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THE SITUATION ROOM

Special Edition: Sojourners Presidential Forum

Aired June 4, 2007 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to a special edition of our SITUATION ROOM. I'm here in New Hampshire getting ready for tomorrow's Republican debate following last night's showdown among the Democratic candidates. Tonight, some of those candidates are meeting in Washington to talk about values.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien is on the campus of George Washington University in Washington. She'll be the moderator -- Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you very much.

Tonight, we're having an in depth discussion of religion, faith and politics, with three presidential contenders -- John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Now, CNN is pleased to broadcast this event, which was organized by the Reverend Jim Wallis, who is author of the best-selling book "God's Politics." He's also head of the Sojourners Social Justice Ministry.

Now, Jim envisioned this forum. He invited the candidates and a special panel of religious leaders who are going to be joining us in the questioning tonight. Each candidate gets exactly 15 minutes of time. And if they stray from answering the question directly -- well, we'll nicely put them back on track.

Tonight, we expect to tackle some of the most important moral issues of our times. So let's get started this evening.

We begin with the introduction of the former Senator John Edwards. He's first.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Nice to see you, sir. How are you?

A warm round of applause, maybe because you're first or maybe because you own the crowd tonight, we'll have to wait and see. Let's get right to it.

There was quite a little dustup that Republicans had in their debate over the question of evolution. So I'll put the same question to you. Do you believe in evolution or do you believe in creationism?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in evolution. O'BRIEN: What do you say to all the people -- and there are millions of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it's about creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?

EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think it's perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence of evolution. I don't think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with that.

O'BRIEN: There are some people who say, well, it's actually -- isn't it mutually exclusive? I mean, either man was created by, you know, from Adam's rib or, in fact, that man came evolution-wise from apes? Aren't the two mutually exclusive?

EDWARDS: No, I don't think they are. Because the hand of God was in every step of what's happened with man. The hand of God today is in every step of what happens with me and every human being that exists on this planet.

O'BRIEN: You had a question during the debate yesterday about gay marriage. And with all due respect, I thought you dodged it a little bit, so I'm going to ask you...

EDWARDS: No. No.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Maybe it's just me.

EDWARDS: What a ridiculous...

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: But I will -- so I'll just ask it again, maybe more pointedly. Do you think homosexuals have the right to be married?

EDWARDS: No. Not personally. Now you're asking about me personally. But I think there's a difference between my belief system and what the responsibilities of the president of the United States are. It is the reason we have separation of church and state. And there are very good people, including some people that I'm very close to me, my daughter who is sitting in the front row here tonight, feels very differently about this issue. And I have huge respect for those who have a different view about this.

So I think we have to be very careful about ensuring that the president of the United States is not using his belief system and imposing that belief system on the rest of the country. So what that... O'BRIEN: But if it's...

EDWARDS: So what that -- I'm sorry. All I was going to say is I think what that means in this case is the substantive rights that go with partnerships, civil unions, for example, and all the subsequent rights that go with that, should be recognized in this country, at least in my judgment, should be recognized. And I think it is not the role of the federal government to tell either faith-based institutions, churches, synagogues, what they should or should not recognize. Nor should the federal government be telling states what they should recognize.

O'BRIEN: If you think something is morally wrong, though, you morally disagree with it, as president of the United States, don't you have a duty to go with your moral belief?

EDWARDS: No, I think that, first of all, my faith, my belief in Christ plays an enormous role in the way I view the world. But I think I also understand the distinction between my job as president of the United States, my responsibility to be respectful of and to embrace all faith beliefs in this country because we have many faith beliefs in America. And for that matter we have many faith beliefs in the world. And I think one of the problems that we've gotten into is some identification of the president of the United States with a particular faith belief as opposed to showing great respect for all faith beliefs.

O'BRIEN: Do you think this is a Christian nation?

EDWARDS: No, I think this is a nation -- I mean I'm a Christian; there are lots of Christians in United States of America. I mean, I have a deep and abiding love for my Lord, Jesus Christ, but that doesn't mean that those who come from the Jewish faith, those who come from the Muslim faith, those who come from -- those who don't believe in the existence of God at all, that they don't -- that they're not entitled to have their beliefs respected. They're absolutely entitled to have their beliefs respected. It is one of the basis for which our democracy was founded.

O'BRIEN: I want to turn to get some questions from our host tonight, Reverend Jim Wallis, and also a very distinguished panel that we have with us as well. So Reverend Wallis, will you please stand?

REV. JIM WALLIS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "SOJOURNERS" MAGAZINE: Hello, Senator.

EDWARDS: Hello, Jim.

WALLIS: In last night's New Hampshire debate, you rightly observed that the poor never came up. Well, they will tonight...

(LAUGHTER)

WALLIS: ... so let's start right there.

(APPLAUSE) WALLIS: Senator, you often speak of the 39 million Americans who wake up in poverty every day. Many of us in churches and faith-based organizations, for us this is a gospel issue, as you know. Changing this is a biblical priority, so we are wanting to make a specific commitment to cut poverty in half in the next 10 years as a beginning. As president, how would you mobilize the nation and take concrete steps to accomplish that goal?

EDWARDS: Well, let me first say thank you to you, Jim, and to Sojourners for its great leadership on this, what I think is a great moral issue facing this country today and I would add to that, this the is the cause of my life. It is the reason after the last election that I went back to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, started a poverty center. It is the reason I've traveled around the world doing humanitarian work.

It is the reason I help lead minimum wage campaigns in six states. It's the reason I've helped organize thousands of workers in the unions. And before we ever got in politic, it's the reason that I was involved with urban ministries, faith-based groups, doing work to help the poor and one of the reasons that Elizabeth and I did a lot of other things, starting after school centers for kids who need playgrounds, libraries, et cetera.

So I think there's a very long and consistent pattern of this being the cause of my life. And I might add everything I can do, everything in my power that I'm able to do, I will do to drive the issue of poverty in this presidential campaign so that everyone is required to talk about it. Because I think it is the great moral issue of our time. I've committed, actually, to an agenda of eliminating poverty over the next 30 years.

I think it's a completely achievable agenda. There are lots of components to that agenda. Making work pay, having a living wage, making sure that workers can organize themselves into unions, having decent housing for families that don't have it, having true universal health care, helping kids be able to go to college, which is why I started a college for everyone program for kids in a very poor section of eastern North Carolina. And I believe this is an agenda that should be the agenda -- one of the agendas -- part of the agenda of the president of the United States, so there's not much doubt about where I am on this issue.

I have respect for my colleagues who are running for the presidency, but I will say this is not an issue -- and I say this to everyone in the audience. This is not an issue that I just talk about when I come to you. This is an issue I talk about all over America in front of all kinds of audiences because it's part of who I am. It's who I am as a human being. And I will say this. This is such a part of my life that whatever happens in this presidential campaign, as long as I am alive and breathing, I will be out there fighting with everything I have to help the poor in this country. I can promise you that.

(APPLAUSE) O'BRIEN: And, Senator, a gentle reminder. You're welcome to stand, because you're going to be taking questions from our panelists, but I'll give you a gentle reminder. You have exactly 15 minutes, and we have a lot of questions.

So we'll move on to our next panelists.

EDWARDS: Fair enough.

O'BRIEN: The Reverend Sharon Watkins is a minister with Christian Church Disciples of Christ in the U.S. and Canada, a head of mainline Protestant denomination that serves 750,000 people. Go ahead, Reverend.

REV. SHARON WATKINS, CHRISTIAN CHURCH, DISCIPLES OF CHRIST: Senator Edwards, I'd like to ask you about prayer, admittedly a personal matter. How, if at all, has prayer been a source of strength and wisdom for you in your life? How would prayer influence the decisions that you make as president? And, most importantly, when you pray, how do you know if the voice that you are hearing is the voice of God or your own voice in disguise?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: Good, good. Let me -- some would argue we sometimes have trouble telling the difference, right? I can tell you that it is a part of my daily prayer to, when I pray, to ask the Lord to give me the strength to see the difference between what I want to do and what he wants me to do, and to give me the strength to do his will and not my will. And those things are in conflict on a regular basis in every human being on the planet, and I think it's a huge challenge for all of us to try to draw that distinction.

I can tell you that I pray daily. I've been through a faith journey in my life, you know? I'll be the first to admit that. I grew up in the Baptist church. I was baptized in the Baptist church, personal strong faith when I was young. I strayed away from the Lord for a period of time, and then came back, in my adulthood, and my faith came roaring back during some crises that my own family was faced with.

And I can tell you, it is prayer that played a huge role in my survival through that. You know, when Elizabeth and I lost our son, we were nonfunctional for some period of time. And it was the Lord that got me through that. And the same thing is true when Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer and then re-diagnosed more recently.

But faith -- I mean, not only my faith, but prayer's played a huge role in my life. It does every single day; it's what gives me strength to keep going.

O'BRIEN: Our next panelist has some questions. Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook, she's the first female president of the largest African- American clergy conference in the world, senior pastor of Believers Christian Fellowship. Go ahead. REV. SUZAN JOHNSON COOK, PRES., HAMPTON UNIV. MINISTERS' CONF.: Good evening, Senator. It takes a village is an African proverb. In fact, one of your colleagues has written about it, but it speaks about...

(LAUGHTER)

... the blessed of us really helping the rest of us. Quite frankly, the African-American community felt with Katrina that our American village disappeared. You're president of the United States. What are the first two things that you do to rebuild the Gulf and New Orleans, not just the damage that was done physically, but also the hopes of the people that were deferred?

EDWARDS: Well, let me say, first of all, this cause of New Orleans is also very personal to me, because you may know that I announced my campaign from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I took 700 college kids down to work during their spring break in New Orleans a little over a year ago. And I've been to New Orleans and to Louisiana repeatedly since the hurricane hit, including just a few weeks ago.

The single biggest thing to be done is the president of the United States needs to put one person, a very high-level competent person in the White House, in charge of New Orleans. And that person -- the president should say to that person, "I want you in my office every morning telling me what you did in New Orleans yesterday." And the next day say, "I want you in my office telling me what you did yesterday. I'm not interested in what you're going to do six months from now; I want to know what you did yesterday. And I want to know what's happening on the ground," the president, "what's happening on the ground every single day."

What has happened in New Orleans is a national embarrassment. All of us should be embarrassed by it.

(APPLAUSE)

And it's clear the problem will still exist to a very large extent for the next president. It's something that I will personally commit to making a priority.

O'BRIEN: Senator, I'm going to have you sit while I ask you another question, if you don't mind. Thank you. And while this is not exactly a confessional, there are a whole bunch of people out there -- we certainly have enough clergy here -- so I'll ask you this. What is the biggest sin...

EDWARDS: I don't like the way this has started.

O'BRIEN: I know, sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

What is the biggest sin you've ever committed? Are you willing -- are you willing to say? You can take a pass, sir, as you know.

EDWARDS: Just between you and me?

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Just between you and me and the 1,300 people in the crowd.

EDWARDS: I'd have a very hard time telling you one thing, one specific sin.

(APPLAUSE)

If I've had a day -- I turn 54 years old this Sunday -- and if I've had a day in my 54 years where I haven't sinned multiple times, I would be amazed. I believe I have. I sin every single day. We are all sinners. We all fall short, which is why we have to ask for forgiveness from the Lord. I can't -- to try to identify one particular sin that was worse or more extreme than the others, the list is too long.

O'BRIEN: I was going to say, it sounds like you're saying it's a long list. Senator John Edwards, it's nice to have you talk to us today. Our 15 minutes is up. Thank you so much.

EDWARDS: Thank you very much, a pleasure.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: You're going to exit off this way.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: It was nice to see you.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Coming up next, we've got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They're coming up next, the candidates' faith put to the test. We're live from George Washington University this evening. It's a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We're talking about faith and politics. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, everybody. Tonight we are bringing together the presidential candidates to talk about faith and politics. You just heard from the former senator, John Edwards. We are going to be hearing from Senator Hillary Clinton in just a moment.

First, though, it's my pleasure to introduce Senator Barack Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you so much.

OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Nice to see you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Nice to see you.

OBAMA: Nice to see you.

O'BRIEN: We'll start by tackling a big topic, God.

(LAUGHTER)

Do you think that God takes sides in a war? For example, in the war on terror, is God on the side of U.S. troops, would you say?

OBAMA: Well, you know, I always remember Abraham Lincoln, when, during the Civil War, he said, "We shouldn't be asking whose side God is on, but whether we're on his side." And I think that's the question that all of us have to ask ourselves during any battle that's taking place, whether it's political or military, is, are we following his dictates? Are we advancing the causes of justice and freedom? Are we our brother's keeper, our sister's keeper? And that's how I measure whether what we're doing is right.

O'BRIEN: The president talks a lot, as you know, about sort of good versus evil in war. Do you agree with that?

OBAMA: Well, I do think there's evil in the world. I think that, when planes crash into buildings and kill innocents, there's evil there. I think violence and cruelty, wherever it's perpetrated, expresses evil in the world. And I think that all of us have an obligation to speak to that and act against that forcefully.

Now, there have been times in our history where that requires that we take up arms. I think that the Civil War was a just war. I believe that defeating fascism and ensuring that Europe was liberated was the right thing to do.

What was also interesting about Lincoln, though, during the course of the Civil War, was his recognition that simply because we've engaged in something just doesn't mean that there aren't times where we may act unjustly. Abu Ghraib obviously is something that all of us should be ashamed for, even if you were supportive of a war. I believe Guantanamo, the decision to detain people without charges, is unjust.

And so the danger of using good versus evil in the context of war is it may lead us to be not as critical as we should be about our own actions.

(APPLAUSE)

And that's something that I'm very wary about. O'BRIEN: You have been very clear in your support of Israel. Do you think the Palestinians and the occupied territories are being treated morally, and fairly, and justly by the Israelis?

OBAMA: I believe that the Israelis want peace, and they want security. And oftentimes, in the midst of achieving security, there have been times when there's no doubt that Palestinians have been placed in situations that we wouldn't want our own families to be placed in.

Israelis have been killed. They've got bombs flying into their territories right now. And we would expect them to act appropriately in defending themselves.

So when I look at the situation in the Middle East -- and this is true in other conflicts around the world -- the question I ask myself -- and this is where I do think faith comes in -- is, is there a way for us to reconcile the claims of both sides of the conflict in a way that leads to resolution and a better life for all people?

And that, I think, is something that can be achieved, but it's going to require some soul-searching on the Palestinian side. They have to recognize Israel's right to exist; they have to renounce violence and terrorism as a tool to achieve their political ends; they have to abide by agreements. In that context, I think the Israelis will gladly say, "Let's move forward negotiations that would allow them to live side by side with the Palestinians in peace and security."

But, you know, we are so far from that right now, partly because, when your brothers or sisters have been killed in a suicide bombing, when you feel that you've been oppressed or treated unjustly, it's very hard to get out of that immediate anger and seek reconciliation.

And that's where I think faith can inform what we do: Faith can say, forgive someone who has treated us unjustly. Faith can say that, regardless of what's happened in the past, there's a brighter future ahead. And that's the kind of faith that I think has to inform, not just our international policies, but also domestic policies, as well.

O'BRIEN: I want to open it up to our host, the Reverend Jim Wallis, the editor-in-chief of "Sojourners." Reverend Wallis, why don't you have a stand up there?

REV. JIM WALLIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "SOJOURNERS" MAGAZINE: Hello, Senator.

OBAMA: Good to see you, Jim. Happy birthday.

WALLIS: Thank you.

OBAMA: Did we find out how old Jim was?

O'BRIEN: Twenty-five.

OBAMA: Twenty-five. WALLIS: Let's change the subject. As you know from your organizing days, the poor are trapped in poverty, but they're also trapped in our debate over poverty, both sides blaming the other. You are one who's called for new ways of doing politics. The old answers aren't working; they're failing. If you were the president, what kind of moral and political imagination would you bring to finding some real solutions? And try and give us some specifics.

OBAMA: Well, I think our starting point has to be based on the notion that I just expressed, that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper, that we are connected as a people, that when, as I said in my speech at the Boston convention, when there's a child somewhere here in Washington, D.C., who is impoverished in a crumbling school without prospects and hope for the future, then that impoverishes me. If there's a veteran in Chicago that's foraging through a dumpster because he's now homeless because we did not provide him the services that he needed after he served our country, that diminishes all of our patriotism.

So the starting point is that, "I've got a stake in other people, and I've got a set of responsibilities towards others, not just towards myself," and that those mutual responsibilities, those obligations, have to express themselves, not just through our churches, and our synagogues, and our mosques, and our temples, not only in our own families, but they have to express themselves through our government. That, I would argue, is part of what created this amazing country that we live in.

We tend to tout our individualism and our self-reliance -- and those are important things -- but we also arrived at this place because we rose and fell together. And I think it's that spirit that's been lost in our politics over the last several years.

So my starting point as president is to restore that sense that we are in this together. That's the starting point. And faith informs that. My moral commitments to that vision of what Dr. King called a beloved community rose out of my faith.

Now, how do we then realize that faith? How do we make sure that it actually lives, that it's not just something that we talk about? A couple of things that we have to do is to fix our politics, and we have to get beyond what Dr. King called the "either/or mentality" and embrace "the both/and mentality." And our politics have exacerbated this notion of either/or.

So we say either people are entirely responsible for their own lot -- and this tends to be expressed within Republican circles, but not entirely -- pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, act responsibly, act morally, a great emphasis on private morality, or, conversely, that individuals are responsible, society is acting on them, and they are not free agents.

And my attitude -- and I think the attitude of every religious leader and scholar that I value and listen to -- is that we have these individual responsibilities and these societal responsibilities. And those things aren't mutually exclusive. So what does that mean concretely? It means that, in education, a starting point for me in lifting people out of poverty, partly because I am where I am today because of the education that I received, I think, in terms of, what are our government responsibilities? Early childhood education, we know that if we invest a dollar in early childhood education, we get seven dollars back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores, reduced delinquency, increased graduation rates.

The reason we don't make those investments is not because they don't work; it's because we lack the political will. We don't think those children are deserving of a good education, although we won't say that explicitly. Our actions indicate it.

Making sure that...

(APPLAUSE)

So one of my major commitments would be to make sure that we're expanding early childhood education to everybody who needs it. And by the way, that starts before pre-k, zero to 3.

There's wonderful programs that I'm going to be putting forward as models for what we can do nationally, where nurses are matched up with at-risk parents, particularly teenage parents, just so that they can be shown, you know, how to provide proper nutrition to their child, how to read to them, how to play with them, how to engage with them so that they are equipped when they get to school. So that would be an example of government action.

At the same time, if we're going to improve our education system, then we're going to have to instill in our children a sense of excellence and a sense of delayed gratification. That's where individual responsibility comes in. And religion speaks to that as well.

Just one other example that I want to use is on the criminal justice system. We have ex-offenders who are coming out of prisons constantly. Thousands each and every day. We're going to have to make a commitment to provide them a second chance.

There's a biblical injunction that I see to make sure that...

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ... those young men and women -- to make sure that those young men and women have an opportunity to right their lives. And that will require a government investment in transitional jobs because, in some cases, the private sector won't hire people.

O'BRIEN: Senator...

OBAMA: I know, this is getting long.

O'BRIEN: No, you've got 15 minutes. And you can spend them any way you'd like, but we've got a lot of questions. OBAMA: Well, this is important.

O'BRIEN: I understand. Just stick to your time cue.

OBAMA: I want to make sure we get this out.

So we've got to invest in transitional jobs because the private sector may not be willing to initially hire somebody who has got a felon record. We may need to provide them the kinds of job training support they are not currently getting.

The notion that we take away educational programs in the prisons to be tough on crime makes absolutely no sense. And we need to invest in that.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I have to -- I have to say that I'm very proud of the fact that we've seen some of my Republican colleagues informed by the evangelical movement embrace this notion of providing second chances. And they're to be applauded. This is an area where I think we can get past the left and right divide.

Finally, the last thing I just want to -- want to point out is on the issue of work and poverty.

One of the things that happened after welfare reform was that we made sure that everybody had to work at some point. Unfortunately, we didn't lift them out of poverty. We have got a lot of people who work and are still impoverished. And so we've got to make work pay. That means that we've got to increase the minimum wage.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Senator, I'm going to stop you there because we have one final question that I need to ask...

OBAMA: Oh, you do?

O'BRIEN: ... from the Sojourners. Yes, we do.

OBAMA: Oh, OK.

O'BRIEN: So, if you don't mind...

OBAMA: Just...

O'BRIEN: I know. And I know. I hear you.

OBAMA: You didn't ask these questions.

O'BRIEN: I know. I get it. But you have one minute left to answer this question. It's an online question from Sojourners, and we actually are obligated to ask this. They invited online support, and the question came from Reverend T. Randall Smith. He's a senior pastor at Deer Park United Methodist in Deer Park, Texas. He asked this: "Executive salaries are increasing by 300 percent in recent years. Ordinary workers' salaries remain stagnant."

Specific policies -- and you have one minute. How do you address that, haves and have-nots?"

OBAMA: Well, we've got a bill in right now that says at minimum, shareholders should take a look at these executive pay scales, and they should be able to vote on whether these are appropriate or not. That I think would provide some constraint.

I also would like to see executives recognize that when they're getting as much in one day as their average worker is getting in an entire year, that there is a moral element to that. That that's problematic.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: But look, America is a land of success, and that's terrific. We just want to make sure that people are sharing in the burdens and benefits of this global economy.

O'BRIEN: That's going to be the final word, Senator.

OBAMA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You're out of time.

Thank you, Senator.

You're going to go off this way. Thanks. Thank you.

OBAMA: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Up next, Senator Hillary Clinton is going to join us live.

Plus, at the top of the hour, we've got Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich. We've got Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson, as well.

You'll want to stay with us right after this short break. We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, where tonight we are talking about faith and values and politics. We're bringing together three presidential candidates to discuss all of that.

Joining us now is Senator Hillary Clinton.

(APPLAUSE) O'BRIEN: Nice to see you, Senator.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are you?

O'BRIEN: I'm well. How are you?

CLINTON: Good to see you.

O'BRIEN: Have a seat.

Mike Gravel said last night that you lack moral judgment because of your vote on the war in Iraq. You blame President Bush a lot.

Do you feel you have is a moral responsibility for your vote?

CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

I think that every vote I take carries with it a moral responsibility, and it is always a challenge to try to arrive at what you think is the right thing to do based on the information and the assessment that you make at a time. And sometimes it turns out that you're right, and sometimes it doesn't. But certainly every vote has a moral implication.

You know, we're debating immigration right now in the Senate. I think that is a highly moral debate as to what we will do as a nation with respect to immigrants. And the faith community has been very involved in that, as they have been with questions of war and questions of poverty, too.

O'BRIEN: You've been, though, very reluctant to say "I'm sorry for my vote."

Explain that to me.

CLINTON: Well, what I've said is that if I had known then what I know now about how President Bush would use the authority that he was given, I never would have voted to give it to him. So I think that is taking responsibility. And I don't think you get off the hook.

I think you don't turn the page by saying that was really an unfortunate outcome. I think you take responsibility and then you move on. And certainly what I'm trying to do now is to figure out how we get out of Iraq and how we get out as soon as possible, bringing our troops out, but trying to encourage through both carrots and sticks the Iraqi government to take responsibility for their own country, and to try to get more vigorous regional and international diplomacy involved as well.

O'BRIEN: You don't talk a lot about your faith, truly. I -- I know because I have Googled everything you have ever said, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: But I'm going to ask you a delicate question. Infidelity in your marriage was very public. And I have to imagine it was incredibly difficult to deal with. And I would like to know how your faith helped you get through it.

CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith.

And, you know, I take my faith very seriously and very personally. And I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves, so, that a lot of the...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... a lot of the talk about and advertising about faith doesn't come naturally to me. It is something that -- you know, I keep thinking of the Pharisees and all of Sunday school lessons and readings that I had as a child.

But I think your -- your faith guides you every day. Certainly, mine does. But, at those moments in time when you're tested, it -- it is absolutely essential that you be grounded in your faith.

For some people, being tested leads them to faith. For some people, being tested in cruel and tragic ways leads them away from faith. For me, because I have been tested in ways that are both publicly known and those that are not so well known or not known at all, my faith and the support of my extended faith family, people whom I knew who were literally praying for me in prayer chains, who were prayer warriors for me, and people whom I didn't know, who I would meet or get a letter from, sustained me through a very difficult time.

But I -- I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of what the world thought. And that's all one can expect or hope for.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: When you pray...

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: And this is a -- a very personal question. And you can defer it.

CLINTON: Oh, go ahead, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: It's just us girls.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: What do you ask for? What do you ask God for?

CLINTON: Well, it depends upon the time of day.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: And, you know, sometimes, I say, oh, lord, why can't you help me lose weight?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Sometimes -- you know, sometimes, it's, you know, obviously praying for discernment, for wisdom, for strength, for courage, praying for my family and my friends, I mean, praying for people whom I don't have any personal connection with that I -- I hear about, or I know about, or that I'm -- I'm struck by.

You know, I -- I will tell you, your question sort of prompted this in my head. I was at a Methodist church in Decorah, Iowa. And I was attending Sunday morning service. And I walked in, and I met the pastor, Carol Cress (ph), who welcomed me to her church and her congregation.

And she introduced me to this man from the Congo who the church had taken in as a refugee. And he said that he wanted to ask for my help for the people of the Congo. And he told me about how he had been campaigning for democracy, and he had been thrown in jail, and he had been beaten, and then he had been dragged from the jail by the officials, and he had been hung on a tree and left to die.

And the members of his church rescued him. And he told me this just as I was walking into the sanctuary. And I was just so overcome. And I spent much of the service thinking about and praying about these people in this church in the Congo -- I don't even know where in the Congo -- who had saved this man and given him the chance to come and witness to somebody like me.

So, I pray for all kinds of things, some of it, to be honest, trivial and self-serving and all the rest of it.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: And, when I do that, I try to say, oh, come on, that's -- you can do better than that.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: To God or your question?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Well, I say it -- I say it to myself...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: ... because I assume, you know, that there's the rolling of eyes going on, that... (LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... I certainly can do better than that.

But, you know, somebody -- somebody asked me -- to go back to one of your earlier questions, somebody asked me if I were a praying person, you know, shortly after we had been in the White House.

And, you know, I said yes, I -- I had been fortunate. I was raised to pray, you know, as a little girl, you know, saying my prayers at night, saying grace at meals, praying in, you know, church. I see my old friend, my youth minister praying in MYF, our Methodist Youth Fellowship.

And, so, they asked me, well, are you a praying person?

And I said, well, you know, fortunately, I -- I have always been a praying person. And then I -- I'm grateful for that. But, if I had not been a praying person, shortly after coming to the White House, I would have become one in a big hurry.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Senator, we have seven minutes left, and I want to get to a couple of questions from the panelists we have not yet heard from.

The Reverend Joel C. Hunter is the senior pastor at Northland Church, one of the largest churches in Florida; 1,400 locations worship with them around the globe every single weekend.

Go ahead, Reverend.

CLINTON: Hello, Reverend.

REVEREND JOEL C. HUNTER, NORTHLAND, A CHURCH DISTRIBUTED: Hi, Senator Clinton.

Abortion continues to be one of the most hurtful and divisive facts of our nation. I come from the part of the faith community that is very strongly pro-life. I know you're pro-choice, but you have indicated that you would like to reduce the number of abortions.

Could you see yourself, with millions of voters in a pro-life camp, creating a common ground, with the goal ultimately in mind of reducing the decisions for abortion to zero?

CLINTON: Yes. Yes.

And that is what I have tried to both talk about and reach out about over the last many years, going back, really, at least 15 years, in talking about abortion being safe, legal, and rare. And, by rare, I mean rare.

And it's been a challenge, because the pro-life and the pro- choice communities have not really been willing to find much common ground. And I think that is a great failing on all of our parts, because, for me...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... there are many opportunities to assist young people to make responsible decisions.

There is a tremendous educational and public outreach that could be done through churches, through schools, through so much else. But I think it has to be done with an understanding of reaching people where they are today.

We have so many young people who are tremendously influenced by the media culture and by the celebrity culture, and who have a very difficult time trying to sort out the right decisions to make.

And I personally believe that the adult society has failed those people. I mean, I think that we have failed them in our churches, our schools, our government. And I certainly think the, you know, free market has failed. We have all failed.

We have left too many children to sort of fend for themselves morally. And, so, I think there is a great opportunity. But it would require sort of a -- a leaving at the sides the suspicion and the baggage that comes with people who have very strong, heartfelt feelings.

You know, when I first started thinking about this very difficult issue -- because it is. It's a moral issue. And it should not be in any way diminished as a moral issue, no matter which side you're on, because I have seen cases where I honestly believed that the -- the moral choice was very complicated and not so straightforward as to what a young woman, her family, her physician, her pastor should do.

And what concerns me is that there's been a -- a real reluctance for anyone to make a move toward the other side, for fear of being labeled as turning one's back on the moral dimensions of the issue from either direction.

So, I would invite you, and I would be willing to work with you, to see whether there couldn't be some common ground that one could find.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Our next panelist, Senator, is Monsignor Kevin Sullivan. He is with Catholic Charities USA, helps seven million people, Catholics and not Catholics, around the United States.

Go ahead.

CLINTON: Oh, I know his work very well. It's good to see you.

MONSIGNOR KEVIN SULLIVAN, CATHOLIC CHARITIES USA: Senator Clinton, just a very simple question.

You have spoken a lot about our need to work for the common good. In an age in which there is, oftentimes, narrow and excessive individualism, how will you speak to our country about the need for sacrifice, restraint, when it comes to the critical issues of taxes, gun control, health care, and energy consumption?

CLINTON: Well, Monsignor...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... you know, as they say in the Senate, I ask consent to expand and extend my remarks.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: You know, I -- I think that one of the great challenges facing us -- and -- and I heard both of my friends Senator Edwards and Senator Obama speaking.

And I think you can sense how we are attempting to try to inject faith into policy and also to elicit from people a sense of our common humanity and how we have to be in this together as a nation. And, on every issue you mentioned, there is an opportunity for us to chart a new course.

But I know how difficult that is. We can set the vision. We can even work to articulate the goal. But the pathway is extraordinarily complicated because of how we live today and how we think of ourselves in relation to our fellow citizens.

Take health care. I think we could get almost unanimous agreement that having more than 45 million uninsured people, nine million of whom are children, is a moral wrong in America. And I think...

O'BRIEN: One minute, Senator.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: One minute, Senator.

CLINTON: I think we could reach that agreement, and then we would have to start doing the hard work of deciding what we were going to do to make sure that they were not uninsured, because an uninsured person who goes to the hospital is more likely to die than an insured person. I mean, that is a fact.

So, what do we do? We have to build a political consensus. And that requires people giving up a little bit of their own turf, in order to create this common ground.

The same with energy -- you know, we can't keep talking about our dependence on foreign oil, and the need to deal with global warming, and the challenge that it poses to our climate and to God's creation, and just let business as usual go on.

O'BRIEN: Senator...

CLINTON: And that means something has...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... to be taken away from some people.

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: And that's our final word.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.

Senator Clinton, always a pleasure.

CLINTON: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: Nice to see you.

CLINTON: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure. It was my pleasure.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: We are going to exit off this way.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Pleasure.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Ahead, in just a few minutes, we're going to continue this conversation. You're watching a special edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW" with Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd and Dennis Kucinich.

You will want to stay with us. We're back in a moment.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

O'BRIEN: Events like this do not go off without a lot of people, who we have to thank this evening. We want to thank everybody who made this evening possible, including, of course, Sojourners and the co-host, Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, The ONE Campaign, Oxfam America, and Eastern University as well.

We look forward to bringing you more candidate forums in the months, many, many, many months, I should say, that lie ahead, including a similar forum on faith and politics with Republican candidates who are running to be president of the United States.

Let's send it right back to Wolf. He's in New Hampshire.

Hey, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hey, Soledad, excellent, excellent work, really, really informative.

I thought some of the statements that all three of these candidates made gave us a little bit more insight into their lives, into their religious values, their faith.

And this one exchange you had with Senator Clinton on infidelity, I want to play a little clip from that, and talk to you about it. Let's listen to this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith.

And, you know, I take my faith very seriously and very personally. And I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Soledad, I thought this statement from Senator Clinton and also the statements from Senator Obama and Senator Edwards on their religious values gave our viewers a little bit more insight into their background, their belief in God, and their -- their values.

But I'm wondering what came out of it from your perspective.

O'BRIEN: You know, I thought it was very interesting, especially when we heard Senator Clinton say -- answering that a little bit later on in the question.

She said, you know, if you went into the White House -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- and you weren't a praying person, well, after a short time, you -- you certainly would become one.

And it was a funny line, but you could also understand. I think it's something we heard from -- from all the candidates today, really how much of a role faith plays, not just in their lives now, but -- but, obviously, we're asking them, if they were to be president, what would we expect from them, what would we see from what they would do, and how would faith shape that? It's very important. I think where the Democrats have -- have learned a lesson, really, is in embracing and talking much more about their faith, Wolf. We haven't seen that as much.

And, again, I was joking with the senator, saying, you know, I Googled everything she said, and she hadn't said a lot. And that's the same, with some exceptions, for -- for the other candidates, too.

So, I think we're learning a lot about the values that shape the person who wants to run our country. It is critical, not just to the 1,300 people who are in the audience with me this evening, but I think to your average American voter, is voting on a human being. And it's the values that shape a human being that is going to, in turn, shape the decisions they make as president of the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Soledad, thank you.

Thank all three of these candidates for us. It was really, really an hour well spent on television. Appreciate it very much.

Want to just share with our viewers, tomorrow night, the Republicans will get their turn right here in New Hampshire. I will be moderating a presidential debate here on CNN. We start at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. It will go on for two hours without commercial interruption.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's turn to Paula Zahn, as some of the other Democratic candidates discuss the role religion plays in politics -- Paula.

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