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ABC - "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" -Transcript


Location: Des Moines, IA

ABC - "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" -Transcript

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this special edition of "This Week." We're back here at Drake University in Iowa for the first Democratic presidential debate in Iowa. It's been sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee.

All of our guests here have been invited by the Iowa Democratic Party, and all eight Democratic candidates are here.

The podium order was determined by lot, but here's where they stand in Iowa according to our latest ABC News poll -- at 27 percent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama; New York Senator Hillary Clinton is at 26 percent, as is former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, also 26 percent; New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is at 11 percent; Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is at 2 percent; Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also at 2 percent; Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd is at 1 percent; and former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel, no support registered.

Candidates, welcome. (Laughter.)

(Simultaneous voices.)


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, it seems like your colleagues here don't want to reach the judgment that you've made.

Why isn't Senator Obama ready?

SEN. BIDEN: Look, I think he's a wonderful guy, to start it off. (Laughter.) Number one, it was about Pakistan we were talking about. The fact of the matter is, Pakistan is the most dangerous, potentially the most dangerous country in the world--a significant minority of jihadists with nuclear weapons.

We have -- and I disagree with all three of my friends -- we have a Pakistan -- we have no Pakistan policy. We have a Musharraf policy. That's a bad policy.

The policy should be based upon a long term relationship with Pakistan and stability. We should be encouraging free elections. There is an overwhelming majority of moderates in that country. They should have their day. Otherwise they're going to go underground.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator Biden, you did go beyond talking about Pakistan. You were asked, is he ready. And you said, I think he can be ready but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.

SEN. BIDEN: I think I stand by the statement.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: --we're hearing about a lot -- a lot of the voters of Iowa in the polls. More voters wrote in questions for us on the issue of Iraq than any other single issue. They wall wanted to know what your plans were to get out of Iraq, and to get out safely from Iraq.

And Senator Biden, you've put up an ad just this morning here in Iowa on that subject. Here's part of it.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) We were leaving Baghdad. It was pitch black. As I climbed into the C-130, strapped into the middle of that cargo bay was a flag-draped coffin. It turned that cargo bay into a cathedral. And all I could think of was, the parents waiting at the other end. We must end this war in a way that doesn't require us to send their grandchild back.


MR. YEPSEN: You're right, we do want to have a debate. Senator Biden, what is you reaction to that?

SEN. BIDEN: My reaction is that it's time to start to level with the American people. This administration hasn't been doing it for seven years. We should.

The fact of the matter is, there's much more at stake in our security in the region depending on how we leave Iraq. If we leave Iraq, and we leave it in chaos, there will be a regional war. The regional war will engulf us for generations. It will bring in the Shi'ia, it will bring in the Saudis, lit will bring in the Iranians, it will bring in the Turks.

I laid out a plan a year ago with Leslie Gelb. It said that what we should do is separate the parties, give them breathing room in order to establish some stability.

I notice most of my colleagues are coming around to that plan these days. But the bottom line is, it's going to take one full year, if you argued tomorrow to get every single troop out. And when you begin to take the troops out what are you going to do with the four (thousand) or 5,000 civilians that are left inside the Green Zone?


GOV. RICHARDSON: So I'd like my question answered. What is the purpose of the residual force?

SEN. BIDEN: I'll answer that, if I may.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want -- and I also want Senator Clinton and Senator Obama on that question. You go first.

SEN. BIDEN: Look. The fundamental disagreement I have with my colleagues up here is that they seem to cling to -- to the fundamental strategic mistake that everyone on both sides clings to, and that is that there's any possibility in the lifetime of anyone here of having the Iraqis get together, have a unity government in Baghdad that pulls the country together. That will not happen, George. It will not happen in the lifetime of anyone here.

Secondly, the point is that you have to separate the parties to give them breathing room. You have to get them out of each other's face, just like we did in the Balkans, the same exact thing. The third piece I'd make to you is that there's much more at stake here. This war must end, but there's much at stake to how it ends. If it ends with this country splintering, we will have for a generation, our grandchildren, engaged in a regional war that will be consequential far beyond -- far beyond Iraq. America's security interests are at stake. You will see Turkey move in and take on the Kurds. You will see the Iranians move in and pick sides among the Shi'as. You will see Saudi Arabia and Syria continue to fund the most radical extreme elements of the jihadis. And so --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, I think everyone agrees -- everyone is afraid of the things you just outlined right there. But this is a fundamental difference -- with respect, Senator Edwards. Governor Richardson says that every troop except for protection of the embassy can be out by December, and if they're not, then the conflict is going to continue.

SEN. BIDEN: They cannot be out by December, number one.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's -- right, and -- (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)

SEN. BIDEN: And number two, look, we've had 20,000 Western troops in a place where there's more sectarian violence, from Vlad the Impaler to Milosevic, than in 5,000 years of history in Iraq. And what did we do? We separated the parties. There's -- not one single troop has been killed, not one, in the last 10 years. There is peace. There is a circumstance where the genocide has ended. They're becoming part of Europe. Every troop must be out over time, if there is not a political agreement. But if there is a political --

GOV. RICHARDSON: Joe, but getting to my question --


GOV. RICHARDSON: Why do you leave residual troops behind? Maybe if -- (inaudible) --

SEN. BIDEN: I leave residual troops behind because you're going to have a minimum of 4,000 civilians there. The military will tell my friend here it takes --

MR. GRAVEL: But you're saying they're not combat --

SEN. BIDEN: It takes -- no, no. I'm not saying -- I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that.

MR. GRAVEL: Joe, do you remember Bien Dien Phu?

SEN. BIDEN: I'm not saying that. You need combat troops, and you need them to protect --

MR. GRAVEL: Joe, do you remember Bien Dien Phu, what happened to the -- (inaudible)?

SEN. BIDEN: -- the 5,000 troops that are there.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: (Inaudible) -- keep it up, and I'll just repeat it again. "My question is to understand each candidate's view of a personal God. Do they believe that through the power of prayer, disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the Minnesota bridge collapse could have been prevented or lessened?"

SEN. BIDEN: George, your mom has an expression. She says that God sends no cross you're unable to bear. The time to pray is to pray whether or not when you're told, as John was and I was, that my wife and daughter are dead, to have the courage to -- to be able to bear the cross. The time to pray is to pray -- not only before, but pray that you have the courage, pray that God can give you the strength to deal with what everyone is faced with in their life, serious crosses. Serious crosses to bear.

The answer to the gentleman's question is no, all the prayer in the world will not stop a hurricane, but prayer will give you the courage to be able to respond to the devastation that's caused in your life and with others' to deal with the devastation.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You have no idea what's been going on behind me in the last 30 seconds, but welcome back to This Week. We're continuing this Democratic debate here in Iowa, and I want to go to a question that came in over email. It was from Robert Melczarek of Montgomery, Alabama.

ROBERT MELCZAREK: (From tape.) This question is for all the candidates. Unlike many others, I think that candidates may tell the truth, just not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. For example, when advocating a position or action, candidates downplay or simply ignore the likely negative side effects. Can you name a major issue where you didn't tell the whole truth and describe what you left out?


SEN. BIDEN: In my public life there hasn't been a time I haven't said what I thought. I'm sure there's times in my whole life I haven't said everything I've thought, and many times I've said too much of what I did think. (Laughter, applause.) But my problem isn't saying what I think. (Laughter.) My problem is saying too much about what I think. I honestly can't think of an issue in the United States Congress where I haven't straightforwardly said why I was voting, why I was voting that way, and I said it straight up.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to move on to healthcare now. It sounds like -- let me just sum this up. No one on the stage is for merit pay for teachers specifically.


SEN. BIDEN: Tomorrow morning at 9:00 my wife will walk into a classroom and teach for the 30th year in a row, and the one thing any teacher can tell you is that the last person you want to base your performance on -- judge your performances is the administrator of the school. That's the first thing everybody figures out if you teach.

There needs to be performance-based pay. The way to do it is to start at the front end. Pay those people who perform an undergraduate school. Give them the alternative to be able to go -- they get the same pay an engineer gets to go in and work and a math student -- as a math teacher, as a science teacher, et cetera. So you start performance-base pay by in fact paying the best performing students who want to teach and give them a chance.

Every other major country in the world is starting their kids at the same salary they start -- these students the same salary they start their engineers. We should be able to do that. My father used to say, "Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget." If you in fact value education, then it should be equally as important as engineering or anything else.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're running towards the end of the 90 minutes. I have a couple -- (applause) -- of quick questions and then a final question.

This is basically yes/no question. We've seen all this turmoil in the markets over the last couple of weeks caused by the credit crunch and the crisis in the mortgage markets. We saw on Friday the Federal Reserve lowered the discount rate for banks. Should they lower rates for everyone else? Yes or no?


SEN. BIDEN: The answer's yes, but we need, as the governor says, more transparency, particularly with regard to hedge funds and private equity funds. They're the ones that are causing these things to go under and there's no transparency, no accountability. We don't know how deep this problem is. Chris will take care of it in the Banking Committee, and I mean that sincerely, but we don't know how deep this problem is. But I think it's much deeper. It's almost as deep in terms of dollars, not liability, as the Savings and Loan Crisis.


MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Final round, final question, about 30 seconds each, please. Presidential biographers are always looking at the turning point in a life, the moment where an ordinary person went on the path to the presidency -- the decisive moment.

Congressman Kucinich, what's a decisive moment in your life?


SEN. BIDEN: George, there's a lot of things in my life that led me to be engaged in politics. I worked in the African-American community side of my city as the only white employee for a long while when I was a kid and I got involved in the civil rights movement, but I thought the question was what made me run for president.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A decisive moment in your life to put you on the broader path.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, the decisive moment in my life to put me on the broader path was the civil rights movement when I really -- I found out and realized that it does make a difference if you're engaged. You actually can change people's lives. You can actually change the state of the nation.

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