LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone. Welcome to this two-hour presidential candidates debate organized by the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum.
This is the fifth debate organized by the forum since it was founded in 1984, and we’re honored to bring it to you again in the 2004 election campaign.
MARIA CELESTE ARRARAS, TELEMUNDO ANCHOR: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)
I’m sure that Lester didn’t get much of that. I’m going to have to translate, aren’t I?
HOLT: Are you kidding? She took the words right out of my mouth.
ARRARAS: Well, OK, I’ll go for it.
Eight of the nine candidates competing for the Democratic Party are here. It is the last time they will debate before the voters in this state attend the caucuses and pick one of them as Iowa’s choice for Democratic nominee.
Let me introduce them to you now, and please withhold your applause until the end.
First, Representative Richard Gephardt; Governor Howard Dean; Senator Joe Lieberman; Reverend Al Sharpton; Representative Dennis Kucinich; Senator John Edwards; Senator John Kerry; and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun.
I would like to point out that General Wesley Clark did not accept an invitation to participate in this debate.
HOLT: Now a few words about our format tonight, agreed to by all the candidates.
The position of the candidates on the stage was decided in a random draw. The candidates will have 60 seconds to answer questions and 30 seconds for a rebuttal or follow-up at the moderator’s discretion.
Also, each of the candidates will be invited to ask one question of a fellow candidate on any subject at some point during the debate.
ARRARAS: And during the debate, we will also take questions from a group of distinguished African-American and Latino leaders brought together by the organizers of tonight’s debate, who we would like to acknowledge, the co-chairs of the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum, Mary Campos and Wayne Ford.
Now my colleague Lester Holt will begin the questioning.
HOLT: All right. Maria Celeste, thanks very much.
And I’d like to begin the debate by posing a question to you, Governor Dean. There has been a lot of controversy here in Iowa, as you know, on your views regarding the caucus system.
As reported by NBC News, you once said caucuses are dominated by special interests who represent the extremes and the caucus system. And, if I can quote, “You get a president who is beholden to either one extreme or the other.”
You’ve spent a lot of money trying to win under the caucus system. If you succeed, do you believe you’ll be beholden to extremists within your party?
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. That was something that was said four years ago, and I, frankly, think that people are a little tired of having debates about who said what four years ago or who said what six years ago or eight years ago or 10 years ago.
I’ve more or less lived in Iowa for two years. I’ve been to all 99 counties. Candidates like me couldn’t win without Iowa or New Hampshire, because it’s the only place that someone without a lot of money but with a good message can look people in the eye and they can evaluate you and decide what kind of president you want to be.
And I’m looking forward to the caucus vote, as hard as I’ve worked, on January 19th. And I hope Iowans will support me when that time comes.
HOLT: In the same that line of questioning, Representative Gephardt, let me turn to you. Are there pitfalls in the caucus system, and if so, could you tell us what they are?
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is a wonderful place to start this process. This is my second tour of duty in Iowa, and I think the Iowans are the best-equipped people that you could find to decide which one of us should be the eventual nominee.
I trust their judgment. I trust their values. They personally evaluate all of us. They see us many times. And it’s one of the two places in the country where that kind of personal evaluation can go on.
So I think Iowans are well equipped to do this, and I think they’re going to make a good choice on January 19th.
HOLT: All right. Let me address my next question, if I can, to Senator Edwards.
The Des Moines Register has chosen to endorse you over your rivals in the Iowa caucuses because, among other reasons, the Register says you conducted a positive campaign.
No matter who wins the nomination, do you think your party would have been better served against President Bush in November if the nominating contest had now been not so negative?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don’t think — here’s what I believe. I think, first of all, let me say a word about the question you just asked Dick and Howard.
You know, I have been to all 99 counties here in the state of Iowa. I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve become a better candidate. I will make a better president because of the time I’ve spent here.
I’ve been in people’s homes. I’ve been on Main Streets. I’ve been in cafes. And I’ve heard what they have to say.
One of the things that I have learned is the people of Iowa are very blunt and very direct.
I mean, you can’t go through this process with knowing what questions you need to answer.
And as to the negative versus positive, here’s what I believe. I actually believe part of what was said just a minute ago. I think people are looking for something bigger in a presidential campaign. They’re looking for somebody who can make the America people proud to be Americans again, believe in what’s possible. Not cynicism, not negative, but what’s possible in America. And that’s what I’ve heard from the people of Iowa over and over and over.
We are past all this preliminary stuff. It’s time to choose a president.
HOLT: All right. Let me address my next question, if I can, to Senator Kerry. The United States just ended it’s fifth orange terror alert since the homeland security alert system was put into place.
During that time, several international flights, as you know, sir, were canceled. The United States said they had pretty specific information regarding flights and dates. No plots were uncovered, as you know; no arrests were made.
Do you support the government’s threat warning system? Would you maintain it as president?
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I would change it.
I think a lot of Americans are desperately trying to figure out what the codes mean, what the colors mean. Most Americans don’t even know the colors.
Last time they issued the alert, I think everybody thought they ought to start looking around for somebody suspicious or somebody that they rarely find, like a compassionate conservative.
And, you know, they’re kind of struggling to figure out what it means. I think Americans deserve something better.
This president is actually playing to the culture of fear in our country. The war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement operation.
And in order to fight an effective war on terror, we need unprecedented cooperation with other countries. The very thing this administration is the worst at is they push other nations away from us.
I will go back to the United Nations; I will re-enter the community of nations. I will lead America to those relationships that strengthen our ability to fight a real war on terror, so we don’t need these color schemes that wind up costing communities money they can’t afford.
HOLT: Your time is exhausted, Senator. Thank you.
Let me address the same question to Ambassador Moseley Braun. Regarding the color-coded warning system, would you keep it or would you do something different as president?
CAROL MOSELEY BRAUN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. Duct tape, plastic sheeting and orange, red, yellow and blue color codes are no substitute for diplomacy and for engaging our country in a global fight, a real fight against terrorism.
I think Senator Kerry is exactly right. This administration has pandered to fear. And the color-coded system is just part and parcel of that.
I think we’d be much better served to have the support for first responders, police and fire, our hospital systems, to protect our infrastructure, to give people a sense of security.
Because that’s what the American people want. They want to feel safe at home. And to the extent that there is a national concern about terrorists in our midst, we ought to turn toward the American people and not against them.
HOLT: All right, let me turn to Senator Lieberman. Do you have a response to that, a 30-second response?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do. Look, my gripe is not with the color-coded system. Maybe somebody could figure out a better way to do it. The fact is that there is something to fear, and the something to fear is that there are people out there like those who attacked us on September 11th who hate us more than they love life.
What I’m concerned about is what’s behind the Bush administration color-coded system. They have still not reformed our intelligence system as they should have. They have still not coordinated watch lists.
They have still not — when John McCain and I put in the commission to investigate how did September 11th happen so we could make sure to the best of our ability it would never happen again, the Bush administration blocked it for almost a year. And they’ve slow- walked that commission in giving them the information they need to answer the questions that we raised.
So, I’m the only one on this stage who drafted the original homeland security bill. I’ve been fighting to get the administration to implement it. We have something to fear, but if we pull together with tough leadership, we can give the American people a sense of confidence about their security.
HOLT: Senator, thank you.
Let me address the next question to Representative Kucinich.
President Bush this week is expected to announce a rather ambitious set of goals for the U.S. space program: a return to the moon, eventually a trip to Mars.
What priority would you give to the space program under your presidency?
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, first of all, I’ve been wondering why the president would, while we’re still in Iraq, talk about gong to the moon and going to Mars. Maybe he’s looking for the weapons of mass destruction still.
And so, I think that thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And I think that our work has to be done here on earth. But we also must keep in mind that there’s tremendous spin-off technology.
I have the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Glenn Research Center in my district. And they create a great number of jobs and spin-off technologies and propulsion and environmental technologies, in medicine and communications, in metallurgy. And this is where the jobs of the future will be.
But we need a president who’s going to do first things first.
First, cancel the tax cuts to the rich.
Second, get out of Iraq — United Nations peacekeepers in, our troops home.
Third, cut the bloated Pentagon budget.
Fourth, no weapons in space. I mean, think about it. The administration wants to put weapons in space and they want to go Mars. I don’t think…
HOLT: Your time has expired. Thank you.
HOLT: But I want to address that same question, if I can, Representative Gephardt, with the president’s space vision in mind, what would your priorities be, in terms of space exploration?
GEPHARDT: Well, I think we’ve got a program now with the space station, and I think we ought to see it through before we go on to something else.
And, you know, we’ve got a big deficit. We’ve got a $450 billion deficit this year. When I led the fight for the Clinton economic program in 1993, we had these kind of big deficits.
Our first attention was paid to the economy and getting jobs back in this country. And that’s what we ought to be doing now.
As I travel Iowa, people talk to me about jobs that have been lost to other countries. They talk to me about health care that’s been lost. They talk to me about the education problems we’ve got out here.
So rather than going off on some diversionary mission that may not even fit into our space program, we need to pay attention to what’s going on here. We need to get rid of this president and bring in a Democratic president who will pay attention to the priorities of the middle class, the people of the United States here at home, not on Mars.
HOLT: All right, Representative Gephardt, thank you very much.
I want to turn corners a bit now. Iowa caucus voters, as you all know, will be casting their votes on the national holiday honoring the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So let’s turn now to the questions of race in America.
And my question is to you, Reverend Sharpton. Neither major party has ever nominated an African-American candidate for president. Your campaign is struggling in dollars. Ambassador Moseley Braun’s campaign is in debt.
Do you think race has in any way hindered your campaign?
REV. AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I’m glad you got to me. I was wondering in the Black…
I was wondering in the Black and Brown forum were we allowed to talk tonight.
I think that race is still a factor in this country and a factor in this party. But I do think that we’ve made tremendous progress. And we only will continue in that progress if we pursue out of the box, out of what is normal.
And I’ve seen and felt around this country a response that even surprised me, in Iowa and other places, where people said that we would not be heard. We have been heard.
And I think that, yes, I’m the first one to say that we still have racism in this country. But I’m also to say that there are a lot of people that will meet you halfway if you reach out.
I think this present president has tried to exploit racial fears with cold words and cold terms. And I think some in our party has succumbed to that. We must confront that, and we must think that we cannot eradicate race by avoiding it.
HOLT: Reverend Sharpton…
SHARPTON: We must deal with it head on.
HOLT: … your time is up. But let me turn…
SHARPTON: Well, it took so long to get to me.
HOLT: Let me turn to Governor Dean on the issue of race. What is the biggest challenge, in your view, that’s facing America’s minority communities right now?
DEAN: I think the biggest challenge is to help white audiences understand the plight of minority populations when it comes to race. There was a Wall Street Journal study that showed that if you are white with a drug conviction you have a better chance of being called back for a second job interview than if you’re African-American or Latino with a clean record.
As long as that happens, we have to talk to the folks in this country who do the hiring, because there are unconscious biases — we tend to hire people like ourselves. That’s how institutional racism develops. We can do better than this, but it requires political leaders to talk not just to African-American and Latino audiences, but to white audiences about the role of race in America and what we can do about it, not just in terms of civil rights but in terms of overcoming the unconscious bias that every since American has toward hiring people that are like themselves.
HOLT: And, Governor Dean, I would like to follow up with another question on the issue of race to you. Speaking to the Democratic National Committee almost a year ago you said, quote, “White folks in the South who drive pick-up trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us.”
My question to you: What common cause do you and your party share with someone who proudly displays the Confederate flag? And in your opinion, is the Confederate flag an acceptable symbol of anything to an American?
DEAN: Well, there are about three questions there. The most important is the first one you asked.
Let me just say, the Confederate flag is a painful symbol to African-Americans in this country because of what it represented. But what we have in common with people who drive pick-up trucks and so- called “NASCAR dads” is that everybody needs a job.
The Republicans divide us by race. They’ve done so since 1968 and Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy.
When we campaign, we’ve got to talk — they say race in the South or anyplace else in America, we’ve got to say jobs, because everybody needs a job, doesn’t matter what color they are or where they come from.
When they talk about divisive issues, we need to talk about education, because everybody’s child needs a good education, doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from.
We need to talk about health insurance, because there are 102,000 kids with no health insurance in South Carolina; half of them are white, half of them are black.
These issues concern every single American, and we need to run on our agenda as Democrats, not their divisive agenda. We need, instead of arguing about the things that they use to divide us, we need to talk about the things that everybody needs: jobs, education and health care.
HOLT: I think Reverend Sharpton, you’d…
… like to weigh in. A 30-second response, Reverend Sharpton.
SHARPTON: I think that — I agree that we must seek common ground, but in order to get there we must be realistic.
SHARPTON: The problem is not just class. There is also a problem of race. Blacks in South Carolina are double unemployed to whites. We can’t use a class formula to go around that issue.
Secondly, just having conversations with whites without real legislation, without real executive action is to trivialize our problems. We don’t need people talking to whites. We need people to do something about racism and about discrimination. Don’t reduce this to a coffee shop conversation.
We need action. And a president leads, like Lyndon Johnson did. They just don’t have a conversation.
HOLT: Senator Edwards, you’d like to weigh in with a 30-second response?
EDWARDS: I would. I’d say several things.
Number one, the Confederate flag is not just a symbol of hatred and decisive symbol to African-Americans. It’s exactly the same thing — it should be the same thing to all Americans.
And I was about to say before Reverend Sharpton said it, this is not just about talk; this is about doing something. I grew up with this. I’ve lived with it my entire life.
The things I have seen growing up — segregation, discrimination — are a part of everything I am today. This is not conversation; this is about creating real equality.
We still live in two Americas, and we should be willing to tell the American people that. We have two economies. We have two tax systems. We have two public school systems — one for those who live in affluent communities and one for those who don’t.
Until we have economic equality in America, educational equality in America, we’re never going to be able to do things we need to do for African-Americans.
HOLT: Your time is up, Senator.
Ambassador Moseley Braun, your arms are folded. I sense you want to respond. Thirty seconds.
MOSELEY BRAUN: The response is, I’ve done things about this. I took on Jesse Helms on the Confederate flag and paid the price for the six years thereafter. I sued my own party in the state of Illinois over reapportionment for African-American and Hispanic voters. Happily, I’ve survived that one.
I have fought for 25 years in the legislative venue, passing legislation that provides for economic opportunity to help bring us together.
We have to have an honest conversation about race in this country. I think Howard’s right on that point. We have to have an honest conversation, because without that conversation we will never get to the point where we can pass the laws, where we can have the orders, where we can do the work that’s necessary to bring us together as one American family.
HOLT: Senator Kerry, does any candidate on this stage have the moral high ground on the issue of race relations in this country?
KERRY: I think everybody — I’m proud to say every person here believes very deeply that we have an obligation that’s unfulfilled in this country. Joe and I became involved in that a long time ago in the Mississippi voter registration drive.
But here is where we are talking around it. The problem is not just of black and brown. It’s one of poor people. It’s one of power in America. The powerful, the friends of George Bush, the people who did the Medicare bill, the people who did the energy bill with $50 billion worth of oil and gas subsidies, have tilted the playing field against everybody.
And the new common cause in America is for us to go out to the Latino community, the African-American community, the poor white community, to the disenfranchised people of America who are working harder all across the board and getting less for it while the boardroom folks walk away with the prize.
HOLT: Senator, your time has expired…
KERRY: And we need to make the workplace in America fair again.
HOLT: … question, thank you.
KERRY: That’s the key.
HOLT: As you know, as part of tonight’s debate, we ask each of you to prepare a single question to ask of another candidate, and we’re going to start off right now with a few of those questions.
Senator Lieberman, this is your opportunity to ask a question of one of your opponents.
LIEBERMAN: Lester, if I might, I’m going to ask all of them the same question. It’s going to take a one-word answer.
So I want to take a moment before I ask the question simply to say that the question of racism in America that you addressed is very much on the ballot this November.
And the reality is that a president shows his priorities by where he puts his money.
This president has put hundreds of billions of dollars in the pockets of the wealthiest Americans who don’t need it. And as a result, he hasn’t had the money to invest in our health care system and our education system, which are unequal.
HOLT: And Senator, your question is to whom?
LIEBERMAN: My question is to everybody about another form of inequality.
As John said in 1963, I went to Mississippi to fight for the right of African-Americans to vote. A few years later, the Voting Rights Act was adopted. In 2000, I never would have guessed that I would experience what I and so many others did in the state of Florida where Haitian-Americans, African-Americans, senior Americans were refused the right to vote.
Now for the first time since that Florida vote…
LIEBERMAN: … we’re about to start the process again.
HOLT: Senator, we’d like to get to the question, if we could.
LIEBERMAN: It’s going to be a short answer, so I want to take a little more time.
But it’ll be real quick, and here it is: We passed the Help Americans Vote Act, but the Republicans have slow-walked on it and failed to fund it. I’ve drafted a letter to President Bush, which I’m going to circulate to my colleagues, and as a show of unity, I ask you to join with me in sending that letter to the president to say: Work now, show some leadership, to quickly and fully fund…
HOLT: Is your question whether they will sign it?
LIEBERMAN: … fund the Help America Vote Act so we don’t have — and here is the question.
HOLT: Is there a show of hands…
LIEBERMAN: Will you join me in this letter to make sure that in this year’s voting in November there are no more Floridas?
HOLT: Thank you for the question, Senator.
EDWARDS: Well, I hate to — well, wait a minute…
HOLT: The question is to who, to all?
LIEBERMAN: It’s to all. Look, I am going to circulate the…
EDWARDS: Can we at least see what…
SHARPTON: I’ll sign it in Washington D.C. Tuesday…
HOLT: Senator Edwards, I’ll give you 30 seconds to respond to that.
EDWARDS: I don’t need a response. It was a great speech by Joe, but what does the letter say that he’s asking me to sign?
HOLT: We will circulate that question during the debate, but we do have to move on. I want to get one more question from a candidate.
Ambassador Moseley Braun, do you have a question for one of your opponents?
MOSELEY BRAUN: I am going to ask the question that was asked in the last debate, which is, will everybody here support the Democratic nominee to get George Bush out of the White House?
HOLT: All right. We will take a break here. When we come back, we’ll look at the issues facing America’s economy.
We’ll be back from Des Moines right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I would want to ask them, what can we do to jump-start our economy? Because we’re one of the little guys, and we’ve had a family business for over 40 years. And all of these years, with the exception of the last two years, we’ve been doing well. We’ve been surviving, and it’s been really tough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLT: An Iowa voter with one of the subjects we want to get in tonight, and that is the economy. And to lead that part of our discussion, here again is Maria Celeste.
ARRARAS: Thank you.
And this is a question that the little guys ask themselves. And this question is first for Senator Kerry.
The president and many economists agree or say that the economy is in a recovery. Do you agree with that? Do you think it’s moving forward, backward, or is it simply stagnant?
KERRY: I think it’s a “Bush league” recovery.
It’s a recovery for the people in the corporate boardroom. It’s a recovery for corporations, to some degree, by compacting, by increasing productivity.
But if you go across America, it’s not a recovery.
They promised, or had to, try to create 250,000 jobs last month. They created 1,000. I mean, they only fell 249,000 jobs short.
And a whole bunch of Americans, maybe 200,000 of them, even stopped looking for work.
This recovery is a recovery for those people who have stock. It’s a recovery for those people who are able to walk away with the highest salaries.
But workers have only seen a three-cents-an-hour increase in their wages. They’ve actually seen a $1,500 loss in their income.
As president, I’m going to roll back the tax cut for the wealthiest Americans so we can invest in education, in health care, in our cities, in our communities, and do the things that a president ought to do to build the strength of our country.
And that is not only critical to our standing here at home. If we’re not strong here in our economy at home, we’re never going to be able to lead the free world to be strong in the war on terror abroad. It’s all connected. And this president just doesn’t seem to understand that.
ARRARAS: OK, I’d like to pass the same question to Senator Kucinich.
KUCINICH: The economists who are talking about recovery are the same economists who believe that a certain amount of unemployment is necessary to the functioning of the economy. It’s easy for them to say; they have jobs.
The truth of the matter is that we should have a full-employment economy. With the government, the employer of last resort, there ought to be jobs, enough jobs for all who want to work.
And as president, I will create a full-employment economy by sponsoring a WPA-type program, which will rebuild America’s cities and rural communities, new bridges, water systems, sewer systems, new energy systems, put millions of people back to work.
We need to create jobs. We also have to save the jobs we have. Trade laws are permitting our manufacturing base to be absolutely devastated.
We’ve lost steel, automotive, aerospace, shipping and textiles.
As the next president, recognizing the destructive effect that NAFTA and the WTO have had, I will cancel NAFTA and the WTO and return to bilateral trade conditioned on workers’ rights, human rights and environmental quality principles.
ARRARAS: Thank you, Senator Kucinich.
And I’d like to pass on my next question to Representative Gephardt. Even though all of you have talked about budget balance as a goal, I want to talk about jobs. And I’d like to know, in your opinion, what is the correct number of unemployment — an acceptable number of unemployment? Please give me your target number. And what would you do? And how long would it take you to achieve it?
GEPHARDT: Well, my target would be zero. That’s what we need to work toward, and I would remind you that at the end of the Clinton administration we had unemployment in the country down to 3 percent.
ARRARAS: Is zero possible?
GEPHARDT: It is possible. I think we surprised everybody during the Clinton years as to what we achieved. There were a lot of economists who said, “Oh, you can’t get to 3 percent unemployment, you’ll have inflation.”
We did things that really got people to be employed. We increased the minimum wage, and that’s the first thing that I would do. I’d also ask the World Trade Organization for an international minimum wage.
It would be different in different countries. We’ve got to start getting the standard of living up for people all across the world.
My health care plan would create 750,000 new jobs by getting everybody covered with health care insurance.
And I’ve got an energy plan called Apollo 21. It would create 2 million new jobs in this country, creating renewable fuels, a lot of it could be here in the Midwest, with ethanol and wind and solar, it would be clean energy.
And my Teacher Corps idea would get young people to be teachers. If they’d teach for five years, I’d pay their college loans.
These are the kind of job-creating ideas that this country needs, that we did in the Clinton administration but this administration has marched us in the opposite direction. This president must be defeated.
ARRARAS: And it’s an Apollo plan for planet Earth, correct, not Mars?
GEPHARDT: Yeah, right. Planet Earth, not Mars.
ARRARAS: Thank you.
My next question is for Reverend Al Sharpton. The latest job statistics show almost no increase in employment across the country and also show that hundreds of thousands of workers left the job market, they simply disappeared. The challenge to find good jobs in the African-American and Latino communities are even harder, as we all know. What would you do to reduce unemployment in these communities in particular?
SHARPTON: You have to have a job creation program. I have proposed throughout this campaign a $250 billion five-year plan to create jobs that are necessary: infrastructure redevelopment, roadways, highways, bridges, tunnels, school buildings and — in the name of homeland security — ports.
We ought to be investing in creating jobs. That’s what Roosevelt did with public works programs. I think that Congressman Kucinich is right, we must go after A, what is necessary, and B, what will create jobs.
The recovery is like if you went to a hospital and all the doctors and nurses had a cold. They got over the cold and we say it was recovery, but the sick people are still sick.
So you’ve got some of the managers of America recovering, but those that are ill are just as sick as they ever was. Recovery is not for the staff; recovery is for the patients. Your patients, Mr. Bush, are still sick.
ARRARAS: OK, well, thank you, Reverend.
And as we have been saying, we are also going to be taking questions from a distinguished panel of experts. And Lester is right now with one of them and their questions. Go ahead.
HOLT: Maria, thanks.
I am with Professor Greg Rocha of the University of Texas at El Paso.
Dr. Rocha, good evening to you. Thanks for taking part.
GREG ROCHA, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: Thank you.
HOLT: Your question is to who?
ROCHA: I have a question for Senator Kerry and also for you, Reverend Sharpton, and it concerns unemployment.
ROCHA: Over the past decade, we’ve seen that the unemployment rate for Latinos has been about 40 percent higher, and for African- Americans it’s been about 80 percent higher, than the overall rate.
Why do you think that condition has existed? And what would you do to start to close that gap?
KERRY: For me first?
KERRY: I think it exists.
I think we’re allowed to walk out of here.
I think it exists because — I thought the lights were working.
HOLT: Yes, unfortunately the lights aren’t working, so it’s your choice.
KERRY: So we can’t move up.
Well, I thought that we were able to move around.
Let me just say to you, look, the reason that exists is because we have an indifference, a casual indifference in the leadership of our country that ignores the fact that we have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America; that we adults in the United States are literally abandoning millions of children every single day; that we have too much willingness to send people to prison rather than invest $10,000 a year in Head Start, Early Start, Smart Start…
… early childhood education. There is a complete abdication of responsibility.
And those people who run around this country talking about compassionate conservatism have shown compassion only for conservatives and for the wealthiest people in the country.
We need a president who is going to fight against those special interests, have early education zero to eight. We need a president who’s going to fight to fund those schools.
No Child Left Behind he’s walked away from. It hurts the urban communities the most and the rural communities the most.
We’ve got to change our attitude about how you raise kids in America, how you provide opportunity.
And it’s always worse in the minority centers, because that’s where the greatest level of poverty is and the lack of voting power. We need a president who stands up and fights for America.
HOLT: And I believe you’re also addressing that question to Reverend Sharpton.
SHARPTON: I think that we definitely need all that Senator Kerry outlined, but on top of that we must be honest about discrimination and have a president that will enforce anti-discrimination laws.
It is not as a result of some magic that Latinos are at that rate, or blacks at that rate. We still have institutional discrimination in this country, which is worse than blatant discrimination.
What is hurting us is that 50 years ago, we had to watch out for people with white sheets. Now they have on pinstripe suits.
And they discriminate against our advancement. They discriminate against our achievement.
And we’re called divisive if we bring it up. We’re divisive if we don’t bring it up.
We had to fight — our fathers had to fight Jim Crow. We’ve got to fight James Crow Jr., Esq.
And we need to take on that fight.
HOLT: Reverend Sharpton, thank you.
And, Dr. Rocha, thank you very much as well.
ARRARAS: Yes, I have another economic question, this time for Governor Dean.
And do you want to make a quick comment, because I’ve seen you…
MOSELEY BRAUN: … last half of the last question. Could I please?
ARRARAS: Go right ahead.
MOSELEY BRAUN: Thank you.
One of the issues has to do with the private sector and creating jobs. And when you consider that Latino women make 53 cents on the dollar, African-American women make 68 cents on the dollar, and white women make 73 cents for every dollar that a man makes, the disparities are very clear, both as to race and gender.
I think the answer lies in providing capital for the development of jobs and businesses in communities where people live. Because if you give someone the ability to create a business, provide equity capital, give people the ability to begin to create those businesses that will help lift up communities, that will go a long way to solving the endemic problem of institutional racism, of discrimination and of the lack of jobs in African-American and Hispanic communities.
ARRARAS: Thank you very much.
I had to make that exception because you’re the other lady in red in the room. Thank you.
OK, Governor Dean, despite your desire to roll back all of the Bush tax cuts, you recently said you would roll out your own tax fairness planning, including some kind of payroll tax cut.
When will your plan be ready? And will your middle-class tax relief be immediate?
DEAN: The first priority is to balance the budget. We’ve got to do that. No Republican has balanced the budged in 34 years in this country. You just can’t trust Republicans with your money anymore.
Secondly, in order to do that, you’ve got to roll back the Bush tax cut.
Now, 60 percent of us got a $304 tax cut. If you make a million dollars, you got a $112,000 tax cut. But people’s college tuition has gone up more than $304. People’s property taxes have gone up more than $304 because the president cut fire and police, wouldn’t fund special education, wouldn’t fund No Child Left Behind.
People’s health-care payments have gone up because this president cut a half a million children off health care in the last two years, nearly a million adults off health care. So somebody has to pay for that. It’s our insurance companies who then pass it along to us. There was no middle-class tax cut in this country.
ARRARAS: So let me interrupt you one second. Would you wait then until you balance your budget to then go ahead with the middle- class tax cuts?
DEAN: That’s right, the first priority is balancing the budget. And what we will do is lay out a plan to balance the budget and include some sort of plan to increase corporate taxes, just as Joe Lieberman has suggested, because corporate taxes are now at the lowest level since 1934, which means the rest of us are paying the rest of the tax burden and that’s not fair.
You know, the truth is, we ought to go back to Bill Clinton’s taxes because most people in America would gladly pay the taxes we paid when Bill Clinton was president if only we could have the same economy we had when Bill Clinton was president.
ARRARAS: Do you want to react to that, Representative Kucinich?
KUCINICH: I think the tax cuts that are going to the people in the top brackets are the ones that ought to be canceled. We need to remember the working families still need a relief, earned income tax credit and other tax relief.
But the thing that I have a — am wondering about is how in the world can Governor Dean take the position that he’s going to balance the budget, but he said repeatedly that he won’t touch Pentagon spending?
You know, this is a chart here. Half the discretionary budget of the United States goes for the Pentagon. Now, if you’re going to balance the budget and you’re not going to touch the Pentagon and you’re going to keep the war in Iraq going for a few years, that means you’re going to cut — as the president’s doing — funds for veterans, housing, health care, education.
So I’m saying the solution is get out of Iraq, cut the bloated Pentagon budget by 15 percent, and stop the tax cuts that are going to the wealthy. That will be the way that we can help our economy.
ARRARAS: Governor Dean, you have a 30-second rebuttal time.
DEAN: Let me talk about the Pentagon budget, why we’ll not cut the Pentagon budget should I become president of the United States.
There are some things I won’t do. We will not build tactical battlefield nuclear weapons because we don’t need them and they’re useless against terrorists. We will not build a national missile defense system until we do the research so it works.
But there are an enormous number of needs in defense that aren’t getting met: special operations, that’s an anti-terrorist task force, we need more of those; human intelligence; cyber intelligence; soldiers aren’t paid properly.
The president of the United States tried to cut combat pay for our troops in Iraq. Even the right-wing Congress wouldn’t let him do that.
So in good conscience, at a time when this president is not making us safe — we’re not inspecting the cargo containers that come into this country every day. We’re not buying the enriched uranium stocks that we’re allowed to buy from the former Soviet Union under cooperative threat reduction agreements.
This president is not keeping us safe. What I will do is leave the Pentagon budget alone. We don’t have to have these enormous…
ARRARAS: Governor Dean, that’s over 30 seconds.
DEAN: We don’t have to have the enormous increases that he wants, but we do have to make America safe and we can’t do it by cutting the Pentagon budget.
ARRARAS: OK, Governor Dean, thank you.
And obviously you didn’t convince Representative Kucinich because he’s still holding his paper up, but that’s part of a deal.
I want to go now to the candidate-to-candidate questions. And this is your turn, Representative Gephardt, to ask any question to whoever you choose in the panel.
GEPHARDT: Well, Howard, I heard your answer on the middle-class tax cut and on Social Security. You know, early in the year, you and I agreed that we ought to get rid of the Bush tax cuts — that they haven’t worked. And I still agree with that.
We both said that we shouldn’t do anything that would hurt Social Security. In the last few days, I understand, and maybe you’re not, but you were talking about a payroll or a Social Security tax cut. And my worry about that is that it would undermine Social Security. Have you decided that that’s what we ought to do?
DEAN: I think cutting payroll taxes is not a bad idea. It’s certainly something we’re going to look at. Under no circumstances will we take the money to cut payroll taxes out of the Social Security trust fund. That would be absurd.
I said so a year ago on Judy Woodruff’s show, “Inside Politics,” that a payroll tax holiday is irresponsible for the same reason a payroll tax cut, should it cut the money going into Social Security, is irresponsible.
If we end up cutting payroll taxes, which is the most regressive tax there is for low- and moderate-income workers, it will come out of the general fund in the form of a tax credit. We will not touch Social Security.
ARRARAS: Very well.
Next question to another candidate is Reverend Al Sharpton.
SHARPTON: I want to — you know, I have to ask this. I was going to ask Dennis something.
But I have to ask you this, Governor Dean, because I was disappointed you weren’t in Washington the other day. But you keep talking about talking about race. In the state of Vermont — where you were governor ’97, ’99, 2001 — not one black or brown held a senior policy position, not one. You yourself said we must do something about it. Nothing was done.
Can you explain — since now you want to convene everyone and talk about race, it seems as though you have discovered blacks and browns during this campaign.
How you can explain not one black or brown working for your administration as governor?
DEAN: Well, actually, I beg to differ with your statistics there.
SHARPTON: This is according to your paper in Vermont, the Associated Press, and the Center for Women in Government.
DEAN: Well, perhaps you ought not to believe everything in the Associated Press.
SHARPTON: Oh, so you’re saying they’re incorrect?
DEAN: We do have African-American and Latino workers in state government, including…
SHARPTON: No, no, I said under your administration. Do you have a senior member of your cabinet that was black or brown?
DEAN: We had a senior member of my staff on my fifth floor.
SHARPTON: No, your cabinet.
DEAN: No, we did not.
SHARPTON: OK, that’s not…
DEAN: … six members.
SHARPTON: Then you need to let me talk to you about race in this country.
DEAN: Well, let me just say one thing, which I have said before but I’ll say it again. If the percentage of African-Americans in your state was any indication of what your views on race were, then Trent Lott would be Martin Luther King.
SHARPTON: But I don’t think that that answers the question. I think if you’re talking — if you want to lecture people on race, you ought to have the background and track record in order to do that. And I think that clearly people — governors import talent, governors reach all over the country to make sure they have diversity.
And I think that, while I respect the fact you brought race into this campaign, you ought to talk freely and openly about whether you went out of the box to try to do something about race in your home state and have experience with working with blacks and browns at peer level, not as just friends you might have had in college.
ARRARAS: Reverend Sharpton, let me…
… pass on now. I’m going to pass on real quick to Senator Edwards, who has been very anxious to make a comment for a while.
I know you must have something very important to say, so go for it.
EDWARDS: Thank you.
ARRARAS: This is your moment.
EDWARDS: Thank you very much.
First of all, one of the things that people are concerned about, about politicians in general and people who are running for president, is that they just don’t talk the talk, as the Reverend just talked about, but they fought for these things and stood for these things and been consistent and been straight with people and not changed their position.
How many times have the people of Iowa had people running for president come into their house, promise them something; they never come back, and then they don’t do what they’re going to say? Right. Have you heard that before?
It happens over and over and over. And politicians change their positions when the election is coming.
Here’s the problem: Race is a defining issue in America today. It didn’t start when this campaign began in January. It’s been true forever. And we have enormous work to do on race.
The second thing is, all of these discussions about tax cuts and which tax cut, it ignores the bigger picture of what’s happening in America today. We’ve had sea change in this country in the last 20 years.
EDWARDS: Twenty years ago, most working families, middle-class families, were financially secure — they were saving money, they felt good about their future. That’s all changed. Today, these families are saving nothing. They are going into debt. They are one medical problem or financial problem from going off the cliff.
We have to help them with all these problems, Dick. We have to help them with their health care, we have to help them by giving them some financial security, specifically helping them to save and be able to invest.
But my point is, we can’t put these things in boxes. Families out there who are struggling, they don’t think about these things in boxes. They need help with all these things. They need health care, but they also need financial security.
ARRARAS: Yes or no answer real quick: Does that mean that if you were president you will come to Iowa many times after?
EDWARDS: Yes, ma’am. Absolutely.
ARRARAS: And I’d like to get a rebuttal from Representative Gephardt real quick.
GEPHARDT: I just wanted to say that on this question of access to capital, I think this is the key question in helping minorities be able to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
And one of my proposals that I’m very interested in is changing the percentage of federal contracts that go to minority contracts from 5 to 10 percent. This would do more to get capital into minority contractors and give people the opportunity that they need.
We also had a new markets initiative from Bill Clinton and it’s gone by the wayside with this administration. It needs to be renewed and funded so that minorities in this country can get access to capital so they can start small businesses.
ARRARAS: Very well.
Talking about funding, we need to go to a commercial break real quick. When we come back, we’re going to talk about foreign policy, so stay with the battle for the White House.
ARRARAS: As in the previous segment, we’re going to talk a little bit more about the economy, especially because there are still very important questions pending and very anxious candidates to answer them.
HOLT: In fact, Maria, a couple of candidates we didn’t get to in that segment. And I want to move quickly if I can to Ambassador Moseley Braun.
I know you get that look like, “Where have I been,” right?
MOSELEY BRAUN: Thank you. I will be very brief, Lester.
HOLT: Well, my question to you, there’s been a lot of debate, and we just heard in that last segment about the plight of working families in this country.
As a working adult, have you ever gone through a month unsure whether you’d be able to pay all your bills?
MOSELEY BRAUN: Of course. Of course. I come from the working class; pulled myself up.
But I have a specific mission in these seconds that you’re giving me. The first is to clarify this last round, because I stood here about to lose just all focus on what was going on.
In the first place, Dick Gephardt, in all the time that you have served as the leader in the House, there’s been precious little coming out in terms of minority entrepreneurship and equity capital.
As a junior senator, I did more to create the community development financial institutions, to create F-equity capital opportunities for minorities and women, to try to fight for affirmative action in the Senate than the House has done in all of my memory.
And so, to hear you tonight talking about that is a little shocking to me.
And to Reverend Sharpton, the fact of the matter is you can always blow up a racial debate and make people mad at each other. But I think it’s time for us to talk about, what are you going to do to bring people together? Because this people cannot afford a racial screaming match.
We have to come together — we have to come together as one nation to get past these problems.
And finally to John, again, I don’t mean to pick on you, and I know Howard Dean can take up for himself. But the fact of the matter is, the Congressional Quarterly says you voted with President Bush 53 percent of the time. You voted for the Patriot Act. You voted to deploy the missile defense system. And yet you stand up here and call Howard a hypocrite. This is not right.
EDWARDS: Well, what you just said…
HOLT: Senator — and I’ll get to the other — I’ll get to the other names you mentioned.
Senator Edwards, a 30-second response to that please.
EDWARDS: Well, Carol, that was a great speech, but what you just said is not right.
MOSELEY BRAUN: Well, that’s…
EDWARDS: As a matter of fact…
MOSELEY BRAUN: You didn’t vote for the Patriot Act?
EDWARDS: Are you going to let me finish?
MOSELEY BRAUN: I will.
EDWARDS: What just happened — the Congressional Quarterly, just in the last week, put out its rankings for the 100 members of the United States Senate and who voted with Bush the least and who voted with Bush the most, one through 100.
I was number one in the United States Senate for having voted against George W. Bush the most, and I am proud of that. And I want the people of Iowa who are participating in these caucuses to know that.
And you also know that I have said very clearly that I believe there are things that have to be changed in the Patriot Act.
Allowing the sneak and seek — peek and sneak — sneak and peek — I’ll say it right — searches that allow people to go in, that allow the government to go into people’s homes and not even tell them that they’ve been there, that allow the government to go into libraries and bookstores — these things do in fact need to be changed.
HOLT: I need to get the response of the other candidates you mentioned. Reverend Sharpton, 30 seconds to respond.
HOLT: Sorry, Ambassador Braun.
SHARPTON: I think that the fact of the matter is that I’ve heard throughout this campaign — this is about our 29th or 30th appearance — the government lecture us on race. To ask him his own record is not a racial screening match, it is to make one accountable to what they said. Had he not introduced the subject, then it would have been hysterical for me to ask him about it. But to say that he can raise it and, in fact, attack others…
SHARPTON: No, let me finish. I didn’t interrupt you.
HOLT: Let’s let him have his response.
SHARPTON: The last thing we need is to be fighting each other. I am not trying to engage you, I’m answering your question.
MOSELEY BRAUN: All right.
SHARPTON: For me not to hold him accountable to what he raised is insulting to people. I’ve fought all my life for civil rights. I’ve stood up, I’ve made racial profiling, police brutality, racial discrimination in the private sector priorities. Just access to capital, bringing capital in without fighting discrimination and our ability to achieve level jobs will not solve this.
Giving money to people that will not have to protect that money with fairness doesn’t work.
HOLT: And, Reverend Sharpton…
SHARPTON: And that’s why I want him to be accountable since he brought up race. That’s not racial hysteria; that is accountability.
HOLT: We have to get — Representative Gephardt, your 30-second response if you can to what Ambassador Braun said.
GEPHARDT: I honor what Ambassador Braun has done in the Senate. She is a leader and she’s done great things. We’ve tried in the House.
One of our problems is the last few years we’ve had people like Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich to deal with and we were trying to fend off efforts to end affirmative action forever, which we succeeded in doing. Jim Clyburn’s here tonight. We fought together to fight off Newt Gingrich in doing that.
But I agree with you totally. We need to do a lot more to get access to capital to minority businesses and minorities.
HOLT: All right, Representative Gephardt, thank you.
Let’s move on to foreign policy. And, Senator Lieberman, thank you for your patience. I want to ask you: General Wesley Clark — as we’ve noted, declined to appear here tonight — was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying there would be no terror attacks under his administration. I think the exact quote was: “We aren’t going to have one of these incidents.”
Can you say with fair certainty the U.S. would be safer under your leadership? And how long should we give you to the point that you could declare we are safer under your administration?
LIEBERMAN: Thanks very much for asking me a question. You know, I was beginning to hope that somebody would attack me so I’d be able to respond.
HOLT: I’m sure someone would oblige.
LIEBERMAN: Yes, I’ll probably regret having said that.
I thought that Wes Clark’s statement was odd and troubling because the reality is that we’ve got to level with the American people. And to say that the two biggest lies are that September 11th couldn’t have been prevented and that we can stop all terrorist acts — let’s level with the American people. We’ve got to pull together and do what’s tough and right to protect the American people.
I spoke to this briefly before about it. I’m the one, who together with a few other members of the Senate, wrote the homeland security bill, because we were disorganized before September 11th and the terrorists took advantage of it.
George Bush still hasn’t adequately implemented that bill, still hasn’t brought together a terrorism watch list so all the federal agencies know where the terrorists are, still hasn’t adequately funded the local firefighters and police officers.
As president, I’m going to do that. I’m going to do my best to make sure that the American people are safe and secure.
I have the toughness and the experience to do that.
And one of the ways you do it is not only to use American military to capture and/or kill al Qaeda, you win the larger battle for the hearts and minds of the great majority in the Muslim world who are living desperately poor lives in despotic countries.
I want to lead, as president, an international Marshall Plan for the Muslim world. Reach out. Use the sword when necessary, but also use the plowshare and the pruning hook to achieve security.
HOLT: All right, Senator Lieberman, thank you.
My next question is to Senator Kerry. Governor Dean has said that you were wrong to vote for the Iraq resolution. Now, Governor Dean was not in a position to vote on that. However, was he wrong, in your view, to oppose the war?
KERRY: Certainly not in its current status.
But I think Governor Dean has had it both ways. On October 6th, five days before we voted in the Senate, Governor Dean took a public position supporting the Biden-Lugar resolution, which gave authority to the president of the United States to go to war if he found that the diplomatic effort had been exhausted and all he had to do was write a letter.
The point is, he had authority. Didn’t have to come back to Congress, he had the same kind of authority that we did.
We gave him an authority based on his promises: One, he would build an international coalition. Two, that he would in fact use the inspections thoroughly and honor the United Nations.
Three, that he would go to war as a last resort.
And his secretary of state made the same statements, including that the only reason to go to war was weapons of mass destruction.
We voted to do it the right way. This president chose to do it the wrong way, every step of the way.
And I happen to know personally what the obligation of a president of the United States is to families in this country: That you have to look a family in the eye and be able to say, if they lose their son or daughter, that you never, ever meant it to happen unless you had exhausted every remedy available.
HOLT: All right.
KERRY: He didn’t do that. I think he broke faith with the American people.
HOLT: Senator Kerry, your time has expired…
… but let’s give Governor Dean 30 seconds to respond to that.
DEAN: Sure. I’m first going to respond and thank Carol for defending me, but as you pointed out, I like to defend myself.
I have here Representative Luis Gutierrez, Congressman Sheila Jackson Lee, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus. I believe I have more endorsements from both the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus than any other candidate on this stage.
And I will take a back seat to no one in my commitment to civil rights in the United States of America.
DEAN: Now, let me — regarding the war, this is what’s important: 12 Iowans hurt in attack in Iraq. It’s not who voted for what resolution. I disagreed with John Kerry and John Edwards and Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt and Wes Clark, who supported the war at the time.
And I stood up when nobody else was willing to stand up, except for Dennis Kucinich — and of course we know that Al and Carol did not support that either — but I stood up and said so on September 21, 2002, that this was a mistake because I did not believe at the time that the president was being candid.
Two days ago, Secretary of State Powell publicly said that there was no evidence that there was any link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Fifty percent of Americans believe that there is one. Why? Because the president of the United States has misled the American public and he’s been misleading us for two years.
HOLT: Governor Dean, thank you.
Let me turn, if I can, to Representative Kucinich. I know you’ll want to respond to that, but I’d like to ask you another question if I can, Representative Kucinich.
KUCINICH: May I also respond to?
HOLT: Let me just ask you, a lot of people have argued that the U.S. was better off — many in your party have argued the U.S. would have been better off with an explicit U.N. approval before going to war with Iraq.
As a president, would you ever reject broad international consensus if you thought it was in the best long-term interest of the United States?
KUCINICH: First of all, we have a right to defend our country, but surely a president must know the difference between defense and offense. I was a third string varsity quarterback, and I knew the difference between defense and offense.
We went on the offense against Iraq and now we find from Secretary O’Neill that the president was planning on attacking Iraq before 9/11 and that the American people, in effect, have been misled about this. Everybody ought to be talking about this.
And furthermore, in response to Governor Dean, it’s OK to hold up a headline and to commiserate with the people of Iraq who have valiant sons and daughters who have been injured in combat, but you know, if it was wrong to go in, it’s wrong to stay in. That’s what I’m saying.
Governor Dean, you have said that we’re going to be there for a few years. You have said, we’re there; we’re stuck. And I’m saying, we need to go to the U.N., bring in U.N. peacekeepers, U.N. in, U.S. out of Iraq. It is time that we recognized that we’re there because of lies. We have to challenge those lies and we have to bring our troops home.
HOLT: We’re at another point here in our debate where we’re going to offer the candidates a chance to ask a question of another candidate. And I think we’re — Representative Kucinich, I’m sorry.
KUCINICH: I would like to direct my question to Ambassador Moseley Braun.
I have sponsored a legislation for universal single-payer health care. Are you familiar with it, and do you support it?
MOSELEY BRAUN: Thank you for the question, Congressman Kucinich. I’m familiar with your legislation, and I do support it.
The only answer for our health-care system in this country is single-payer. It’s the only answer. And if we go to a single-payer system, we will create jobs, we will end (sic) health security, we will give a boost to our economy.
In fact, based on the numbers for other countries that have single-payer, they are right now spending about $4,000 a year per capita, per person, on health care. We spend much, much more than that, and we get a lot less back because of all of the waste in the system.
I think Americans deserve a single-payer system. Americans deserve comprehensive universal health care, from prevention and wellness through long-term care, that can never be taken away.
And we can’t tinker with this and expect it to get fixed. It has to be fixed from top to bottom with a single-payer system, such as Congressman Kucinich has proposed.
HOLT: Ambassador Braun, thank you very much.
KUCINICH: Thank you.
HOLT: Next we’d like to give Governor Dean an opportunity to ask a question of one of your opponents.
DEAN: Well, I am going to break the mold a little bit, as Joe did, but we won’t have quite as long a speech. I’d like to ask my question to a community activist who’s in the audience whose name is Ako Abdul-Samad. He’s on the school board.
And the question is, I’ve spent two years listening to Iowans here in there caucuses and hearing their concerns and their needs. Can you tell us, Ako, what we ought to be doing to help your community?
HOLT: Well, hold on a second, Governor Dean. We’re not formatted to take questions from the candidate to a member of the audience. The questions are to be to members, other opponents.
HOLT: That’s the format agreed by the candidates.
DEAN: I understand. I understand.
HOLT: Do you have a question to one of your opponents?
DEAN: Well, I…
SHARPTON: Governor, ask me. I’ll let Ako answer for me.
DEAN: Well, you know, part of this campaign is about change, and it’s about letting ordinary people have something to say about something what goes on.
HOLT: Well, I don’t want to argue the point with you, but there was a format agreed to by the opponents. So do you have a question for another opponent, or should we move on?
DEAN: No, I think we’ll move on.
DEAN: Thank you.
HOLT: Thank you very much.
We will take a break. We will continue with more of the battle for the White House from Des Moines, after this.
HOLT: And welcome back, everyone.
Our questioning now continues with Maria.
ARRARAS: Thank you, Lester.
And we’re going to start addressing Reverend Al Sharpton, who is apparently very upset at the fact that he didn’t get to answer or have a rebuttal for something that Governor Dean said before, and during the commercial break, he expressed so.
So this is your chance.
SHARPTON: What I wanted to say is that the governor talks about his endorsement. I think all of us will endorse whoever wins.
The question, though, is that, as we pursue that, we must be open with our record.
I don’t question your commitment. I ask you to count for your record. And you, and as you say, your defender can say what they want. I have a right to do that as anyone else.
And to talk about just endorsements rather than answer our record, I don’t think answers the question. I could bring all kind of endorsers here, from Congressman Ed Towns to Johnny Cochran. I think you only need co-signers if your credit is bad.
ARRARAS: OK, well. All right, now, if you’ll allow me, we’re going to change the subject now to immigration. And you’re all going to be very happy because this is a question to all of you. And you’re all going to be very happy because it’s one of those that you get to answer raising your hand if it’s an affirmative answer.
As you know, many illegal immigrants come into this country and they get started in America as domestic workers or day laborers.
Have you or any member of your family hired an illegal immigrant, and would you raise your hand if it’s positive?
If it’s yes, raise your hand.
No one has. OK. You all seem pretty shocked. It’s more common than you all think, but all right.
OK, let’s go on to the next question, because there’s a lot of questions.
Governor Dean, thousands of Hispanic soldiers have risked their lives for this country and are not U.S. citizens. As president, would you automatically grant citizenship to any immigrant who serves in combat on behalf of the United States?
DEAN: You have to be a little bit careful about how you do that, because otherwise you will have a disproportionate number of people who are Hispanic joining the army simply to do that.
But the direction of your question is the right one. The answer is going to end up being yes one way or the other.
ARRARAS: Let me interrupt you one second. There’s a lot of Hispanics that join the Army regardless because Puerto Ricans are naturally-born citizens and they still join.
DEAN: I understand that.
One of the most unfortunate things I think that happened in the Iraq war was a young man who was Hispanic, who was an immigrant who got killed, who then got his citizenship given to him after he had arrived home in a casket. That is the wrong thing to do.
So my attitude is if you join the Army, yes, it should give you an absolute path to earned legalization or to citizenship. The answer is basically yes, but here’s why I’m sort of jumping around a little bit.
If you simply say that, then my concern is that the Army becomes the haven for people who are struggling to get by because they happen to be Hispanic, it’s the only way to become a United States citizen. We don’t want to force Hispanic citizens into that position.
So the answer is, if you serve America, yes, you ought to get citizenship. But we have to be very careful just exactly how we offer that so we don’t have an unfair, disproportionate affect on Hispanics in this country who are not citizens.
ARRARAS: Kucinich, could you please — Representative Kucinich, please answer.
KUCINICH: I’m glad that Governor Dean clarified that because I don’t think that — first of all, that we all agree that people ought to have citizenship if they serve this country. We also ought to agree that there ought to be amnesty for anyone who has been working in this country and has — and would otherwise be denied rights.
The third thing we ought to talk about is that — how the Bush administration’s program that they just announced is really a program for indentured servitude because what they are talking about is locking people into control by corporations.
And then if they don’t go along with the program, which is generally anti-union, low wages, they can get deported. We need to be better than that as an American country. We need to remember that we are a nation of immigrants. And as a nation of immigrants, we must always hold the promise of people coming into this country and pursuing their dream.
You know, the Statue of Liberty, the poem at the base didn’t say, “Give me your tired, your poor, and we will fingerprint them, we will take their picture and then we will deport them after we’re finished getting their work.”
ARRARAS: Thank you, thank you very much.
We’re going to go now — we have Lester now on the phone with another question from our distinguished panel of guests.
HOLT: Maria, thank you. I’m with Rebecca Vigil-Giron, the secretary of state of New Mexico.
Madam Secretary, thank you for being here. Your question is to who regarding immigration?
REBECCA VIGIL-GIRON, SECRETARY OF STATE, NEW MEXICO: Thank you.
Actually, Lester, I have two questions. My first has to do with immigration. And my second one has to do with, obviously, the issue that Senator Lieberman brought up with the Help America Vote Act. While immigration…
HOLT: And who — I’m sorry, who are you addressing this one to?
VIGIL-GIRON: Well, these — my first question will go to Congressman Gephardt and Senator Lieberman. While immigration experts estimate that there are between 6 and 8 million legal permanent residents eligible to become citizens of the United States, they also estimate that less than half of them will seek to become citizens. When asked why they have not begun the naturalization process, a majority of immigrants said they have heard too many horror stories about the bureaucratic process, as well as the skyrocketing application fees.
If elected president, what will you do to encourage those who are eligible to apply for citizenship, and ensure that those who seek to apply for citizenship are receiving quality customer service and being treated fairly?
Congressman Gephardt, you first, and then the senator.
GEPHARDT: This is a very, very important issue.
About eight years ago, a lot of us in the House, in the Hispanic Caucus, the Black Caucus, tried to address this question and we tried to get reform in the Immigration Service. And when the Republicans came back in, they took out all the reforms.
The Immigration Service has been a mess. They do not process these applications quickly. It’s a long, long process that takes far too long than it should.
And it needs to be reformed, and we need to make people welcome in this country. If people are applying to be citizens, they need to be treated as customers and it needs to be an expedited process.
There are people that wait three years to go through the process. It’s a disaster, and when I’m president, we will reform it and we will change it.
HOLT: Senator Lieberman?
LIEBERMAN: Thank you very much.
This question of immigration is more than an issue to me. I consider it a very personal matter. My grandparents were immigrants. I grew up with my grandmother who was an immigrant. My wife herself is an immigrant.
So immigration to me is what America is all about. And the immigration system in our country today is broken.
George W. Bush has pulled a bait-and-switch with this latest proposal. It is an election year conversion. He did it in 2000, didn’t do anything for three years, and in 2004, comes in with a proposal that basically says to undocumented immigrants, “Come on, we’ll give you a temporary work permit. Then we’re going to send you back to the country you came from and you got to try to get back in.”
Well, who’s going to come out of the shadows for that reason? I went to Nogales in Arizona earlier in the year. That day, four immigrants from Mexico died in the desert trying to come to America for the same reason my grandparents did: for a better way of life.
So I am for earned right of legalization for undocumented immigrants. I’m for temporary worker permits for people coming over. I’m for lifting the cap on family reunification which keeps immigrant families apart and I’m for lifting the cap on political refugees.
We’re one nation under God, individual, with liberty and justice for all. And that means making sure that our immigrants, new Americans are treated fairly.
HOLT: And, Madam Secretary, you have one more question, you can address it to just one member of our panel.
VIGIL-GIRON: Well, actually, these are directed to two people, if you don’t mind, because this is very crucial, Senator Edwards and Senator Kerry. On the Help America Vote Act, Congress last year passed the Help America Vote Act, a bill designed to address the electoral problems that arose from the 2000 presidential election. While the states have the responsibility of implementing many of the provisions of the bill, the federal government has a key oversight and financial role to play in 2005 and beyond.
Secretaries of states, state legislators and elections officials across the country have already complained that many of the provisions of HAVA are unfunded mandates.
What will you do as president to assure elections officials that the federal government is committed to making the Help America Vote Act work as Congress intended?
Senator Edwards and then Senator Kerry.
EDWARDS: What I’ll do as president is, first of all, fund the legislation, and second, make sure that every single person in America gets a chance to be on a voter registration roll and that they get a chance to vote no matter what the level of the community that they live in because we know what’s happening here: President Bush has figured out — you know, he had to go along with election reform, he didn’t have any choice about that because he got dragged kicking and screaming to that. But he knows if this bill is funded, we’re going to have people, particularly in poor areas, poor voting districts all over America who actually get a chance to exercise their right in this democracy. And I think he’s got a pretty good idea of who they are going to vote for, don’t you?
So it is critically important that we make the changes that need to be made to make sure everybody gets an opportunity to both register and vote and we don’t have happen what happened in Florida in 2000.
HOLT: Senator Kerry, your response to that question?
KERRY: Thank you.
Madam Secretary, I should thank you for letting me get back in the debate, I appreciate it.
I will not only do what John has said, but I am not going to wait until I’m president.
\ KERRY: When I’m the nominee of the party, I intend to put together a legal team across this country. And we are going to prechallenge some of these automatic machines — the Diebold machines — where there have already been problems. And we’re going to prechallenge and have a team across this country who are focused on those particular areas of the country where they are notorious about switching addresses, telling people they’re not registered, intimidating people, and we will have the strongest democracy poll- watching effort in the history of this country so that every vote is counted so I can become president of the United States.
ARRARAS: Thank you, Senator.
HOLT: Senator Kerry, thank you.
Secretary of State Vigil-Giron, thank you very much for your question.
KERRY: … if I could. I had a little time left, I wanted to just finish.
I disagree completely with what Howard Dean has said about the military. I said at the debate that we had in Arizona, there are 37,000 people serving in the services today who are legal immigrants — legal. They go into the military already to do better and to gain a foothold on citizenship in America.
And I think, because it’s a volunteer army, and there are already standards about who gets in and who doesn’t, that anybody who serves the United States of America, who is a legal immigrant, ought to get automatic citizenship immediately…
… period, end of issue.
ARRARAS: OK, thank you very much.
We’re going to let Governor Dean respond briefly.
DEAN: I think that’s a fine idea. I just want to make sure that it’s fair when it happens.
Look, I think that people who have already proved that they can be good citizens ought to be good citizens.
The concern I have, John, is not a fundamental philosophical concern; the concern I have is, I don’t want Hispanic kids choosing to go to Iraq in order simply to gain citizenship. And that’s what we have to be careful of when we do it.
I think there’s not a fundamental philosophical difference between us. I just want to be very careful about how we do this, so we don’t get a flood of desperate kids coming into the military and ending up in Iraq simply to get American citizenship.
ARRARAS: Can I say something? Excuse me. I’m going to make a comment about this as Puerto Rican, because there’s a lot of Puerto Ricans that are naturally born citizens of the United States, and they join the Army because they want to. I just want to make that clarification.
Anyway, I’m going to continue with the next question.
In the United States, illegal immigrants are forbidden to obtain driver’s license. Yet, they do drive, millions of them every day. That is a reality. And because they don’t have a license, they don’t — they are unable to get car insurance, for example.
But that’s not just it. They also have all kinds of things and problems that ordinary citizens — American citizens take for granted, and they cannot do, like, for example, cash a check.
As president — I’m going to address this question to you, Senator Lieberman, would you definitely remove this? Would you allow driver’s license for immigrants?
LIEBERMAN: Yes, I absolutely would. And I would because it is obviously better for those immigrants and for the rest of America that they be driving with a license instead of without a license. And if they have a license, they are more likely to be driving with insurance. So it makes no sense to me to punitively deprive them of that opportunity.
I would just say to Governor Dean, it raises an important question, but the dilemma is solved with a very easy step. And it is to make sure that, at the same time we grant citizenship to immigrants who serve in the military, we grant the earned right of legalization to all undocumented immigrants who have no trouble with the law and have paid their taxes, working hard, filling jobs that have not been filled by Americans.
So if we do them all at once, everybody will enjoy the benefits of American citizenship, and we will enjoy the benefits of their service and loyalty to our country.
New Americans have an appreciation of America that is often greater than those who have been here a long time. We have forced them to live in the shadows. Let’s bring them out and strengthen our country.
ARRARAS: That is correct.
And I’m going to pass now with Ambassador Moseley Braun, because this is definitely an issue that goes beyond just having car insurance or not. They lack a proper identification document that lets them live like the rest of us in America.
MOSELEY BRAUN: I think in the first instance, as president, I would work closely with other governments, particularly with Mexico, President Fox now, to work out treaty arrangements, to work out protocols, to work out the kind of arrangements that would give some semblance of order to this process.
So that when people come back and forth across the border, they’re not dying in the deserts, they’re not driving cars without insurance, without licenses. So there’s some sense that they’ll know what the rules are.
We want to encourage people to obey the rules, but when the rules don’t make any sense and when the process, as Dick Gephardt lightly points out, is so convoluted and messed up, it’s very difficult to expect compliance with the law.
I think we need to reform immigration policy. We need to work with our neighbors. We need to give people a sense of being welcome in this land of immigrants.
ARRARAS: This question is for Senator Edwards. You have said several times that your immigration policy is a simple one. You propose, quote, “a warm welcome to immigrants and visitors and exhaustive barriers against terrorists.”
Since, of course, we all know that terrorists don’t arrive wearing a label, how would you distinguish or differentiate one from the others?
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, let me say that the whole notion of earned citizenship is something that I strongly support.
The second thing, and this is in response to the question that you are asking, is we have to do a much better job.
I would first — and I should add to what I just said — I would expand the number of legal immigrants that can get into the country, which helps relieve some of this pressure that we have right now.
And third, and this was mentioned in passing by someone just a minute ago, but what’s happened with this president is he — our relationship with Mexico and President Fox is in the worst shape that we can imagine. And the result of that is, we don’t have the kind of security along our southern border that we need.
First of all, we don’t have the resources and the technology that we ourselves need to provide on our side of the border. And we don’t have the cooperation of the Mexican government. In order to provide a real and meaningful secure border, we need to do that.
So earned citizenship; second, do a better job of protecting our southern border with a better relationship with Mexico; and third, expand the number of legal immigrants who are able to get into this country.
Well, my next question is to Representative Gephardt. In some communities, large numbers of illegal immigrants have created burdens at the local level, and you know, they’re definitely creating burdens on local taxpayers as well as over burden in schools and social services. Everything is strained.
Since immigration — it’s a national policy — and illegal immigration a national concern, why should it be a local burden? As president, how would you correct that problem?
GEPHARDT: I think the federal government needs to help state and local government in dealing with these needs. If people are here, if children are here, they have to be educated. They have to get basic health care — immunizations. And the federal government needs to fill some of that need.
My health care plan would give billions of dollars to state and local governments for health care for their employees, and much of that money could be used for purposes like this.
I also want to say I agree entirely with what’s been said about earned legalization. GEPHARDT: If people have been here, obeyed the laws, paid their taxes, worked hard, they deserve the right to be able to get into legal status. I wrote a bill with the Hispanic Caucus that achieves precisely that.
One other thought, my international minimum wage proposal is also an attempt to begin getting people treated fairly around the globe. We’ve let our trade policy be written by the big corporations who want cheap labor, who don’t want a minimum wage in these countries.
3.5 billion people in the world today live on less than a dollar a day. It’s immoral. These people are being exploited for the quick profits of a few corporations. We need a trade policy that says anybody in the world who works gets to be treated like a human being and not exploited.
ARRARAS: Thank you for your response.
We are going to take a break and come back from Des Moines and the battle for the White House in a second.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOSELEY BRAUN: Prescription reform, medical reform for everyone. To me it makes no sense to live in this country that is the richest country and the most powerful country on the face of this earth, and you have people who are canvassing the neighborhoods trying to get up money to have an operation to save their lives.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ARRARAS: Welcome back to the Iowa Brown Black Forum. We’re going to continue with the questions for the candidates.
And now, Mr. Holt, once again.
HOLT: Maria Celeste, thank you very much.
Senator Kerry, this is your opportunity now to ask a question of one of your opponents.
KERRY: I was going to ask Joe Lieberman a question, but given his long question, I was afraid his answer might be…
KERRY: I thought his answer might be longer than Britney Spears’s…
LIEBERMAN: Ask me a long question and I’ll give you a short answer.
KERRY: I thought his answer would be longer than Britney Spears’s marriage.
LIEBERMAN: You’ve been saving that one up, haven’t you?
KERRY: Well, Joe, I’ll listen to you, but — you’re my friend, you’re my friend, and I want to ask you a truly important and, I think, friendly question. You and I were privileged to be at university at the same time to become excited by the civil rights movement. In fact, you went South for a period of time during that.
But we’ve both lived in communities where there’s just extraordinary poverty — New Haven, Bridgeport, parts of Boston, communities in Massachusetts, all across our country.
What is the single most important thing, in your judgment, that we need to do — we, president, Congress, this country — to make — and it builds on the question that was asked earlier by the panelist — to make a real difference with respect to the prison rates, the dropout rates, the drug abuse, the sort of abandonment of young people in America?
LIEBERMAN: Thanks for the question, John.
You know, poverty in America is a scandal. There are 35 million people in poverty. In the years of the Bush administration, three years, 3 million more people have fallen out of the middle class into poverty. Nine million children don’t have health insurance.
So it’s hard to choose exactly what — the one thing to do. But I’d say education.
Let me give you a stunningly painful number, that the average African-American, Hispanic-American student graduating from high school is four years behind grade level of the other students.
And that’s the failure of our system. You know, this year, we’re going to celebrate the 50th anniversary, May 17th, of Brown vs. The Board of Education, the end of racial segregation formally, but truly not the end of racial segregation in our schools.
So I would make it a top priority: fully fund special education; invest in the so-called No Child Left Behind; fully fund it.
Start school — have a universal pre-kindergarten program for all of America’s children. And then take it right through — not K-12, but pre-K to 16 to graduate to college.
We’re all for affirmative action. We all oppose the Bush administration and this terrible position they took on the University of Michigan.
But what happens after African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans get into college? Too many fall out.
We have to have a program that gives them the financial aid and the personal assistance to make it through college and become full- fledged citizens of America.
HOLT: Senator Lieberman, thank you very much.
Senator Edwards, this is your opportunity now to ask one of your opponents a question.
EDWARDS: Thank you.
My question is to Governor Dean.
Governor, one of the things that I’ve talked about tonight and throughout this campaign is the plight of the middle class and the working poor who are trying to enter the middle class.
And one of the great problems that they face are the abusive practices of payday lenders, predatory lenders and, to some extent, the credit card companies that are absolutely taking advantage of them every single day. And it probably cost them about $9 billion last year alone.
And I’ve laid out a whole group of ideas about how to crack down on the credit card companies, making them fully disclose when they’re changing the interest rate on people — in fact, ending some of the most abusive practices by payday lenders and predatory lenders, so that they can’t continue to take advantage of and prey on all of these middle-class families and these poor families that are trying to just build a better life for themselves.
I guess my first question is, do you agree with what I’m proposing? And second, do you have other ideas, specific ideas, yourself?
DEAN: I do agree, John. That was an excellent proposal that you laid out. And I appreciated it very much.
And I don’t know there’s a lot I could do to improve it, except to say this: that in corporate America today, this president has turned a blind eye to morality. We have lost our moral compass in this country because what business is doing to ordinary people in America.
Most business people are honest and decent people. But this president sent a signal when he hired Harvey Pitt to run the SEC that the regulations didn’t matter anymore.
And what you get is respectable banks owning finance companies of subsidiaries that go into African-American and Latino neighborhoods — and they also do this, I might add, with Native Americans, who we haven’t talked about at all tonight. It’s a minority group that’s in serious trouble in this country, because of the way our structure is.
Those companies need to be brought to heel by a president who has a moral sense of what is good for ordinary people.
This president has run this country for the benefit of corporations. He did it with the Medicare prescription bill, by having a bill that was much better for drug companies and insurance companies than it was for ordinary people. He did it with the energy bill which has $16 to $25 billion going to gas and oil companies in the first year.
We can do better than this.
HOLT: Governor Dean…
DEAN: And regulation of those finance companies that you’re talking about is exactly the right track.
HOLT: Thank you for your response. Thank you for your questions.
Actually, we need to go right now to our distinguished panelists. And Maria Celeste is with one of them that had a question.
ARRARAS: And that is correct. And here I am with Will Gary, which is a CEO and chairman of the Major Broadcasting television network. And his first question, I believe, is precisely for Senator Edwards.
WILL GARY, CEO, MAJOR BROADCASTING TELEVISION NETWORK: That’s correct. I want to change the tone a little bit.
Senator Edwards, the Bush administration, doctors, insurance companies and even some states have taken the position that they want to put a cap on damages for personal injuries, such as pain and suffering and mental anguish to poor people.
The flip side of that is that many injured people feel that it’s unconstitutional, number one. And then number two, that it’s totally unfair.
As president, how would you address that issue?
EDWARDS: Well, the first thing I would do is do what I’ve done my whole life. I mean, I’ve spent 20 years before I went to the Senate in courtrooms fighting against the very people that we’ve heard talked about tonight: big insurance companies, big drug companies, big HMOs, big corporate America.
I fought those battles. I won those battles. I’m very proud of that.
The truth of the matter is, what President Bush is proposing about this and what happens in our courtrooms shows his philosophy about everything. He doesn’t believe in democracy.
He hates the idea that six or 12 ordinary Americans sitting in a jury box are going to be able to decide a case between one party and another.
He hates the idea that his friends and his supporters are going to walk into a courtroom and be treated exactly the same way as a child or a family who have been the victims of fraud or abuse. He hates that notion. That’s what this is all about.
And everything his is proposing that you just listed, these are all ideas to take away the very rights of women, who are stay-at-home moms, of seniors, of kids who don’t yet have employment.
And this thing it is aimed as specifically as it could possibly be, at the very people who are being hurt. And if you take away their damages for economic loss — I mean, you protect their damages for economic loss, but take away what you’re describing, the damages for loss of life, the other things, that they’ve been disabled for life, I mean, this could not be more discriminatory than it is.
It’s aimed like a laser, like a laser, at kids, seniors…
ARRARAS: Senator Edwards, I’m going to have to cut you like a laser because there is another question and very little time.
And I believe your next question is for Reverend Al Sharpton.
GARY: Yes, that’s correct.
Reverend Sharpton, in this last election, I’ve noticed from some statistics that 65 percent of young African-Americans didn’t vote. A lot of you all up there marched. In some cases, we have people who died just to get African-Americans the right to vote, and then we have some young people that will not exercise that right.
Through your campaign across this nation and even from the White House, what would you do to address this issue?
SHARPTON: Well, first of all, let me say I want to agree with John on the last question, because I know some of the media will say John’s a lawyer, you a lawyer, and you all have a vested interest. I think it’s important victims be able to be compensated and people know they cannot have a cap on what they are exposed to if they do wrong. So I join John and you on that, Willie.
I think that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to address the issue of youth voter registration. We’ve spent time on campuses in this campaign of all races trying to register young people.
And I’ve said to them: You need to vote, not for the candidate; you need to vote for yourself. The things that you face — student loans, lack of student loans, student debt forgiveness, where you will work, where you will live, how you will be treated — are all political.
I think that we engage in a massive voter registration drive with Russell Simmons and others in the hip-hop community or Bob Johnson with our organization, National Action Network.
I think if we bring young people out, it not only is good for them, it’s good for the country. It makes them understand that they have a part.
You can’t just lay down and accept being marginalized. Even if you’re knocked down, that’s somebody else’s fault, you have to get up, that’s your obligation. And we must tell young Americans to rise up and take this vote in their hands and express themselves.
ARRARAS: I’m here with another one of our distinguished panelists, and his name is Joshua Fahiym Ratcliffe. He is the cultural editor of The Source magazine, and he has a question for one of our panelists.
JOSHUA FAHIYM RATCLIFFE, CULTURAL EDITOR, “THE SOURCE” MAGAZINE: Yes, this question is for Senator Lieberman. Some time ago, Representative John Conyers introduced a bill to study the feasibility of reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves.
This issue has been gaining momentum — has again been gaining momentum in the black community and, more specifically, amongst the hip-hop generation.
If elected, would you support — would you propose or back legislation in support of reparations? And if so, what would it look like?
LIEBERMAN: Here’s what I’ve said. When Congressman Conyers introduced that legislation, I said I thought it was a good idea and that I would support it. And the legislation was really intended to go beyond the specific question of reparations and to go back to the history of slavery, the greatest indictment, the greatest breach of the American promise that we find in the Declaration that all of us were endowed by our creator with those rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
We ought to bring that out again and talk about it, and then talk about what we can do about it. My own guess is that this is going to be more future-oriented in terms of response, and by that I mean, to turn around some of the abandonment of people that’s gone on under this Bush administration — as I’ve said before, fully fund education, raise people up in that way.