Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate in New York - Part 2

By:  Alfred Sharpton, Jr.
Date: Feb. 29, 2004
Location: New York, NY

Q. Senator Edwards?

MR. EDWARDS. May I respond just to this question, Dan.

Q. Sure.

MR. EDWARDS. Because all three have -

Q. I'm coming to you. Are you a liberal?

MR. EDWARDS. I don't believe anybody, this is actually a subject that John and I agree about, I don't think anybody in American cares about what some inside-Washington publication says about your ideology. What they care about is what are your values. Where do you come from? What do you believe in? And who are you fighting for? And do you understand the real world and the problems that people face every day in their life? That's what the people of the United States are looking for in a president.

This president does not understand what's going on in people's lives. He is completely out of touch. I wish he would do one day what the four of us do every single day, which is go out, campaign, conduct town hall meetings. Not ticketed events. Not where you make people pay $2,000 to get in the door. But actual real people and listening to what their problems are. This president does not know what's going on in the real world.

MR. KERRY. Dan, can I mention one other thing?

Q. If it's brief.

MR. KERRY. Well, I will be brief. But is this president a legitimate Republican or conservative? Because there's nothing conservative about driving deficits up as far as the eye can see. There's nothing conservative about trampling on the line of division between church and state in America. There is nothing conservative about letting your attorney general trample on civil liberties and civil rights, and be twice cited by his own inspector general for doing so. This administration is extreme. And I believe we're offering America mainstream American values.

Q. If you will, and Andrew has a question, I want to get to it, but let me pick up on that and what Senator Edwards said. The new, the latest poll I've seen shows that a combination, that a Kerry-Edwards ticket or an Edwards-Kerry ticket would at this moment get more votes than a Bush-Cheney ticket. Would be stronger than either one of you, Senator Kerry or Senator Edwards, running alone, and Reverend Sharpton, with you or the congressman on it. My question is, Senator Kerry, are you prepared here and now to say if you get the nomination you'll run with John Edwards and that's a strong ticket?

MR. KERRY. No. And I don't think John Edwards would be prepared to say that he would necessarily run with me.

Q. Would you, Senator Edwards?

MR. EDWARDS. There's no way to say that. We're still -

MR. KERRY. We're vying for the nomination.

MR. EDWARDS. We're still in a fight for the nomination.

MR. KUCINICH. And let me say why neither Senator Kerry nor my good friend, Senator Edwards, would be appropriate as nominees. Because they supported the president on the war. They said they were weapons of mass destruction, which you actually embroidered, Senator Kerry. And you know what? Think of the 2004 debate standing next to President Bush where he says: Look, I said there were weapons. Senator, you said there were weapons. I was for the war. You supported the war. I was for the occupation. You supported the occupation. And Senator, thank you, you want to send more troops to the Armed Services.

You know what? I'm in the best position to challenge this president because the war should be the singular issue. They lied to get the American people to accept the war. We have 130,000 troops there who are still at risk. We spent over $200 billion of money that's needed for our domestic agenda. Over 10,000 Iraqis have lost their lives. I mean this war ought to be the single issue. And frankly, John -

Q. Let me ask a question about -

... [all speaking at once] ...

Q. Go ahead. You're having to work to get in.

Q. Thank you. Tough crowd. Senator Edwards, through the campaign and again this morning you have spoken very eloquently and movingly about the fight against the rich and the powerful on behalf of the working class. And yet you yourself are rich and powerful. You are worth upwards of $36 million. You have a $4-million in Georgetown, a $1-million beach house in North Carolina, a $1-million home in Raleigh. Do you think your supporters know that you live this way?

MR. EDWARDS. Well first of all, in fairness, if you're going to list our assets I hope you'll list John Kerry's too, because he's got a lot more than I've got.

?. [inaudible]

MR. EDWARDS. Here's the truth. The truth is that I come from the same place most Americans have come from. I grew up in a family where my father worked in the mill, working - not - didn't make me any different from most people in this country. I mean he worked hard, he had a high school education. I was the first person in my family to go to college -

Q. But they've heard that part. But have they heard the other part is my question.

MR. KUCINICH. Why should that disqualify him? I mean that's crazy. You know what? He has spoken -

MR. EDWARDS. I'm sorry. Will you just -

MR. KUCINICH. John, let me defend you on this. Because I'm saying that the fact that he's speaking about these issues relating to two Americas, that there's poverty in this country and those issues ought to be addressed, I'm glad you're talking about it, John.

MR. SHARPTON. And I am too. But I think, Andrew, the point is - I'm going to let you finish. I think the point is, though, the reason I say there's more than two Americas is because he could come from there to where he is, and many of us can't because of other obstacles.

MR. EDWARDS. That's absolutely true.

MR. SHARPTON. Because of race, because of sex - because of sexual orientation. So the reason I disagree with just two Americas is he could go from a mill to $36 million, many people can't do it. And I might add there was nothing more biased in the South than some of those mill towns, where some of us couldn't even work in the mills. So I think that his story should be told, but it should be told in the broader context of why everyone can't have the same kind of achievement.

... [all speaking] ...

MR. EDWARDS. I got interrupted because Dennis was defending me -

Q. I will give you the turn. I just want to remind you of the question that I - Do you think your supporters know you live this way?

MR. EDWARDS. Yes, sir. I think that most of them do. They know I've done very well. And the truth is this, let me just put this in the simplest terms I know how, I come from the same place that most Americans come from. I am running for president of the United States so that millions of Americans get the same chances that I've had. I mean it's just that simple.

And Al Sharpton is completely right about one thing - this is not just wealth and class, it's race, we have two health care systems, we have two public school systems, we have two governments, one for the insiders and the lobbyists and one for everybody else.

What this is about for me in its simplest terms is trying to make sure that other Americans get the same chance that I've had. I don't want to see us, those of us who've had the great luck to have done pretty well in this country, to pull the ladder up behind us. We want to make it available to more people, no matter where they live, who their family is or what the color of their skin is.

Q. Senator, Senator, let's move this around the world to Iraq for just a minute.

MR. KERRY. Can we also move it around the table?

Q. I'll ask you and then I'll ask the Reverend Sharpton. As you know, Iraq is to begin ruling itself on June 30 when the U.S. is transferring authority. Now, there's a lot of people in Washington and Baghdad who are saying this is a completely set on a political timetable at the convenience for President Bush. Should we put off the June 30 transfer? Short answer.

MR. KERRY. I think the transfer should depend entirely on the ability to guarantee a stable Iraq. It should not be set arbitrarily, certainly not by an election date. What is critical is that you have -

Q. Is that a yes or a no?

MR. KERRY. Obviously.

Q. It's a what?

MR. KERRY. You should put it off it it's needed to be put off. If it's not - I mean, look, if the date works, terrific. But the test is not a date; the test is the stability and viability of Iraq.

Q. Reverend Sharpton, what do -

MR. KERRY. And what is critical -

MR. SHARPTON. I think the date is set for political reasons. If it, by some miracle - and I don't foresee it - that we could see a stabilized enough situation to meet the date, we should do it. But I don't see how we can do it.

I think - I am part of those that think that this was set time for the '04 election, time so George Bush would hit the trail in the fall saying that they're already in self-government and try to take it off the table. I think that we cannot take Iraq off the table. I think the president is misleading the country and those that support it is misleading it while hundreds of thousands of us march. Must be a central issue in the fall campaign.

Q. Senator Edwards.

MR. EDWARDS. I think, first of all, I think the date has now been embraced by the United Nations. The key to this is that there be legitimacy. There will not be legitimacy as long as this, to the Iraqis, has the stamp: Made in America. This has to be changed. And in order for it to be changed, the United Nations has to be involved in setting up this provisional government. That way it will be more acceptable to the Iraqi people, more acceptable to the rest of the world.

Q. Senator Edwards -

MR. EDWARDS. The administration, by the way, Bush administration is completely responsible for us being in this place. They have squandered -

Q. I want to be fair here -

MR. EDWARDS. - they have squandered our credibility around the world, which is why we're in this place.

Q. If I may, just before you answer, let me remind people who may have just tuned in, we are just past the halfway mark, we're roughly 33 and a half minutes into an hour program here with the four remaining contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Now, Congressman, the question is whether you think that date should be postponed. Thank you.

MR. KUCINICH. Well, I'd say that the date is not as significant as the fact that the United States wants to maintain control over the oil assets of Iraq, wants to privatize Iraq, run the contracts in Iraq and continue an occupation of Iraq. See, that's the key issue because you have 130,000 troops there, you have all kinds of families who are wondering when are my sons and daughters, mothers and fathers going to come home. And you know what? I've been the only one up here throughout this whole campaign to talk about a specific plan for withdrawal. We have to find a way to bring U.N. peacekeepers in and to bring our troops home. And that's what we ought to be talking about here. I mean, it would be good to hear it from Senator Kerry, who the other day said that there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, and that we're in there for the long haul. It'd be good for you to tell the American people, what are you going to do with those other 40,000 troops you say you're going to bring in the first 100 days? And also, are you going to have a draft? Are you going to get us out of Iraq or are you going to be the Democratic version of the Republican war that you voted for?

MR. KERRY. No, I'm not going to have a draft. Yes, I will get us out of Iraq.


MR. KERRY. None of those troops are going to Iraq, that I've talked about, that 40,000. That is a reflection of the fact that our military is extraordinarily overextended. Our guards and reserves have been turned into almost active duty. When we bring the rotation of these divisions back on course in the spring, we'll only have two divisions actively prepared to do what we need to do in our country.

MR. KUCINICH. How are you going to get another 40,000 of our troops there, John?

MR. KERRY. Now - wait a second and I'll tell you. Dennis, I laid out - I was one of the - I think I was the first United States senator to stand up and lay out a very specific plan for how you approach the rest of the world and bring them to table with respect to Iraq. And the way - you can't just cut and run, Dennis.

MR. KUCINICH. Well, I've never suggested that, John.

MR. KERRY. And no Democratic - as well - then you've adopted my plan because -

MR. KUCINICH. No, John, I've -

MR. KERRY. - my plan -

Q. Let me help you because I've got one more personal -

MR. KERRY. Let me -

Q. - question about Iraq and funerals. Can I, let me just ask that because if you -

MR. KERRY. But - but wait a minute, we actually have an issue that's on the table here and I'd like to finish it.

Q. Can you do it quickly?

MR. KERRY. There is a better way to do what George Bush is doing, which is to bring the international community in. He refuses to share responsibility in the reconstruction, he refuses to share responsibility for the decision making of the transformation of the country. And both of those are prerequisites to being able to get other countries to share in the responsibility.

Q. O.K. -

MR. KERRY. And what is incredible is that all of Europe has a huge interest in not having Iraq as a failed state on its doorstep. All of the Arab countries have a huge interest in not having a failed Iraq as their neighbor.

Q. Let me, O.K. -

MR. KERRY. And notwithstanding -

Q. Senator -

MR. KERRY. - the president has none of them legitimately involved.

Q. Thank you. Thank you. Here's the question: As you all know, more than 500 American men and women have died in Iraq, and the president has been criticized for not attending a single funeral. Now the argument of the White House is that you can't attend one without attending them all.

MR. KERRY. I disagree with that.

Q. What would you do?

MR. KERRY. That is just profoundly wrong. I talked to a number of families, many families and those families have said to me, you know, we haven't really heard from the president or anybody. Why can't you make phone calls to those families?

Q. How can you go to 500 funerals and be president?

MR. KERRY. You don't go to 500 funerals, but you can certainly say to people, and it shows respect to all the families, if you pick a funeral, go to that funeral and then - you know what else they're not doing?

MR. SHARPTON. Or reach out to the families.

MR. KERRY. Let me just finish.

Q. The president does do that. The president does do that.

MR. SHARPTON. I preached one of the funerals - I preached one of the funerals of one of the young men killed, Darius Jennings[sp?]. It's not about going to all of the funerals; it's showing compassion. These people lost their lives in the service of this country.

The real question, though, is why they lost their lives in the first place. And that's why I say we've got to debate out in this party. There were those that supported the president doing that. You can't give a man a blank check and then go back and ask how come there's no money in the account. You gave him a blank check, he used it.

MR. KUCINICH. There's one point that's being missed here and the point that's being missed is we should be taking action to make sure there are no funerals.

MR. SHARPTON. That's correct.

MR. KUCINICH. We should be bring our troops home.

Q. O.K., fair enough, fair enough. O.K., Andrew, you have a question.

Q. Senator Edwards -

MR. KERRY. They're also not allowing those caskets to be viewed when they come into Dover Air Force Base and that's wrong.

Q. Do you think they should be photographed when they come back?

MR. KERRY. I think you should give them full honors when they return to the United States.

Q. Fair enough, fair enough. Senator Edwards, one of the main issues of the general election is going to be whether the president can keep you safe. There has not been a terrorist attack on United States soil for two and a half years, since the destruction of the World Trade Center. Now is that just luck or can you credit President Bush with that?

MR. EDWARDS. Oh, I think - first of all, I don't credit the president. I think there are a number of things that the administration and the Congress have done that have moved the country in the right direction for keeping the American people safe. We have not done enough. There are a whole group of things that need to be done to keep the American people safe. Look -

Q. Has George Bush kept the country safe, in your opinion?

MR. EDWARDS. No, that's what I'm trying to tell you. I think there are a whole group of things that we need to do in addition to what's being done now. For example, better job in our ports. We have thousands of containers coming in every day. We inspect 4 or 5 percent of them. All the experts tell us if we don't inspect at least 10 to 20 percent, it's very difficult to have a deterrent effect.

We have nuclear and chemical plants that are extraordinarily vulnerable. But by the way, this is a perfect example of Bush being married to special interests because the chemical industry, what happened was they recognized the problem that I recognized, and others, about the vulnerability of chemical plants. We have over 100 -

Q. Put yourself in the place -

MR. EDWARDS. But you just asked - you just asked me -

Q. O.K., we have limited time so -

MR. EDWARDS. - what he's not doing and you have to at least -

Q. - I wanted to try to move it along if we could.

MR. EDWARDS. - let me finish. You'll let me finish this please. This is a perfect example of what this administration does.
We have chemical plants, over 100, any one of which, if they were attacked, could cost a million lives or more. We, all of us, recognized this was a problem. We wanted to take action. The chemical industry pushed back, lobbied against it and the Bush administration caved. Now here's -

Q. With all due respect - with all due respect, Senator, I'm trying to get to the bottom line of my question, though, which is -

MR. EDWARDS. Yes, sir.

Q. - which is that the typical American, when he or she goes to a voting booth in November, has got to make a bottom-line decision: Who is going to keep me safe? Now you've got Bush in the White House already or a one-term senator who doesn't have that much foreign policy experience. No. 1, how do you convince that person that you can keep them as safe or safer than Bush? And No. 2, would you consider running with a running mate, perhaps, who has more foreign policy credentials than you do to make up for that deficiency?

MR. EDWARDS. First of all, there is no deficiency. The issue here is not the length of your rÀesumÀe. The issue is the strength of your vision, what it is you believe needs to be done to keep the American people safe, convincing them that - for example, when I have been campaigning around the country, I have consistently asked to groups of people: What would you do differently today than you would have done on Sept. 11 if the terrorist attack occurred in your community? People don't have a clue. They have no idea what they're supposed to do.

MR. KUCINICH. Well, there's another answer to -

MR. EDWARDS. Well, I'm sorry - excuse me, if I could - I'll finish, 30 seconds, I'll finish. But that's a perfect example of what's happening in the real world, not in Washington, in the real world. People do not know what needs to be done. They don't know how to respond if an attack occurs. They don't know in fact if an attack occurred in the middle of the night how they're going to find out about it.

Q. Reverend Sharpton.

MR. SHARPTON. I think that the first thing we've got to deal with, Andrew, on that question is we've got to finish investigating what happened in 9/11 to find out if the Bush administration could have done more to avoid that attack. I mean, maybe I missed something here, but that attack happened under George Bush. It didn't happen under someone else. So are you now suggesting that Bush's answer to Americans are: Be glad you're alive. I mean, I think that that is absurd. I think that we need to finish investigating what happened in 9/11. Could this administration have done more before we start giving them bouquets and talk about -

Q. It's an interesting point. It's an interesting - let me just pivot off of what Sharpton says. It's an interesting point. Do you agree with Wesley Clark that Bush didn't do enough to prevent the World Trade Center attacks?

MR. KERRY. I think we could have done - absolutely. We could have done more. No question about it. But we should have done more since then, too.

And let me just say something. We've spent - I mean this debate is now getting towards its end. We're in New York City. Fifty percent of the African-Americans in New York City are unemployed between the ages of 16 and 64. One of the thing the president could have done in order to make this city more safe, frankly, he's only given it one-tenth of the money that they need with respect to protection of water supply. He's cut $250 million for firefighters. They're cutting firefighters and closing fire houses. They're cutting the COPS program. There's a $5-to-6-billion deficit in the State of New York. The governor, therefore, has to either raise taxes or cut services. George Bush's priority: tax cuts for the wealthiest American. My priority: A $50-billion fund as a tax relief education fund, which is part of the stimulus, counted in my numbers -

Q. Senator Kerry, I have -

MR. KUCINICH. I want to answer the question directly. You haven't gotten a direct answer -

MR. KERRY. I'd like to finish -

MR. KUCINICH. - on this and I want to answer directly. This is about national security and you asked the question, essentially, are we safer? And I will submit to you we are not. We are not safer because we attacked a country that did not attack us and have created a resurgence of al Qaeda as a result. We are not safer because we don't know about 9/11 because the commission can't even get the information from the White House. We are not safer -

Q. Thank you, Congressman.

MR. KUCINICH. Excuse me, we are not safer because the president has a doctrine of unilateralism and preemption and is building new nuclear weapons, sending a signal to the rest of the world that they'd better watch out and follows up in saying you better get us first before we get you.

Q. Senator Kerry, I have a question about likability -

MR. KUCINICH. We're not safer.

Q. - likability. You know, even your Democratic fans say that the president beats you hands down on likability, which, like it or not, is a major factor in a television era. So what have you learned from your - one of your competitors, John Edwards about campaigning and what's important in a 2004 race?

MR. KERRY. Actually, Elisabeth, I learned if from the people who I've campaigned with all across the country. I learned it in Iowa and I learned it in New Hampshire. And I think the reason I've won 18 of 20 contests so far, and I'm now campaigning hard to win others, is that give me a living room, give me a barn, give me a V.F.W. hall, give me a one-on-one and I think I can talk to anybody in this country.

Q. Senator Edwards, what do you think of that?

MR. KERRY. And that is precisely what I'm doing today and precisely what I'm going to continue doing.

Q. If I may, Elisabeth, let me ask Senator Edwards the same question in a somewhat different way. I'm going to use a Texas expression here. We know -

MR. EDWARDS. I somehow knew this would happen.

Q. No, but, in understandable terms because we're dealing with something really important here. That is who is going to run against George Bush in November for the presidency of the United States? But we know that likability, as Ms. Bumiller says, is very important in a campaign, charisma, whatever you want to call it. Does Senator Kerry have enough Elvis to beat George Bush, enough excitement factor, enough charisma, enough likability?

MR. KERRY. Have you heard me play guitar and sing?

Q. You know what I'm talking about? And people in North Carolina and elsewhere will know what we're talking about when we say, does he have enough Elvis? Because when it gets down to November, a lot of people are going to vote on who they like the best, whether we want them to vote that way or not.

MR. EDWARDS. Yeah, I - I - well, let me answer your question directly. First of all, I know John Kerry, I like him very much. And he and I have known each other for years. Here's what I would say, though, in answer to both of your questions: I don't think this is a personality contest. I think what people are looking for in a president is somebody who, when they hear them speak, speaks their language, understands what their lives are like, shares their values. And people - I sometimes hear journalists say, well, you know the people who vote, they just don't understand the issues well enough. They don't understand the subtleties of the difference between you and John Kerry at the fourth level of tax policy. Well, here's the truth about that. The truth about that is the American people get it right. What they know is they know in their gut when somebody's telling them the truth. They have a radar for the truth. And they know who they can trust. They know whether you're honest and sincere and whether they can rely on you and trust you.

Q. Excuse me one second.

MR. EDWARDS. But that, I think - if I can just finish - that, I think, is the ultimate issue, when they look in your eyes, when they hear what you have to say, do they trust you and do they want you to be their president?

Q. Let me call time out for just one second because this is necessary. We are inside, roughly, the 13-minute mark here. And I have to do something that I wish I didn't have to do. I wish we had the rest of the afternoon to talk about it but we need to pick up the pace in these 13 minutes because there are any number of subjects that we have not covered. So let me, with your permission, change the subject very quickly. I do ask for brevity here. We'll try to work everybody in. But Senator Kerry, what's wrong with gay marriage?

MR. KERRY. I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a personal belief.

Q. But what's wrong with a man and a man committing to each other for life?

MR. KERRY. I think it's a distinction between what you believe the institution of marriage is. But what's important, Dan, is that you give people rights. I'm for rights, not for terminology or status - rights.

Q. But who does it hurt, Senator?

MR. KERRY. I think all - that's not the issue. The issue is -

Q. But that's the question.

MR. KERRY. - are we prepared to provide rights to all Americans so that they share the same rights as other people? Not the same terminology or status. I believe the right, the spousal rights, the right of inheritance, the right with respect to taxes, the right with respect to visitation in a hospital - I mean there are a whole series of rights - I'm for those rights being afforded to every single American without discrimination.

MR. KUCINICH. May I respond? May I respond?

Q. But who does it hurt, Senator.

MR. KUCINICH. First of all, I'm glad that Senator Kerry says he's for rights. I think it would be instructive to review the equal protection clause of the Constitution because I think that many Americans believe that equality of opportunity should not be denied on account of race, color, creed or sexual orientation. And so what we're really talking about is having people be able to avail themselves of the same protections of civil law that 1,047 different protections that people have who are married and to enable those privileges to be extended to everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

This is really about who we are, not just as a party, but as a nation. And we have to show a capacity to expand. And I think any of us who are up here should be willing to take a stand on behalf of those people who are about to be excluded by the president of the United States from the protection of legal -

MR. KERRY. I have taken a stand.

Q. I'm kind of curious, Senator Kerry, if one of your children came to you and said, first of all, I'm gay; second of all, I have met someone of the same gender that I want to marry, would you go to the wedding? Would you respect that relationship?

MR. KERRY. I've been to the wedding of somebody who has gotten married, who's gay. And I just happen to have a different opinion about what you call it and what the status is. But I believe they deserve all the rights, all the support, all the love, all the affection, all of the rights that the state can afford.

Q. Senator Kerry, let me ask -

Q. Were you uncomfortable -

MR. KERRY. That's why I am for civil union. That's why I am for partnership rights. That's why I'm for even the federal extension with respect to tax code and other rights.

Q. Reverend Sharpton, Reverend Sharpton?

MR. SHARPTON. Wait, I think that's states rights. I think you cannot have any civil or human rights left up to the states.

Q. So you're for a constitutional amendment.

MR. SHARPTON. I am for the constitutional right for human beings to decide what they want to do with human beings, which is why I think the likable thing is one issue here. It's not who runs against the president, it's what runs against the president.

Q. O.K., let me again keep going on -

MR. SHARPTON. And I think what must run against the president is the rights of American citizens to have fair and equal rights.

MR. EDWARDS. I agree. Can I just say this, John, everyone, how extraordinarily political what this president is doing is. I mean here - first of all, there's no issue -

Q. No, no, here's the question.

MR. EDWARDS. Yes, ma'am.

Q. Do you see a difference between gay rights and civil rights? Why is one right a federal right and the other one you're saying leave it to the states. What's the difference here?

MR. EDWARDS. Here's what I say, I say that the federal government plays an important role in civil rights and in gay rights. I believe the federal government should recognize what the state, who has forever now decided what constitutes marriage. But we're talking -

Q. Why is there a different standard here?

MR. EDWARDS. But wait a second, wait a second. We're talking about what the definition of marriage is, which is something that has always been decided by states, not rights. See, this is one place that, actually, Senator Kerry and I largely agree. If we're talking about a bundle of rights with - what rights you'd get under federal law for partners, the problems with adoption, the problems with -

MR. SHARPTON. But they used to say that blacks were three-fifths of a human. What do you mean? Are gays and lesbians human or not?

MR. EDWARDS. Of course they're human.

MR. SHARPTON. Well, why can't they have the same human -

Q. And, well, let me - I hate to ask this question because I never get an answer, but what is the difference between a gay marriage and a gay civil union when you have heterosexuals getting married at city hall and there's no religion involved and it's called a civil ceremony? What is the difference?

MR. SHARPTON. They say you can shack up, just don't get married, that's the difference.

Q. If I may, we need to move on.

Q. But why - an answer, an answer?

MR. EDWARDS. The answer is I believe that gay and lesbian couples should be respects. I think they're entitled to rights. And that's what I think the role - I think -

Q. But you just can't call it marriage.

MR. EDWARDS. I believe it's for the states to decide that.

Q. Gentleman, we're at 11:51 Eastern Time. We are all going to get criticized if we don't move to at least some foreign policy questions. Senator Kerry -

MR. KERRY. What about the economy, health care, education?

MR. SHARPTON. How about -

Q. I wish we had another three hours. Here's the question -

MR. KERRY. I thought we were talking about -

Q. I want to talk about North Korea. You're president of the United States and you get information, absolutely unequivocal information, that the North Koreans, not only do they have nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver those nuclear weapons, but that they are real and present threats to Japan and some of their other neighbors. Are you prepared, under those circumstances, to move and move decisively with American military power?

MR. KERRY. Of course I'd do whatever is necessary to protect the security of the United States of America. Bill Clinton moved quite authoritatively when the straits of Taiwan were being threatened by China. I would do the same thing.

But here is what is important with respect to North Korea. I believe that between China, Japan and South Korea and our own interests, and the state of the economy in North Korea and their own interests there is a deal to be struck. And what is quite extraordinary is that this administration did not follow up on the extraordinary work of Bill Perry, of Bill Clinton - President Clinton - and the work that they did to actually get inspectors and television cameras into the Pyongyang[sp?] reactor. Now they're gone. This administration has made the world less safe because they were unwilling to continue that dialogue.

I will go back immediately to that dialogue and I believe we can avoid the very situation -

Q. But Senator Kerry -

MR. KERRY. - you describe.

Q. - they did - they did make some progress this weekend in those talks. How can you -

MR. KERRY. Yeah, but, Elisabeth, let me tell you something. The progress is so minimal, it is so slow and it's begrudging. And they are not doing the kind of direct, head-to-head negotiations - and I have said that I would put all the issues of the peninsula on the table, not just the nuclear issue but the economic, the human rights, the deployment of forces. There are major issues -

Q. Senator Edwards, is this talking the question to death? And as president, would you be prepared to commit American military power to subdue North Korea under the circumstance I outlined?

MR. EDWARDS. I would never take that option off the table. I think the starting place, the starting place is - first of all, the negotiations that have just taken place, and John mentioned all of the countries that - Russia, in addition to that - that were participating in these discussions. We need - we need all these countries involved.

But the problem is we weren't leading the discussions.

MR. KERRY. That's right.

MR. EDWARDS. We were sitting in the background. The South Koreans were making proposals. Others were making proposals. We weren't leading.

The reality is that this is a serious, serious threat. They have allowed this to get to crisis situation. I said that at the very beginning about the whole problem with Haiti. This is a pattern. This is not an isolated incident; this is a pattern. Now we're in crisis and now they're doing something.

But why was Colin Powell not there? Why were we not seriously leading these negotiations? What we need is we need to demand that they stop their nuclear weapons program. We need to have absolute ability to verify that that's occurred. And we need to be willing to give something in return.

MR. KUCINICH. In order to have credibility - in order to have credibility we should be canceling our nuclear programs. We're building new nuclear weapons. How can we tell North Korea, you shouldn't have a nuclear program when we -

Q. I'm sorry I have to call it television time -

MR. KUCINICH. Dan, we have to work for nuclear non-proliferation, nuclear abolition. And as president, I would meet with the leader of North Korea and assure him that we mean North Korea no harm. He can put away his weapons. We need to do that with the whole world.

Q. Congressman, what I need to do is to point out that we need a two-minute drill here now. We're inside the two-minute mark, if we can have a two-minute drill please.

The fence or wall in the Middle East. The Israelis say it's a fence, the Palestinians call it a wall. Senator Kerry, what do you call it?

MR. KERRY. A fence necessary to the security of Israel until they have a partner to be able to negotiate.

Q. Reverend Sharpton?

MR. SHARPTON. I think it's a fence but I think that we must keep Palestinian rights in mind. And I think it will not work unless we have cooperation of all sides and we not, in any way, shape or form, have an unbalanced Middle East policy that we've had so far.

Q. Fence or a wall?

MR. EDWARDS. It is a fence, but it's - symbolically and in reality there are only a few miles of it that are made of concrete and the Israelis have the right to protect themselves. And I agree that until we get to the place that they have a real partner, which America has to play an enormous role in, they're entitled to build this fence.

Q. Congressman?

MR. KUCINICH. When Israel builds something on its territory, it's a fence; but when they build something on the Palestinians' territory, it's a wall. And I think that we need to help bring the parties together for peaceful coexistence and restart the peace talks.

Q. I'm going to keep in mind - I want you to keep in mind we have about a minute 15. Ms. Bumiller.

Q. Really fast, last, on a Sunday morning, President Bush has said that freedom and fear have always been at war and God is not neutral between them. He's made quite clear in these speeches that he feels God is on America's side. Really quick: Is
God on America's side?

MR. KERRY. Well, God will - look, I think - I believe in God. That I don't believe, the way President Bush does, in invoking it all the time in that way. I think it is - we pray that God is on our side and we pray hard. And God has been on our side through most of our existence.

Q. Senator?

MR. EDWARDS. Well, there's a wonderful story about Abraham Lincoln during the middle of the Civil War bringing in a group of leaders and at the end of the meeting one of the leaders said, Mr. President, can we pray, can we please join in prayer that God is on our side? And Abraham Lincoln's response was, I won't join you in that prayer, but I'll join you in a prayer that we're on God's side.

MR. SHARPTON. And I think that's the point.

Q. Reverend Sharpton?

MR. SHARPTON. I think it's important we're on God's side, as I said earlier, that we bless America. But I also think we've got to heal this president from feeling like he and America is the same thing. God is on America's side. That does not mean he supports what George Bush is doing -

Q. Fifteen seconds.

MR. SHARPTON. - with America.

MR. KUCINICH. We need to break - we need to break the spell of fear which is over this country. Remember where we come from as a country. When Francis Scott Key wrote that "Star-Spangled Banner" he made the connection when he said, "Does that star-spangled banner yet wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave?" the connection between democracy and courage? I would call out the courage of the American people and defend our rights, cancel the Patriot Act, reestablish the fullness of our democracy.

Q. Congressman and senators, reverend, our time is up. We want to thank the Democratic candidates for president, all of you, for joining us here today and participating in this kind of discussion. Senator John Kerry, Senator John Edwards, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the Reverend Al Sharpton. President James Madison once said, a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with knowledge. We hope we've added some of that this morning. Thank you all very much.

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