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National Public Radio Morning Edition Transcript

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April 7, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE: Senator John Kerry discusses Iraq and the economy



This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

Senator John Kerry is back on the campaign trail after shoulder surgery last week. Today, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee gives a policy speech on the economy. I spoke with him yesterday about his economic plans and also the US role in Iraq, where violent anti-American clashes took place in at least six cities yesterday. Twelve Marines were reported killed in two different uprisings. President Bush says the intensified fighting will not derail plans to turn over civilian control of Iraq on June 30th, but Senator Kerry says stabilizing and getting out of Iraq requires a new approach.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): The best way to accomplish this goal is the fastest way you secure the broadest-based coalition, the broadest-based consensus about the kind of government that can emerge, the minimal amount of risk to American troops and the minimal cost to the American people. That's the best way to do it, and in every case, the president has not chosen the best way.

EDWARDS: But because of the danger in Iraq, there isn't a lot of international interest in a greater role.

Sen. KERRY: Well, that's partly because of the way the administration has proceeded. I mean, what makes me so frustrated and even angry, and I think the American people are, is the stubbornness of this administration which has refused time after time after time to share power and responsibility in determining the governmental transformational process. Can we do it this way, ultimately? Sure, but the question is at what cost to our troops, at what cost to the American people, at what cost to our reputation in the world? This is not the way the United States of America should conduct thoughtful, productive diplomacy.

EDWARDS: So you need more US troops right now.

Sen. KERRY: Yeah, I think the commander over there has suggested that he may well need more, and that's the difficult situation the administration has put us in. I don't think anybody's going to leave our troops exposed, but on the other hand, if that's all we do, it is asking for the most expensive, most dangerous route rather than the most productive route.

EDWARDS: What about holding on to that June 30th deadline for hand-over of power in Iraq?

Sen. KERRY: I think the June 30th deadline is a fiction, and they never should have set an arbitrary deadline which almost clearly has been affected by the election schedule in the United States of America. The test for the transfer of sovereignty is a sovereign entity to transfer it to, and the stability of the region, not some arbitrary date, and I think now they'll wind up with a fiction of a transfer. There'll be some sort of symbolic transfer, but you won't see that much transition in what's happening.

EDWARDS: But what's the alternative to that? I mean, you just continue an occupation.

Sen. KERRY: The alternative to that is to get off your high horse and begin to show a little humility and begin to share responsibility and share risk and ask the world to come to this effort. The world has a legitimate interest in not having a failed Iraqi state. The world has a legitimate interest in beating back terror, and it is astonishing to me that given the legitimacy of that interest, this administration has managed to proceed so unilaterally, so I think, you know, it's a serious effort.

But you know, I essentially called this morning to talk about the economic choices before our nation, and I'm going to be making a speech which I think is an important statement about what George Bush is doing, and it needs to be addressed.

EDWARDS: Well, before I ask you about jobs, what do you hope to hear from Condoleezza Rice in her testimony before the September 11th commission?

Sen. KERRY: The truth.

EDWARDS: Which would be?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I don't know. I mean, I'm waiting, but I think that there's such a clear disparity between the evidence as put forward thus far from various witnesses and all the public accounts of the president's 30-day vacation in Crawford prior to September 11th and the lack of meetings and lack of energy and urgency vs. what we're hearing. But I'm going to wait to hear. I mean, that's what we need to hear, is sort of what was really going on here.

EDWARDS: OK. On to jobs. Last week, the biggest monthly gain in four years in jobs.

Sen. KERRY: Well, look at that hard, Bob. Almost 100,000 of those jobs were a one-time gain in the return of grocery workers who were striking. Then you have about 40,000 that are one-time seasonal jobs in construction, part-time, so that's about 140,000. That's hardly the creation of new jobs. Now I welcome good job numbers. I want good job numbers. I hope we have good job numbers next month and the next month, and none of the good job numbers that we get in the next six or seven months are going to change the reality that this president's economic policies are taking us down a fiscal path of disaster. I have proposed a plan by which we're going to create 10 million new jobs, and we're going to do it by beginning to close the loopholes that actually have American workers rewarding the sending of their own jobs overseas. Today, under our tax code, a company that goes overseas gets to defer its taxes. A company that stays in America does not. So there's a lot we could do to grow our economy, to grow jobs at home. I intend to do those things. George Bush has had four years to do it, and he's only chosen tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

EDWARDS: But the president points to his jobs numbers and says there's recovery, the tax cuts are working. And isn't that a political problem for you?

Sen. KERRY: No, it's not a political problem, because ask most Americans about the recovery. The jobs that are being created, those that are, are part-time jobs and jobs that pay on average $9,000 less than the job that was lost. So Americans are increasingly being underemployed. Tuitions are going up, health-care costs are going up, the price of gasoline is going up, but wages are going down. That is not a very hopeful vision for America. I will offer a better vision for America, no matter what George Bush's monthly job rate is.

EDWARDS: Your aides say that you're auditing your own campaign promises, given the increasing federal deficit, to determine what's still feasible. Which promises are you abandoning or scaling back?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I'm going to have to scale back probably the level of national service program that I wanted to make available to kids, and I will have to do that because of George Bush's irresponsibility. We'll have less young people that will be able to have their college paid for by the virtue of two years of service. I will not scale back my health-care plan. I will not scale back my support for education. The special needs education and No Child Left Behind have to be changed and funded. Those are the two most important priorities to the nation. And I will not scale back my job creation efforts, because those three ingredients will be critical to making America more competitive, but we're going to have to show patience and maturity. I am prepared to do it. We did it in the 1990s. We balanced the budget. We created 23 million new jobs. I can't think of an American who wouldn't trade today's economy for the economy we had under Bill Clinton. We're going to go back to fiscal responsibility and we're going to create the jobs of the future and create a strong budget that empowers us to do the things we need to do.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

Sen. KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

EDWARDS: Senator John Kerry, the expected Democratic nominee. The full interview is at

MORNING EDITION has a request pending to interview President Bush on Iraq, the economy and other issues in the upcoming campaign.

The time is 19 minutes past the hour.

Copyright 2004 National Public Radio ®. All rights reserved.

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