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
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
Also, our local Nevada partners in this: Impacto; the African-
American Democratic Leadership Council; and, of course, the College of
We have told the members of our vast studio audience here tonight
that we cannot allow applause or any outbursts following the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
MORALES: Senator Edwards, as a follow-up to Margaret Wells'
question, what is a white male to do running against these historic
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Do the American people want someone in the Oval Office who is an
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
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
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
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
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
... that you will not pledge allegiance to the flag or generally
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
And this is typical. Now, Hillary's exactly right that we've got
to modify some of the fraudulent practices, predatory lending
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
And that's why we're going to have to change how politics is done
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: 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
The yellow one starts flashing when they're starting to run out
... and the red one starts flashing when they are out of time.
And another reminder that only seven feet separates us from the
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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.
So you get your choice on either side.
CLINTON: Well, I want to ask Senator Obama to join me in doing
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
OBAMA: Well, I think we can work on this, Hillary.
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
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
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.
I want to make sure...
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
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
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
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
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.
Instead of phrasing it that way...
WILLIAMS: Oh, no, no, no, no.
OBAMA: Let me...
WILLIAMS: That sounded like the start of a question to me.
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
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
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.
WILLIAMS: And we are back, live, in Las Vegas. We promised
going into the break that we would return with a discussion on
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
EDWARDS: Well, yes, there are a lot of things that need to be
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
WILLIAMS: Rebuttal time to both senators, 30 seconds, please.
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
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
But I think that should be a requirement for becoming an American
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
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
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
OBAMA: Not in Illinois. They all voted for me. And so...
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
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
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
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
The schools can't do it all by themselves. Parents have to
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
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
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
RUSSERT: But you've backed off a national licensing registration
RUSSERT: Senator Obama, when you were in the state senate, you
talked about licensing and registering gun owners. Would you do that
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
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.
WILLIAMS: We're back in Los Angeles for our final segment of our
live debate coverage.
WILLIAMS: Did I...
RUSSERT: Las Vegas.
WILLIAMS: All right. OK. Wow, it is a tough crowd. It is a
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.
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
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
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
And I feel prepared and ready to take on what is a daunting but
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.