In an unscheduled call-in interview this morning, Senator John Kerry (D-Ma) spoke with Don Imus about his misstatements in a speech Monday. He said that he is “sorry for the botched joke,” and that “everybody knows I botched a joke.” He also says he is going back to Washington so that he is “not a distraction” to the campaigns.
You can read the transcript from the conversation below.
DON IMUS, HOST: Please welcome to the “Imus in the Morning” program now the junior senator from the state of Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry.
Good morning, Senator Kerry.
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Good morning, Don Imus. How are you?
IMUS: Please stop it.
Stop talking. Go home, get on the bike, go windsurfing, anything. Stop it. You’re going to ruin this.
KERRY: I’m not going to let these guys distort something completely out of its context solely for the purpose of avoiding responsibility, which is what they’re doing.
Look, everybody knows I botched a joke. It’s not the first time anybody’s done that, Don. Am I right?
IMUS: ... the first time you’ve done it.
KERRY: Not the first time I’ve done it. But on the other hand, it’s just a disgraceful thing when people try to assert that somebody like me, who has spent 35 years of my life fighting for veterans, standing up for veterans, fighting for their combat pay, fighting for Agent Orange recognition, fighting for their armor, fighting for their up-armored Humvees, fighting for them to have a strategy that wins, fighting to honor them that the notion that this comment was directed at them is an insult by these guys, and they know it. I mean, that’s really the bottom line here.
Look, this is a great volunteer army. And the word “volunteer” army means you have to be smart to get in it. They know that. Everybody knows. You can’t get in the military today if you’re not capable and not smart.
This comment couldn’t have been directed at them, because you can’t get into the military by doing badly in school. This was directed at the people who didn’t do their homework, didn’t listen to history, didn’t listen to their own advice, and they owe the American people an apology.
Now, I’m coming back to Washington today so that I’m not a distraction, because I don’t want to be a distraction to these campaigns. And the point is simply: They owe America an apology for this disaster in Iraq. And I hope they’re going to provide it.
IMUS: I was talking to Charles last night about this, and it was my inclination to try to defend you in this. And I said, I think I know what he meant. I mean, it’s clear what he meant. But I had to acknowledge, in my conversation with Charles, that that’s not what you said.
KERRY: Of course, it isn’t what I said.
I left out one word. I left out the word “us.” “They got us stuck.” Instead of that, I said, “They got stuck,” and they’re taking advantage of it.
And here’s what’s wrong...
IMUS: Well, why not apologize for the misunderstanding?
KERRY: Well, I did. I said it was a botched joke. Of course, I’m sorry about a botched joke. You think I love botched jokes? I mean, it’s pretty stupid.
But on the other hand, here’s what’s culpable and here’s what’s really unconscionable: The White House knows it. They know I wasn’t—you cannot get into the military today if you do badly in school. You can’t do it. It wouldn’t make sense. What they’re saying to people doesn’t make sense because it’s an impossibility.
But they’ve taken those words, just like they take words all the time, and they distort them on purpose in order to distract America from their policy. A hundred young Americans died last month. These guys don’t have a policy. Dick Cheney is saying that things are, you know, going fine in Iraq. They’re sitting around pretending that they’ve got a policy.
And I think families ought to be far more outraged about the fact that their kids don’t have a state-of-the-art armor. They ought to be far more outraged about the fact that they’re still, years later, pursuing a strategy that just doesn’t work.
KERRY: And these guys owe America an apology. That’s what ought to be the issue.
I’m happy—I’m not going to go to some place that a Congressman’s going to get embroiled in this, because I want them to win. But I want the real issues to be the real issues. And I’m just not going to let these guys lie.
IMUS: Can you see, though, how, based on the interpretation of other remarks you’ve made in the past, that they would—and you have to recognize that particularly the Bush administration would use this as an opportunity. I tend to agree that they know exactly what you meant, but they’ve seized on this because they’ve been given this opening by this botched joke.
IMUS: Why not, along with apologizing for the botched joke, at least apologize for the perception and the misunderstanding of your remarks, and then move on? And please, I’m just begging you...
KERRY: Well, I did.
KERRY: I said very clearly (inaudible) I said, obviously, I’m happy that they have an opportunity to be able to take something and exploit it. Obviously, not. I am sorry that that’s happened.
But I’m not going to stand back from the reality here, which is they’re trying to change the subject. It’s their campaign of smear and fear. They’re going at—and, incidentally, when you say I’ve done something in the past. I’ve told the truth in the past. I’ve never done anything except tell the truth. And I’m not going to take anybody’s comment to suggest that somehow my telling the truth was a mistake.
The American people rely on the truth. And when I came back from Southeast Asia, I told the truth. And I’m proud that I stood up and told the truth then, and I’ve told the truth about Iraq every single step of the way.
These guys have failed America. The people who owe an apology are people like Donald Rumsfeld, who didn’t send enough troops, who didn’t listen to the generals, who has made every mistake in the book.
You read “State of Denial” today and you cringe, you absolutely cringe at the level at which these guys have been irresponsible.
And what they’re doing right now—frankly, the media needs to stand up to them, too. They shouldn’t be allowed to do that. This is Swift Boat stuff all over again. Somebody says something and they get excited and they love—and have fun, because, oh boy, isn’t this good, you’ve got a controversy.
But look behind the controversy. The controversy is based on a lie.
IMUS: What do you think—I understand about the Bush folks. But Senator John McCain, he seems to think—he seems to agree with the Bush administration about your comments. And you know him, obviously, better than I do, but I know him pretty well. And he probably knows what you meant, too.
KERRY: I’m sorry that John McCain has said what he said. John McCain’s been a friend for a long time. But I have to tell you, I think John McCain is wrong about this.
John McCain has been a cheerleader for a policy that is incorrect. John McCain says we ought to send another 100,000 troops over there. First of all, we don’t have another 100,000 troops. Secondly, if you send them over there, it’s going to do exactly what’s already happened, which is attract more terrorists and more jihadists. Our own generals are telling us that it’s the numbers of troops that are the problem.
And the fact is that that’s what’s adding to the number of terrorists in the world.
So I think it’s the wrong policy. And I think that we have to stand up and be courageous and critical of a policy that isn’t working.
IMUS: Did you...
KERRY: One of the reasons they’re attacking me is that what I’ve been saying is true. What I’ve been saying has some impact. And that’s exactly what they do, they go after you and they try to create a sideline controversy to, sort of, change the discussion.
KERRY: The real discussion is about their failure in Iraq.
IMUS: Did you say you were going back to Washington?
KERRY: I’m going to go back to Washington. And I’m going to go back to tackle this, you bet.
IMUS: OK. You’re not going to Tennessee for Harold Ford, are you?
KERRY: I was not going down there.
IMUS: Thank you...
IMUS: I’m begging you to stay away, because I really need that one. Just don’t screw this up.
KERRY: Don, I’m going to heed your advice. I have no intention of screwing it up.
But you know what would screw it up is if we shift off the topic of Iraq. Iraq is what this is about. They know it. They’re trying to change the topic. They want the topic to be about what they know was a small gaff.
Incidentally, how many times has the president made some kind of a gaff of one kind or another...
IMUS: Oh, yes. But O.J. killed his wife, doesn’t mean I’m going to.
KERRY: I understand. That’s a good comment, and I agree with that.
But the point I was making was very simple: These guys didn’t do their homework, they didn’t listen...
IMUS: Oh, I know what you meant. But, I mean, God, just stop it, I’m begging you.
I love you, but just stop it. I’m begging you.
KERRY: Well, I think it’s important to talk about Iraq.
IMUS: I’m begging you.
KERRY: I hear you. You do not have to beg. You’re my friend. I understand what you’re saying. But I’m telling you, I’m not going to let these guys lie and smear. And they’ve put their whole machine out to do it. And they ought to apologize to the American people.
IMUS: Stop now. Stop now. I’m begging you.
KERRY: You got it.
IMUS: Going to let you go.
Senator John Kerry here on the “Imus in the Morning” program.