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Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate


Location: Las Vegas, NV

MR. WILLIAMS: As we sit here this, as may you may know, is the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. Race was one of the issues we expected to discuss here tonight. Our sponsors expected it of us. No one, however, expected it to be quite so prominent in this race as it has been over the last 10 days.

We needn't go back over all that has happened, except to say that this discussion, before it was over, involved Dr. King, President Johnson, even Sidney Poitier, several members of Congress and a prominent African-American businessman, supporting Senator Clinton, who made what seemed to be a reference to a part of Senator Obama's teenage past that the senator himself has written about in his autobiography.

The question to begin with here tonight, Senator Clinton, is, how did we get here?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think that what's most important is that Senator Obama and I agree completely that, you know, neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign.

It is Dr. King's birthday. The three of us are here in large measure because his dreams have been realized: you know, John, who is, as we know, a son of a mill worker and, you know, really has become an extraordinary success; Senator Obama, who has such an inspirational and profound story to tell America and the world; I, as a woman who is also beneficiary of the civil rights movement and the women's movement and the human rights movement. And the Democratic Party has always been in the forefront of that.

So I very much appreciate what Senator Obama and I did yesterday, which is that we both have exuberant and sometimes uncontrollable supporters, that we need to get this campaign where it should be.

And we're all family in the Democratic Party. We are so different from the Republicans on all of these issues, in every way that affects the future of the people that we care so much about.

So I think that it's appropriate on Dr. King's birthday, his actual birthday, to recognize that all of us are here as the result of what he did, all of the sacrifice, including giving his life, along with so many of the other icons that we honor. But I know that Senator Obama and I share a very strong commitment to making sure that this campaign is about us as individuals.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, in terms of accountability, you told me on Sunday morning, "Any time anyone has said anything that I thought was out of bounds, they're gone. I've gotten rid of them." Shortly thereafter, that same afternoon, Robert Johnson, at your event, said, quote, "When Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that -- I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book" -- widely viewed as a reference to Senator Obama's "Dreams from My Father," from 1995, where he talked about his drug use as a teenager. Will you now not allow Robert Johnson to participate in any of your campaign events because of that conduct?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Bob has put out a statement saying what he was trying to say and what he thought he had said. We accept him on his word on that.

But clearly we want to send a very clear message to everybody that this campaign is too important for us to either get diverted or frankly get the message of what we want to do for our country subverted by any kind of statements or claims that are just not part of who I am or who Barack or John are, because I think what's critical here is that the American people understand clearly what is at stake in this election.

The stakes are really high, and there's an urgent need for leadership on a range of issues, you know, some of which are now becoming, right here in front of us, about whether or not people are going to be able to keep their homes in Nevada, whether they're going to have jobs.

You know, I went door to door in Las Vegas last week and, you know, I met construction workers who've been laid off. I met a casino employee who's already been laid off. So what people talk to me about is not what somebody they never heard of said but what we say, what we're for, what we're standing for and what we're going to be pushing for. So I accept what he said, but I think what's important is what I say and what each of us says about the kind of president we intend to be and how we're going to get there.

MR. RUSSERT: Were his comments out of bounds?

SEN. CLINTON: Yes, they were, and he has said that.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, your husband said that Senator Obama very well could be the nominee; he could win. With that in mind, when you say that Senator Obama is raising false hopes and you refuse to say whether he's ready to be president, what are the consequences of those comments in the fall against the Republican?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, we're in a hard-fought primary season. I think each of us recognize that.

You know, we're the survivors of what has been a yearlong campaign, but I certainly have the highest regard for both Senator Obama and Senator Edwards. I've worked with them. I have, you know, supported them in their previous runs for office. There's no doubt that when we have a nominee, we're going to have a totally unified Democratic Party.

The issue for the voters here in Nevada, South Carolina and then all of the states to come is who is ready on day one to walk into that Oval Office knowing the problems that are going to be there waiting for our next president: a war to end in Iraq; a war to resolve in Afghanistan; an economy that I believe is slipping toward a recession, with the results already being felt here in Nevada with the highest home foreclosure rate in the entire country; 47 million Americans uninsured; an energy policy that is totally wrong for America, for our future.

You know, President Bush is over in Gulf now begging the Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic! We should have an energy policy right now putting people to work in green-collar jobs as a way to stave off the recession, moving us toward energy independence. All of that and more is waiting for our next president.

You know, obviously, each of us believes that we are the person who should walk into that Oval Office on January 20th, 2009. I'm presenting my experience, my qualifications, my ideas, my vision for America. And it's rooted in the voices that I hear -- that I've heard for 35 years -- of people who want a better life for themselves and their children. And I'm going to keep, you know, putting forward what I have done and what I will do. And this is what this election, I think, is really about.

MR. RUSSERT: You may think you are the best prepared, but would you acknowledge that Senator Obama and Senator Edwards are both prepared to be president?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think that that's up to the voters to decide. I think that that's something that voters have to make a decision about on all of us. They have to look at each and every one of us and imagine us in the Oval Office, imagine us as commander in chief, imagine us making tough decisions about everything we know we're going to have to deal with, and then all of the unpredictable events that come through the door of the White House and land on the desk of the president.


MR. RUSSERT: I want to ask each of you quickly, your greatest strength, your greatest weakness.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I am passionately committed to this country and what it stands for. I'm a product of the changes that have already occurred, and I want to be an instrument for making those changes alive and real in the lives of Americans, particularly children. That's what I've done for 35 years. It is really my life's work. It is something that comes out of my own experience, both in my family and in my church; that, you know, I've been blessed. And I think to whom much is given, much is expected.

So I have tried to create opportunities, both on an individual basis, intervening to help people who have nowhere else to turn, to be their champion -- I meant to make those changes, and I think I can deliver change.

I think I understand how to make it possible for more people to live up to their God-given potential.

I get impatient. I get, you know, really frustrated when people don't seem to understand that we can do so much more to help each other, and sometimes I come across that way. I admit that. I get very concerned about, you know, pushing further and faster than perhaps people are ready to go.

But I think that, you know, there is a difference here. You know, I do think that being president is the chief executive officer, and I respect what Barack said about setting the vision, setting the tone, bringing people together. But I think you have to be able to manage and run the bureaucracy. You've got to pick good people certainly but you have to hold them accountable every single day.

We've seen the results of a president who frankly failed at that. You know, he went in to office saying he was going to have the kind of Harvard Business School CEO model, where he'd set the tone, he'd set the goals, and then everybody else would have to implement it. And we saw the failures. We saw the failures along the Gulf Coast with, you know, people who were totally incompetent and insensitive, failing to help our fellow Americans.

We've seen the failures with holding the administration accountable with the no-bid contracts and the cronyism.

So I do think you have to do both. It's a -- it's a really hard job, and in America we put, you know, the head of state and the head of government together in one person. But I think you've got to set the tone, you've got to set the vision, you've got to set the goals, you've got to bring the country together. And then you do have to manage and operate and hold that bureaucracy accountable to get the results you're trying to achieve.


MR. WILLIAMS: We are back live in Las Vegas, Nevada with the three top candidates for the Democratic nomination for president. Brian Williams with Tim Russert, Natalie Morales.

We're going to continue the questioning here on the topic of the economy, and then within this portion of the broadcast we're going to try something new for this series, and that is the candidates will have two questions each to ask of their fellow candidates.

So while they think about that, we will start off with the economy and a question for you, Senator Clinton. This evening on NBC Nightly News, our lead story was about the fact that Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have both gone overseas, as some put it hat in hand, looking for $20 billion in investment to stay afloat from, among other things, the government of Singapore, Korea, Japan, and the Saudi Prince al-Waleed, the man -- Rudolph Giuliani turned his money back after 9/11.

This is -- strikes a lot of Americans as just plain wrong. At the end of our report, we said this may end up in Congress. What can be done? And does this strike you as fundamentally wrong, that much foreign ownership of these American flagship brands?

SEN. CLINTON: Brian, I'm very concerned about this.

You know, about a month and a half or so ago, I raised this concern because these are called sovereign wealth funds. They are huge pools of money, largely because of oil and economic growth in Asia. And these funds are controlled often by governmental entities or individuals who are closely connected to the governments in these countries.

I think we've got to know more about them. They need to be more transparent. We need to have a lot more control over what they do and how they do it. I'd like to see the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund begin to impose these rules. And I want the United States Congress and the Federal Reserve Board to ask these tough questions.

But let's look at how we got here. We got here because, as I said on Wall Street on December 5th, a lot of our big financial institutions, you know, made these bets on these subprime mortgages. They helped to create this meltdown that is happening, that is costing millions of people who live in homes that are being foreclosed on or could be in the very near future because the interest rates are going up. And what they did was to take all these subprime mortgages and conventional mortgages, bundle them up and sell them overseas to big investors. So we're getting the worst of both worlds.

We can't figure out under this administration what we should do. I have a plan -- a moratorium on foreclosures for 90 days, freezing interest rates for five years, which I think we should do immediately. The administration is doing very little. And what we now see is our financial institutions having to go hat in hand to borrow money from these foreign funds.

I'm very concerned about it. I'd like to see us move much more aggressively both to deal with the immediate problem with the mortgages and to deal with these sovereign wealth funds.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, you voted for the same 2001 bankruptcy bill that Senator Edwards just said he was wrong about. After you did that, the Consumer Federation of America said that your reversal on that bill, voting for it, was the death knell for the opponents of the bill. Do you regret that vote?

SEN. CLINTON: Sure, I do. It never became law, as you know. It got tied up. It was a bill that had some things I agreed with and other things I didn't agree with, and I was happy that it never became law. And I opposed the 2005 bill as well.

But let's talk about where we are now with bankruptcy. We need urgently to have bankruptcy reform in order to get the kind of options available for homeowners. In addition to what I want to do, which is the moratorium on foreclosures for 90 days to see what we can do to work them out, and freezing interest rates for five years, and making the mortgage industry more transparent so we actually know what they're doing -- I mean, look what happened with Countrywide. You know, Countrywide gets bought and the CEO, who was one of the architects of this whole subprime mess, is sent off with $110 million -- $110 million in severance pay. You know, the priorities and the values are absolutely wrong. So what we've got to do is move urgently.

In addition to what I've proposed, I think we've got to reform the bankruptcy law right now going forward so that people who are caught in these subprime and now increasingly conventional loans that they can't pay because of the way the interest rates are going up, and many of the fraudulent and predatory practices that got people into them in the first place, will have the option of getting relieved of this debt. So there's a lot we need to do right now.

And you know, I want to just add that -- that the groups that sponsored this are primarily black and brown groups, that care deeply about these issues. Everything we're talking about falls disproportionately on African Americans, on Hispanics, on a lot of Asian Americans. Here in Nevada, the African American and Hispanic communities are really the ones who are most victimized by these subprime mortgages.

They're the ones who are often the first to be let go when the economy begins to slide. You know, in and out of the homes that I have visited in here in Las Vegas, those are the stories that I'm hearing.

So we need to move urgently. We have a lot of big agenda items that I agree with John on -- universal health care, college affordability -- but we can't wait. We're going to lose another, you know, million Americans in home foreclosures. We're going to see a deteriorating community across America because homes will be left vacant. The housing market is down. Nobody will buy those homes. Housing wealth, which is the principal source of American middle class wealth, is now decreasing.

So I have a real sense of urgency. We need to be acting now. And I know that the Democratic Congress under Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Pelosi are going to do everything they can to address this.


MS. MORALES: And this one is for Senator Clinton, and you spoke already about foreclosure rates. So on that subject, this was coming from Christian Denny from Henderson, Nevada.

Senator Clinton, recently while visiting Las Vegas, you mentioned your plan to freeze interest rates to help prevent foreclosures. Are you aware of any long-term effects on the housing market and our economy that this may cause?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Natalie, I think that the question really goes to the heart of what we're trying to do here. We have short- term, medium-term and long-term goals when it comes to our economy. You know, the Federal Reserve is cutting interest rates in order to spur the economy. But because of a lot of the way these mortgages were structured, the interest rates are going to keep going up. And a lot of people who can pay what they're paying now will not be able to pay what they're expected to pay next month or the month after that.

So, freezing the interest rates is not only a way of being able to stabilize the housing market, but it also is in line with what the Fed is doing on monetary policy. In other words, you can't be cutting interest rates in one part of the economy and letting them go to the roof in the other part and expect to be able to stimulate the kind of economic growth that we need to have right now.

I have other pieces of my economic action plan. In addition to dealing with the home foreclosure issue, on the moratorium and the rate freeze, I'd like to have a fund of about $30 billion that communities and states could go to work in order to prevent foreclosures and the consequences of foreclosures.

When I was talking about this issue last week here in Las Vegas, somebody from the mayor's office said they're starting to see a slowdown in property tax receipts. That means police services and other services start to deteriorate. That compounds the problem.

I want to see money in the pockets of people who are having trouble paying their energy bills. That stimulates the economy. I want to make sure the unemployment compensation system is there for people as they begin to get laid off, which is happening here in Las Vegas and around the country.

And then finally, I want to have about $5 billion put to work right now to employ people in green-collar jobs, like I saw when I was in L.A. last week, with electrical workers being trained to put in solar panels.

And then if we need additional stimulation, we should look at tax rebates for middle class and working families, not for the wealthy, who have already done very well under George Bush.


MR. WILLIAMS: We were -- we apparently told the campaigns bring one question for an opponent, which now brings us to you, Senator Clinton.

SEN. CLINTON: (Chuckles.)

MR. WILLIAMS: So you get your choice on, either side.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I -- I want to ask Senator Obama to join me in doing something. You know, we both very much want to convince President Bush -- which is not easy to do -- in the remaining year to end the war in Iraq, to change direction.

It appears that not only is he refusing to do that, but that he has continued to say he can enter into an agreement with the Iraqi government, without bringing it for approval to the United States Congress, that would continue America's presence in Iraq long after President Bush leaves office. I find that absolutely unacceptable, and I think we have to do everything we can to prevent President Bush from binding the hands of the next president.

So I have introduced legislation that clearly requires President Bush to come to the United States Congress -- it is not enough, as he claims, to go to the Iraqi parliament -- but to come to the United States Congress to get anything that he's trying to do, including permanent bases, numbers of troops, all the other commitments he's talking about as he's traveling in that region.

And I -- I want to ask, Senator Obama, if you will cosponsor my legislation to try to rein in President Bush so that he doesn't commit this country to his policy in Iraq, which both of us are committed to end.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think, you know, we -- we can work on this, Hillary, because I -- I don't think -- (laughter) -- you know, the -- we got unity in the Democratic Party, I hope, on this.


MR. WILLIAMS: Let me just interrupt here. Would the other two of you join in the 2009 pledge that Senator Obama has made, concerning the withdrawal of American troops?

SEN. CLINTON: Oh, yes, I'm on record as saying exactly that as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we'll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.


MR. RUSSERT: In September, we were in New Hampshire together, and I asked the three of you if you would pledge to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of your first term. All three of you said you would not take that pledge. I'm hearing something much different tonight.

(Cross talk, laughter.)

SEN. OBAMA: No, no, I think this is important, because it was reported as if we were suggesting that we would continue a war until 2013. Your question was, could I guarantee all troops would be out of Iraq?

I have been very specific in saying that we will not have permanent bases there -- I will end the war as we understand it in combat missions -- but that we are going to have to protect our embassy, we are going to protect our civilians who are engaged in humanitarian activity there. We are going to have to have some presence that allows us to strike if al Qaeda is creating bases inside of Iraq. And so I cannot guarantee that we're not going to have a strategic interest that I have to carry out as commander in chief to maintain some troop presence there. But it is not going to be engaged in war, and it will not be the sort of permanent bases and permanent -- permanent military occupation that George Bush seems to be intent on maintaining.

MR. EDWARDS: Tim, can I --

SEN. CLINTON: And you know, Tim, it's not only George Bush.

MR. EDWARDS: Can each of us speak to that?

SEN. CLINTON: I just want to add here --

MR. RUSSERT: Well, you both will have a presence.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think that what Barack said is what John and I also meant at the same time, because obviously we have to be responsible. We have to protect our embassy. We do need to make sure that, you know, our strategic interests are taken care of.

But it's not only George Bush. The Republican candidates running for the presidency are saying things that are very much in line with President Bush. You know, Senator McCain said the other day that we might have troops there for a hundred years, Barack. I mean they have an entirely different view than we do about what we need to have happening as soon as we get a Democrat elected president.


MR. WILLIAMS: And we are back live in Las Vegas.

We promised going to the break that we would return with a discussion on domestic issues. This is of a type, and just before the break we got onto things military. We're going to start this off with a continuation of the questioning by Tim Russert.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I'll start with you. The voluntary Army many believe disproportionate in terms of poor and minority who participate in our armed forces. There is a federal statute on the books which says that if a college or university does not provide space for military recruiters or provide a ROTC program for its students, it can lose its federal funding. Will you vigorously enforce that statute?

SEN. CLINTON: Yes, I will. You know, I think that the young men and women who voluntarily join our all-volunteer military are among the best of our country. I want to do everything I can as president to make sure that they get the resources and the help that they deserve. I want a new 21st century G.I. Bill of Rights so that our young veterans can get the money to go to college and to buy a home and start a business. And I've worked very hard on the Senate Armed Services Committee to, you know, try to make up for some of the negligence that we've seen from the Bush administration.

You know, Tim, the Bush administration sends mixed messages. They want to recruit and retain these young people to serve our country, and then they have the Pentagon trying to take away the signing bonuses when a soldier gets wounded and ends up in the hospital, something that, you know, I'm working with a Republican senator to try to make sure never can happen again.

So I think we should recognize that national service of all kinds is honorable, and it's essential to the future of our country. I want to expand civilian national service. But I think that everyone should make available an opportunity for a young man or woman to be ROTC, to be able to join the military, and I'm going to do everything I can to support the men and women of the military and their families.

MR. RUSSERT: Of the top 10 rated schools, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, they do not have ROTC programs on campus. Should they?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, there are ways they can work out fulfilling that obligation. But they should certainly not do anything that either undermines or disrespects the young men and women who wish to pursue a military career.


MR. RUSSERT: This statute's been on the book for some time, Senator. Will you vigorously enforce the statute to cut off federal funding to a school that does not provide military recruiters and a ROTC program?


MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Clinton.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I that we have to do everything necessary to help these returning veterans get the health care and the support that they need. And this new signature wound called traumatic brain injury is something that I am really upset about because we've only begun to recognize it and diagnose it.

And you know, John, I was able to pass legislation to begin to provide the physical and mental evaluations so that we could begin to treat this. And you know, we have 1,200 people in Nevada who sign up to join the military every year. They're now going to be getting these exams because we've got to track what happens to young men and women when they go into the military, then provide the services for them.


MR. WILLIAMS: We have to, at this point, turn a bit more local. And let's talk for a moment about Yucca Mountain.

As sure as there is somebody at a roulette table not far from here convinced that they're one bet away from winning it all back, every -- every person who comes here running for president promises to end the notion of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain. And the people of Nevada have found it's easier to promise to end it than it is to end it. Anyone willing to pledge here tonight to kill the notion of Yucca Mountain?


MR. WILLIAMS: 30 seconds each, Senators Clinton and Edwards.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I voted against Yucca Mountain in 2001. I have been consistently against Yucca Mountain. I held a hearing in the environment committee -- the first that we've had in some time -- looking at all the reasons why Yucca Mountain is not workable. The science does not support it. We do have to figure out what to do with nuclear base.

You know, Barack has one of his biggest supporters, in terms of funding, the Exelon Corporation, which has spent millions of dollars trying to make Yucca Mountain the waste depository. John was in favor of it twice, when he voted to override President Clinton's veto and then voted for it again. I have consistently and persistently been against Yucca Mountain and I will make sure it does not come into effect when I'm president.


MR. WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards.

MR. EDWARDS: Well, I'm opposed to Yucca Mountain. I will end it, for all the reasons that have already been discussed, because of the science that's been discovered, because of apparently some forgery of documents that's also been discovered, all of which has happened in recent years.

But I want to go to one other subject on which the three of us differ, and that is the issue of nuclear power. I've heard Senator Obama say he's open to the possibility of additional nuclear power plants. Senator Clinton said at a debate earlier, standing beside me, that she was agnostic on the subject.

I am not for it or agnostic. I am against building more nuclear power plants because I do not think we have a safe way to dispose of the waste. I think they're dangerous. They're great terrorist targets. And they're extraordinarily expensive. They are not, in my judgment, the way to (green this ?) -- to get us off our dependence on oil.

MR. WILLIAMS: Tim Russert.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, but John, you did vote for Yucca Mountain twice. And you didn't respond to that part of the question.

MR. EDWARDS: I did respond to it. I said the science has -- the science that has been revealed since that time and the forged documents that have been revealed since that time have made it very -- this has been for years, Hillary; this didn't start last year or three years ago; I've said this for years now -- have revealed that this thing does not make sense, is not good for the people of Nevada and it's not good for America -- which, by the way, is also why I am opposed to building more nuclear power plants.


MR. RUSSERT: I want to pick up on that. Senator Obama, a difference in this campaign, you voted for the energy bill in July of 2005; Senator Clinton voted against it. That energy bill is described by numerous publications, quote, "the big winner, nuclear power." The secretary of Energy said this would begin a nuclear renaissance.

We haven't built a nuclear power plant in this country for 30 years. There are now 17 companies that are planning to build 29 plants based on many of the protections that were provided in that bill and incentives for licensee, construction and operating costs. Did you realize when you were voting for that energy bill that it was going to create such a renaissance of nuclear power?


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, Tim, I think it's well accepted that the 2005 energy bill was the Dick Cheney/lobbyist energy bill. It was written by lobbyists. It was championed by Dick Cheney. It wasn't just the green light that it gave to more nuclear power; it had enormous giveaways to the oil and gas industries. It was the wrong policy for America. It was so heavily tilted toward the special interests that many of us at the time said, you know, that's not going to move us on the path we need, which is toward clean, renewable, green energy.

I think that we have to, you know, break the -- the lock of the special interests. That's why I've proposed a strategic energy fund, $50 billion to invest in clean, renewable energy. How would I do that? Take the tax subsidies that were given in the 2005 energy bill that Dick Cheney wrote -- take them away from the gas and oil industry. They don't need our tax dollars to make these enormous profits. Let's put to work the money that we should get from the oil and gas industry in terms of windfall profits taxes so that we can begin to really put big dollars behind this shift toward clean, renewable, green energy. It's not going to happen by hoping for it. And the small, you know, pieces of the puzzle that are starting to take shape around the country are not sufficient for us to break our addiction to foreign oil.

So that 2005 energy bill was a big step backwards on the path to clean renewable energy. That's why I voted against it. That's why I'm standing for the proposition let's take away the giveaways that were given to gas and oil, put them to work on behalf of solar and wind and geothermal and biofuels and all the rest that we need for a new energy future.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, you say you're against nuclear power, but a reality check. I talked to the folks at the MIT Energy Initiative, and they put it this way: that in 2050 the world's population is going to go from 6 billion to 9 billion; that the CO2 is going to double; that you could build a nuclear power plant, one per week, and it wouldn't meet the world's needs. Something must be done, and it cannot be done just with wind or solar.

MR. EDWARDS: Well, you have to -- there a lot of things that need to be done. If you were to double the number of nuclear power plants on the planet tomorrow, if that were possible, it would deal with about one-seventh of the greenhouse gas problem. This is not the answer.

And it goes beyond wind and solar. We ought to be investing in other cellulose-based biofuels. There are a whole range of things that we ought to be investing in and focusing on.

And I want to come back to something Senator Clinton said a minute ago. I agree with her and Senator Obama that -- that it's very important to break this iron grip that the gas and oil industry has on our energy policy in this country. But I believe, Senator Clinton, you've raised more money from those people than any candidate, Democrat or Republican, and I think we have to be able to take those people on if we're going to actually change our policy.

Now, what we need, in my judgment, is we need a cap on carbon emissions. That cap needs to come down every year. We need an 80 percent reduction in our carbon emissions by the year 2050. Below the cap, we ought to make the polluters pay. That money ought to be invested in all these clean renewable sources of energy -- wind, solar, cellulose-based biofuel.

As I said earlier, I'm opposed to building more nuclear power plants, but I'd go another step that at least I haven't heard these two candidates talk about. They can answer for themselves. I believe we need a moratorium on the building of any more coal-fired power plants, unless and until we have the ability to capture and sequester the carbon underground. Because every time we build a new coal-fired power plant in America, when we don't have that technology attached to it, what happens is we're making a terrible situation worse. We're already the worst polluter on the planet. America needs to be leading by example.

MR. WILLIAMS: Rebuttal time to both senators -- 30 seconds, please.

Senator Clinton.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I have a comprehensive energy plan that I have put forth. It does not rely on nuclear power, for all the reasons that we've discussed. I have said we should not be siting any more coal-powered plants, unless they can have the most modern, clean technology. And I want big demonstration projects to figure out how we would capture and sequester carbon.

But you know, this is going to take a massive effort. This should be our Apollo moon shot. This is where a president needs to come in and say, we can do this, America, you know we can make this change. We've got to do it by having a partnership, with what needs to happen in Washington, but there's work for everybody to do -- the states, communities and individuals.

That's what I want to summon the country to achieve, and I think we can make it.


MS. MORALES: And this one is to Senator Obama. And this comes to us from one of our cosponsors of tonight's debate, the 100 Black Men of America. They ask: To what do you attribute the disproportionately high dropout of black males at every level in our educational process? And what would you do to stem the tide of black men exiting the educational system?

SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think it's similar to the reason that Latinos have such a high dropout rate. What you see consistently are children at a very early age are starting school already behind. And that's why I have said that I'm going to put billions of dollars into early childhood education that makes sure that our African-American youth, Latino youth, poor youth of every race are getting the kind of help they need, so that they know their numbers, their colors, their letters.

Every dollar that we spend in early childhood education, we get $10 back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores. And that's the kind of commitment we have to make early on. We've got to improve K through 12. And that means not just talking about how great teachers are, but rewarding them for their greatness by giving them higher salaries and giving them more support and professional development, and making sure that No Child Left Behind is not a tool to punish people and we're not just basing how we fund our schools on a standardized test. We need after-school programs and summer school programs because minority youth and poor youth are less likely to get the kind of environment and supplemental activities that they need.

But let's be clear. We have good answers for how to make these schools work.

What we don't have is a sense of urgency in the White House. And you know, I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents. I did not get money and privilege when I was young, but I did get a good education. And we've got to have that attitude for every single child in America.

And that also means, last point I'll make, because sometimes this doesn't get talked enough about. We have to have our parents take their jobs seriously, and particularly African American fathers, who all too often are absent from the home, have not encouraged the kind of, you know, nurturing of our children that they need. And as somebody who grew up without a father, I know how important that is. That is something that, as president, I intend to talk about. The schools can't do it all by themselves. Parents have to parent.

MR. WILLIAMS: Thank you, Senator. Time up.

Tim Russert.

(Cross talk.)

SEN. CLINTON: Tim, could we just follow up on this? Because you know, again, this is a black-brown debate, and this is one of the most important issues. And I really commend Barack for, you know taking on the full range.

You know, this has to start in the families. This is what I've done for 35 years. We've got to do more to give families the tools and the support that they should have, so that they can be the best parents. You know, they are a child's first teachers.

And I want to commend the 100 Black Men, because I worked with the 100 Black Men in New York to help create the Eagle Academy, a high school for young African-American and Latino men. And the 100 Black Men in New York said they would mentor these young men.

We also need more involvement from the community. It's not only the family. It's not only the school system. We all have a role to play. And that's going to be one of our highest priorities.


MR. RUSSERT: We arrived in Nevada. The headline in the Nevada Appeal newspaper: "Nevada leads in gun deaths." The leading cause for death amongst young black men is guns -- death, homicide.

Mayor Bloomberg of New York -- you all know him -- he and 250 mayors have started a campaign, Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Senator Clinton, when you ran for the Senate in 2000, you said that everyone who wishes to purchase a gun should have a license and that every handgun sale or transfer should be registered in a national registry.

Will you try to implement such a plan?

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I am against illegal guns. And illegal guns are the cause of so much death and injury in our country. I also am a political realist and I understand that the political winds are very powerful against doing enough to try to get guns off the street, get them out of the hands of young people.

The law in New York was as you state, and the law in New York has worked to a great extent. I don't want the federal government preempting states and cities like New York, that have very specific problems.

So here is what I would do. We need to have a registry that really works, with good information about people who are felons, people who have been committed to mental institutions, like the man in Virginia Tech who caused so much death and havoc. We need to make sure that that information is in a timely manner, both collected and presented.

We do need to crack down on illegal gun dealers. This is something that I would like to see more of.

And we need to enforce the laws that we have on the books. I would also work to reinstate the assault weapons ban. We now have once again police deaths going up around the country, and in large measure because bad guys now have assault weapons again. We stopped it for a while; now they're back on the street.

So there are steps we need to take that we should do together. You know, I believe in the Second Amendment. People have a right to bear arms. But I also believe that we can commonsensically approach this.

MR. RUSSERT: But you've backed off a national licensing and registration plan.



MR. WILLIAMS: Question for Senator Clinton. In 2006, you railed against Karl Rove and the Republicans for playing what you called "the fear card." But on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, you said this: "I don't think it was by accident that al Qaeda decided to test the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, immediately. They watch our elections as closely as we do, maybe more than some of our fellow citizens do. They play our, you know, allies. They do everything they can to undermine security in the world, so let's not forget you're hiring a president not just to do what a candidate says he or she wants to do in an election. You're hiring a president to be there when the chips were down."

You were suggesting -- it's been suggested that you'd be a better president to deal with a possible terrorist attack than perhaps Senator Obama.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, what I said is what you quoted, and I'm not going to characterize it, but it is the fact. You know, the fact is that we face a very dangerous adversary, and to forget that or to brush it aside, I think, is a mistake. So I do feel that the next president has to be prepared because we are up against a relentless enemy, and they will take advantage of us.

They will certainly, as they have over the last several years, continue their attacks against our friends and allies around the world.

You know, we -- we haven't talked as much about homeland security as I think is necessary in this campaign. Maybe I feel it acutely because I do represent New York. But the highest and greatest duty of the president of the United States is to protect and defend our country. And at the end of the day, voters have to make that decision among all of us -- Democrats and Republicans -- who are vying for the votes because it is a critical question. It always is. There are, you know, reasons going back in our history why that is so.

But in this time, in this period, where we're going to have to repair a lot of the frayed relationships coming out of the Bush administration, where we're going to have to summon the world to a concerted effort to quell the threat of terrorism, to root them out wherever they are, it's going to -- it's going to be one of the biggest jobs facing our next president. And I feel prepared and ready to take on what is a daunting but necessary responsibility.


MR. RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure. You're not suggesting that al Qaeda would test a President Obama before they'd test a President Clinton.

SEN. CLINTON: No, of course not, Tim.

But it is a fact that immediately upon taking office, the new prime minister in Great Britain -- Gordon Brown -- confronted thankfully two failed attacks by al Qaeda: people who had gone and been trained in the training camps in Pakistan, who got their directions from al Qaeda operatives, who launched two massive bomb efforts in London and in Glasgow. They didn't know how to ignite the bombs they had set, but they rammed their cars into the airport in Glasgow.

Part of the reason why it matters who's president, in terms of operating the government and the bureaucracy, is because we have a very constant need for vigilance and preparedness. There is no time off for the president on issues of security, here at home or around the world. And I think that there's a difference between what President Bush has done, which has frankly used fear as a political weapon, and a recognition in a very calm and deliberative way that yes, we have real enemies and we better be prepared and we better be ready to meet them on day one.


MR. WILLIAMS: We promised this audience we would read a particularly thoughtful e-mail. And we're going off the air in a matter of minutes, so we're going to truly enforce the time limits: 30 seconds, from all of you, to answer the following from Jim Milton of California. "Given the decision to run for president in the first place has to be and should be one of the most important and memorable decision-making moments any American can make, tell us when you made that decision."

Senator Clinton?

SEN. CLINTON: I made it over New Year's this past year. And I made it because I believe our country has to have a new beginning.

Tomorrow in Reno I'll be having an economic town hall, the first of a series of town halls, to address specifically the economic anxieties, insecurities and problems that Americans have, to come up with solutions.

You know, we've got to get back in the solutions business in America. I want to be the problem solver who lifts our sights and sets our goals.

And a year ago I made the decision that I would get into this presidential race, and it's been the most amazing and extraordinary year of my life, and I thank everyone for making that happen.

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