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NBC Today Transcript

Location: Unknown

February 25, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses differences in his view of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages and that of the president


MATT LAUER, co-host:

On CLOSE UP this morning, Decision 2004. Democratic presidential front-runner John Kerry is campaigning in Ohio today, a day after winning handily in three other states.

Senator Kerry, good morning to you.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Presidential Candidate):

Good morning, Matt, glad to be with you.

LAUER: Good to have you here. Congratulations on your wins in Utah, Idaho and Hawaii yesterday. Can you wrap this thing up next week on Super Tuesday?

Sen. KERRY: I have no idea. That's completely up to the voters, Matt, and I'm campaigning as hard as I can. I'm here in Ohio at a steel mill right now. I'll be giving a speech in Toledo, then I head to Minnesota and on to California.

LAUER: The president grabbed some of the headlines yesterday, Senator, when he called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages. Now, he's always said he's against gay marriages or same-sex marriages, but this is the first time he's actually called for a constitutional amendment. Break down, briefly, if you will, the differences in your stance on this issue and the president's.

Sen. KERRY: Well, the difference in my stance is that I would not choose, as he is, to tamper with the Constitution of the United States for political purposes. I share the same opposition, but I think it's absolutely wrong to ask for a federal constitutional amendment when for 200 years the states have always had the right to take care of this. They have the ability to-even today. They will take care of it. And I think he's doing this as a political wedge-driving strategy and not because it's necessary.

LAUER: What about the timing? And-because in 2000 during the presidential campaign, the president did say in an interview that he thought this was something the states should handle, it was up to them. Why do you think he switched?

Sen. KERRY: You'll have to ask him that. But I'll tell you, this is at odds with Vice President Cheney's own position. It's at odds with our history. And-and-and everybody in America can understand, this is an effort to drive a political wedge. You know, it's because he can't come here to this steel mill and talk to the workers of Ohio about jobs. It's because he's got a foreign policy that has lost us influence and respect around the world. It's because he doesn't have a health care plan to provide affordable, accessible health care to all Americans. And-and so he's trying to change the subject.

LAUER: In-in so...

Sen. KERRY: And I think...

LAUER: In some ways, Senator, does this present an opportunity for you? Because clearly, he's moving toward his conservative base. But at the same time you'd have to think he's moving away from the swing voters in the center. Do you think this provides you with an opportunity to capture those votes?

Sen. KERRY: Matt, I must say to you that think that I think even some conservatives, if you're truly a conservative, you'd be disturbed about tampering with the Constitution of the United States for unnecessary and for political reasons. I think this strategy represents a president who is in trouble. He knows he's in trouble. He's trying to do whatever he can in order to drive wedges between the American people and change the topic. I don't think people will be fooled. The states have the ability to deal with this issue. I think what people want to know is how they're going to get back to work. They want to know how we can move our economy for all Americans. They want to know how we're going to have health care that's affordable and accessible to everybody, how we're going to fix our schools.

LAUER: The president...

Sen. KERRY: You know, the president has broken...

LAUER: ...I was just going to say...

Sen. KERRY: Sorry.

LAUER: ...the president has gone on the offensive in recent days, unofficially kick off his campaign. He targeted you in a speech the other night, Senator, without mentioning your name, talking about flip-flopping on votes and questioning some of your military votes, for example, for the B-2 bomber and the Apache helicopter. You seem to think that when the president does this or his allies do this, that they're attacking your patriotism. Why isn't it, though, that they're just simply stating your voting record?

Sen. KERRY: If they want to talk about a specific weapons system, I'm happy to talk about it or a particular point in time. But that's not what they did. And that's not what they did to Max Cleland, and that's not what they did to John McCain. What they do is they lump it under the concept of defense. They don't talk about the system. And they try to suggest to Americans that you're somehow weak on defense. I'm not going to allow them to do that. I believe that this administration, which incidentally wanted to cut the pay of troops, which has not provided body armor to many of our young people that's up-to-date in Iraq-you've got families in Ohio that are going out and raising money from friends to buy body armor and send it to their kids in Iraq. I think this administration has, you know, chosen extraordinary priorities, cutting the VA budget so that they could actually give...

LAUER: Right.

Sen. KERRY: ...a tax cut to the wealthiest Americans. Those are the real issues, and I'm going to not let them suggest to people that I'm not prepared to defend this nation.

LAUER: Let me ask you-and ask you for a very brief answer, if you will, you're talking jobs there in Ohio. Some people talk about the 3 million...

Sen. KERRY: Right.

LAUER: lost in the last few years, and they say one of the reasons could be a trade agreement like NAFTA, which you supported. How do you defend that, briefly, if you will?

Sen. KERRY: Well, for years, a lot of us have been talking about the need to enforce these trade agreements and to stand up and fight for the American worker when there is an obvious dumping situation or you have a surge of imports. We put those provisions in the trade agreements. And this administration has not chosen to enforce them. I will enforce them. I will fight for the American worker and make labor and environment standards part of our trade relationships.

LAUER: Senator John Kerry. Senator, thanks for your time.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you.

LAUER: I appreciate it. And now...

Sen. KERRY: Glad to be with you, Matt, thank you.

LAUER: ...all right, thanks. And now here's Katie.

KATIE COURIC, co-host:

Matt, thank you.

Copyright 2004 National Broadcasting Co. Inc.

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