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Transcript for October 17

Guests: Ken Mehlman, Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Manager, Bob Shrum, Kerry-Edwards '04 Campaign Chief Strategist, Rep. Jim DeMint, (R-S.C.), Republican Senate Candidate, Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina State Superintendent of Education, Democratic Senate Candidate
/ Source: NBC News

Copyright 2004, National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


NBC News

MEET THE PRESS  Sunday, October 17, 2004

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

                    MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS

                          (202) 885-4598

                    (Sundays: (202) 885-4200)

GUESTS: Ken Mehlman, Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Manager, Bob Shrum, Kerry-Edwards '04 Campaign Chief Strategist, Rep. Jim DeMint, (R-S.C.), Republican Senate Candidate, Inez Tenenbaum, South Carolina State Superintendent of Education, Democratic Senate Candidate


MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday:  The candidates debate for the third and last time:


PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH:  You know, there's a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank.

(End videotape)


SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  ...the race for the White House, just 16 days to go.  With us: the campaign manager for the Bush campaign, Ken Mehlman; chief strategist for the Kerry campaign, Bob Shrum.  Mehlman and Shrum square off.

Then our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series continues.  All eyes on South Carolina, where Republican Congressman Jim DeMint is in a tight race against South Carolina's education superintendent, Inez Tenenbaum.  Control of the U.S. Senate may hang in the balance as DeMint and Tenenbaum debate right here on MEET THE PRESS.

But first, it's Bush vs. Kerry.  From the Bush-Cheney campaign, campaign manager Ken Mehlman.  From the Kerry-Edwards campaign, chief strategist Bob Shrum.

Welcome, both.

MR. KEN MEHLMAN:  Good morning.

MR. BOB SHRUM:  Nice to be here.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let's look at the very latest polling on this race.  Here's Newsweek, Time and Zogby.  Newsweek has it 50 to 44, Bush; Time, 48, 46, Bush; Zogby, 48, 44, Bush.

Bob Shrum, you see the race that way, slight advantage Bush?

MR. SHRUM:  No.  Actually, I think if you look at the New Democracy core poll that's come out this morning.  It's 50, 47, Kerry.  If you look at the Washington Post-ABC poll in the battleground states, it's 53-43 Kerry.  But inside these polls, all of them, there are numbers that should be very troublesome to the president.  For example, in the Newsweek poll, 47 percent of people give him a job approval rating.  Your pollster Matthew Dowd told us that the president's below 50 percent in job approval, very hard to get re-elected.  Fifty-five percent say the country is on the wrong track.  So I think Bush has got some big problems, and I think the country is asking a big question:  Who can defend America and fight for the middle class?  The answer to that question, I think, is going to be John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT:  How do you see it?

MR. MEHLMAN:  I see it differently, Tim.  I think it's pretty clear, if you look at the numbers since the debates ended, that there's momentum on behalf of the president.  We think the race will be close.  But I think those polls reflect where most things are.  If you look at most of the public polls, we lead by anywhere from 2 to 6 points.  I think people looked at those debates and they saw some important things.  They saw that John Kerry is, in fact, a Massachusetts liberal who will increase taxes and who will increase government involvement in health care.  They worry about the notion of a global test. They disagree with his vision of the war on terror, dealing with it like a nuisance.  And I think also, importantly, they saw during the course of the last two weeks a Kerry-Edwards ticket was willing to do and say anything to win, including some things that I think most Americans thought was pretty cynical and pretty inappropriate.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think are the major issues in this campaign in the final 16 days?

MR. SHRUM:  Well, they're certainly not what he just said.  I mean, and the truth is the president can't talk about his record; he can't run on his record.  Major issues are:  jobs, where we lost 1.6 million private-sector jobs, and the president supports a loophole for sending jobs overseas; health care, where the president has a plan that includes a $3,000 deductible, would only cover 2.7 million people.  John Kerry's plan covers 27 million people. And this extraordinary statement in The New York Times Sunday Magazine this morning that as soon as he's inaugurated, the president wants to rush to, and this is his word, "privatize" Social Security.  That costs $2 trillion, and according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, cuts Social Security benefits by 25 to 45 percent.  Now, in those debates you just talked about where, by the way, I think the president went 0-3, he was asked very directly, "Where does the $2 trillion come from?"  He didn't answer the question.  Can you answer it, Ken?

MR. MEHLMAN:  I can tell you this, and that is that either John Kerry or the president have to deal with the problem of Social Security, and the problem is this:  It is that when the baby boomers retire, there'll be fewer workers to retirees.  If you do nothing, which is what John Kerry wants to do, it costs $10 trillion.  The president has brought Democrats and Republicans, including your old boss, Pat Moynihan, together, said, "Let's look at alternatives, let's look at ways to solve this problem."  One of the ways is to make sure that those at and near retirement get their benefits and also to allow younger workers, children and grandchildren, to set up personal retirement accounts. There's no additional cost associated with that.  The costs he's talking about are the equivalent of prepaying your mortgage, and if you prepay your mortgage in this case, the costs are actually less.  The real cost is what John Kerry would do, which is to do nothing, which is $10 billion--$10 trillion, excuse me, Tim, in costs.

MR. SHRUM:  That is an amazing and inaccurate sound bite.  $10 trillion is what the Social Security system's going to have to pay out to keep retirees whole.  You want to grab another $2 trillion out of it.  The Congressional Budget Office, which is non-partisan, said that means a 25- to 45-percent cut in benefits.  Just answer the question:  How are you going to pay the $2 trillion?  Where's it come from?

MR. MEHLMAN:  As I said a minute ago, the fact is the costs are less of what the president wants to do than doing nothing.

MR. SHRUM:  So you're going to repeat the sound bite and not answer the question.

MR. MEHLMAN:  No, no.  One thing I'm not going to do, I'm not going to raise taxes on Social Security, which is what John Kerry has done consistently. There's two ways to do it...

MR. SHRUM:  John Kerry is proposing a tax cut on the middle class.  John Kerry is not proposing to raise taxes on Social Security.

MR. MEHLMAN:  John Kerry has voted 98 times to raise taxes.

MR. SHRUM:  John Kerry...

MR. MEHLMAN:  And the middle class understands...

MR. SHRUM:  Oh, wait a minute.

MR. MEHLMAN:  ...when a liberal from Massachusetts like John Kerry says...

MR. SHRUM:  Oh, wait a minute.  I've been...

MR. MEHLMAN:  ..."I'm just going to soak the rich," they better grab their umbrella...

MR. SHRUM:  Ken, I was hoping you were going to say this.

MR. MEHLMAN:  ...because John Kerry has consistently hit us...

MR. SHRUM:  You got...

MR. MEHLMAN:  ...on the middle class, on gasoline, on families, on children.

MR. SHRUM:  OK.  Finish.  Finish.  Finish.  Finish.

MR. MEHLMAN:  You name it...

MR. SHRUM:  Finish.

MR. MEHLMAN:  If it moves, John Kerry has raised taxes on it.

MR. SHRUM:  Finish.  Finish.  Ken, yes, you just said he voted 98 times to raise taxes.

MR. MEHLMAN:  He did.

MR. SHRUM:  Yesterday President Bush said he voted 350 times to raise taxes. You guys make these numbers up.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Well--no.

MR. SHRUM:  Let me finish.  I let you finish.  You guys make these numbers up out of whole cloth.  The fact is that John Kerry is going to cut taxes on the middle class.  You know it.  You're not telling the truth about it because you want to scare people and he is going to roll back the Bush tax cut on people who make over $200,000 a year.  If just the top 1 percent, the tax cut they got--people who make over $1.2 million a year--had not happened, we could have made Social Security whole for 75 years.  Instead, you're going to knock a $2 trillion hole in it..

MR. MEHLMAN:  All right.

MR. SHRUM:  ...and you won't tell me how you're going to pay for it.

MR. MEHLMAN:  I want to answer that question.  I'd like to answer it.

MR. RUSSERT:  You take the response.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Absolutely.  In fact, John Kerry voted 350 times for higher taxes.

MR. SHRUM:  I thought it was 98.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Ninety-eight times he voted to raise taxes.  A hundred and twenty-six times he voted...

MR. SHRUM:  What's the difference between raising taxes and higher taxes?

MR. MEHLMAN:  It's very simple.  If I propose a tax cut and you vote against it...

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.

MR. MEHLMAN:'re not voting to raise taxes, you're voting against tax cuts.  But your number is right; 350 times...

MR. SHRUM:  You got...

MR. MEHLMAN:  ...John Kerry's voted against the American taxpayer.

MR. RUSSERT:  OK.  You know...

MR. MEHLMAN:  Ninety-eight...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...we know there are major differences on jobs, on health care, on Social Security, on taxes.  Neither of you have mentioned Iraq.  Do you believe Iraq will be a big issue?

MR. MEHLMAN:  Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you?

MR. SHRUM:  Oh, sure.

MR. MEHLMAN:  I think Iraq is a big issue.  I think his first point he made, who can keep Americans safe?--we agree on that.  And there's a huge difference on that question, too.  The fact is that George W. Bush believes you need to take the battle to the enemy.  He believes we need to deal with risk before it materializes, before it's too late.  He believes we need to strengthen our intelligence through the Patriot Act.  And what do you have with John Kerry? You have somebody who, for 20 years, has put forward policies that have made America weaker, who, back when Ronald Reagan was winning the Cold War, opposed the weapons systems...

MR. RUSSERT:  But what does staying the course in Iraq mean?

MR. SHRUM:  Oh, those were just speeches.  That's...

MR. MEHLMAN:  Staying the course in Iraq means we do what it takes in order to have victory.  It means we take the battle...

MR. RUSSERT:  And what is victory?

MR. MEHLMAN:  Victory means that an--Iraqi elections occur in January or early next year.  It means Iraqi sovereignty continues.  It means what's happening today, which is the troops--the Iraqi troops that Americans trained in Samarra and other places...

MR. SHRUM:  What's happening today?  What's happening today?

MR. MEHLMAN:  Continue taking the battle...

MR. SHRUM:  Four Americans were killed yesterday.  We have violence and insurgents in the Green Zone, which is supposed to be the safe area.  That's your definition of success?  The fact of the matter is the president forgot who attacked New York City.  It was Osama bin Laden.  He had him cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora.  Instead of using the 10th Mountain Division, instead of using American troops, he used Afghan warlords and we went to war against Iraq, which turned out to have no weapons of mass destruction.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Tim, you heard something here.  It's called a pre-9/11 worldview, the notion that America should just respond when we're attacked. But we think...

MR. SHRUM:  No, I said we should attack the guy who attacked us on 9/11.

MR. MEHLMAN:  But we think--and we did.

MR. SHRUM:  You know...

MR. MEHLMAN:  And we did and we destroyed three of his four leaders and Tommy Franks--and what you said is untrue.

MR. SHRUM:  They're in 60 countries and Donald Rumsfeld said they're recruiting more people every day.

MR. MEHLMAN:  The fact is, Tim, the fundamental question on September 11th that we believe we learned was not only do we need to respond and destroy al-Qaeda, which we're in the process of doing, but we need to look for the nexus between weapons of mass destruction, between regimes that support terrorism and between what is the future of Afghanistan?  The difference you just heard here--their approach to the war on terror is respond, our approach to the war on terror is prevent the next attack.

MR. SHRUM:  Well, the way to prevent the next attack is to get Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.  The 9-11 Commission, you, Dick Cheney and George Bush must be the only people in the world who either won't read it or won't understand it.  No connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.  The way to win the war on terror is to double the size of our special forces, which John Kerry has proposed, to go out and get the terrorists before they get us, to find them, to hunt them down and to kill them.

MR. MEHLMAN:  The 9-11 Commission report, the Butler report and the Senate Intelligence report all said there were connections between terrorist organizations and Saddam Hussein...

MR. SHRUM:  But wait a minute...

MR. MEHLMAN:  ...including al-Qaeda.  This is not about 9/11.  This is broader.

MR. SHRUM:  They didn't say there was any connection between 9/11, any connection between 9/11 and Saddam Hussein.  Any government document said that.

MR. MEHLMAN:  But they did not--so did we, and that's the point.  This is the pre-9/11 worldview.

MR. SHRUM:  That is how, actually, the president said that...

MR. MEHLMAN:  This is the pre-9/11 worldview.

MR. SHRUM:  The president said that...

MR. MEHLMAN:  It's all about responding...

MR. SHRUM:  The president said that...

MR. MEHLMAN: opposed to preventing.

MR. SHRUM:  The president said that...

MR. MEHLMAN:  You heard it...

MR. SHRUM: his speech to Congress...

MR. MEHLMAN:  You heard it from Kerry.

MR. SHRUM:  ...and the truth is America would be safer if we had gone and gotten Osama bin Laden.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me move to a subject, Mr. Mehlman, that you raised, and it's been--caused somewhat of a firestorm, certainly with the media, and that is John Kerry's comments in the debate when asked by moderator Bob Schieffer whether being gay was a matter of choice.  This is how Senator Kerry responded in part:

(Videotape, October 13, 2004):

SEN. KERRY:  We're all God's children, Bob, and I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was.  She's being who she was born as.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, The Washington Post and ABC talked to Americans all across the country.  Is homosexuality a choice?  Yes, 33; no, 57.  Was it appropriate for Senator Kerry to bring up Vice President Cheney's daughter?  Appropriate, 33; not appropriate, 64.  Should Senator Kerry apologize?

MR. SHRUM:  Absolutely not.  He was making a positive and constructive comment.  When John Edwards made the same comment in his debate with Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney turned to him and said, "Thank you for that."  I think what happened was the president did so badly in that debate--he lost all three debates--he can't talk about a whole set of these issues--that they launched a cheap and tawdry attack on John Kerry, in which they called him literally a bad man.  Now, this is a man who went and fought for his country.  This is a prosecutor who put people in jail for life.  This is a senator who put 100,000 cops on the street.  This is a senator who with John McCain went to Vietnam to find out the truth about our POWs, and he wants to do something about health care and jobs in this country.  He's not a bad man.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Mehlman, the vice president in August was asked at a town meeting by a voter this question:  "I would like to know, sir, from your heart--I don't want to know what your advisers say, or even what your top adviser thinks--but I need to know what do you think about homosexual marriages?"

And this is how the vice president responded.

(Videotape, August 24, 2004):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY:  With respect to the question of gay marriage, Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue that to our family's very familiar with.  We have two daughters and we have enormous pride in both of them. They're both fine young women.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  The vice president raised it and then, as Mr. Shrum said, October 5, John Edwards said, "Let me say I think the vice president and his wife love their daughter, I think they love her very much," and the vice president said.  "Let me simply thank the senator for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter.  I appreciate that very much."  If the vice president raised his daughter and he thanked Senator Edwards for talking about her, why all this outrage now?

MR. MEHLMAN:  Well, Tim, I think it's pretty simple and I think that, as you pointed out, most of the American people understand it, and that is, it's wrong to bring up the private life of a member of the vice president or president's family to make a political point.  It's that simple.

MR. SHRUM:  Well, but wait a minute.  Vice President Cheney brought up his daughter's private life.  When Senator Edwards brought it up--and by the way, she was a public figure because she was director of gay and lesbian affairs for the Coors Brewing Company.  When he brought it up, he said, "Thank you." So what's wrong with it--Senator Kerry obviously was trying to say something positive.  You guys got killed in three debates.  I walked into the spin room. Everybody thought you'd been killed.  You were looking for something to say.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Tim, I...

MR. SHRUM:  That's what happened here.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Tim, I think fundamentally it's pretty simple.  Again, you don't use the private lives of the member of the family for political purposes.

MR. SHRUM:  Then why did Dick Cheney--why did Dick Cheney mention his...

MR. MEHLMAN:  The campaign always talks about how they asked Bill Clinton for advice...

MR. SHRUM:  Why did Dick Cheney--why did...

MR. MEHLMAN:  One of the things the Clintons did very well, I thought, was keep a zone of protection around the family.  And I think most Americans believe that's the right thing to do.

MR. SHRUM:  Why did Dick Cheney--wait a minute.  Mary Cheney is an official of the Bush campaign.  Why did Dick Cheney mention his daughter's private life if it's inappropriate?

MR. MEHLMAN:  I think Dick Cheney was responding to a question.  I think it's very different than John Kerry doing it on national television.  And, Tim, here's the problem.  Remember the famous...

MR. SHRUM:  So if you're responding to a question--John Kerry was responding to a question.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Remember the famous Dean scream?  The famous Dean scream was seen as relevant because it was a window into something that people thought was bigger.  And I think what you saw when John Kerry--when he brought that inappropriate point up in the debate, it was part of a larger pattern here, a pattern of someone who is literally willing to say anything--anything--in order to win.  Look at the three things in the past week.  Someone who brought up for political purposes--John Edwards and John Kerry both brought up something they know not to be true, which is that this administration has cut off and put a ban on funding for stem cell research.  This administration is the first administration ever to fund it.  And John Edwards actually had the remarkable statement that if John Kerry is elected president, someone like Christopher Reeve could walk again, a statement that is certainly inappropriate.

MR. SHRUM:  Ask--wait a minute.  Ask...

MR. MEHLMAN:  Tim, there's one other point.  There's one other point, and that's the draft this past week.

MR. SHRUM:  He has to finish the prepared speech.

MR. MEHLMAN:  They know the draft isn't going to happen.  And so this past week, he brings up a member of the family for political purposes.

MR. SHRUM:  Yes.

MR. MEHLMAN:  He brings up a draft he knows is not true for political purposes.  And he raises false hope among people that are injured.

MR. RUSSERT:  All right.  All right.  He talked about the gay issue.  I want to do...

MR. SHRUM:  Can I--I want to go--Tim, I want one response on this.

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to do stem cells.

MR. SHRUM:  All right.  That's where I want to go.

MR. RUSSERT:  The battle over stem cells.  Here's Christopher Reeve on the cover of Newsweek.  John Edwards did say that if you elect John Kerry, people like Christopher Reeve will get out of their wheelchair and walk.

MR. SHRUM:  Well, they certainly will eventually, and there's no question about it.  The stem cell policy the president is following, people like Christopher Reeve, Michael Fox, medical researchers have all said is a policy that won't work.  It's using old lines of stem cells that are not pure. There's enormous possibility here.  The president's giving in to the right wing.  And what John Edwards said was absolutely and totally responsible.  You have a president here who in the last week has said John Kerry's unfit to be commander in chief.  John Kerry went and defended this country.  You have a president here-- I mean, this preposterous answer he just gave saying Dick Cheney was responding to a question when he talked about his daughter--John Kerry was responding to a question.

Let's talk about real issues.  Let's talk about stem cells.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about the draft?  What about the draft?  John Kerry said the draft may come back.

MR. SHRUM:  The draft--if you keep heading down--if you keep heading down this road, you have 90 percent of the Army as either--of our armed forces have either been in Iraq, are on their way to Iraq or going back to Iraq.  Now, that's a serious problem.  And if you keep going down this road of a unilateral foreign policy without allies, you're going to face the prospect of a draft.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. Mehlman, the Kerry campaign is now on the air with a commercial that says that George Bush, in effect, is responsible for the shortage of the flu vaccine because the United States was unprepared and, unlike Great Britain, did not find alternative sources for it.  What do you say?

MR. MEHLMAN:  It's totally outrageous, totally inaccurate.  The fact is this administration has massively increased funding for flu preparedness.  The reason that we have the situation we have today is very simple.  There are two manufacturers in the world that provide this flu vaccine.  Congress tried to act on it in 2003 with legislation called The Health Act that, among other things, reduced liability for flu vaccine manufacturers.  Why is that so important?  Because there's a very small profit if you're making flu vaccines and liability is a real issue.  What did John Kerry do?  Well, he missed the vote and came out against it.  There's another example where John Kerry, as he's done on so many issues, has taken the sides of wealthy trial lawyers, personal injury trial lawyers, as opposed to taking the sides of doctors and patients and public health.

MR. RUSSERT:  So John Kerry's responsible for the shortage?

MR. MEHLMAN:  I'm not saying John Kerry is responsible, but we have a systematic problem in this country when there are two manufacturers of this product...

MR. RUSSERT:  But could our government have been better prepared?  Why were the British better prepared?

MR. MEHLMAN:  Our government could be better prepared if there were more manufacturers, which is why this administration supported and why Congress tried to put forward legislation and why we're disappointed that John Kerry did not.

MR. SHRUM:  That's...

MR. RUSSERT:  Is it fair that you're blaming the president for the shortage of flu vaccine?

MR. SHRUM:  Well, first of all, they think lawsuits cause hurricanes.  It's their answer to everything that's a problem in America today.  And John Kerry and John Edwards have a plan to get rid of frivolous lawsuits.  In 2001, the General Accounting Office warned that there was a severe problem with flu, that we had to have more manufacturers.  The president's in charge of the public health service.  We should have moved to do that.  The fact of the matter is that right now when the president talks about an ownership society, he means that with flu shots, for example, you're on your own.  My dad's 91. He can't go stand in a line for four hours for a flu shot.  But you know what? People can go stand in line at the polling places this fall and they can get an administration that's actually going to care, not only about an issue like this, but about getting health care to all Americans instead of giving $139 billion windfall to the prescription drug companies.

MR. RUSSERT:  I showed a comment by Senator Kerry about Vice President's Cheney's daughter, which got him in some trouble with some parts of the electorate.  I want to show you President Bush when he was talking in the debate about Osama bin Laden.  Here was his response.

(Videotape, October 13):

PRES. BUSH:  Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden.  That's kind of one of those exaggerations.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  I want to take you back to March of 2002 when he was asked this question at a news conference.

(Videotape, March 2002)

PRES. BUSH:  So I don't know where he is, nor--you know, I just don't spend that much time on him, really, to be honest with you.  And I don't know where he is.  I'll repeat what I said, I truly am not that concerned about him.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  So he did say he was not concerned about him.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Well, I think what the president said and what the president's been clear since the beginning is the fact that we've gone after al-Qaeda, that we've destroyed three out of four of their top leaders, that we've hunted them down, that we've displaced the Taliban.  They're hiding in the mountains. And that we've gone after al-Qaeda has changed things, and so where Osama bin Laden is in the mountains, the president doesn't know but we know this, he's no longer in charge of the country, the country is holding elections and there's an international community that this president has led to go after Osama's troops and to go after terrorism across the board and that's the important thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  But there has been a change of emphasis from we're going to get him, we're going to hunt him down, alive and dead, he can run but he can't hide.  We don't hear that kind of rhetoric about Osama bin Laden anymore.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Well, that's because three out of four of Osama bin Laden's top commanders have been destroyed and have been captured and have been brought to justice.

MR. RUSSERT:  Tommy Franks, the general who ran the war in Afghanistan, Mr. Shrum, said John Kerry is dead wrong about saying that Osama got away because we had, "outsourced" to warlords, that what the United States should have been doing, that American special ops were there, fighting heroic battles and it's wrong to criticize him?

MR. SHRUM:  And we should have been using the 10th Mountain Division.  We should have been using American troops, not just special operations forces. General Shinseki and the whole set of former generals will tell you that. General Shinseki was retired 'cause he told the president he wasn't going into Iraq with enough troops.

But, look, Ken just did something they do all the time.  He didn't answer your question.  The president told a flat-out untruth in that debate.  He said he doesn't think about Osama bin Laden.  He obviously didn't think enough about him when he was in Tora Bora.  Then we turn around and we talk about how great things are in Afghanistan, which is now supplying about two-thirds of the world's heroin, where warlords have taken over whole sections of the country and the president keeps talking about the schools he's opened and the fact that women voted in Afghanistan.  Well, I think that's good, but I wish the president would care about education and women's rights in this country as much as he does in Afghanistan.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, 10 seconds, why should George Bush be re-elected?

MR. MEHLMAN:  He should be re-elected 'cause he'll help make sure that our country is stronger and safer and he'll make sure that there are more hope in this country with a stronger economy, with health care that you control, and he'll also make sure that you have a leader that, when he looks you in the eye and tells you something, you know he's telling you the truth.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why should John Kerry be elected?

MR. SHRUM:  Well, first, it would be hard to have a weaker economy.  John Kerry should be elected president of the United States because he's defended this country as a young man, he'll defend it as president and he'll fight for the middle class.

MR. RUSSERT:  Before we go, Mr. Mehlman, clear up this mystery that has been raging on the Internet.  This was the first debate, George Bush at the podium, the bulge in the back of the suit.  All right.  Come clean.  What is it?

MR. MEHLMAN:  The president, in fact, was receiving secret signals from aliens in outer space.  You heard it here on MEET THE PRESS.

MR. SHRUM:  You mean you sent Rove into orbit.

MR. RUSSERT:  It was not a bulletproof vest or magnets for his back or anything?

MR. MEHLMAN:  I'm not sure what it was, but the gentleman responsible for the tailoring of that suit is no longer working for this administration.

MR. SHRUM:  Well, wait a minute.  Now, the president only wears Oxford clothes.  I'll bet that tailor is still there.

MR. RUSSERT:  May we all be smiling this way on November 2.

Bob Shrum, thank you.

MR. SHRUM:  Thank you.

MR. MEHLMAN:  Thanks a lot.

MR. RUSSERT:  Thank you all.

Coming up next, our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series continues.  All eyes on the state of South Carolina.  Republican Jim DeMint vs. Democrat Inez Tenenbaum.  They debate right here on MEET THE PRESS.  The balance of the U.S. Senate may be decided today.


MR. RUSSERT:  Our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series continues with South Carolina, DeMint vs. Tenenbaum--control of the Senate may be in the balance--after this station break.


Announcer:  And now a special MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate.  Today:  South Carolina.

MR. RUSSERT:  There are currently 51 Republicans in the U.S. Senate.  A change of just two could alter control.  We have invited the candidates from the closest races across the country to debate live on MEET THE PRESS.  Today we welcome the candidates from South Carolina:  Republican Congressman Jim DeMint; Democratic South Carolina education superintendent, Inez Tenenbaum. Welcome both.

REP. JIM DeMINT:  Thank you, Tim.

MS. INEZ TENENBAUM:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ms. Tenenbaum, this is what you said about Iraq last year: "We're doing the right thing in Iraq.  ...I'm sick of the debate about whether we should be over there or not."  We shouldn't be having a debate about whether we should be in Iraq?

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, first of all, the paper corrected.  I never said I was sick about having the debate, but I've always stood firm and supported our troops.  We had justification for going into Iraq.  We needed to remove Saddam Hussein.  He had killed thousands of people.  He had had weapons of mass destruction that he used against the Kurds and the Iranians.  He'd invaded Kuwait.  He tried to assassinate a United States president.  We were justified in taking out Saddam Hussein.

MR. RUSSERT:  Even without finding weapons of mass destruction, you still think the war is justified?

MS. TENENBAUM:  I do believe, because we needed to remove Saddam Hussein, and now we need to move on and win this war.  And as a U.S. senator, I would work to get the resources to our troops to complete this war and bring our troops home safely.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you disagree with John Kerry that it's the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time?

MS. TENENBAUM:  I have to respectfully disagree with John Kerry on that point, but I agree with him that we need to get this war won now and put the resources in the country to secure peace and bring a lasting, safe government to Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  Just to clarify things, you will vote for John Kerry for president?

MS. TENENBAUM:  As a voter, I will vote for John Kerry.  As a senator in the United States Senate, I will vote for the people of South Carolina, regardless of who is president.

MR. RUSSERT:  Lee Bandy of a South Carolina paper has an article, "Tenenbaum steering clear of Democratic Party label."  If you are elected senator and you come here, you will organize with the Democratic Party.

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, as a Democrat, I would be a Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

MR. RUSSERT:  And you would vote for Tom Daschle for the leader.

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, I don't know if Tom Daschle's running for the leader.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if he ran, you'd vote for the Democrat.

MS. TENENBAUM:  I would vote for the Democratic leadership if I'm elected, and if the Democrats have control.  But you know, that's only one vote I'll cast.  I'll cast hundreds of other votes for South Carolinians, and those votes will be to create jobs in South Carolina, to find affordable health insurance for South Carolinians, and to continue to be a leader in education. So, yes, I'm a Democrat.  I've never tried to be anything else but a Democrat. But I also am an independent person who will put South Carolina first.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. DeMint, when President Bush was debating in 2000, he said that he would never go to war unless he had a clearly defined exit strategy. What is our exit strategy for Iraq?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, Tim, every night in South Carolina, over 2,300 families go to bed worried about their Guardsman, reservists, who are in Afghanistan or Iraq.  I've been to funerals of fallen soldiers.  I mean, it is a very serious issue to us, and I don't think the president or me would put our troops in harm's way without a real reason.  But Americans are freer than any other country because we've always been willing to fight for that freedom.

MR. RUSSERT:  But what is our exit strategy?

REP. DeMINT:  Our exit strategy is to help the Iraqi people set up a democratic government, a stable democratic government, and we can't leave until we make sure that they're free and that they have a stable government.

MR. RUSSERT:  If the Iraqis choose to have a fundamentalist Islamic regime, would that be acceptable?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, they need a democratic government and if they choose, whatever their leaders are, they're going to choose that, and I think the president supports them setting up the government that they want, but we just need to make sure it's a democratic, accountable government, and that they can defend themselves against terrorists.

MR. RUSSERT:  But if they vote for an Islamic republic like Iran, that's their vote, we would accept that?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, that's not a democracy if it's like Iran.  It needs to be an accountable government and they're going to have elections and they're going to have an accountable democratic government.

MR. RUSSERT:  So we would resist the will of the Iraqi people?

REP. DeMINT:  That--we wouldn't--no, if they get a chance to vote, Tim, they would not be voting to set up a regime like they have in Iran where they don't have a vote.

MR. RUSSERT:  You mentioned the South Carolina reservists.  This is articles all across the paper, "All of us refuse to go"; 19 members of the South Carolina-based 343rd, a quartermaster reservist unit, refused to go on a mission because they had ill-equipped trucks and no air cover.  What should happen to those men and women?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, that is under investigation, and we really don't know what the facts are there.  But it does bring out how important it is that we give the president the money to have the equipment, the resources, the body armor.  This is one example of what John Kerry did to vote against that in the Senate, and that's one of the reasons that we have to worry about my opponent's support of John Kerry, because that is exactly the problem we're having.

MR. RUSSERT:  So are you tolerating insubordination, near mutiny?

REP. DeMINT:  That needs to be investigated, Tim.  We don't really know what happened there, and we need to find out before we start making statements.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, they--no.  All of us of them refused to go.  They disobeyed a command.

REP. DeMINT:  We don't know the facts behind that, so I think I really need to wait and see what actually happened.

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you think?

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, I believe that our troops have to have the equipment they need to do the job that they are required to do, and in this case that is being investigated, but it goes back to the point that our reservists and our National Guard people from South Carolina don't have the equipment they need to be successful, according to this incident.  As a United States senator, I would support our troops, I have said that repeatedly.  I would make sure they have the resources to successfully do the job we're asking them to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Congressman DeMint, why did you vote against the creation of the September 11th Commission?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, I voted for the--I mean, the 9-11 Commission and last week we voted on a bill in the House that affirmed...

MR. RUSSERT:  No, no, you voted against the creation of the commission on July 20...

REP. DeMINT:  Well, when it was first brought up, we voted against it because they wanted to release the results right before the election.  It was totally political.  But I supported the commission, I supported the findings of the commission and last week we passed in the House our intelligence reorganization, which will make this country safer.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you did initially oppose it?

REP. DeMINT:  I opposed the date when it was going to be released.

MS. TENENBAUM:  He opposed the 9-11 Commission.  He originally voted against it, and now he's voted for the recommendation, so this sounds familiar.  I voted against it but later I voted for it, but he did vote against 9/11...

REP. DeMINT:  Tim, it...

MS. TENENBAUM:  ...and he's voted against port security for South Carolina.

REP. DeMINT:  It was a clearly political question.  They wanted to release the results right before the election to put George Bush at a disadvantage.

MR. RUSSERT:  But numerous Republicans voted for it on that day.

REP. DeMINT:  Well, it was clearly political and I was not going to put the president at a disadvantage.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me talk about one of the issues that has dominated the debate in your campaign.  Ms. Tenenbaum was on the air talking about a bill which you co-sponsored.

REP. DeMINT:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  Which would replace the Internal Revenue Service with a 23 percent federal sales tax.  Let's watch her commercial.


MS. TENENBAUM:  My opponent, Jim DeMint, has a big idea:  a new 23 percent federal sales tax on just about everything we buy, like milk, bread and groceries, clothing, new tires, going to the movies, even prescription drugs. But what we really ought to do is cut taxes on middle-class families.  If Jim DeMint gets his way, you're going to be extra busy.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What would you say to Ms. Tenenbaum about that ad?

REP. DeMINT:  She's built her whole campaign around this idea that I'm gonna raise taxes 23 percent.  Last week when The Augusta Chronicle endorsed me in this race, they called her campaign fundamentally dishonest.  Tim, I've been a businessman for many years.  I've dealt with the IRS.  I've worked with hundreds of companies that are having difficulty being competitive in this country because of this tax code.  My main goal in the Senate will be not only to cut taxes, but to get rid of the IRS, to get rid of this tax code and replace it with something that's fair and simple.  This tax code is the biggest job killer in this country.  And, Tim, since I've been in Congress, I have sponsored or co-sponsored 11 different tax reform ideas.  And I have not attached myself to just one of them.  So it's completely misleading to say, first of all, that I want to raise taxes.  There's only one person in this race, Tim, that's proposed a billion dollar sales tax increase in South Carolina, it's not me.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, hold on.  When you say, "I want to abolish the IRS," that sounds good and people say, "Oh, isn't that a great idea?"

REP. DeMINT:  Sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  But let me show you the analysis of a bill that you co-sponsored.  You co-sponsored HR 25.  This is what Jonathan Weisman wrote in The Washington Post:  "Under [a national sales tax], those just above the poverty line likely would see a substantial tax increase.  That might not go over well in South Carolina, where nearly a third of the population lives on incomes twice the poverty level or less."  And he goes on, "DeMint has lamented what he calls `an eleventh-hour crisis in our democracy'-- that many of the beneficiaries of federal social welfare largesse pay little or no federal income taxes."

When you talk about federal social welfare largesse, you're talking about Social Security, Medicare.  The fact is there are 500,000 taxpayers in South Carolina who do not pay federal income tax because they don't make enough money.  That's one out of four South Carolinians.  And if you take away the income tax and replace it with a 23 percent sales tax, they will pay that sales tax on everything.  When George Bush was asked about a national sales tax a couple of weeks ago, he said it would hurt the middle class.  That's an idea that you co-sponsored.

REP. DeMINT:  I would not support any bill that raised the taxes on any American, and I never have, over 50 times I've voted.

MR. RUSSERT:  But what would do you?

REP. DeMINT:  And it depends on how you shape that sales tax plan.  There are several different sales taxes.  I've co-sponsored flat income taxes.  Tim, right now the poor actually pay a disproportionate share of their income.  The most regressive tax we have is payroll, over 12 percent of what they earn, and most of what they pay in taxes is hidden in the cost of the problem.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will you have a refundable aspect for the poor?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, I'm glad you asked that, Tim, because if just had a straight sales tax, it will hurt people.

MR. RUSSERT:  But then you're not abolishing the IRS.  You need a bureaucracy in order to oversee and manage the refundability.

REP. DeMINT:  No, the estimates on these various sales tax plans would reduce the cost of enforcing a tax about 95 percent.  We could reduce the cost of taxes on every American.  And, Tim, I just want to make it clear, I wouldn't vote for any plan that came out of the House that raised taxes on lower income.

MR. RUSSERT:  The personal income tax is a progressive tax, the more you make, the higher the tax you pay.  A sales tax is across the board.  It hits everybody.

REP. DeMINT:  Not with refunds.  And you look at the different plans.  They all have exceptions or refunds to hold the poor harmless, and I would not vote for any sales tax plan that raised taxes on the poor or middle class or anyone.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ms. Tenenbaum, in fact, in your commercial, you say he's going to raise taxes, but he is eliminating the payroll tax, the personal income tax.  He's eliminating a lot of taxes.  How are you so sure it would mean a tax increase?

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, HR 25, which Jim co-sponsored, will eliminate income tax, corporate tax, estate tax and payroll taxes.  And he would put in place a 23 percent national sales tax.  People would have to pay 23 percent on virtually everything they buy--clothing, food, prescription drugs, new cars, new houses, trips to the doctor, college room and board, tax on gasoline, on movie tickets, and the list is quite exhaustive.  Now, what Jim says is that he will give everyone a rebate and you really won't have to pay more taxes. But economists who've looked at this have said he will raise taxes on 95 percent of the people in South Carolina.  And not only will he raise taxes on individuals through this plan, he also will require under this bill state, local and federal governments to pay a 23 percent tax on everything the governments buy.  So you'd have local and state taxes going up to pay for purchases.  And it also puts a 23 percent sales tax on the proceeds that go into our lottery.  Right now our lottery pays for college scholarships as well as other educational funds.  And that's a 23 percent sales tax on that.

MR. RUSSERT:  You did propose in 2003 a 2-cent increase on the sales tax to help with education costs.

MS. TENENBAUM:  At the time, we were in the General Assembly trying to get the state budget through.  The senators in South Carolina were looking at laying off teachers, doing away with summer school, doing away with our program to reduce class size, and one of the proposals was a temporary sales tax so that we could have the funds for education.  It was a temporary idea.  It didn't pass.  But at the same time, Jim proposed the highest property taxes in Greenville County's history to help the schools in Greenville County.  So we both have gone on record as saying that schools need more resources.

MR. RUSSERT:  I showed Ms. Tenenbaum's ad about you, Mr. DeMint.  Let me show you an ad you're running about Inez Tenenbaum's performance as the superintendent of education in South Carolina.


REP. DeMINT:  I'm Jim DeMint and I approved this message.

Announcer:  Under Inez Tenenbaum, graduation rates fell from 45th to 50th, SAT scores dead last.  Half our ninth-graders won't finish high school.  While education spending increased 40 percent, Tenenbaum spent $675,000 for catered meals, $4 million for travel, exorbitant salary increases for bureaucrats and she still wanted a billion more in new taxes.  Inez Tenenbaum, not what we need.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  What do you say to Mr. DeMint about that?

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, I'm glad you brought that up so I can address this. First of all, South Carolina has had a history of the last six years of improving education.  Our state scores have gone up dramatically.  We are now scoring at the national and international average on standardized tests. We've been ranked number one in the country by national researchers in what we've done to improve teacher quality.  Our SAT scores are the highest improved in the entire country two years in a row.  So we have made tremendous progress.

MR. RUSSERT:  But they did go down last year.

MS. TENENBAUM:  Last year--I've been state superintendent six years, and they went up for five years in a row, sometimes dramatically 12 and 8 points in one year, and then they went down for one year and you're going to see dips, and I predict next year they'll go back up.  That's what you do when you come into a system that needs improvement.  I've embraced accountability.  I've embraced No Child Left Behind.  I've kept our standards high, even though we have so many children in South Carolina who live in poverty and they need the extra help to make them ready for the first grade and keep them on track.

Now, another thing is in this ad Jim says I've spent money on catering and traveling.  You know what that is?  When we decided to raise standards for our students, we needed to train all of our teachers.  We brought teachers in from all over South Carolina and I didn't think it was fair for them to pay their own gas mileage, and also I didn't think it was fair not to give them something to eat when they were in training, so we gave them box lunches, and that is what Jim DeMint is attacking me on, catering and travel when it's boxed lunches and gasoline mileage for our teachers.

MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. DeMint, several people in the education world have said that you're disparaging the students, that here they are working hard, improving their scores and you're suggesting that they're not measuring up to national standards.

REP. DeMINT:  Tim, I have four children and I hope to have many grandchildren that can grow up in South Carolina and get the best education in the world and find the best jobs in the world, but the facts are clear.  We are at the bottom on SAT scores.  We have fallen to the worst graduation rate and we tell- -you know, she's telling ninth-grade students that they have a 50-50 chance of getting a high-school diploma in 50 years.  That's what colleges look at, that's what universities look at.  Employers telling me they're having trouble bringing people to South Carolina to work because they look at where our schools are.  The difference in this race, Tim, is that I'm willing to address problems with real ideas.  She's using her fuzzy math to try to make something look good that is our biggest problem in South Carolina today.

MS. TENENBAUM:  I'll have to disagree with this.  First of all, the fact that--it's not correct that only 50 percent of our students graduate from high school.  The number is much higher.  There are many ways to calculate high-school graduation rates and he seized on the one study that shows that, that one study that it might be 51 percent who graduate on time.  It doesn't calculate those that graduate with a GED or adult education.  And, you know, Jim keeps harping on education to try to attack me when really he is attacking our students and our teachers and our parents who work so hard to produce the wonderful results in the last few years that we've accomplished in education. It really is so unfair for him to attack educators in that way.

MR. RUSSERT:  In a previous debate, Mr. DeMint, you were asked a question, and this was your answer about teaching in South Carolina.

(Videotape, S. Carolina Educational TV Debate, October 3, 2004):

REP. DeMINT:  If a person is a practicing homosexual, they should not be teaching in our schools.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Why not?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, I apologize for that remark, because I really regret distracting from the main issues of this debate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, do you apologize because it's a distraction or do you apologize for what you said?

REP. DeMINT:  No, I apologize for distracting from the real issues of this debate.  This is...

MR. RUSSERT:  So do you--wait, but let's clarify.  Do you believe that gays should be able to teach in the public schools of South Carolina?

REP. DeMINT:  I believe that's a local school board issue and the voters of South Carolina want me to talk about how they're going to be safer, how they're going to have better jobs, how I'm going to save Social Security.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you said they shouldn't be.  And the Republican Party in South Carolina's platform...

REP. DeMINT:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...said they should not.  Do you believe that gays should be able to teach in the public schools?

REP. DeMINT:  I believe that's a local school board issue.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, two issues that you may have to vote on.  Do you believe that gay people should be able to adopt children?

REP. DeMINT:  Adoption is one of the issues I've pushed for in the Congress and anything else.  In fact, I was inducted into the National Adoption Hall of Fame for my work on adoption.  The states regulate adoption and they need to make decisions about who's going to adopt, but I'm going to continue to promote families through adoption.

MR. RUSSERT:  But do you think gays should be able to adopt?

REP. DeMINT:  I believe children should grow up in a family with a father and a mother.  But I think the state should decide who are going to be those families.

MR. RUSSERT:  Should gays have federal benefits, gay couples?

REP. DeMINT:  I think everyone should be treated equally.  What people do in their private lives is their private life and I don't think any--I've been an employer for years.  I've never asked questions about sexuality and I don't plan to start now.

MR. RUSSERT:  You also, when asked about your comments about gay teachers, said this:  "I would have given the same answer when asked if a single woman, who was pregnant and living with her boyfriend, should be hired to teach my third-grade children."  Do you also still believe that, that a single mom should not be a teacher in South Carolina schools?

REP. DeMINT:  I believe that's a local school board issue.  And, Tim, I was answering as a dad who's put lots of children in the hands of teachers and I answered with my heart.  And I should just say, again, I apologize that distracted from the real debate.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you apologize for distracting but are you apologizing to gay teachers or to single mom teachers?

REP. DeMINT:  No.  I'm apologizing for talking about a local school board issue when the voters want us to talk about how we're going to make them safer, win the war on terror, how we're going to create jobs, how we're going to fix our health-care system.  And these are things I've worked on in the Congress and that's what I plan to do in the Senate.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you think that non-citizens should be teaching in South Carolina schools?

REP. DeMINT:  I think that's up to our state superintendent.  I know that we brought in thousands of teachers from other countries.  That's a decision my opponent has made, and I think that should be a state decision who's teaching in the schools.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you're making judgments about gay people or about single moms and, in effect, disqualifying them.  Are you certain that you never had a gay teacher?

REP. DeMINT:  Listen, I have my personal beliefs, Tim, but I honestly believe that the teachers should be hired by local school districts.  They should be making the decisions on who should be in the classroom.

MR. RUSSERT:  But don't the voters have a right to know about whether or not you still stand by comments you made in the campaign?  Do you stand by your comments?

REP. DeMINT:  I apologized for answering a local school board question.

MR. RUSSERT:  No, you're apologizing for the distraction, but it's a simple question.  Do you believe that gays should be able to teach in South Carolina schools?

REP. DeMINT:  Well, Tim...

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that single moms should be able to teach?

REP. DeMINT:  It's a very simple answer.  I think the local school board should make that issue, not Senate can--I mean, make that decision.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you didn't think that a month ago when you answered the question.

REP. DeMINT:  And I apologize for that, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  For answering the question?

REP. DeMINT:  Yeah, for distracting from the real thing.

MR. RUSSERT:  But not for the substance of your comments.

REP. DeMINT:  Tim, who hires teachers should be decided by local school boards.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ms. Tenenbaum, you have been talking about abortion as an issue.  The Forward newspaper had this from May 7, 2004:  "`Personally pro-choice,' -- she did legal work for the pro-choice movement -- Tenenbaum said she would have voted for the recently passed Senate ban on so-called partial-birth abortion, although she added `there has to be a procedure to protect the life and health of the mother.'"  The ban that was passed by the Senate did not protect the health of the mother.  You would not have voted for that?

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, now, it's a moot point because courts have found it unconstitutional.  It would--for it to have received my vote, I would have had to have it--a situation where we would ban a partial-birth abortion but you have to have an exception, if the mother's life is severely threatened.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you said you would have voted for the recently Senate-passed ban.  The fact is you would not have voted for the Senate ban, you would not have voted for the bill signed by the president?

MS. TENENBAUM:  If it did not have those exceptions.  And it did not and the courts have found it unconstitutional.

MR. RUSSERT:  So you would not have voted for it?

MS. TENENBAUM:  No, if it did not have those exceptions.

MR. RUSSERT:  What about a bill with parental notification, that a child under 18 years old would seek his parent's permission and certainly notification for an abortion, or a judicial bypass, if it was an abusive situation?

MS. TENENBAUM:  Well, South Carolina has a law that requires parental notification.  Also our law has a judicial bypass for young women who can't get the approval of their parents because they might be victims of...

MR. RUSSERT:  And you support that law.


MR. RUSSERT:  Mr. DeMint, you said you would ban all abortions.  Would you ban all abortions without any exceptions, for rape or incest, just ban all abortion, period?

REP. DeMINT:  Tim, I've had four kids, as I mentioned before, and I think it's wrong for a country to call an unborn child a baby when we want it and a fetus when we don't.  Where the debate needs to be right now, a lot of these exceptions and what-ifs are just distractions.  We need to decide, are we going to protect human life?  And the first vote, the first debate we need to have is are we going to protect human life?  Is that a person or is it property?  And so, you know, we can get into all the distractions we want. I'm against abortion.  I believe it takes a human life, and I think our laws need to protect human...

MR. RUSSERT:  You would ban all abortion, period.  If that was the law, who would you prosecute, the woman, the doctor, the father, who?

REP. DeMINT:  We've got to make laws first that protect life.  How those laws are shaped are going to be a long debate.

MR. RUSSERT:  But any law that banned abortion would have to have in it...

REP. DeMINT:  Yeah.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...the criminal sanctions that would apply.

REP. DeMINT:  It would have, and we have to decide that, Tim.  What we have to--Tim...

MR. RUSSERT:  What is your view as a legislator?

REP. DeMINT:  My view...

MR. RUSSERT:  Who would you prosecute?

REP. DeMINT:  My view is that unborn children are human life.  They deserve the protection of law.  And just like the president said, there's no longer a question of when life begins, it's just a question of when love begins.  We can have all the debate that you're talking about once we decide it's human life, but the debate is do we have property or do we have a person?

MR. RUSSERT:  I accept that, and respect your views, but if you have a law which says all abortions should be banned, period, who should be prosecuted if they perform an abortion, the woman, the doctor, who?

REP. DeMINT:  I think the lawmakers at the state level...

MR. RUSSERT:  You want to be a lawmaker.

REP. DeMINT:  I do want to be.  But we need to...

MR. RUSSERT:  You want to be a United States senator.  What is your view?

REP. DeMINT:  My view is we should protect all human life and that our laws should be set up to protect that life.

MR. RUSSERT:  But who would be prosecuted?

REP. DeMINT:  We'll just have to decide that.  I mean...

MR. RUSSERT:  What is your view?

REP. DeMINT:  You know, I can't come up with all the laws as we're sitting right here, but the question is are we going to protect human life with our laws?

MR. RUSSERT:  Ms. Tenenbaum, do you believe life begins at conception?

MS. TENENBAUM:  I believe that a woman and her family and her physician should decide whether or not to exercise the freedom of choice.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you believe life begins at conception.

MS. TENENBAUM:  It depends on were you talking ensoulment?  Are you talking about physical life?  I believe that a woman should decide whether or not to have an abortion with her family and her physician.  I can't answer that scientifically when life begins.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you understand if people like Mr. DeMint believe life begins at conception, they therefore conclude that an abortion is the taking of a life?

MS. TENENBAUM:  I do understand that and I disagree vehemently with him on this.  He has stated that he would outlaw abortion in cases of rape and incest, for any reason, and he and I are 180 degrees different.  I believe that a woman should have a constitutional right to have a safe and legal abortion, and I also would have supported a ban on partial-birth abortion, had it contained an exception for the life and the health of the mother.  And you know, we really need to focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies, and that is where our debate should be and getting the resources to the states to help women do that.

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

MS. TENENBAUM:  I want to be a senator because I want to work to help develop jobs in South Carolina, continue to be a leader in education, and also help to find affordable health insurance for our citizens of our state.

MR. RUSSERT:  She had the first word, you get the last word.

REP. DeMINT:  I'm willing to confront problems with real solutions.  That's the real difference here.  You can be a critic, you can complain, or you can lead with real ideas and make a difference to secure the future.

MR. RUSSERT:  Jim DeMint, Inez Tenenbaum, we'll be watching your race very closely.

MS. TENENBAUM:  Thank you, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  And we'll be right back.


MR. RUSSERT:  That's all for today.  We'll be back next week with Sunday's MEET THE PRESS.  Go, Bills.  Squish the fish.  Happy birthday to Bills owner Ralph Wilson.