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Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate in New York - Part 1

Location: New York, NY

February 29, 2004


Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate in New York - Part 1

Following is the Democratic presidential candidates debate in New York on Sunday, as recorded by The New York Times:


DAN RATHER. Good day. We are coming up on the biggest primary day of this presidential election year. In just two days voters in 10 states will help decide which Democrat will face the Republican incumbent, President George W. Bush.

Will it be Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts? Senator John Edwards of North Carolina? Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio? Or the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York?

The Democratic candidates are here this morning for their final joint appearance before Super Tuesday. We intend this hour to be a free-wheeling, informative discussion of the issues.

Joining me in the questioning are reporters Elisabeth Bumiller of The New York Times and Andrew Kirtzman of WCBS TV Channel 2 here in New York. This broadcast is being carried on many CBS radio and television stations and by the Discovery Times Channel.

The candidates' campaigns have drawn for positions around the table. There are no set rules, no time limits, although we hope things will move along fairly quickly and that the answers will be at least reasonably brief, gentlemen. And we have only one goal and that is to help you, the voters, make an informed decision.

So let's get to it. It's a big day in the news. Haiti is in the news. We have questions about that. But first, I want to ask each one of you in turn, in one sentence, in terms of your own spirituality, if you prefer, religiosity, to complete the sentence: This I believe ... Senator Kerry?

JOHN KERRY. I believe in God. And I believe in the power of redemption and the capacity of individual human beings to be able to make a difference. Because as President Kennedy said: Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own.

Q. Senator Edwards?

JOHN EDWARDS. I believe we live in a country where there are two different Americas. One for people who get everything they need every single day, and one for everybody else. And I believe that the president of the United States, with the Lord's help, has the power to change that.

Q. Congressman?

DENNIS J. KUCINICH. I believe that we're here to bring spiritual principles into the material world. And reflecting the words in Matthew 25: When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was homeless, did you shelter me?

We have a purpose here on this earth to try to help this, lift this world up.

Q. Reverend Sharpton? This I believe ...

THE REV. AL SHARPTON. I believe in God. But I believe that God created us for a purpose. I believe that God has blessed this country immeasurably. The question is whether this country will bless God.

So the way we can judge that is how we treat each other, human rights in the many Americas. I believe there are many Americas. Not just poor and rich, but of many colors, of many religions, of many sexual orientations. How we deal with one another, how we provide for one another, how we protect one another, is how we determine whether we are worthy of the blessings that God has given us.

Q. Thank you, Reverend. Let me say again that it is not scriptural but around this table at least blessed are the brief.

MR. SHARPTON. For they shall inherit the ...

Q. Very probably. Or the airwaves. Senator Kerry, President Bush has made it clear that the United States will be part of an international force going to Haiti. You've been critical of that action. Tell me what your beef is with what the president's doing.

MR. KERRY. He's late - as usual. This president always makes decisions late, after things have happened that could have been different had the president made a different decision earlier.

Q. Senator Kerry, what would you have done in this situation?

MR. KERRY. Well first of all, I never would have allowed it to get out of control the way it did. This administration empowered the insurgents. And it empowered - look, Aristide -

Q. How did it empower the insurgents?

Senator KERRY. I'll tell you precisely how. But first let me say this, President Aristide has made plenty of mistakes. And his police have run amok and other things have happened. I understand that. But the fact is that by giving to the insurgents the power to veto an agreement they effectively said unless you two reach an agreement on the sharing of power we're not going to provide aid and assistance.

So he empowered the insurgents to say no, we're not going to reach agreement. And they continued to battle, continued to have no services provided in Haiti, and then it started to spiral downward. So the result is that you almost inevitably had the clash that you have today. And innocent Haitians, the people of Haiti deserved better than that over the course of the last years.

Q. Senator Edwards, could we ask what you think of this? Did you agree with the president's decision? And - you've been critical in the past of his policy towards Haiti.

MR. EDWARDS. Yeah, that's because he's ignored Haiti the same way he's ignored most of the countries in this hemisphere. We have - this is a country that's extraordinarily unstable. I think this is the 33rd government that they've had. One of the poorest nations, if not the poorest nation in the world. They - we should have been engaged over a long period of time in a serious way. Not - at least through diplomacy - not to allow this to get to a crisis situation where it now is.

I do believe that now, that now the proper thing to do is for America to be part of the United Nations force to secure the country. That is the right thing to do.

But there are very serious issues here. The Haitian constitution, for example, provides that the chief justice is a successor to Aristide. The chief justice apparently is very close to Aristide. I mean we have to put a political process in place, stabilize the country first, then put a political process in place that allows us to move toward a serious democratic election, so that the people of Haiti are satisfied with the result.

Q. Senator, do you have any argument with anything that Senator Kerry just said about Haiti?

MR. EDWARDS. We have a slight difference. I think it is true that, at its best, for the president and the administration this has been neglect. In other words they've paid no attention, they haven't been engaged. At its worst, they have actually facilitated the ouster of Aristide.

MR. SHARPTON. I have a difference with both of -

MR. EDWARDS. Al, if you'll let me finish, please -

Q. But if he's a bad - but no one says he's a good president, so why is it so terrible he's gone? You've all agreed on that.

MR. EDWARDS. The reason is because it should be a democratic process that leads to his leaving.

MR. KERRY. With George Bush ... president ...

MR. EDWARDS. Excuse me, John. If you'll let me finish, it should be a democratic process that provides for someone else to rule Haiti. And that's the problem with this - I mean if you look at what's happened in Haiti over a relatively long period of time, been extraordinarily unstable. As I mentioned earlier, 33rd regime change. We need to put a process in place that makes sure that the people of Haiti are satisfied with who's governing them.

Q. Senator, he was installed by Democrats, not by Republicans. Why are you blaming Bush when you could be blaming Clinton, who was the one who was responsible for him being in power in the first place?

MR. EDWARDS. But remember, prior to that time he was elected in elections that weren't even questioned or challenged, No. 1. And No. 2, when this problem began to develop this president did exactly what he's done with other problems around the world, which is do nothing, do nothing, and when it gets to crisis stage then we act.

This is - and that's what's, by the way, if we can just take a little elevation on this, this is -

Q. Not much, Senator.

MR. EDWARDS. This is one of the most serious problems with, one of the most serious problems with this administration is they talk about a doctrine of preemption. How about a doctrine of prevention, where America leads and stays engaged with these problems -

Q. Reverend Sharpton, you've been very patient -

MR. SHARPTON. First of all, I talked with the opposition leaders and President Aristide by phone this week. Second of all, I've been to Haiti several times. And I think that I'm speaking as one who has been close to this situation, more than anyone on this stage.

One of the things I think we're seeing, it's a problem with the party, is that we only want certain people to talk but we want everybody to vote. And we need to rid ourselves of that.

What we need to do first of all is allow Haiti to have the resources. The World Bank had approved a $500-million loan that this country has blocked. That's one. So we are -

Q. Was that the Bush administration or the Clinton administration?

MR. SHARPTON. This administration as well as prior administrations should have made sure the World Bank loans had gone through, the resources were available. You almost set up a situation where Aristide had to fail. Now, Aristide -

Q. Reverend Sharpton, can we just go to domestic politics for a moment -

MR. SHARPTON. No, we're going to finish on Haiti. If you don't want us to participate, say that, ma'am. I'm listening to them go back and forth -

Q. Let's go back to Haiti.

MR. SHARPTON. Let's deal with Haiti.

Q. Mr. Kucinich, would you like to say -

MR. SHARPTON. I think that what we're trying to say is that the president should not come now, late, after he ignored what was going on all along. And I think that it is too little, too late, to just talk about military action.

Q. Congressman?

MR. KUCINICH. I'd like to answer your question directly. What the president is advocating in terms of international intervention is the right thing to do.

Now let me talk to you about what I would do as president in terms of creating a department of peace, a cabinet-level position, where you would track the kind of percolation of conflict that goes on and intervene in a nonviolent way before it gets out of hand. I mean we need to take a prospective look at all of our international relations. Thank you.

Q. Congressman. Senator Edwards - We need to move on, we have a lot of ground that we want to cover. We could spend this whole hour talking about Haiti, and I think substantively so.

But we're a couple days away from possibly decisive Super Tuesday. There are any number of voters out there who are in the process of making up their minds. Is there any question that you can ask Senator Kerry, speaking directly to him, that you think is important for those voters who haven't made up their mind, in the process of making their mind, to draw him out on some difference between the two of you? Or are you in the position of saying, listen, it's late on and I'm pretty much playing for vice president now and I don't want to ask him a tough question?

MR. EDWARDS. Oh, no. Oh, no, no. Far from it. I think there are tough questions. Let me tell you what I think, first of all, the fundamental difference is between John Kerry and myself. And then I'll ask him a question if you'd like me to do that directly.

The fundamental issue in this election is whether the people of this country believe that we're going to get change that originates in Washington or change that has to come from out here in the real world. And the differences between us on this - I have multiple examples, I'll just give you one - John Kerry has said he and I are in the same position, we have basically the same position on trade. That's not true. We have a very different record on trade.

But more importantly, my approach to trade is fundamentally different than his. What he has suggested is that when he becomes president he'll set up a committee to study, for 120 days, our trade agreements to see what needs to be done.

Now in the real world, in Ohio, if you live in Ohio and you lose your job during that 120 days, think about that, what you're going to say to a family that's lost their job because of bad trade agreements is don't worry, we've got a Washington committee that studying this for you.

I mean what we should - we know what's wrong with these trade agreements. They need to be changed. The president of the United States needs to be willing to change them.

Q. Senator Edwards, could I just ask if you lose all 10 primaries on Tuesday are you still in this race?

MR. EDWARDS. Yes, ma'am. I'm going to be the nominee.

Q. Why?

MR. EDWARDS. Why? Because the American people deserve this choice. And we are a very different choice for the reasons that we just talked about.

Q. I'd like to hear you question Senator Kerry.

MR. EDWARDS. My question is do you believe we're going to change this country out of Washington, D.C.?

MR. KERRY. Yes, because that's where the Congress of the United States is and that's where 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is. And the answer is we're going to need a president who has the experience and the proven ability - proven ability - to be able to stand up and take on tough fights.

Now I just listened to John talk about Washington, D.C. Last time I looked, John ran for the United States Senate and he's been in the Senate for the last five years. That seems to me to be Washington, D.C.

Secondly, when he tried to say there's a difference between us on trade just now, he said there's a difference in the record versus what we're going to do. That's not what people are looking for.

On the record I have consistently fought to put in the trade agreements enforceable measures that allow us to stand up and fight for workers - in the China trade agreement, which incidentally, John voted for. We have anti-surge, anti-dumping provisions. The president hasn't enforced them.

Moreover, John has just misrepresented the position that I've taken. I am not only going to have a 120-day review of every trade agreement so that we have smart, thoughtful people look and see what's working and what isn't working, but he knows very well that I have also pledged for a number of years that we should have no trade agreement that does not also have labor and environment standards contained within it. Now that's exactly the same position he has.

Q. Senator, you look nervous over here when you hear this.

MR. EDWARDS. Oh, no. He is dead wrong. Dead wrong. If you look at - I mean it's all fine to say going forward this is what I'm going to do, but what you've done in the past should give some indication to the American people about what you're in fact going to do.

Let me just give you some differences between us on the record. I mean there's no way to dispute this. First, I voted against final fast-track authority for this president to continue to negotiate these trade agreements; he voted for it. I voted against the Singapore trade agreement; he supported it. I voted against the Chilean trade agreement; he supported it. I voted against the African trade agreement; he supported it. I voted against the Caribbean trade agreement; he supported it. It's just simply not the truth -

Q. Pretty strong indictment ...

MR. EDWARDS. Let me finish, Dan -

MR. KERRY. No, it's actually not if you analyze it.

MR. EDWARDS. If you'll allow me to finish. These are great arguments about what he intends to do going forward. But it's similar - for example, Senator Kerry has consistently said that he can pay for all the things that he's proposing and substantially reduce the deficit, I think I've heard him say cut it in half, in his first term.

MR. KERRY. Correct.

MR. EDWARDS. Well The Washington Post today just analyzed his proposals and it's the same old thing. Here we go again. In fact, he overspends in terms of being able to pay for all of his proposals, he overspends by $165 billion in his first term. Which means he would drive us deeper and deeper into deficit. This is - my point is very simple about all of this: This is the same old Washington talk that people have been listening to for decades. They want something different, Dan.

Q. Let me give Senator Kerry a chance to respond -

MR. KUCINICH. Dan, let's talk about the same old Washington talk -

MR. KERRY. Wait, wait. Can I respond, Dennis? Let me -

MR. KUCINICH. No. This is my turn. And I'm saying that we can talk about the same old Washington talk, with all due respect, John, you told The New York Times that Nafta should exist. And I think that Nafta should not exist.

Now when we're going back to what - both Senator Kerry and you have a good background in the law. Senator Kerry, you knew full well that when Nafta was passed and when the W.T.O. passed that it was written specifically so as not to provide for workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles. It's kind of like crying crocodile tears for workers after millions of jobs have been lost in this country to say, well, we're going to fix it. The fact of the matter is the W.T.O. does not permit any modification. It was written that way. And so I've said as president I will cancel Nafta and the W.T.O. and go back to bilateral trade, which will save those jobs -

Q. Let's give Senator Kerry a chance to respond, briefly. We need to move on and bring in Reverend Sharpton as well.

MR. KERRY. Thank you, Dan. Well, yeah, we need to go on, but these are central issues. And John has just made some very important statements and I want to respond to them.

I think John would have learned by now not to believe everything he reads in a newspaper. And he should do his homework because the fact is that what's printed in The Washington Post today is inaccurate.

A deficit, a stimulus is by definition something that you do outside of the budget for one year or two years. The Washington Post included the stimulus when they figured the numbers. The stimulus is what you do to kick the economy into gear so that you can reduce the deficit.

Secondly, they did not include the reduction of the $139 billion of the Medicare bill, which I have said I am sending back to Congress because it's a bad bill. I voted against it. It's bad.

Now when you add up my stimulus that's outside of the budget and the Medicare numbers that they didn't even include, you do not go over, I do not spend more.

Q. Senator Kerry -

MR. KERRY. No, I insist on being able to finish.

Q. I want to ask a really important question here -

MR. KERRY. This is important.

Q. We're all arguing -

MR. SHARPTON. ... Wait a minute, if we're going to have a discussion just between two, in your arrogance you can try that. But that's one of the reasons we're running. We're going to have delegates so that you can't just limit the discussion. And I think that your attempts to do this is blatant and I'm going to call you out on it because I'm not going to sit here and be ...

Q. Well I'm not going to be addressed like this.

MR. SHARPTON. Well then let all of us speak. You said that I could state next. What I wanted to say on this issue -

MR. KERRY. Al, ... finish.

MR. SHARPTON. I'm going to let him finish. But I want to be, I want us to be able to respond. Or then tell us you want a two-way debate.

Q. Here's the way we're playing this. Certainly want to hear. I think you will agree the voters have spoken.

MR. SHARPTON. No, the voters have not spoken. We've only had - He's won one primary. He's come in fourth seven times. What you're trying to do is decide for the voters how we go forward. The voters need to hear this morning from four candidates. Or say the media now is going to select candidates.

Q. Reverend, we've heard from you and we're going to hear from you. I don't understand what the argument is.

MR. SHARPTON. I had to fight to speak on Haiti. I had to fight to speak on trade. You've got a guy with one primary that you're pretending he's Gary Hart. Gary Hart won more primaries than Mondale. Let's have an open debate in going to Super Tuesday. Or say that you guys want to decide the nominee.

Q. Reverend, debate them, not me.

MR. SHARPTON. If I get time I would love to do that.

Q. You've been on but the clock's been running on you.


Q. I want to hear what you have to say about what -

MR. KERRY. Can I just finish?

Q. Finish what you have to say, Senator, and then we're going to go to Reverend Sharpton.

MR. KERRY. On trade. On trade there is no difference between what John Edwards would do today and what I would do today. And to listen to John try to carve out this, what I think is sort of a protectionist point of view in the past, actually is not documented by the record.

John Edwards has been in the Senate for five years. He's talked more in the last five weeks about trade than he has in the entire five years. The fact is that he didn't vote in the 1994 election when he had a chance to vote about trade. He didn't talk about it, against it, in his election in 1998 when he ran for the Senate. And he went to The New York Times last week and said that he thought that Nafta in fact was good for the prosperity of our country.

Q. Senator, I'm going to call time.

MR. KERRY. Now I think you have to be consistent in this ...

MR. EDWARDS. After Reverend Sharpton speaks, I deserve to respond to that.

Q. Reverend Sharpton?

MR. SHARPTON. I think that, again, Nafta and the W.T.O. were wrong from its beginning. You cannot change it. You must rescind it. It has cost thousands upon thousands of jobs. We talk about it being a patriotic thing to protect American businesses, but what we call protection isn't protecting American workers.

I think there are a lot of differences among us. I think clearly Mr. Kerry and Mr. Edwards voted for the war. They support trade agreements. They supported what I think is the most anti-civil-rights act of our time, the Patriot Act.

But I also think that that's why we have a convention, that's why we have delegates, that's why we'll come to a consensus and have a candidate to beat Bush. But as long as we try to stifle the discussion, it feeds into the Ralph Naders of the world to say the only way to deal with this is to leave the party.

Q. Senator Edwards, didn't you tell The New York Times editorial board last week that your plan would not in fact significantly cut the export of jobs?

MR. EDWARDS. No. What I said was we need a trade policy in this country that works for American workers, that allows them to compete.

I want to go back to something that Senator Kerry -

Q. Before you do, though, are you stating flatly now that your Nafta proposal would stem the flight of jobs abroad? And by how much?

MR. EDWARDS. I think it - Not just Nafta, I think that all our trade policy can have a significant impact on the outflow of jobs. Plus our outsourcing policy. Taking away, for example -

Q. Can you quantify it somehow?

MR. EDWARDS. No, of course not. There's no way to do that. What we know is there are millions of jobs leaving, millions of jobs leaving this country, we need a trade policy and a tax policy that allows American workers to be competitive.

But you've got to give me just, at least 60 seconds to respond to what Senator Kerry - the suggestion, the suggestion that I came late to this. I want to say to Senator Kerry, I have lived with this my entire life. I saw what happened when the mill in my hometown closed that my own father worked in.

I respect your - you have a right to have a different view than I do. But to suggest for a moment that this is not personal to me -

MR. KERRY. I never said that.

MR. EDWARDS. Excuse me. If you'll let me finish. I have lived with this my entire - I have seen the effect, not just on the economy, but on the families who are involved when families lose jobs. This is something I take very seriously and very personally. And there is in fact a significant difference between us on our records.

Q. Can I just change the topic for a minute? Just ask a plain political question? The National Journal, a respected nonideologic publication covering Congress as you both know, has just rated you, Senator Kerry, No. 1, the most liberal senator in the Senate. You're No. 4. How can you hope to win with this kind of characterization in this climate?

MR. KERRY. Because it's a laughable characterization. It's absolutely the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life.

Q. Are you a liberal?

MR. KERRY. Let me just go to -

Q. Are you a liberal?

MR. KERRY. Please, come to the characterization. I mean, look, labels are so silly in American politics. I was one of the first Democrats in the United States Senate in 1985 to join with Fritz Hollings in deficit reduction. Now does that make me a conservative? I fought to put 100,000 police officers in the streets of America. Am I a conservative?

Q. But Senator Kerry, the question is -

MR. KERRY. Just a minute. You don't let us finish answering questions.

Q. You're in New York.

MR. KERRY. Well, I'm going to fight for it. That's exactly what I'm going to do, I'm going to fight for it.
Do you know what they measured in that? First of all, they measured 62 votes. I've voted 37 times. Twenty-five votes they didn't even count because I wasn't there to vote for them.

Secondly. Secondly. They counted my voting against the Medicare bill, which is a terrible bill for seniors in America, they call that being liberal. Lots of conservatives voted against that. In addition, they counted my voting against George Bush's tax cut that we can't afford. I thought it was fiscally conservative to vote against George Bush's tax cut. They call it liberal.

Q. Is this a helpful characterization in this campaign?

MR. KERRY. I think it's the silliest thing I've ever heard of.

MR. KUCINICH. Let me answer directly. I'm liberal and I'm co-chair of the progressive caucus in the United States Congress. And as such, I stand for a full-employment economy, universal health care, protection of Social Security, canceling Nafta and the W.T.O., creating a department of peace. These are the kinds of things that relate to creating a sustainable society where people can have peace and prosperity simultaneously.

Q. Congressman, do you consider Senator Kerry a liberal by your definition?

MR. KUCINICH. I think it's important to hear how the senator describes himself, really.

Q. But my question is how do you describe him? Is he a liberal?

MR. KUCINICH. I don't think so because he voted for the war, he voted for the Patriot Act, he supported Nafta and the W.T.O. I would say probably not.

Q. Reverend Sharpton, do you consider Senator Kerry a liberal?

MR. SHARPTON. No. I think that anyone, if you want to use George Bush as the definition of conservative, most of
America's liberal now because most of America will vote against Bush. So in that broad definition, he is. But I think that compared to some of us, no. I think that we've made ourselves clear on that. But I don't think - liberal's going to lose its dirty name in 2004 because George Bush has so let down what conservative, I remember when conservatives were respectable.

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