Democratic Presidential Debate - Transcript


By:  Joe Biden, Jr.
Date: Sept. 26, 2007
Location: Hanover, NH

Democratic Presidential Debate - Transcript

MR. RUSSERT: Good evening, and welcome. We have some big issues to talk about tonight, so let's start right now.

Senator Obama, I'd like to start with you. General Petraeus in his testimony before Congress, later echoed by President Bush, gave every indication that in January of 2009 when the next president takes office, there will be 100,000 troops in Iraq. You're the president. What do you do? You said you would end the war. How do you do it in January of 2009?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, first of all, Tim, let me say thank you to Dartmouth for hosting this event.

And let me also say that had my judgment prevailed back in 2002, we wouldn't be in this predicament. I was opposed to this war from the start, have been opposed to this war consistently. But I have also said that there are no good options now; there are bad options and worse options.

I hope and will work diligently in the Senate to bring an end to this war before I take office. And I think that it is very important at this stage, understanding how badly the president's strategy has failed, that we not vote for funding without some timetable for this war.

If there are still large troop presences in when I take office, then the first thing I will do is call together the Joint Chiefs of Staff and initiate a phased redeployment. We've got to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in. But military personnel indicate we can get one brigade to two brigades out per month.

I would immediately begin that process. We would get combat troops out of Iraq. The only troops that would remain would be those that have to protect U.S. bases and U.S. civilians, as well as to engage in counterterrorism activities in Iraq.

The important principle, though, is there are not going to be any military solutions to the problem in Iraq. There has to be a political accommodation, and the best way for us to support the troops and to stabilize the situation in Iraq is to begin that phased redeployment.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, Democrats all across the country believed in 2006, when the Democrats were elected to the majority in the House and Senate, that that was a signal to end the war, and the war would end.

You have said that will not pledge to have all troops out by the end of your first term, 2013. Why not?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, it is my goal to have all troops out by the end of my first term. But I agree with Barack. It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting. You know, we do not know, walking into the White House in January 2009, what we're going to find. What is the state of planning for withdrawal?

That's why last spring I began pressing the Pentagon to be very clear about whether or not they were planning to bring our troops out. And what I found was that they weren't doing the kind of planning that is necessary, and we've been pushing them very hard to do so.

You know, with respect to the question, though, about the Democrats taking control of the Congress, I think the Democrats have pushed extremely hard to change this president's course in Iraq. Today I joined with many of my colleagues in voting for Senator Biden's plan, slightly different than he'd been presenting it, but still the basic structure was to move toward what is a de facto partition if the Iraqi people and government so choose.

The Democrats keep voting for what we believe would be a better course.

Unfortunately as you know so well, the Democrats don't have the majority in the Senate to be able to get past that 60-vote blockade that the Republicans can still put up. But I think every one of us who is still in the Senate -- Senator Biden, Senator Dodd, Senator Obama and myself -- we are trying every single day. And of course, Congressman Kucinich is in the House.

But I think it is fair to say that the president has made it clear. He intends to have about 100,000 or so troops when he leaves office -- the height of irresponsibility, that he would leave this war to his successor. I will immediately move to begin bringing our troops home when I am inaugurated.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, would you get it done?

SEN. BIDEN: Tim, we're begging the question here. Everyone says there's no political -- there's no military solution, only a political solution. We offered a political solution today, and it got 75 votes. And it said -- it rejected fundamentally the president's position that there's a possibility of establishing a strong central government in Iraq and said we're going to have a federal system, bring in the rest of the world to support establishing a federal system. That will end the civil war. That will allow us to bring our troops home. That is the thing that will allow us to come home without leaving chaos behind.

Now, here's the deal. The deal is that to say that you are going to bring all troops home from the region -- I assume that's what you mean --

SEN. DODD: From Iraq.

SEN. BIDEN: Just from Iraq. You're going to bring all troops home from Iraq. If in fact there is no political solution by the time I am president, then I would bring them out because all they are is fodder.

But -- but -- if you go along with the Biden plan that got 75 votes today and you have a stable Iraq like we have in Bosnia -- we've had 20,000 Western troops in Bosnia for 10 years. Not one has been killed -- not one. The genocide has ended. So it would depend on the circumstances when I became president.

MR. RUSSERT: You would not make a commitment to have them all out by --

SEN. BIDEN: I would make a commitment to have them all out if there is not a political reconciliation, because they're just fodder.

MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Kucinich, please.

REP. KUCINICH: As the only one on this stage who actually voted against the war and voted 100 percent of the time against funding the war, I have a rather unique perspective. I've introduced legislation, H.R. 1234, which is the plan to end the Iraq War. To me, it is fairly astonishing to have Democrats, who took back the power of the House and the Senate in 2006, to stand on this stage and tell the American people that this war will continue to 2013 and perhaps past that.

I want everyone to know. I want the American people to know that I've been on this from the beginning, and I know that we can get out of there three months after I take office, or after the new president takes office, if one is determined to do that. And I want to make it clear that the plan includes enemy occupation, closing the bases, bringing the troops home, setting in motion a program of reconciliation, not partition, between the Iraqs -- between the Sunnis, the Shi'ites and the Kurds, having an honest reconstruction program, having a program of reparations, and giving the people of Iraq full control over their oil, which currently most of the people on this stage have said should be privatized in one way, shape or form.

And so I believe that if we're really going to have peace, no partition, let them -- let them unite. We remember what Lincoln said years ago. It's true for Iraq, as well. A house divided against itself cannot stand. If we divide Iraq, essentially we're going to be setting the stage for more war. And I stand for strength through peace -- a whole new approach.

MR. RUSSERT: But you'll pledge -- excuse me, excuse me. You'll pledge to have all troops out by January of 2013.

REP. KUCINICH: By -- by April of 2007, and you can mark that on your calendars if you want, to take a new direction.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, it's September of '07 now, so we're going to have a problem. (Laughter.)

REP. KUCINICH: Well, make that -- make that 2009. I'm ready to be president today. (Laughter.)


MR. RUSSERT: I want -- I -- we have so much to cover. I want to talk about Iran. And this is --

SEN. BIDEN: Tim, can I make a clarification, please?

MR. RUSSERT: We have --

SEN. BIDEN: What we voted on was not partition. I don't want anybody thinking it was partition. And it's the only time we got 26 Republicans to reject the president's --

(Cross talk.)

MR. RUSSERT: All right. Fine. Fine. Fine.

REP. KUCINICH: You're splitting Iraq up. That's what it does.

SEN. BIDEN: No, it's not.

MR. RUSSERT: All right. Okay. All right. We've had that discussion.

MR. : Okay.


MR. RUSSERT: Before we take a break, I want to go to Alison King of New England Cable News, who has been sifting through thousands of questions from across the country and New England and here in New Hampshire.

Alison, a question, please.

ALISON KING (New England Cable News): Thank you, Tim.

Dozens of cities around the country, including several here, right here in New England, have been designated as sanctuary cities. These are communities that provide a safe haven for illegal immigrants, where police are told not to involve themselves in immigration matters.

Would you allow these cities to ignore the federal law regarding the reporting of illegal immigrants and, in fact, provide sanctuary to these immigrants?

Governor Richardson, I'll start with you.


MS. KING: Your time is up, Governor Richardson.

I'd like to hear from Senator Biden. Would you allow these cities to ignore the federal law?

SEN. BIDEN: The reason that cities ignore the federal law is the fact that there is no funding at the federal level to provide for the kind of enforcement at the federal level you need.

Pick up The New York Times today. There's a city not far across the river from my state that imposed similar sanctions. And what they found out is, as a consequence of that, their city went in the dumps -- in the dumpster; stores started closing, everything started to happen, and they changed the policy.

Part of the problem is you have to have a federal government that can enforce laws. This administration's been fundamentally derelict in not funding any of the requirements that are needed even to enforce the existing law.

And the last point I'll make is Rudy Giuliani doesn't know what the heck he's talking about. He's the most uninformed person on American foreign policy now running for president -- (cheers, applause) -- number one.

And number two, these guys -- these -- anyway. (Laughter.)

MS. KING: But yes or no.

SEN. BIDEN: I wish I'd get to talk about something I know about like foreign policy. You gotta count me in in this debate a little bit.

MS. KING: So Senator Biden, yes or no, would you allow those cities to ignore the federal law?


MS. KING: Okay.

And I'd like to hear from Senator Dodd. New Haven, Connecticut is on that list of sanctuary cities.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, you said the other day, quote, "Do you really believe that Senator Clinton can get more than 15 percent of Republicans to vote for health care?" What does that mean?

SEN. BIDEN: No, what is means is that in order to get health care, you're going to have to be able to persuade at least 15 percent of the Republicans to vote for it.

MR. RUSSERT: And she cannot?

SEN. BIDEN: I think it's going to be more difficult -- unfairly, but I think it's more difficult for Hillary. Hillary, because she has battled the special interests, and she has, but look at the special interests. The special interests, with regard to Hillary, they feed on this, you know, this Clinton-Bush thing.

It's not Hillary's fault. But the fact of the matter is, it's much more difficult to go out and convince a group of Republicans, I would argue, getting something done that is of a major consequence.

I have experience doing that. I did it on the crime bill, I did it on -- today, the first time we rejected -- fundamentally rejected the president's policy. And I'm not suggesting it's Hillary's fault. I think it's a reality that it's more difficult, because there's a lot of very good things that come with all the great things that President Clinton did. But there's also a lot of the old stuff that comes back. It's kind of hard. When I say "old stuff," I'm referring to policy -- policy.


MR. RUSSERT: And we're back at Dartmouth College talking to the Democrats.

I want to talk about Social Security and Medicare. The chairman of the Federal Reserve, the head of the Government Accountability Office, have both said that the number of people in America on Social Security and Medicare is going to double in the next 20 years -- there are now 40 million; it's going to go to 80 million -- and that if nothing is done, we'll have to cut benefits in half or double the taxes. That is their testimony.

Senator Biden, in order to prevent that, would you be willing to consider certain steps? For example, back in 1983, Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, Pat Moynihan and Bob Dole got together and changed the retirement age. It's going to be going up to 67 in a gradual increase.

Right now, you pay tax for Social Security on your first $97,500 worth of income. Why not tax the entire income of every American? And if you do that, you'll guarantee the solvency of Social Security farther than your eye can see.

SEN. BIDEN: The answer is yes. I'm probably the only one up here who's going to say that. But the truth of the matter is, you've stated it. You're either going to cut benefits or you're going to go ahead and raise taxes above the first $97,000.

And by the way, I was in that room with Pat Moynihan. It was Joe Biden, Pat Moynihan, Bob Dole -- it was also George Mitchell -- when we made that deal. I'll never forget Bob Dole turning to Pat Moynihan and saying, we all got to jump in this boat at the same time.

So the bottom line here is, you can't do it by growing the economy alone. So I would raise the cap.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you also, considering now life expectancy is 78, considering -- consider gradually raising the retirement age?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, we did that once, I supported that. That's what got it solvent to 2041. By simply going and taking -- raising the cap, you can solve the problem.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, would you be in favor of saying to the American people, "I'm going to tax your income. I'm not going to cap at $97,500. Everyone, even if you're a millionaire, is going to pay Social Security tax on every cent they make"?


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Dodd, Senator Edwards invoked your name. You've got 30 seconds.

SEN. DODD: And I thank you.

What I was suggesting here -- Joe, I think, said we tax everybody. I -- he clearly --

SEN. BIDEN: No, no, I'm with you.

SEN. DODD: -- that you don't have to do that. (Laughter.)

(Chuckling.) I'm sure you would, Joe.

SEN. BIDEN: Thanks for invoking my name.

SEN. DODD: And -- and -- but you could do this by basically readjusting that tax so you don't have to -- doesn't have to affect everyone in society.


MR. RUSSERT: One second -- one second here. I want to turn to another health issue because this is important before I bring Allison in.

Over 400,000 Americans have premature death due to smoking or secondhand smoke.

Senator Clinton, would you be in favor of a national law to ban smoking in all public places?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, we banned it in New York City. And people thought it would be a terrible idea, and everyone was really upset about it. And actually business at a lot of establishments, like restaurants and other places, increased, because many people felt more comfortable going when there was no smoking.

I think that we should be moving toward a bill that I have supported to regulate tobacco through the FDA. And once it has those health warnings and once the FDA can regulate it, I think that will give a lot of support to local communities to make these, what are essentially zoning decisions. And I'd fully support that.

MR. RUSSERT: But you're not in favor of a national law to ban smoking in public places?

SEN. CLINTON: Not at this point. I think we're making progress at the local level.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Obama, a national law to ban smoking in all public places?

SEN. OBAMA: I think that local communities are making enormous strides, and I think they're doing the right thing on this. If it turns out that we're not seeing enough progress at the local level, then I would favor a national law. I don't think we've seen the local laws play themselves out entirely, because I think you're seeing an enormous amount of progress in Chicago, in New York, in other major cities around the country. And because I think we have been treating this as a public health problem and educating the public on the dangers of secondhand smoke, that that pressure will continue.

As I said, if we can't provide these kinds of protections at the local level, which would be my preference, I would be supportive of a national law.

MR. RUSSERT: Have you been successful in stopping smoking?

SEN. OBAMA: I have. The -- you know, the best cure is my wife. (Laughter.)

MR. RUSSERT: Is there anybody here who's in favor of a national law to ban smoking?

(Cross talk.)

SEN. BIDEN: I would ban -- yes. I would ban -- and all publicly, nationally. And one other point I want to make on this --

SEN. DODD: Three thousand kids start smoking every day in this country.

MR. RUSSERT: Okay. So Biden, Dodd, Richardson.

GOV. RICHARDSON: I did it in New Mexico as a national law.

MR. RUSSERT: Kucinich and Gravel.

REP. KUCINICH: Wait a minute. I've been breathing in a lot of secondhand smoke here tonight. (Cheers.) You bet I'll go for a national law. (Continued cheers, applause.)

MR. RUSSERT: All right. So Biden, Dodd, Richardson, Gravel and Kucinich in favor of a national law.

Alison, you're up.

MR. EDWARDS: Wait, wait, wait, and Edwards.

MR. RUSSERT: And Edwards.

MS. KING: Susan Renacle (sp) of Canaan, New Hampshire, the mother of two young adult sons, believes that the legal drinking age of 21 is counterproductive and unrealistic, especially, she says, because -- (interrupted by applause, cheers) --

SEN. CLINTON: (Laughs.)

MS. KING: -- especially because we trust people of this age to make life and death decisions in our military.

Would you as president remove the requirement that a state have a legal drinking age of 21 in order to receive federal highway funds, thereby returning the drinking age back to the states?

Senator Biden.

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely no, I would not. You've got to calculate the cost here. The cost of alcoholism in America, the cost of accidents that flow from drunkenness, are astronomical. There are 300,000 babies born deformed every year in this country because of women who are alcoholics while they're carrying those children to term.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a gigantic problem, just like the drug issue. And the idea that we're going to suggest that it makes good sense to move the age down to 18 I find to be counterproductive. I would not do that.

And the last point I'll make is, presidents are supposed to lead. How do you go out and negotiate, use health care and the Social Security system as a negotiating tool to deal with the federal deficit? You're supposed to lead. You lay out what you want to do. You're not negotiating with yourself, you're negotiating to protect the system. And you can't use the system as a negotiating tool to get to a balanced budget any more than you can turn around and suggest that somehow lowering the drinking age to 18 is going to make anything better in America. Anything.

MS. KING: I'd like to hear from a few more of you on this, if you could keep it to 30 seconds. Senator Dodd.


MR. RUSSERT: We are back in New Hampshire.

Politicians spend millions of dollars on TV commercials, which last 30 seconds. We want to demonstrate to the American voters tonight that you can answer a question in 30 seconds. (Laughter.) Here we go.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden, do you believe that has changed politics for the better?

SEN. BIDEN: I don't think they've changed politics.

MR. RUSSERT: Have they been a positive force in politics? (Laughter.)

SEN. BIDEN: Well, the -- on some things, yes. I mean, look, you can -- I don't think you can castigate them for the ad, I think. But the idea that I was initially told -- I'm going to get in trouble for this, but -- that the quote, "It's their party" -- they're part of the party. It's not their party.


RUSSERT: I want to move to another subject, and this involves a comment that a guest on Meet the Press made, and I want to read it, as follows: Imagine the following scenario. We get lucky. We get the number three guy in Al Qaida. We know there's a big bomb going off in America in three days and we know this guy knows where it is.

RUSSERT: Don't we have the right and responsibility to beat it out of him? You could set up a law where the president could make a finding or could guarantee a pardon.

President Obama, would you do that as president?

SEN. OBAMA: America cannot sanction torture. It's a very straightforward principle and one that we should abide by. Now, I will do whatever it takes to keep America safe. And there are going to be all sorts of hypotheticals, an emergency situation, and I will make that judgment at that time.

But what we cannot do is have the president of the United States state as a matter of policy that there is a loophole or an exception where we would sanction torture. I think that diminishes us, and it sends the wrong message to the world.

GOV. RICHARDSON: Senator Biden, would you allow this presidential exception?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I would not, and I met up here in New Hampshire with 17 four -- three-and-four-star generals who, after my making a speech at Drake Law School pointing out I would not under any circumstances sanction torture, I thought they were about to read me the riot act. 17 of our four-star and three-star generals said, Biden, will you make a commitment you will never use torture?

It does not work and it's part of the reason why we got the faulty information on Iraq in the first place. Because it was engaged in by one person who gave whatever answer they thought they were going to give in order to stop being tortured. It doesn't work. It should be no part of our policy ever, ever.


Senator Edwards, the exception.

MR. EDWARDS: The only thing I would -- I agree with what's been said. The only thing I would add is the problem is much bigger than this specific hypothetical illustrates, because what's happened is what America is has been undermined over the last seven years.

And torture is a component of that or the condoning of torture is a component of it, but it is only one component. In addition to the torture, we need to be ending this war in Iraq. I will close Guantanamo, which I think is a national embarrassment. The idea that the United States of America would hold anybody without the right to a hearing undermines everything that we represent. No more secret prisons, not when I'm president of the United States, and not only no more secret prisons, I will the first day that I'm president end the illegal spying on the American people.

SEN. BIDEN: A question, Tim. Did you say pardon as well? I'd pardon the son of a gun if I got an atom bomb.

MR. RUSSERT: That was the scenario that President Clinton --

SEN. BIDEN: Okay. No, no. I would pardon. I would not torture, but if I thought I'd get the hydrogen bomb this guy had planted, I'd say, "Man, you're out," and then I'd figure out how we got it taken care of later. (Laughter.) But I would -- I would pardon him.

MR. RUSSERT: So you would be in favor of --

SEN. BIDEN: I'd pardon him, not torture, not torture.

MR. RUSSERT: No, no, no. It would be pardoning the person who --

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, who did the torture. No, no, no, I would -- no.

MR. RUSSERT: Fair enough. (Laughter.)

All right. We're passed 30 seconds.

SEN. BIDEN: I'm sorry. I thought you meant pardon the --

REP. KUCINICH: Thirty seconds. You're on my time.

The metaphor that we're using here is one that relates to really 9/11 and the terror that followed and the politicization of fear which occurred in this society. The Kucinich administration will be about strength through peace -- no unilateralism, no preemption, no first strike -- using -- and a rejection of war as an instrument of policy.

So of course you'd use a pardon. But we have to remember, this Constitution has to be redeemed, and this administration has took us down a -- really, a cul-de-sac. I'd want to not only restore the Constitution but I'd want a new national security doctrine, strength through peace that will make us safer, because the neocon approach has made America less safe and more vulnerable.


MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, there's been a lot of discussion about the Democrats and the issue of faith and values. I want to ask you a simple question.

Senator Obama, what is your favorite Bible verse?


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Biden.

SEN. BIDEN: Christ's warning of the Pharisees. There are many Pharisees, and it's part of what has bankrupted some people's view about religion. And I worry about the Pharisees.

MR. RUSSERT: I want to thank you all for your answers this evening. I want to ask Allison King for one more question. This, after all, is New Hampshire. She wants to ask you about baseball.


MS. KING: For many here in New England, the answer to this next question may be the most important one you answer tonight. Red Sox or Yankees? (Laughter.)


SEN. DODD: Sox. And tomorrow night, you're going to be hosting a debate in Red Sox nation.

MR. RUSSERT: Yup. Biden?

SEN. DODD: Who's going to be the president of the Red Sox nation? We all want to tune into that one.


SEN. BIDEN: I was raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania by a grandfather. If you weren't a Yankees fan, you didn't eat. (Laughter.) Yankees.

MR. RUSSERT: Thank you all. Thank you voters of New Hampshire and all across the country for watching the Democratic candidates tonight, and thank you Dartmouth. (Applause.) Our thanks to New England Cable News -- (continued applause) -- Dartmouth College. The broadcast re-airs tonight 1:00 a.m. Eastern on MSNBC. If you want to see the Republican candidates in a similar setting, NBC will bring you the debate from Dearborn, Michigan October 9th. (Continued applause.) I'll see you this Sunday on Meet the Press.

From Hanover, New Hampshire, good night.


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