updated 1/16/2008 12:48:35 PM ET 2008-01-16T17:48:35

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PARTICIPATE IN A

DEBATE ON MSNBC

JANUARY 15, 2008

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

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

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.

NATALIE MORALES, MODERATOR

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MODERATOR

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR

[*]

WILLIAMS: Before we get under way, we need to thank all of our

hosts for this evening, in part so our candidates don't feel the need

to.

The Nevada Democratic Party. That includes Senate Majority

Leader Harry Reid.

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The African-American organization known as 100 Black Men of

America.

Also, our local Nevada partners in this: Impacto; the African-

American Democratic Leadership Council; and, of course, the College of

Southern Nevada.

We have told the members of our vast studio audience here tonight

that we cannot allow applause or any outbursts following the

candidates' responses.

We will open with a Q&A format, allowing for 90-second answers,

lights will alert the candidates to the end of time; some 30-second

answers; and then follow-ups at the moderator's discretion.

Finally, for tonight's debate of the top three Democratic

contenders, I am joined by my partner Tim Russert, our Washington

bureau chief and of course moderator of "Meet the Press" on NBC; and

Natalie Morales of "Today" on NBC, who will be handling some of the

thousands of e-mail questions we've received over the past few days

directed to the candidates.

We thank you all for being here.

And before we begin with the questioning, we have to mix a bit of

breaking political news with the business of our debate tonight. At

this hour, as we come on the air, we are prepared to report that NBC

News is projecting that when all the votes are counted in tonight's

Michigan primary, Mitt Romney is the projected winner of that contest.

Again, in the Michigan primary tonight, a former Massachusetts

governor, a son of the state of Michigan, Mitt Romney, will be the

projected winner.

WILLIAMS: That is according to an NBC News estimate. And now,

we can begin with the questioning tonight.

As we sit here, this, as many of you may know, is the Reverend

Martin Luther King's birthday. Race was one of the issues we expected

to discuss here tonight. Our sponsors expected it of us. No one,

however, expected it to be quite so prominent in this race as it has

been over the last 10 days.

We needn't go back over all that has happened, except to say that

this discussion, before it was over, involved Dr. King, President

Johnson, even Sidney Poitier, several members of Congress, and a

prominent African-American businessman supporting Senator Clinton, who

made what seemed to be a reference to a party of Senator Obama's

teenage past that the Senator himself has written about in his

autobiography.

The question to begin with here tonight, Senator Clinton, is: How

did we get here?

CLINTON: Well, I think what's most important is that Senator

Obama and I agree completely that, you know, neither race nor gender

should be a part of this campaign.

CLINTON: It is Dr. King's birthday. The three of us are here in

large measure because his dreams have been realized. John, who is, as

we know, the son of a millworker and really has become an

extraordinary success, as Senator Obama who has such an inspirational

and profound story to tell America and the world; I, as a woman, who

is also a beneficiary of the civil rights movement and the women's

movement and the human rights movement, and the Democratic Party has

always been in the forefront of that.

So I very much appreciate what Senator Obama and I did yesterday,

which is that we both have exuberance and sometimes uncontrollable

supporters; that we need to get this campaign where it should be.

We're all family in the Democratic Party. We are so different

from the Republicans on all of these issues in every way that affects

the future of the people that care so much about.

So I think that it's appropriate on Dr. King's birthday, his

actual birthday, to recognize that all of us are here as a result of

what he did, all of the sacrifice, including giving his life, along

with so many of the other icons that we honor.

CLINTON: But I know that Senator Obama and I share a very strong

commitment to making sure that this campaign is about us as

individuals.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, same question?

OBAMA: Well, I think Hillary said it well. You know, we are,

right now, I think, in a defining moment in our history. We've got a

nation at war. Our planet is in peril. And the economy is putting an

enormous strain on working families all across the country.

Now, race has always been an issue in our politics and in this

country. But one of the premises of my campaign and, I think, of the

Democratic Party -- and I know that John and Hillary have always been

committed to racial equality -- is that we can't solve these

challenges unless we can come together as a people and we're not

resorting to the same -- or falling into the same traps of division

that we have in the past.

OBAMA: I think our party has stood for that. Dr. King stood for

that. I hope that my campaign has inspired that same sense, that

there's much more that we hold in common than what separates us.

And that is how I want to move this campaign forward and I hope

that's how it moves forward.

WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards, you waded into this topic

tangentially yesterday.

EDWARDS: Well, the only thing I would add is I had the

perspective of living in the South, including a time when there was

segregation in the South.

And I feel an enormous personal responsibility to continue to

move forward. Now, we've made great progress, but we're not finished

with that progress.

EDWARDS: And the struggles and sacrifice of Dr. King and many

others who gave blood, sweat, tears, and in some cases, their lives to

move America toward equality.

And I saw it. I saw it when four young men walked into a

Woolworth luncheon counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and sat

down, had the courage and strength to do the right thing. And they

literally stood up, stood up on behalf of African Americans, on behalf

of southerners, on behalf of Americans helped move this country

forward in a really serious way.

And having seen the pain and the struggle and the sacrifice of so

many up close -- because I lived with it. I lived with it in my years

growing up -- I think we, all of us, have an enormous responsibility

not to go back but to go forward.

And I would just add, I think it goes far beyond the Democratic

Party. This is about America and about creating real equality in

America across the waterfront.

WILLIAMS: Questioning continues with Tim Russert.

RUSSERT: In terms of accountability, Senator Obama, Senator

Clinton on Sunday told me that the Obama campaign had been pushing

this storyline. And, true enough, your press secretary in South

Carolina -- four pages of alleged comments made by the Clinton people

about the issue of race.

In hindsight, do you regret pushing this story?

OBAMA: Well, not only in hindsight, but going forward. I think

that, as Hillary said, our supporters, our staff get overzealous.

They start saying things that I would not say. And it is my

responsibility to make sure that we're setting a clear tone in our

campaign, and I take that responsibility very seriously, which is why

I spoke yesterday and sent a message in case people were not clear

that what we want to do is make sure that we focus on the issues.

Now, there are going to be significant issues that we debate, and

some serious differences that we have.

OBAMA: And I'm sure those will be on display today.

What I am absolutely convinced of is that everybody here is

committed to racial equality -- has been historically. And what I

also expect is that I'm going to be judged as a candidate in terms of

how I'm going to be improving the lives of the people in Nevada and

the people all across the country, that they are going to ultimately

be making judgments on can I deliver on good jobs at good wages; can I

make sure that our home foreclosure crisis is adequately dealt with;

are we going to be serious about retirement security; and are we going

to have a foreign policy that makes us safe.

If I'm communicating that message, then I expect to be judged on

that basis. And if I'm not, then I expect to be criticized on that

basis. That's the kind of campaign that we want to run and that we

have run up until this point.

RUSSERT: Do you believe this is a deliberate attempt to

marginalize you as the black candidate?

OBAMA: No. As I said, I think that if you've looked not just at

this campaign, but at my history, my belief is that race is a factor

in our society, but I think what happened in Iowa is a testimony to

the fact that the American public is willing to judge people on the

basis of who can best deliver the kinds of changes that they're so

desperately looking for.

OBAMA: And that's the kind of movement that we want to build all

across the country, and that, I think, is the legacy of Dr. King that

we need to build on.

RUSSERT: In New Hampshire, your polling was much higher than the

actual vote result.

Do you believe, in the privacy of the voting booth, people used

race as an issue?

OBAMA: No. I think what happened was that Senator Clinton ran a

good campaign up in New Hampshire. And, you know, I think that people

recognize we've got some terrific candidates who are running vigorous

campaigns.

It's going to be close everywhere we go. It's close here in

Nevada. It's going to be close in South Carolina.

And, you know, at any given moment, people are going to be making

judgments based on who they think is best speaking to them about the

urgent problems that they're facing in this country.

OBAMA: Now, the one thing I'm convinced about -- and this was

true in Iowa and this was true in New Hampshire, as well -- is that

change is going to happen because the American people determine that

change is going to happen.

And that's what I draw from Dr. King's legacy. You know, what

happens in Washington is important. And we've got to have elected

officials that are accountable and serious about moving forward on the

goals of opportunity and upward mobility.

But if we don't have an activated people, a unified people,

black, white, Latino, Asian, who are all moving in the same direction,

demanding that change happens, then Washington, special interests,

lobbyists end up dominating the agenda. That's what I want to change.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, in terms of accountability, you told

me on Sunday morning, "Any time anyone has said anything that I

thought was out of bounds, they're gone. I've gotten rid of them."

RUSSERT: Shortly thereafter, that same afternoon, Robert

Johnson, at your event, said, quote, "When Barack Obama was doing

something in the neighborhood, that I won't say what he was doing, but

he said it in his book," widely viewed as a reference to Senator

Obama's book ,"Dreams From My Father" from 1995, where he talked about

his drug use as a teenager.

Will you now not allow Robert Johnson to participate in any of

your campaign events because of that conduct?

CLINTON: Well, Bob has put out a statement saying what he was

trying to say and what he thought he had said. We accept him on his

word on that.

But, clearly, we want to send a very clear message to everybody

that this campaign is too important for us to either get diverted or,

frankly, get the message of what we want to do for our country

subverted by any kind of statements or claims that are just not part

of who I am or who Barack or John are.

CLINTON: Because I think what's critical here is that the

American people understand clearly what is at stake in this election.

The stakes are really high, and there's an urgent need for leadership

on a range of issues, you know, some of which are now becoming right

here in front of us about whether or not people are going to be able

to keep their homes in Nevada, whether they're going to have jobs.

You know, I went door to door in Las Vegas last week and, you

know, I've met construction workers who've been laid off. I met a

casino employee who's already been laid off.

So what people talk to me about is not what somebody they never

heard of said, but what we say, what we're for, what we're standing

for, and what we're going to be pushing for.

So I accept what he said, but I think what's important is what I

say and what each of us says about the kind of president we intend to

be and how we're going to get there.

RUSSERT: Were his comments out of bounds?

CLINTON: Yes, they were.

CLINTON: And he has said that.

WILLIAMS: We're going to continue the questioning now with

Natalie Morales.

MORALES: Thank you, Brian.

And this is a question for Senator Edwards. It comes to us from

Margaret Wells from San Diego, California.

Senator, she's asking, "The policy differences among the

remaining candidates is so slight that we appear to be choosing on the

basis of personality and life story. That being said, why should I,

as a progressive woman, not resent being forced to choose between the

first viable female candidate and the first viable African American

candidate?"

EDWARDS: Well, I think that the decision for every voters in

this election should revolve around first whether you believe America

needs change. If you do, who you think will be most effective in

bringing about that change. We have different perspectives on that.

I think the system in Washington is broken. I don't think it

works. And I think the American people, middle-class Americans, are

struggling and suffering.

They can't pay for their health care. They're losing their jobs.

They can't pay for their kids to go to college.

This is a very personal thing for me.

EDWARDS: Hillary mentioned a minute ago that I grew up in a

family of millworkers. I was the first person in my family to

actually be able to go to college.

And so this battle for real opportunity for everybody, the kind

of chances I've had in my own life, is central to everything I do. It

is central to this campaign. It is a personal, personal fight for me.

And I think the decision that voters make about who can best

fight for the middle class, who will never give up on the fight for

universal health care, who will actually stand up strongly and

affirmedly to -- for the right to organize, for unions to be able to

organize in the workplace.

These things are not academic for me; they are my life. I

believe in them to my soul and I will fight with every fiber of my

being to make sure that everybody gets that kind of opportunity, and I

think there are some differences on policy and perspective between the

three of us, and I hope we get a chance to talk more about that

tonight.

MORALES: Senator Edwards, as a follow-up to Margaret Wells'

question, what is a white male to do running against these historic

candidacies?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: You know, I have to say on behalf of my party, and I've

said this many times, I'm proud of the fact that we have a woman and

an African American who are very, very serious candidates for the

presidency. They've both asked not to be considered on their gender

or their race. I respect that.

I do believe, however, that it says really good things about

America. I think I actually believe that both through these primaries

and caucuses and in the general election, that the American people are

going to make decisions based on who we are, what we stand for, and

what we're fighting for.

WILLIAMS: Question for Senator Obama. You won the women's vote

in Iowa, but Senator Clinton won the women's vote in New Hampshire,

and there probably isn't an American alive today who hasn't heard the

post-game analysis of New Hampshire, all the reasons the analysts give

for Senator Clinton's victory. Senator Clinton had a moment where she

became briefly emotional at a campaign appearance.

WILLIAMS: But another given was at the last televised debate,

when you, in a comment directed to Senator Clinton, looked down and

said, "You're likable enough, Hillary."

That caused Frank Rich to write, on the op-ed page of the New

York Times, that it was "your most inhuman moment, to date." And it

clearly was a factor and added up.

Senator Obama, do you regret the comment, and comments like that,

today?

OBAMA: Well, I absolutely regret it because that wasn't how it

was intended. I mean, folks were giving Hillary a hard time about

likability. And my intention was to say, "I think you're plenty

likable."

(LAUGHTER)

And it did not come out the way it was supposed to.

But, you know, I do think that, during the course of that debate,

there was a tendency to parse out what is, I think, not an issue.

I think all three of these candidates are good, capable people.

And what we really should be focusing on is who's got a vision for how

we're going to move the country forward?

And I believe that, right now, the only way we're going to move

the country forward is if we can bring the country together, not just

Democrats but independents, Republicans who have also lost trust in

government, and we are able to push aside the special interests and

the lobbyists, and we are truthful with the American people and

enlisting them in changing how our health care system works, how our

economy works, what our tax code looks like.

OBAMA: And that is going to be an issue that, I think, all of us

are going to have to struggle with over the coming days. It's not

going to be an issue of, you know, who's got the nicest smile or, you

know, who's going to be fun to have a beer with.

It's going to be, who can provide the leadership that makes sure

the country is moving forward through what I anticipate are going to

be some difficult times, and who is going to be able to transform how

Washington works in a fundamental way.

WILLIAMS: And one more question about that last televised

debate, Senator Edwards. Afterwards, Senator Clinton said it was as

if you and Senator Obama had formed a buddy system against her.

Senator Clinton put out an Internet ad that was entitled "Piling On."

Looking back on it, the campaign for New Hampshire in total, do

you admit that it might have looked that way?

EDWARDS: Might have looked that way or actually was that way? I

don't think it was that way. I mean, my job as a candidate for

president of the United States is to speak the truth as I see it.

I've spoken the truth, I will continue to speak the truth whatever the

consequences are and whatever the perception that people have is.

I do believe that I am a candidate for president who is fighting

for change, who believes that we have entrenched, moneyed interests in

this country that are preventing the middle class from having a real

chance. And it's drug companies, insurance companies, oil companies.

There are lobbyists. Barack spoke about them just a few minutes ago.

It's why I've never, the whole time I've been in public life,

taken a dime from Washington lobbyist or special interest PAC, because

I do believe those people stand between America and the change that it

so desperately needs, in real ways.

EDWARDS: They're the reason we don't have universal health care.

They're the reason we have a trade policy that's cost America millions

of jobs. They're the reason we have an insane tax policy that

actually gives tax breaks to American companies sending jobs overseas.

The promise of America that I and millions of others have lived

-- and then we are in Nevada tonight, a place that people come to in

the thousands every day to find the promise of America because they

believe in it.

It is central to everything we are as a nation. And I do believe

that promise is being jeopardized by very well-financed monied

interests. I believe that's the truth, and I'm going to keep saying

it.

WILLIAMS: Tim?

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton...

PROTESTER: Will you stop all these race-based questions?

These are race-based questions...

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, your husband said that Senator Obama

very well could be the nominee -- he could win.

With that in mind, when you say that Senator Obama is raising

false hopes, and you refuse to say whether he's ready to be president,

what are the consequences of those comments in the fall against the

Republicans?

CLINTON: Well, Tim, we're in a hard-fought primary season. I

think each of us recognize that. You know, we're the survivors of

what has been a yearlong campaign.

But I certainly have the highest regard for both Senator Obama

and Senator Edwards. I've worked with them. I have, you know,

supported them in their previous runs for office. There's no doubt

that when we have a nominee, we're going to have a totally unified

Democratic Party.

The issue for the voters here in Nevada, South Carolina and then

all of the states to come is, who is ready on day one to walk into

that Oval office, knowing the problems that are going to be there

waiting for our next president: a war to end in Iraq, a war to

resolve in Afghanistan, an economy that I believe is slipping toward a

recession, with the results already being felt here in Nevada with the

highest home foreclosure rate in the entire country, 47 million

Americans uninsured, an energy policy that is totally wrong for

America, for our future?

CLINTON: President Bush is over in the Gulf now begging the

Saudis and others to drop the price of oil. How pathetic. We should

have an energy policy right now putting people to work in green collar

jobs as a way to stave off the recession, moving us towards energy

independence.

All of that and more is waiting for our next president.

You know, obviously each of us believes that we are the person

who should walk into the oval office on January 20th, 2009. I'm

presenting my experience, my qualifications, my ideas, my vision for

America.

CLINTON: And it's routed in the voices that I hear, that I've

heard for 35 years, of people who want a better life for themselves

and their children. And I'm going to keep putting forward what I have

done and what I will do. And this is what this election, I think, is

really about.

RUSSERT: You may think you are the best prepared, but would you

acknowledge that Senator Obama and Senator Edwards are both prepared

to be president?

CLINTON: Well, I think that that's up to the voters to decide.

I think that's something that voters have to make a decision about on

all of us. They have to look at each and every one of us and imagine

us in the Oval Office, imagine us as commander in chief, imagine us

making tough decisions about everything we know we're going to have to

deal with, and then all of the unpredictable events that come through

the door of the White House and land on the desk of the president.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, you gave an interview to the Reno

Gazette-Journal and you said, "We all have strengths and weaknesses."

WILLIAMS: You said one of your weaknesses is, quote, "I'm not an

operating officer."

Do the American people want someone in the Oval Office who is an

operating officer?

OBAMA: Well, I think what I was describing was how I view the

presidency. Now, being president is not making sure that schedules

are being run properly or the paperwork is being shuffled effectively.

It involves having a vision for where the country needs to go.

It involves having the capacity to bring together the best people

and being able to spark the kind of debate about how we're going to

solve health care; how we're going to solve energy; how we are going

to deliver good jobs and good wages; how we're going to keep people in

their homes, here in Nevada; and then being able to mobilize and

inspire the American people to get behind that agenda for change.

That's the kind of leadership that I've shown in the past.

OBAMA: That's the kind of leadership that I intend to show as

president of the United States. So, what's needed is sound judgment,

a vision for the future, the capacity to tap into the hopes and dreams

of the American people and mobilize them to push aside those special

interests and lobbyists and forces that are standing in the way of

real change, and making sure that you have a government that reflects

the decency and the generosity of the American people.

That's the kind of leadership that I believe I can provide.

RUSSERT: You said each of you have strengths and weaknesses. I

want to ask each of you quickly, your greatest strength, your greatest

weakness.

OBAMA: My greatest strength, I think is the ability to bring

people together from different perspectives to get them to recognize

what they have in common and to move people in a different direction.

And as I indicated before, my greatest weakness, I think, is when it

comes to -- I'll give you a very good example.

OBAMA: I ask my staff member to hand me paper until two seconds

before I need it because I will lose it. You know, the --- you

know...

(LAUGHTER)

And my desk and my office doesn't look good. I've got to have

somebody around me who is keeping track of that stuff.

And that's not trivial; I need to have good people in place who

can make sure that systems run. That's what I've always done, and

that's why we run not only a good campaign, but a good U.S. Senate

office.

RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, greatest strength, greatest weakness?

EDWARDS: I think my greatest strength is that for 54 years, I've

been fighting with every fiber of my being.

In the beginning, the fight was for me. Growing up in mill towns

and mill villages, I had to literally fight to survive.

But then I spent 20 years in courtrooms fighting for children and

families against really powerful well-financed interests. I learned

from that experience, by the way, that if you're tough enough and

you're strong enough and you got the guts and you're smart enough, you

can win. That's a fight that can be won.

It can be won in Washington, too, by the way.

And I've continued that entire fight my entire time in public

life.

EDWARDS: So I've got what it takes inside to fight on behalf of

the American people and on behalf of the middle class.

I think weakness, I sometimes have a very powerful emotional

response to pain that I see around me, when I see a man like Donnie

Ingram (ph), who I met a few months ago in South Carolina, who worked

for 33 years in the mill, reminded me very much of the kind of people

that I grew up with, who's about to lose his job, has no idea where

he's going to go, what he's going to do.

I mean, his dignity and self-respect is at issue. And I feel

that in a really personal way and in a very emotional way. And I

think sometimes that can undermine what you need to do.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, I am passionately committed to this country and

what it stands for. I'm a product of the changes that have already

occurred, and I want to be an instrument for making those changes

alive and real in the lives of Americans, particularly children.

CLINTON: That's what I've done for 35 years. It is really my

life's work. It is something that comes out of my own experience,

both in my family and in my church that, you know, I've been blessed.

I think to whom much is given, much is expected.

So I have tried to create opportunities, both on an individual

basis, intervening to help people who have no where else to turn, to

be their champion. And then to make those changes. And I think I can

deliver change. I think I understand how to make it possible for more

people to live up to their God-given potential.

I get impatient. I get, you know, really frustrated when people

don't seem to understand that we can do so much more to help each

other. Sometimes I come across that way. I admit that. I get very

concerned about, you know, pushing further and faster than perhaps

people are ready to go.

But I think that, you know, there is a difference here. I do

think that being president is the chief executive officer. I respect

what Barack said about setting the vision, setting the tone, bringing

people together. But I think you have to be able to manage and run

the bureaucracy.

CLINTON: You've got to pick good people, certainly, but you have

to hold them accountable every single day.

We've seen the results of a president who, frankly, failed at

that. You know, he went in to office saying he was going to have the

kind of Harvard Business School CEO model where he'd set the tone,

he'd set the goals and then everybody else would have to implement it.

And we saw the failures. We saw the failures along the Gulf

Coast with, you know, people who were totally incompetent and

insensitive failing to help our fellow Americans. We've seen the

failures with holding the administration accountable with the no-bid

contracts and the cronyism.

So I do think you have to do both. It's a really hard job, and

in America we put the head of state and the head of government

together in one person.

CLINTON: But I think you've got to set the tone, you've got to

set the vision, you've got to set the goals, you've got to bring the

country together.

And then you do have to manage and operate and hold that

bureaucracy accountable to get the results you're trying to achieve.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, Senator Clinton invoked your name. I'll

give you a chance to respond.

OBAMA: Well, there's no doubt that you've got to be a good

manager. And that's not what I was arguing. The point, in terms of

bringing together a team, is that you get the best people and you're

able to execute and hold them accountable.

But I think that there's something, if we're going to evaluate

George Bush and his failures as president, that I think are much more

important. He was very efficient. He was on time all the time, and

you know, and had...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: You know, I'm sure he never lost a paper. I'm sure he

knows where it is. What he could not do is to listen to perspectives

that didn't agree with his ideological predispositions.

What he could not do is to bring in different people with

different perspectives and get them to work together.

OBAMA: What he could not do is to manage the effort to make sure

that the American people understood that, if we're going to go into

war, that there are going to be consequences and there are going to be

costs.

And we have to be able to communicate what those costs are; and

to make absolutely certain that, if we're going to make a decision to

send our young men and women into harm's way, that it's based on the

best intelligence and that we've asked tough questions before we went

into fight.

I mean, those are the kinds of failures that have to do with

judgment. They have to do with vision, the capacity to inspire

people. They don't have to do with whether or not he was managing the

bureaucracy properly.

That's not to deny that there has to be strong management skills

in the presidency. It is to say that what has been missing is the

ability to bring people together, to mobilize the country, to move us

in a better direction, and to be straight with the American people.

OBAMA: That's how you get the American people involved.

WILLIAMS: Time for the rebuttal has expired.

Senator Obama, a fresh question here.

It may not come as news to you that there's a lot of false

information about you circulating on the Internet.

We received one e-mail, in particular -- usually once several

weeks; we've received three of them this week. This particular one

alleges, among other things, that you are trying to hide the fact that

you're a Muslim, that you took the oath of office on the Koran and not

the Bible...

(LAUGHTER)

... that you will not pledge allegiance to the flag or generally

respect it.

How do you -- how does your campaign go on about combating this

kind of thing?

OBAMA: Well, look, first of all, let's make clear what the facts

are: I am a Christian. I have been sworn in with a Bible.

WILLIAMS: I figured.

OBAMA: I pledge allegiance and lead the pledge of allegiance

sometimes in the United States Senate when I'm presiding.

I haven't been there lately because I've been in Iowa and New

Hampshire.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: But you know, look, in the Internet age, there are going

to be lives that are spread all over the place. I have been

victimized by these lies. Fortunately, the American people are I

think smarter than folks give them credit for. You know, it's a

testimony -- these e-mails were going out in Iowa. They were going

out in New Hampshire. And we did just fine.

If we didn't do well, for example, in New Hampshire, it wasn't

because of these e-mails. It was because we didn't do what we needed

to do in our campaign.

So my job is to tell the truth, to be straight with the American

people about how I intend to end climate change, what I'm going to do

with respect to providing health care for every American, how we're

going to provide tax relief to hard-working Americans who are really

feeling the pinch, and to present my vision for where the country

needs to go.

If I'm doing that effectively, then I place my trust in the

American people that they will sort out the lies from the truth, and

they will make a good decision.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, thank you.

At this point, we are going to take the first of exactly three

breaks in the two-hour broadcast tonight. On the other side of this

break, among the topics we will take on the economy, when we continue

from Las Vegas after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We are back live in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the three

top candidates for the Democratic nomination for president. Brian

Williams with Tim Russert, Natalie Morales.

WILLIAMS: We're going to continue the questioning here on the

topic of the economy. And then, within this portion of the broadcast,

we're going to try something new for this series, and that is, the

candidates will have two questions each to ask of their fellow

candidates.

So while they think about that, we will start off with the

economy and a question for you, Senator Clinton.

This evening on NBC Nightly News, our lead story was about the

fact that Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have both "gone overseas," as

some put it, hat in hand, looking for $20 billion in investment to

stay afloat from, among other things, the government of Singapore,

Korea, Japan, and the Saudi Prince Alwaleed, the man -- Rudolph

Giuliani turned his money back after 9/11.

This is -- strikes a lot of Americans as just plain wrong.

WILLIAMS: At the end of our report we said this may end up in

Congress.

What can be done? And does it strike you as fundamentally wrong,

that much foreign ownership of these American flagship brands?

CLINTON: Brian, I'm very concerned about this. You know, about

a month and a half or so ago I raised this concern, because these are

called sovereign wealth funds. They are huge pools of money, largely

because of oil and economic growth in Asia. And these funds are

controlled often by governmental entities or individuals who are

closely connected to the governments in these countries.

I think we've got to know more about them. They need to be more

transparent. We need to have a lot more control over what they do and

how they do it. I'd like to see the World Bank and the International

Monetary Fund begin to impose these rules, and I want the United

States Congress and the Federal Reserve Board to ask these tough

questions.

But let's look at how we got here.

CLINTON: We got here because, as I said on Wall Street on

December 5th, a lot of our big financial institutions, you know, made

these bets on these subprime mortgages. They helped to create this

meltdown that is happening, that is costing millions of people who

live in homes that are being foreclosed on or could be in the very

near future because the interest rates are going up.

And what they did was to take all these subprime mortgages and

conventional mortgages, bundle them up and sell them overseas to big

investors. So, we're getting the worst of both worlds.

We can't figure out, under this administration, what we should

do. I have a plan: a moratorium on foreclosures for 90 days,

freezing interest rates for five years, which I think we should do

immediately.

The administration is doing very little. And what we now see is

our financial institutions having to go hat in hand to borrow money

from these foreign funds. I'm very concerned about it.

CLINTON: I'd like to see us move much more aggressively, both to

deal with the immediate problem with the mortgages and to deal with

these sovereign wealth funds.

WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards, I neglected to point out that one of

the companies keeping these giant American banks afloat is Kuwait, a

nation, an economy arguably afloat itself today, as you know, thanks

to the blood, sweat and tears of American soldiers.

What would you do as a remedy?

EDWARDS: Well, the things that Senator Clinton just spoke about

are correct. We need more transparency. We need to know what's

actually happening. But the fundamental problem is what's happening

at the core of the American economy. What's happening to the economy

in America, if you look at it from distance, is we have economic

growth in America -- we still do -- but almost the entirety of that

economic growth is with the very wealthiest Americans and the biggest

multinational corporations.

You ask any middle class family in America and they will tell you

they do not feel financially secure. They are worried about their

job. They are worried paying for health care. They're worried about

having to send their kids to college. They're worried about, in so

many cases, here in Nevada particularly, worried about their home

being foreclosed on.

EDWARDS: I spoke a few minutes ago about thousands of people

coming to Nevada everyday to try to find the promise of America, to

try to find a good job, a good home to meet the great moral test that

all of us have as Americans, which is to make certain that our

children have a better life than we had.

This is the great challenge that we're facing in this election.

We talked about other historic moments. It is an historic moment for

America in this election.

Are we going to do what our parents and our grandparents did, who

worked and struggled and suffered to ensure that we would have a

better life?

They have now passed that torch to us and it is our

responsibility, and it will be my responsibility as president to

ensure that our children and our grandchildren have a better life than

we had.

WILLIAMS: Tim?

Oh, Senator Obama, a rebuttal.

OBAMA: Well, not a rebuttal. I just want to pick up on a couple

of things that have been said.

Number one, part of the reason that Kuwait and others are able to

come in and purchase, or at least bail out, some of our financial

institutions is because we don't have an energy policy.

OBAMA: And we are sending close to $1 billion a day. And this

administration has consistently failed to put forward a realistic plan

that is going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; is going to

invest in solar and wind and biodiesel.

You look at a state like Nevada; one thing I know is folks have

got a lot of sun here.

(LAUGHTER)

And yet we have not seen any serious effort, on the part of this

administration, to spur on the use of alternative fuels, raise fuel

efficiency standards on cars. That would make a substantial

difference in our balance of payments and that would make a

substantial difference in terms of their capacity to purchase our

assets.

And the second thing, I just want to point out, is that the

subprime lending mess -- part of the reason it happened was because we

had an administration that does not believe in any kind of oversight.

And we had the mortgage industry spending $185 million lobbying

to prevent provisions such as the ones that I've proposed over a year

ago that would say, you know, you've got to disclose properly what

kinds of loans you're giving to people on mortgages.

OBAMA: You've got to disclose if you've got a teaser rate and

suddenly their mortgage payments are going to jack up and they can't

pay for them. And one of the things that I intend to do as president

of the United States is restore a sense of accountability and

regulatory oversight over the financial markets.

We have the best financial markets in the world, but only if they

are transparent and accountable and people trust them. And,

increasingly, we have not had those structures in place.

WILLIAMS: Time is up, Senator.

RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, poor folks, middle class folks really

feeling the pinch.

EDWARDS: Yes.

RUSSERT: Bankruptcies are up 40 percent in one year, 5 percent

of credit card debts are now delinquent. In 2001, you voted for a

bankruptcy bill which was the precursor to the 2005 bankruptcy bill

that become law, which made it much tougher for middle class folks,

particularly women, when they became bankrupt.

RUSSERT: Do you regret that vote?

EDWARDS: I absolutely do. I should not have voted for that

bankruptcy law.

If you look at what's happening in America today, the

bankruptcies that are occurring, about half of them are the result of

medical costs. And the idea that any single mom who has a child who

gets catastrophically sick and incurs $30,000 of medical cost has to

go into bankruptcy as a result, and can't be relieved of that debt,

makes absolutely no sense. And it's not fair and it's not right.

And I spoke just a few minutes ago about the great struggles that

the middle class are faced with in this country, and you hear it every

single day. Because what's happening in America is jobs are leaving,

cost of everything is going up -- health care, college tuition,

everything -- and, on top of that, middle class incomes are not going

up.

EDWARDS: The incomes at the very top are going up. Profits of

big corporations are going up. But the incomes of middle class

families are not going up.

So the question is, what do we do about it? Besides having

somebody who truly understands in a personal way what's happening,

what would the president of the United States do? There are a bunch

of things we need to do.

We desperately need truly universal health care that covers every

single American and dramatically reduces health care costs. We do

need, as Barack spoke about just a few minutes ago, a radical

transformation of the way we produce and use energy. We can create at

least a million new jobs in that transition.

We need a national law cracking down on predatory and payday

lenders that are taking advantage of our most vulnerable families. We

ought to raise -- the national minimum wage is going up to $7.25 an

hour. That's fine. It's not enough.

The national minimum wage should be at least nine and a half

dollars an hour. It ought to be indexed to go up on its own. We need

to make it easier for kids to go to college. My proposal is that we

say to any young person in America who's willing to work when they're

in college, at least 10 hours a week, we'll pay for their tuition and

books at a state university or community college.

EDWARDS: And that can be paid for by getting rid of big banks as

the intermediary in student loans. They make $4 billion or $5 billion

a year. That money ought to be going to sending kids to college.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, you voted for the same 2001 bankruptcy

bill that Senator Edwards just said he was wrong about. After you did

that, the Consumer Federation of America said that your reversal on

that bill, voting for it, was the death knell for the opponents of the

bill. Do you regret that vote?

CLINTON: Sure I do, but it never became law, as you know. It

got tied up. It was a bill that had some things I agreed with and

other things I didn't agree with, and I was happy that it never became

law. I opposed the 2005 bill as well.

But let's talk about where we are now with bankruptcy. We need

urgently to have bankruptcy reform in order to get the kind of options

available for homeowners. In addition to what I want to do, which is

the moratorium on foreclosures for 90 days to see what we can do to

work them out, and freezing interest rates for five years, and making

the mortgage industry more transparent so we actually know what

they're doing.

CLINTON: I mean, look what happened with Countrywide. You know,

Countrywide gets bought and the CEO, who was one of the architects of

this whole subprime mess, is set off with $100 million -- $100 million

in severance pay.

You know, the priorities and the values are absolutely wrong.

So, what we've got to do is move urgently.

In addition to what I proposed, I think we've got to reform the

bankruptcy law right now, going forward, so that people who are caught

in these subprime and now increasingly conventional loans that they

can't pay because of the way the interest rates are going up and many

of the fraudulent and predatory practices that got people into them in

the first place will have the option of getting relieved of this debt.

So there's a lot we need to do right now. And, you know, I want

to just add that the groups that sponsored this are primarily black

and brown groups that care deeply about these issues.

Everything we're talking about falls disproportionately on

African Americans, on Hispanics, on a lot of Asian Americans.

CLINTON: Here in Nevada, the African-American and Hispanic

communities are really the ones that are most victimized by these sub-

prime mortgages. They're the ones who are often the first to be let

go when the economy begins to slide. You know, in and out of the

homes that I have visited, and here in Las Vegas, those are the

stories that I am hearing.

So we need to move urgently. We have a lot of big agenda items

that I agree with John on: universal health care, college

affordability. But we can't wait. We're going to lose another, you

know, million Americans in home foreclosures.

We're going to see a deteriorating community across America

because homes will be left vacant. The housing market is down.

Nobody will buy those homes. Housing wealth, which the principle

source of American middle class wealth, is now decreasing.

So I have a real sense of urgency.

CLINTON: We need to be acting now. And I know that the

Democratic Congress, under Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Pelosi, are

going to do everything they can to address this.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, the 2001 bankruptcy bill; the 2005

bankruptcy bill?

OBAMA: I opposed them both. I think they were a bad ideas.

Because they were pushed by the credit card companies. They were

pushed by the mortgage companies. And they put the interests of those

banks and financial institutions ahead of the interests of the

American people.

And this is typical. Now, Hillary's exactly right that we've got

to modify some of the fraudulent practices, predatory lending

practices.

I put in a bill, a year and a half ago, to make that happen.

Because it does affect communities, including my own, on the south

side of Chicago.

But, unless we are able to rid the influence of special-interest

lobbies in Washington, we're going to continue to see bad legislation

like that.

And that's why we're going to have to change how politics is done

in Washington.

Now, we have an immediate problem. I met with a number of folks

up in Reno, just two days ago, who are already seeing their homes

being foreclosed upon.

One of the things that we have to do is we have to release people

who are in bankruptcy as a consequence of health care; we've got to

give them a break.

OBAMA: One woman who I was with, her husband is a police

officer. He contracted cancer, went through chemotherapy, ends up

being hit by a car while in the line of duty, and they fall three,

four months behind on their health care payments, and that's it, they

can't make the payments on their house.

We've got to provide them some relief. I've put forward a $10

billion housing fund that can help bridge people who have been

responsible in making their payments. They're not speculators,

they're not trying to flip properties. They're in their own homes.

We've got to make sure that they can get the kinds of help that

they need to stay in their homes and make the payments and live out

the American dream that is so important to so many people.

WILLIAMS: Time is up, Senator.

We're going to get some more e-mail questions from Natalie

Morales.

MORALES: All right. And this one is directed to Senator Obama.

MORALES: It comes from a resident of Miami, Florida: "As a

middle class retiree whose primary source of income is dividends,

capital gains from stock investments, what if any safeguards would you

put in place to protect us from your proposed reversal of the Bush tax

cuts on these investment vehicles?"

OBAMA: Well, what I would do is I would exempt middle income

folks, potentially, from increases in capital gains and dividends.

But what I have insisted upon is that we make our tax code fair. And

if for example, my friend and Hillary's friend, Warren Buffett, makes

$46 million last year, and he is paying a lower rate on -- a lower tax

rate than his secretary, there is something fundamentally unjust about

that.

Yeah. And I think, you know, he acknowledges it. And by the

way, he has offered $1 million to any CEO of a Fortune 500 company who

can prove that they pay a higher tax rate than their secretary.

OBAMA: Now, nobody has taken them up on the offer, by the way.

So part of the reason is because he primarily gets his income from

dividends and capital gains, and he's taxed at a lower rate. That has

to change, and that's part of a broader shift that I'm proposing in

our tax rates.

We were talking earlier about lower and middle income people

really getting squeezed. I've said we need to provide tax relief to

them. If you're making less than $75,000 a year, we are proposing

that we offset the payroll tax to give you relief, $1,000 for the

average family. That if you're a senior citizen who is making less

than $50,000 a year, or getting less than $50,000 in Social Security

benefits, then you shouldn't have to pay taxes on that Social Security

income.

Homeowners who do not itemize their deductions, we want to give

you a mortgage deduction credit, and we're going to pay for that by

closing loopholes, closing tax havens, and yes, rolling back some of

these breaks that have gone disproportionately to the wealthiest

Americans.

OBAMA: That will help the economy grow, because part of the

reason we've got a bubble financially -- first in the Internet sphere

and then in the real estate market -- is because of what John referred

to earlier.

You've got all this money going to the top 1 percent, and they're

looking for ways to park the money. We need the money in the hands of

hard-working Americans who deserve it. They will know how to spend

it, and they will actually help spur business growth across the

country.

WILLIAMS: Time is up, Senator. One more question from Natalie.

MORALES: And this one is for Senator Clinton, and you spoke

already about foreclosure rates. So on that subject -- this was

coming from Christian Denny from Henderson, Nevada: "Senator Clinton,

recently, while visiting Las Vegas, you mentioned your plan to freeze

interest rates to help prevent foreclosures. Are you aware of any

long-term effects on the housing market and our economy that this may

cause?"

CLINTON: Well, Natalie, I think that the question really goes to

the heart of what we're trying to do here. We have short-term,

medium-term and long-term goals when it comes to our economy.

You know, the Federal Reserve is cutting interest rates in order

to spur the economy.

CLINTON: But because of a lot of the way these mortgages were

structured, the interest rates are going to keep going up. And a lot

of people who can pay what they're paying now will not be able to pay

what they're expected to pay next month or the month after that.

So freezing the interest rates is not only a way of being able to

stabilize the housing market, but it also is in line with what the Fed

is doing on monetary policy.

In other words, you can't be cutting interest rates in one part

of the economy and letting them go through the roof in the other part

and expect to be able to stimulate the kind of economic growth that we

need to have right now.

I have other pieces of my economic action plan.

In addition to dealing with the home foreclosure issue on the

moratorium and the rate freeze, I'd like to have a fund of about $30

billion that communities and states could go to work in order to

prevent foreclosures and the consequences of foreclosures.

When I was talking about this issue last week here in Las Vegas,

somebody from the mayor's office said they're starting to see a

slowdown in property tax receipts.

CLINTON: That means police services and other services start to

deteriorate. That compounds the problem.

I want to see money in the pocket's of people who are having

trouble paying their energy bills. That stimulates the economy.

I want to make sure the unemployment compensation system is there

for people as they begin to get laid off, which is happening here in

Las Vegas and around the country.

And then, finally, I want to have about $5 billion put to work

right now to employ people in green-collar jobs like I saw when I was

in L.A. last week with electrical workers being trained to put in

solar panels.

And then, if we need additional stimulation, we should look at

tax rebates for middle class and working families, not for the wealthy

who've already done very well under George Bush.

WILLIAMS: Two bits of housekeeping at this point. I've been

asked to remind our candidates that we have a system of lights that

they can plainly see.

WILLIAMS: The yellow one starts flashing...

(LAUGHTER)

The yellow one starts flashing when they're starting to run out

of time...

(LAUGHTER)

... and the red one starts flashing when they are out of time.

And another reminder that only seven feet separates us from the

candidates.

(LAUGHTER)

Now to that segment we promised earlier. We asked the candidates

and their campaigns to come here tonight prepared with two questions,

one for each of their opposition candidates.

It's not our intention that these be novelty or, at all,

throwaway questions but that they be real questions. And we should

know, right away, here, whether this was a good or a very bad idea.

(LAUGHTER)

Senator Edwards, I would like to start with you. A question for

Senator Obama and a question for Senator Clinton?

EDWARDS: I get to do both, to begin with?

WILLIAMS: Sure.

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: OK. Well, let me start this question. This is about

campaign finances. And let me start it by saying the obvious, which

is, all three of us have raised a great deal of money in this

campaign.

EDWARDS: And so this is not preachy or holier than thou in any

possible way. What we know is that all three of us want to do

something about health care in this country. And we also know that

until recently, Senator Clinton had raised more money from drug

companies and insurance companies than any candidate, Democrat or

Republican.

Until you passed her, Senator Obama, recently to go to number

one. My question is, do you think these people expect something for

this money? Why do they give it? Do they think that it's for good

government? Why do they do it?

OBAMA: Well, let's be clear, John. I just want to make sure

that we understand: I don't take money from federal lobbyists. I

don't take money from PACs.

EDWARDS: As I don't, either.

OBAMA: As you don't, either. What happens is, is that you've

got -- if you've got a mid-level executive at a drug company or an

insurance company who is inspired by my message of change, and they

send me money, then that's recorded as money from the drug or the

insurance industry, even though it's not organized, coordinated or in

any way subject to the problems that you see when lobbyists are given

money.

OBAMA: And I'm proud of the fact that I've raised more money

from small donors than anybody else, and that we're getting $25, $50,

$100 donations, and we've done very well doing it that way.

Now, what I'm also proud of is the fact that in reducing special

interest lobbying, I, alone of the candidates here, have actually

taken away the power of the lobbyists.

Part of the reason that you know who's bundling money for various

candidates is because of a law I passed this year, which says:

Lobbyists, if you are taking money from anybody and putting it

together and then giving it to a member of Congress, that has to be

disclosed.

Ultimately, what I'd like to see is a system of public financing

of campaigns, and I'm a cosponsor of the proposal that's in the Senate

right now. That's what we have to fight for. In the meantime, what

I'm very proud of is to make sure that we continue to make progress at

the federal level to push back the influence that lobbyists have right

now, and that's something that I'm going to continue to work on.

WILLIAMS: Now, I've been told in midstream here, Senator

Edwards, I have to take away one of your options. We were -- we

apparently told the campaigns bring one question for an opponent,

which now brings us to you, Senator Clinton.

(LAUGHTER)

So you get your choice on either side.

CLINTON: Well, I want to ask Senator Obama to join me in doing

something.

You know, we both very much want to convince President Bush,

which is not easy to do, in the remaining year to end the war in Iraq,

to change direction.

It appears that not only is he refusing to do that, but that he

has continued to say he can enter into an agreement with the Iraqi

government, without bringing it for approval to the United States

Congress, that would continue America's presence in Iraq, long after

President Bush leaves office.

CLINTON: I find that absolutely unacceptable. And I think we

have to do everything we can to prevent President Bush from binding

the hands of the next president.

So I've introduced legislation that clearly requires President

Bush to come to the United States Congress. It is not enough, as he

claims, to go to the Iraqi parliament, but to come to the United

States Congress to get anything that he's trying to do, including

permanent bases, numbers of troops, all the other commitments he's

talking about as he's traveling in that region.

And I want to ask Senator Obama if you will co-sponsor my

legislation to try to rein in President Bush so that he doesn't commit

this country to his policy in Iraq, which both of us are committed to

end.

OBAMA: Well, I think we can work on this, Hillary.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Because I don't think -- you know, we've got unity in the

Democratic Party, I hope, on this.

OBAMA: The notion that President Bush could somehow tie the

hands of the next president, I think, is contrary to how our

democracy's supposed to work and the voices of the American people who

spoke out in 2006 and I expect will speak out again in 2008.

I have opposed this war consistently. I have put forward a plan

that will get our troops out by the end of 2009. And we already saw

today reports that the Iraqi minister suggests that we're going to be

in there at least until 2018 -- 2018, 10 years, a decade-long

commitment.

Currently, we are spending $9 billion to $10 billion a month.

And the notion is that we're going to sustain that at the same time as

we're neglecting what we see happening in Afghanistan right now, where

you have a luxury hotel in Kabul that was blown up by militants and

the situation continues to worsen.

My first job as president of the United States is going to be to

call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff and say, "You've got a new mission,"

and that is to responsibly, carefully, but deliberately start to phase

out our involvement there and to make sure that we are putting the

onus on the Iraqi government to come together and do what they need to

do to arrive at peace.

WILLIAMS: If I could just interrupt, here, before I give you

your question -- would the other two of you join in the 2009 pledge

that Senator Obama has made, concerning the withdrawal of American

troops?

CLINTON: Oh, yes, I'm on record as saying exactly that, as soon

as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We

will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades

a month, I believe, and we'll have nearly all the troops out by the

end of the year, I hope.

WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: I think I've actually, among the three of us, been the

most aggressive and said that I will have all combat troops out in the

first year that I'm president of the United States. I will end combat

missions. And while I'm president, there will be no permanent

military bases in Iraq.

RUSSERT: In September, we were in New Hampshire together, and I

asked the three of you if you would pledge to have all troops out of

Iraq by the end of your first term.

All three of you said, you will not take that pledge. I'm

hearing something much different tonight.

OBAMA: No, no, no. There's nothing different, Tim.

(LAUGHTER)

I want to make sure...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: No, no. I think this is important because it was

reported as if we were suggesting that we would continue the war until

2013. Your question was, could I guarantee all troops would be out of

Iraq. I have been very specific in saying that we will not have

permanent bases there. I will end the war as we understand it in

combat missions.

But that we are going to have to protect our embassy. We're

going to have to protect our civilians. We're engaged in humanitarian

activity there. We are going to have to have some presence that

allows us to strike if Al Qaida is creating bases inside of Iraq.

So I cannot guarantee that we're not going to have a strategic

interest that I have to carry out as commander-in-chief to maintain

some troop presence there, but it is not going to be engaged in a war

and it will not be this sort of permanent bases and permanent military

occupation that George Bush seems to be intent on.

CLINTON: It's not only George Bush.

CLINTON: I just want to add here...

RUSSERT: But you both will have a presence?

CLINTON: Well, I think that what Barack is what John and I also

meant at that same time, because, obviously, we have to be

responsible, we have to protect our embassy, we do need to make sure

that, you know, our strategic interests are taken care of.

But it's not only George Bush. The Republican candidates running

for the presidency are saying things that are very much in line with

president Bush.

You know, Senator McCain said the other day that we might have

troops there for 100 years, Barack.

I mean, they have an entirely different view than we do about

what we need to have happening as soon as we get a Democrat elected

president.

RUSSERT: Thirty seconds for Senator Edwards.

EDWARDS: I just want to say, it is dishonest to suggest that

you're not going to have troops there to protect the embassy. That's

just not the truth.

It may be great political theater and political rhetoric, but

it's not the truth.

EDWARDS: There is, however, a difference between us on this

issue. And I don't think it's subtle. The difference is, I will have

all combat troops out in the first year that I'm president, and there

will be no further combat missions, and there will be no permanent

military bases.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama.

OBAMA: I just want to pick up on what John said, because we've

had this discussion before. John, are you saying that you're -- I

don't know if I'm using my question here, but...

WILLIAMS: I think you are.

OBAMA: Well, I've got to be careful, then.

(LAUGHTER)

Instead of phrasing it that way...

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: Oh, no, no, no, no.

OBAMA: Let me...

WILLIAMS: That sounded like the start of a question to me.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Look, I think it's important to understand that either

you are willing to say that you may go after terrorist bases inside of

Iraq if they should form, in which case there would potentially be a

combat aspect to that, obviously, or you're not.

OBAMA: And, you know, if you're not, then that could present

some problems in terms of the long-term safety and security of the

United States of America. So I just wanted to make sure that we got

that clarification.

EDWARDS: Is that a question?

WILLIAMS: Yes, I think we've ruled it a question.

EDWARDS: My answer to that is, as long as you keep combat troops

in Iraq, you continue the occupation. If you keep military bases in

Iraq, you're continuing the occupation. The occupation must end. As

respects Al Qaida, public enemy number one, they're responsible for

about 10 percent of the violence inside Iraq according to the reports.

I would keep a quick reaction force in Kuwait in case it became

necessary, but that is different, Barack, than keeping troops

stationed inside.

OBAMA: John...

EDWARDS: Excuse -- let me finish, please.

OBAMA: I'm sorry.

EDWARDS: That is different than keeping troops stationed inside

Iraq, because keeping troops stationed inside Iraq -- combat troops --

and continuing combat missions, whether it's against Al Qaida or

anyone else, at least from my perspective, is a continuation of the

occupation. And I think a continuation of the occupation continues

the problem, not just in reality, but in perception that America's

occupying the country.

OBAMA: Let me suggest, I think there's a distinction without a

difference here. If it is appropriate for us to keep that strike

force outside of Iraq, then that obviously would be preferable.

The point is, at some point you might have that capacity, and

that's the -- that's the clarification I want to make sure...

WILLIAMS: Having come close to settling that, we're going to

take another one of our breaks.

When we come back, we'll get to some more domestic issues, when

we continue live from Las Vegas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: And we are back, live, in Las Vegas. We promised

going into the break that we would return with a discussion on

domestic issues.

WILLIAMS: This is of a type -- and just before the break, we got

onto things military. We're going to start this off with a

continuation of the questioning by Tim Russert.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I'll start with you. The volunteer

Army, many believe, disproportionate in terms of poor and minority who

participate in our armed forces.

There's a federal statute on the books which says that, if a

college or university does not provide space for military recruiters

or provide a ROTC program for its students, it can lose its federal

funding.

Will you vigorously enforce that statute?

CLINTON: Yes, I will. You know, I think that the young men and

women who voluntarily join our all-volunteer military are among the

best of our country.

I want to do everything I can, as president, to make sure that

they get the resources and the help that they deserve. I want a new,

21st-century G.I. Bill of Rights so that our young veterans can get

the money to get to college and to buy a home and start a business.

And I've worked very hard, on the Senate Armed Services

Committee, to, you know, try to make up for some of the negligence

that we've seen from the Bush administration.

You know, Tim, the Bush administration sends mixed messages.

They want to recruit and retain these young people to serve our

country and then they have the Pentagon trying to take away the

signing bonuses when a soldier gets wounded and ends up in the

hospital, something that I'm working with a Republican senator to try

to make sure never can happen again.

CLINTON: So I think we should recognize that national service of

all kinds is honorable and its essential to the future of our country.

I want to expand civilian national service.

But I think that everyone should make available an opportunity

for a young man or woman to be in ROTC, to be able to join the

military and I'm going to do everything I can to support the men and

women in the military and their families.

RUSSERT: Of the top 10 rated schools, Harvard, Yale, Columbia,

Stanford, they do not have ROTC programs on campus.

Should they?

CLINTON: Well, there are ways they can work out fulfilling that

obligation. But they should certainly not do anything that either

undermines or disrespects the young men and women who wish to pursue a

military career.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, same question.

Will you vigorously enforce a statute which says colleges must

allow military recruiters on campus and provide ROTC programs?

OBAMA: Yes. One of the striking things, as you travel around

the country, you go into rural communities and you see how

disproportionally they are carrying the load in this war in Iraq, as

well as Afghanistan.

OBAMA: And it is not fair. Now, the volunteer Army, I think, is

a way for us to maintain excellence. And if we are deploying our

military wisely, then a voluntary army is sufficient, although I would

call for an increase in our force structure, particularly around the

Army and the Marines, because I think that we've got to put an end to

people going on three, four, five tours of duty and the strain on

families is enormous. I meet them every day.

But I think that the obligation to serve exists for everybody,

and that's why I've put forward a national service program that is

tied to my tuition credit for students who want to go to college. You

get $4000 every year to help you go to college.

In return, you have to engage in some form of national service.

Military service has to be an option.

OBAMA: We have to have civilian options as well. Not just the

Peace Corps, but one of the things that we need desperately are people

who are in our foreign service who are speaking foreign languages can

be more effective in a lot of the work that's going to be require that

may not be hand-to-hand combat but is going to be just as critical in

ensuring our long-term safety and security.

RUSSERT: This statute's been on the books for some time,

Senator. Will you vigorously enforce the statute to cut off federal

funding to the school that does not provide military recruiters and a

ROTC program?

EDWARDS: Yes, I will. But I have to say, it's not enough to

talk about the extraordinary service of men and women who are wearing

the uniform and have worn the uniform of the United States of America.

Tonight across this country, 200,000 men and women who wore our

uniform and served this country patriotically, veterans, will go to

sleep under bridges and on grates. We have men and women coming back

from Iraq with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, other kind of

emotional problems; many with serious physical injuries.

EDWARDS: We have families who are here at home, while they serve

in Iraq, who are having a terrible time paying for child care, paying

the bills. We have reservists and members of the Guard who go to

serve and get paid 50 cents, 60 cents on the dollar for what they were

making in their civilian jobs.

What are we going to do about this? Every man and woman who

comes back from Iraq or Afghanistan deserves to have a thorough

comprehensive evaluation of their medical needs, including mental

health needs and physical health needs. Every one of them ought to

get job training if they need it, and additional education if they

need it.

We, America, you know, we should help them find a job. They

didn't leave us on our own, we shouldn't leave them on their own. And

we need to narrow this gap between civilian pay and military pay, and

help these families with their child care.

And then finally, for all the veterans who have served this

country, we need a guaranteed stream of funding for the Veterans

Administration so we don't have veterans waiting six months or a year

to get the health care that they deserve.

WILLIAMS: Let's go...

CLINTON: This is...

OBAMA: There just one thing that I wanted to...

WILLIAMS: Go ahead, Senator Obama.

Thirty seconds each, Senator Obama and Clinton.

OBAMA: Very briefly, because I think this shows you how this

administration has failed when it comes to our veterans.

I went to Walter Reed to talk to the wounded warriors who had

come back to discover that they were still paying for their meals and

their phone calls while in Walter Reed, while rehabbing, which I could

not believe. And I was able to gain the cooperation of a Republican-

controlled Senate at the time and pass a bill that would eliminate

that.

But that indicates the callousness with which we are often

treating our veterans. That has to stop.

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that we have to do everything necessary

to help these returning veterans get the health care and the support

that they need.

And this new signature wound called traumatic brain injury is

something that I am really upset about, because we've only begun to

recognize it and diagnose it.

CLINTON: And, John, I was able to pass legislation to begin to

provide the physical and mental evaluations so that we could begin to

treat this.

And, you know, we have 1,200 people in Nevada who sign up to join

the military every year. They're now going to be getting these exams

because we've got to track what happens to young men and women when

they go into the military, then provide the services for them.

WILLIAMS: We have to, at this point, turn a bit more local.

And let's talk for a moment about Yucca Mountain.

As sure as there's somebody at a roulette table not far from here

convinced that they're one bet away from winning it all back, every

person who comes here running for president promises to end the notion

of storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

And the people of Nevada have found it's easier to promise to end

it than it is to end it.

Anyone willing to pledge here tonight, beginning with you Senator

Obama, to kill the notion of Yucca Mountain?

OBAMA: I will end the notion of Yucca Mountain because it has

not been based on the sort of sound science that can assure the people

in Nevada that they're going to be safe. And that, I think, was a

mistake.

Now, you hate to see billions of dollars having already been

spent on a mistake, but what I don't want to do is spend additional

billions of dollars and potentially create a situation that is not

safe for the people of Nevada. So I've already -- I've been clear

from the start that Yucca, I think, was a misconceived project. We

are going to have to figure out how are we storing nuclear waste.

And what I want to do is to get the best experts around the table

and make a determination: What are our options based on the best

science available? And I think there's a solution that can be had

that's good for the country but also good for the people of Nevada.

WILLIAMS: Thirty seconds each, Senators Clinton and Edwards.

CLINTON: Well, I voted against Yucca Mountain in 2001. I have

been consistently against Yucca Mountain. I held a hearing in the

Environment Committee, the first that we've had in some time, looking

at all the reasons why Yucca Mountain is not workable. The science

does not support it. We do have to figure out what to do with nuclear

waste.

You know, Barack has one of his biggest supporters in terms of

funding, the Exelon Corporation, which has spent millions of dollars

trying to make Yucca Mountain the waste depository. John was in favor

of it twice when he voted to override President Clinton's veto and

then voted for it again.

I have consistently and persistently been against Yucca Mountain,

and I will make sure it does not come into effect when I'm president.

WILLIAMS: Your rebuttal to the...

OBAMA: Well, I think it's a testimony to my commitment and

opposition to Yucca Mountain that despite the fact that my state has

more nuclear power plants than any other state in the country, I've

never supported Yucca Mountain. So I just want to make that clear.

' WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: Well, I'm opposed to Yucca Mountain. I will end it for

all the reasons that have already been discussed, because of the

science that's been discovered, because apparently some forgery of

documents that's also been discovered -- all of which has happened in

recent years.

EDWARDS: But I want to go to one other subject on which the

three of us differ. And that is the issue of nuclear power.

I've heard Senator Obama say he's open to the possibility of

additional nuclear power plants. Senator Clinton said at a debate

earlier, standing beside me, that she was agnostic on the subject.

I am not for it or agnostic. I am against building more nuclear

power plants, because I do not think we have a safe way to dispose of

the waste. I think they're dangerous, they're great terrorist targets

and they're extraordinarily expensive.

They are not, in my judgment, the way to green this -- to get us

off our dependence on oil.

WILLIAMS: Tim Russert?

CLINTON: Well, John, you did vote for Yucca Mountain twice, and

you didn't respond to that part of the question.

EDWARDS: I did respond to it. I said the science that has been

revealed since that time and the forged documents that have been

revealed since that time have made it very -- this has been for years,

Hillary. This didn't start last year or three years ago. I've said

this for years now -- have revealed that this thing does not make

sense, is not good for the people of Nevada, and it's not good for

America.

Which, by the way, is also why I am opposed to building more

nuclear power plants.

RUSSERT: I want to pick up on that.

Senator Obama, a difference in this campaign: You voted for the

energy bill in July of 2005; Senator Clinton voted against it.

That energy bill was described by numerous publications, quote,

"The big winner: nuclear power." The secretary of energy said this

would begin a nuclear renaissance.

We haven't built a nuclear power plant in this country for 30

years. There are now 17 companies that are planning to build 29

plants based on many of the protections that were provided in that

bill, and incentives for licensee construction operating cost.

Did you realize, when you were voting for that energy bill, that

it was going to create such a renaissance of nuclear power?

OBAMA: Well, the reason I voted for it was because it was the

single largest investment in clean energy -- solar, wind, biodiesel --

that we had ever seen. And I think it is -- we talked about this

earlier -- if we are going to deal with our dependence on foreign oil,

then we're going to have to ramp up how we're producing energy here in

the United States.

Now, with respect to nuclear energy, what I have said is that if

we could figure out a way to provide a cost-efficient, safe way to

produce nuclear energy, and we knew how to store it effectively, then

we should pursue it because what we don't want is to produce more

greenhouse gases. And I believe that climate change is one of the top

priorities that the next president has to pursue.

Now, if we cannot solve those problem, then absolutely, John, we

shouldn't build more plants. But part of what I want to do is to

create a menu of energy options, and let's see where the science and

the technology and the entrepreneurship of the American people take

us.

OBAMA: That's why I want to set up a cap and trade system.

We're going to cap greenhouse gases. We're going to say to every

polluter that's sending greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, "We're

going to charge you a dollar -- we're going to charge you money for

every unit of greenhouse gas that you send out there." That will

create a market. It will generate billions of dollars that we can

invest in clean technology.

And if nuclear energy can't meet the rigors of the marketplace --

if it's not efficient and if we don't solve those problems -- then

that's off the table. And I hope that we can find an energy mix

that's going to deliver us from the kinds of problems that we have

right now.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, Tim, I think it's well accepted that the 2005

energy bill was the Dick Cheney lobbyist energy bill. It was written

by lobbyists. It was championed by Dick Cheney. It wasn't just the

green light that it gave to more nuclear power. It had enormous

giveaways to the oil and gas industries.

CLINTON: It was the wrong policy for America. It was so heavily

tilted toward the special interests that many of us, at the time,

said, you know, that's not going to move us on the path we need, which

is toward clean, renewable green energy.

I think that we have to, you know, break the lock of the special

interests. That's why I've proposed a strategic energy fund, $50

billion to invest in clean, renewable energy.

How would I do that? Take the tax subsidies that were given in

the 2005 that Dick Cheney wrote; take them away from the gas and oil

industry. They don't need our tax dollars to make these enormous

profits.

Let's put to work the money that we should get from the oil and

gas industry, in terms of windfall profits taxes, so that we can begin

to really put big dollars behind this shift toward clean, renewable,

green energy.

It's not going to happen by hoping for it. And these small, you

know, pieces of puzzle that are starting to take shape around the

country are not sufficient for us to break our addiction to foreign

oil.

CLINTON: So that 2005 energy bill was big step backwards on the

path to clean, renewable energy. That's why I voted against it.

That's why I'm standing for the proposition -- let's take away the

giveaways that were given to gas and oil, put them to work on solar

and wind and geothermal and biofuels and all the rest that we need for

a new energy future.

RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, you say you're against nuclear power.

But a reality check: I talked to the folks at the MIT Energy

Initiative, and they put it this way, that in 2050, the world's

population is going to go from six billion to nine billion, that CO2

is going to double, that you could build a nuclear power plant one per

week and it wouldn't meet the world's needs.

Something must be done, and it cannot be done just with wind or

solar.

EDWARDS: Well, yes, there are a lot of things that need to be

done.

EDWARDS: If you were to double the number of nuclear power

plants on the planet tomorrow -- if that were possible -- it would

deal with about one-seventh of the greenhouse gas problem. This is

not the answer.

It goes beyond wind and solar. We ought to be investing in

cellulose-based biofuels. There are a whole range of things that we

ought to be investing in and focusing on.

I want to come back to something Senator Clinton said a minute

ago. I agree with her and Senator Obama that it's very important to

break this iron grip that the gas and oil industry has on our energy

policy in this country.

But I believe, Senator Clinton, you've raised more money from

those people than any candidate, Democrat or Republican. I think we

have to be able to take those people on if we're going to actually

change our policy.

Now, what we need in my judgment is we need a cap on carbon

emissions. That cap needs to come down every year. We need an 80

percent reduction in our carbon emissions by the year 2050. Below the

cap, we ought to make the polluters pay.

EDWARDS: That money ought to be invested in all these clean

renewable sources of energy: wind, solar, cellulose-based biofuels.

As I said earlier, I'm opposed to building more nuclear power plants.

But I'd go another step that at least I haven't heard these two

candidates talk about. They can answer for themselves. I believe we

need a moratorium on the building of any more coal-fired power plants

unless and until we have the ability to capture and sequester the

carbon in the ground.

Because every time we build a new coal-fired power plant in

America when we don't have that technology attached to it, what

happens is, we're making a terrible situation worse. We're already

the worst polluter on the planet. America needs to be leading by

example.

WILLIAMS: Rebuttal time to both senators, 30 seconds, please.

Senator Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, I have a comprehensive energy plan that I have

put forth. It does not rely on nuclear power for all of the reasons

that we've discussed. I have said we should not be siting any more

coal-powered plants unless they can have the most modern, clean

technology. And I want big demonstration projects to figure out how

we would capture and sequester carbon.

But you know, this is going to take a massive effort. This

should be our Apollo moon shot.

CLINTON: This is where a president needs to come in and say, "We

can do this, America. You know, we can make this change." We've got

to do it by having a partnership with what needs to happen in

Washington, but there's work for everybody to do -- the states,

communities and individuals.

That's what I want to summon the country to achieve, and I think

we can make it.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama?

OBAMA: Well, I think that one thing that we haven't talked as

much about that we need to is reducing the consumption of energy. We

are inefficient, and oftentimes during the presidential campaign,

people have asked, what do we expect out of the American people in

bringing about real change.

This is an example of where ordinary citizens have to make a

change. We are going to have to make our buildings more efficient.

We're going to have to make our lighting more efficient. We're going

to have to make our appliances more efficient. That is actually the

low-hanging fruit if we're going to deal with climate change. That's

the thing that we can do most rapidly.

And there's no reason why, with the kind of presidential

leadership that I intend to provide, that we can't make drastic cuts

in the amount of energy that we consume without any drop in our

standard of living.

WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards, in touching on immigration here,

let's go to something that a lot of people have found to be a

disconnect between the Democratic Party and majorities of voters in a

lot of states.

What would be the problem with English as an official language,

as a bedrock requirement of citizenship?

EDWARDS: Well, at least from my perspective, what we need to be

doing is we need comprehensive immigration reform. We need to create

a path for citizenship for 11 million to 14 million who are here who

are undocumented We need to give them a real chance to earn -- I'm

not for amnesty, but I am for being able to earn American citizenship.

WILLIAMS: But what about speaking the language?

EDWARDS: I'm about to get to that.

I think that a couple of the requirements, in order to be able to

earn American citizenship, are, first, if you came here illegally, we

can't pretend it didn't happen. We are a country of laws and we

believe in enforcement of those laws. So we have to show recognition

of having violated the law, and that means payment of a fine.

EDWARDS: Second, I think if you want to become an American

citizen and earn American citizenship, you should learn to speak

English.

Now, I think that we should help with that process. We should

help make sure that those who are living here, and they're not

English-speaking as their first language, get a chance to actually

learn English.

But I think that should be a requirement for becoming an American

citizen.

WILLIAMS: Tim Russert?

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, one of your pollsters was quoted in

The New Yorker magazine as saying this: "The Hispanic voter has not

shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates."

Does that represent the view of your campaign?

CLINTON: No, he was making a historical statement. And,

obviously, what we're trying to do is to bring America together so

that everybody feels like they're involved and they have a stake in

the future.

This is a black/brown debate. We haven't actually talked about

black/brown issues -- I regret that. And I think that we have a lot

that we can do together.

You know, Tavis Smiley's "Covenant" is a great way to start.

CLINTON: There's a lot that we should be doing. I've worked

with many of the Latino groups, over many years. We've got work on

education and health care.

The agenda for America is the agenda for African-Americans and

for Hispanics. And we need to merge that and we need to have a

political system where people feel like they can vote for anybody

because we're all on the same page; we're all going to make progress

together.

But I wanted to follow up, quickly, on something that...

RUSSERT: Let me ask Senator Obama. Do you believe there's a

history of a decision, where Latino voters will not vote for a black

candidate?

OBAMA: Not in Illinois. They all voted for me. And so...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

You know, if this is being asked in the context of my candidacy,

one of the things that I know is that, when Latino voters know of my

commitment to them and the work that I've done for years, then they

gravitate toward my candidacy.

We were talking earlier about immigration reform.

OBAMA: I think that John and myself and Hillary may agree on the

broad outlines of where we need to go, but two years ago I stood with

Ted Kennedy and John McCain and took on this tough issue, and have

consistently been involved in making sure that we've got the kind of

comprehensive plan that makes us a nation of laws and a nation of

immigrants.

That's the kind of leadership that I've shown. And when Latino

voters read or hear about that leadership, then they know that they're

going to have an advocate even if it's politically tough.

And I think that's, you know, that's the real test of leadership

-- not when it's easy, not when the things poll well, but how you do

when you've got a contentious issue like how we solve this immigration

problem. That's an area where I've consistently stepped up.

WILLIAMS: Time is up. E-mail question, Natalie Morales.

MORALES: This one is to Senator Obama. This comes to us from

one of our co-sponsors of tonight's debate, the 100 Black Men of

America.

MORALES: They ask, "To what do you attribute the

disproportionately high dropout of black males at every level in our

educational process, and what would you do to stem the tide of black

men exiting the educational system?"

OBAMA: Well, I think it's similar to the reason that Latinos

have such a high dropout rate. What you see consistently are children

at a very early age are starting school already behind.

And that's why I've said that I'm going to put billions of

dollars into early childhood education that makes sure that our

African-American youth, Latino youth, poor youth of every race, are

getting the kind of help that they need so that they know their

numbers, their colors, their letters.

Every dollar that we spend in early childhood education, we get

$10 back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores. That's

the kind of commitment we have to make early on.

OBAMA: We've got to improve K through 12. And that means not

just talking about how great teachers are but rewarding them for their

greatness by giving them higher salaries and giving them more support

and professional development; and making sure that No Child Left

Behind is not a tool to punish people, and we're not just basing how

we fund our schools on a standardized test.

We need after-school programs and summer-school programs because

minority youth and poor youth are less likely to get the kind of

environment and supplemental activities that they need.

But let's be clear: We have good answers for how to make these

schools work. What we don't have is a sense of urgency in the White

House.

And, you know, I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents.

I did not get money and privilege when I was young. But I did get a

good education. And we've got to have that attitude for every single

child in America.

And that also means -- last point I'll make, because sometimes

this doesn't get talked enough about. We have to have our parents

take their jobs seriously, and particularly African-American fathers

who all too often are absent from the home, have not encouraged the

kind of, you know, nurturing of our children that they need.

OBAMA: And as somebody who grew up without a father, I know how

important that is. That is something that, as president, I intend to

talk about.

The schools can't do it all by themselves. Parents have to

parent.

WILLIAMS: Time up.

Time Tim Russert?

RUSSERT: We arrived in...

CLINTON: Could we just follow up on this? Tim, could we just

follow up on this?

Because, you know, again, this is a black/brown debate, and this

is one of the most important issues. And I really commend Barack for,

you know, taking on the full range.

You know, this has to start in the families. This is what I've

done for 35 years. We've got to do more to give families the tools

and the support that they should have so that they can be the best

parents. You know, they are a child's first teachers.

And I want to commend the 100 Black Men, because I worked with

the 100 Black Men in New York to help create the Eagle Academy, a high

school for young African-American and Latino men.

CLINTON: And the 100 Black Men in New York said they would

mentor these young men.

We also need more involvement from the community. It's not only

the family; it's not only the school system. We all have a role to

play. And that's going to be one of our highest priorities.

WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards, 30 seconds.

EDWARDS: Thank you.

We need universal pre-K. Barack spoke about early childhood

education. We need universal pre-K for every 4-year-old in America.

And we ought to go earlier than that with child care, nutrition needs,

health care needs.

We also have a huge dropout rate. We have high schools that are

essentially dropout factories. We have to create second chance

schools. We have to create opportunities of those young people to be

-- even though a lot of them do, he's right, start to drop out from a

very young age, we need to get them on the right track. But once

they're in high school, if they drop out, these second chance schools

have been remarkably successful in getting them back into school.

WILLIAMS: Now, Tim Russert?

RUSSERT: We arrived in Nevada, the headline in Nevada Appeal

newspaper: Nevada leads in gun deaths.

RUSSERT: The leading cause for death among young black men is

guns -- death, homicide. Mayor Bloomberg of New York, you all know

him, he and 250 mayors have started the campaign, Mayors Against

Illegal Guns.

Senator Clinton, when you ran for the Senate in 2000, you said

that everyone who wishes to purchase a gun should have a license, and

that every handgun sale or transfer should be registered in a national

registry. Will you try to implement such a plan?

CLINTON: Well, I am against illegal guns, and illegal guns are

the cause of so much death and injury in our country. I also am a

political realist and I understand that the political winds are very

powerful against doing enough to try to get guns off the street, get

them out of the hands of young people.

The law in New York was as you state, and the law in New York has

worked to a great extent.

CLINTON: I don't want the federal government preempting states

and cities like New York that have very specific problems.

So here's what I would do. We need to have a registry that

really works with good information about people who are felons, people

who have been committed to mental institutions like the man in

Virginia Tech who caused so much death and havoc. We need to make

sure that that information is in a timely manner, both collected and

presented.

We do need to crack down on illegal gun dealers. This is

something that I would like to see more of.

And we need to enforce the laws that we have on the books. I

would also work to reinstate the assault weapons ban. We now have,

once again, police deaths going up around the country, and in large

measure because bad guys now have assault weapons again. We stopped

it for awhile. Now they're back on the streets.

So there are steps we need to take that we should do together.

You know, I believe in the Second Amendment. People have a right to

bear arms. But I also believe that we can common-sensically approach

this.

RUSSERT: But you've backed off a national licensing registration

plan?

CLINTON: Yes.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, when you were in the state senate, you

talked about licensing and registering gun owners. Would you do that

as president?

OBAMA: I don't think that we can get that done. But what I do

think we can do is to provide just some common-sense enforcement. One

good example -- this is consistently blocked -- the efforts by law

enforcement to obtain the information required to trace back guns that

have been used in crimes to unscrupulous gun dealers.

That's not something that the NRA has allowed to get through

Congress. And, as president, I intend to make it happen.

But here's the broader context that I think is important for us

to remember. We essentially have two realities, when it comes to

guns, in this country. You've got the tradition of lawful gun

ownership, that all of us saw, as we travel around rural parts of the

country.

And it is very important for many Americans to be able to hunt,

fish, take their kids out, teach them how to shoot.

And then you've got the reality of 34 Chicago public school

students who get shot down on the streets of Chicago.

We can reconcile those two realities by making sure the Second

Amendment is respected and that people are able to lawfully own guns,

but that we also start cracking down on the kinds of abuses of

firearms that we see on the streets.

RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, Democrats used to be out front for

registration and licensing of guns. It now appears that there's a

recognition that it's hard to win a national election with that

position. Is that fair?

EDWARDS: I think that's fair, but I haven't changed my position

on this. I'm against it. Having grown up where I did in the rural

South, everyone around me had guns, everyone hunted. And I think it

is enormously important to protect people's Second Amendment rights.

I don't believe that means you need an AK-47 to hunt. And I

think the assault weapons ban, which Hillary spoke about just a minute

ago, as president of the United States I'll do everything in my power

to reinstate it. But I do think we need a president who understands

the sportsmen, hunters who use their guns for lawful purposes have a

right to have their Second Amendment rights looked after.

WILLIAMS: Our third and final break is upon us. Our final

segment of our live debate here in Las Vegas when we come back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We're back in Los Angeles for our final segment of our

live debate coverage.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: Did I...

RUSSERT: Las Vegas.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAMS: All right. OK. Wow, it is a tough crowd. It is a

tough crowd.

(LAUGHTER)

And I'm up $130 from last night, which is OK. I owe the city of

Las Vegas my thanks.

We're back in Las Vegas tonight with our live debate coverage.

Thanks for saving me on that, Tim.

(LAUGHTER)

Question for Senator Clinton. In 2006, you railed against Karl

Rove and the Republicans for playing what you called the fear card.

But on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, you said this: "I

don't think it was by accident that al Qaeda decided to test the new

prime minister, Gordon Brown, immediately. They watch our elections

as closely as we do, maybe more than some of our fellow citizens do.

They play our, you know, allies. They do everything they can to

undermine security in the world. So let's not forget you're hiring a

president, not just to do what a candidate says he or she wants to do

in an election. You're hiring a president to be there when the chips

were down."

You were suggesting, it's been suggested that you would be a

better president to deal with a possible terrorist attack than,

perhaps, Senator Obama.

CLINTON: Well, what I said is what you quoted, and I'm not going

to characterize it, but it is the fact. You know, the fact is that we

face a very dangerous adversary, and to forget that or to brush it

aside, I think, is a mistake.

So I do feel that the next president has to be prepared because

we are up against a relentless enemy. And they will take advantage of

us. They will certainly, as they have over the last several years,

continue their attacks against our friends and allies around the

world.

You know, we haven't talked as much about homeland security as I

think is necessary in this campaign. Maybe I feel it acutely because

I do represent New York.

CLINTON: But the highest and greatest duty of the president of

the United States is to protect and defend our country. And at the

end of the day, voters have to make that decision, among all of us,

Democrats and Republicans, who are vying for the votes.

Because it is a critical question. It always is. There are, you

know, reasons going back in our history why that is so.

But in this time, in this period, where we're going to have to

repair a lot of the frayed relationships coming out of the Bush

administration, where we're going to have to summon the world to a

concerted effort to quell the threat of terrorism, to root them out

wherever they are, it's going to be one of the biggest jobs facing our

next president.

And I feel prepared and ready to take on what is a daunting but

necessary responsibility.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, if you look just outside where we are

tonight, they're building 40,000 new hotel rooms in this city.

National security is never far from their minds in Las Vegas, either.

You are fond of saying you won't use 9/11 as a kind of hook.

WILLIAMS: Do you think some of that goes on in both parties?

OBAMA: Well, I think there's no doubt that we've been dominated

by a politics of fear since 9/11. Now, some of that's understandable.

We have real enemies out there. The tragedy in New York was a trauma

to the country that it is going to take a long time for us to work

out.

And Senator Clinton did good work in terms of helping the city

recover. But I have to say that when Senator Clinton uses the specter

of a terrorist attack with a new prime minister during a campaign, I

think that is part and parcel with what we've seen the use of the fear

of terrorism in scoring political points. And I think that's a

mistake. Now, I don't want to perpetuate that.

OBAMA: I think that's part of why we ended up going into Iraq

and made a big strategic error that has made us less safe. Resources

that could have been spent on homeland security have been spent in

Baghdad. Resources that could have been spent hunting down bin Laden

have been diverted to Iraq.

And that's what happens when your judgment is clouded. And what

I intend to do as president of the United States is to be honest and

straightforward with the American people about how I'm going to

implement all the 9/11 Commission report findings, make sure that we

are hunting down bin Laden, getting out of Iraq so that we can refocus

our attention on building the networks and alliances that are required

to reduce terrorism around the world.

That's going to be my priority, and that's part of the reason I'm

running for president of the United States.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure, you're not

suggesting that Al Qaida would test a President Obama before they'd

test a President Clinton?

CLINTON: No, of course not, Tim. But it is a fact that

immediately upon taking office the new prime minister in Great

Britain, Gordon Brown, confronted, thankfully, two failed attacks by

Al Qaida -- people who had gone and been trained in the training camps

in Pakistan, who got their directions from Al Qaida operatives, who

launched two massive bomb efforts in London and in Glasgow.

CLINTON: They didn't know how to ignite the bombs they had set,

but the rammer their cars into the airport in Glasgow.

Part of the reason why it matter who's president, in terms of

operating the government and the bureaucracy, is because we have a

very constant need for vigilance and preparedness.

There is no time off for the president on issues of security here

at home, or around the world.

And I think that there's a difference between what President Bush

had done, which has, frankly, used fear as a political weapon and a

recognition, in a very calm and deliberative way, that, yes, we have

real enemies and we'd better be prepared and we'd better be ready to

meet them on day one.

RUSSERT: Senator Edwards, on the conduct of foreign policy,

after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, you made a phone call to

General Musharraf in Pakistan. He called you back quickly.

Close to half the people in Pakistan believe the government of

Musharraf or allies were involved in the assassination of Miss Bhutto.

EDWARDS: Yes.

RUSSERT: Was it appropriate for you to talk to Musharraf at that

time, perhaps give him cover at a time when he needed legitimacy?

EDWARDS: It was absolutely appropriate, and I didn't actually

speak -- place a call to President Musharraf. I placed a call to the

Pakistani ambassador in the United States and told him that I knew

Musharraf, we had met in Islamabad years ago and talked about some of

the problems in Pakistan at that time and that I had some things I

wanted to say to him.

Now, the things I had to say to him were tough. And they were

exactly the things that the president of the Untied States should say

to a President Musharraf under these circumstances.

First, I said to him, you have to continue on the march to

democratization in South Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, who I was with in

Abu Dhabi in the Middle East just a few years ago, I heard her talk

about the path to democratization being baptized in blood in Pakistan.

She put her life at risk for that path to democratization.

What I said to Musharraf is: You have to stay on that path.

Now, he said he would. That needs to be taken with great cynicism and

a huge grain of salt, given his history.

Second, I said you must allow international investigators in to

determine what happened, because no one is going to trust some

internal investigation that you conduct. Actually, they have now

allowed Scotland Yard investigators into Pakistan to at least conduct

some investigation.

And then, third, I said these elections that are scheduled have

to take place as soon as possible, but they need to be real. They

have to be open, fair. The opposition parties need to be represented.

They have to be secure.

And those are the points I wanted to make to him. And those are

exactly the points I would make to him as president of the United

States.

WILLIAMS: We promised this audience we would read a particularly

thoughtful e-mail. And we're going off the air in a matter of

minutes, so we're going to truly enforce the time limits.

Thirty seconds from all of you to answer the following from Jim

Milton of California: "Given the decision to run for president in the

first place has to be and should be one of the most important and

memorable decision-making moments any American can make, tell us when

you made that decision." Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: I made it over New Year's this past year. And I made

it because I believe our country has to have a new beginning.

Tomorrow in Reno, I'll be having an economic town hall, the first of a

series of town halls to address, specifically, the economic anxieties,

insecurities and problems that Americans have, to come up with

solutions.

You know, we've got to get back in the solutions business in

America. I want to be the problem-solver who lifts our sights and

sets our goals.

And a year ago, I made the decision that I would get into this

presidential race. And it's been the most amazing and extraordinary

year of my life. And I thank everyone for making that happen.

WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: It was December, a little over a year ago; made the

decision with my family. And the discussion was, what is the cause of

our lives -- with my wife, Elizabeth -- and what is it we want to

spend our time doing, to serve this country we love so much?

And the cause of my life is the middle class, low-income

families, and having everybody in America have the kind of chances and

opportunity that I've had.

And that is what my campaign is about. It is central to

everything I do. And it is personal to what I'll do as president of

the United States.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama?

OBAMA: It was December of '06 while I was on vacation with my

wife and kids.

And, you know, I asked myself two big questions: Number one,

could my family survive the rigors of a presidential campaign, since

I've got two young children?

And because my wife is extraordinary and my children are above

average, I figured they could manage it.

(LAUGHTER)

But the most important question was not at whether I could win

the presidency, but whether I should.

Was there something that I could provide this country, in terms

of leadership, that would be -- that I could do more effectively than

any other candidate?

And I concluded I could bring the country together, break out of

some the old arguments, make sure that we are speaking honestly with

the American people, bringing them in to the process of change.

WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.

And, at this point, that concludes tonight's debate.

END

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