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National Public Radio All Things Considered Transcript

Location: Roanoke, VA

February 9, 2004 Monday

HEADLINE: John Kerry discusses his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

It was another big weekend for Senator John Kerry, who added three more states to his string of victories: Michigan, Washington and Maine. Up next, primaries tomorrow in Virginia and Tennessee. He's won 10 of 12 states so far in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he's already begun looking beyond the primaries to a possible race against President Bush in the fall.

BLOCK: Senator John Kerry joins us from Roanoke, Virginia.

Senator Kerry, thanks for being with us.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): I'm delighted to be with you. Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: I'd like to start by asking you about comments that President Bush made yesterday on "Meet The Press." He was asked about his service in the Air National Guard from 1972 to '73, and he said, 'I put in my time, proudly so,' and he noted that he had gotten an honorable discharge. You've said in response that doesn't answer the question. And I'm wondering what question in your mind remains still to be answered?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I don't have any further comment on it. You know, it's not an issue that I've chosen to make an issue, and it's, I think-it's not what I'm running my campaign on. I'm running my campaign on putting people back to work. I'm running on having fairness restored to the workplace of America, where we have a tax code that is weighted so much towards these powerful interests in Washington that have written the lobby bills. And we need a president who really understands how to make America safer in the world. Our relationships are in tatters across the globe. I think those and health care and education are the major issues of this race.

BLOCK: You have made a high point, or a highlight, of your campaign your own service in Vietnam in your ads and in your speeches. What relevance do you think that has today to voters?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I don't make it highlight of the campaign. I disagree with that characterization. What I make is my life. I mean, it's who I am that people have to make a judgment about in terms of your character, your tenacity, the fights you've chosen to fight. I think it's just important to lay out one's life, and that's what I'm doing.

BLOCK: I'd like to turn to the subject of gay marriage. The highest court in your home state of Massachusetts have said that same-sex couples do have the right to marry. I know you've said that you oppose gay marriage, but would you support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a heterosexual union?

Sen. KERRY: Well, that depends entirely on the language of whether it permits civil union and partnership or not. I'm for civil union. I'm for partnership rights.

I think what ought to condition this debate is not the term 'marriage' as much as the rights that people are afforded. Obviously, under the Constitution of the United States, you need equal protection under the law, and I think equal protection means the rights that go with it. I think the word 'marriage' kind of gets in the way of the whole debate, to be honest with you, because marriage, to many people, is obviously what is sanctified by a church. It's sacramental. Or by a synagogue or by a mosque or by whatever religious connotation it has. And clearly, there's a separation of church and state here.

BLOCK: And why would you support, say, civil unions or what you call partnership rights and not gay marriage then?

Sen. KERRY: Because I think marriage is a separate institution. I think marriage is under the church between a man and a woman, and I think there's a separate meaning to it. That's why.

BLOCK: Even for marriages that aren't conducted in a house of worship?

Sen. KERRY: Correct, even for those that aren't. There's still two meanings. I mean, the state picked up the concept afterwards. It's a latecomer to the state. You know, for those who have separate beliefs, there ought to be a way here to be able to deal with it. But what you call something is not that critical.

BLOCK: You were one of 14 senators who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act back in 1996 that was signed by President Clinton.

Sen. KERRY: Correct.

BLOCK: Why did you oppose that bill?

Sen. KERRY: I opposed it 'cause I thought it was gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate. It was one of those examples of ideological Republicans trying to drive wedges into the electorate of America. And I objected to the Senate being used for that, even as I still said at the time, I don't personally support marriage as we understand it within the context of religion.

BLOCK: I'd like to ask you about your pledge to stand up to special interest and special interest money in politics.

Sen. KERRY: Sure.

BLOCK: The Center for Responsive Politics has said that you've raised more money from paid lobbyists than any of the other Democratic candidates this year.

Sen. KERRY: Yeah, but...

BLOCK: The Associated Press is...

Sen. KERRY: Yeah.

BLOCK: Excuse me-the Associated Press is reporting that when it was still legal for people in Congress to do so that you got $120,000 in speaking fees from big interests like oil and tobacco and liquor. Is there an inconsistency in your position on that?

Sen. KERRY: No, there's no inconsistency at all. I voted against the honorary. When I came to the Senate, there existed this situation where you were allowed to supplement your income. I thought it was a terrible idea. I personally stopped long before even the law required it.

With respect to the lobbyist contributions, the Center for Responsibility has, frankly, not been very responsible about the way they've put this out, because the fact is that I am the only United States Senator who has been elected four times, currently serving in the Senate, who has voluntarily refused to ever take, in any of my races for the Senate, one dime of political action committee special interest money. The only checks I took were from individual Americans. Now did some individual lobbyists contribute? The answer is, yes, they did.

BLOCK: Do you think that voters draw the same distinctions about the pools of money available to you that you're drawing now?

Sen. KERRY: Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. Whenever I've mentioned to people that I've only taken money from individuals-I mean, you've got-look, you have to raise money to run for office. I hate the system. You bet. And what people need to do is not, you know, paint you with some big brush that says, 'Gee whiz, he took a thousand dollars from some lobbyist.' The question is: What did I do?

BLOCK: Senator Kerry, thanks for talking with us today.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you very much for having me. Take care.

BLOCK: John Kerry spoke with us from a campaign stop in Roanoke, Virginia.

Copyright 2004 National Public Radio ®. All rights reserved.

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