updated 6/19/2007 12:26:44 PM ET 2007-06-19T16:26:44

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES DELIVER REMARKS AT THE

AFSCME LEADERSHIP FORUM

JUNE 19, 2007

SPEAKERS:  SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.

FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.

REP. DENNIS J. KUCINICH, D-OHIO

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MODERATOR

MATTHEWS:  Well, it’s great to be here for Jerry.  What a great guy.  You know, he’s so underspoken.  He’s so soft spoken.

(LAUGHTER)

I think you know what side he’s on.

Anyway, thank you very much. 

I have to say that my college education, my four brothers’ education were growing up, the braces, the piano lesson, the school, the tuition, was all paid for by a county employee’s salary, my dad’s.

(APPLAUSE)

Nobody gave me a list, but I believe that governor Bill Richardson is our first guest today with AFSCME.

Governor Richardson, the rules have been laid down by the membership, which is three minutes to make your opening statement, and I get 12 minutes to ask you questions from the membership, and a few curve balls from me, and then you get to finish up for two minutes. 

So it’s all yours, Governor Richardson.

RICHARDSON:  I want to thank all the men and women of AFSCME for being activists on behalf of America’s working class.  I want to thank you for inviting me here.

And I want to thank you for helping us bring back the Democratic Party control in the Congress.  Thank you, again.

(APPLAUSE)

You’ve got a great leader Jerry McEntee—most of the time. 

(LAUGHTER)

But I want to just talk to you about two fundamental issues.  The first is Iraq.  The second is how we can strengthen America’s middle class. 

There is no more important issue affecting this country than Iraq.  As president, I have the clearest position:  I would withdraw all of our forces without any residual troops by the end of this calendar year.

(APPLAUSE)

And I would do so with a diplomatic plan—with a plan that brings the three groups in Iraq together, an all-Muslim peacekeeping force.  I would also make sure that Iran and Syria—in no easy negotiation—would participate in a conference to bring stability to that region.

I also believe that the Congress has been weak in trying to stop the war.  Too often, we’re looking at funding resolutions.  Too often, we’re looking at timetables.

What I would urge the Congress to do is press head with a major initiative to deauthorize the war—to stop the war by the end of this calendar year.

(APPLAUSE)

On issues relating to AFSCME, a lot of candidate will talk to you about what they’ve done for working people.  I am here with a record to prove that of all the governors in states, the strongest negotiation, the best negotiation for public employee unions in terms of wages, in terms of health care has been in New Mexico.

If I am elected president, I will nominate a union person to be secretary of labor.

(APPLAUSE)

If I am president, I would be for the Employee Free Choice Act.

(APPLAUSE)

I would be for collective bargaining.  I would be for card checks.  I would be a president that would say to upgrade America’s middle class, “It’s good to join a union.”

Eight percent of our workers are a part of public employee unions.  We must make that grow.

I have the record to prove long service in the Congress, at the United Nations as secretary of energy on behalf of working people.  I would do the same as president.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) 

MATTHEWS:  Let me give you another chance to clarify exactly, because I’m going to put the same question to all the candidates.

Governor, Susan Silberman (ph), and urban planner in New York, a member of AFSCME, asked the following question:  “What is your specific exit strategy for brining American troops home from Iraq?”

RICHARDSON:  Here’s my strategy -- 3,500 Americans have died.

Our troops have become targets.

My specific strategy is this:  If I were president today, I would withdraw all our forces before the end of this calendar year.

But where I differentiate with the other candidates is I leave no residual forces.  And my view is this:  We cannot do the hard diplomatic work in Iraq until our forces are withdrawn.

When 61 percent of the Iraqi people say it’s OK for troops in Iraq, American troops, to be shot is wrong. 

When 70 percent of the Iraqi people say they want Americans out

Sunni and Shia—by the end of the calendar year, the time has come to withdraw our forces.

I would redeploy our troops to Kuwait where we’re needed, where we’re asked to be, to deal with any international terrorism contingency. 

But it is my view, Chris, that any kind of rebuilding of America’s foreign policy—dealing with the Israel-Palestinian issue, with nuclear proliferation, with international terrorism—can only happen after we withdraw from this obsessive, disastrous policy in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Lieberman of Connecticut has said that he thinks we might have to engage in what he called “limited military action” against Iran because of their support for military actions against our troops in Iraq.

Do you agree?

RICHARDSON:  No, I disagree.

When I’m president, I’m going to use a word that this administration, I don’t believe, recognizes.  It’s called diplomacy.  It’s called negotiation.

(APPLAUSE)

And I would talk to Iran, I would talk to Syria.  It won’t be an easy negotiation, because I believe Iran is a nation that if we build an international coalition to stop it from doing what is totally wrong -- Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.  Iran is also messing with terrorism in Iraq.  But I believe we need to talk to Iranian moderates -- to students, to working people, to business people. 

What I would do is build an international coalition that, if necessary, would put economic sanctions on Iran.  They are susceptible to—they have only one oil refinery.  They import half of their gasoline, half of their food.  They have domestic unrest, high unemployment.

But unless we build international support in the U.N. Security Council with countries like Russia and China that have leverage over Iran, we cannot conduct an adequate negotiation.

So the answer is:  No, I would not support Senator Lieberman’s call for military action. 

But to protect Israel, to protect our interests through diplomacy, through negotiations, through sanctions, that’s how you deal with Iran.

MATTHEWS:  You’re for card check neutrality. 

RICHARDSON:  I am for card check neutrality.

MATTHEWS:  You are for open service in the military regardless of sexual orientation, or are you for “don’t ask/don’t tell?”

RICHARDSON:  I would get rid of “don’t ask/don’t tell.”  If an American service man or service woman is willing to die for our country, I would not give them...

(APPLAUSE)

I would not give them a lecture on sexual orientation.

MATTHEWS:  Are you for collective bargaining for the Homeland Security Department and TSA?

RICHARDSON:  I didn’t hear you.

MATTHEWS:  Collective bargaining for those—you know, those departments, as you know, were created with all kinds of restrictions on collective bargaining.  Are you for open collective bargaining in the TSA, the Transportation Security Administration, and Homeland Security?

RICHARDSON:  Yes, I would.

(APPLAUSE)

And I would be a president that would say to all of my federal agencies and all federal workers, “Joining a union is good.”

And I would not only be a president that says I am for you, but I will work to pass legislation to deal with issues like national collective bargaining, Employee Free Choice Act, card check, ways that America can bring what the union wage is and the prevailing wage is and merge these together.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about state government here.  How does the federal government, if you get elected president, help back up pension programs administered by state governments when they’re not doing their end?  What’s the federal role, where they’re not paying their piece of the action?

RICHARDSON:  I am very proud that in New Mexico I buttress the state pension system.  It’s one of the healthiest in the country, $120 million in reserve.

I would ensure, Chris, number one, in our bankruptcy laws that union workers are protected.  Secondly, I would ensure—and I would pass legislation that would in all public employee and all state entities that receive federal funds, that pensions must be protected and buttressed.

I would also look at our Social Security and Medicare system, which I think in the outer years needs buttressing.

I would try to find a universal pension system that would be a 401(k) nationally.  I believe that one of the biggest insecurities that our workers have is that their pensions, their retirement systems are at risk.

MATTHEWS:  Willie Wallace is an electrical crew leader in Indiana.  He has this question for you, Governor:  “As president, what will you do to stop privatization of public services?”

RICHARDSON:  I will just say I won’t do it.

(APPLAUSE)

I believe that state workers, when it comes to—when I was— as governor in New Mexico, I have to deal with a prison system that was privatized.

But I believe when it comes to efforts on behalf of construction, public service issues, issues relating to outside contracting procurement, I would vigorously support what we presently should be having in our system.  And that is having our own workers, our own good workers do the work rather than privatize.

MATTHEWS:  Ruth Davis is a deputy court clerk in Tennessee.  Here’s her question for you, Governor, quote, “I’m sick of hearing about rich people and corporations getting huge tax cuts while our schools are underfunded, parks and libraries are closing and roads and bridges are crumbling.

“What will you do to fix our tax and budget problems?”

And let me follow up right away with:  What do you want to do about the Bush tax cuts?  Will you let them expire in 2010?

RICHARDSON:  I would let them expire.

(APPLAUSE)

But let me tell you, I am a different kind of Democrat.  I have cut state personal income taxes for working families, for workers, for the middle class.  I would continue to do that as president.

I would also have a tax cut for companies that pay over the prevailing wage, that are technology start-ups, that go into rural areas. 

But we must deal with this deficit.  This is huge.  This is what I would do as president.  I would have a constitutional amendment to balance the budget.  I would have line-item veto—the president.  I would have pay-as-you-go policies that, if you’re going to start a new program, if you’re going to cut a tax, you’ve got to pay for it.

I would also have an elimination of corporate welfare.  We should not be giving tax cuts to companies that ship our jobs overseas.

(APPLAUSE)

I would eliminate congressional earmarks, and I hope you ask all the members of the Senate that will be following me whether they would do that, too.

You know what else I would do?  I would tie the salaries of the president and the Congress to any progress they make in reducing the deficit.

(APPLAUSE)

And, finally, I would shift the $400 billion we are spending in this disastrous war to domestic needs:  health care, education and training.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  This is a question from Alan Metlin (ph).  He’s a social worker in Minnesota.  Quote:  “Do you favor shareholder votes on executive pay packages and ending provisions that give executives huge windfalls when companies are sold?”

Now, right now, we’ve got studies that show that CEOs of big corporations are making a thousand times what the average—not the lowest worker—the average worker is making in these corporations.

Does the federal government have any role here—a thousand times?

(LAUGHTER)

RICHARDSON:  I would try to find a way—I don’t like to mandate the market, but it is obscene, for instance, when the CEO of a health care HMO makes $125 million a year. 

Let me tell you what that means in terms of the average person.  That could have covered, that salary, 34,000 health care insured employees.  That is wrong.

I would find a way to, when it comes to the Medicare system health care, to find a way to try to limit these salaries interfering directly in the market.  I would use persuasion, the bully pulpit.

A president can lead.  A president can demand certain action. 

Legislating it?  I’m just not sure.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here’s one I got to ask you.  Governor Schwarzenegger says that immigrants from Latin America, quote, “Should have to turn off the Spanish language television and focus on learning English?”

You got any problem with that?

(LAUGHTER)

RICHARDSON:  Yes, I have a little problem with that.

You know, I’m the only Hispanic candidate that has run for president in the Democratic Party, but my problem...

(APPLAUSE)

My problem is my name is Richardson and nadie sabe que soy Latino, you know, so...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  So who’s Spanish is better, you or Dodd’s?

RICHARDSON:  My Spanish is better than Dodd’s...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(LAUGHTER)

RICHARDSON:  ... but we’ll find out—but he speaks great Spanish and he’s a great guy.

But what I would do—I think Governor Schwarzenegger’s approach is not correct.

I do believe that every immigrant should learn English, no question about it.  That is critically important. 

(APPLAUSE)

But I also believe that it’s important in our schools—this is what I would emphasize.  I would emphasize science, I would emphasize math, I would emphasize languages, I would emphasize civics, and art in the schools.  I believe that’s critically important.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Should—this is from Wesley—I hope I’m pronouncing—Vulcanon (ph), who’s a county trainer in Minnesota:

“All spring we’ve seen a series of Bush administration officials testify about corruption in the U.S. Department of Justice.  Should the Democratic leadership bring sanctions, including impeachment of the attorney general?”

(APPLAUSE)

RICHARDSON:  The attorney general should resign. 

(APPLAUSE)

The attorney general—the Justice Department should be an agency where they’re lawyers for the American people.  The attorney general has become, in my judgment, a political adviser to the president and to Karl Rove.  That’s wrong.

I firmly believe that with the U.S. attorneys, Chris, that those U.S. attorneys should not be necessarily indiscriminate political appointees.  They should be sent to the United States Senate for confirmation.

The Department of Justice should not be politicized.  And if I’m president, I would appoint an attorney general who would be a lawyer for the American people, not for me.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  We only have a minute left, so I want to go through a little potpourri here.

Should Scooter Libby be pardoned?

RICHARDSON:  No.

AUDIENCE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  No.

Should—I only bring this up because at the Republican debate I moderated out at the Reagan Library, three candidates for president said they don’t believe in evolution, so I want to ask you this question:  Should any public school teacher in the United States be fired for teaching evolution?

RICHARDSON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Should anybody be fired, a public school teacher, for questioning evolution?

RICHARDSON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Good.  OK.

Let’s get to something really important:  Social Security.  And this is a question that everybody thinks about.  It’s from Gloria Prevost (ph) and she’s a librarian in Rhode Island.  Her question— and I think it’s right on the mark:  “What will you do to make sure that the Social Security benefits that we have paid for and earned are there for us when we need them?”

RICHARDSON:  I would first stop raiding the Social Security fund as this president has done.

(APPLAUSE)

I would...

What do you mean by that, Governor?  I’m sorry.

Raiding it?

President Clinton stopped that raiding—this is items that are taken from the Social Security trust fund and put in the budget.  I would stop talking about privatizing Social Security. 

Now, I do believe—I’m going to be candid.  I saw the trustees’ report, Medicare, Social Security.

By the year 2041, we have to start buttressing Social Security. 

I would perhaps, Chris, start tying that Social Security trust fund to the budget.  But what I would also do, what I would also do is I would grow this economy. 

The Social Security increasement quotient is 1.3 percent.  That downgrading of Social Security is based on economic growth to 1.3 percent.  If it went to 1.6 percent, if we grew the economy, if we came to an economy for the middle class, an economy of innovation, of economic growth, we wouldn’t have that problem.

What I would look at, as I said earlier, is a universal pension, a universal 401(k) to protect the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Governor, thank you.

You now have a chance for a two-minute closing set of remarks.

RICHARDSON:  You know, when you run for president, you meet a lot of great people. 

The next president is going to have to get us out of Iraq. 

The next president is going to have to make us energy independent. 

The next president is going to have to improve our schools. 

The next president is going to have to reduce global warming, greenhouse emissions.

The next president is going to have to rebuild an economy for America’s middle class.

It’s a hugely broad agenda.  And I submit to you that this election should not be on who the biggest celebrity is, or who has the most money or who’s the biggest rock star—although I’m working on that.

(LAUGHTER)

This should be an election about our values.  And let me just restate for you if I’m elected president, these are the values and the principles that I would return to.

Number one, I would say that America is a nation of civil rights, and we’re going to protect a woman’s right to choose...

(APPLAUSE)

... but we are going to have a national policy to reduce abortions.

Number two, we’re going to be an America that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  We’re going to be an America that is going to promote unions in this country. 

As president, I will take a dramatic step and say that we are now for habeas corpus; we’re against torture.  I will shut down Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

(APPLAUSE)

I will find ways that we restore America’s foreign policy role by saying that we are going to care about international poverty.  We’re going to care about international human rights.  We’re going to rejoin the Kyoto treaty.  We’re going to find ways that America says that our principles of civil rights and affirmative action are going to be a cornerstone of our country.

I would return America to a nation of leadership, both internationally and domestically.  And the key is to refurbishing and restoring and saying to America’s middle class, “As the president, I will be on your side.”

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Governor Bill Richardson. 

Thank you, very much so.  Thank you. 

The next candidate for president is Dennis Kucinich, U.S. congressman from Ohio.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  It’s all yours, Congressman, for an opening statement.

KUCINICH:  Good morning.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning.

KUCINICH:  You know that I have been the leader for peace over the last two presidential elections.  Today, I want to talk to you about another dimension to the peace issue.

Nearly one out of every three Americans have no peace of mind in their homes because they either have no health insurance or are underinsured.

Peace of mind comes when you know that, if you lose your job, at least you still have your health care.  Peace of mind comes when you know that, if your child has a condition which requires an enormous expenditure, you’re totally covered.  Peace of mind comes when you know that, if a loved one is sick, you do not have to exhaust the family savings to help them achieve health. 

Peace of mind comes that, when you or a loved one are in your golden years, that an illness will not cause you to sacrifice everything you’ve worked a lifetime to achieve.  And when you’re retired, when you’ve worked a lifetime, you should be able to count on the health benefits you worked for.

Health care is a peace issue.

As I’ve led this field of candidates on the issue of Iraq, so, with your help, I’ll lead the nation to an era where we end for-profit health care with a not-for-profit “Medicare for all” program, where everyone is covered...

(APPLAUSE)

... where everyone is covered, everyone is cared for, no one goes broke, no one loses their home, no one loses their savings, no one loses their dignity, no on loses their hope, no one loses their soul, where everyone has the right to basic health care, where all have access to quality care, where all health care is affordable, where vision care, dental care, mental health, prescription drugs and long-term care are covered. 

No more premiums.  No more co-pays.  No more deductibles.  No more fear.  No more people driven into poverty because of lack of health care.

(APPLAUSE)

No more foreclosures because people can’t pay doctor bills and pay the mortgage.  No more bankruptcies because people can’t pay the hospital bills.  No more ruined credit.  No more hostage to loan companies.  No more hostage to low-paying part-time jobs only to keep health benefits.  No more industries lost and jobs lost because they can’t compete with countries which have health care.

I’ve co-authored the plan, H.R. 676, with Congressman Conyers.

(APPLAUSE)

It’s supported by 14,000 physicians and hundreds of union locals.  AFSCME families have a giant stake in the outcome of this presidential race, because every city, every county, every state is faced with sharp reductions in benefits for public employees who have earned it with their hard work. 

In some cases, new hires will not receive health benefits, current employees will see benefits cut, premiums, co-pays and deductibles sharply increase, and retirees will find the promises they were made won’t be kept.

This is unacceptable.  We’re already paying for Medicare for all; we’re just not receiving it.  It is time to end the for-profit health care; time for a not-for-profit health care system.  Time for a president who will stand up for the people of our nation on health care, for their health, for their peace of mind, for their economic survival.

And I will be that president.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Congressman, Ada Johnson (ph) -- she’s an Illinois correctional counselor.  And her question is this:  “Why is the Democratic Party having such a hard time connecting to the American people?  Where are the grand ideas that resonate with people?”

KUCINICH:  Well, that’s why I’m in this race, to help the Democratic Party recover its soul, to stand for peace.

Democrats right now should be telling President Bush, “We’re not going to give you another dime for the war.  Bring those troops home right now.”

(APPLAUSE)

Democrats should be telling President Bush, “We’re not going to let you privatize Iraq’s oil.  We’re going to make a transition away from oil and coal to wind and solar energy and create a sustainable economy.”

(APPLAUSE)

The big idea that you’re talking about, Chris, I’m talking about creating a WGA—just like the WPA of Roosevelt—but a WGA, a Works Green Administration which will create millions of new jobs, working to retrofit millions of homes with wind and solar technologies, insulate homes, create green building strategies, reforest America, conservation in America.  We’re going to help revitalize our economy with a whole new approach to the environment, with a Works Green Administration, a WGA.  That’s a big idea.

(APPLAUSE)

Health care for all is a big idea.  Our Democratic Party, Chris, should be standing for health care for all. 

I took this idea to two Democratic platform committee hearings in 2000 and 2004.  And not-for-profit health care was rejected because of the hold which the insurance companies have on our political process.  When I’m president, no strings attached.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about the big job-creating corporations.  Joan Raymond (ph) has a—she’s a—he’s a—she’s a truck driver in California.

Quote, “The number of workers with real guaranteed pensions has declined steeply in recent decades.  What steps would you take to stop the erosion of guaranteed pension benefits for future retirees?”

And let me throw in a further question.  Companies like Chrysler sell out to some chop shop operation, some equity firm, right?  Who’s responsible for maintaining those pensions once the company’s given up its ownership?

KUCINICH:  Chris, this again is going to be one of the huge issues in this campaign because there’s hedge funds on Wall Street have over a trillion dollars of capital that’s unregulated.  There’s a lot of trades going on right now where—the DaimlerChrysler deal, for example—where the workers could lose their pensions.

And what’s happening is that these companies have such mobility with their capital, there’s no rules anymore. 

I believe this, that if any company makes any kind of a transaction and they cannot guarantee that their pensions of their workers are going to be protected, the merger shouldn’t be permitted.  Transition shouldn’t be permitted.  No golden parachutes for any executives if their employees aren’t covered.  No one should be able to get a pension if the workers’ pension rights aren’t protected. 

Bottom line.

Bankruptcy laws need to be changed.

(APPLAUSE)

Bankruptcy laws need to be changed.  Workers should have the first claim right up there with the banks, if not ahead of the banks.  It’s time to have a president who stands for workers first—first.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Let me—I don’t have to tell you.  You’re from the industrial Midwest.  You’re from Cleveland all those years—all these years.

When you drive through this country and see real America—you know, Michigan City, Spencerville, Ohio—so many towns have been de-industrialized.  You see the old factories rotting or rusting.  You see maybe a Blockbuster in town, a diner, and that’s it. 

Is there any way those towns can come back—I mean, rebuild America so that the kid who gets out of high school can get a job and provide for a family?  Are we ever going to go back to the ‘50s and ‘60s in that way?

KUCINICH:  What you’re talking about evokes very powerful memories of what I’ve seen across America, where there’s grass growing in parking lots where they used to make cars, they used to make steel, they used to make bicycles, they used to make washing machines, and now there’s grass growing in the parking lots and the factories are closed.

Chris, I’m the only one running for president who’s ready to say what I’m about to say:  that one of my first acts in office will be to cancel NAFTA and the WTO and go back to bilateral trade...

(APPLAUSE)

... go back to bilateral trade.

We must have trade—we must have trade conditioned on workers’ rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.

(APPLAUSE)

That is the path toward restoring our industries.

I’m not giving up on American industry. 

I think that we need to be in a position where we take a strong stand with a new American industrial policy—another big idea— where we say the maintenance of steel, automotive, aerospace, shipping and others vital to our national economic security and we have trade policies to back that up; where we’re not losing any more jobs, where we guarantee workers’ rights—the right to strike, the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to a decent wage and benefit, the right to a safe workplace.

(APPLAUSE)

I’ll be that president who will stand up, cancel NAFTA and go back to protecting American cities and restore those cities you’re talking about, Chris.  I’m not giving up on America.  I’m not giving up on those cities.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Here’s a question, Congressman.

Rebecca Nasari (ph), she’s a...

KUCINICH:  I can’t hear you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  She’s a California—Rebecca Nasari (ph), she’s a California social worker.

Here’s her question:  “What would you do to keep jobs in the U.S.  and return outsourced American jobs to this country?”

KUCINICH:  Well, there again you have to go back to trade.

Why is it that the Democratic Party has not taken a strong stand on trade?  You have to remember:  NAFTA was passed under a Democratic president.  And that resulted in the Democrats losing the Congress.

What I’m saying is that I want to go back to trade.  Rules have to be changed:  NAFTA canceled; WTO, change the relationship.  Trade will include workers’ rights, human rights—prohibitions on child labor, slave labor, prison labor and environmental quality principles.

(APPLAUSE)

We can help restore the global climate, Chris, if we will have rules that say you have to have protections for the air, the water and the land. 

What’s happening is a lot of these trade rules have made it possible for a race to the bottom in wages—which was all NAFTA was about anyhow; it was about cheap labor—and a race to the bottom in environmental quality principles. 

So I’m talking about restoring the environment, restoring human rights, restoring workers’ rights, restoring the capacity for America to hold onto the jobs that we have. 

And as we create the new jobs for the future, we’re not going to lose them through outsourcing.  We will be the place which will attract the work through investment in the jobs of the future, through the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, creating the technology jobs that we need through supporting free college for all of our children so that they’ll have a chance to go on and find the jobs that they’re best skilled for, with the training that they need.

(APPLAUSE)

We need to invest in our people, invest in America, have trade policies which say, America—we have laws that say we must provide that people can buy America.  It’s either buy America or bye-bye America.

We need to make sure that we stand for American economic interests and a president who’s willing to do that.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  This is a tricky question for a Democrat, but how do you keep American employers from insourcing, bringing people into the country for cheap labor so they’ll work cheaper than Americans would?

How do you stop them from doing that?  And they’re doing it.

KUCINICH:  Chris—what Chris Matthews mentioned is really at the heart of the immigration issue.

All of us know that cheap labor’s the oldest story in human history.  But immigration—you know, after NAFTA passed, the peso fell apart in Mexico.  People rushed across the border in order to get more jobs.

And what’s happened is these companies on the other side of the border capitalize on slave wage labor.  And what I’m saying is, you have to uphold labor standards, wage an hour, OSHA, enforce the current law, make these companies pay dearly when they violate the law, and make sure that we quit punishing the immigrants.

(APPLAUSE)

What we’ve had is that we’ve had the wrong approach.  We have to remember where we’ve come from, America.

(APPLAUSE)

And so there has to be strong penalties for people, Chris, who violate labor law.  And I will make sure that there’s OSHA enforcement and that the Department of Labor starts to stand for workers, not just the corporations.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let’s talk...

(APPLAUSE)

Congressman Kucinich, let me just give you a chance to go— we’ve got a few minutes left, and I know Iraq’s a major issue in this campaign.

Let me ask you this.  These are questions from the membership.  Susan Silberman (ph), urban planner in New York—I raised this question with Governor Richardson.  I will keep raising it.  “What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?”

KUCINICH:  I’m the first person who really took up the issue of the war.  Four years ago I said that there was no proof that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and, actually, Chris, did an analysis which disproved the cause for war.

Since then, what I’ve done is to write a plan, embodied in H.R.  1234, which will do the following:  First of all, it’s predicated on the Congress telling the president no more funds for the war. 

At that point, President Bush must go to the international community to put together a peacekeeping and security force, which won’t be done until we end the occupation and indicate an intention to end the occupation and close the bases, an international security force which moves in as our troops leave, because our troops have to leave.

Next, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Who would you get to do that?  Who would you—would the Danes, the Irish, the Pakistanis...

KUCINICH:  No, no.

MATTHEWS:  Who’s going to go into Iraq for us?

KUCINICH:  They’re not going to go in for us.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who’s going to replace us? 

KUCINICH:  Chris, they’re not going to go in for us.  We’re the occupiers.  The occupation is fueling the insurgency.  I’m calling for a whole new approach. 

We have to negotiate with Syria and Iran.  There is no nation in the region who wants this war to continue.  The instability it’s bringing out threatens all the nations in the region.

So what I’m talking about, Chris, is a plan—you asked for a plan which not only calls for reaching out to the region to putting together a peacekeeping and security force to stabilize Iraq and the region.  As they move in, our troops leave.

But in addition to that, Chris, I’m talking about a program for honest reconstruction, for reparations for the Iraqi people, the million Iraqis whose innocent deaths have occurred, a million Iraqi citizens.   I’m talking about a program which will give the Iraqi people control over their own oil assets.

Can you believe that Congress actually approved a plan that would cause—that our administration is pressuring the Iraqi government to give up control of $21 trillion worth of oil?  That’s wrong.  We shouldn’t be stealing their oil.  We shouldn’t be trying to take their country.  We shouldn’t have gone in and invaded.

(APPLAUSE)

Our presidency will be rejecting war as a an instrument of policy.  I am truly the candidate of peace, which will create security for our people, because war has created insecurity.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  You’re a member of Congress.

You have access to a lot of information.

Have you after you listened to all the arguments, you’ve heard all the explanations—why did we put the American Army in the middle of Arabia?  Who came up with that idea?  And what’s it about?  Why did we—it wasn’t WMD—what was the reason why we put our Army in that country?

KUCINICH:  Well, I’m going to have everyone—this is a teachable moment.

In one word, why did we go to Iraq?

AUDIENCE:  Oil.

KUCINICH:  I can’t hear you.

AUDIENCE:  Oil.

KUCINICH:  Thank you.  Well, that’s what I was saying four years ago. 

And so it was wrong, Chris.  It was wrong from the beginning.

We have to look at the world in a different way, and this is what my presidency would be about.  It would be seeing the world as one, understanding that the world is interconnected and interdependent.  You can pick up a cell phone and call the other side of the world, send a text message around the world.

We have to understand that the world is interconnected, and we need a president who is sophisticated enough to understand that war is outdated, that we need to work with the world community to be able to solve our problems, that this war has made us less secure, Chris.

So I’m saying I knew from the beginning—I wasn’t tricked by George Bush.  I wasn’t fooled.  I knew exactly that war was wrong.  And we need a president who can defend our country, but also who knows when war is wrong and is ready to say so when it counts, not four years later, not five years later, who doesn’t say, “Look, I’m against war but I’d vote to fund the war,” who stands up for peace.

(APPLAUSE)

And peace is a defining issue in this election, just like health care is a defining issue domestically.  And I’m ready to be that president with your support, with your support.

(APPLAUSE)

My friends have asked me, I come to you today with 100 percent labor voting record—not because I’m a missionary to labor, but because I’m from the house of labor.  I understand, as you do, that a defining domestic issue is health care.  And that’s why I’ve chosen to spend my time talking about the importance of H.R. 676, a not-for-profit health care system.

We’re already paying for this.  We’re not getting it.  We spend $2.2 trillion a year for health service but 31 cents on a $1 -- over $600 billion a year goes for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, the cost of paperwork; meanwhile, millions of Americans -- $46 million Americans—no health insurance, 50 million Americans underinsured. 

This is a major social and economic crisis in America.  And you know what?  No one else in this presidential field has a plan to end the influence of the for-profit insurance companies.

Can you imagine candidates for president who want to force you to buy private insurance?  That just isn’t going to do.

Can you imagine proposals by candidates for president saying the government should subsidize the private insurance companies?  That just won’t due.

If a candidate promises that he or she will not challenge—will not challenge—the for-profit insurance companies because they have too much power in Washington, what does that tell you about what kind of president that person would be?

If they’re not ready to lead on this issue, if they’re not ready to say:  This is a defining issue—the civil rights movement started 40 years ago, Juneteenth.

Health care is a civil rights issue.  If candidates aren’t ready to lead in challenging these private insurers, in calling forth the great strength of the American people and say:  Let’s rally together.  Let’s create health care for all.

If they’re not ready to do it, I am ready to do it.  I’m ready to bring health care for the American people with a not-for-profit system.  Join me.  Let’s take this on.  Let’s save this country.  Let’s save the people’s health. 

We can do it, and together we will.

Thank you very much.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, now Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON:  Whoa!

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Your opening statement, Senator.

CLINTON:  Well, my opening statement is I’m really happy to see all of you.  I’m glad to be here this morning.

(APPLAUSE)

You know, I have had the great privilege of working with AFSCME leaders not only in New York, but around our country and, of course, here in Washington.

And I’m grateful to you because you take politics seriously.  You understand that we have to organize in order to change the direction of our country.

And we also have to make sure that people who work hard every single day have safe working conditions and wages that lift them up and give them and their children a chance to have the American dream.

That’s why I support the Employee Free Choice Act, that will give...

(APPLAUSE)

... will give Americans the chance to make their own decisions about whether or not they want to be part of a union.  Because the way I see American history, the American middle class was largely helped along the way by the American labor movement. 

There is a connection between what we did during the 20th century to lift people up and give them a middle-class way of life and what is happening today, where more and more people feel so pressed.  Health care costs are up.  Energy costs are up. 

Just go try to fill up your car at a gas tank.

And you know as well as I that everything that you’re trying to do gets harder and harder if you’re not given the opportunity to have those rising incomes.

And in the past six years, productivity has gone up 18 percent in America, which means that Americans are working harder than ever before, but the average family income has gone down $1,300.

So we need a strong union movement.  We need a strong economy.  And we need a president who wants to be on the side of the American people again, who will stand with us and work with us...

(APPLAUSE)

... and create the opportunities that we deserve to have and meet the challenges that we confront.

I want to set goals for America.  I want quality, affordable health care for every American.  I want to be sure we have an energy policy that gets us off our dependence  on foreign oil.  I want to make sure college is affordable again for everyone. 

And I want to make sure that the American labor movement has the opportunity to organize and bargain for good wages for hard-working Americans, to lift us up and move us into the future with confidence and optimism.

(APPLAUSE)

And we have a lot of other things that Chris and I will talk about that we need to do around the world to restore respect for America.

So let’s renew America’s promise at home and restore respect for our country around the world.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Susan Silberman (ph) is an urban planner in New York, has asked this question—I’ve raised it with the other candidates.  “What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?”

CLINTON:  Well, I have been saying for some time that we need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq, starting right now.  I would not wait.  I would begin to get them out of the multi-sided, sectarian civil war that they are part of.

You know, our American young men and women in uniform have done their job.  They were asked to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and they did.  They were asked to let the Iraqi people have elections, and they made it possible.  They were asked to let the Iraqi government have some space and time to get organized in order to defend the Iraqi people, and they’ve given them that time.

But the Iraqi government hasn’t done their part.  They haven’t met the conditions that are necessary for a political solution— because there is no military solution. 

So I think it is time that we start bringing our troops home.  I also think we have to make it very clear to the Iraqi government that if they don’t meet conditions that they themselves have met (sic), like how they’re going to allocate oil revenues, how they’re going to bring the different sectarian groups together to hammer out what is the political determination that they’re going to agree upon—if they don’t do that, we should begin cutting aid to them. 

We cannot continue to support them if they’re not going to do the job that they have to do.

And, finally, we should have intensive regional and international diplomacy.  I believe in diplomacy, unlike our current president, who apparently doesn’t.  He thinks you don’t talk to people you disagree with or people you think are bad people.

Well, I don’t know how you get through the day, the week or the year if you don’t talk to people you don’t agree with every so often. 

(LAUGHTER)

So I believe that we’ve got to start engaging...

(APPLAUSE)

... in diplomacy.  And that’s what I would do, beginning now, if I were president.  And if our president doesn’t end our involvement in Iraq, when I am president, I will. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  President Bush and his spokespeople have suggested a Korean model for Iraq; in other words, a long U.S. occupation, perhaps of half a century, in the case of Korea. 

Should we leave a residual force in Iraq after the current fighting is over? 

CLINTON:  Well, Chris, I have, for some time, said that we may still have remaining vital national security interests that are important to America. 

You know, we cannot let Al Qaida have a staging ground in Iraq.  And finally, we have made common cause with some of the Iraqis themselves in Al Anbar province, so that they are actually working with American forces against Al Qaida. 

That doesn’t take a lot of American forces, but I think we have to look carefully about continuing that. 

We also have to look to see how the Kurds are being treated.  Because the Kurds have behaved very well in this.  You know, they took their opportunity for freedom from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule, and they’ve been building their society in the north of Iraq. 

We also have to pay attention to Iranian influence.  I don’t know that we need very many troops to do that.  I think diplomacy and trying to get the rest of the region involved is the best way to go there. 

And finally, we will have to protect our interests.  We’ll have an embassy there.  And if the Iraqi government does get its act together, we may have a continuing training mission.  But that’s a limited number of troops with very specific missions—no permanent bases, no permanent occupation. 

I don’t think it’s equivalent to Korea.  I don’t see that as an analogy.  I think what we have to do is try to persuade or convince the Iraqis themselves to take responsibility, and so far that hasn’t proven to be very successful.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor Giuliani, who you know...

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

MATTHEWS:  ... has said recently that he would consider enlarging our force of troops in Iraq depending on conditions over there.

Would you consider expanding the U.S. force level in Iraq?

CLINTON:  Well, number one, I don’t know where he thinks he’s going to get the troops. 

Our military is stretched thin.  We have been deploying not only active duty but Guard and Reserve troops consistently.  Some have been on their second, third, even fourth deployments.  I bet some of you in this audience know people who have been in that situation.

(APPLAUSE)

And we also haven’t demonstrated the commitment to our veterans that they deserve to have.  We have to clean up our treatment at DOD and the V.A. of how our returning young men and women are given medical care and compensation and disability.

(APPLAUSE)

We have an all-volunteer military.  And I am very grateful for those young men and women who serve their country.

And I thank all of you who have served and all of you who have loved ones who are serving.

But I think it’s important that we keep face with them.  And I don’t see how more American troops in a situation that we do not control because we do not set the course for what the Iraqis want themselves would make a difference.

The Iraqis have to decide whether they want to continue killing each other.  They have to decide whether they’re going to get together and resolve the differences among them.

And it’s not just one group against another group.  It’s multiple groups.

And when our young men and women are on a street in Baghdad, they often don’t know what is happening, they don’t know who’s side they’re supposed to be on, they don’t know the language.

I don’t see why putting more of our young men and women into that situation makes any sense whatsoever. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Joe Lieberman, your colleague from Connecticut, has called for—at least he’s been careful about how he’s couched this—but he’s talked about limited military action against Iran right now because of their aid to people fighting us in Iraq.

Are you with that position of considering military action, not because of a nuclear threat, but because of the immediate involvement by Iran in the Iraqi war? 

CLINTON:  Well, I believe we do have to defend our troops.  And there is considerable evidence that weaponry and fighters are crossing the border not just from Iran but from Syria and from other countries, as well.

So we do have to try to choke off the weapons coming in and the fighters crossing the borders.

But I think we should focus on intensive outreach and diplomacy right now with Iran, and that is one area that I’m pleased that President Bush and Secretary Rice have moved toward.

We do need to start engaging the Iranians.  I think it’s been a mistake for us to ignore them, to outsource our policies to the British, the French and the Germans.

So I think we have to focus on what’s going on inside of Iraq right now militarily and focus on what’s going on outside diplomatically.  And that’s what I would be pressing for if I were president. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Would you have any problem or anything to say if President Bush were to pardon Scooter Libby?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  Oh, I think there would be enough to be said about that without me adding to it.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That is such a political answer.

(LAUGHTER)

That is such a political answer.

Would you have a problem with Scooter Libby getting a pardon, getting a walk after being convicted of perjury and obstruction?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Ask a real question!

MATTHEWS:  Oh, a real question.  OK.

CLINTON:  Like a question that’s really about the people in this audience...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

CLINTON:  ... and not what goes on inside of Washington. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  So we’ll leave that as a non-answer then.

You want a fight?

CLINTON:  This is good.  This is good.  Yes, let’s keep going.

MATTHEWS:  OK, right here.  Look, why—OK, let’s have a fight.

I like to fight.

(LAUGHTER)

OK, let’s talk...

(LAUGHTER)

You want to fight?  OK.

What about...

(AUDIENCE SHOUTING)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Why is it important for the labor movement to have card check neutrality, when you have the access to secret ballot elections?

Explain to the regular people out there, not organized people, why it’s important to let labor people who want to organize to do it through card check? 

CLINTON:  That’s a great question because, back in the 1970’s, our system was changed.  We used to have card check and card check was available—for some of the veterans out there who remember those days. 

And card check gives an individual the opportunity to say yes or no, without any kind of, you know, consequences. 

What happens when you’re trying to organize and you have to have an election, and the way that the balance has been tilted against labor, over the last years, means that the employer has a lot of opportunity to try to intimidate and harass the people who are being asked to consider joining a union. 

And the balance is out of whack.  You know, I believe in balance.  I think it’s the genius of our political system:  Checks and balances, separation of powers. 

But you have to have those checks in order to have the balance.  And what the Employee Free Choice Act does is to get back into a balance, so that, if you want to organize and somebody signs a card, that should be sufficient as an indication of their desire to be part of a union. 

If you go just...

(APPLAUSE)

If you go just with the elections, then you’re going to have a continuing opportunity for employers not only to delay and postpone but to harass and intimidate.  And we’ve seen this all over the country. 

And, you know, I’m all for secret ballots.  I’m all for elections.  But then you’re going to have to have a lot more enforcement and supervision over what happens during an organizing drive than the current administration has been willing to provide.

I want to get back to an old-fashioned idea.  Let’s appoint people—like to the Department of Labor—who actually care about labor; you know, people on the National Labor Relations Board who care about labor.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Bill Richardson was here, Senator, and he said that he would name a union person as labor secretary.

Would you agree with that commitment or share it?

CLINTON:  I think it’s a great idea.  And I think that we should get the best people.  But we certainly ought to look for people who have relevant experience. 

And if you’ve been in a union, you’ve been a union leader, you know how important it is to kind of get that organizing done and get those contracts bargained for.

I think we should really consider that.

MATTHEWS:  NAFTA—Dennis Kucinich, the congressman, was just here and he gave a big roaring condemnation of NAFTA, said he would get rid of it as one of his first bits of business as president.  The crowd really responded positively.

What’s your response?

CLINTON:  Well, you know, I think that—like anything—NAFTA had some positive but unfortunately it had a lot of downside.  And we know that.  We see that especially in the loss of jobs going south to Mexico and then beyond.

But we also now are seeing it with the loss of jobs going north.

You know, I was in Detroit recently and a gentleman...

(APPLAUSE)

... a gentleman—a UAW member from the Wixom plant that makes the Lincoln cars—told me they’re closing the plant down and some of the work is going to Mexico, but some of the high-value work is going to Canada because of lower health care costs.

So some of what has happened with NAFTA is because of NAFTA, but some of what is attributed or blamed on NAFTA has other contributing causes as well.

If we don’t get our health care costs under control, we’re going to continue to lose jobs.  And that’s why we have to have universal, quality, affordable health care.  It’s a jobs issue as well as a health issue.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  You’ve been talking in the campaign, Senator, about reindustrialization of America.  And I was talking with the other candidates, or asking them about the image we all have in our heads of much of America as small towns where there’s really nothing left any more.  Maybe a diner, maybe a movie rental place.  Just really nothing left but retirees. 

Can we bring back that wonderful time of our memory of the boy or girl gets out of high school, they’re 18 years old, and they can actually begin to provide for a family?  Are we ever going to get back there? 

CLINTON:  Well, Chris, I hope so.  It’s one of the reasons I’m running for president because I think if we don’t restore the middle class and the quality of life and the standard of living that many of us took for granted when we were growing up, we will not recognize our country in the next 20 or 30 years. 

Now how do we do that?  Well, we have to have a broad, comprehensive strategy, number one, where we can tilt the playing field, so to speak, by having our workers well skilled and prepared for the jobs that are available.  We need to do that. 

And that’s why I think it’s so important that we don’t just pay attention to kids going to college.  Let’s pay attention to kids who are not going to college, which ends up being about 60 percent of the kids who don’t go to college...

(APPLAUSE)

... and get them trained for the jobs that are there.  Because, you know, there are auto mechanic jobs paying $50,000, $60,000 that they can’t get filled.  There are airline mechanic jobs paying a lot of money that can’t get filled.  So, first, we got to get the skills and the jobs to match. 

Secondly, we need to end any kind of benefit in our tax code that goes to any company that outsources jobs.  If they want to outsource them, they shouldn’t...

(APPLAUSE)

... they shouldn’t do that on taxpayers’ money.  Let them bear the cost of it and not get some kind of tax benefit for moving our jobs overseas. 

Thirdly, we have to look at what is possible.  You know, the old industrial base is not coming back.  But we could create millions of new jobs with a new energy policy.  If we were investing in solar and wind and geothermal and everything that goes with biofuels and biodiesel, that will create millions of jobs for Americans—and they’ll be good-paying jobs. 

So there’s a lot we could do that we are not doing, but we got to get those health care costs under control because that’s one of the excuses people use for moving jobs. 

They say, “Well, we can’t afford to continue to pay health care.  Go to Canada, everybody pays.  Go to Mexico or China, we don’t have to worry about it.”

Well, we’ve got to have a strong base for middle-class values and middle-class jobs.  And that’s what I want to restore.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Because of these people down here and this group right down here, I’m giving you a little more time.  Because they’ve asked for it.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

You’re for card check neutrality.  Military service regardless of sexual orientation or “don’t ask/don’t tell”—where are you on that, Senator?

CLINTON:  I am for allowing people who are patriotic Americans to serve their country.  We need their service and...

(APPLAUSE)

You know, I said in the last debate that I agree with Barry Goldwater.  You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight.  And I think it’s time we let people serve.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  You’re still a Goldwater girl.

(LAUGHTER)

Let me ask you a couple more labor questions and then we’ll end this.

Homeland Security—they don’t have full collective bargaining rights, Transportation Security Agency, the people—Administration -- who check our luggage.

Should they be allowed to organize?

CLINTON:  Yes.

In fact, we’ve passed that in the Homeland Security bill, that we would give federal employees like TSA employees and others the opportunity to organize and bargain collectively.

We want through a world war.  We want through a Korean war.  We went through a lot of challenges in our country, and we allowed federal employees to organize and bargain.  And I think we should allow it again.

The president has threatened to veto the entire Homeland Security bill over the provision that would allow people to organize.  And I sure hope he doesn’t do that.

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

MATTHEWS:  Can I ask one question of my own, please, just one question?

(LAUGHTER)

Just one.  One freakin’ question, all right?

(LAUGHTER)

All right?  I’m sorry, you—ringers out here.  OK.

I wouldn’t ask this, except I moderated the Republican debate at the Reagan library and three qualified candidates for president raised their hands and said they don’t believe in evolution. 

So it’s an odd thing to be talking about in the 21st century, but do you believe a public school teacher should ever be fired for teaching evolution?

CLINTON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe a public school teacher should ever be fired for offering an alternative explanation of how we got here?

CLINTON:  Look, I think that a science class should be about science.  I think philosophy classes and history classes and social studies classes should be broad-ranging and looking at different points of view, because that’s what the debate should be about.  But in science, let’s stick to science.

I mean, one of problems with the current administration is that they have confused us.  I consider myself a person of faith, a religious person, and I don’t see any conflict between believing in the power of the Almighty to have created this extraordinary world we’re part of—in ways that I can’t possibly understand...

(APPLAUSE)

... and going to the museum and seeing a dinosaur.  I mean, I think that those go hand in hand.  I can believe in both faith and science.

And I think our country is stronger when we believe in both faith and science, because science has given us an advantage over so many other societies going back 100 years.

So let’s not confuse the two.  Let’s keep our faith strong, those of us who are people of faith, but also, let’s let our scientists do the work that will break through all kind of barriers, including stem cell research, to keep us healthy and give us a better life. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Two minutes to close. 

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  Well, I want to thank you all for doing something I never thought I would ever see, and that is to render Chris Matthews speechless.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

CLINTON:  I’m running for president because I think we can do better.  I know we can.

You know, six years ago we had a balanced budget and a surplus.  We don’t need a constitutional amendment to do that.  We just need to get back to having a president who knows how to get the budget balanced and get us back in a responsible fiscal position.

(APPLAUSE)

I know we can do better because I know the strength of the American people.  We need to unleash that talent and that incredible energy again.

You know, when I grew up, we believed we were the nation that solved problems.  We rolled up our sleeves.  We worked together.  We put a man on the moon.  We broke down barriers to civil rights and voting rights.  We unleashed the power of women.

We did a lot of great work...

(APPLAUSE)

... as Americans, making our society better.

(APPLAUSE)

So let’s get back to setting goals.  Let’s set those goals of quality, affordable health insurance for everyone.  Let’s set that goal of energy security, dealing with global warming and creating millions of new jobs as we go along.

Let’s have pre-kindergarten for every 4-year-old, so that every child gets to school ready and able to learn.

(APPLAUSE)

Let’s make college affordable again.

(APPLAUSE)

Let’s reform this government, make it more transparent, and get back to an old-fashioned idea of appointing qualified people to do the work that we should expect them to do in our government for us.

(APPLAUSE)

And let’s restore the values that people held about the United States.  I want to be the president who restores positive feelings about who we are as a nation around the world.

We need alliances.  We need partnerships.  We can’t deal with global terrorism or global warming without having those regional alliances again.

So we can do this.  Let’s get out and show the world that America is back.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you all and God bless you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  You did it.

CLINTON:  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  The next candidate is Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Your opening statement, Senator?

EDWARDS:  Thank you, Chris, very much.

Are you all having fun, or what?

AUDIENCE:  Yes!

EDWARDS:  You’re fun to watch.

Let me first thank Jerry McEntee for his great leadership of this great union.  Thank all of you for what you do every single day, standing up for people who need a voice, who need someone to speak out on their behalf so that they can earn decent wages, have pension protection, have decent health care.

I also want to say to all of you that your cause is personal to me.  Has been for a long time.

My mother and father have health care today because of the union.  My one and only brother and his family have health care today because of the union. 

That’s the reason this cause is so important to me.  You are about growing and strengthening the middle class in this country.  You’re about allowing people’s families, the children in those families, to have a better life than their parents have, which is exactly what I’ve been able to do.

I’ve been all over this country, helping organize workers into unions.  I’m proud of having done it.  We’ve organized thousands and thousands of workers into unions from one coast to the other.

In fact, I stood with the AFSCME workers at Local 3299 in their cause.

(APPLAUSE)

And we were successful.  They were able to stand their ground, get the union organized, get what they were entitled to get.

I was proud to be with them in that cause.  As a matter of fact, they gave me an incredible poster in response, asking me, thanking me for being with them in this struggle.

So your cause is my cause.  Your cause is about strengthening America.  And don’t you think it’s about time to have a president of the United States who will actually walk out on the White House lawn and explain to the American people why unions matter in America?

(APPLAUSE)

Don’t you think it’s about time to have a president of the United States who will explain to the American people that collective bargaining built the middle class in the United States of America?

(APPLAUSE)

Don’t you think it’s time to have a president of the United States who stands on the White House lawn and says, “If you can join the Republican Party by signing your name to a card or join the Democratic Party by signing your name to a card, any worker in America should be able to join a union by signing their name to a card.”

(APPLAUSE)

Don’t you think it’s time to have a president of the United States who stands before the American people and says, “It is time to ban the hiring of permanent replacements for strikers and make that the law of the land”?

(APPLAUSE)

Isn’t it time to have a president of the United States who’s not afraid to say the word “union” and is proud to stand with you and your cause?  That’s me.

Thank you all very much.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator, what do you think the minimum wage should be?  If you had complete control and you had the Congress behind you and you were president, what would you set the minimum wage at?

EDWARDS:  I’d go to $7.50 an hour right now, and then I would index it.

MATTHEWS:  What would you do to NAFTA?  Because there was a bit of a debate here.  Congressman Kucinich is very much for getting it out, a little more nuance from Senator Clinton.

Where are you on NAFTA?

EDWARDS:  NAFTA needs to be revised.  I was against NAFTA when it was being considered by the Congress.

I think NAFTA did not have the kind of environmental and labor standards in it that it should have had.  On top of that, we’ve had a Bush administration that is unwilling to enforce whatever standards there are in any of our trade agreements.

But I think NAFTA needs meaningful environmental and labor standards.  And those standards need to be enforced by the president of the United States.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk jobs for a few minutes.

When you think about Chrysler, whether it’s great old American companies that used to—so many people worked for all those years and had whole lives built around that company, and now it’s being traded to some company—with Cerberus or something.

Who are these entities, and are they going to take responsibility for pensions and health care for the people’s who’ve worked for those companies for 30 or 40 years?

EDWARDS:  I missed the first part of your question, Chris.  I’m sorry.

MATTHEWS:  These big companies are selling.  They’re being chopped up by equity firms, hedge funds...

EDWARDS:  Oh, right...

MATTHEWS:  Who’s going to keep responsibility for the people who’ve worked for these companies all their lives? 

EDWARDS:  Well, what’s happened is we had for many years a social contract in this country, and it was the employer that met the responsibilities of social contract.

But what’s happened is that social contract has essentially been eliminated.  And there’s no nobody taking its place.

In fact, under the Bush administration, he continues to eliminate the social contract.  He takes billions of dollars out of the federal budget for kids to be able to get financial aid to go to college.

As we know and as I’ve heard you talk about already today, almost a million workers in the federal government lost their collective bargaining rights.

It’s time for America as a nation to restore the social contract with workers across this country so that we know there’s a safety net, where we have true universal health care, where we have meaningful collective bargaining rights and the right to organization organize, where we help people save by matching the amount that they’re able to save, by helping kids be able to go to college.

We as a nation are going to have to meet this responsibility now because many employers are not meeting it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let’s get through some labor issues, then.  You’re for check card neutrality?

EDWARDS:  I’m for card check neutrality.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Card check.

EDWARDS:  Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  You’re for open...

EDWARDS:  By the way, I think everyone in this audience knows what it is, but the people who are watching on television probably...

MATTHEWS:  Explain...

EDWARDS:  ... have no idea what you’re talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Take an opportunity to explain why it’s important to you...

EDWARDS:  Well, the reason card check neutrality is important— and I’ve actually seen this in the trenches in organizing campaigns— is when you go through the process that exists today, through the election process, there are many things that can happen.

Number one, there are abuses that occur.  There’s extraordinary intimidation that’s brought to bear on workers who are trying to organize in the workplace.

What card check does is it creates democracy.  It allows people to make their own choice free of intimidation.  They can sign their name to a card.  It is pure democracy in the workplace.

And it strengthens the right of workers to organize.  And the truth of the matter is, if we want to strengthen and rebuild the middle class in this country—and the middle class is struggling and suffering, as everyone in this room knows very well.  Right?

AUDIENCE:  Right!

(APPLAUSE)

EDWARDS:  We know how the middle class is struggling in America.

Well, if we want to grow the middle class and strengthen the middle class, one of the most critical things we can do is strengthen the right to organize.  And card check neutrality is a critical part of that. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Is there a potential for abuse in the other direction, where a worker who doesn’t want to join the union for whatever reason, good or bad, and he’s surrounded by a number of officials who come and say, “You got to join the union,” you don’t fear that intimidation factor there at all? 

EDWARDS:  No.  The intimidation factor I fear is from the person who pays their check.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask about collective bargaining in the federal government.  Let’s get this on the record.  Do you think the employees of the Homeland Security Department, the TSA, should both be able to organize collectively?

EDWARDS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that people should be able to serve in the military—just to get this on the record—regardless of sexual orientation without having to deal with “don’t ask/don’t tell?”

EDWARDS:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think...

(APPLAUSE)

Let’s go to the questions on state government.  What do we do about state pensions where a state will offer a person that goes to work for them a pension—which they take as a serious commitment— then they find out perhaps the state’s not paying its end of it?

What can the federal government—or should it do to help out...

EDWARDS:  Well, the first and most important thing in trying to deal with the problems of people losing their pensions, especially from state governments, is to have the right to collectively bargain and to have a collective bargaining agreement.

That’s the first, most important thing.

Second, we need to have this safety net in place that you and I spoke about just a few minutes ago, which means we need to help people set up bank accounts.  We need to help them be able to save.  We need to create incentives for them to be able to save.  We need a national predatory lending law so that they don’t lose what they already have.

(APPLAUSE)

Those are the big things.

MATTHEWS:  What about the privatization of public-sector jobs, especially at the state level?  Would you have a position on that going into this campaign?

EDWARDS:  Yes, we should not be privatizing.

(APPLAUSE)

What we’ve seen under George Bush in the federal government is an extraordinary move toward privatization and taking away the collective bargaining rights of almost a million federal government employees. 

But, as these workers know very well, we’ve also seen it in the states, haven’t we?

We’ve seen it in Indiana, where collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers have been taken away. 

We’ve seen it in Missouri, where collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers have been taken away.

So we need a president of the United States who stands up for the right of public-sector workers to organize and who speaks to the American people about how important it is in states for them to be able to organize.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s talk about the private sector for a minute.

What would you do to intervene, if you would do anything, when you read—there’s a big piece in the National Journal this week.  A Harvard professor who says that right now corporate CEOs—and there are big names in the paper all the time—are making not a hundred times what the average person is making in that corporation, the average person, but a thousand times.

Is the government going to roll there, or is that just free enterprise?  Capitalism, we’ve got to live with it.

EDWARDS:  You mean how much the CEOs of...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, should the government have any role in that, any say-so in enforcing of shareholder meetings or accountability or board of directors involvements?  Or how do you limit these guys not to get these sweetheart deals, if you think they are sweetheart deals?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think first of all we have laws that provide more democracy for shareholders to have some control over what happens with these CEOs’ pay.

Because what happens is, the chairmen and the CEOs of these big companies sometimes stack the board—the board of directors—and the board of directors approves whatever pay increase they ask for.  And the actual shareholders of the company don’t have any democratic voice in what these CEOs are being paid. 

So that’s number one:  We can have a law that provides more input from the shareholders as opposed to just the board of directors.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go to the war.  I haven’t asked you about the war.  I know you’ve got a very strong position.  Let me get through some of these facts for the record.

Susan Silberman (ph) -- I’ve been quoting her all morning— she’s an urban planner in New York, as I said.  Quote:  “What is your specific exit strategy for bringing American troops home from Iraq?”

EDWARDS:  If I were president of the United States today, what I would do is draw 40,000 to 50,000 troops out of Iraq immediately, out of the north and the south.  I would continue to draw combat troops out of Iraq over the course of about the next 10 months.

I would get the Sunni and the Shia leadership engaged in serious discussions to see if they can reach some kind of political solution, political reconciliation.  Because without that, there’s never going to be peace in Iraq.

And I would engage every other country in the region, and specifically the Iranians the Syrians, into helping stabilize Iraq.  They have no interest in stabilizing Iraq as long as America’s an occupying force there. 

But as America makes clear we’re leaving and we’re pulling combat troops our of Iraq—the Iranians, for example; the last thing they want is a million refugees coming across their border.  They don’t want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni, because they’re a Shia country in a Sunni-dominated Muslim world.  So they have an incentive to stabilize Iraq once America’s not occupying Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Clinton—I don’t want to put words in her mouth, because she was very nuanced about it...

(APPLAUSE) 

... but she’s talked about leaving a residual force of some kind.  Not like the Korean model of a major American constabulary force of 30,000 and 40,000, whatever troops, like we have in Korea since ‘53, since armistice there.  But she wants to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq for the long haul, to fight Al Qaida and to keep Iran’s hands off the situation.  Where are you on that? 

EDWARDS:  Here’s what I’d do.  As America pulls its combat troops out of Iraq, we’re going to have to maintain a presence in the region, which means we probably need a rapid deployment force in Kuwait.  If the Jordanians would allow us to station troops there, we may want to put troops in Jordan. 

We’re going to have to fortify our position in Afghanistan

because things are going very badly in Afghanistan.  The Taliban is

re-emerging. The heroin trade is way up.  We need a naval presence in

the Persian Gulf.  And if we maintain our embassy in Baghdad, which I think we should do, we’re going to have to have some troops there to protect the embassy. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is the—this is Ada Johnson (ph), I want to go back to here.  It’s a great question I think.  She’s an Illinois correctional counselor.  “Why is the Democratic Party having such a hard time connecting with the American people?”  That’s her question. 

EDWARDS:  Well, this Democrat’s not having trouble connecting with the American people, I can tell you that. 

(APPLAUSE)

I think...

MATTHEWS:  She further asks, “Where are the grand ideas?  Where are the grand ideas that resonate with the people?”  That was her question.

EDWARDS:  Oh, I didn’t hear grand ideas. 

MATTHEWS:  She wants the grand ideas from you especially, Senator. 

EDWARDS:  All right.  I’ll tell you what the grand ideas are.  America has a dysfunctional health care system.  We need truly universal health care in the United States of America, required for every man, woman and child. 

Another grand idea is America to move away from its addition to oil and move toward energy independence and to deal, very directly, with the issue of climate change, global warming in an aggressive way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050; to invest in wind, solar, cellulose-based biofuels; for America to develop carbon capture, carbon sequestration technology; for America to build the best, most innovative, fuel-efficient vehicles on the planet with union workers, not being built somewhere else around the world...

(APPLAUSE)

... for America to lead the way of addressing face the big moral issues that face us here at home and the people around the world. 

For example, I think it is an enormous problem in the United States of America that we have 37 million people who wake up in poverty every day.  It is says something...

(APPLAUSE)

... about the character of our country, how we treat millions of own peep who are worried just about survival.  And there is so much we can do about that. 

New Orleans is a great example.  New Orleans is a national embarrassment. 

(APPLAUSE)

We have a responsibility to do something about that. 

But the other big idea, is how does America become a force for good again in the world? 

How can we be seen as a country that’s worthy of leadership, that understands its responsibility not just to ourselves, but to humanity?

And there are a whole group of things that America needs to be doing. 

We need to be leading to stop the genocide in western Sudan and Darfur.

(APPLAUSE)

We need to be leading to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.  I think America—and here’s an idea.  Listen to this one. 

Suppose America, instead of spending $500 billion if Iraq, America led the way to making primary school education available to 100 million children in the world who have no education whatsoever...

(APPLAUSE)

... in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America. 

Suppose America led to stop the spread of disease by leading on sanitation, clean drinking water.  I mean, clean drinking water, by itself, would have an enormous impact in a Third World place like Africa. 

(APPLAUSE)

And can I mention just one last thing?

I can see you wanted to interrupt me.

Let me just mention one last thing.  The other thing is America could lead the way...

(APPLAUSE)

You’ve all have been on his case today.  I’ve been listening to you. 

(LAUGHTER)

America could also lead the way to economic development with tools like microfinancing and microlending. 

But the importance of all this is for America to once again be seen as a force for good again, for America not—we are not the country of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture, the illegal spying on Americans...

(APPLAUSE)

And one last thing, one thing I promise you:  On the first day that I am president of the United States, I will close Guantanamo. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  I just—you’re the first candidate to really mention Katrina.  And I just want to give you a chance to expand on that.  Because I think it is important to our country and who we are.

Do you think it have been different if President Bush had shown up with water? 

EDWARDS:  Yes, I do.

MATTHEWS:  What would you have done if you had heard about Katrina and seen those people at the convention center that first day?  What would you have done?

EDWARDS:  Well, if I had been president when the hurricane hit, first of all, I would have been very personally involved in the planning for what we needed to do in case the worst happened.

Second, as soon as the hurricane hit and it was possible to even get to New Orleans, I would have personally been there with the people who were struggling and suffering in New Orleans.

(APPLAUSE)

This—both then and since that time—was a moment for presidential leadership.  And what has happened in New Orleans is a complete failure of presidential leadership.

(APPLAUSE)

I know a lot of the folks who are here already know this, but a year or so ago I took 700 college kids down to New Orleans to work during their spring break.  By the way, people who say the young people in this country don’t care anymore, they’re dead wrong.  They do care.

(APPLAUSE)

They gave up their spring break.  They went to New Orleans to work, to volunteer.  In fact, you interviewed me when I was down there.  I don’t know if you remember that.

MATTHEWS:  I remember that.

EDWARDS:  But since that time I’ve been to New Orleans many times.  I announced my presidential campaign from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans because in the Ninth Ward, in St. Bernard’s Parish in east New Orleans, nothing has changed.  Nothing has changed.

You know, I feel kind of like a normal citizen because billions of dollars have been appropriated.  Where did that money go?  Has it been used to help anybody?

As president of the United States, not only would I have been there, Chris, today I would have a high-level person in the White House whose job it was to report to me every single day what they did in New Orleans yesterday. 

(APPLAUSE)

I don’t want to know what they’re going to do six months from now.  I want to know what they did yesterday.  And then I want him to come the next morning and tell me what they did yesterday.  And then I want him to come the next day and tell me what they did yesterday.

If the president did that, you would see change in New Orleans.  And we could rebuild New Orleans and make it a model for the entire country for what’s possible.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  It’s time now, Senator Edwards, for your final closing remarks to AFSCME.

EDWARDS:  First of all, it’s a great privilege for me to be here with you.  And the reason that I want to be president of the United States is really simple, I can say it in one sentence—so that everybody in this country has the kind of chances that I’ve had. 

It should be true.  It was true when I was growing up. 

And I’ll have to tell you, if we really want to bring about the big changes, and we’ve talked about some of them today—universal health care, energy transition, ending the war in Iraq, strengthening the right of workers to organize in the workplace—if we want to do that, we need a candidate for president of the United States who can not only win the White House, but who can strengthen everyone below them on the ballot. 

Because we need state legislators who believe in the right to organize.  We need governors who believe in the right to organize.  We need more members of Congress who believe in the right to organize.

(APPLAUSE)

And that means we need a candidate for president of the United States who can go to Kentucky and campaign, who can go to Indiana and campaign, who can go to Missouri and campaign, who can go to—let me think—North Carolina and campaign, who can go anywhere in America so that we can strengthen our presence in governorships, we can strengthen our presence in state legislatures, we can strengthen our presence in the United States Congress in addition to being in the White House.

And, when all that’s done, when we’ve had a candidate who’s campaigned in all those places, where we’ve strengthened Democratic presence and majorities in the states, in the governor’s offices, in the United States Senate, in the United States House, then we need a president of the United States—and I will do this—who will walk out on the White House lawn and stand with and for organized labor and the rights of men and women across this country to organize, to collectively bargain, to have a decent life.

(APPLAUSE)

That’s what this is all about.  We can do this together.  We can build a country where working men and women actually have an opportunity and a chance to have a better life.

(APPLAUSE)

We can do this together.  There is nothing we can’t do, if we do it together.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you, brothers and sisters.  It’s a great privilege for me to be here with you.  God bless you all.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  And now it’s my privilege to introduce our next candidate for president, your next candidate for president, Senator Barack Obama.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Thank you.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Your opening statement, sir?

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Thank you.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you.  Thank you.

Thank you.  It’s good to be back with AFSCME.

(APPLAUSE)

It is good to be back.

AFSCME, we have been fighting together for a very long time.  We fought together when I first moved to Chicago as a community organizer to register 150,000 new voters to help Democrats get elected in 1992.

(APPLAUSE)

We were together when I was in the state legislature to make sure that we raised the minimum wage and provide health insurance to folks who didn’t have it, and made sure that workers had a right to organize.

And since I’ve gotten in the United States Senate, we’ve been together on difficult fights like the resurrection organizing project in Chicago...

(APPLAUSE)

... and making sure we’re doing something about executive pay.

So you and I, we’ve been working together for a very long time.

But all of us know that we’ve got more work to do.

We’ve got more work to do to make sure that every single American has decent, affordable quality health care in this country.  We can do it by the end of the next president’s first term.

By the end of my first term as president of the United States of America we can make that happen.  We can make sure that instead of just slogans—No Child Left Behind that leaves the money behind— that we actually make certain that we’ve got the resources we need so that every child has the resources they need to succeed in this new global economy.

We know that we’ve got to create an economy that is sharing the burdens and benefits of globalization to each and every person.  And part of that means that we make certain that every single individual who wants to join a union has a right to join a union, can organize, can collectively bargain.

(APPLAUSE)

We’ve got to get card check passed.

(APPLAUSE)

We’ve got to have an energy plan that stops sending $800 million a day to some of the most hostile nations on Earth and melts the polar ice caps in the process.

And it’s going to be difficult for us to do this as long as we’re spending $275 million a day on a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged, a war that you and I were opposed to from the start.

It is time to bring our troops home.

(APPLAUSE)

So we’ve got a lot of work to do.

But I am absolutely confident that we can make the changes that are needed, that we can turn the page and write a new chapter in American history.

As long as each and every one of us are standing up together, this campaign can’t just be about me. 

It can’t just be about the presidential candidates.  We’ve got to organize and travel around the country and build a movement for progressive change in this country.  That’s why I want to be a partner with you:  to make that happen.

Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Obama, you’ve said that this war in Iraq, about which everybody is concerned, was wrong in its conception, not just badly carried out.  That separates you from some of the other candidates. 

Explain why it was a bad idea to go into Iraq with the American Army.

OBAMA:  Well, look, we know that the case for weapons of mass destruction was overstated.  And that became apparent once we got there, but many of us, looking at the evidence ahead of time, understood that there was not an imminent threat.

More importantly, there was a lack of judgment, in recognizing that, once we were in, it would be very difficult to get out.

The question was not whether we could overcome Saddam Hussein’s army.  The question was:  What would happen once we were there?

Could we win the peace?

Would this inflame anti-American sentiment throughout the Middle East?

And, most importantly, would it distract us from the necessary fight that we still had not finished in Afghanistan?

So we should not have gone in.  Once we went in, we continue to make mistakes and blunders, and we have for the last four years.

But look, what’s done is done.  We have no good options in Iraq left.  We’ve got bad options and worse options.  The best option, I believe, is to make certain that we begin a phased redeployment, that we’re as careful getting out as we were careless getting in...

(APPLAUSE)

... but that we start bringing our troops home, and send the signal to the Iraqi people, and most importantly, to the factions that are still warring in Iraq, there is not going to be a military solution to the problems there.  There are only political accommodations to be had.

And while we’re at it, we should be talking to countries like Iran and Syria that are acting irresponsibly, in part because they think we can keep a lid on things.

And as we let them know they’re going to have to take some responsibility, then I think we have the possibility of creating the kind of regional framework that allows us to scale back our commitments there and, most importantly, allows us to start bringing our troops home.

I am tired of meeting young women whose husbands are over there.  I am tired of meeting mothers who are crying on my shoulder at town hall meetings because their sons or daughters are not coming back.  It is time for us to bring our troops home.

MATTHEWS:  Compare your world view about war and life and death

the big stuff—with the president’s.

OBAMA:  Well, the biggest problem with this president, is that he seems to be driven by ideology, as opposed to by facts.  He doesn’t seem to be concerned with what’s happening on the ground.  He has certain ideas and he hopes that the world will conform to his ideas. 

(LAUGHTER)

And, unfortunately, over the last five years, they have not conformed to his ideas. 

(APPLAUSE)

You know, we heard that we would be greeted as liberators—that did not happen in Iraq.  We heard that this would only take a few months and it would only cost us a few billion dollars  -- and it didn’t happen.  And yet he stubbornly continues on the same course. 

That is not just true with respect to foreign policy.  The same is true on domestic policy.  When you are cutting taxes for folks who don’t need it and weren’t even asking for it at a time when we know that families all across the country are struggling trying to figure out how do they fill up their gas tank, how do they save for their children’s college education, how do they pay for their health care, how do they save for retirement? 

There is a sense of unreality to the president that is disturbing. 

And the fact is, look, the problems we face are not easy.  Let’s take the situation on health care.  I put forward a plan that says that we can provide high quality coverage to all Americans by obtaining savings, making sure the children get regular checkups instead of having to go to the emergency room for treatable illnesses like asthma, making certain that we’re applying technology to the health care system, so that we know that when you go to the hospital, you don’t have to fill out forms in triplicate and there are all sorts of errors that arise. 

We can save $100 billion to $125 billion a year and apply that to make sure that every single American has health care.  But we’re still going to need some additional resources to make that investment.  Which is why I’ve said:  Let’s roll back the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.

Let’s make certain that those resources go to the people who need it.  If we do that, then I’m absolutely confident that we can solve that problem, the energy problem, our education problems.

But we’re not going to solve them by pretending that issues of poverty and struggle among working families are just going to go away magically because the stock market is going up.

MATTHEWS:  So much of what you say just grabs people like me, because it sounds like Bobby Kennedy.  It sounds like the ‘60s at its absolute best.

(APPLAUSE)

And at the same time you say we shouldn’t fight those old fights.  What was—just one personal question here.  What was wrong with those old fights?  What was wrong with fighting about civil rights and war and peace?  Aren’t those good fights to fight?

OBAMA:  Everybody in AFSCME—Henry Bayer and Roberta Lynch and the folks in Illinois asked me, they know I like a good fight.  I don’t mind a good fight. 

The question is, how can we create a majority consensus in this country to actually win some of these fights?  And what I’ve argued is that we’re going to have to win some independents.  We’ve got a lot of disaffected Republicans after six years.  They—George Bush has actually been a good advertisement for the Democratic Party.

(LAUGHTER)

And we’ve got a whole bunch of folks who are starting to ask some questions and say to themselves, “How do we move this country in a new direction and how do we unify instead of divide?  How do we create a politics that’s based on hope instead of based on fear?”

And that means that we’ve got to reach out to some folks who may not seem like natural allies to us, but actually are hungry for something new.  And what I’ve seen as I’ve traveled around the country, you meet independents, you meet Republicans. 

When you talk to them, it turns out that they want a return to common sense in our politics.  And they don’t want to see just arguing and squabbling over little things.  They don’t want a gotcha kind of politics.  What they’re looking are some big ideas, but also the capacity to pull people together around a larger purpose.

I mentioned the issue of energy.  The fact of the matter is that we can solve our energy problems both at the pump—in terms of our foreign policy—and our environment, but we’re going to have to come together to take some difficult steps. 

We’ve got an energy bill right now in the Senate and we can’t even get an increase in fuel efficiency standards. 

If we increase fuel efficiency standards to 40, 45 miles a gallon, we would have to import zero oil from the Middle East.  And if we import zero oil from the Middle East, that means the gas prices are going to go down at the pump and it means our environment is going to improve. 

That is not a Republican or a Democratic issue.  That’s an American issue that we should be able to solve right here and right now. 

(APPLAUSE)

But, let me just say one last thing about what we can’t compromise on.  We can’t compromise on a progressive vision that says if you are able and willing to work, you should be able to find a job that pays a living wage. 

We should not compromise on retirement security for our senior citizens.  We should not compromise on issues of racial equality and gender equality. 

We should not compromise on the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain to improve their standing in life.  We shouldn’t compromise on the idea that every child should get a good education.  It shouldn’t just be a slogan. 

So there are some things that are worth fighting for.  And if people disagree and we can’t persuade them, then we’ve just got to beat them—and that’s what we got to do in next election. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  The Democratic Party—and you’re running for the nomination of the Democratic Party—has had sort of a split history.  There’s traditional liberalism, with the major role of government and to some extent protectionism in the last 50 years or so. 

And then there’s this, the Bill Clinton approach—the third way, I think he called it, the people around him called it, where they had—they were for NAFTA, they were for helping to balance the budget, welfare reform—he signed that very controversial bill in ‘96, as you know. 

Are you going to be like that if you get in office, or are you going to be more like a traditional Hubert Humphrey, if you will, Democrat? 

OBAMA:  Well, listen, I love Hubert Humphrey, but he didn’t win the presidency, so I’m not going to be like that. 

(APPLAUSE)

But, look, as I just indicated, there are some core values that we have as Democrats that we can’t compromise and I will not compromise.

But I am open to all kinds of good ideas as long as they’re making the lives of ordinary people better.

So let’s talk about trade, for example.  I believe in trade.  I think trade can grow our economy and improve the lives of ordinary people.  It can create lower costs for consumers and for businesses.

Those are the things we should want to pursue.  We should want to make the lives of other people and other countries better because that’s good for our security.

But when I see trade agreements that are consistently structured on behalf of corporations, that don’t have labor agreements, that don’t have environmental standards, that are not enforced so that countries like China are manipulating the currency to make goods that are shipped in the United States cheaper but our goods that are made by American workers more expensive, then we don’t have a level playing field.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  All right!

OBAMA:  And it’s particularly frustrating when many of those folks who are manufacturing in China are actually U.S. companies that made a decision, “We don’t want U.S. unions.

(APPLAUSE)

“We want to strip health care and retirement security benefits, and so we’re going to move over there and ship back to here.”

(AUDIENCE SHOUTING)

OBAMA:  So what I say when it comes to trade—and this is true on many other issues—is my criteria is, does it help ordinary people gain a living wage, have the kind of health care they need, have the kind of retirement benefits that they need.

And I think we can create those kind of trade agreements.  I think we can create a trade agreement that has strong environmental standards, strong labor standards, but is enforced.

I think we can have a Department of Labor that actually understands it’s the Department of Labor and not the Department of Management. 

(APPLAUSE)

I think we can have a president who is willing, from the Oval Office, to talk about unions and say unions are a good thing, and will sign the Employee Free—there is no reason that we can’t sign the Employee Free Choice Act.

And the next president has the opportunity to do that.  That’s going to be me, and I look forward to signing that and making sure to AFSCME can organize people all across the country. 

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  Your closing remarks, Senator?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Halliburton!

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  No, I’m not going to talk about Halliburton.  I’m going to talk about the American promise.

You know, I have been traveling all across the country now for the last four or five months.  And it’s been amazing to see the enthusiasm and the energy all across the country.

I mean, we’ve had enormous rallies, 20,000 people in Atlanta, 20,000 people Austin...

(APPLAUSE)

... 12,000 people in Oakland, California.

(APPLAUSE)

And I would like to say that it was about our campaign.  But it’s not, when you look at the faces of people who are coming out, from every walk of life, black folks and white folks and Asian folks and Latinos and gay and straight and old and young.

What they are looking for is a new kind of politics...

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yes!

OBAMA:  ... that’s not timid; it’s not small; it’s not divisive.

It’s not simply based on trying to get power but is also based on how do we create the kind of America that all of us dream of, an America that is true to our deepest ideals and our deepest values.

And I am confident in my capacity to lead this country in that direction.  I’ve done it in the state legislature.  I’m doing it in the United States Senate. 

I know where we need to go.  I know we can create a health care system that works for all people and saves us money.  I know we can create an energy policy that is good for our security and our environment and our economy.

I know we can create an education system, investing in early childhood education and paying teachers more and giving them the tools they need so our children can succeed.

(APPLAUSE)

I know we can bring an end to this war in Iraq and restore America’s prestige around the world. 

But I can’t do it by myself.  I can only do it with you. 

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Yeah!

OBAMA:  If all of you see this campaign as a vehicle for your hopes and your dreams; if you are wiling to organize a movement with me around the country, I’m absolutely convinced we will not just win an election...

(APPLAUSE)

... but we will transform this country.

(APPLAUSE)

Thank you very much, AFSCME.  I love you guys.  Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

MATTHEWS:  We’re going to have Dick Cheney come out here in a minute.

(AUDIENCE BOOING)

MATTHEWS:  Look, I want to thank you all—just teasing.  It’s been great to be here.  I like the rousing to beat up on me, so they don’t beat up on the country, OK?

(APPLAUSE)

It’s great to be here.  And congratulations on getting all the candidates, or most of them, to come here this morning.  You can’t beat this kind of American democracy.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.

END

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