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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Democratic Presidential Debate
Aired February 26, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much. Good evening, everybody, from this beautiful university, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, before a wonderful crowd of folks. There are four Democratic candidates, myself and two questioners from the Los Angeles Times. This is a combined presentation of CNN and the Los Angeles Times. It'll run 90 minutes.
As you can tell by the setting, this is going to be very informal. There are no strict rules of debate, no opening speeches, no closing comments. We'll question them. They can question each other. And we hope that you benefit from this by learning better who's going to lead this country in the next four years.
With us tonight is Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, the Reverend Al Sharpton and Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.
With me to question the candidates are Janet Clayton, the editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, and the Los Angeles Times national political correspondent, Ron Brownstein.
I'll start the go-round. We can jump in at any time. And we'll start with Senator Edwards.
The other day, you said that you can inspire this nation. Do you mean then Senator Kerry cannot?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. What I mean is that somebody who comes from the same place that most Americans come from, I grew up the son of a mill worker, in a family like most families in this country. I've seen the problems that people face every day in their lives...
KING: And now you're saying Senator Kerry doesn't see that?
EDWARDS: I'm saying he comes from a different background. I mean, he's a good man. He's a good candidate. He'd make a good president. And I'd be the first to say that. But we come from different places, and we present different choices.
And throughout the course of this campaign, I have talked about issues that are in here: poverty, race, civil rights, things that I care about deeply, things I think go to the core of what the Democratic Party's about.
KING: So you didn't mean to imply that you and the others can't? EDWARDS: No, I know that I can, is what I'm saying.
KING: It's just that you can?
Did you take any offense to that?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: None whatsoever. I think John has a run a terrific campaign. He and I are friends, and I don't take offense at that.
And I respect completely where John comes from and the story of his life. It's an American story. But there are many other American stories, Larry. I've had experiences that John hasn't had and others here haven't had. And we all bring to the table our life.
I believe that my 35 years of experience fighting against powerful forces in this country that don't want to do things for the very people John is talking about, and leading and fighting in international affairs, national security, military affairs, is critical to what this country needs today in terms of leadership.
KING: You're saying you're just different?
KERRY: Well, of course we're different. But I think what's important is, all my life, all my life, from the time that I fought in a war alongside many of the people who had a very different life experience from me -- I mean, the kids I fought with were kids out of the barrios of Los Angeles, and the kids from South Central of Los Angeles, and from the south side of Chicago and South Boston and a lot of other places, because they couldn't get out of the draft. They didn't know how to make those phone calls. They didn't have the ability to have a choice.
And when I came back from Vietnam, I spent a lot of my years fighting for those people to be able to get ahead. And I've spent all my life doing that, and I intend to do that as president of the United States.
RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Senator Edwards, can I jump in?
Are you saying that biography is the central difference in the choice that you represent versus Senator Kerry? Or is there a broader difference in the direction you would offer the party as the nominee and the country as the president?
EDWARDS: There's a fundamental question here, Ron, that has to be decided by voters in this country -- Democratic primary voters -- which is, first, do we need real change in America and real change in Washington, D.C.? If people believe we do, I do.
Then the second question is: Do you believe that change is more likely to be brought about by someone who has spent 20 years in Washington, or by someone who's more of outsider to this process -- somebody who comes from the same place that most Americans come from?
That is a fundamental choice.
If I can go back for a brief second to...
KING: Well, I want to clue the other two, too.
EDWARDS: Absolutely. Well, I don't want to interrupt. Let...
KING: Reverend Sharpton, why are you in this race?
REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let me say this. First of all, I do not think that it is fair to say that there are two Americas. There are many Americas. Our only problem in America is not just class. Many of us have problems that have succumbed to class barriers but still have the race barriers, or the barriers of language if you are Latino, or the barriers of sexual discrimination if you are, one, a woman or gay and lesbian.
So I think it's very simplistic to just say that it's two Americas, one for the wealthy, one for the poor.
Earl Graves, who supports my campaign, very wealthy man, but still faces discrimination. Gays and lesbians, they may make a lot of money, they still face discrimination. Latinos that have problems because of language discrimination. So I don't think that it's as simple as class.
I also think if we're talking about experience -- I was talking with Bishop Brookings (ph) who is here with me tonight. I don't see how anyone that supports civil rights could support the Patriot Act.
You talk about a difference of direction, Senator Edwards, the Patriot Act...
The Patriot Act that you supported is J. Edgar Hoover's dream. It's John Ashcroft's dream. We have police misconduct problems in California, Ohio, Georgia, New York, right now.
KING: The question...
SHARPTON: And your legislation helps police get more power.
So I think that we've got to really be honest if we're talking about change. Change how, and for who? That's why I am in this race.
BROWNSTEIN: Reverend Sharpton, earlier in this race, you've also said, in response to something from Senator Edwards, that where you come from doesn't really guarantee where you'll end up. There are plenty of wealthy people who are good, and there are plenty of less affluent people who haven't been as good.
Now you're saying the two Americas doesn't add up either.
SHARPTON: No, no, I didn't say that. I didn't say that at all.
BROWNSTEIN: Is it two Americas -- you say the two Americas is not the total picture.
When you add up both of these things, what are you saying about Senator Edwards...
SHARPTON: No, no, no, I say that...
BROWNSTEIN: ... and his message? Are you saying that there is something inauthentic about what he is saying?
SHARPTON: I defended -- no, I defended Senator Edwards, saying, when he was attacked for raising class, I think that it is good that he does that. But I don't think we should stop at class.
If we're going to talk about the differences of background in America, he is right to say there is a difference in America. But we can't limit it to just class. We've also got to deal with race, we've got to deal with gender, we've got to deal with sexuality.
KING: Are you...
SHARPTON: And we've got to deal with discrimination based on language. That's what I'm saying.
KING: But this was only the first question.
SHARPTON: But he's got two answers to one. I'm trying to get mine. I believe in affirmative action.
KING: I'm following you around, Al.
Congressman Kucinich, why are you here?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to provide the people of this country with a real choice in this election. Some of the differences that are here are stylistic. I'm offering some substantive change in this country.
KING: But logically, it appears like you're up against it. Why stay in?
KUCINICH: Well, because I'm the voice for getting out of Iraq, for universal single-payer health care, for getting out of NAFTA and the WTO...
(APPLAUSE) ... for having our children go to college tuition-free, for saving Social Security from privatization.
KING: But you can have that voice as a congressman. You can have that voice as...
KUCINICH: And I have that voice as a congressman. In this race, though, there are real differences of opinion, Larry. And this is what this debate is about today.
I led the effort in the House of Representatives in challenging the Bush administration's march toward war. Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards both voted for that war.
I led the effort against the Patriot Act. Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards both voted for it.
I mean, there are differences.
KING: You're here to make statements then?
KUCINICH: Oh, no, no. I'm here to be the next president of the United States...
KING: But, logically, that doesn't appear to be happening.
KUCINICH: But you know what? That's a conclusion that the people watching tonight will be able to make, not the media.
KING: All right. I want to...
Janet may have a question, then I want to open up another area and start it with Ron.
JANET CLAYTON, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Yes. Senator Kerry, I wanted to ask you, this country's deeply divided, and some of the things we've been talking about tonight already indicate that.
If you win, Republicans are going to be expected to work to undermine you. And if you lose, the Democrats are going to do everything they can to further tarnish President Bush so that a Democrat can win in 2008.
I wanted to ask you, is this all that Americans have to look forward to: perpetually polarized administrations, loved by half of the country and loathed by the other half?
KERRY: Well, Janet, let me say to you that I don't think John or any of us here are offering a polarizing campaign. What I'm proud of is that in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in Missouri, all the states that followed, I've offered a positive vision of what we ought to be doing in America.
CLAYTON: Right, but that's not what I was asking. KING: Her question was, the country is polarized.
CLAYTON: The country is polarized.
KERRY: Well, the country is polarized because we have a president who is polarizing. I mean, look at what he did the other day with a constitutional amendment. He's trying to divide America. He's trying to divide America...
You know, this is a president who always tries to create a cultural war and seek the lowest common denominator of American politics, because he can't come to America and talk about jobs.
He can't talk to America about health care; he doesn't have a plan. He can't talk to America about the environment, our legacy to our children, because he's going backwards. He can't talk to America about keeping a promise of No Child Left Behind, because he's leaving millions of children behind every day.
He can't even keep his promise about the deficit. It's the largest in history. He is digging into Social Security. He has squandered the good will toward America after September 11th.
And so, Americans don't yet have a choice. I mean, we're vying for the nomination.
KING: But that's what you're running...
KERRY: Once we have a nominee, this country will have an opportunity to hear a positive vision of how we can offer hope to Americans, optimism about the possibilities of the future, not divide America but bring it together to find real solutions. And that's what I'm offering: real solutions.
KING: You mentioned the constitutional amendment. Rosie O'Donnell today got married in San Francisco. I think Ron Brownstein has a question in that regard.
BROWNSTEIN: Let me ask you, Senator. I want to sort of burrow in a little bit and understand your views of exactly what the role of Washington is, Senator Kerry.
You say you oppose gay marriage. You also oppose the constitutional amendment to ban -- federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
Do you think Georgia and Ohio, or any other state, should have to recognize a gay marriage performed in California or Massachusetts? And if not, why did you vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, designed to prevent that, in 1996?
KERRY: I said very clearly -- I could not have been more clear on the floor of the United States Senate. My speech starts out expressing my personal opinion, that I do not believe -- you know, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.
But notwithstanding that belief, there was no issue in front of the country when that was put before the United States Senate.
And I went to the floor of the Senate and said -- even though I was up for reelection, "I will not take part in gay bashing on the floor of the United States Senate. I will not allow the Senate to be used...
... for that kind of rhetoric."
BROWNSTEIN: But you also said in that statement...
KERRY: But let me just finish.
BROWNSTEIN: You also said in that statement that you believe the Defense of Marriage Act was fundamentally unconstitutional. And if the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, isn't President Bush right, that the only way to guarantee that no state has to recognize a gay marriage performed in any other state is a federal constitutional amendment?
KERRY: In fact, I think the interpretation -- I think, under the full faith and credit laws, that I was incorrect in that statement. I think, in fact, that no state has to recognize something that is against their public policy.
And for 200 years, we have left marriage up to the states. There is no showing whatsoever today that any state in the country, including my own -- which is now dealing with its own constitutional amendment -- is incapable of dealing with what they would like to do.
And I believe George Bush is doing this -- he's even reversed his own position. He's reversed Dick Cheney's position. He is doing this because he's in trouble. He's trying to reach out to his base. He's playing politics with the Constitution of the United States.
BROWNSTEIN: But let me just nail down one thing very quickly.
So are you saying that, now that gay marriage is on the table in a place like California or Massachusetts, that you would support the Defense of Marriage Act?
KERRY: No, because...
BROWNSTEIN: That it's not...
KERRY: ... the Defense of Marriage Act is the law of the land today.
KING: And you would support it today?
BROWNSTEIN: And you would leave it...
KERRY: ... no votes to take it back. And I think it's more important right now to pass the employment nondiscrimination act, hate crimes legislation, and begin to move us forward so we have on the books those laws that will allow us to protect people in this country.
KING: Janet, you have a question for Senator Edwards.
CLAYTON: Senator Edwards, you also oppose gay marriage?
EDWARDS: I do. I do. But can I...
CLAYTON: So why would you have opposed Rosie O'Donnell getting married today? Why does that make a difference? Why is that a threat?
EDWARDS: Here is my belief. I believe that this is an issue that ought to be decided in the states. I think the federal government should honor whatever decision is made by the states.
I want to say a word in answer to the question you asked very directly. I would not support the Defense of Marriage Act today, if there were a vote today, which is the question you just asked Senator Kerry. I'm not sure what he said about that. But I would not vote for it.
KING: You would not vote for it?
EDWARDS: I would not. I would not for a very simple reason. There's a part of it -- there's a part of it that I agree with, and there's a part of it I disagree with.
The Defense of Marriage Act specifically said that the federal government is not required to recognize gay marriage even if a state chooses to do so. I disagree with that.
I think states should be allowed to make that decision. And the federal government shouldn't do it.
And can I say just one other word about...
BROWNSTEIN: The part that you agree with is what?
EDWARDS: Well, the part I agree with is the states should not be required to recognize marriages from other states. That's already in the law, by the way, without DOMA.
Can I just say one other thing, because the other people have talked about this? On the constitutional question, it is really important for us to step back from this. Senator Kerry just talked about the political use of the Constitution. What's happening here is this president is talking about first amending the United States Constitution for a problem that does not exist. The law today does not require one state to recognize the marriage of another state.
That's number one. And that's been the law for many, many years.
Number two, we have amended the United States Constitution to end slavery, to give women the right to vote. This is clearly nothing but politics. It's a problem that does not exist today. And we need to stand up very strongly on that.
SHARPTON: I think is not an issue any more of just marriage. This is an issue of human rights. And I think it is dangerous to give states the right to deal with human rights questions. That's how we ended up with slavery and segregation going forward a long time.
I, under no circumstances, believe we ought to give states rights to gay and lesbians' human rights. Whatever my personal feelings may be about gay and lesbian marriages, unless you are prepared to say gays and lesbians are not human beings, they should have the same constitutional right of any other human being. And I think that that should be...
BROWNSTEIN: How would you effectuate that? How would you do that?
SHARPTON: I would say that they have the constitutional right to do whatever any...
KING: So you would have another amendment?
BROWNSTEIN: You would have a constitutional amendment?
SHARPTON: No, I wouldn't -- first of all, I think we've got to deal with a lot of constitutional amendments. If Bush wants to deal with it, let's get to ERA. Let's deal with a lot.
You know, it's funny they want to leapfrog over a lot of movements for constitutional amendments and do this.
This is where I agree with Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards. Bush is trying to go from race baiting with quotas in 2000 to gay baiting in 2004. And all of us ought to be united that he does not scapegoat the gay and lesbian community like he did minorities four years ago.
KING: Dennis. Dennis Kucinich...
SHARPTON: The issue in 2004...
SHARPTON: The issue in 2004 is not if gays marry. The issue is not who you go to bed with. The issue is whether either of you have a job when you get up in the morning.
KING: Isn't marriage inherently a man and a woman, inherently?
KUCINICH: No. And I think that...
KING: Not inherently a man and a woman?
KUCINICH: I think that's what we're talking about here. There's a question of civil marriage, and there's a question of marriage as performed by the church. We're talking about civil law here.
And Janet raised a question earlier about polarity. What we have here is an example of what happens when you have a president who looks at the world with polarized thinking, of us versus them.
The same kind of thinking that led to a war in Iraq, an unnecessary war, is leading to an unnecessary cultural war here, because it should be widely assumed by all Americans that equal protection of the law ought to made available, regardless of race, color, creed or sexual orientation.
KING: Is the determination here which of the four of you would make the best president, rather than running tonight against President Bush? Aren't you running against each other?
KERRY: Larry, can I come back to a point?
KING: Because aren't you running...
KERRY: This discussion we've just had is exactly where the Republicans want us to spend our time.
I just came from Ohio, from Youngstown and from Cleveland, where I met the steelworkers who are out of work. They don't have health care. They don't have jobs.
This president has gone from a promise of creating 4 million jobs to about 3 million jobs net lost. That's a 7 million swing. I mean, there's one basic rule: When you're digging yourself a hole, stop digging. (APPLAUSE)
This guy wants to make his tax cuts permanent now.
I think the real -- no, the real issue in front of this country -- this is not the biggest issue in front of the country, that we were just talking about. The biggest issue...
KING: It's the biggest story today.
KERRY: It's not even the biggest story. The biggest story today, Larry, are 43 million Americans who have no health care. The biggest story today is the people...
The biggest story are the workers that I met with out in front of Vons supermarket, the UFCW workers who have been out there walking for five months. A husband and a wife who haven't worked in five months because they can't get health care.
And you've got companies like Wal-Mart that are stripping underneath them, that hire part-time people, that have actually advertised to come and work, so they won't do their health care.
That's what this race is about.
BROWNSTEIN: The economic issues are very real...
KING: We're going to get to them.
BROWNSTEIN: ... in a great deal of depth. But I want to ask Senator Edwards a question.
Do you think that answer is sufficient for a general election, especially in your part of the country? Can you tell people in the South that values issues are secondary and that we should be talking about health care and the economy, education? Or do you have to convince them that, whether the issue is the death penalty or gay marriage or whatever, that you do share their values?
EDWARDS: Of course you've got to do both. You don't get to tell people what to think in any part of the country. You don't get to say to voters, "This is what you can consider and this is what you should not consider." They're going to consider everything.
Now, it is absolutely true that the economy is a huge issue. I think jobs is actually the most important component of that. Health care is a huge issue. What's happening overseas and our image around the world is a huge issue. No doubt about any of that.
But people are going to consider these other things. And for us to assume that that's not true is just a fantasy. It's not true. We need a candidate at the top of this ticket who can connect with voters everywhere in America. And if we don't have that, we're going to be in trouble.
BROWNSTEIN: Well, let me ask you directly, given the views that Senator Kerry has expressed over the years and the votes he's cast on issues like the death penalty, the Defense of Marriage Act, his argument that he would have, in effect, a litmus test for Supreme Court justices, they would have to be pro-choice, given that record, do you think he can meet your test and connect with voters in the South and in the border states in the general election?
EDWARDS: I think that's his test to meet, that's his...
KING: Well, do you think he can?
BROWNSTEIN: Do you think he can?
EDWARDS: I think it depends on what's happening in the country at the moment. What I know is that I can.
I mean, if you step back from this for just a minute. I mean, in order for us to win this election, number one, we're going to have to have a candidate who can appeal outside the Democratic Party. We have to motivate our party and our party base. And all of us believe in the core Democratic values, everybody sitting at this table. But the question becomes: What do we do to attract independent voters? Because we have to get these people.
KING: And you're saying you could do that better?
EDWARDS: I know I can do it. If you look at the primaries that have been conducted so far, I mean, I've got a significant lead...
KING: But he's won most of them.
EDWARDS: Yes, but if you look at the independent...
He has. He has. That's a fair statement. But remember, it's Democrats who are voting in these primaries largely, but there are also independents voting in these primaries. And the independents have been voting for me.
Some of them vote for Senator Kerry, but I have a lead among these people between the two of us. And the other...
KERRY: Can I speak to that?
EDWARDS: You need to let me finish first. But the point I'm trying to make here is I have actually won one. This is not something we have to guess about. I've won in a part of the country that's a very difficult place for a Democrat to win.
I won against the Jesse Helms political machine in North Carolina. I mean, it's a powerful, powerful presence. Actually I saw a poll today that shows in North Carolina, my state, admittedly, I'm leading President Bush, Senator Kerry's behind me.
But we have to be able to compete in all these parts of the country. If you step back from this for just a minute and you think about the states where we have to be able to be successful, places like Arkansas, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, which Senator Kerry just made reference to, New Hampshire, which will probably be a swing state this fall, when I go through those states one-by-one, all states that we need to win and we need to do well with, I would concede that Senator Kerry may have an advantage in New Hampshire.
I would not believe he has an advantage over me any place else. I think I have the advantage in these other places.
KING: I want to...
KERRY: Can I to speak to that?
KERRY: Because there's nothing, nothing in the returns in 18 out of 20 primaries and caucuses so far that documents what John Edwards has just said. I won Independents and Republicans in Iowa.
KING: You mean he's not telling the truth?
KERRY: There's nothing that documents what he just said. I'm just telling you that I won Independents, and many Republicans crossed over and registered as Democrats for the first time to say, "I'm voting for you in this race."
BROWNSTEIN: It is also true, though, that your vote share among Independents...
KERRY: Let me just finish.
BROWNSTEIN: ... was lower than among Democrats in virtually every state there's been an exist poll.
KERRY: Let me just finish.
I won in Tennessee, and I won in Virginia.
And the test of this -- I've heard John Edwards himself say this. John has said many times, "We got to stop stereotyping the people in the South." The people in the South believe the same things as people in the rest of the country.
Now, I believe that's true.
EDWARDS: It is true.
KERRY: And I also know that I have been -- when I went to the United States Senate in 1985, I was one of the first people to fight for deficit reduction. They care about balancing the budget in the South.
I've been a prosecutor. I've sent people to jail for the rest of their life. They care about law and order in the South.
I'm a gun owner and a hunter, though I've never contemplated going hunting with an AK-47. And I believe I can speak to that culture.
I'm a veteran. I've served in a war. They care about that.
And I believe when it comes to jobs, health care, education, protection the environment, breathing clean air, drinking clean water, the people of the South care about the same things. And we can win in the South.
KING: We're going to get to that area. One quick question before we do, though...
... before Janet asks a question.
You are against capital punishment, except in the case of terrorism.
KING: I've done a lot of shows recently dealing with the death of little children. A person who kills a 5-year-old should live?
KERRY: Larry, my instinct is to want to strangle that person with my own hands. I understand the instincts, I really do. I prosecuted people. I know what the feeling of the families is and everybody else.
But we have 111 people who have been now released from death row -- death row, let alone the rest of the prison system -- because of DNA evidence that showed they didn't commit the crime of which they were convicted.
After spending -- I myself worked to get a person out of jail who had been there for 15 years for a murder that person did not commit.
Now, our system has made mistakes, and it's been applied in a way that I think is wrong.
Secondly, I don't believe that, in the end, you advance the, sort of, level of your justice and the system of your civility as a nation -- and many other nations in the world, most of the other nations in the world, have adopted that idea, that the state should not engage in killing.
Because they have very bad memories of what happens when the state engages in killing. (APPLAUSE)
KING: Before Janet asks a question, Senator Edwards, I know you agree with capital punishment.
KING: What about this case of -- that means the United States nearly executed over 100 people who didn't do it.
EDWARDS: Right. Very serious issue, and it means we need to take lots of serious steps to deal with it, which means using DNA testing, which John just spoke about.
It means making all of the most modern technologies available.
It means making the court system work, not just for those who can hire the best lawyers money can buy, but for folks who have to have indigent counsel. I mean, I've seen what happens in court rooms. I know how important it is to have a lawyer representing an indigent defendant who...
KING: Why do you favor...
EDWARDS: ... knows what they're doing.
KING: ... why do you favor capital?
EDWARDS: Because I think there are some crimes -- those men who dragged James Byrd behind that truck in Texas, they deserve the death penalty. And I think there...
... are some crimes that deserve the ultimate punishment.
CLAYTON: I actually had a question for Reverend Sharpton and Congressman Kucinich.
Both of these two guys here have raised millions of dollars in special interests -- from special-interest people. How, then, would you say they're able to counter Ralph Nader's argument that both parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, are beholden to what he calls "corporate paymasters"?
SHARPTON: Let me say this before I answer that...
... because a lot of my career is on the criminal justice system. Senator Edwards, are you saying, since you agree that there's a lot of problems in the death penalty -- and no one has mentioned the racial disparity about those on death row -- that therefore, you would suspend your support of capital punishment until we dealt with those problems?
EDWARDS: No, I would not.
SHARPTON: So you would proceed even with the flaws?
EDWARDS: I think those changes need to be made in the system. We need to make those changes. I've been fighting for those changes in the United States Senate. But that does not...
SHARPTON: But you would let them continue?
EDWARDS: But that does not mean -- and I think states can -- for example, North Carolina can evaluate whether its own system is working. I think they vary from state-to-state. The state of Illinois did that and came to a conclusion that their system was not working. I think we should support that if they make that determination.
SHARPTON: That sounds like states' rights again. I don't agree with that.
EDWARDS: No, it is not.
SHARPTON: But anyway, I think that in terms of Ralph Nader, the best way to answer Ralph Nader is how we've done tonight. We're all on stage. Many of us have said what Nader said in 2000, some of it had validity. But all of that is being said now in the primaries. There's nothing that I know of that Nader is saying that Kucinich and I are not saying in the primaries. So what does he need to say it in November for if it's being debated now?
And we'll deal with it in the convention. And we'll come out of the convention -- and we'll come out of the convention with a nominee.
That's why I give credit to Senator Kerry, that the debates are not limited, everyone is being heard.
We are saying many of the things he said he wanted said. He should have endorsed one of us. Let's come out with a winner and beat George Bush and not have...
KING: Congressman Kucinich, would you address Janet's question? Then we'll have a question from Ron.
KUCINICH: I think the American people tonight will be well- served if we can describe, for example, why we all aren't for a universal, single-payer, not-for-profit health care system. I think the American people will be well-served if we can describe why, for example, Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are not for canceling NAFTA and the WTO, as I would do, because that is how you save the manufacturing jobs.
And I think they'd be well-served if they would be able to see the connection, as I will just explain, between the cost of the war in Iraq and cuts in health care, education, job creation, veterans' benefits, housing programs.
See, this debate ought to be about substantive differences which we do have.
And I have the greatest respect for Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry, but we have substantive differences along these lines that I think it would help to explicate here tonight.
KING: All of you are pledged to support the winner of this four?
SHARPTON: And work for him. I will travel...
KING: You will work?
SHARPTON: I will travel all over this country to make Al Sharpton president.
KING: And stay in the best hotels.
SHARPTON: Even better hotels.
KING: Do you have a preference among Kerry and Edwards?
SHARPTON: No. Let me say something, I'd have disagreements with both. I disagree with Kerry's vote on Iraq. I disagree with Edwards on the Patriot Act.
But I think, on their worst day, they are better than George Bush. I think they have integrity. I think they have vision. And I think they can be talked to.
I think that we're dealing with a president that wants to gay- bash. What about the other 10 Commandments? Let's make a constitutional amendment against president's that lie. Let's deal with the whole thing.
KING: Congressman Kucinich, do you have a preference? Do you have a preference of these two? Do you have a...
KUCINICH: I'd be proud to have any of these gentlemen up here as my running-mate. And I'd also like to say...
I would also like to say that I think that the way we win, Larry, is to be able to appeal to people's practical aspirations for health care for all, for jobs for all, for education for all, for retirement security and for peace. And that's what we need to be talking about tonight.
BROWNSTEIN: Let me turn to another...
KERRY: Do you mind? Because I think the question was asked about the influence of money in the Democratic Party about John and myself, and I'd really like to make a statement about that.
I teamed up with Paul Wellstone, and we fought and created the most far-reaching campaign finance reform law in the history of this country called Clean Money, Clean Elections. It would have gotten the money out of politics.
When I first arrived in the Senate, I ran the first PAC-free -- political-action-committee-free -- Senate race in the nation.
I am the only United States senator who's been elected four times currently serving who has never accepted political action committee money in any of my races for the United States Senate. No checks from those interests.
The only people who've contributed me are, yes, some people who lobby. The total amount in lifetime amounts to about 1 percent of all the money that I've ever raised.
But what's important is I've stood up for the important fights over the course of time, and so has John Edwards. We both stand up and fight -- he fought for the patients' bill of rights. I fought against the clean water, clean air destruction by Gingrich. I led the fight to stop the drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge against big oil companies.
BROWNSTEIN: You've raised questions, though, Senator Edwards, about whether Senator Kerry is as separated from the Washington system as he presents it.
There was a report in The Washington Post today that, in addition to the question about lobbying contributions, he's also raised money from interests that are involved in setting up off-shore companies and off-shore tax havens.
Do you view Senator Kerry as part of the solution or part of the problem in the way Washington works? EDWARDS: I think we have to change what's happening there. And Washington lobbyists who -- which you just asked about -- Senator Kerry made this point about himself. I've never taken money from a special interest PAC, myself. But I also don't take any money, not a dime, from Washington lobbyists.
And I think we have to go further than that. I think we ought to ban the contribution of Washington lobbyists. Those people shouldn't be able to make contributions to the very people that they're lobbying.
We've got people who are going through this revolving door from the government into these high-priced lobbying firms, going back into the government.
We ought to shine a bright light on what these lobbyists...
EDWARDS: If I can just finish this -- what these lobbyists -- because these people are stealing the democracy of the American people.
They are there every single day...
BROWNSTEIN: But in the choice facing voters...
EDWARDS: The choice is...
BROWNSTEIN: Is there a difference in your commitment to this cause and what you see from Senator Kerry, based on both what he's said and what he's done?
KING: Fair question.
EDWARDS: Yes. The answer is there are two differences. I commend Senator Kerry for the work he's done on public financing of political campaigns, which I know he believes in deeply. So do I. That's the ultimate solution for this.
But there are two differences. One is, if we're going to change the way Washington operates, my belief is we need somebody who comes from outside that system. That's number one.
Number two, I also think we need to change the influence of Washington lobbyists. And that is a distinction. It's an important distinction, because I think these Washington lobbyists have entirely too much influence on what happens every day.
The best example is this recent prescription drug Medicare reform bill, you know, where everything that could've been done to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for the American people, the drug companies and their lobbyists were against, so it all came out.
It's wrong. We need to cut off these people's influence, and stop the...
BROWNSTEIN: He is saying many of the same things. Are you saying that he is less committed, based on what you have seen?
EDWARDS: I'm simply saying there is a difference between the two of us. No more than that. I don't take Washington lobbyist money. I think we ought to ban their contributions. I don't think the should...
KING: But, I mean, do you criticize him for doing it?
KERRY: If I can just point something out. And I don't think there fundamentally is a difference. I mean, John has raised almost 50 percent of his money from one group of people in the United States of America. Now I don't suggest ever...
KING: Is that the trial lawyers?
KERRY: That's correct. And I don't ever suggest that he is beholden to them. I think he's -- because I know he stood up on the patients' bill of rights. And he is prepared, as I am. And I don't think there is a difference. I know he's looking for some differences because you need them. But there's not really a difference in this race between us in our commitment to get the lobbying out.
And you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to issue an executive order that prohibits anyone from going from lobbying -- from government directly into lobbying for a period of five years. And we're going to make every meeting of a lobbyist and a public official a matter...
KERRY: ... of public record subject to the scrutiny of the American people.
KING: And Dennis wants to say something.
Would that be the first executive order you'd issue?
KERRY: One of the first.
KING: What would be the first executive order?
KERRY: Reverse the Mexico City policy on the gag rule so that we take a responsible position globally on family planning.
KUCINICH: My first executive order will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO...
KING: Cancel it?
KUCINICH: ... and return to bilateral trade conditioned on workers' rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.
Now, to people watching this discussion who do not have any health insurance at all -- and, you know, there's a direct connection between the lack of health insurance in this country and the control which the insurance industry has over Washington -- and the control that it has over our Democratic Party, too.
Larry, in 2000 -- Larry? In 2000, I brought...
KING: I'm paying attention to you, Dennis. Dennis, I can hear and look over there at the same time.
KUCINICH: I didn't want you to miss this because this is something that...
KING: It's an old Jewish trait. We can do two things at once.
KUCINICH: This is something...
SHARPTON: Let's not get ethnic, Larry. Let's not get ethnic.
KUCINICH: This is something I know...
KING: Let's not get ethnic?
See how we're uniting. Even I'm saying, let's not get ethnic, Larry.
KING: Sorry, Dennis.
KUCINICH: I think the American...
Well, I'm glad to point out something that all those people who don't have health insurance and all those people who have seen their premiums go up 50 percent in the last three years already understand. And that is that Washington right now is controlled by the insurance interests and by the pharmaceutical companies. And our party, our Democratic Party four years ago, John and John, I went to our...
... Democratic platform committee with a proposal for universal single-payer health care. And it was quickly shot down because it offended some of the contributors to our party.
I just want to state something: We must be ready to take up this challenge of bringing health care to all the American people. And that's what I'm asking everyone here to make a commitment to. Single payer...
KING: We're going to turn now to Iraq, and Janet...
SHARPTON: Larry, just before you turn to Iraq, I think that answers your question why we're in the race.
It's not just who is going to head the ticket. But we will have delegates at the convention to shape the platform and hold whoever wins of the four accountable. That's why we are picking up delegates.
KING: All right. That's fair.
SHARPTON: This is not a coronation, this is a convention.
KING: Janet, let's...
SHARPTON: Who is going to represent us?
KING: Let's turn to Iraq. Janet?
CLAYTON: Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry, you both try to portray yourself as different types of people in Washington. But you both voted for the Iraq resolution, which basically gave the president power to use any means that he deemed necessary and appropriate, including military force, to respond to the perceived threat of Saddam Hussein.
How can you criticize the president on his Iraq policy when both of you handed him a blank check to do whatever he wanted?
EDWARDS: Who do you want to start?
KING: Either one. Go ahead, Senator.
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I did what I did after giving an awful lot of thought and study to it. I was worried about it. All of us were. I took this responsibility very seriously.
I also said, at the time that the resolution was voted on, that it was critical that, when we reached this stage, that this not be done by America done, that it not be an American occupation, that it not be an American operation. That it needs to be...
KING: And it wasn't.
EDWARDS: But it is. It is now. This is not internationalized. I mean, we have some help from the British, but for the most part, it's America doing it alone, which I believe is an enormous mistake. It's the reason we're having one of the...
CLAYTON: Well, then, why didn't you not vote for it? Why didn't you insist on caveats? It was a blank check. Why?
EDWARDS: But those -- but those -- what we did is we voted on a resolution.
The answer is, what we did is we voted on a resolution. It is for the president of the United States to determine how to conduct the war. That's his responsibility.
KING: So you trusted...
EDWARDS: No, I didn't trust him.
What this comes down to is this president has failed in his responsibility. It's a completely legitimate criticism. Neither of us would've conducted this operation the way he conducted it.
First of all, we would've done the groundwork to reach out to our friends and allies around the world before we even went to a military intervention.
CLAYTON: So are you saying you were suckered?
EDWARDS: Wait, let me finish this, please.
And we also made clear, and I made clear, that in order for this to be successful, at this point, we should have NATO involved in providing security. We should have the United Nations involved in overseeing the transitional government in Iraq. We need to get on a real timetable for the Iraqis to govern themselves and to provide for their own security.
These are not things that I'm saying today for the first time. These are things that I said at the time.
And this president has failed in his responsibilities. It's that simple.
KING: Do you regret your vote? Do you regret your vote?
EDWARDS: I did what I believed was right at the time.
KING: Do you regret it?
EDWARDS: I believe I did what was right. KING: Do you regret it?
EDWARDS: We don't get to go back, Larry. Five hundred...
KING: Well, you can regret something.
EDWARDS: Wait a minute. Five hundred -- over 500 men and women have lost their lives in this cause.
All of us did what we thought was the responsible thing to do at the time -- wrong or right. We're not perfect. You know, I did what I believed was the responsible thing to do at the time. And if we did what we were supposed to be doing right now and what we said should be done right now, we would be -- this policy would actually be successful.
KING: Senator Kerry and then Dennis and...
KERRY: Let me return a favor from the last debate to John. You asked a yes-or-no answer: "Do you regret your vote?"
The answer is: No. I do not regret my vote. I regret that we have a president of the United States who misled America and broke every promise he made to the United States Congress.
And here is a -- and I have a slightly different take from John on this. Let me make it very clear: We did not give the president any authority that the president of the United States didn't have. Did we ratify what he was doing? Yes.
But Clinton went to Haiti without the Congress. Clinton went to Kosovo without the Congress. And the fact is, the president was determined to go, evidently. But we changed the dynamics by getting him to agree to go to the United Nations and to make a set of promises to the nation.
Promise number one: He would build a true global international coalition. Number two: he would honor the U.N. inspection process. And number three -- and this is most important -- it's important to me and to any of us who served in war: He said he would go to war as a last resort.
He broke every single one of those promises. And in the end...
KING: Would you leave now? Would you leave...
KERRY: No, Larry...
KING: You don't agree with Dennis.
KERRY: No, I would not leave now. I think that you can't leave now. The impact of leaving now on the war on terror, on the Middle East, would be disastrous.
But what underscores how bad this administration is...
What underscores this administration's failure of leadership in foreign policy across the board -- North Korea, AIDS, global warming, Russia, the Middle East and, of course, in Iraq -- the failure is that Europe has an enormous interest in not having a failed Iraq on its doorstep.
KING: We've got to take a break.
KERRY: Well, I want to finish. The Arab community has an enormous interest in not having a failed Iraq as its neighbor. And notwithstanding the legitimacy of that interest, this administration has failed utterly to bring the international community to the table.
KUCINICH: Could I just follow...
KERRY: I will bring that...
KING: Dennis and Al have to get a word in. But let's do this, let's take a break and we'll come right back with more on Iraq. We can't put that away.
You're watching the Democratic debate on close to the eve of Super Tuesday co-sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times.
We'll be right back.
KING: Welcome back to this special debate co-sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times, coming to you from the University of Southern California with Ron Brownstein and Janet Clayton.
And we have statements from Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton about Iraq, and then we're going to move to domestic issues.
KUCINICH: Larry, as the Democrat who led the effort in the House of Representatives challenging the Bush administration's march toward war in Iraq, I'm very concerned about Senator Kerry's answer, because to say that there are no regrets in light of the fact that we know now that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, with al Qaeda's role in 9/11, with the anthrax attack on our country, that Iraq had neither the intention nor the capability of attacking this country, did not have weapons of mass destruction, it puts us in a position where we're endorsing the continuation of a war.
And I'm very concerned that our party...
KERRY: Dennis, I didn't say I had no regrets. I said I had a regret about the actions of the president.
KUCINICH: Well, I can say that if you don't have an exit plan, if you don't have...
KERRY: I do.
KUCINICH: ... if you don't have a way to get the U.N. in and get our troops home -- there are Army reservists and there are National Guardsmen and women who are waiting to hear if they're going to be brought home.
KUCINICH: Or are we looking at a draft? Because you've said you want to send 40,000 more troops there.
KERRY: No, I haven't said that.
KERRY: I have never said that.
KUCINICH: You never said you wanted to bring 40,000 more troops ever?
KERRY: No, I said what we need, because our troops are over- extended in the United States, and we've turned the Guard and the Reserve into almost active duty, we're hurting families all across the nation who are paid less in the military than they were in the private sector.
And our military is so overextended that what I said is, on a temporary basis, we need two additional divisions in the overall standing Army of the United States, because when we rotate the divisions back this spring, we will only have two divisions active that are able to be deployed.
KUCINICH: See, I've seen nothing that suggests that you would bring our troops home. If you're saying it now...
KUCINICH: If you're saying it now that you'll bring our troops home, then that's real progress in this debate.
SHARPTON: I think that's why it's important that we have delegates at the convention to hold whoever the nominee is accountable on issues like Iraq, on issues like the Patriot Act. This is not just about coronating a winner, it's about a direction of the party.
Hundreds of thousands of us were marching against this war while they voted for it.
And I think that to vote against that and not to have us represented at the convention is wrong.
Right now we have foreign policy questions. I'm going to Haiti. People are not even discussing Haiti. We don't have delegates at the convention.
A lot of the concerns of many Americans won't even be discussed if we don't have delegates.
When I came in tonight, Ron, the first thing I asked on the way in is, "How do I get out?" I wouldn't have voted for Bush to go in if I didn't know his exit plan out. That doesn't make sense to me.
BROWNSTEIN: You've brought up Haiti. Before we turn to domestic issues, let's talk about this quickly. If you were president today, what would you be doing, Senator Edwards, about the crisis in Haiti?
KING: Adding that the Caribbean nations today announced that +a multi-national force should go in.
EDWARDS: Yes. That's correct, by the way, that's exactly what should happen.
What I would do is, ultimately we have to have a political solution for this problem. And what I would do as president of the United States is pick two or three respected world leaders, like President Clinton did back in the '90s with Jimmy Carter and Sam Nunn, and, I believe, Colin Powell, if I'm not mistaken.
KING: Right, those three.
EDWARDS: Send them to the region. Work on a political solution. You know, the framework, I think that probably makes the most sense is some...
KING: It might be too late.
EDWARDS: Maybe. Maybe. But if we can stabilize the situation first, work on a political solution, and I think the framework of that political solution is some shared authority, and then setting a real timetable for a democratic election. I think that's the frame that needs to be in place.
But can I say one other thing about this? We should not be in this place. We are in this place because this is so typical of this president's disengagement in this entire hemisphere. In fact, he's done it all over the world. But this is a perfect example. What he's done in Mexico, what he's done in Haiti. The reason we're in this place is because this president has not been involved, not been engaged. He's had complete...
KING: Are you saying he could have prevented this?
EDWARDS: I'm saying, if we had stayed involved, we would have seen this coming a lot sooner, and we could have gotten...
EDWARDS: ... could have gotten involved and engaged...
KING: All right. Senator Kerry and then Janet. I know that Al's going there Wednesday.
KING: I know. Senator Kerry and then you.
KERRY: Actually, I disagree with John a little bit, in that the president...
... the president himself, wasn't engaged, but his administration has been. And his administration has been engaged in a very manipulative and wrongful way.
EDWARDS: Are you saying they were engaged but wrong engaged?
KERRY: Here's what I'm telling you. Here's what I'm telling you. This administration set up an equation. They have a theological and a ideological hatred for Aristide. They always have.
And they approach this so that the insurgents were given -- empowered by this administration, because they said to the insurgents, "If you...
"... Until you reach an agreement with Aristide and the government about sharing power, we're not going to provide aid and assistance."
So we empowered them to simply veto any agreement, which is what they're still doing with respect to a power-sharing in another government.
What this president ought to have done is to have given them an ultimatum: Either we're going to restore the democracy, have the full democracy in the region -- notwithstanding that I think Aristide has some problems, and I do. And I think there have been serious problems in his police, the way they've managed things. But our engagement should have been to try to restore the democracy, to bring those people together. That's what president...
KING: All right. Janet has a question.
CLAYTON: But as a practical...
KERRY: ... and that's what we should be doing now.
CLAYTON: But as a practical matter, if thousands of starving Haitians get in a boat tonight -- 500 have already been turned away -- if thousands of starving Haitians come to the coast of Florida, would you embrace them, as the U.S. embraces fleeing Cubans? Or would you turn them away?
SHARPTON: See, I think that's a critical question. I have visited the Krome Detention Center. Mr. Bush says we give political asylum to people coming from Cuba, but he says we would not do it from Haiti.
Now we saw an exact opposite when we saw Haitians flee. And I've seen Haitians. I've been to Krome Detention Center in Miami twice. I am going to Haiti in a few days.
I think that the real issue is why this country continues to block resources there that could have built the infrastructure, provided jobs; why we blocked a $500 million approved loan from the World Bank. I think that we've got a responsibility.
I'm disappointed in some things President Aristide has done. I said that to him on the phone. I've said that to the opposition leaders.
But I do not think we can undermine a democracy. And we can't have different strokes for different folks at the border in Miami.
KING: Janet's question, though, is would you take them in?
Senator, would you take them in?
EDWARDS: Those who were fleeing for political asylum, yes.
KING: You would take them in.
EDWARDS: Those who were fleeing for political asylum, yes.
KING: Would you take them in?
KERRY: I think you'd have to for temporary reason. But you have to immediately move to get an international force in there to restore order.
KING: All right, let's go to the...
BROWNSTEIN: Let's move to domestic issues, in particular health care.
KING: That's right.
BROWNSTEIN: About one in five Californians lack health insurance, one of the highest ratios in the country. In the last few weeks, Senator Kerry, Senator Edwards has been saying your health care plan is too expensive, it's unaffordable, it's unrealistic.
Does his plan cover enough people? Is it ambitious enough?
BROWNSTEIN: Go on.
Don't let me stop you.
SHARPTON: But that was a yes or no, John, that time.
EDWARDS: Yes, but what time is it now?
KING: We've got a little while.
KERRY: Let me just say that I think John has an interesting approach, and parts of it could be parts of a larger approach.
But here's what I would do. I want to give the middle class in America a tax break, and I want to make companies more competitive.
So my program is more ambitious, because what I do is I roll back George Bush's tax cut for the wealthiest Americans, and I take part of that money and I create a federal fund that takes all the catastrophic cases in America out of the private system, which means, effectively, every individual in every business in America will be capped at $50,000 of risk.
That will provide each American who has health care today with a $1,000 minimum reduction in their premium. That's cash in the pocket. That's a tax break. And it'll make American companies more competitive.
BROWNSTEIN: Senator Edwards, that is one of the major differences between your plan. Is that idea affordable? Do you think the federal government can take on the obligation of paying out three- quarters of the cost of all catastrophic health care claims? EDWARDS: Well, I think the issue becomes this: Whether you believe health care is an isolated problem -- it's a very serious problem for the American people -- or whether you think it's part of a bigger frame that it needs to fit in.
I, myself, believe that there are two major problems in the economy in America today. One is 35 million Americans who live in poverty. When we lift Americans out of poverty, which I believe is a moral responsibility -- and I've laid out new ideas about how we deal with that problem -- we actually strengthen the economy because we put them in the middle class, which is the engine of this economy.
We also have a struggling middle class, an extraordinarily struggling middle class. Over the last 20 years, we've had a sea change. Twenty years ago, most of our families were saving money, they had financial security, it's all changed. Now they're saving nothing. In fact, they're going into debt.
And that means if one thing goes wrong -- if they have a health care problem, which is what we're discussing now, if they have a financial problem or a layoff -- they go right off the cliff.
My view is that health care is a very important component of this problem. But it's not the only component. You know, it's why I mandate health care for all kids and cover the most vulnerable adults and take on health care costs in a very serious way.
But we also have to find ways to not only lift these families out of poverty who are living in poverty, but in addition to that, help families save. Match what they are able to save, dollar-for-dollar. Help people to invest. Help the millions of families who want to buy a home, for example, by giving them a credit that allows them to make the down payment...
BROWNSTEIN: Senator Kerry, you're both starting with the same revenue stream, because you basically want to repeal the same elements of the tax cut by and large.
BROWNSTEIN: Why do you make the choice that you make to shift more toward health care? Is he wrong in basically covering about 5 million fewer people by the estimates than you are, and shifting that money toward helping the middle class accumulate assets?
KERRY: Well, I also shift money towards the middle class, and I do it by closing the egregious loopholes that reward companies for taking jobs overseas. I mean, you mentioned earlier the people who have contributed to me were those companies that go overseas. They're in for a big surprise. I'm shutting those loopholes. We're going to end the notion that the American taxpayer is going to actually subsidize somebody to take jobs overseas.
There are about $40 billion worth of benefits, and there are about $150 billion of overall noneconomic (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
We have a tax code today that's gone form 14 pages to 17,000 pages. And most Americans don't have one of those pages.
What I'm going to do is shut those loopholes. And we're going to invest in education, health care, job creation, raising people out of poverty.
KING: Janet has a question. But Dennis wants to make one response, and then Janet. Dennis, then Janet.
KUCINICH: I agree with my friend John Edwards about we need to do something about poverty. And that's why I'd like you to join me in this proposal to have a universal single-payer, not-for-profit health care system, because that would lift tens of millions of Americans out of poverty. And, Larry...
KING: By the way, Harry Truman proposed that in 1948.
KUCINICH: Well, and you know what? John Conyers and I introduced the bill in this Congress. And that would provide all coverage for everyone, all medically necessary procedures, plus vision care, dental care, mental health care...
KING: In other words, socialism?
KUCINICH: ... long-term care.
Wait a minute. You know what? What we have now, Larry, what we have now, what we have now, Larry, is predatory capitalism which makes of the American people a cash crop for the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies.
KING: Well, said.
KUCINICH: And so I'm talking about a change. And I'd like them to join me.
CLAYTON: I want to talk in a broader way back to the economy and outsourcing, this idea of taking U.S. jobs overseas because they can be done more cheaply there.
Now, Senator Kerry, you supported free trade. Isn't the loss of good paying jobs to those who can do it faster and cheaper an unavoidable consequence of open international markets that you support?
And as a follow to that, how do you square your support, and I think this would be true of most of you, how do you square your support for affordable clothes and food and all of the things that you can kind of find at the Wal-Marts, cheap goods done overseas, with the fact that you also support unions who fight for higher wages, better working conditions and make consumer goods more expensive? It seems to me you're having it both ways here.
KERRY: No, not at all. I don't know you wanted to ask first.
CLAYTON: You first and...
KERRY: The answer is not at all. And, yes, some of those jobs are going to go overseas and I have been very honest with workers about it. I mean, I stood in a UAW hall in Dayton the other day and a fellow asked me -- the shop steward said, "Can you promise me you're going to stop all the jobs from being outsourced?" I said, "No, I can't promise that."
What I can promise you is, first of all, there is a differential between the different kinds of jobs. Some jobs we can't compete with. I understand that. But most jobs we can.
And if we provide a lower cost of health care in America, a lot of companies will not feel compelled to leave, number one.
Number two, if we take away these loopholes in the tax code that actually encourage people to go overseas, we change that differential.
Number three, if we start enforcing trade law -- look, I voted for some trade agreements. Yes, I did. I believe in trade, and I'm not going to run for president suggesting that America ought to bring a wall down on it.
But I believe in smart trade, fair trade, not this open-ended exploitation.
In NAFTA, we have signed agreements, three of which in labor are enforceable. They have not been enforced. We have signed agreements on environment; they haven't been enforced.
In the China trade agreement, we have anti-surge provisions. We have anti-dumping provisions. Notwithstanding the dumping and the surge, the administration did nothing.
I will fight for the American worker and guarantee that we enforce that.
And finally, I'd just say to you, China has been violating intellectual property laws, access to market, currency manipulation. Airbus undercut Boeing, hurt the workers there.
This administration does nothing.
I will fight for labor and environment standards in our trade agreements, and we'll enforce them. And it's that simple.
KING: And let's go around the horn, with an answer to Janet's question.
Go ahead, Senator. EDWARDS: OK. If I could just say a word about this, you asked at the beginning of this debate about differences. This is a place where this difference really matters. This is not some academic trade policy Washington issue for me.
I have seen up close what happens when mills and factories close. I saw what happened in my own hometown when the mill that my father worked in closed. I saw the faces of the men and women who had worked there -- and I'd worked there myself when I was young -- had worked in that mill for decades, done the right thing, been responsible, and all of a sudden, they had nowhere left to go, nowhere left to go.
I take this very, very personally.
There is a difference here. There is a difference between Senator Kerry and myself. In fairness, we both voted for permanent normal trade relations for China.
But if you look at the remainder of our record, I voted against final fast track authority for this president. Senator Kerry voted for it. I voted against the Chilean trade agreement; he voted for it. I voted against the Singapore trade agreement; he voted for it. I voted against the African trade agreement; he voted for it. I voted against the Caribbean trade agreement; he voted for it.
I wasn't in the Congress when NAFTA was passed; he voted for it. But when I campaigned for the Senate, I campaigned against it.
And the reason is because these trade agreements do not have...
... do not have -- what do -- he's got response, I guess.
KING: No, he looks shocked.
EDWARDS: But the reason -- if I can just finish this, I'm sorry, I'm almost finished.
The reason I make this point is that these agreements did not have the kind of labor and environmental protections that needed to be in the text of the agreement and be enforced.
BROWNSTEIN: So you're saying his commitment -- the commitment he's making in this campaign is suspect because he hasn't lived in it the past? Is that what you're saying?
EDWARDS: I'm saying what he is saying now is different than some of the votes he's cast in the past. And, if I might finish, is different, more importantly, our records are different on this issue.
In fairness to him, I think what he's saying going forward is similar to what I'm saying going forward. But we have very different...
KING: All right. Al and Dennis want to comment...
SHARPTON: What I think...
KING: Senator Kerry wants to respond because he seems shocked.
KERRY: Well, I am surprised, because in his major speech on the economy in Georgetown this past June, John never even mentioned trade.
And the fact is that, just the other day in New York, in The New York Times, he is quoted as saying to The New York Times that he thought NAFTA was important for our prosperity. Now he's claiming that he was against it and these other agreements.
The fact is that the Chile trade agreement and the Singapore agreement have very strong enforcement mechanisms, because those countries actually have stronger enforcement, in some cases, than we do here in our country.
So I have said clearly for a number of years now, we have to have labor and environment standards in all of our trade agreements. That is exactly the same position as John Edwards.
BROWNSTEIN: Can I just clarify one point, Senator? Can I just clarify one point?
You said you were critical of NAFTA. Obviously, you were not here to cast a vote on it. If you became president, what would you do about it? Would you seek to change it? And how would you seek to change it?
EDWARDS: I would use, for example, the Free Trade of the Americas agreement as a vehicle for renegotiating NAFTA. I don't -- Dennis and I don't agree about this. He wants to cancel NAFTA, and I can't remember...
SHARPTON: I want to cancel it.
EDWARDS: They want to cancel it. I'm not for that. I don't think Senator Kerry is for that either. But I think we do need to renegotiate it.
And the problem with NAFTA is these side agreements don't work. You have to put these labor/environmental protections in the text of the agreement in order for it -- in order for the...
BROWNSTEIN: Will that be enough?
SHARPTON: No, I don't think so. But see, I think that's why we have to have a convention and delegates have to be able -- we have to keep these guys honest. You can't say that, "I had to vote on Iraq despite some of the clause, but you shouldn't have voted on NAFTA with the clause." We've got to be straight and come with a platform that makes sense.
KING: It sounds like there's going to be a wild convention...
SHARPTON: This cost jobs for Americans. And it is unequivocal evidence that it costs Americans jobs. People were unemployed.
It also went below labor and human rights standards abroad.
We need to cancel NAFTA unequivocally. We need to have standards that we would not deal with nations that would put laborers in those kinds of situations.
We cannot protect American corporations and call that patriotic and not protect American workers and call that protections.
KUCINICH: Larry, throughout this campaign I have visited city after city where I've seen grass growing in parking lots where they used to make steel, they used to make cars, they used to make ships. And let me tell you something: NAFTA and the WTO must be canceled. Let me tell you why. The WTO, for example, it doesn't permit any alterations.
When we, as members of Congress, sought from the administration a Section 201 procedure to stop the dumping of steel into our markets so we could stop our American steel jobs from being crushed, the World Trade Organization ruled against the United States and said we had no right to do that.
Now, the World Trade Organization, as long as we belong to it, will not let us protect the jobs. This is the reason why we have outsourcing going on right now. We can't tax it. We can't put tariffs on it.
And that's why I say, in order to protect jobs in this country and to be able to create a enforceable structure for trade, we need to get out of NAFTA, get out of the WTO, stop the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, stop the Central American Free Trade...
KING: And you can do that by edict?
KUCINICH: Well, the president has the power to withdraw from both NAFTA and the WTO upon a six-months notice. And I would exercise that authority to help save American jobs.
KING: Janet has a question on immigration.
CLAYTON: Yes, gentlemen, you are here in California, where one of every eight people living in the United States live. The biggest growth in California in the last decade has been because of immigration. California has to pay for the education, health and environmental costs of both illegal and legal immigration.
Since immigration is considered a net plus for the country, why shouldn't the federal government share in the cost of immigration for California and for New York and for the other states that bear those costs?
KING: Senator Kerry first.
KERRY: Well, we do share, in some cases, for obviously Medicaid, and we share with respect to some of the health reimbursements that take place in the system. But not enough, and I understand that.
This is why my health care plan -- and I think all of the Democrats have a health care plan. George Bush has no -- let's stay focused here. George Bush has no health care plan at all for most Americans, other than those who can save money. And that's not most Americans today.
So that's the beginning.
Secondly, we need immigration reform in this country. I think everybody understands that. But we ought to be paying for a health care plan that helps to cover -- if we funded education, the president kept the promise of No Child Left Behind, if we fully funded Title I, if we funded Head Start, if we did the things that the federal government has promised to do, a mandate on special needs education, and we're not funding it.
When I'm president, we are going to fully fund special needs education, and that will come out of the closing of those loopholes and the rollback of the tax cuts.
CLAYTON: But that does not address the question of the states bearing the cost for illegal -- particularly illegal immigration.
KERRY: Look, one of the things we need to do is obviously have a level of immigration reform that's not a patchwork, not a Band-Aid. The president's plan is really a plan to exploit workers in America. It's not a real immigration reform plan.
What I want to do is have a full immigration reform plan that involves earned legalization, involves the technology and support we need on the border, work with President Fox in order to have a legitimate guest worker program. And finally, we need to crack down on those people in America who hire people illegally and exploit workers in the United States.
BROWNSTEIN: Senator Kerry, can I follow on that...
KERRY: If we did all of those together, we can begin to cope with the problem...
BROWNSTEIN: You talk about earned legalization, and that is basically a process by which people who came here illegally could work toward legal status.
KERRY: Sure. Absolutely.
BROWNSTEIN: Why would that be fair to all of the people who came legally and are waiting in line to become citizens? How would you create equity for those who play by the rules?
CLAYTON: And further, why is that fair to native-born Americans who are competing for those same jobs?
KERRY: Because so many of those people have children in America and because of our constitution, those people were born in America, they are American citizens. And I don't think it is a good thing if they are working, if they've paid their taxes, if they've stayed out of trouble to start separating families and destroy the good work they've done through those years to be part of our country.
KING: Senator Edwards?
KERRY: I think it makes more sense to bring them out of the shadows and start working them toward citizenship.
EDWARDS: Excuse me, I'm sorry.
KERRY: Go ahead.
EDWARDS: No, no, I was just going to say, it's interesting you talk about the experience here in California. I grew up in a small, rural community in North Carolina that's now half Latino.
And the families who came to my hometown came there for the same reason my family came there, because they wanted to build a better life for their kids and their families. They are making an enormous contribution to that small town and that community.
And the right thing to do for these families who are working hard, being responsible, raising their kids -- it's really a pretty basic thing -- the right thing to do is to let them become American citizens, to have the right to earn citizenship. It's just that simple.
It is the difference between what is right and what is wrong.
BROWNSTEIN: And do you worry that will encourage more people to cross illegally...
EDWARDS: No, I think...
BROWNSTEIN: ... knowing that, later down the line, there may be an opportunity to become citizens?
EDWARDS: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt you. All I was going to say is, no, I think this needs to be combined not only with better security on our border, which Senator Kerry talked about, but I think we also should expand legal immigration to release some of the pressure that exists for folks coming across our borders.
KING: I see. Should foreign-born -- be a change of Constitution and become president?
KERRY: Do you have a California interest?
KING: Just asking. I have no particular...
SHARPTON: As long as they don't have a record of being terminators.
KING: What you favor that?
KERRY: I've never really thought about it that much.
KING: Never thought about it?
KERRY: I haven't thought about it, no, I don't...
KING: Think about it.
KERRY: It's worth thinking about. At the right time, I might think about it. But that would entitle my wife to be a president, so it's a good idea.
KING: That's right.
What about you, Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: I'm in the same place he is. It's not -- to be honest with you, it's not something I've thought about, with respect to our Constitution.
SHARPTON: I would support Mrs. Kerry coming behind me in as president.
KING: Dennis, foreign-born president?
KUCINICH: You know, we are a nation of, beginning with Native Americans, but also we're a nation of immigrants as well.
KING: We are.
KUCINICH: And I think that, being a nation of immigrants, we should have an approach where someone who has lived here a long time and has participated in this system should have the rights and aspirations that any American would have.
I want to say something about this immigration issue, though. What the immigration and the migrant workers who come up from Mexico -- what this is all about is corporations seeking cheap labor, which, by the way, is what NAFTA and the WTO are about.
And what we need to do...
... we need to make sure that any immigrant workers are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act so they can have at least the minimum wage, time-and-a-half for overtime; that they're protected by the Occupational Safety and Health Act, so they can have a safe workplace.
When you take away the incentives...
KING: We only have about...
KUCINICH: ... Larry, take away the incentives for cheap labor from these corporations, and then you give people who are here some dignity, and then they'll pay -- and then there's some taxes that will cover the cost for the states.
KING: We have about 15 minutes left. We'll take a break and be back with those minutes, cover some more bases, right after this. Don't go away.
KERRY: I have to tell you that the only place in which I have taken a different position is where George Bush is not implementing something the way he said he would.
In Iraq, there was a right way to do it and a wrong way. He chose the wrong way.
On No Child Left Behind, he abandoned his promise. He's not funding it.
BROWNSTEIN: What was the right way? KERRY: He's not funding it.
With respect to -- with respect -- trade, he doesn't enforce it.
Look, he has broken every -- this man is a walking contradiction. This is the biggest say one thing, do another administration in the history of our country. And he has broken almost every promise he made, about Social Security, about children, about the environment, about deficits, about creating jobs. And I think those are the real issues of this campaign.
BROWNSTEIN: Can I ask you about one of those areas...
BROWNSTEIN: ... where you say he has not fulfilled his obligation? No Child Left Behind. You voted for No Child Left Behind in 2001, now you say he hasn't funded it enough. But you're also saying the accountability provisions, the provisions that are designed to see whether kids are advancing in reading and math...
BROWNSTEIN: ... need to be changed as well. Right now we measure schools by whether they improve student performance in reading and math.
BROWNSTEIN: You say now they should also be judged by things like teacher attendance, student attendance. Isn't the point of accountability to measure not these inputs, but the output, whether students are actually learning?
KERRY: Absolutely. The most important...
BROWNSTEIN: So why change it?
KERRY: ... is the result.
Because what's happening under the Bush administration is that they are disrespecting teachers across the country, they're making it punitive. The way they're applying the adequate yearly progress standard, it's being done in such a broad, sweeping, uniform way, that you can have a few kids who enter the school and may have language difficulties that year of entry, and they could drag the whole school into a status of failure as a result, which negates all the good efforts of every teacher there.
It's so arbitrary, Ron, that it's destroying morale of the school systems of our country.
Now, I'm for...
I fought to help pass it. I want standards. I want accountability. But you cannot do it without the resources, and you also can't do it in a way where you turn schools into testing factories that are pushing social studies aside, and everybody's focused on being on page 260 on day 53, and that's the wrong way to teach.
BROWNSTEIN: Do you agree, or is he watering it down?
EDWARDS: Well, I think, first of all, there are multiple problems with No Child Left Behind. Let me go through them quickly.
KING: You voted for it, too, though?
EDWARDS: I did vote for it. Both of us voted for it. And I think Dennis may have voted for it.
KUCINICH: I voted for it, as well.
SHARPTON: I was against it, by the way.
EDWARDS: I think the problem, if we can just sort of pinpoint the most serious problem with No Child Left Behind, is not just the accountability provisions. I also believe in accountability. We need accountability in order to improve our public schools.
But the problem is when they find the school that is struggling, instead of doing the things that -- this thing is supposed to be patterned on North Carolina, at least in part. Instead of doing the things we did in North Carolina, which is to bring expertise, resources to the school, to improve the quality of the school that's struggling, that's not what's happening with No Child Left Behind.
And if I can just step away...
BROWNSTEIN: Well, when a school is struggling, they give the parents the option to transfer their kids to another public school. They give them afterschool tutoring. How are parents worse off if you identify this school as struggling?
EDWARDS: Well, what about the -- but Ron, what about the other kids in the school? If you'll let me finish.
EDWARDS: If we can step away from this, we've spent so much time tonight talking about what George Bush is doing wrong. And George Bush -- this No Child Left Behind clearly has to be changed. It's not being funded. I believe that.
But what about our alternative vision for America? What about what we believe needs to be done about public education?
I mean, Al referred to this earlier. I think we not only have two Americas because of the people who are doing very well financially and the rest of America, I think we've got two public school systems in this country. We've got one for the most affluent communities and one for everybody else. It's wrong.
And the answer to this is not to just stop what George Bush is doing and not to use the same old, tired Washington solutions. The answer is, in my judgment, to give incentive pay to our best teachers to get them to teach in schools in less affluent areas, to give scholarships to young people who are willing to do the same thing, to seriously strengthen and expand our earlier childhood programs so that they will go in much younger than 4 years of age, which is what Head Start is aimed at. Doing the same thing with our afterschool and making afterschool available.
And the one thing we haven't talked about tonight are the hundreds of thousands of young people who want to go to college, they're qualified to go, and they're not going because they can't pay for it. We ought to let every young person in America...
... who wants to go to college and are willing to work there have their first year of tuition...
SHARPTON: I think we also have to deal with the issue of college debt forgiveness for many that did go, that find themselves a decade later trying to pay their way out.
I think that this is again why we need to have a convention where we're strong. We keep hearing, "I'm against what Bush did, but I voted for it."
And I think that is what has hurt our party, is that we switch and bait. We vote here, but it's wrong there.
We need to unequivocally say where we want to bring America. We want to save public schools, we want to give teachers pay, we want to give people incentives to become teachers.
We need to talk about more of an urban agenda tonight. We're dealing on Super Tuesday with urban areas where we have not really dealt with in these early primaries.
What's going on with our child care? What is going on with foster care? (APPLAUSE)
What is going on with afterschool programs?
What is going on with police conduct? We've had problems in Ohio, in Cincinnati, in LA, Donovan Jackson, Timothy Stansbury in New York.
I want to know our positions on what we're going to do in the urban centers.
That's why I'm going to be in Boston with delegates, because I don't want people just telling me who looks nice. I want us to have an America that treats everybody right.
KUCINICH: I think we can -- we're coming close to a consensus here. And the proposal that I introduced into the Congress is something that I would hope that we could all agree on, and that is we can close the achievement gaps by having a universal kindergarten program for children ages 3, 4 and 5, where they can learn reading skills, social and education skills, and have a nutrition component. That would be funded by a 15 percent reduction in that bloated Pentagon budget.
Secondly, we can achieve...
We can achieve, John Edwards, universal college education for all, fully paid at all public colleges and universities, by taking the Bush tax cuts that are going to people in the top brackets and put that right into a fund so our young people can go to college tuition- free.
This is how...
This is how, Larry, this is how we address the issues of poverty, because in each case we lift people out of poverty by giving them a chance to have day care covered. We lift people out of poverty by giving them the opportunity to go to college tuition-free.
KING: We're running close on time. Do you want to add something quickly...
CLAYTON: This is all well and good. But everything you guys are talking about costs a lot of money.
KUCINICH: I just said how you pay for it.
CLAYTON: Where are you going to get it? KUCINICH: Janet, I just said...
SHARPTON: The bloated Pentagon budget, canceling Bush's tax cuts, dealing with re-regulating big business, where you have trillions of dollars lost with offshore corporations paying no taxes. All you have to do is have a system where the rich are not given a bye and the poor have to pay all the taxes.
CLAYTON: We're in a war that's expensive. How are you going to pay for it?
KING: One at a time. Quick.
EDWARDS: The way to pay for it is to stop Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year. We cannot raise taxes on the middle class and people who are struggling every single day. That's a huge mistake.
CLAYTON: That's not nearly enough.
EDWARDS: That alone is not enough. Let me finish.
Second thing is we need to raise the capital gains rate for people who make over $300,000 a year. The very idea that in our country, people who make their money from investments are paying a lower tax rate than people who work for a living is wrong, and we need to put a stop to it.
And that's what Bush is for.
And then we also need -- and I'll let you speak -- they also need to close some corporate loopholes.
KING: Only got two minutes here.
KERRY: Under no circumstances should we allow George Bush or others to pay for his tax cut by cutting Social Security benefits. We don't need to do that. That is not fair.
And there are other alternatives, if you need to try to do something.
But here's what's important. If you look at the closing of those loopholes, and you look at the rollback of the tax cut, you can afford the health care plan I've laid out, the education plan.
And there's one other piece. I want to excite national service again in our country. And I think we can take young people...
(APPLAUSE) ... we can take young people who graduate from high school, and if they will serve in their communities locally, helping other kids -- helping kids who are at risk -- tutoring, mentoring -- helping seniors who are shut-in -- if they will do that, we're going to pay for their full in-state four-year college public education.
That's something we can achieve in this country.
BROWNSTEIN: Can I ask sort of a summary question for the two of you? As you've listened to the differences between each other tonight and through these dozen or so earlier debates, have you heard anything that either one has said that would make it impossible for you to run together as a ticket if it came to that?
Do you have any fundamental, philosophical objection...
KING: Would you run with John Kerry?
BROWNSTEIN: ... that would make it impossible for you to run together in either order?
EDWARDS: I think an Edwards-Kerry ticket would be powerful.
And that's the ticket that I think we should have.
KING: Wait a minute.
BROWNSTEIN: Senator Kerry? Senator Kerry?
KING: All right, hold it. Are you saying -- hold it -- are you saying now that if you get this nomination, you will ask him to join you?
EDWARDS: He certainly should be considered. He's a very, very good friend.
KING: And where does Edwards stand in your thinking?
KERRY: I want...
KING: You have to be thinking about him. If you say you're not thinking about it, you're kidding me. KERRY: I want to thank him for the consideration. I appreciate it.
KING: Is he on your list? Is he on your list?
KERRY: I don't have a list. I'm running...
KING: You don't have a list?
KERRY: I'm running for the nomination.
BROWNSTEIN: But do you see any view that would make it impossible?
KERRY: I take nothing for granted in this effort. I'm campaigning in every state. I'm working as hard as I can.
And when I win the nomination, if I do, then I'll sit down and think about who I ought to run with.
SHARPTON: And that's why we all (UNINTELLIGIBLE) delegates, so whoever's there, we're going to have influence on whatever list.
CLAYTON: So, Senator Kerry, I have a question for you, then. What quality -- and his hair and smile don't count -- what quality does Senator Edwards possess...
... that you wish you had...
SHARPTON: I thought you were talking about my hair and smile.
KING: Thirty seconds. What quality does he have you'd like?
KERRY: I think he's a great communicator. He's a charming guy. I like him very much. He's a good friend of mine.
CLAYTON: Are you saying that's something you don't have?
CLAYTON: Is that a quality you don't have?
KERRY: I haven't thought about what quality he has that I would like, but I do admire him. I respect him. And he's run a terrific campaign.
KING: And, Al, do you expect to speak at the convention?
SHARPTON: I expect to accept my nomination...
KING: Thank you all very much.
Senator John Kerry, Senator John Edwards, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Ron Brownstein and Janet Clayton. I'm Larry King.
And if you joined us late, this will repeated tonight at midnight Eastern, 9 Pacific. You can see the whole debate repeated tonight at midnight Eastern, 9 Pacific. And following us will be a special edition of "NewsNight," recapping the debate.
Thanks for joining us from Southern Cal. Good night.
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