research Group has Howard Dean at 35; Wesley Clark, 20; John Kerry, 10; Joe Lieberman, 9; Gephardt, 4; Edwards, 3; undecided, 17.
Senator Kerry, about a year ago, maybe perhaps a year and a half, you were widely considered the front-runner, ahead of Howard Dean 2:1 in New Hampshire. You're now loosing to him 3:1 in New Hampshire. What happened?
SEN. KERRY: Now, Tim, it's not important. I don't even accept those polls. This is the same pollster who had Democrats winning every race in the Senate last time and they lost them all. Look, the polls are all over the place. We have very different polls from those. Yesterday, in Iowa, I had 1,000 people at two different rallies. Dean had about 200 with Al Gore. We're moving out here. We have a lot of energy out here. The people of Iowa are independent-minded. This isn't about polls. This is about people. This is about health care for Americans. It's about jobs. People are feeling extraordinarily angry about a Medicare bill that pushes seniors off of Medicare into HMOs and gives a windfall profit to the drug companies. I'm telling you, there's energy out here. It is moving. I am confident, and the polls are all over the place. We have very different polls that show a very different outcome. This is not about polls, Tim. This is about people. And we need to focus on that.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, last two times the Democrats have been successful with Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, they were governors. Do you believe that the Democratic primary electorate has a disposition to nominate governors because they think they're more electable?
SEN. KERRY: No, I don't, Tim. Not at all. And, in fact, if you look back in history-and I've reminded people of this-we've had great presidents who've come out of the Senate: John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson. Al Gore was a great vice president, out of the Senate. I mean, the fact is that what people are looking for is leadership, real leadership, leadership that can stand up and make America safer in a very dangerous world. This is not a time for governors who have no experience whatsoever in foreign policy and national security and military affairs.
And if you need any proof of that, just look at what George Bush has done. This is not a time to hire advisers. This is a time to hire a president, a president who has experience and an understanding of how you really make our nation safer. So we need a president who knows how to negotiate with North Korea directly, who knows that we should be buying up the loose nuclear materials in Russia and making the world safer from potential nuclear dirty bombs. We need a president who knows how to make peace in the Middle East, deal with AIDS globally, go back to the table on global warming. We can't be safe at home, Tim, unless we're safe abroad. We also can't be safe abroad unless we're doing better at home, and I have a 35-year record of fighting in both of those arenas. I think I'm the strongest candidate to run against George Bush.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, as you sit there in Iowa, back in 1984 you entered the Senate with someone from Iowa named Tom Harkin. He has served with you for 17 years. And yet on Friday he said: "I believe Howard Dean would be the best Democrat to face George Bush." What do you say to the people of Iowa when their senator, who has worked with you for 17 years, chose to support Howard Dean?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I understand he sent an e-mail out to Gephardt's supporters that said that he thought Gephardt would make the best president, but that he thought Howard Dean was going to win. You have to ask Tom Harkin about his own decision. On the same day I had Tom Miller-he is the attorney general of Iowa. He is the largest vote-getter in the state. He's been attorney general since 1978, a man of great respect. And he toured the state of Iowa with me, endorsing me. I have now won the endorsement of three newspapers here in Iowa: the Burlington paper, the Iowa City paper, the Davenport quad cities paper, the Quad-City Times.
I'm moving out here in Iowa, Tim. This isn't about endorsements in the end. The people of Iowa are remarkably independent-minded. Teresa and I have been so stunned by the welcome that you receive when you go to farms, you go to Elks Lodges or VFW posts or restaurants. And crowds of people come in, some of them with notebooks, and they sit there and they compare and they listen to your points. They come back again and listen again and ask questions. This is the best working of democracy that I've ever seen. And I believe that next Monday, you and others are going to see a tremendous surprise out here in Iowa. You're going to see democracy working at its best. And the people of Iowa are going to act outside of all the polls, outside of all the pundits, outside of all the endorsements. They're going to make their decision about who they believe can lead America and, frankly, elect not just a president of the United States, but a leader of the free world at a very dangerous time in America's history.
MR. RUSSERT: When you were asked last week what happened to your campaign, you said a war happened. And if you look at the Los Angeles Times survey out this morning, voters in Iowa, the people you're talking about, were asked, would they prefer a candidate who favored the war in Iraq-only 26 percent said yes-or a candidate who opposed the war in Iraq? Sixty-two percent, nearly two-thirds of Iowa Democrats, said they prefer a candidate who opposed the war. As you well know, last October you voted for a resolution authorizing President Bush to go to war in Iraq. How much has that vote damaged your standing amongst Iowa Democrats?
SEN. KERRY: Well, I think Iowa Democrats are listening very carefully, Tim, and they understand that my vote and the vote of Tom Harkin, for instance, and the vote of Hillary Clinton and the vote of Joe Biden, was not a vote specifically to go to war; it was a vote to do what President Bush said he would do, which is hold Saddam Hussein accountable by going to the U.N., working to build a legitimate global coalition, working to have an inspection process that was legitimate and that we were patient about, and finally, the president said he would go to war as a matter of last resort.
The president broke every single one of those promises. He broke them to us as senators. He broke them to the Congress. Most importantly, he broke them to the American people. Now, I've fought in a war, Tim. You know that and other Americans know that. I know the responsibility of a commander in chief to send people off to war. And there is no way that I would ever have taken America to war the way George Bush did. He owed us a legitimate last resort. And he didn't. The only way to get the inspectors into Iraq-everybody knows this-was to have that legitimacy of force. We spoke with one voice out of Congress because we needed to for the security of our country. And it was the right thing to do. There was a right way to do this. There was a wrong way to do this. George Bush did it the wrong way.
And I have said again and again, I have consistently said, that I believe that he's run the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history. And I also remind you, Tim, that Wes Clark and Howard Dean both supported giving the authority to the president of the United States, both said he ought to be disarmed, both said he was a threat, and subsequently switched. So everybody exercised that authority at that time, and I think a lot of people aren't aware of that.
MR. RUSSERT: Joe Lieberman, your Democratic colleague, said it this way, Senator: "I thought that John Kerry's statement in his announcement address, that he voted for the resolution just to threaten Saddam Hussein, was unbelievable. It was clearly an authorization for President Bush to use force against Saddam. We don't need a waffler in charge of our country's future."
SEN. KERRY: It was an authorization, if the president held accountable what he said. Absolutely, Tim. No question about it. Absolutely. I believed we needed to have Saddam Hussein held accountable. But you needed to do it right. And doing it right meant going through the United Nations properly, exhausting the remedies of the inspections. It meant taking the time to build a legitimate coalition, not a fraudulent one. And it meant going to war as a last resort. Now, under those circumstances, and those are the circumstances the president promised, yes, of course we would. But the fact is, the president broke that.
Now, look, people have known me for a lifetime, Tim. Here's the deal. I've stood up and fought against Richard Nixon's war in Vietnam. I stood up and fought against Ronald Reagan's illegal war in Central America. I led the fight to try to hold Noriega, the general and the dictator in Panama, accountable for drugs and CIA connections. I blew the whistle on Oliver North and his illegal aid network. I've stood up with John McCain and led the fight to make peace in Vietnam. I've had a lifetime record of fighting for reasonable approaches in foreign policy.
And if anybody out there believes John Kerry would have led us to war the way George Bush did, they shouldn't vote for me. But if people know my record and know exactly how I've talked and thought about foreign policy seriously, and how we protect the United States, I hope they will respect a lifetime of fighting to make America safer and stronger in a reasonable way. We needed to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. We needed to get the world involved. I tried to do that in 1998 with Bill Clinton. This was entirely consistent...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, what...
SEN. KERRY: ...but there was a right way to do it.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you say hold Saddam Hussein accountable. This is what you told Rolling Stone magazine on December 2. "If I were president, we would not be in Iraq today..."
So if you were president...
SEN. KERRY: What I told them was we wouldn't have-Tim, what I said...
MR. RUSSERT: No, if-but you said-let me finish, Senator. "If I were president, we would not be in Iraq today..."
SEN. KERRY: What I...
MR. RUSSERT: What that would mean is Saddam Hussein would still be in power if you were president.
SEN. KERRY: What I was talking about, Tim, was how you go to war. We would be in Iraq if it-if we had exhausted the remedies of the inspections and Saddam Hussein had not complied. We would have used the legitimate threat of force. But if, in fact, he had complied, if he had done-look, Colin Powell said, and the president said, there's only one reason to go to war, originally, when that was voted on, and that was weapons of mass destruction. And if you go back and read my speech on the floor of the Senate, and I ask you to do it, I said clearly, "I am voting to hold him accountable for the weapons of mass destruction." And no other reason to go to war. I did not buy into preemption. I never bought into the notion that you should just remove him for the sake of removing him the way Joe Lieberman and others did. I thought that was wrong.
When Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman went down to the White House and cut their own deal with the president, many of us in the Senate were flabbergasted because we felt that the resolution we were working on was a stronger one. I did what was right to protect the security of our country. I believe the president of the United States made an end-run around the Congress, an end-run around the American people, and I'm going to hold him accountable for doing that.
MR. RUSSERT: You have said that President Bush's foreign policy has made America less safe. "He's creating more terrorists." Where specifically has George Bush created more terrorists?
SEN. KERRY: In Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: In Iraq? So there are more...
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: ...terrorists in Iraq now than there was when Saddam Hussein was there?
SEN. KERRY: You bet there are, Tim. Every intelligence estimate will tell you that.
MR. RUSSERT: You said this about Howard Dean, and this is, I think, at the core of your candidacy against Howard Dean. "...those who believe we are not safer with [Saddam Hussein's] capture don't have the judgment to be President - or the credibility to be elected President." As we speak this Sunday morning, Senator, do you believe that Howard Dean does not have the judgment to be president or the credibility to be elected president?
SEN. KERRY: I think the judgment of a nominee who doesn't understand that having Saddam Hussein captured will make it extraordinarily difficult to be able to beat an incumbent wartime president who captured Saddam Hussein. And let me tell you why, Tim. Saddam Hussein took us to war once before. In that war, young Americans were killed. He went to war in order to take over the oil fields. It wasn't just an invasion of Kuwait. He was heading for the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. And that would have had a profound effect on the security of the United States.
This is a man who has used weapons of mass destruction, unlike other people on this Earth today, not only against other people but against his own people. This is a man who tried to assassinate a former president of the United States, a man who lobbed 36 missiles into Israel in order to destabilize the Middle East, a man who is so capable of miscalculation that he even brought this war on himself. This is a man who, if he was left uncaptured, would have continued to be able to organize the Ba'athists. He would have continued to terrorize the people, just in their minds, because of 30 years of terror in Iraq.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator...
SEN. KERRY: There isn't a soldier there, Tim, who doesn't understand that the capture of Saddam Hussein helps to reduce the capacity for the insurrection, for the insurgency, and helps move forward. We are safer with the capture of a man who wanted to build weapons of mass destruction and who, actually, had them and used them at one point in time.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, you can just hear the Republicans saying, "John Kerry said if he was president, we would not be in Iraq, and that there are now more terrorists in Iraq, despite the capture of Saddam Hussein. Therefore, John Kerry does not have the judgment or the credibility to be elected president." You can hear the Republican commercials.
SEN. KERRY: Tim, this debate-no, because if you look at what I said, in the fullness of that interview, Tim, as well as in every other interview that I've ever had, I have said we have to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but I've also said we have to do it in a way that is smart and legitimate. In my speech on the floor of the Senate I made it clear, you are strongest when you act with other nations. All presidents, historically, his father, George Herbert Walker Bush, did a brilliant job of building a legitimate coalition and even got other people to help pay for the war. The American people have been left stranded, almost alone, occupying a Middle Eastern nation in a way that we didn't have to.
What I would have done is exhausted the remedies-and I wrote this in The New York Times-I have been consistent and clear, yes, you have to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. Yes, you have to be prepared to go to war, and I'm prepared to go to war if you have to. But a last resort, Tim, means last resort. And one of the lessons I learned in Vietnam is, you better be able to look, as commander in chief, in the eyes of families who lose their son or daughter and say to them, "I tried to do everything in my power to prevent the loss of your son and daughter." I don't think the president passes that test in Iraq. Whether Saddam Hussein is gone or not, we went to war in a rush, we went to war without a plan for winning the peace. This has been a disorganized, haphazard effort. They failed in Afghanistan, to capture Saddam Hussein in Tora-Bora. That was a miserable operation because they refused to put the American military into the operation. I think they are accountable for a foreign policy that had overextended the armed forces of the United States, turned our Reserves and Guard into active duty, and they are even abandoning the veterans who come home by cutting the VA budget by $1.8 billion. We can do a better job of making America more secure.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you have said that, as I mentioned, Howard Dean does not have the judgment or credibility to be president, that he would be "eviscerated" by President Bush. Do you believe if the Democratic party nominates Howard Dean, it would be the equivalent of a suicide mission in the general election?
SEN. KERRY: That's for the voters to decide. I have said that I think it is going to be very difficult for a person in a post-September 11 world, who has no foreign policy experience, no national security experience, no military experience, very difficult to stand up against a wartime president and convince America that that person has the ability to make our country safe.
And, Tim, you can hear the advertisements now; so can I. We saw what they did to challenge the patriotism of Max Cleland, a triple amputee, a man who left three of his limbs on the ground in Vietnam. They challenged his patriotism. His regret is he didn't stand up and fight back. I'm going to fight back, and I'm going to fight back with Max Cleland at my side and with a lot of other veterans who understand that this war is a war that they rushed into, that they have put our troops at greater exposure of risk than we had to. We could have had other nations in the ground with us. We should have had other nations on the ground with us. We should have had a legitimate plan to secure the nation more effectively, and as long as it's an American occupation, America remains at greater risk. And we're also paying more money out of the pocket of taxpayers than we need to be paying.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, you can hear Howard Dean watching, saying, "Hold on, John Kerry. You voted to authorize the president to go to war. I'm the only Democrat who opposed this war from day one." Senator, why do you think...
SEN. KERRY: And you know what I'll say? Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...that Howard Dean is doing so well with Democratic voters?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, you know what I'll say right back to Howard Dean if he said that? And I'd love to have a face-to-face debate with him. Let's have you and me and Howard Dean together. Howard Dean, on the 6th of October, five days before we voted on this resolution about authorizing, he stood up and he supported the Biden-Lugar resolution that gave authority to the president to go to war. All the president had to do was write a little letter and say, "I tried to do the diplomacy but it didn't work." Howard Dean exercised the same judgment as the rest of us that he ought to have authority. He just put it under a different resolution and then he could run around later on and say, "Oh, I'm against the war," because he didn't have a recorded vote.
MR. RUSSERT: But why is he doing so well...
SEN. KERRY: He also stood up-just a minute, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: ...with the Democratic voters?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, I don't think they're aware of that judgment. I don't think they're aware. I think that what's happened is there's been-you know, when you don't vote, you're not accountable. The fact is that I think people are listening now. I know they're listening now. And people are beginning to make up their minds about who can be the nominee. Look, you know, Governor Dean has said that he thinks we have to prepare for the time when America is not the strongest military. I don't. Howard Dean has said that Hamas' soldiers-no one has ever called Hamas soldiers before. Howard Dean has said we don't take sides in the Middle East. We took sides in 1948. Israel's our ally. We always knew that.
We can't have a president who is conducting American foreign policy by press release clarification, and we're certainly not going to beat George Bush that way. I think we need somebody who has 35 years of experience, who has been consistent from day one. I said we have to hold Saddam Hussein accountable, but from day one, Tim, I said there's a way to do it. And this president kept going away from the way to do it that was correct. So I believe that I can be trusted to do what's necessary to make the United States secure, and that's what the American people want.
MR. RUSSERT: For the record, a year ago in May, we asked you to debate Governor Dean on health care here on MEET THE PRESS when you were the front-runner and you chose not to. Ironically, he will not debate you now because he's the front-runner which is the way of politics. But let me ask you about George Bush and show you the way The Washington Post described the economic record. "The Dow Jones industrial averaged ended 2003 up 25 percent. The economy grew at a blistering 8.2 percent annualized rate in July, August and September. Housing and other construction are at record highs. Interest rates remain low and ... the manufacturing sector last month expanded at a pace not seen since 1983, when another economic recovery ushered Ronald Reagan toward his landslide reelection."
Is the only way the Democrats can win in 2004 is by saying, "We have a bad economy"?
SEN. KERRY: Absolutely not. I hope we have a good economy. I don't think any American should ever wish we have a bad economy, but every statistic that you just read off, Tim, works wonderfully if you're looking at a Republican recovery. You know, corporate profits are up 46 percent, but they're up by consolidation. They're up by increases in productivity. They're not up because Americans are going back to work, and they're not up because Americans are earning more money.
Just this last month-yesterday, the president talked about how his tax cuts have been good for the recovery. Well, the fact is they projected 250,000 jobs but they only created a thousand. They're 249,000 jobs short. And every month, there are about 250,000 people who drop out of even looking for work. I met a guy named Bob Anderson in Waterloo the other day. He's 49 years old. He's been out of work for two years. He sends out his resumes. When he goes to have an interview, there are 200 other people there looking for the same job. His wife has been diagnosed with MS. He has no health care. He doesn't know where to turn. There are people like that all over this country who are desperate.
The wages of workers, Tim, went up three pennies, meanwhile-three pennies an hour, and the overall wages of workers have gone down $1,500. Meanwhile, Medicare lobbyists have turned a Medicare bill into a windfall profit for the Medicare companies, $139 billion. The energy companies got $50 billion of oil and gas subsidies. Everybody in America understands the economy is tilted against them. The economy-Americans are working for the economy, Tim, but the economy is not working for all Americans. And I believe there's an enormous issue there about the fundamental fairness of the workplace in America.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, if you do not win Iowa, if you come in third, and come in third in New Hampshire, is your race over?
SEN. KERRY: Tim, I'm going to do great. I'm going to surprise you and a lot of people. I'm fighting for every vote. The one thing people know about me is I'm tenacious. I'm a fighter. I've got great energy out here in Iowa. I am very, very confident about what we're doing.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to win?
SEN. KERRY: And I think next Tuesday, you and others are going to be scratching your heads and say, "How did Kerry do it?" And there's a surprise story out of Iowa.
MR. RUSSERT: So you're going to win.
SEN. KERRY: You keep watching. It's going to be a fun ride.
MR. RUSSERT: Are you going to win Iowa?
SEN. KERRY: I'm going to do the best I can. Tim, I'm doing the best I can to give you a good surprise and we're going to keep on working. I'm not making any projections. I'll just tell you this: We had 1,000 people were at two different rallies yesterday. The energy is enormous. I've been endorsed by three newspapers out here. People are coming board-the attorney general. Tomorrow I'll be standing up with 27 legislators in the state of Iowa. That's more legislators than Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt have put together. They're standing with me because they're the people who do the work every day of trying to get things done for their own people, and they believe I'd be the strongest nominee to run with. They believe that I'd be the best president. And I think we're beginning to make great progress out here in Iowa.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be watching you and the Patriots. Senator...
SEN. KERRY: Oh, I'm glad you've admitted you'll watch the Patriots.
MR. RUSSERT: Thanks very much. We'll see you out in Iowa. Be safe on the campaign trail.
SEN. KERRY: Thank you.
MR. RUSSERT: Coming next: the strategy, the issues and the Internet. David Broder, Ron Brownstein, Chuck Todd and Roger Simon are next, all coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: The Iowa caucuses just one week away. Our political roundtable is next, after this station break.
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