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News Forum Transcript

Location: Unknown

February 29, 2004 Sunday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses the presidential race



It's a crucial moment in the presidential campaign of 2004. Democratic Senators John Kerry and John Edwards are slugging it out in New York and nine other states where primaries or caucuses will be held Tuesday. As the preconvention campaign nears a climax, Kerry has a substantial lead over Edwards. Two other candidates, the Reverend Al Sharpton of New York and Dennis Kucinich of Ohio are far behind.

Kerry and Ewards have both cited the defeat of President Bush, the lack of jobs, health care and education as the main issues. For this week's NEWS FORUM, we tried to interview the front-runners, Kerry and Edwards. Kerry, after holding a town meeting at York College in Jamaica sat down with us for a half hour. Unfortunately, Edwards' staff said his schedule was too tight be be interviewed here.

Our guest today on NEWS FORUM is the senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry.

Announcer: From Studio 6B in Rockefeller Center. This is a presentation from NewsChannel 4. Gabe Pressman's NEWS FORUM. Now your host, senior correspondent, Gabe Pressman.

Good day, Senator Kerry, and welcome. With the New York primary and contest in nine other states just two days away, assuming that the general election will be very close, do you think Ralph Nader is going to hurt the Democratic nominee's chances?

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): Gabe, I think that Ralph Nader, hopefully in the end, will wind up addressing the very same issues that I am, and people will hopefully unite-if I can win the nomination, which I have yet to do, will unite around the person who has the best chance to beat George Bush.

PRESSMAN: Do you think Ralph Nader...

Sen. KERRY: The target...

PRESSMAN: Oh, I'm sorry...

Sen. KERRY: No, that's fine.

PRESSMAN: Do you think that he, as a missionary you can persuade him to see the light?

Sen. KERRY: I don't know that. I've known Ralph for many years. His work has been terrific in a lot of sectors. I've worked with him on different issues. I intend to talk to the people who supported him last time out, in the issues, in the vision that I offer America. I have been a fighter against those powerful interests that have, unfortunately, put too much money into American politics. I want the money out of American politics. I have been one of the leaders on campaign finance reform.

I'm the only United States senator who's been elected four times, voluntarily refusing to take Political Action Committee money in my races for the Senate. So I've tried to set a different path. I've stood up against powerful interests that wanted things to happen, and I said no. Like Newt Gingrich trying to undo the Clean Air and Clean Water Act. The oil companies that wanted to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I led that fight to stop them from doing that. So I think that in the end, hopefully, I will appeal to those people that he appealed to last time, and there won't be a need for them to feel that that's the only way to be represented.

PRESSMAN: Mr. Nader promised the Democratic national chairman, Terry McAuliffe, that he would not criticize the Democratic nominee, but soon after that he said of you, 'Kerry has been known to bend before the will of corporatism.' What's your reaction to that?

Sen. KERRY: I just don't agree with him. Love to see where he thinks that's true, but it's fine. I mean, I think I've stood up against those powerful interests in ways that many people in Washington have not. And I will continue to wage that kind of a fight as president of the United States.

PRESSMAN: You made the economy, the lack of jobs, a major issue, as has your principal opponent in the Democratic race, Mr.-Senator Edwards. What are you offering to solve the job crisis that Mr. Edwards is not?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I'm offering a number of things. First of all, my health-care plan is much broader and more significant in its reduction of costs to the middle class in America and it will reduce the burden on businesses. Secondly, I've offered very specific set of tax proposals, reforms, that will end the practice of rewarding companies that take jobs overseas; we need to end that practice. I also think that my education plan, it goes further than his because I have a four-year, $4,000 tuition tax credit that helps people throughout their four-year college career. And I have a national service plan that actually helps kids be able to get-in exchange for two years of national service, they get their full four-year, in-state, college public education paid for. That's unlike any other candidate in this race. And I also believe that the proposals I've laid out for manufacturing, job creation in America are more detailed and go further than, again, any other candidate in this race.

PRESSMAN: The chairman of Mr. Bush's campaign attacked your record of voting, as he said, against military appropriations. He denied that that meant he was questioning your patriotism. 'But I also ask you,' he said, 'to elevate the remarkably negative tone of your campaign, and your party.' Do you think that challenging you on the question of military appropriations is unfair?

Sen. KERRY: Because they're not challenging me on the particular system, Gabe. What they're challenging me, by lumping them together, is the assertion, and this is what they've always done. I've been around long enough to watch them do this. They try to assert that we Democrats are not for defending our country. That we're not "strong," quote, on defense. And the measure of that is not one particular system or another. But that's the game they play. I watched them do it to John McCain, where they attacked his record as a POW, as a POW.

I watched them do it to Max Cleland down in South Carolina. And I'm not going to let them get away with that. If they want to debate a particular weapons system, let's debate it. But don't suggest to people, as they're trying to do, that when I voted for the largest military budgets in the history of our country and I voted for the largest intelligence budgets-I'm not going to let them try to paint me into some corner, period.

PRESSMAN: Do you think they're challenging your patriotism?

Sen. KERRY: When you question somebody's commitment to the defense of your nation, you're questioning their commitment to the country.

PRESSMAN: And you got...

Sen. KERRY: Defense of nation is exactly that. Yes, that's exactly what they did. They put Osama bin Laden's photograph up with Max Cleland Cleland and suggested he was weak-Max Cleland, weak-on the defense of our nation. Now here's a man who left three of his limbs on the battlefield in Vietnam. To have someone who, you know, has never served suggest that someone who has is weak on defense is simply unacceptable, and I'm not going to stand for it.

PRESSMAN: You won the silver star, you got a couple of purple hearts in Vietnam. Does it make you angry to be accused of being soft on military appropriations?

Sen. KERRY: It makes me angry that they suggest that I'm soft on defense. If they want to question a particular appropriation, on a particular system, fair game. Let's have a debate about that system. But that's not what they're doing, and they know it and I know it and the American people know it. And I think we need a nominee of our party who has the ability to stand up and make it clear that we're not gonna get pushed around. They're not gonna appropriate the flag of the United States as their symbol, which they've done for years. It belongs to all Americans. And patriotism belongs to all Americans. If they want to debate individual systems I'll have that debate, but I'm not gonna let them suggest that I'm not strong on the defense of our nation.

PRESSMAN: Do you think that because the president did not serve in combat in Vietnam that he lacks understanding of military needs?

Sen. KERRY: No, I've never-never suggested that. Never have raised that issue and I never would. I defended Bill Clinton's choices during that period and I've defended George Bush's choices during that period. I don't-I don't make judgments about, you know, he served in the guard, and you know, plenty of people, there are a hundred names of people on the Wall who served in the guard, and I respect that.

PRESSMAN: You said in Atlanta that the election would come down to a matter of trust and vision: where you want the country to go, and whether you can be trusted to take it there. Turning that around does that mean that you don't think the president can be trusted and that he doesn't have vision?

Sen. KERRY: I think the President has broken his trust with the American people. He's broken his promises. He promised he wouldn't create a deficit; he's created a huge deficit, biggest one in history. He promised he wouldn't dig into Social Security money; he's dug into Social Security money. He promised that he would leave no child behind; he's leaving millions of children behind. He promised he'd give a health-care benefit to people that could actually help them afford health care more; he only provides a benefit to people who can actually save money, not to the average American who's struggling with the cost of health care today. He promised a Medicare benefit for prescription drugs; what he's given is a huge benefit to drug companies at the expense of seniors and the taxpayers. It's one of the biggest giveaways in modern history. I think that he misled the American people on the war in Iraq. He said he would go to war as a matter of last resort; he did not. And I think there is a trail of broken promises about those things that really matter to the quality of life in our country and to the future.

PRESSMAN: Now you voted for the war, and then you came out against the war, or at least that's the way it appeared. How do you explain that apparent inconsistency?

Sen. KERRY: It's not inconsistent, Gabe. I didn't. I voted for a process the president promised us, which was the way that you ought to properly use authority given to go to war. The president promised he would build an international coalition. He promised that he would go through the inspection process and honor the UN process. And he promised he'd go to war as a last resort. That's what I voted for. The president did not do any three of those things. He didn't build a real coalition that is sharing the burden on the ground. He's not sharing the burden of financial cost to the American people. The taxpayers are carrying the brunt of this. And he certainly didn't exhaust the remedies of inspections or go to war as a last resort. He rushed to war, without a plan to win the peace. I think that was abuse of the authority that he was given.

PRESSMAN: You believe that his action, actions, involving Iraq were immoral?

Sen. KERRY: I think his actions were imprudent. I think that they wind up and to some degree, yeah, I think it's-you know, when you don't keep your promises to the American people there's a lack of keeping faith in that that's important.

PRESSMAN: Let's come back after this message, Senator.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you.


PRESSMAN: We're back here with Senator John Kerry.

Senator, the New York Post, which is not exactly one of your fans, said, 'Kerry wears his honorable Vietnam service like a bloody shirt. Not withstanding his honorable behavior in Vietnam, following the separation from the Navy in 1971, he became a whirling dervish of indecision.' The Post apparently is referring to you voting for the 2003 Iraq War and then voting against reconstruction funds, etc. How do you react to that kind of a charge from the anti-Kerry forces?

Sen. KERRY: It's silliness. It's-you know, it's what they're going to try to do is sort of mud you up a little bit. Throw the mud around, hope it sticks. But it doesn't withstand scrutiny. It's not something that I think stands the test-which is if you know a policy is not working, you don't just blindly vote for it to continue when it's not working. You vote for it to change. And because the president wasn't bringing other countries to the table, I thought it was wrong for the American people to be charged $87 billion when you don't even ask the wealthiest people in the country to give up part of their tax cut and help to pay for it. I proposed that. I would have voted for that. We, in fact, I did vote for it. I voted for it under that circumstance. They voted it down, they said no. They also refused to try to do what was necessary to guarantee they would bring those other countries to the table to reduce the cost to the American people and reduce the risk to our soldiers. That's the job of a president, Gabe. The job of a president is to maximize the ability for the success of the mission and minimize the risk to American soldiers. I don't think the president did that in his policy. So it was completely consistent to vote for something that changed the policy.

PRESSMAN: You paint the picture of George W. Bush as a kind of villainous character.

Sen. KERRY: No, I have not used those words at all.

PRESSMAN: Do you like this guy?

Sen. KERRY: Sure, I like him and I think a lot of people in America like him, but I don't like his policies. I don't like what he has chosen to do. Look at the deficit. Look at the jobless rate. Look at his promise on children. Here's a man who said we're gonna leave no child behind. He signed an agreement, you know a bill. My colleague Ted Kennedy agreed with him that they would pass the bill based on the promise of money, and the president broke the promise to provide the funding. I don't agree with that. I don't agree with a Medicare bill that has changed from what we passed in the Senate, where you could have had imports from Canada, and you could have had other means of providing seniors with more affordable drugs. Instead, they rewrite it, send it back, and give the drug companies a $139 billion windfall profit. I don't agree with that policy. I don't agree with pretending to the American people that they're getting a great big tax cut when the lion's share of it is going to the people who earn more than $200,000 a year. So I don't agree with those policies. I don't agree with rolling back the environment and providing dirtier air and dirtier water to our children. That's what we're doing.

PRESSMAN: Do you expect that the Republicans, nationally, are gonna throw a lot of dirt in this campaign, if you get the nomination?

Sen. KERRY: They've already started to do that in the course of the last weeks. We've seen that in some of their approach behind the scenes. I'm quite confident, witnessing what they've done previously, that they may well try to do that. I hope they don't. I hope they'll have a debate on the real issues, which are jobs, health care, education, the environment, housing, transportation, our role in the world-the things that really make a difference to the citizens of our country. And I'm prepared-if they will agree to do that, I would certainly agree to run not one negative advertisement, if they'd agree to run no negative advertising. But I doubt very much that they'll do that.

PRESSMAN: Are you prepared for an onslaught of smears?

Sen. KERRY: Gabe, I'm prepared. I've decided when I got into this race, that, you know, it's a tough business and you have to be prepared. Obviously I am. Again, I repeat what I said. I challenge the president and his party to run a campaign where we run on the issues, and I would be willing to have limits even on the amount of money that we spend. But I doubt very much this president will accept that challenge because I've watched the way they operate.

PRESSMAN: When someone asked whether or not you're too liberal to be elected president, you said that was a phony label. How would you define yourself ideologically?

Sen. KERRY: I define myself as a thinking person, who is liberal on some things and conservative on other things. I mean, look, there is nothing conservative about what George Bush is doing to the budget of our country. There's nothing conservative about running up deficits of $521 billion this year.

PRESSMAN: Is that-is that radical?

Sen. KERRY: There's nothing conservative-yeah, I think it is actually. I think it's extreme. And I think it's extreme to have an attorney general who disregards constitutional rights and is twice cited by his own inspector general for reaching too far under the Patriot Act. I think it's wrong to trample on that fine line that separates church and state in America and just to proceed forward and try to fund church activities as George Bush has done. I think those things are wrong. I think what you need to do is guarantee that the Constitution is protected, and in that I'm a conservative. I'm also a conservative fiscally. I think you have to reduce the deficit. I fought to do that in 1985 when I first came to the Senate. I led the fight, incidentally, to put 100,000 cops on the streets of America. I voted for welfare reform. I've been in favor of having sensible trade relationships, that are smart, that work for the American worker. Not the ones that abuse them. But I think that, you know, people will measure me by my record, by the things I've fought for, and by the vision that I'm offering our country. And my vision is different from George Bush's. I don't want tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans at the expense of health care and education.

PRESSMAN: Turning for a minute to foreign affairs, foreign policy. As far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned, how do you feel about Prime Minister Sharon's fence? The fence that he says is necessary for security?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I understand the fence. And I think it is, unfortunately, in these circumstances, Israel's response to a real need, which is this extraordinary continuation of violence. I mean, even this past week there's been more bombing. So I understand the fence. It is a response to the need for security and the lack of a legitimate entity to negotiate with on the other side.

PRESSMAN: In your personal history you were a swift boat captain in the Mekong Delta, you stormed a Viet Cong position. You took out the enemy. You were decorated by the government. Then after you came back you spoke at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing against the war. That was quite a metamorphosis, wasn't it?

Sen. KERRY: Well, that's what happens if you get to see the truth, and live the truth, and learn the truth, and that's what happened. When I was in Vietnam I saw things that made it clear to me that we were not on the right course, that lives were being wasted, procedures were being used that were inappropriate. And I came back and spoke my mind. It was a matter of conscience. I think I was right. And I think history has shown that I was right. Even, even, you know, people like Robert McNamara, who was the Defense secretary, have since written books saying that it was a mistake. And others have come to the conclusion it was a mistake. So I objected to the-to the way in which a lot of young Americans were being thrown at the front lines without legitimate conviction of our country that we're going to see it through or that it actually was winnable.

PRESSMAN: Speaking of history, if you get the nomination, you'll be the fourth Massachusetts Democrat to run for president in 24 years, and the other guys didn't make it.

Sen. KERRY: That, that...

PRESSMAN: Bad omen?

Sen. KERRY: No, because the last guy from Massachusetts before them who ran did make it. I thought President Kennedy did a great job, and obviously we've had other presidents, historically, a long time ago. Look, it's not where you come from; it's what you believe, and what you fight for. And it's what you want to do as president to help our country do better, to grow, be safer. And I think my agenda is a stronger and better agenda than George Bush's.

PRESSMAN: After a short break, a couple of questions on a personal side, after this.


PRESSMAN: Your wife, Teresa, recently described you as like aged or good substantial wine in a cask, you get better with age. Do you like that compliment?

Sen. KERRY: It's a great compliment; it's a great compliment.

PRESSMAN: You don't look like wine in a cask to me.

Sen. KERRY: No, but it's a metaphor, Gabe. It's a pretty good one. You know, if you don't learn things as you go along in life, if you don't kind of try to improve yourself each step of the way, I think you're missing out on something. And I like to keep an open mind, and I'm still learning and I hope I continue to learn.

PRESSMAN: Your sister Peggy was telling me that as a kid your father made some electric trains and that was one of the things you liked to do.

Sen. KERRY: Sure did, yeah.

PRESSMAN: And you climbed trees with her?

Sen. KERRY: I did, and we also-I used to make models of airplanes and boats, and things like that. I was a great model maker for a long time.

PRESSMAN: Was that in Millis, Massachusetts?

Sen. KERRY: It was, yeah.

PRESSMAN: And then you wanted to ride a tractor, that-when when you were...

Sen. KERRY: I did ride the tractor...

PRESSMAN: ...when you were five years old...

Sen. KERRY: Oh, man, I did. I drove the tractor when I was about five years old. And I learned my first swear words from the guy who was really driving it.

PRESSMAN: You got on-you got on the tractor with him, huh?

Sen. KERRY: I got on the tractor with him and-and-and loved driving a tractor. In fact, when I was 12 and 13 years old I got to really drive a tractor all by myself.

PRESSMAN: There's a lot of talk about values in this campaign on the Republican side and the Democratic side. Do you think that that's a legitimate issue?

Sen. KERRY: Sure, I think values are. I think that voters have a right to make a judgment about what your values are, of course. Values are part of who we are as a nation. And I think they want to know that the president of the United States is in touch with the values of our country. I think that's fair. And-and I think I am. I think the values of our country are fairness, among other things, decency, enforcement of the law, faith, standing up for the underdog, fighting for real opportunity and equality under the law and due process. I mean, there are a lot of different values in our country.

PRESSMAN: Do you occasionally see those values disappearing in Washington?

Sen. KERRY: I do, I think they are disappearing, some of them, in Washington. I don't think there is fairness, when you have a huge giveaway to large corporations at the expense of the average person. I don't think our tax code is fair today to the average worker. I think people are working harder and harder in America and finding it harder and harder to get ahead and to make ends meet. And I think the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing wider in this country, and I think it's a serious issue and it goes right to the core of our values as a nation. What we're doing abandoning children goes to our values. What we do with respect to other nations goes to our values.

PRESSMAN: Can you legislate new values?

Sen. KERRY: You can't legislate the values themselves, Gabe. You live by the values. But legislation is a reflection of those values, and the leadership you provide that moves you in that direction is a reflection of those values. I will, I think, offer a better set of choices that keep faith with the values of our country-that ask and excite citizenship; that ask for service to country, here at home; that ask for fairness in our tax code and in our workplace, that stand up for the workers and provide them with real opportunity. We need to share more, I think. And that is one of the deep values of our country. De Tocqueville noticed that when he wrote in the 1800s. He said, 'Americans-America is great because Americans are good.' And I think we have to continue to be good in that sense, and that's a reflection of our values.

PRESSMAN: Thank you very much, Senator Kerry, for being with us.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you.

PRESSMAN: I'm Gabe Pressman. Good day.

Copyright 2004 WNBC-TV

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