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NBC News Special: The State of the Union Transcript

Location: Unknown

January 20, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Tim Russert and Senator John Kerry discuss the president's speech



TOM BROKAW, anchor:

President George W. Bush, his report on the state of the union to the Congress, the House of Representatives and US Senate, special guests in the balcony and, of course, to a nationally televised audience. It ran just under an hour. And there was a great deal more prose and poetry in this election year State of the Union speech, it was a kind of bill of sale outlining what the president wants to continue to do. At the center of his administration, as he believes it, of course, is the war on terror, as he said at one point, "terrorists declared war on us and war is what they got." He also reinforced his conservative base, talking about the need to extend the Patriot Act, to make permanent the tax cuts, about making choices for individuals with Social Security, and the Defense of Marriage Act, which he put out very clearly that if judges continued to undermine it and states allow homosexual marriages, he'll back a constitutional amendment. As to the United Nations, he said we don't need a permission slip to defend America's interests, but, at the same time, this administration is going to look toward the UN in an attempt to get help with the Iraqi election.

I'm joined now by NBC's Tim Russert.

TIM RUSSERT, reporting:

Tom, it's so striking to me that the same issues I heard tonight that you talked about, Iraq, tax cuts, immigration, Patriot Act, are exactly the same issues I heard in Iowa from the Democrats with a totally different perspective and a different philosophy.

BROKAW: We'll give you a chance to talk about that now, because we're going to go to New Hampshire. The man who was triumphant last night in Iowa joins us now. He's at the home of Rob and Chris Chasen, members of the International Firefighters Association. And that's Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.

Senator, we couldn't help but notice when the president was talking about what the United States has done for the people of Iraq your fellow Massachusetts senator and your helpmate on the campaign trail, Senator Edward Kennedy, was plainly expressing his disagreement with all of that. Did you agree with the president's characterization of what the United States has done for the people of Iraq?

Senator JOHN KERRY: No. I think that there was a great deal of wishing in the president's comments tonight. All of us, obviously, join in celebrating the accomplishments of our troops, and we support the troops, Tom, but I think that the war in Iraq that the president described is very different in its presentation from what's really there. The numbers of troops, the size of the coalition, the quality of the coalition, it's just not real, and Americans know that. More importantly, I think tonight the president really avoided what's on the minds of the people I've been meeting, and he gave in to the major powerful interests of the country: big oil, big drug companies, big HMOs. His health care plan does not do the job for Americans, it doesn't provide health care. And his approach to national security-I mean, Bob Chasen is a firefighter, he was just sitting here talking to me about how they are down in the numbers of firefighters that they need to have all across the country. Homeland security has not been properly funded. So there's a great gap.

This is a sort of say one thing, do another thing speech which is just like the say one thing, do another thing administration.

BROKAW: But you've learned, and in just the past few months, how quickly the tide can turn. The American economy now is in a recovery. Democrats are not talking about it in the same way that they were just four months ago. If we continue to get the strong indicators that we have seen, by mid-summer is it going to be more difficult for Democrats to make the economic case against this president?

Sen. KERRY: Tom, first of all, this is not a recovery for the working American, this is a Wall Street Bush league recovery. You know, 250,000 jobs was the target for last month, they created 1,000 jobs. They only fell 249,000 jobs short. And the fact is that the average American, while CEO pay is up and Wall Street profits are up, the average American only earned three cents on the hour more. Workers are hurting all across America, they can't afford health care, there's nothing in the president's plan to make health care affordable. They can't afford tuitions, there's nothing in the president's plan to make tuition supportable. I think there's just two different worlds here, the world the president talks about and the world that Americans are living, and I think that's what we're going to see unfold over the course of these next months.

BROKAW: As the president continues to make his way out of the chamber, Senator Kerry, I was remiss in not congratulating you on your victory last night. I wanted to just show you what the dividend is in the state of New Hampshire, where you are now. This is the latest tracking poll that we have from the Zogby organization. As you can see, you've made a very sharp jump there. You were beginning to fall pretty significantly behind in your neighboring state of New Hampshire but in the last couple of days you're up to 23 percent, that's a statistical dead heat with Howard Dean. General Wesley Clark is at 16 percent, Edwards at 7 percent, Lieberman at 7 percent as well.

You were lowering expectations in Iowa, saying if you just got a ticket out of there, you'd be happy. But now your expectations are very high. You're going to have to win New Hampshire, aren't you?

Sen. KERRY: No, not necessarily, Tom. But I'm certainly intending to, and I'm going to do everything in my power to do that. But, look, I'm not a poll person, I like to talk to the people and I like to campaign and fight for every vote there is. That's the way we won in Iowa. And I'm not going to listen to the polls. What I'm going to do is go out and campaign with all the energy and all the passion that I have, because this is the most important election of our generation. The Supreme Court is at stake, powerful special interests have had their way again, as we saw tonight. No real health care plan for Americans, no real funding for homeland security, an avoidance of responsibility on No Child Left Behind by talking about how much they've increased money, not how much they haven't kept the promise by fully funding it. It's always the gamesmanship, it's the wordsmanship, and I think the American people are tired of that, they want truth, they want somebody who's going to fight for them, fight for real interests in our country. And all you have to do is talk to the Chasens here tonight and they'll tell you they sat there shaking their heads in disbelief listening to the president describe some things.

BROKAW: Senator, let me ask you very briefly, did you see Howard Dean's concession speech last night or, if not the speech itself, the replays, and what did you think?

Sen. KERRY: Tom, it's-it's just not for me to comment. I'm trying to run a campaign that's positive and that really lays out my vision for America, that's what I'm going to continue to do. I think the voters want each of us to focus on what we can do to help people, what our vision is for this great country of ours. I listened tonight to the president describe the-the world-we can do a better job of fighting a war on terror more effectively. We can bring other nations to our side more effectively. And I intend to make sure we have a president who really makes America safer, doesn't just talk about it.

BROKAW: Thank you very much, Senator John Kerry. We'll see you in New Hampshire this weekend.

Sen. KERRY: Thanks.

BROKAW: I know you'll begin and resume campaigning...

Sen. KERRY: I look forward to it.

BROKAW: All right. We'll see you-see you some time in New Hampshire in the next couple of days.

Tim Russert, New Hampshire, John Kerry says 'Not necessary for me to win there.'

RUSSERT: Well, yeah, Tom, but he said he'd like to and he intends to. Clearly, if he can put wins in Iowa and New Hampshire back to back, it'll be a significant step to the nomination.

The key to this poll you saw, today's polling alone Kerry is actually ahead of Howard Dean.

BROKAW: We'll be back. The Democrats' response to the president's State of Union in a moment.

Copyright 2004 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.

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