IOWA — In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Democratic Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards answered questions about whether or not it is fair game to discuss another candidate family member's sexual orientation in a debate.
Vice President Dick Cheney called himself “a pretty angry father” on Thursday after Sen. John Kerry mentioned their gay daughter during the final presidential debate — comments Kerry said were meant to be positive about families with gay children.
Edwards also defends not immediately answering to Cheney's allegation that they had not met prior to the vice presidential debate. "I didn’t think taking important valuable time in a debate about whether we’ve met before was worth as much time as talking about what the vice president has been saying about Iraq."
Below is a transcript of the interview:
CHRIS MATTHEWS, 'HARDBALL' HOST: Vice President Cheney says he’s an angry father because John Kerry bought up his daughter’s sexuality the other night in the debate. What’s your reaction?
JOHN EDWARDS, DEMOCRATIC VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My reaction is that John Kerry – remember, Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney have brought it up right here in Iowa, where we are today and all that John Kerry was saying was that he respects, as I said in my own debate, and he thanked me for it, I might add. We respect the way they dealt with this in their own family and it should not be an issue that’s used to the divide the country as George Bush is doing.
MATTHEWS: Isn’t it unusual for a politician for any kind— any candidate to bring up another candidate’s member of their family? I mean, for you to introduce it as you did in the debate originally— as John Kerry introduced— isn’t that a little strange? To bring up somebody else’s family member?
EDWARDS: Well, only in this case because Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne had themselves brought it up. I mean, having watched the entire 2000 debate with Lieberman, he brought it up himself and talked about what it meant for him and his family and he had talked about it, I think, a few weeks before my debate with him and I think actually Gwen Ifill referenced his family’s situation in her question to the two of us. So it has been talked about a fair amount on the campaign trail and in the 2000 debates. We thought it— especially since we were both just expressing our respect and admiration for the way they’ve dealt with it.
MATTHEWS: Well somebody said that a gentleman is somebody that doesn’t unnecessarily or unintentionally hurt someone else’s feelings. You obviously got them angry. Lynne Cheney last night got very angry, coming up on the stage saying “John Kerry is not a good man.” I mean, she was quite vociferous on this topic, indicted him for being a bad guy.
EDWARDS: I don’t have a way of getting inside their heads about this. And I don’t think this should become some political football going back and forth…
MATTHEWS: Is that what they’re doing? Because both of them are speaking out on this now. Lynne Cheney last now and now the vice president today. They obviously want to keep it going.
EDWARDS: Well, John Kerry is a good man. I know him very well and the American people have seen him in these three debates and I think both the way he talks about it and I hope at least the way I talked about it in our debate expressed our own personal admiration for the way their family…
MATTHEWS: Your wife Elizabeth said this morning that she thinks they might be ashamed of their daughter sexuality and that’s why their so sensitive.
EDWARDS: Yeah, I have no way of knowing how they feel about it. They do talk about it openly and you know at the vice presidential debate in Cleveland they had their daughter sitting on the front row and they – I had the pleasure of meeting her – I don’t think I had met her before, although I had met the vice president before then! I think that the simple answer to this is we both admire the way they’ve dealt with their family and with their children.
MATTHEWS: Do you think it hurts the vice president– and the President – to have a gay family member on the ticket? In other words, to be related to someone like that in certain conservative areas in this country?
EDWARDS: No. I don’t. I don’t – especially when they’re as forthright as they have been about it, no, I don’t think it hurts them.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of the President’s answer that homosexuality may be a possible matter of choice. Did that surprise you?
EDWARDS: It surprised me and I think it’s wrong about that.
MATTHEWS: What do you think he’s talking about?
EDWARDS: I don’t know what he’s talking about. I don’t understand his notion that people can decide that they want to be heterosexual rather than homosexual. That’s not the truth. And I don’t know if that’s what he was saying or not.
MATTHEWS: Do you feel like asking the President when did you choose? Really…
EDWARDS: No, although I think that you obviously might…
MATTHEWS: Well obviously you’re above my caliber. Let me ask you about the vice president. When you had your debate with him, that was pretty hot. What do you make of that? Why was it so angry?
EDWARDS: Well, I don’t know if it was angry. I think it was very, very tough. It should have been very, very tough. I mean, we have people dying in Iraq. We have people who have lost their jobs here at home and the healthcare system is in crisis and they’ve made all of this worse and I thought it was very important for this president – this vice president and this president to be held accountable for their failures, what they’ve done and what it’s cost the American people and I thought it was important for us to have a very, very tough debate for them to be held responsible.
MATTHEWS: But we all saw the Sunday punch administered at you by the vice president. It was obviously prepared. He said “I’ve never met you before.” Did that bother you? When he said you had never met before?
EDWARDS: Well it was obviously false.
MATTHEWS: Well why did he say it?
EDWARDS: We had met before. I don’t know why he said it. It’s a little hard for me to believe that he would have set that in front of 40 something million people knowing it wasn’t true and it could easily be proven it wasn’t true…
MATTHEWS: Well, there would be a motive. He wanted to say you’re a nobody.
EDWARDS: Yeah, but it was false.
MATTHEWS: A nobody! In other words, you are of such little account, such a new kid on the block that he never even saw you around there – this is an old political trick, you know, “I never met the guy.”
EDWARDS: You think he’s fully admit to think that it wouldn’t be obvious within an hour of the debate being over that what he said was not true?
MATTHEWS: Do you feel like he tagged you? Because you couldn’t quickly recall that you had spent an hour and a half at the prayer breakfast.
EDWARDS: Oh know, I don’t think he tagged me at all. Here’s what I believe. I believe that when we have people dying on the ground in Iraq. When we have Americans who don’t have healthcare. Americans who don’t have a decent job, all of that has happened on their watch. I didn’t think a debate – taking important, valuable time in a debate between the two of us about whether we’ve met before was worth as much time as talking about what the vice president has been saying about Iraq.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you if it’s relevant in this case. Let’s talk about Iraq. During your debate, it was a hell of a debate, the vice president said never suggested a connection between Iraq and 9/11 and yet we have all this video tape, from “Meet the Press” especially, three or four times he said there was a meeting in Prague between Iraqi intelligence before, with Muhammad Atta, the lead hijacker, clearly suggesting a relationship. Why do you think the President or the vice president said something that’s clearly contradictable by the video tape?
EDWARDS: I think it’s a pattern. It’s been a pattern for this vice president to say things that are calculate to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I don’t think it’s an accident I think that has been a pattern. For when he says – when he says to the American people in that debate as he did, and remember, he was responding to me, I said you are the one that has suggested that some connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein and he said, well, I’ve never said that, I’ve never suggested that. It’s just false. Not true.
MATTHEWS: You think he forgot all the times he said – suggested it? EDWARDS: No, of course he didn’t forget. I think it has been very carefully calibrated to keep moving the line each time he talks about it and it becomes more and more obvious to the American people that there is no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.
MATTHEWS: Does the video tape say he is dishonest?
EDWARDS: They video tape says that what he has been saying is not true. That’s the way I look at it.
MATTHEWS: Let’s talk about this moving the line that you talked about. In the beginning he said there was weapons of mass destruction. As did many people and you believed them because there was the evidence apparent to the country. He also suggested many times – this is on video tape from “Meet the Press” that there was a possible connection between Saddam Hussein’s intelligence operation and Muhammad Atta leading the horror of 9/11. Now he says that we attacked Iraq because it was the closest possible nexus between the terrorist base and the terrorists. In other words, round up the usual suspect. Do you think that’s grounds for a war?
EDWARDS: I think that…MATTHEWS: Is it grounds for war to say that somebody…
EDWARDS: Let me ask you a question. I think if you look at that in the context of North Korea, very, very dangerous, having nuclear weapons. We know they have nuclear capability. Iran has moved far along in their nuclear weapons program under this President and this vice president. Why? The reality is of the three country that George Bush said were the Axis of Evil, we invaded the country that didn’t have nuclear capabilities. So I think the facts of the matter, things have gotten much worse in terms of the possibility of nuclear weapons getting in the hands of terrorists on their watch.
MATTHEWS: A couple of questions. You raised the issue of Halliburton. Senator Kerry raised it again in the second debate I believe. What did Cheney do wrong, the vice president, actually do wrong in moving from being CEO of Halliburton and becoming vice president? If you could point to something nobody else should do again, what is it?
EDWARDS: It’s the vice president allowed as part of his administration Halliburton to get no-bid contracts when he had just left Halliburton to become the Vice President of the United States.
MATTHEWS: How did he do that? You said he called someone to say – he called the Defense Department, the Pentagon and say give this contract to Halliburton? What did he actually do? EDWARDS: Well the first thing they said was they had nothing to do with this and they had a memo or an email that was released indicated that there was some…
MATTHEWS: Corps of Engineers had run something by the VP.
EDWARDS: Some coordination of some kind. The bottom line is this should not have been allowed to happen because at a minimum it creates the appearance of impropriety.
MATTHEWS: But isn’t Halliburton – you know this better than I do. Isn’t Halliburton the only corporation of that size that can handle these kinds of jobs in Iraq?
EDWARDS: Then why would you not let it out for bid? If that’s true then they certainly could have run a bidding process. It creates exactly, and particularly given the history of Halliburton and I think the history is relevant. The history in itself doesn’t resolve the issue but it’s relevant. I mean, Halliburton has filed all this false financial information and then fine millions of dollars and done business with Iran and Libya which I talked about in the debate. Turns out now they are under investigation not only for overcharging the American people under the American people under the contract in Iraq, they are also under investigation for possible bribing foreign officials. I mean, Halliburton has a long and very sordid history and the idea that when Dick Cheney, who is CEO and left there to become vice president and then they got a no bid contract, that’s wrong.
MATTHEWS: Is he unethical?
EDWARDS: Dick Cheney?
EDWARDS: I do not think Halliburton should have been allowed to get this no-bid contract.
MATTHEWS: Well, was that his call?
EDWARDS: I don’t know what he had to do with it. He claims he has nothing to do with it.
MATTHEWS: I’m just trying to find a rule here for future vice presidents, including yourself. What should be the rule?
EDWARDS: The rule should be that if a company that you are CEO of and have an ongoing relationship with, if that company is being – trying to get government work, taxpayer funded work, the minimum they should have to go through is a bidding process and to compete so that we know that it’s on the up and up.
MATTHEWS: You have now raised – or you have answered two questions regarding Dick Cheney’s character. One is he offers contradictory statements about his position on Iraq denying past positions which are on video tape. You also said he has raised questions of appearance with regard to his continued relationship with Halliburton. How does that add up in terms of his character? All of that?
EDWARDS: It’s symptomatic of what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) done. They claim they are for capitalism, what they are really for is crony capitalism. Making sure that the people who are they friends, who have taken care of them in the past get taken care of. That’s not the way this country is supposed to work.
MATTHEWS: There was an interesting moment in your debate with the vice president where he tried to sidle up to you in terms of background. He wasn’t going to let you be the poor kid and the rich kid. Remember that?
EDWARDS: I do.
MATTHEWS: And he talked about how you both had sort of rough-scrabble backgrounds, OK. How did you go on different routes? Think back now. You went and became the guy who loved to prosecute the big shots. I read half your book and it’s all about taking on big hospitals, influential people, big shots…
EDWARDS: And you didn’t finish?
MATTHEWS: Well it’s still good. I like it. But the fact is you seem to have been the guy that had that sort of maverick “I’m going to take on the big shots.” He became a big shot. What’s the difference between you and Dick Cheney?
EDWARDS: The difference is that what he’s done is he has gotten away from being on the side of average Americans and has become on the side of big drug companies, big insurance companies, big oil companies. And that cost the American people. This is not some abstract thing.
Rising health care costs, rising gasoline prices, oil prices going through the roof, and you can’t be on the side of big insurance companies, big drug companies, big oil companies and then be on the side of the American people, it doesn’t work. And they have shown over and over and over which side they are on. We’re on the other side.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, just to end up on this—the daughter thing, the Mary Cheney thing, do you think what he’s doing is what they do in—you know in basketball, you’re a basketball fan, when a player causes a foul and it’s not really a foul, they fall down and act they’ve been hit. Do you think the Cheneys are doing that with both of them doing it the last 24 hours? Do you think they’re calling a phony foul.
EDWARDS: Oh no. I have no idea what…
MATTHEWS: But you say it’s not a legitimate call, though.
EDWARDS: I think that what they’re saying about John Kerry is absolutely not true. John Kerry is a good man…
MATTHEWS: So it wasn’t a foul. It was not a foul for him to bring up the daughter, Mary Cheney in the debate last night.
EDWARDS: No, of course not. He was just putting a personal face…
MATTHEWS: Then it’s wrong for them to bring it up and faking (ph) it to call foul.
EDWARDS: Don’t interrupt me, let me finish.
EDWARDS: What I’m saying is, John Kerry brought it up for the purpose of putting a personal face on an issue that has been used to divide this country. And they themselves have brought it up. So I think he, at least in his mind, and I can tell you, I thought the same thing, there’s nothing inappropriate about it.
MATTHEWS: Let’s talk about the war. This one of the three—I want to go to the three big issues that everybody is talking about. On “MEET THE PRESS” the other day, you said—in response to Tim Russert, you said, yes, it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Do you think after knowing all you know now about no connection to 9/11, no WMD, no immediate threat to the United States, the decision when we did was a blunder?
EDWARDS: You mean knowing everything we know now?
MATTHEWS: Sure, perfect knowledge and hindsight, was it a blunder to go to war?
EDWARDS: Knowing—I want to make sure I’m following this.
MATTHEWS: Well, the world is looking at us as if…
EDWARDS: But it’s a hypothetical question, so I want to make sure I’ve got the facts. So it’s no weapons of mass destruction, no connection with September 11th, and what else did you say?
MATTHEWS: Well, there is a lot of things. There was the prediction that we would have—be welcomed by people who would love us being there. There was a prediction that Iraqi oil would pay for the cost of the 87 and everything else. All those predictions were positive and rosy and if you had—and they turned out all to be wrong.
EDWARDS: I think it diverted our attention from Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the people who attacked us, and they’ve created a haven for terrorists, which I don’t think…
MATTHEWS: Did they have an itchy trigger finger? Was the administration wrong to move as fast as it did?
EDWARDS: They were. Yes.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you about the economy. One thing I haven’t heard in a debate, watching all the debates and watching all the campaign speeches we get back in Washington and the newspapers, I haven’t heard really good personal empathy for the guy out there who’s working one job and maybe making 25-30 a year, because his family needs things and his wife is already working. And he has to go out and work all night for $7 an hour because they’re the only jobs you can grab. Why don’t you guys talk about that?
EDWARDS: We should talk about it more…
MATTHEWS: All you talk about is unemployment rate.
EDWARDS: That’s a completely fair criticism, I think. I think we should talk about it more. We do out on the campaign trail. It gets kind of hard when you’ve got 90 seconds or two minutes in a debate.
MATTHEWS: Well, how will you fix that if you get a chance now? How are you going to fix the fact the guy having to do two jobs and be exhausted all the time?
EDWARDS: We’re going to help him by, first of all, helping him with what he’s spending money on, health care, bringing down the cost of health care. If he’s got a child, he’s having to pay for childcare. We’re going to help with that, give him a tax break to help him pay for that.
If you’ve got a kid that wants to go to college, we’re going to help with that. You know, if he’s working overtime, he might be one of the people who had his overtime pay cut by the new Bush overtime rules. I mean, this…
MATTHEWS: But how does he get his wages up? I mean, isn’t that what most guys and women are looking for? They work 40-50 hours, some 60 hours a week and it just doesn’t make it.
EDWARDS: The way you get wages up is you create competition in the labor market. Right now we’ve got exactly the opposite of what we need. We’ve got way more people who want to work than jobs. The result of that is there is no competition in the labor market. We need employers to be competing for workers. And what that does is drive wages up. It’s what happened in the 1990s. It’s what we need to do again.
MATTHEWS: Two-and-a-half weeks from now, Senator Edwards, John Edwards, are you ready to be vice president?
EDWARDS: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: Are you ready to be president should you have to?
EDWARDS: If necessary, yes.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, sir.
EDWARDS: Thank you.