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updated 4/1/2004 5:32:34 PM ET 2004-04-01T22:32:34

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NBC News

MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, March 21, 2004

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS(202)885-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

Meet the Press (NBC News) - Sunday, March 21, 2004

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: The president marks the first anniversary of the Iraq war.

(Videotape):

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH: Whatever it takes, we'll fight and work to assure the success of freedom in Iraq.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry offers his views.

(Videotape):

SEN. JOHN KERRY (Democratic Presidential Candidate): We're still bogged down in Iraq, and the administration stubbornly holds to failed unilateral policies.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Vice President Cheney responds.

(Videotape):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: The senator from Massachusetts has given us ample doubts about his judgment.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: The race for the White House: Decision 2004 is fully engaged. With us, a prime sponsor of the Kerry candidacy and fellow Democratic senator from Massachusetts, Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Then, insights and analysis from Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times and Robin Wright of The Washington Post.

But first, with us now, the senior senator from the state of Massachusetts, Edward M. Kennedy, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY, (D-MA): Morning. Morning.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, this marks the first anniversary of the war in Iraq. Was the war worth it?

SEN. KENNEDY: What we have to recognize as a nation and as a leader, really of the Free World is that after 9/11 we had the whole world working with the United States to deal with the problems of terror all over the world. They were supporting us militarily, they were supporting us with intelligence, they were supporting us to deal with the financial links of al-
Qaeda. Then this president made a unilateral decision to bring this country to war, and as a
result of that unilateral decision that basically thumbed its nose at the world and community, we have seen that alliance in shambles.

The responsibility of the president of the United States to is look after the security of the United States and its allies to fight in the most effective way against al-Qaeda and terror. We have missed that opportunity. We should have been working with the world community to deal with that terror. The Iraqi war has been a distraction and taken us off course with that.

We could have made greater progress, more progress in the battle against terror if we hadn't fought the battle in Iraq unilaterally and without the world community.

MR. RUSSERT: The president on Friday offered some questions for people who have been expressing those kinds of reservations. Let's listen.

(Videotape, March 19, 2004)

PRES. BUSH: Who would prefer that Saddam's torture chamber still be open? Who would wish that more mass graves were still being filled? Who would begrudge the Iraqi people their long-awaited liberation?

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: What the president's saying, Senator, if you had your way the torture chambers, the mass graves, and the hostile holding of the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein would still be in place.

SEN. KENNEDY: Look, this nation, this president, brought us unilaterally to war. They have had a unilateral foreign policy where they rejected the Kyoto treaty, they got out of the ABM treaty, they have basically taken us to war alone, and that has fracture the whole alliance, the whole world community, from having the kind of cooperation that is absolutely essential if we're going to deal with the problems of terror and al-Qaeda in the world.

Sure, there are dictators that we want to free ourselves from. But, you know, we have sacrificed in terms of lives, American lives, we have sacrificed in terms of treasure and we have most of all sacrificed in terms of the credibility of the United States around the world.

One of the proudest moments that President Kennedy had is at the time of the Cuban missile crisis when Dean Acheson went to France and told Charles de Gaulle that we were going to face the Cuban missile crisis and told him that President Kennedy needed his help and assistance, and then after he told him that he said to Charles de Gaulle, "Let me show you the
charts." And the president of France says, "The word of the United States is all that I need."

That kind of credibility in terms of the world community has been fractured, and the only way we're going to do that is to have a new president, and we're going to have to change that. And that's why I believe so strongly that John Kerry is the man.

MR. RUSSERT: Is the world not better off, is the United States not better off, that Saddam Hussein is gone?

SEN. KENNEDY: The fact is, perhaps the people in Iraq, certainly, but there's no question that this was a distraction. This was a distraction from the central challenge to American security which was terror and al-Qaeda. That was the central challenge. This administration had made its mind up with regards to Iraq long--in the early part of its administration. It was a part of their ideology and a part of their politics. That is the reason that they went to the war with Iraq. The challenge today, as then, was how we're going to maintain the world community and we have seen only this past week with what's happened in Spain, what's happened in Poland, the demonstrations in London, around the world, that we are isolated in the most extraordinary way, certainly since before World War II.

MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line, the war in Iraq was not worth the price?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, the bottom line is we should have never taken our eye off what was the central thrust to American security, that's al-Qaeda. That was the war against the terror.

What happened is this administration diverted focus and attention on Iraq; we're weighted down there, let alone the misinformation, the manipulation of intelligence, the distortion of intelligence that is costing us in credibility all over the world.

MR. RUSSERT: Back in September of 2003, you gave an interview to the Associated Press and said this: "There was no imminent threat. This was made up in Texas, announced in January to the Republican leadership that the war was going to take place and was going to be good politically. This whole thing was a fraud."

You believe the war in Iraq was conducted for political reasons?

SEN. KENNEDY: Ideological reasons; it was conducted for political timing. Tim, in their own words, Karl Rove, 2002, talking to Republicans in Los Angeles, "Fighting the war is going to be good for us politically." Secretary O'Neill, talking about how Iraq was brought up at the first National Security Council meeting. Andy Card saying, "We don't roll out a new product in August. We wait for September." The timing of the vote in the United States Congress, just before the elections, the kind of political activity that they, Republicans had, the Republican machine that is now attempting to distort and misrepresent John Kerry's--what they did to Max Cleland in Georgia was an absolute travesty. And then, and then we have May, where the president of the United States goes out to the aircraft carrier with "mission accomplished." That's a political package, and all Americans understand it.

MR. RUSSERT: You said "imminent threat." The president says he never said "imminent threat." Scott McClellan, who was then deputy press secretary, used the words "imminent threat," but for the record and it's important to be clarified, he was referring that Turkey was under imminent threat from Iraq, not the United States. That's an important distinction.

SEN. KENNEDY: It's a semantic denial. "Grave," "unique," "immediate threat." Synonym with "imminent threat," "immediate threat." And then a "mushroom cloud." "Mushroom cloud." What does that mean? That means it's an imminent threat. And the fact is there was a distortion, a misrepresentation all the way through. This was a part of the ideology of this administration and done with the politics in mind in terms of the timing. And the American people now are tired of distortions, they're tired of misrepresentations, they're tired of an administration that says one thing and does another. That's been true with regards to No Child Left Behind, it's true with regards to the job figures, it's true with regards to Medicare costs. And this is why people are going to vote for change.

MR. RUSSERT: You say, Senator, "This thing was a fraud." Do you believe that 573 Americans gave their lives for a fraud?

SEN. KENNEDY: Absolutely not. You know, I walk by that monument down on the Mall where they have those 50,000 names of the boys and women that died in Vietnam and say a prayer. I remember going up to Gettysburg with my grandchildren and my children and reading, again, the description of Lincoln talking about "These hallowed dead lives shall not be in vain." We honor the men and women who have served in the armed forces. The tragic fact is that this president, this president, this president, distorted, manipulated the intelligence to bring us to war. And that has been--set us back in terms of the war against terror and against al-Qaeda. They misrepresented the facts on Iraq, just like they misrepresented the facts in funding No Child Left Behind, just like they've misrepresented the facts on the Medicare, just like they've misrepresented the facts on the job issue. And that is why Americans are going to have new leadership with John Kerry. People are tired of these distortions and misrepresentations.

MR. RUSSERT: You also said in your interview with the Associated Press as follows: "My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops."

Bribing? What evidence do you have that the impeachable offense of bribery was committed by the president of the United States?

SEN. KENNEDY: You talk about incentivizing, providing resources for those. You take the choice of words. What do you think the $8 billion was in terms of economic aid that we are providing for Turkey in order to get Turkish troops? You put whatever label on that. The fact is this president seems to be more interested in rebuilding Iraq in terms of their schools, in terms of their hospitals, in terms of their environment and water resources, they are here in the United States. We need a president that is going to be respected around the world and be able to bring our troops home with honor and also understands the importance of giving focus and attention to the needs of the people here at home.

MR. RUSSERT: You stand by the word "bribing"?

SEN. KENNEDY: I stand by--you can take whatever word you want on it, but I don't retreat from the word "bribe."

MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry is now taking some heat for these words: "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it"--"pubicly, but boy they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy."

Senator Kerry is unable or unwilling to identify one foreign leader that he has met with and who has said such a thing.

SEN. KENNEDY: You know, I watched the vice president make that statement. And you know what--all I could think of: When is the vice president going to give us the names of those peoples on his task force in energy that jacked up the price for consumers and provided windfall profits for the energy industry? When is he going to do that? When is the White House going to give us the name of the person that leaked the name to the newspapers endangering the life of Valerie Plame, who was a CIA agent? When are they going to do that? Come on, Tim. All we have to do is go down the list of members of the United Nations and find out where the support is. The CIA knows it. They work for the president. They can give them the names of all of those countries. And all you had to do was look at what happened yesterday in the demonstrations all over the world. This is not a mystery to them. Let's get the names of those people that were on Dick Cheney's task force. That can make a real difference in terms of the consumers.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator...

SEN. KENNEDY: But let's get the name of the person in the White House that leaked in complete violation of the law. Let's get this kind of information on it.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, shouldn't Senator Kerry have a higher standard? When he said, "I've met more leaders," shouldn't he tell us who he met? And where in his schedule did he have time to meet those leaders?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, the fact is, he's obviously met leaders over a period of time. And anyone--the CIA knows who they--if the White House is really interested in those leaders, they control the CIA. The CIA gives them those lists. Everyone knows at the United Nations where the country stands. Any child can look at the newspapers and television and look at what's happened in these demonstrations all over the world. This isn't a big mystery. What is a mystery is what Dick Cheney is doing with those lists. That affects consumers here in this country. It affects their electric bill. It affects untold profits. And talks about fixing prices. Why isn't Cheney giving us those lists, and why isn't the administration as worried?

Why didn't we hear from the president the other day? "I'm working at getting the person in the White House that we know leaked the name about Valerie Plame." Why aren't we hearing that? Now, that makes a real difference. That is violation of the law. And it also endangers the CIA agents, and it's had a real adverse impact in morale in the CIA.

MR. RUSSERT: Your rhetoric about the president has been quite striking. Here's what you said in October. "Before the war, week after week after week we were told lie after lie after lie after lie. If the president's war is revealed as mindless, needless, senseless, reckless, the American people all know this, our allies know it, our soldiers know it." How can you say our soldiers believe the president's policy is mindless, needless, senseless, and reckless?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well...

MR. RUSSERT: Interviews with soldiers in Iraq, they--most are foursquare behind the president.

SEN. KENNEDY: Yeah. You know, one of the moments that I took this morning before coming over here is reading those letters in The New York Times, the last letters that boys sent home to their parents, just before they were lost. And I think it would be worthwhile to spend a little time reading through that. And I think you'll get an answer to that question.

There was the concern about their security, about not having the kind of up-armored Humvees to protect them, being sent into war. And there was also the...

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, there was a bill for $87 billion to provide...

SEN. KENNEDY: That's--let me finish now, Tim. Wait a second. No, no, no, no, no. No.

MR. RUSSERT: But this is important.

SEN. KENNEDY: I know that's important.

MR. RUSSERT: The bill was for $87 billion to provide for them--you voted against it.

SEN. KENNEDY: I'm talking about the up-armored Humvees today, today. Not what we just passed, the amendment. I'm talking about the failure of body armor when we went to war and before that. We've lost 17 boys in Massachusetts. Seven of them had been killed from Humvees that didn't have it. That's up until just four days ago, four days ago. This vote on the $87 billion--as you know, as you know, the upper tax brackets provided $680 billion for the wealthiest individuals over the next 10 years. John Kerry's amendment said. "Let's use 80 of that $600 billion to fund the war." Democrats virtually all supported it. It was he and Joe Biden that have done that.

If that had been passed on it, not only would we add up the difference in terms of the funding of the part, but we could have had a change in policy. We would have had a change in our direction of our policy. Now, we're in the process on June 30th of providing sovereignty to the Iraqis. We don't know who that's to. Is it to the Council? Who are we providing the sovereignty to? This administration was superb in winning the war, had no postwar policy. And now the policy is in shambles, and it cannot be put together unless we have new leadership that can have the confidence and trust of the international community. That's John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT: What would you do? Cut and run?

SEN. KENNEDY: No, but you can't bring the forces together that are going to be necessary,
whether you're going to take this step now in terms of the conduct of elections, the fashioning
of a constitution, bringing together the various Arab League countries that have an interest in
security in their part, with this administration. They just don't believe it. They've been through too much. You need new leadership. John Kerry is the one to provide that kind of leadership. These nations--I think in Western Europe as well as in the area and the United Nations--under new leadership could provide a framework where we could see the building and the development of Iraq in a more positive and hopeful way.

MR. RUSSERT: But under John Kerry, there would not be a withdrawal of United States
troops. We are there for some time to come.

SEN. KENNEDY: Yeah, there would probably, probably. But I can tell you this: There would be a much greater participation of other countries around the world. This is laughable, this coalition. Eighty-five percent of all the troops over there now are United States troops, and 85 percent of the casualties--the casualties--are American troops. There's no reason that we can't have other troops from other nations participate and gradually free American troops from that responsibility. That would be the objective, and that would be the aim. I think that could be achievable.

MR. RUSSERT: Back in 2002, your tone towards the president and the war was much different. Let me show you. "In this serious time for America and many American families, no one should poison the public square by attacking the patriotism of opponents, or by assailing proponents as more interested in the cause of politics than in the merits of their cause. I reject this, as should we all. Let me say it plainly, I not only concede, but I am convinced that President Bush believes genuinely in the course he urges upon us. ...There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime is a serious danger, that he is [a] tyrant, and that his pursuit of lethal weapons of mass destruction cannot be tolerated." What happened? Why did you change your...

SEN. KENNEDY: That's right. War--unilateral decision to go to war; ideological decision; political kind of timing; failure to give the inspectors the full opportunity, the full chance; the misrepresentation on their--here we have--I listened, as a member of that Armed Services Committee, to military leaders of our--some of the most distinguished and heroic military leaders, who absolutely predicted what was going to happen; convinced me to vote against that counterpart. But you wouldn't know that from the political leadership of this Defense Department that gave--"We'll blow through that place. We'll be recognized as liberators. It
will be--we'll have the flowers out there. We will be able to pay with this with the oil revenues." They completed distorted, misrepresented the intelligence on it.

I was going to vote against the proposal because I didn't think it was an imminent threat, but
there was no question that there--evidence was out there that there were efforts to try to
develop weapons of mass destruction, just like there are weapons of mass destruction in Egypt, just like there's--Libya has used weapons of mass destruction. Egypt used--Iran used
weapons of mass destruction. Syria's a sponsor for terrorism. North Korea has nuclear weapons. Our great danger was al-Qaeda. Come back to that. Terror, terror, terror, al-Qaeda. And this administration went off--I think, misrepresented the intelligence.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator, the National Intelligence Estimate, which was made available to Congress, had a lot of caveats. "...The activities we have detected do not...add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what INR [State Department bureau of intelligence and research] would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach
to acquire nuclear weapons."

You were asked about that in March, and you said, "Clearly we missed it. ...We should have
spotted it. That should have been raised up; it wasn't and I think we bear some responsibility." So the president and the Congress was acting on the same information, and now you're saying the president lied when, in fact, your colleague, Senator Kerry, voted for war, voted for the authorization and said on the floor of the Senate, "Saddam has weapons of mass destruction."

SEN. KENNEDY: The fact is this administration distorted and misrepresented--weapons of
mass destruction, Tim--does Syria have weapons of mass destruction? Yes. Does Iran have
it? Yes. Did Libya have it? Yes. Does Egypt have it? Yes. Does North Korea have it, this nuclear weapons--yes. So we understand that they had some program. They misrepresent the immediacy. They made the point--when they talk about mushroom cloud, they talk about grave, they talk about the immediate threat, they were talking about an immediate threat.

And in the wake--and listen to this. It wasn't only the thrust of the administration. I
remember this very clearly. It was about the development of nuclear weapons and the tie to
al-Qaeda--the tie to al-Qaeda. And we have Richard Clarke, who was the counterterrorist leader both under President Clinton and under President Bush, said they--at the time right
after 9/11, here Don Rumsfeld saying, "Let's go in Iraq." And they were all--the FBI and the
CIA said, "We don't find any contact between 9/11 and Iraq. None! None." But that isn't
what the administration said: "Nuclear weapons tie in to al-Qaeda." That's the distortion,
that's the misrepresentation, that's the lie.

MR. RUSSERT: Was John Kerry wrong to vote authorization for war?

SEN. KENNEDY: Look, he has explained his position. If John Kerry had been president of the United States with that vote, we never, I don't believe, gone to war, certainly not at that
time. He would have worked through the inspection system. He would have worked through the international kinds of system, and I don't personally believe that we would have gone to war. I think he was...

MR. RUSSERT: His vote was a mistake?

SEN. KENNEDY: His think--no. I think he was thinking about what he would want if he was president of the United States, and I think he would have probably wanted that power.

MR. RUSSERT: I think some of the challenges now about Senator Kerry has been where he stands on some of these issues. Back in 1994, here was the Boston Herald: "John Kerry broke
with the Democratic..."

SEN. KENNEDY: This isn't a paper that generally supports John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT: Yeah, but this is...

SEN. KENNEDY: OK, let's hear it.

MR. RUSSERT: ...military challenge--here's the accurate report.

SEN. KENNEDY: Let's have it.

MR. RUSSERT: "He broke ranks, saying he was `delighted' by the GOP election purge, and laying the blame at the doorstep of President Clinton and arrogant House leaders. `I want this change. I'm delighted with seeing an institutional shakeup because I think we need one.'" That's when they elected Newt Gingrich.

SEN. KENNEDY: Right.

MR. RUSSERT: He went on to say in the article that you and President Clinton were a major cause of the Democratic Party's problems because of your pushing of health care. And then later, here's the Los Angeles Times...

SEN. KENNEDY: Is this the toughest flip-flop of John Kerry's...

MR. RUSSERT: More to come.

SEN. KENNEDY: OK.

MR. RUSSERT: "Senator Edward Kennedy..."

SEN. KENNEDY: So far you're not convincing.

MR. RUSSERT: "Senator Kennedy blew a gasket. `If you're not for raising the minimum
wage...'

SEN. KENNEDY: Now, there you go.

MR. RUSSERT: `...you don't deserve to call yourself a Democrat.'"

SEN. KENNEDY: You're right about the last one. But the second, I thought you would have
had something more about the, you know, part of this whole Bush distortion and misrepresentation. I mean, you take the issues on the environment, John Kerry's been the
leader in terms of the issues on the environment, and for the 20 years that he's been in the
United States Senate, nobody--this is disingenuous, you know, particularly from an administration--let me tell you, Tim, for an administration that said that it's going to fund No
Child Left Behind and refused to do it, from an administration that said it was going to do a
Medicare prescription drug program and it's been a program that has been better for the pharmaceutical companies than it is for the seniors. We are concerned about elderly people,
seniors, seniors, seniors. They deserve to have prescription drugs that is going to be reliable,
dependable and affordable. This program here is a sham. It's the administration that has flipflopped in terms of the whole jobs program. And so I have difficulty in being enormously
persuaded about how they are so concerned about the change of position.

Finally I would just say sometimes we change positions. I wish I had voted for Judge Souter
for the United States Senate. I voted against him. It isn't always wrong, I think. And I made
a mistake in voting for Scalia. I voted for him; I think I should have voted against him. It isn't all bad, you know, just to alter or change, you know, your position on some of these
issues.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, here's what The New York Times--when asked does Senator Kerry say
what he believes in, 33 percent, thinks what most people want to hear, 57 percent.

The war in Iraq, he voted for, the Patriot Act, he voted for it and now criticizes it. Leave No
Child Behind, he voted for it, now criticizes. He says he's against a constitutional amendment
at the federal level to ban gay marriage. This is The Boston Globe: "Presidential candidate John Kerry said that he supports amending the Massachusetts Constitution to ban gay marriage and provide for civil unions for gay couples."

Do you agree with Senator Kerry? Should the Massachusetts Constitution be amended to
ban gay marriage?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I'm opposed to the amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution, as
I am opposed to an amendment to the federal Constitution. If we can take...

MR. RUSSERT: How can Senator Kerry be against the federal but for the state?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, because we have similar positions, and our positions, even though they differ on a particular approach, are so much different from where the Republicans are, where the Republicans are on this. Where this administration, this president, wants to put into the Constitution, right into the Constitution, discrimination and prejudice. Be the first time that we've had an amendment to the Constitution that writes in prejudice and discrimination. As a matter of fact, this president favors more constitutional amendments than any other president of the United States, except George Washington, who was for the Bill of Rights. He's got a constitutional amendment for every problem on this kind of thing, and...


MR. RUSSERT: But you believe gay people should be allowed to be married?

SEN. KENNEDY: I support--I have fought against discrimination all the time that I've been in
the United States Senate. And secondly, I support the Massachusetts. Third, the Massachusetts decision has no requirement about sacramental marriage. I think that's the
key. There's no requirement that the Catholic Church, Protestant Church, synagogue, mosque, have to have a sacramental marriage. So I am for...

MR. RUSSERT: But civil marriage is OK.

SEN. KENNEDY: Civil marriage is--yes, I support that.

MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry said...

SEN. KENNEDY: He wants civil union.

MR. RUSSERT: Right.

SEN. KENNEDY: And the issue is about the range of benefits that are going to be protected.
There are about 1,000 federal benefits. He wants to include those 1,000 benefits in his civil
union. I believe that they would be there on a civil marriage. So we are for that. While this
administration is trying to write a constitutional amendment that will enshrine prejudice and
discrimination. Big difference, large difference, and it's a very, very important one.

MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry said that George Bush has made a mockery of the words "leave
no child behind." Do you agree?

SEN. KENNEDY: Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: That's a far cry from when...

SEN. KENNEDY: That's right. He...

MR. RUSSERT: ...President Bush--let me show you--President Bush...

SEN. KENNEDY: Go ahead.

MR. RUSSERT: ...came to Massachusetts January of 2002. There you are together. And this
is what the president of the United States had to say about you:

(Videotape, January 8, 2002):

PRES. BUSH: He's a smart, capable senator. You want him on your side, I can tell you that.
And as a result of his hard work, we put together a good piece of legislation that has put
Republicans and Democrats on the side of the schoolchildren in America and, Senator, thank
you very much for your leadership.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: And now you're saying he made a mockery of those words?

SEN. KENNEDY: That legislation, the No Child Left Behind, had two principles: one was funding, and the second was reform. You were gonna use the funding to leverage the reform. That was the essential aspects of it. It was a very simple concept. Well-trained teachers, small classroom, supplementary services, testing and accountability for both the schools and the individuals. We expect 100 percent performance from the children and we're leaving 4.5 million children out of that. That isn't--when President Kennedy decided to go to the moon, he didn't support sufficient funds to go up 250 miles. We went all the way to the moon. When we committed to the Voting Rights Act, we said it's gonna stop discrimination for this whole country. When we said we're gonna do something about Medicare, we did it for all senior citizens. How do we say we do it for all senior citizens of Medicare, we do everything in Voting Rights Act, we're gonna do it for the children, but not 4.5 million of them. That makes no sense.

Now, look, it isn't just the pledge to me, it's to the parents. Don't ask me about the funding.

Go to any school district. Go to any school. Talk to any superintendent whether it's adequate
funding, and you will find, whether it's Virginia, state of Utah, all across this country people
are finding that this administration has failed. In the budget of $2.4 trillion, we couldn't get
$8 billion to fund No Child Left Behind? That isn't a sufficient priority for this administration? Well, it sure is for John Kerry.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you feel used by the president?

SEN. KENNEDY: No, I don't. You know, I believed the president of the United States when he said that. I think every president--I mean, I believed him at that time. I don't think it's so
much for me. I represent the children of Massachusetts and I like to believe the children on
the committees around the country, and I think it is--they're the ones that have been deceived.

MR. RUSSERT: President Bush says he's a proud conservative. Are you a proud liberal?

SEN. KENNEDY: Yes. But I think...

MR. RUSSERT: Is John...

SEN. KENNEDY: Let me ask you about the proud conservative. Let me ask you.

MR. RUSSERT: But this is important.

SEN. KENNEDY: OK.

MR. RUSSERT: Is John Kerry a liberal?

SEN. KENNEDY: John Kerry believes, as I do, that labels don't make a lot of sense. Listen to
this.

MR. RUSSERT: But you're...

SEN. KENNEDY: Just let me finish an answer.

MR. RUSSERT: You just said you're a proud liberal.

SEN. KENNEDY: Let me just say--let me just give you--this administration, this president says he's a proud conservative. He has taken a budget, a budget that had the greatest surpluses in the history of this country, and now we have the greatest deficits in the history of this country, and he calls himself a proud conservative. I call that irresponsible. Now, is that liberal or conservative?

MR. RUSSERT: But in terms of the label "liberal"...

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, here it is. This is what we live with, Tim. It isn't label. I'm just asking you, when you have that kind of surplus and you go to this def--is that liberal or conservative? If you answer that question, I'll tell you where John is.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, the national--National Journal--I don't offer my opinions. That's why
you're here. The National Journal rated John Kerry--here's the list--number-one liberal in the
United States Senate. You're tied for eighth. Do you agree with that?

SEN. KENNEDY: He's more liberal than I am, just as George Bush is a compassionate conservative.

MR. RUSSERT: You were first on MEET THE PRESS, March 11, 1962. Earl Mazo of the New York Herald Tribune asked you this question.

SEN. KENNEDY: You're gonna get me one of these...

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, March 11, 1962):

MR. EARL MAZO (New York Herald Tribune): Do you hope or intend someday perhaps to run for president?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, Mr. Mazo, I'd say that having seen the problems of my brother, I just
wonder whether that seeking or that job is really worth it.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Haven't changed a bit. In all seriousness, do you regret having never been
elected president?

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I fought for it and didn't make it. I would have liked to certainly at the time, but I--into the Senate, I love the Senate, and I plan to stay there till I get the hang of it.

MR. RUSSERT: You will run for re-election in 2006?

SEN. KENNEDY: I have every expectation to.

MR. RUSSERT: Someone else in your family may want to run for president. A few weeks ago on this program, I want to share you part of an interview.

(Videotape, MEET THE PRESS, February 22, 2004):

MR. RUSSERT: Here in Washington, Senator Hatch has introduced S.J. Resolution 15, and I'll put it on the board: "Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to
make eligible for the Office of President a person who has been a United States citizen for 20 years."

How long have you been a citizen?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, (R-CA): Since 1983, so it's more than 20 years.

MR. RUSSERT: So you're interested in this legislation.

GOV. SCHWARZENEGGER: Man, I should look at that because it sounds really good.

(End videotape)

SEN. KENNEDY: I think I know what your question's gonna be.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you support such legislation?

SEN. KENNEDY: I would.

MR. RUSSERT: To allow a naturalized citizen...

SEN. KENNEDY: Because I think that most American historians believe that that's probably an anachronism in any event due to the time, and I would.

MR. RUSSERT: Is that one Republican you'd support for president?

SEN. KENNEDY: Oh, I don't believe--listen, I admire--he did very well. I watched him on your show and I think you'd agree Arnold's able and he's smart and he's doing a good job out there. But he--and he's married, he's married to one of the most wonderful people, Maria Shriver. And I'm still hopeful that, as things go along, that Maria will have more and more influence on Arnold. That's what I'm keeping my fingers crossed for.

MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry vs. George Bush. What's the final percent vote?

SEN. KENNEDY: John will win that. Whether it's--any race for the presidency, 52 percent, 52 percent, it'll be close, but John Kerry will win. This country wants new leadership on domestic issues, here at home, as well as overseas. John Kerry's offering a new vision, a new sense of hope. I think he'll win it.

MR. RUSSERT: And we'll be watching. And we thank you for your views, Senator.

SEN. KENNEDY: Thank you very much, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Coming next, President Bush and Senator Kerry, both fully engaged. Our Roundtable will tackle that issue with their insight and analysis.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein of the LA Times, Robin Wright of The Washington Post, after this station break.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Robin Wright, Ron Brownstein, welcome.

MR. RON BROWNSTEIN: Good morning.

MR. RUSSERT: This campaign is fully engaged. Let me show you, John Kerry on Wednesday and Dick Cheney on Wednesday. Here we go.

(Videotape, March 17, 2004):

SEN. KERRY: Ten months ago, George Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and proclaimed "Mission accomplished." But today, we know that the mission is not finished. Hostilities have not ended. And our men and women in uniform fight on almost alone, in reality, with the target squarely on their backs, and their fronts.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Had the decision belonged to Senator Kerry, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today in Iraq. In fact, Saddam Hussein would almost certainly still be in control of Kuwait.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: A reference by the vice president that John Kerry voted against the war in
Kuwait when Saddam invaded there in 1991.

Ron Brownstein, how much of an issue is foreign policy, defense policy, Iraq going to be in
this race?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Huge. I mean, very different from the 1992 election. When the first Persian Gulf War ended, it was over. It was not an ongoing concern for the American people. James Carville could say, "It's the economy, stupid." You cannot do that in 2004.

You're going to have an election in which both fronts are going to be very important to the
voters. Credibility as commander in chief, the ability to protect America and the world, and
also the economy and domestic concerns like health care. But, clearly, the challenge for a
Democrat like John Kerry, in terms of proving credibility as commander in chief, is far more
urgent and salient than it was for Bill Clinton in 1992.

MR. RUSSERT: John Kerry presents himself, as he was, a Vietnam veteran. Bush administration suggested he's weak on defense. Republican John McCain came to John Kerry's defense and said, "You can't call Kerry weak on defense."

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, and, in fact, that speech that you cited was, I think, quite interesting because it really is the continuation of the pivot from the primary to the general
election critique. The part that we played basically echoed the critique of President Bush, that
John Kerry made during the primaries, where he basically argued that he has driven away our allies and left us isolated in the world, the core of the Democratic critique on foreign policy.

But he also argued at him, Tim, from the right for the bulk of that speech, arguing he did not
provide enough support for the troops, bulletproof vests, other material. He began doing that
the Friday before the California primary at a speech at UCLA. They do not want to be pigeonholed as simply going at him from the left. They want to make an argument that in
some ways he has not been tough enough in prosecuting the war on terror.

MR. RUSSERT: Robin Wright: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq. On June 30, United States is supposed to hand over governance of that country to the Iraqi Council, turn the keys over, as such. What is going on in Iraq? Will that transfer take place, and who will we turn the keys over to?

MS. ROBIN WRIGHT: Well, it's clear that the administration does intend to turn over power.
The big question, of course, is: To whom? With only 100 days left, we still do not have an
Iraqi body in place to assume sovereignty. The United States has tried twice with two very
ambitious formulas to have Iraqis, through caucus systems and other devices, select their
leadership. And it's been rejected by very important political leaders inside Iraq. The United
States is going to try again. But it will probably end up handing over power to some enlarged
body of the current Iraqi Governing Council, which is made up largely of exiles, dissidents,
who are supported by the United States but who had very limited credibility inside Iraq.

And so there is a danger that there won't be the kind of institution in place that has the
support of the majority of Iraqis, and that will make it very vulnerable after the U.S. occupation ends. The United States may actually end up in the position of defending this
institution in a way that makes it look like it continues to be a surrogate or a stooge, even, of
the United States.

MR. RUSSERT: Is there a risk of a civil war?

MS. WRIGHT: Well, probably not necessarily in the way we once envisioned: you know, Kurds vs. Shiites vs. Sunnis. It is clear, however, that you have inside Iraq a number of different groups that are targeting the United States and its allies inside Iraq, including, you know, the Sunni insurgents and those who are loyalists to Saddam Hussein. But the biggest threat now is actually from a new generation of Islamic extremists. Whether they are tied with al-Qaeda is very unclear--whether they're home grown, whether they're imported. But it is clear that this is a new element that we didn't envision.

MR. RUSSERT: Ron Brownstein, the president is not wasting any time in going on the air against Senator Kerry and using Iraq as an issue. Let's watch the commercial of the Bush-Cheney campaign.

(Videotape, Bush re-election ad):

PRES. BUSH: I'm George W. Bush, and I approved this message.

Unidentified Woman: Few votes in Congress are as important as funding our troops at war.

Though John Kerry voted in October, 2002, for military action in Iraq, he later voted against funding our soldiers.

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. Kerry?

Unidentified Woman: No.

Body armor and higher combat pay for our troops.

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. Kerry?

Unidentified Woman: No.

Better health care for reservists.

Unidentified Man #1: Mr. Kerry?

Unidentified Woman: No.

And what does Kerry say now?

SEN. KERRY: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.

Unidentified Woman: Wrong on defense.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Do those ads work?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that's a tough ad. I mean, this is sort of the pernicious hangover of the Howard Dean moment in the Democratic Party. Both John Edwards and John Kerry voted against the $87 billion at a moment when Howard Dean was at his apex and the anti-war sentient seemed dominant in the party.

Look, on the broader issue of Iraq, just to go back to what Robin said, I think in the end the
arguments from both sides here, the sort of ads that we saw, the speeches from both sides, are going to be less important in how people judge the wisdom of going into Iraq in the first place than what actually happens on the ground there. You know, presidential elections tend to be a referendum more on the incumbent than on the challenger. And the assessment of the
incumbent is based heavily, largely, on reality.

So, in effect, I think if you looked at the polling over the last year or so, Tim, there's not an
ideological majority against the war in Iraq in this country. But there can be an operational
majority dubious of the strategy if things are not going well. And I think President Bush has
more at stake in making sure that Iraq goes well than he does in raising the doubts about
Senator Kerry.

MS. WRIGHT: Actually the administration is hoping, over the next 90 days, to launch, you know, this major offensive and strategy in the campaign. The irony is it may well be postperiod,
after June, when the fate of the campaign is really determined because of the post-June 30 transition in Iraq and what happens afterwards.

MR. RUSSERT: Also this week, in Afghanistan, along the border of Pakistan, we have reports that the Pakistani troops had perhaps surrounded a highly valuable target, perhaps the number-two man in al-Qaeda. How much is this president's political fortunes hostage to peace in Iraq and apprehending Osama bin Laden and his top deputies?

MS. WRIGHT: Oh, I think incredibly tied to both of those, more so than anyone would have
anticipated for a president who was elected on a domestic agenda. You know, the capture of
Osama bin Laden would be probably a huge bump for the administration, even though his capture would probably not have a huge impact on the extremist movement itself.

MR. RUSSERT: Why?

MS. WRIGHT: Because the movement has so splintered over the past couple of years. Al-
Qaeda means "the base," and that's really all it ever was. It was a place where lots of
different groups could come. And they've gone home, as we've seen with the attack on
Madrid, which is linked to an extremist group out of Morocco. There are groups that have
proliferated. We're into kind of a third generation since the emergence of the first al-Qaeda
folks in the late 1970s.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: You know, what's interesting about this is that, in the eyes of the American public, they really have made a clear differentiation between the way they look at President Bush on the war on terror and the way they look at the war on Iraq. On the war on terror, it has been his strongest asset since 9/11, the sense that he's a strong leader and has pursued a clear strategy, and he has very high approval ratings, consistently month after month after month. Now, Iraq, the assessment is more equivocal and much more contingent on events. I mean, that goes up and down much more and it's much more around 50-50, and people clearly differentiate between the two in the way they assess his presidency.

MR. RUSSERT: And that's why on Friday the president tried so hard to...

MR. BROWNSTEIN: To tie them together.

MR. RUSSERT: ...tie one more time, Iraq is a part of the war on terror. Let me show you, before we take a break, John Kerry's campaign ad, which was responding to George Bush's
comments that he was a tax raiser. Let's watch.

(Videotape, Kerry campaign ad):

Unidentified Man #2: Once again, George Bush is misleading America. John Kerry has never
called for a $900 billion tax increase. He wants to cut taxes for the middle class. Doesn't
America deserve more from its president than misleading, negative ads? John Kerry will crack down on the export of American jobs, get health-care costs under control, and cut the deficit.

SEN. KERRY: I'm John Kerry and I approve this message because we need to do what's right
for America's economy.

Unidentified Man #2: John Kerry, a new direction for America.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: What's your sense?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: I wrote a column about this this week. This was not a good start for the
campaign for either side. The logic that the Bush people used to make its charge was really
kind of stretched. They basically said that since John Kerry has proposed $900 billion in new
spending, therefore, he would have to raise taxes by that amount to cover it. In fact, you he
can count on economic growth and cutting spending in other areas to cover part of it, just as
President Bush is to cover some of his spending.

On the other hand, for John Kerry to say explicitly "I have never proposed $900 billion in tax
increases" really puts him out on an unsustainable limb. If you look specifically at his agenda,
rolling back rates for the top two brackets, rolling back capital gains and dividend taxes for
the top earners, estate tax reform and the so-called Benedict Arnold corporations, it comes
out to pretty close to $900 billion over 10 years. Now, he says it only affects, as it's now
written, only affects people in the top brackets, and that is true. So when President Bush said
yesterday he's aiming at all of you, at least on paper, that's not true. But both sides in these
initial claims, I think, it was a very kind of disturbing start to the campaign because I think
they both make claims they could not full which support.

MR. RUSSERT: Wouldn't John Kerry be happier discussing job loss than raising taxes?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Absolutely. But I think that, look, the challenge that he has is the same
challenge that Bill Clinton had in 1992. Bill Clinton did explicitly run in 1992 on raising taxes on the top brackets to fund domestic, you know, agenda, and he was able to overcome that
tax-raising charge from the first President Bush.

John Kerry, from the beginning, has known that he's going to have to be able to make the case that you are better off if I can spend this money on spending acts into health care,
putting more money into education, manufacturing, tax credit, other things like that.

President Bush has laid this before him in March. He's got to get it right some time in the next
eight months.

MR. RUSSERT: We're going to take a quick break and come right back to talk more with our
Roundtable, Robin Wright and Ron Brownstein.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: And we're back. Let me show you the headline cover of The New York
Daily News on Wednesday. Mudfellas. "Liar!" "Liar!" "It's only March--give the dirt a rest
already!" The campaign's intense, but, Robin, it's also about Iraq, about taxes, about jobs.
Isn't that healthy for a democracy?

MS. WRIGHT: Oh, it's very healthy, but it's also dizzying. I have to tell you, as a journalist, I
get more e-mails from the campaigns than I get from, you know, every other institution I
cover, and all personal e-mail combined. It's really overwhelming. And, you know, it'll be very interesting to see how the public reacts to this influx of information--whether they get really tired of it at a certain point and need a break, which both campaigns may actually calculate on once the summer hits.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Ron, we're saying, you know, John Kerry had a good week two weeks ago, but he had a bad week last week. We're covering this in an a very intense way ourselves.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Many things will happen between now and November, Tim, but I think
the thing to watch more than anything else is the president's approval rating. That is the first
key measure in a race involving an incumbent. It really is a referendum on the incumbent.

How do people think the country is doing? How do they think the president is doing? They will be willing to accept a challenger who they see with some flaws if they don't believe the president is leading the country in the right direction. For Bush, the key is to just pick up that
approval rating a few points, get himself into a comfort zone if he wants to be secure.

MR. RUSSERT: Democrats seem to think that John Kerry had a "bad week." Fair?

MR. BROWNSTEIN: John Kerry had a bad week. He said a few things that he probably wished he hadn't. It's probably wise for him to be on vacation, even with the carping from some in the party. He needs a little time to get ready for--it is going to be an extremely long general election after a primary that is probably too compressed, doesn't give people enough chance to make the choice in the primary. We just have an endless general election.

MS. WRIGHT: But this week is going to be a bad week for the Bush administration, because
you're going to have testimony on the Hill about whether the administration heeded the
warnings from the Clinton administration, and the former secretary of state, former secretary
of defense, a Republican, national security adviser, are all going to say, "We warned them
about al-Qaeda. We told them to pay attention and to do more." And you also have Richard
Clarke's book coming out that's gonna get a lot of attention, a former terrorism czar who's
going to also say the same kind of thing.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Republicans in Congress will say, "Hold on, President Clinton, didn't you have a chance to apprehend Osama bin Laden? And where were you?"

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, look, there's gonna be plenty of finger-pointing. Look, this is more like baseball than football now. This is gonna be a lot of ups and downs. It's a long way to go, and there are gonna be many twists and turns between now and November.

MR. RUSSERT: And before 2000--11, the press corps, we didn't ask much questions about Osama bin Laden either.

MR. BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right, that's right.

MR. RUSSERT: A lot of fault all around the table. Ron Brownstein, Robin Wright, we'll be right back.

(Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS.

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