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updated 10/3/2004 1:01:18 PM ET 2004-10-03T17:01:18

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MEET THE PRESS  Sunday, October 3, 2004

MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with:

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MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issue this Sunday:  Bush and Kerry square off.

(Videotape, Presidential Debate, Thursday):

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  Saddam Hussein didn't attack us.  Osama bin Laden attacked us.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:  Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us.  I know that.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  How will the debates affect the election with just 30 days to go?  Insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times, Kate O'Beirne of the National Review and Roger Simon of U.S. News & World Report.

Then our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series continues.  All eyes on Oklahoma, where Democratic Congressman Brad Carson is locked in a dead heat with former Republican Congressman Dr. Tom Coburn.  Control of the U.S. Senate may hang in the balance as Carson and Coburn debate right here on MEET THE PRESS.

But first, the race for the White House, just 30 days to go.  Welcome all. Let's look at the latest poll, from Newsweek this one.  How did this debate affect the presidential race?  John Kerry now ahead 49, Bush at 46.  Three weeks ago George Bush was up 5 points.  Who won the debate:  Kerry 61, Bush 19.  And look at this party breakdown.  One-third of Republicans say that Kerry won the debate, two-thirds of Independents nearly and 85 percent of the Democrats, and yet, what about handling Iraq?  Americans still believe George Bush could do better, 49-44.  Now, that's down from a 15-point advantage the president had three weeks ago.  And handling the war on terrorism and homeland security, George Bush 12-point advantage.  That's down from a 24-point advantage from three weeks ago.

Ron Brownstein, what do you make of it all?

MR. RON BROWNSTEIN:  Well, I'm not going to jump out on one poll and say the race has totally turned around, but I do think something important did happen at that debate, which is that, for the last few months, President Bush in some ways has been defying political gravity.  A race about an incumbent is supposed to be primarily about that incumbent.  And yet, since the Democratic convention, it has been largely a referendum on whether John Kerry was fit to be president, whether he was tough enough and steadfast enough.  John Kerry didn't run that race very well and George Bush has been ahead as a result.

In the debate, the focus inevitably was much more on President Bush's record and performance, particularly the decision to invade Iraq.  And what the polls show us, Tim, is that that race, a race focused on whether Bush has done a good job, is much closer than the race we saw in September, because the country is still divided almost exactly 50:50 on whether Bush has done well. The Newsweek poll has his approval rating just 50.  The last NBC poll has his approval just under 50.  Some have it just over.  Either way, if Kerry can keep the focus on Bush's record rather than Kerry's personal characteristics, you have the ingredients for a much closer and tougher race.

MR. RUSSERT:  Kate O'Beirne, John Kerry clearly had a strategy on Thursday night, and that was to take Iraq out of the war on terrorism, make it separate and apart, a "diversion," if you will.  Also, George Bush had a mission and that was to underscore the notion of John Kerry as a flip-flopper.  Let's watch Kerry first trying to take Iraq out of the terrorism equation.

(Videotape, Presidential Debate, Thursday):

SEN. KERRY:  Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and, frankly, very important in this debate.  In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, "The enemy attacked us." Saddam Hussein didn't attack us.  Osama bin Laden attacked us.

PRES. BUSH:  Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us.  I know that.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Then on the issue of flip-flopper, here's the president and Senator Kerry's response.

(Videotape, Presidential Debate, Thursday):

PRES. BUSH:  And my opponent says help is on the way but what kind of message does that send to our troops in harm's way, "Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"?  It's not a message a commander in chief gives.  Help is on the way but it's certainly hard to tell it when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental to provide equipment for our troops and then said he actually did vote for it before he voted against it.  It's not what a commander in chief does when you're trying to lead troops.

MR. JIM LEHRER:  Senator Kerry, 30 seconds.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war.  But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq.  Which is worse?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What's your take?

MS. KATE O'BEIRNE:  I think John Kerry benefited from some of the ground rules that were so carefully negotiated by the Bush team.  The stopwatch helped John Kerry.  He didn't do the rambling answers.  He didn't get distracted.  He gave crisp, short answers.  He clearly benefited from Ron's point.  The entire debate focused on George Bush's record on foreign policy, specifically Iraq--not John Kerry's 20 years in the United States Senate, so he was on offense all evening, and necessarily, George Bush seemed reactive and playing defense on his policy on Iraq.  And I think John Kerry--the expectation game benefited John Kerry.  Before the debate Mike McCurry was announcing, "This is not a personality contest," which is what a guy says when your guy doesn't have much of one.  But I thought on Thursday night John Kerry looked crisp, and he was concise and he looked likeable.

MR. RUSSERT:  You believe these polls that Kerry is now in the lead?

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Well, the Bush team, the campaign team, will tell you they never thought they had a two-digit lead in this race.  They always thought it was a 4- to 5-point race; they expected it, therefore, to jockey back and forth.  What they immediately point to are those fundamentals, which they think this race is about:  "Who do you think is the stronger leader?"  The same polls that show Kerry winning the debate have the public saying George Bush.  "Who do you trust on Iraq?"  George Bush.  "Who's tougher?"  George Bush.  That's what they're keeping their eye on.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  One thing, very quickly:  It's not clear that Kerry has to win Iraq and terror, that comparison, to win the election.  He has to be more competitive than he has been recently.  I mean, Bush has had crushing leads on those--as you saw in the Newsweek poll.  Kerry has, as a result of this debate, in our LA Times poll as well that we did of debate viewers--he's narrowed that advantage a little bit.  In the end, it's very unlikely that it's going to be even with Bush, who is, in fact, the commander in chief. It's easier for people to envision him as commander in chief because he is the commander in chief.  But he does have to be competitive, and the debate probably was a step in that direction for him.

MR. RUSSERT:  Roger?

MR. ROGER SIMON:  He achieved two major things:  He made the focus George Bush, as we've said, and he's also managed to begin de-coupling Iraq from the war on terror, which the Republicans spent their entire convention doing and George Bush always does, which is to say when we attacked Saddam Hussein, we were getting revenge for September 11; we were fighting terrorism.  He has coupled the two in the public mind.  John Kerry said, "No, that's not what we were doing when we invaded Iraq.  In fact"--and he got off a nifty line, saying, "In fact, we were withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, where we were fighting terrorism, where George Bush had outsourced the job to the Afghan warlords."

This was a terrific public performance for John Kerry, his best performance ever.  It was better than his announcement speech, which was inexplicably held in South Carolina.  It was better than his convention speech, and it was solid at the same time when George Bush has come off a string of bad public performances:  his State of the Union address, his performance on "Meet the Press" and a bad formal press conference in the East Room.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Well, just one thing, though, on that question of coupling the war in Iraq with the war on terror.  I think that Bush's most successful moments at the debate, in fact, was where he did that in a more profound way. Kerry was very literal.  He was talking about whether we had troops in Afghanistan or Iraq.  I think Bush's best moments in this campaign have been at his acceptance speech and beyond, where he has said, "Now, look, Iraq is coupled with the war on terror in a more basic way.  The only way we're going to reduce the threat of terror over the long term is to increase the spread of democracy in the Middle East, and this is our beachhead toward doing that."

Now, there are lots of people who think that there are a lot of flaws in that logic, but at least it gives him a broad, long-range theory of how we make ourselves safer.  Kerry, I don't think, projected quite that kind of sense at this debate.  I mean, he was very specific:  "We have to inspect more cargo. We have to be more judicious in where we use our military force."  But in terms of an overarching theory of how we reduce the threat of terror, I thought Bush was, in fact, stronger on that plane.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  I thought President Bush, too, scored one of his direct hits when he said, "Given that Kerry's plan for Iraq, the only significant difference with George Bush's is I'm going to call a major summit."  And when George Bush said, "What are you going to ask these allies, `Join me in this grand diversion that is Iraq'?"  And, of course, the Bush campaign is convinced that, during the course of the debate, John Kerry gave them new ammunition, and within 48 hours they, of course, had a campaign ad that John Kerry won't protect American interests unless we can make a global--pass as a global test that actually needs to be taken.  So...

MR. RUSSERT:  And now, the Kerry campaign's on with a rebuttal, saying...

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Exactly.  Yeah, "He lost the debate."

MR. RUSSERT:  ..."He lost the debate.  He's lying about the debate."

MS. O'BEIRNE:   Right.  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's talk about tax cuts, because I think we saw a preview of what we may be seeing in the VP debate on Tuesday and on Friday.  John Kerry snuck in a little tax-cut shot at George Bush, talking about homeland security.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Presidential Debate, Thursday):

SEN. KERRY:  This president thought it was more important to give the wealthiest people in America a tax cut rather than invest in homeland security.  Those aren't my values.  I believe in protecting America first.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Preview, Kate?

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Yeah.  Oh, absolutely, but I think the president is going to be fairly confident defending his tax cut.  He'll make the argument that'll grow the economy, that--look at the hits the economy took.  He has pretty good economic news he could be touting.

MR. RUSSERT:  But, Roger, can John Kerry say, "We should roll back the tax cut and use it for homeland security and we should use it for health care and we should use it to balance the budget"?

MR. SIMON:  We spent that, you know, in five different ways already.  The deficit is strangely not an issue in this election.  It's growing huger and huger and huger, and no one is talking about it.  But where I thought Bush made a major stumble about taxes and cost is when John Kerry was listing to the things he would do for homeland defense, inspecting cargos, guarding nuclear stockpiles, and George Bush's response was, "He doesn't tell you how he's going to pay for that."  Well, the question is we'll pay any price to protect our homeland.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  That's right.

MR. SIMON:  It's not a question of where we're going to get the dough, especially if we can pay $200 billion to renew Iraq.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Yes.

MR. SIMON:  I thought it was Bush's worst answer of the evening.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  He later elaborated, though, and said, "The crucial thing about protecting the homeland is be on offense overseas," which was a very important save.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  That's a broader message.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron, in fact...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...you wrote about President Bush's best point being visionary...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...when he launched on that theme and you talked about John Kerry's best when he accused the president of mismanaging the war.  Let's pick out the two Brownstein bites that you wrote about, play them and talk about them.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  All right.

(Videotape, Presidential Debate, Thursday):

PRES. BUSH:  We have a duty to defeat this enemy.  We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren.  The best way to defeat them is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive and at the same time spread liberty.

SEN. KERRY:  The rush to war in Iraq without a plan to win the peace.  Now that is not the judgment that a president of the United States ought to make.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Stay on the offense, spread liberty; he rushed the war, made a mistake.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  Look, George Bush is, I think, greatest strength is with the electorate, is the sense that he has a clear vision and he has a broad idea, especially on the war on terror.  As I said before, he has--you know, there's all this debate on whether they've insinuated unfairly that Saddam was tied to 9/11.  They have tied the war in Iraq to the war on terror in a much more fundamental way by saying it is the beachhead towards transforming the Middle East and that is what's ultimately going to make us safer.

What John Kerry is saying is that it's all right to be clear and have a clear vision but you've got to have the means to your end.  You've got to be able to make it work.  You've got to be able to manage the war.  And what Kerry has done is basically say that Bush has made us less secure, he's moved toward the Richard Clark/Wesley Clark/Bob Graham argument which he had embraced all year. A week ago Monday at NYU, he said, "No, the war on Iraq has been a diversion in the war on terror by removing troops and distracting energy, but a more fundamental way alienating allies and polarizing the Arab world against us." So, in fact, it setting back the goal that President Bush laid out.

What Kerry hasn't done, I would submit, is offer an alternative path toward that.  I don't think he's given people a sense of what his long-term vision. In some ways, he's like George Bush's father than George Bush.  He's a very specific, precise kind of leader in terms of narrow issue but he doesn't really go for the vision thing.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  And there was missed opportunities the other night.  The president was acting as though his assertion were self-evident.  He would say a number of times, "The world's safer without Saddam Hussein," and didn't take the opportunity to elaborate why that is the case.  And even though no questions were asked about John Kerry's own 20-year record in the Senate, there were openings for the president to say, "Hey, wait a minute.  What about the '91 Gulf War?  It passed even your global test with respect to opinion world support and yet you opposed it."  I mean, there were real opportunities for very significant flip-flops and inconsistencies in Kerry's record that weren't raised.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me talk about atmospherics because it is a visual medium and the Democratic National Committee rushed to the Web site to put out this portrayal of George Bush and his reactions to John Kerry.

(Videotape, DNC Web Video, showing President Bush's facial expressions during debate)

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think, Kate?

MS. O'BEIRNE:  I hope I haven't been doing that this morning.  I see a certain vulnerability there.  I think the president was a tad annoyed.  I think the root of it was, "I can't believe Senator Kerry is saying this, that he's going to engage new allies.  It's silly."  There was a frustration level, you know, because he's so convinced that Senator Kerry's positions all contradictory, don't hang together, don't make sense, doesn't give the president and the administration credit for having exhausted diplomacy at the U.N.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  And he also looked like someone who didn't like to be questioned.  I mean, in the end, his demeanor probably going to decide this race.

MR. RUSSERT:  Karl Rove, the president's adviser, said he was pensive not perturbed.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  He's annoyed.

MR. SIMON:  Well, it was a different P-word that the president was and it wasn't and it wasn't pensive.  George Bush made it the scowl-and-growl debate, and I think for two reasons.  I hope you're right it was because of the issues, but to me, it was the equivalent of his father looking at his watch in the 1992 debate.  It was, "Why am I here.  Why do I have to submit to this kind of behavior?  I'm the president of the United States."  I think he was just ticked off, and one of the reasons is I think it was inadequate preparation.

John Kerry, like Bill Clinton, prepared for hours at the lectern rehearsing. We read in The New York Times that George Bush informally tossed questions back and forth with his staff.  These debates are about performance.  They are about theatrics and George Bush did not study his evidence.

MR. RUSSERT:  The president said 10 times, "This is hard work."

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the public--Iraq.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the public said it was too repetitive.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Yeah.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  And, in fact, I think he--you know, it was not only that phrase, but he had a lot of phrases that he came back to.  Sometimes he didn't seem to have enough answer to fill out the time that he had.  Look, though, in the end, the demeanor, the atmosphere, it's not going to decide who's president.

MR. SIMON:  Right.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  The question is going to be which one of these guys is in the spotlight?  When it's been on whether we trust Kerry as president, he hasn't done that well.  The focus Thursday night was about Bush's performance in the last four years.  The polls show the country's fundamentally divided about that.  Where the focus stays in October I think will decide our next president.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  What it reminded me of was the first presidential debate in '84, when President Reagan...

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Right.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  ...the great communicator, of all things, was just off his game, rambling and unfocused.  I wonder whether or not it's much easier, or at least less intimidating, to prepare a senator for a debate, where you can say, "Gee, that's lame, Senator," than preparing a president for a debate.  Maybe there aren't a lot of people in the room who say, "That answer doesn't work, Mr. President."

MR. RUSSERT:  If you go back and look at history, '84, Mondale won the first presidential debate...

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...'88 Dukakis won the debate; '92 people thought Perot won the debate.

MS. O'BEIRNE:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are still two more presidential debates.  And before we leave, Republicans can look at this from 2000.  This was Al Gore and the famous sighs.  This is equal time, talking about body language.

(Videotape, Presidential Debate, October 3, 2000):

GOV. BUSH:  There is differences...

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE:  (Sighs)

GOV. BUSH:  ...between making $200,000 a year, and that is not right.

VICE PRES. GORE:  (Sighs)

GOV. BUSH:  The safest of security money is coming into the trust of a family in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  I campaigned with them the other day.  They make...

(End videotape)

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Did you turn up the microphone?

MR. SIMON:  Yeah.

MR. BROWNSTEIN:  Those were loud sighs.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ron Brownstein, Roger Simon, Kate O'Beirne, thanks very much.

Coming next, our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series continues.  All eyes on Oklahoma, Democratic Congressman Brad Carson, vs. former Republican Congressman Dr. Tom Coburn.  They are next, coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

Announcer:  And now a special MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate.  Today, Oklahoma.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are currently 51 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, a change in just two seats could alter control.  We have invited the candidates from the closest Senate races across the country to debate live on MEET THE PRESS. Today we welcome the candidates from Oklahoma, Democratic Congressman Brad Carson and Republican, former Congressman Dr. Tom Coburn.

Gentlemen, welcome both.

REP. BRAD CARSON, (D-OK):  Glad to be here.

DR. TOM COBURN, (R, OK):  Nice to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Carson, this is what you said last month about this race. "The difference between us is that I'm a maverick; and he's a gadfly."  And if you look at The American Heritage Dictionary, it defines gadfly as, "a persistent, irritating critic, a nuisance."

Is that how you view your opponent?

REP. CARSON:  I think on the issues that are important to our state and to this country, it is important that we have someone on the U.S. Senate who's constructive.  The difference between maverick and gadfly is an important one in this campaign.  A maverick is someone who breaks with his party to help our state, to help our country, who works in a bipartisan fashion to achieve constructive results.  A gadfly is someone who is a critic.  And Tom has opposed the key bills that help our state.

The road bill:  Tom is opposed to it.  The farm bill:  Tom is opposed to it. The prescription drug benefit for seniors:  Tom is opposed to it.  The Patriot Act:  Tom is opposed to it.  That's the kind of bi-partisanship that is working in a destructive fashion.  That's the kind of criticism that doesn't result in a positive outcome for the people of our state.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dr. Coburn, in the last debate you had, the phrase good vs. evil came up in terms of describing your positions and Mr. Carson's.  And that was reinforced, underscored, "Patrick Davis, the political director of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee added fuel to the fire later when he told Oklahoma delegates to the national GOP convention that, `We also view this race as good vs. evil.'"

Do you believe that Congressman Carson or his views on issues are evil?

DR. COBURN:  Absolutely not, and he knows that.  And I disavowed the statement by the--at the national party to the director of the NRSC.  And Brad's very good at creating a half-truth.  You know, we do have a battle for our culture. And that's exactly what I said.  I said the--it's about a battle for our culture.  And that battle is good vs. evil.  It isn't good for us, Tim, to spend away the standard of living of our kids and give them something different than the heritage that was left to this country where we have a history of sacrifice and service in the style that John Kennedy reminded us of, not asking what we can get from our country but what we can give to it. And this battle for our culture is going to be pre- eminent in terms of the future of our children.  It's a critical battle.  But it doesn't have anything to do with Brad personally, and he knows that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, what about his positions?  Are they evil?

DR. COBURN:  No, I think some of--if, in fact--I'll ask the question in the rhetorical.  As a father, as a grandfather, is it right this year for us to have spent $442 billion of money that we didn't have, another $180 billion of Social Security money that we wrote a children's and grandchildren's IOU for, and then, since 2001, domestic discretionary spending to be up $200 billion, enough to fund the war cost, is that good or is it evil to steal from your grandchildren?  You know, I think those are critically important issues for the future of our country and the culture of our country.

MR. RUSSERT:  You have a Republican president, Republican Senate, Republican House.  Did they do something evil by creating that deficit?

DR. COBURN:  I believe if we steal from our children, when we don't have the--the problem, I believe, is this, Tim.  Is that we have decision-making often being made that centers around the politician and not the next generation.  And I believe that our decisions ought to be long run and we ought to be caring for the next generation rather than the next election.  And the expediency of spending money that we don't have hurts now but it also hurts the next generation.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Carson, John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, has said he'd like to roll back the top bracket tax cut.  Do you agree with him?

REP. CARSON:  I'm opposed to John Kerry on that.  I was a strong support of the income tax rate cuts when they came through Congress.  I broke with my party to do that.  The amount of revenue that rollback could raise is relatively insignificant.  I think that it is foolish policy and it's something I have consistently opposed on the campaign trail and during my time in Congress.

MR. RUSSERT:  Then how do we balance the budget?  How do you find a half trillion dollars in cuts, if you're not going to roll back tax cuts?

REP. CARSON:  Well, I think there are some straightforward things we can do. First, we have to keep the problem in perspective.  As a percentage of our Gross Domestic Product, the budget deficit this year is not what it was in the 1980s and early 1990s.  And, of course, we've had some extraordinary events happen in the recent years, but that's not to say we shouldn't get ourselves back on a path toward fiscal solvency.  And I release, in my campaign, a detailed plan to do just this.

It starts with this.  The Government Accounting Office says that we have about $50 billion--$50 billion in various forms of waste, fraud and abuse that prudent management from the Senate and the House and its oversight could eliminate.  There are corporate loopholes that are exploited every day to avoid lawful taxation, that the Government Accounting Office says equal about $250 billion a year.  I've also proposed eliminating unnecessary and outdated government agencies, things like the Council on Environmental Quality, the Export-Import Bank, things like this.

Those proposals, combined with the amount that you would save on interest on the national debt with that, would move us probably close to fiscal balance--those thing alone.  And those are the kinds of proposals we should investigate first before we ever ask the American taxpayer to pay another penny in taxes to Washington, D.C.

MR. RUSSERT:  They asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks.  He said, "Because that's where the money is."  Two-thirds of our federal outlays go to Social Security, Medicare and defense.  Doctor, can you honestly balance the budget without looking at Social Security and the defense budget?

DR. COBURN:  Sure you can.  First of all, Brad wants to hide the ball. There's only 10 percent of the members of Congress that want to spend more money than Brad does.  He authored and co-signed onto bills $440 billion compared to $170 billion for the rest of the entire Oklahoma delegation, including the senators and all the rest of the House members.  You can't have it both ways.  You can't say, "I want to spend more money, spend more money and spend more money" and then say, "I want to trim a little $50 billion."

The facts is that the Congress has not been responsible with spending. Everybody in America knows that the government is not efficient.  We need to have, first of all, a freeze on any increase in government spending except homeland defense and defense.  We need to look at every government program.

MR. RUSSERT:  So a freeze on Social Security and Medicare?

DR. COBURN:  No, I said government programs; not Social Security and Medicare.  They're going to go, but that's all the more reason, Tim, that we have to be frugal, that we have to do the right thing in terms of discretionary and we have to address the issues with Medicare and Social Security.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me talk about this race in large senses, because it is interesting for viewers to see that a Democrat is competitive in Oklahoma. There hasn't been a senator in Oklahoma for 10 years, a Democratic senator. Don Nickles served for 24 years as a Republican.  This is the way one of the observers wrote about it.  "For Carson," the Democrat, "the great challenge is putting as much distance as possible between himself and his party in a state that is likely to give President Bush a 20-point-plus win November 2.  ... `Vote for President Bush,' Carson told the crowd at the Brandin' Iron" restaurant in Coalgate, Oklahoma.  "We need your help in the Senate campaign."

You're encouraging Oklahomans to vote for President Bush?

REP. CARSON:  No, I was responding to a questioner there who said he was going to vote for President Bush, but that he was also going to be voting for me. And what I said to him is, "Vote for President Bush if you like, but we need your help in the Senate campaign."  I'm the first person to say that I think the national Democratic Party, the national Republican Party, too, doesn't represent many people who were at the Brandin' Iron Restaurant in Coalgate, Oklahoma, that day.  And I hope to be in the U.S. Senate a kind of leader that will create a movement in this country that takes politics back from the special interests and will make all of those people in Coalgate, Oklahoma, a long ways from where we are right now, have faith that their senators, their congressmen are doing the right thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you're voting for John Kerry.

REP. CARSON:  I'm a supporter of the Democratic nominee, of course.

MR. RUSSERT:  Also, this is some literature you put out, Congressman.  It says, "Brad Carson, independent from national political parties."  But the fact is, if you won, and the Democrats took control of the Senate, it would mean that Ted Kennedy would be chairman of the Health, Education and Labor Committee rather than Thad Cochran of--excuse me, than Judd Gregg of New Hampshire; Tom Harkin would be head of Agriculture, rather than Thad Cochran; Pat Leahy would be head of Judiciary rather than Orrin Hatch.  It could mean profound changes for the direction of our national government.

REP. CARSON:  Well, the changes that matter to the people back home and the people of this country are on policy, not personnel.  The people back home want a road bill.  They want Democrats and Republicans to support it.  I do; Tom Coburn doesn't.  They want people who will fight the privatization of Social Security and Medicare.  I will do that; Tom Coburn won't.  They want people who will fight vigorously to destroy the terrorists who plot our demise even as we speak.  I will do that.  Tom Coburn doesn't support the law enforcement techniques it takes.  What matters to the people back home is not the personnel; it's the policy.  And I will be a constructive force in the Senate to work with people in both parties to do the right thing for these--for the people of our state and the people of this country.

MR. RUSSERT:  John Kerry says that Iraq is the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place.  You agree?

REP. CARSON:  I disagree.  I supported the president and the resolution when it came through Congress.  I believe that our success in Iraq is critical to our future, and I believe that, if anything, we should be more vigorous in destroying the sanctuaries that terrorists have carved out for themselves in the Sunni triangle there.

MR. RUSSERT:  Dr. Coburn, let me bring you back to 2000, the Republican primary for president of the United States.  And you chose Alan Keyes over George W. Bush, and this is what you said:  "It is clear to me that Alan Keyes is the one candidate for president who actually understands what is wrong with our country and who has the vision, the courage, and the clarity of principle to put it right.  Ambassador Keyes has shown repeatedly that he has a better grasp on the issues--the foreign policy, the fiscal policy, the social policy and all the rest of it--than any other candidate.  ... My heart and my conscience tell me Alan Keyes is the man who should be president."

Why did you think that Alan Keyes would make a better commander in chief than George W. Bush?

DR. COBURN:  Well, I thought his ability to speak with clarity of purpose was good and his ability to communicate was good.  You know, I supported President Bush after that primary, which we all pick winners and losers in primaries, and then I supported President Bush, and I would to this day.  And he is my commander in chief.  The big difference between Brad and myself is he believes John Kerry should be the new commander in chief, and all the things that he just alliterated would be undermined if, in fact, John Kerry is the commander in chief.  We'd have a global policy that has a global test on our foreign policy before we do anything.

You know, and I think I'd like to clear up a couple of things.  You know, the transportation issue's been a big issue in Oklahoma.  Brad voted for a bill that no one else in the Oklahoma delegation voted for.  It would have cut Oklahoma's total road funding over the next six years $250 million.  But it did enhance Brad's projects in his district.  That's exactly what's wrong with the country right now.  We have politicians that are ever expanding the discretionary spending in this country.  We get a little bit, but we pay for everybody else to get a whole lot more.  And the ultimate pattern that we have to look at is what's going to happen to our children and our grandchildren as we continue to spend their money.  We're going to finance $1.2 trillion this year, Tim, on the international markets.  Do people really believe we can repay that?

MR. RUSSERT:  I'm going to give you a chance to respond to that.

REP. CARSON:  Oh, I this conversation and the endorsement of Alan Keyes shows the kind of priorities that Tom Coburn brings to the United States Senate.  He openly travels the state saying that, "If elected, Oklahomans will not be my customers, and I'm not going to deal"--he said that on a televised debate with Kirk Humphries.  It's a direct quote.  And so on the issues that are important domestically to people in Oklahoma, he's openly saying he won't support them.

And then what is the critical issue of our time?  It's the war on terror.  Tom Coburn has said repeatedly, even after 9/11, that we have more to fear from our own government than we do from terrorists abroad.  More to fear from our own government than we do from terrorists.  And when he was in Congress, he consistently voted against efforts to crack down on terrorism.  When the State Department tried to push through legislation that would label terrorist groups like al-Qaida and prohibit known members of those groups from coming to this country, to seize their financial assets, Tom Coburn led the opposition.  The law enforcement techniques that President Bush says are needed to crack down on terrorists who are already here--Tom Coburn said as recently as last month he would oppose those things.  These are the critical issues for people back home, both domestically and internationally, and Tom Coburn isn't right on them.  And these are critical for our time.

MR. RUSSERT:  I'll give you a chance to respond on terrorism.

DR. COBURN:  Absolutely not true.  I support the president's policy.  I would have voted for the Patriot Act.  That's the kind of campaign we're seeing run. It's a campaign of half-truths and spin.  We've seen it throughout.  We don't talk about the real issues that are important to Oklahoma.  What we do is we talk about undermining people's character and making untrue statements.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the newspapers in Oklahoma, Doctor, said that you voted against money that would have provided much-needed transportation, highway road-building money for your state and your district because you didn't like the overall package.

DR. COBURN:  No, Tim, I'd love to answer that.  I think it's critical to show the difference between Brad and myself.  The Republican Congress had agreed with President Bush that we'd have a Balanced Budget Act of 1997.  Immediately thereafter, they spent $27 billion we didn't have.  I've put every project in that bill that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation asked me to put in that bill.  I was then offered a bribe by the committee to vote for the bill, I could have $15 million to spend wherever I wanted to.  I don't believe that's the kind of government we want.  That's what we're seeing in Congress now with some of the ethical problems that are there.  And, in fact, when the bill came through, I did vote against it, but I made sure that every bit of that money went to Oklahoma, including the $15 million bribe.  So the half-truths that are associated with my vote on transportation--I drive on Oklahoma roads.  I have grandchildren on Oklahoma roads.  They're vitally important to me.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman, I want to give you the chance to talk about the transportation bill but also if you could address a current advertisement you have on the air criticizing Congress Coburn for voting against tornado relief when, in fact, both senators voted the same way he did and the money was appropriated later on and he voted for the appropriation.  Is that fair criticism?

REP. CARSON:  It is fair criticism.  The people of Moore, Oklahoma, that had that tornado blow through, had a press conference on Friday where they said that money, which is explicitly labeled in the bill as coming to Oklahoma, that it was the wrong vote and the quarrel that Tom Coburn has is not with me. It's with the other Republican congressmen, J.C. Watts and Wes Watkins, who said Tom Coburn was not at the meeting when FEMA came and that we cannot turn our back on the people who were hurting in Moore, Oklahoma, who had been devastated by that tornado.  And it shows again the neglect of all the interests that are important to this state.  You know, road funding--Tom may drive on the roads but he turned down road money and that it stayed in Oklahoma is because of the hard work like people like J.C. Watts.  Not because Tom Coburn cared enough to see it done, and he would oppose Jim Inhofe, our Republican senator, who is today drafting the highway bill.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to...

REP. CARSON:  But let me come back to the Patriot Act.  Tom Coburn has said on the record in town halls that he would have voted no on the Patriot Act.  He has said that repeatedly on the campaign trail.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is that true?

DR. COBURN:  No, that's not true.  I said I had some concerns.  Anytime that we are asked to give up freedom to maintain our freedom, I have some concerns with it.  And I think our history shows that we have done that.  I have some concerns about the Patriot Act and every American should have some concerns about the Patriot Act.  That's why it's sunsetted.

Let me talk about the ad, because it's very important.  We called FEMA when those tornadoes went through and we asked them, "Do you have enough money?" They had over a billion dollars in reserve at that time, that none of the money that that bill voted on ended up going to Oklahoma for that tornado. That was money to replenish the reserve.  It had nothing to do with the tornado and the money was there, and our senators voted against it as well, as well as another congressman from the state.

MR. RUSSERT:  I just want to follow up on  Alan Keyes one last time and then I want to ask Mr. Carson about George Bush.  "In May of this year"--this is what Alan Keyes said--"now you think it's a coincidence that on September 11th, 2001, we were struck by terrorists--an evil that has at its heart the disregard of innocent human life?  We who have for several decades killed not thousands but scores of millions of our own children, in disregard of the principle of innocent human life--I don't think that's a coincidence, I think that's a warning.  ...  I think that's a shot across the bow.  I think that's a way of Providence telling us, `I love you all; I'd like to give you a chance.  Wake up!  Would you please wake up?'"  Do you agree with Ambassador Keyes that September 11 was a warning by the creator about America and its policy on abortion?

DR. COBURN:  No, not at all.

MR. RUSSERT:  You did say that abortionists should be killed, the death penalty.

DR. COBURN:  Well, I was asked that question.  They were asking me about my pro-life stance, Tim, and as a doctor that's delivered 3,500 babies, cared for every complication of pregnancy you can imagine and have seen the procreation and creation at its very earliest stages, you know, I believe when we take innocent life intentionally, except to save lives, that we are violating moral law.  Now, I understand what the law is.  My hope would be that we would get back to a time when we recognize the value of life, and I think we're not.

MR. RUSSERT:  You would outlaw all abortion.

DR. COBURN:  Except to save the life of the mother.  I would think that every created life has value.

REP. CARSON:  But you...

MR. RUSSERT:  If a doctor performed an abortion in violation of that law, he should be subject to the death...

DR. COBURN:  Well, I think whatever we decide should be the subject as a country, if in fact it's violating the law.  I know it's not violating the law today.  But it grieves my heart every time that we terminate.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if you had your way, Doctor, and this is important, you would have a law banning all abortions, and if a doctor violated that law, he or she should be put to death.

DR. COBURN:  He or she should be put to the penalties that we think, as a society--today, in many states, we don't have the death penalty.  In other states, we do.  Whatever that is, but I believe that we have to stick on the side of life.  I think...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you think the death penalty would be an appropriate penalty in that situation.

DR. COBURN:  If somebody intentionally takes life at any stage throughout the country, except to save a life, and that's innocent life, I think we have to use the law that's on the books to respond to that.  I sure do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman Carson, let me show you an advertisement that's on the air which shows you with President Bush.

(Videotape, Carson '04 Senate ad):

Announcer:  And President Bush praised Brad Carson for supporting his tax cuts.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, the Republican National Committee was very upset by your use of that ad, saying that George Bush clearly supports Dr. Coburn.  And I found this in The Daily Oklahoman.  Chris Casteel wrote this piece back in 2001:  "Oklahoma's U.S. representatives jumped into the House fight over tax cuts, with the state's only Democrat jabbing at its cost.  ...  The five Republican members of Oklahoma's House delegation voted for the bill to reduce income taxes by $958 billion over 10 years."  Then, "Freshman Brad Carson (D) voted against it."

You opposed the president's tax cut plan, and now you're on television saying, "I supported it."

REP. CARSON:  That isn't true.  We're citing a letter that President Bush sent to me praising me for my courage, and so unless President Bush had it wrong, then obviously I did support the tax cuts, which is the case.  There was a negotiation throughout the spring of 2001 about the size of the tax cuts, the composition of those tax cuts, and I was very much involved in that fray.  On Memorial Day of 2001, we passed the tax package, the $1.1 trillion worth of tax cuts, and I broke with my party to support it.

MR. RUSSERT:  But the president's initial proposal, which included income tax cuts, you opposed.

REP. CARSON:  It was only the income tax cuts there.  I thought they should be smaller and that we should have more marriage tax relief, more state tax relief, programs like that.  That vote was purely on the income tax structure. When it was pared down to compromises that we all worked on, I supported that. I believe tax relief is important, and the president acknowledged my own courage in breaking with my party to support those.

MR. RUSSERT:  You have tied yourself to President Bush in your commercial and in your discussions here this morning, and yet the Congressional Quarterly does an analysis, presidential support ratings in the Oklahoma delegation, Senator Jim Inhofe, 97 percent, Don Nickles, 98 percent, Tom Cole, 98, Ernest Istook, 90, Frank Lucas 94, John Sullivan, 100 percent, Brad Carson, Democrat, 50 percent of the time you've opposed the president, 50 percent you've supported him.

REP. CARSON:  I support what the people of Oklahoma need and what they want. So when President Bush says he wants to close our military bases, yes, I oppose him.  When he says he wants to give amnesty to 13 million illegal immigrants, yes, I oppose him.  When he says he wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare, yes, I oppose him.  When he says he wants to give us tax cuts, I support him.  When he says he wants to help with prescription drugs, I support him.  When he says he wants to crack down on terrorism, I support him.  This is what I've said in the campaign, is that I'm running to be a leader for this country, not a follower of anyone else, and I will do the right thing for the people of Oklahoma at all times.

MR. RUSSERT:  So the rest of the delegation, all the other congressmen and both senators, are all wrong, and you're right in terms of the level of support for President Bush?

REP. CARSON:  No.  We work together on many issues.  What are the critical issues that we passed through in the last four years?  The tax cuts, I was a supporter.  The Medicare drug bill, I was a supporter.  The war in Iraq, I was a supporter.  These are the issues we worked on.  There are all kind of procedural votes, and it's difficult to make the comparisons.  The critical issues is this for the people of Oklahoma.  My vote is as if they were voting in the U.S. Congress themselves.  I've represented their interests at all times, and that's what I will continue to do in the United States Senate.

MR. RUSSERT:  I'll give you a chance.

DR. COBURN:  Yeah, Tim, you know, it is really amazing.  Brad's voted against tax cuts more often than he has voted for them.  The critical tax cut that got this economy moving, 2003, he voted against.  He voted against the permanent elimination of the estate tax, so important to our farmers.  The fact is, there's 400 times he's voted against the rest of the Oklahoma delegation since he's been in Congress--400 times.  On major issues, he is in opposition to the majority beliefs of Oklahomans and their representatives in Congress.  He can't continue to hide the ball.  That's why what we've seen in the campaign, he can claim that he's for a tax cut.  It's amazing that he's become very good at it as soon as he announced for the U.S. Senate.  But his real record is one that does side with John Kerry in terms of tax cut opposition, and his real record will be of spending, and our children and our grandchildren.

And today, to fund the war, to take care of Medicare, which is insolvent today--it's insolvent--and to look at Social Security, President Bush doesn't want to privatize, he wants personal accounts in Social Security.  That's the demagoguery of scaring seniors.  It's the demagoguery of telling people they don't want them to have something.

You know, the prescription drug bill, we have about 25 percent of our seniors in this country that really need that.  There's no question about it.  But we don't need Ross Perot and Bill Gates to have a benefit from Medicare when it's essentially bankrupt and going down the tubes in terms of the finances in it. So a balance there.  One is to--how do I get re-elected?  How do I say the right things?  One is how do I secure the future for this country?

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you have a means testing for Medicare and Social Security?

DR. COBURN:  No, but I would certainly not add a new program without it.

MR. RUSSERT:  How about raising the retirement age?

DR. COBURN:  I wouldn't do that either.  I don't think we need to do that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Are you hiding the ball on these issues?

REP. CARSON:  I'm not.  What Tom Coburn has tried to do in this campaign, and it's why I think he's now trailing in the polls, is he never runs against me. He runs against Hillary Clinton or Tom Daschle or John Kerry.  He attacks young college students who work for me and views that they wrote about when they were 18 or 19 years old.

The truth is this:  Tom Coburn did nothing for the 2nd Congressional District in six years in Congress, the district that I now represent; nothing at all. Voted against road funding, voted against farmers and ranchers, said it made him sick, physically sick.  He called Medicare a Soviet-style program.  Ten times in the course of this campaign he said he wants to privatize Social Security.  He said he does want to vote against the Patriot Act.  It's been in the newspaper.

And on the critical international issue, he thinks we have more to fear from our own government, and the government of George W. Bush I presume, than we do from terrorists abroad.  These are the critical issues for the people of Oklahoma.  And he should run against me, not against John Kerry, not against anyone else because we are running to be the senator from Oklahoma.

MR. RUSSERT:  Doctor, I want to give you a chance to respond to some of the things that have been in the paper recently about your practice as a physician.  This was from the Tulsa World.  "In February 27, 1992, a deposition in the lawsuit, Dr. Coburn described how he treated a woman for an ectopic pregnancy and how he decided to sterilize her. ... He ... explained in the deposition why he did not cover both procedures on certain medical forms. ... `I did not dictate it because of her Title 19 status.'"  That's the Social Security act dealing with Medicare.  "`If I had dictated both, it would have been a sterilization procedure and she wouldn't have had it covered.'  He also described a conversation he had with the woman's mother following the procedure.  `I told her I had tied her tubes, told her that under Title 19 they wouldn't reimburse it if we talked about it.'

"In her deposition"--this is the woman--"in the case she brought against Coburn, the woman described a conversation in which she said he advised her not to talk about her sterilization.  ...  He said, `I did a tubal ligation on you,' the woman said.  `But you can't tell anybody, because I will get in a lot of trouble for it,'" which led the...

DR. COBURN:  That was her deposition not mine.

MR. RUSSERT:  Correct.  The Dewey County Record in Oklahoma said this.  "It is Dr. Coburn's words that are haunting him in this case.  The facts clearly show that he knew he was doing something inappropriate by asking the young woman to keep quiet.  As a doctor, he took an oath under the law to disclose all information on medical forms.  By omitting a procedure on the Medicaid reimbursement form, Dr. Coburn put his own medical credibility, leadership, and actions into doubt regarding his billion by attempting to cover it up."

DR. COBURN:  Inaccurate.  You know, in the middle of the night, I got up and saved this young woman's life.  She asked me, and her mother asked me, on the way to the operating room, to make sure it didn't happen again.  She had asked me before for that.  This was tried in the court--this was brought to a court of law.  It was thrown out by a judge.  And this is exactly the type of thing that keeps great people from getting in the political process.

MR. RUSSERT:  She says he did not give permission and there was no written consent.

DR. COBURN:  I know.  Well, but there was an oral consent and there was testimony and depositions to that fact and that's why the judge threw it out, that the preponderance of evidence said that there wasn't a case.  But it is an important point, because this is part of a smear campaign to take us away from talking about the very issues Brad says he wants to talk about but doesn't want to talk about on his record.  And to me, if when we use this in the political process, the politics of personal destruction, the ability of somebody that's a delegate to the national convention, a contributor to Brad's campaign, has organized this and put this forward and that his liberal friends will prosecute a campaign on the basis of a supposed character assassination rather than on real factors that are going to affect Oklahoma.  I've been a doctor for 19 years in practice in Muskogee, Oklahoma.  Every time I put my patients first and their desires and what they want me to do.  I did that in this case.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to give you a chance to respond to something on KRMG Radio, an interview with you in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  Question:  "To your knowledge, could this situation have happened or has happened with any other women?"  Coburn:  "I've done this lots to women who have come in with emergency things who have asked me to sterilize them, underage.  When they've already had three babies."

DR. COBURN:  Yeah.  Unfortunately, Tim, in our world today, young women start having babies very early.  And 20-year-olds that have three children, who want to have a way to not have additional children, I'm going to always look out for them and I'm going to do what's in their best interest and that's ethically right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Did you abuse the Medicaid laws by not putting all the information on the forms?

DR. COBURN:  No.  The general counsel of Medicaid said there is no Medicaid fraud.  We filed it exactly as it should have been filed, and every aspect of that was dictated properly.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why didn't you acknowledge that you sterilized the woman?

DR. COBURN:  Well, it is in the dictated report of the...

MR. RUSSERT:  But you did not put in for billing and you told her not to talk about it.

DR. COBURN:  No, you don't put it in for billing.  That's...

MR. RUSSERT:  Why did you tell her not to talk about it?

DR. COBURN:  Because I want her to have her bills paid for.  I wasn't worried about mine.  If that becomes the primary procedure, then she can't have her bills paid for.  It was not the primary procedure.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Carson, are you behind this?  Did your supporters bring this to the attention of the media?

REP. CARSON:  I never spoke to this woman, nor did anyone from my campaign. We read the news stories, like everyone else does.  What Tom has done in this campaign, as you see here today--he talks about a smear campaign, but all the wounds have been self-inflicted.  You know, whether it's this episode, whether it's when he calls the people of Oklahoma City "crap heads" or says that seniors go to the doctor simply because they're lonely, or that "Schindler's List" is an obscene movie that pollutes young children's minds...

MR. RUSSERT:  But didn't your supporters dig up the court records and release them to the press?

REP. CARSON:  No, not at all, because we read about this in Salon magazine and in The New York Times and The Washington Post.  We read about it with everyone else in the country when this story was broken.

MR. RUSSERT:  I'll give you 10 seconds.  Why should you...

DR. COBURN:  Actually, not true.  They put out a press release as soon as this line in court was released.

REP. CARSON:  That's because we read it in the newspaper with everyone else in the country.

DR. COBURN:  If you talk to The New York Times reporter, she'll tell you something different than that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why should you be senator?  Ten seconds.

DR. COBURN:  Because I represent the values, the courage, the idea that we have to sacrifice and serve, and that our country's worth fighting for.

REP. CARSON:  I will work across party lines to do the right thing for Oklahoma at all times.  I am first and foremost a member of the Oklahoma party, and I will wake up every day and do the right thing for the great people of our state.

MR. RUSSERT:  Brad Carson, Tom Coburn, we will be watching your race.

DR. COBURN:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  And be right back with more of MEET THE PRESS.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week.  We'll continue our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series with the battle in Colorado. Democratic state Attorney General Ken Salazar takes on Republican businessman Pete Coors.

If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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