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updated 1/30/2005 11:24:26 AM ET 2005-01-30T16:24:26

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                    MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS

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                    Sundays: (202) 885-4200

NBC News MEET THE PRESS

Sunday, January 30, 2005

GUESTS: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Brian Williams, Anchor and Managing Editor, NBC Nightly News

MODERATOR/PANELIST:  Tim Russert - NBC News

MR. TIM RUSSERT:  Our issues this Sunday, November 2, 2004, George W. Bush received 62,028,719 votes.  John Kerry received 59,028,550 votes.  How is he coping with losing a presidential election?  And what is his future and that of the Democratic Party?  And what would he do about Iraq, Social Security and more?  With us in his first television interview since the election, Senator John F. Kerry, only on MEET THE PRESS.

But first, most of the polls in Iraq have closed after a full day of voting. In some Shiite and Kurdish areas, long lines.  In other Sunni areas, empty polling places.  Sporadic violence across the country.  The acting prime minister, Ayad Allawi, has just voted and has spoken to NBC's Brian Williams, who is now live in Baghdad and joining us this morning.

Brian Williams, good morning.  What happened in Iraq today?

MR. BRIAN WILLIAMS (NBC News):  Well, Tim, good morning.

Ayad Allawi obviously expressing great confidence that this is the first day of a new era here in Iraq.  But we should back up to the overall feeling here and that, I think, most here would agree is a kind of general unease. Atmospherically, we have heard as many booms and concussions over the past hour as we have combined really over the past few days.  A while back, the threat of pedestrian suicide bombers had us confined to quarters, and there has been violence.  As of air time this morning, 14 attacks in the easiest place, most dependable place for statistic gathering, and that is here in Baghdad, 14 bombing attacks, 36 people dead so far.

But, Tim, like the election numbers, those will change.  And probably the best way to approach all of the numbers we will be hearing today, you hear turnout at 72 percent in one precinct, 50 in another, 4 percent in another, is with the same caution we exercise in the States with those now famous first-wave exit polls and other early information.  This is probably, it's safe to say at this hour, a fairly unquantifiable election so far.  Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Brian, when will we have some hard results?  Prior to the election, it was thought it may take as long as two weeks.

MR. WILLIAMS:  It appears that at eight to 10 days is our first best shot at some actual hard numbers.  As you know, you've seen the ballot.  It's a complex affair.  There's various anecdotal stories today at various polling places that people had to have ballots read to them.  And remember the other aspect of this election.  Some people walked in to vote today and were reading who the candidates were for the very first time, and in effect, voting at random, which the critics say takes the legitimacy out of the election.  But Allawi and others, certainly many Americans senior in the administration, say that people are voting today makes this a legitimate exercise, especially given its historic nature.

MR. RUSSERT:  There will be 270-some newly elected representatives.  How concerned is the Iraqi government about the safety of those newly elected public figures in Iraq?

MR. WILLIAMS:  Well, I spoke about security today with Ayad Allawi, and we'll have that tonight on "NBC Nightly News."  Obviously given the fact that this is now--this nation is now probably the greatest repository of automatic weapons of all kinds on the planet Earth; they are absolutely ubiquitous. Any Westerner and certainly all local VIPs travel in these security packages of two to four vehicles surrounded by a phalanx of armed security experts. This will be, given the threat level, a huge task.  Just getting them together in one venue, it will probably, as most things here involve faint, secret meetings, hastily held meetings as if to throw those off who would do them harm.

MR. RUSSERT:  Finally, Brian, the thinking is that if the Shiites win a resounding majority of the vote today, that their choice of leaders will request a withdrawal of American military on a very specific timetable.  Is there any sense of that this morning?

MR. WILLIAMS:  Allawi is not having any of that conversation, at least not yet.  Looking at this city, Tim, in vehicular lockdown today, it probably is the mental image of what a lot of Americans thought Baghdad looked like immediately after the initial invasion and conflict, instead of the kind of looting and controlled chaos we saw.  It will be a long walk now from where we are now, and you see nothing but American servicemen and women, American armor, American weapons and American contractors--to try to envision that, and a timed, sensible drawdown is the way the Americans would like to depart Iraq. They realize that this will be in that collection of new powers for any elected body, but no one is willing to have that conversation yet.  Tim.

MR. RUSSERT:  Brian Williams, thank you for that report.  Be safe.  We'll be talking to you throughout the day on NBC News and MSNBC.  We are now joined by Senator John Kerry.

Senator, welcome.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D-MA):  Glad to be here.  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  Election day, Iraq.  Condoleezza Rice, the new secretary of State, has just told the United States and the world, "It has gone better than expected."  What is your sense?

SEN. KERRY:  I think it's gone as expected.  I think it was a good report by Brian.  I think it starkly lays out the challenges, Tim.  Let me begin, if I can, by saying first of all I was just there a few weeks ago.  I think our troops today deserve yet again a thanks and a word of praise from everybody. They are at extraordinary risk.  They're doing a remarkable job, and I want to give them that credit.

Secondly, it is significant that there is a vote in Iraq.  But no one in the United States or in the world-- and I'm confident of what the world response will be.  No one in the United States should try to overhype this election. This election is a sort of demarcation point, and what really counts now is the effort to have a legitimate political reconciliation, and it's going to take a massive diplomatic effort and a much more significant outreach to the international community than this administration has been willing to engage in.  Absent that, we will not be successful in Iraq.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe this election will be seen by the world community as legitimate?

SEN. KERRY:  A kind of legitimacy--I mean, it's hard to say that something is legitimate when a whole portion of the country can't vote and doesn't vote.  I think this election was important.  I was for the election taking place.  You may recall that back in--well, there's no reason you would--but back in Fulton, Missouri, during the campaign, I laid out four steps, and I said at the time, "This may be the president's last chance to get it right."

The four steps were, number one, massive rapid training.  Number two, you've got to do reconstruction, and you've got to get the services to the Iraqis. Number three, you've got to bring the international community in the effort. Number four, you've got to have the elections.

Well, today we did number four, we had the elections.  But the other three are almost--I mean, they're lagging so significantly that the task has been made that much harder.  And I will say unequivocally today that what the administration does in these next few days will decide the outcome of Iraq, and this is--not maybe--this is the last chance for the president to get it right.

MR. RUSSERT:  What specifically must President Bush do in your mind?  Who should he call?  Who should he meet with?  What should he do?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, you have to behave as if you really are at war.  I'll give you an example.  I was in Egypt three weeks ago.  I met with President Mubarak.  We were talking about training.  I asked him, "You know, why don't you do more training?"  His response was, "We've offered do more training. We're doing 146 officers today.  I don't know why we're not doing more. People haven't followed up with us.  They haven't gotten back to us."

I had the same response in Jordan and in other countries, including European leaders who have offered to do more with respect to police training, more with respect to border and other kinds of training that could take place.  We are not doing today the kind of war footing effort to train people, the Iraqis, to take over their own security.  And a year and a half has gone by, Tim, and it has been much of it wasted as a consequence of the administration's approach.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe that Iraq is less a terrorist threat to the United States now than it was two years ago?

SEN. KERRY:  No, it's more.  And, in fact, I believe the world is less safe today than it was two and a half years ago.  And, you know, I think this is one of the difficulties of what I tried to carry in the course of the campaign.  It is a difficult argument to carry in the middle of a war.  After 9/11, in a war on terror, it is exceedingly hard as a challenger to carry the argument that the incumbent president and your country are not doing what's necessary to protect itself.  But we are not.

Stephen Flynn has written a book called "Vulnerable America."  People should read it.  It tells the story of what we haven't done with respect to preparations here at home--I mean, the sort of minimalist things with respect to container inspection and the other things.  We talked about them during the campaign.

But we are not behaving like a country that takes seriously the words of Vice President Cheney and others in the campaign, that there will be another attack, that the threat is growing with respect to a dirty bomb, nuclearization, biological weapons.  And we have an enormous road to travel in order to make ourselves safer in those categories.  We're going to hold this administration accountable over these next days to do the things that we need to do.

MR. RUSSERT:  Is the United States safer with the newly elected Iraqi government than we would have been with Saddam Hussein?

SEN. KERRY:  Sure.  And I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone, and I've said that a hundred times.  But we've missed opportunity after opportunity along the way, Tim, to really make America safe and to bring the world to the cause.  I mean, look, I sat with any number of Arab leaders, and I said to them, you know, "Mr. Prime Minister" or "Mr. President, is your country--do you believe Iraq, being successful there is important?"  The answer is yes.  "Do you believe that if it's a failed state, that's a threat to the region?"  The answer is yes.  "Do you believe that it could be a haven for terrorism even more than it is today?" and so forth.  The answer is yes.  Then you say, "Well, why aren't you there?  What is the problem?"  And the problem becomes one of the way in which this administration--they will tell you openly--has approached them and the world.

On three different occasions, the Bush administration spurned the offer of the United Nations, the international community.  People have offered police training.  People have offered peacekeepers.  People have offered other forms of assistance, and our administration has gone it alone.  I believe that Secretary Rumsfeld has managed this about as inappropriately and with as much miscalculation as any war leader in our history.  I personally called for his resignation over a year and a half ago.  Eight hundred thousand people have signed a petition on our Web site calling for his resignation.  I think there's a very strong feeling in the country--you heard it from Senator McCain and others--of lack of confidence in the manager of this war.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator Edward Kennedy, the senior senator from Massachusetts, a prime sponsor of your presidential candidacy...

SEN. KERRY:  I've heard of him.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...gave a speech on Thursday.  Let me show you what he said and come back and talk about it.

(Videotape, Thursday):

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY, (D-MA):  Once Sunday's elections are behind us and the democratic transition is under way, President Bush should immediately announce his intention to negotiate a timetable for a drawdown of American combat forces with the Iraqi government.  At least 12,000 American troops, probably more, should leave at once to send a strong signal about our intentions and to ease the pervasive sense of occupation.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Specifically, do you agree with Senator Kennedy that 12,000 American troops should leave at once?

SEN. KERRY:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you believe there should be a specific timetable of withdrawal of American troops?

SEN. KERRY:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  What would you do?

SEN. KERRY:  I understand exactly what Senator Kennedy is saying, and I agree with Senator Kennedy's perceptions of the problem and of how you deal with it. I would--in fact, last summer, if you'll recall, I said specifically that if we did the things that I laid out--the training, the international community, the services and reconstruction, and the elections and protection--we could draw down troops and begin to withdraw them.  I think what Senator Kennedy is saying--and here I do agree with him--is that it is vital for the United States to make it clear that we are not there with long-term goals and intentions of our presence in the region.  I agree with Senator Kennedy that we have become the target and part of the problem today, if not the problem. Now, obviously, you've got to provide security and stability in order to be able to turn this over to the Iraqis and to be able to withdraw our troops, so I wouldn't do a specific timetable, but I certainly agree with him in principle that the goal must be to withdraw American troops.

Now, I wouldn't be surprised if the new government, as soon as it's possible, begins to negotiate some modality like that.  And I wouldn't be surprised if they even asked us to leave in some way over a period of time.  I wouldn't be surprised if the administration privately, behind closed doors, asked them to ask us to leave.  I think there are plenty of ways to skin this cat.  But the most important thing is that you've got to have stability.

What Iraq is after this is important to the world.  It cannot be a haven for terrorism.  It cannot be a completely failed state.  Now, you'll notice the administration has backed off significantly of its own high goals of full democratization and so forth, and I don't think you're going to hear them pushing that.  There are a lot of conservatives, neo-cons and others in Washington debating now sort of what the modality of withdrawal ought to be.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you have any information that the Bush administration is privately requesting the new Iraqi government to ask us to leave?

SEN. KERRY:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  You just suppose that may be happening.

SEN. KERRY:  I think that over a period of time, this administration is going to face the reality of Iraq which is that a prolonged American presence in Iraq is neither affordable nor wise nor will it ultimately enhance our goals in the region, prolonged, but we're going to have to be there in the short term to do the training we've talked about.

MR. RUSSERT:  Short term meaning a few years?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, Tim, it's hard to figure out.  I mean, if you go at the pace they're going today in the training, it's a long time.  I'm appalled at the level of training that's been taking place.  I mean, President Mubarak himself said, "I could take five, six times the numbers of people that are here today and we could be training them."  Other countries could be training them.  We could be training from the same syllabus, bring people back into country.  We could be training people more rapidly even in country, and only now I think General Luck and others are coming to the conclusion that what we've been saying for a long period of time is, in fact, finally what they may be trying to move toward.

MR. RUSSERT:  President Bush is asking for $80 billion more for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Will you vote to authorize that $80 billion?

SEN. KERRY:  The likelihood is yes, providing that they do some of the things that I've been talking about with respect to the training and so forth.  There are indications that they probably will.  You know, the difference between now and the prior votes is there's more of a plan in place.  We've had the election as of today.  I think there is a way for the United States to transfer stability.  But a year and a half ago, we had no plan whatsoever and we saw that barely any of that money was spent on reconstruction.

MR. RUSSERT:  You remember that well, senator.  This was the ad, part of it, that the Bush-Cheney campaign ran throughout the campaign.  Let's watch.

(Videotape, Bush-Cheney '04 ad):

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

Announcer:  Wrong on defense.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Ken Mehlman, the newly elected chairman of the Republican Party, prepared and released to the media a speech just last week in which he said this was the defining issue in the presidential campaign.  And he went on to say right, "Given the choice between freedom and fear, between paying any price and cutting and running, between victory and vacillation, the American people lived up to the best traditions of our nation and chose to rally behind our banner of freedom."  Fear, vacillation, cutting and running--that's how you were defined by the Republicans.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, sure, and in a campaign, people spread a lot of lies and do a lot of smears and so forth.  That happens.  The fact is that I never suggested cutting and running.  I took a lot of criticism on my side of the fence frankly for not doing that from some quarters.  I suggested a very clear, four- point plan for precisely how we could be successful.  I laid out the training requirements six, seven, eight months ago.  I laid out the reconstruction requirements, what we could do with the international community.  You are now seeing more offers by the international community and you will see, if the administration approaches them properly in the next days, greater efforts to provide that and they will provide it.  So I think I was right.

Now, was that a silly way to phrase something?  You bet it was.  I made a mistake in the way that I was talking about Iraq, but as I said in the debates, President Bush made a mistake in the way that he went into Iraq and the way that he has conducted the war.  Which is worse?  Now, I think that our party stands clearly for freedom in Iraq, clearly for freedom around the world, but there are differences in how you go about that.  I believe this administration has set back America's interests and security on a global basis and over the next months I intend to lay out very, very clearly exactly how they've done it and how we can do a better job.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me show you a photograph from Inauguration Day.  Here is George W. Bush giving his second inaugural address.  And there watching is John Kerry.

SEN. KERRY:  I was in the wrong seat there, wasn't I?

MR. RUSSERT:  What was going through your mind at that moment on that morning?

SEN. KERRY:  Respect for the process, not feeling sorry for myself at all.  I mean, look, I think we waged a great campaign.  Did we make some mistakes? You bet we did.  I take responsibility for them.  You know, I am the person in charge, my campaign, I am responsible.  I am not going to sit around worrying about what we did or didn't do.  But we did some unbelievable things.  We raised more money than any Democratic campaign in history.  We involved more volunteers than any campaign in history.  I won more votes than any candidate on the Democratic side has ever won in history.  I lost, Tim, to an incumbent president by a closer margin than an incumbent president has ever won re-election before in the history of the country, and if you add up the popular vote in the battleground states, I won the popular vote in the battleground states by two percentage points.  We just didn't distribute it correctly in Ohio.

So I think we did a great job, and we are going to continue to build on that campaign as I am now with my Kids First health plan.  We have over 400,000 co-sponsors through the Internet who want to fight for this, and we are going to fight for it.

MR. RUSSERT:  At the Clinton Library dedication on November 18, a few weeks after the election, you were quoted as saying, "It was the Osama bin Laden tape.  It scared the voters," the tape that appeared just a day before the election here.  Do you believe that tape is the reason you lost the race?

SEN. KERRY:  I believe that 9/11 was the central deciding issue in this race. And the tape--we were rising in the polls up until the last day when the tape appeared.  We flat-lined the day the tape appeared and went down on Monday.  I think it had an impact.  But 9/11, you know, it's a very difficult hurdle when a country is at war.  I applauded the president's leadership in the days immediately afterwards.  I thought he did a good job in that, and he obviously connected to the American people in those immediate days.  When a country is at war and in the wake of 9/11, it's very difficult to shift horses in midstream.  I think it's remarkable we came as close as we did as a campaign. Many Republicans say we beat their models by four or five points as to what they thought we could achieve.

I am proud of the campaign, Tim.  And I think if you look at what we did in states, I mean, millions of new voters came into this process.  I won the youth vote.  I won the independent vote.  I won the moderate vote.  If you take half the people at an Ohio State football game on Saturday afternoon and they were to have voted the other way, you and I would be having a discussion today about my State of the Union speech.

MR. RUSSERT:  And the president will say if he had half the people at a high school basketball game in New Hampshire or Oregon, he would have carried those states because he lost them by 5,000 or 7,000.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, the point is--that's right, and that's the difference. That the difference in this race was 18 electoral votes, 50,000, 60,000 people changing their votes in one state.  That is a mandate for unity, not a mandate to go rushing off to change Social Security, not a mandate to ignore the fiscal crisis of our country, not a mandate to sort of pick some ideological hot buttons and start punching them.  It is a mandate, as I said in my concession speech, to bring the country together, find the common ground and do things that we need to do to strengthen America.  And there is a long list of those things.

MR. RUSSERT:  But you voted against Condoleezza Rice to be secretary of state.  That's not finding common ground.  She is qualified to hold that job, no?

SEN. KERRY:  Yes, and I said so.  But I also said that she was a principal architect, implementer and defender of a policy that has made the United States of America less secure in the world.  And that was a fight that was central to my campaign.  It is central to what I think is one of the major issues that faces our country.  And I think it's important to have accountability.  I paid her a great tribute for her journey of life.  I mean, I think she's a remarkable person.  And I think she's obviously accomplished a great deal.  But I wasn't voting on whether she was just qualified.  I was voting on the judgments that she brought to the table.  I was voting on the answers that she gave us in committee.  And I was voting on the vision that she offered to the country.  And I found all three, frankly, faulty.

MR. RUSSERT:  You cast yourself as a potential commander in chief during the campaign, particularly at the convention, "I am John Kerry reporting for duty."  What affect do you believe this book, "Unfit for Command," and the Swift Boat Veterans had on your candidacy?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, that's for others to judge, Tim.  I don't know.  I mean, obviously I could have and should have responded faster and more forcefully, I think, to that.  But lies and smears were proven in the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal.  My crew, others, all spoke to those lies and will continue to.  But, you know, there's a new communication structure in America.  And I think we could have done a better job of addressing it obviously.  But that wasn't--you know, what decided this race in the end was really 9/11.  And, you know, I am not going to worry about the past.  I am going to go forward to the future.

MR. RUSSERT:  See if you could clear up one issue that I think has been left over from the campaign.  And that is Steve Gardner, who was a foregunner on your PCF-44 boat, cut a commercial for the Swift Boat Veterans and made a very specific charge.  Let me just show that and you can come back and talk about it a little bit.

(Videotape, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ad):

MR. STEVE GARDNER:  John Kerry claims that he spent Christmas in 1968 in Cambodia, and that is categorically a lie.  Not in December, not in January, we were never in Cambodia on a secret mission ever.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  Now, the New York Daily News editorial wrote an editorial, and it said this.  "As for Kerry, he might ask why the Swifties' attacks have been effective.  The answer is his propensity to exaggerate. ... It's looking more likely that he exaggerated, if not worse, when he claimed through the years that he was in Cambodia on Christmas Eve '68.  He said the memory was `seared' into him, but it's now clear Kerry was elsewhere, at least at that time.  He has yet to explain.  Until he does, the Swifties will have a powerful weapon in their arsenal."

And they refer, Senator, to a speech on the floor in which you said that you were there, that the president of the United States was saying you were not there, that there were troops in Cambodia.  You have the memory seared in you. In a letter to the Boston Herald, you remember spending Christmas Eve '68 five miles across the Cambodian border.  You told The Washington Post you have a lucky hat given to you by a CIA guy "as we went in for a special mission to Cambodia."  Were you in Cambodia Christmas Eve, 1968?

SEN. KERRY:  We were right on the border, Tim.  What I explained to people and I told this any number of times, did I go into Cambodia on a mission? Yes, I did go into Cambodia on a mission.  Was it on that night?  No, it was not on that night.  But we were right on the Cambodian border that night.  We were ambushed there, as a matter of fact.  And that is a matter of record, and we went into the rec-- you know, it's part of the Navy records.  It's been documented by the other guys who were on my boat.  And Steve Gardner, frankly, doesn't know where we were.  It wasn't his job, and, you know, he wasn't involved in that.  But we did go five miles into Cambodia.  It was on another day.  I jumbled the two together, but we were five miles into Cambodia.  We went up on a mission with CIA agents--I believe they were CIA agents--CIA Special Ops guys.  I even have some photographs of it, and I can document it. And it has been documented.

MR. RUSSERT:  You'll release those photographs?

SEN. KERRY:  I think they were shown.  I gave them to the campaign, but...

MR. RUSSERT:  And you have a hat that the CIA agent gave you?

SEN. KERRY:  I still have the hat that he gave me, and I hope the guy would come out of the woodwork and say, "I'm the guy who went up with John Kerry. We delivered weapons to the Khmer Rouge on the coastline of Cambodia."  We went out of Ha Tien, which is right in Vietnam.  We went north up into the border.  And I have some photographs of that, and that's what we did.  So, you know, the two were jumbled together, but we were on the Cambodian border on Christmas Eve, absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Nixon was president-elect, not president, at that particular time.  He wasn't sworn in until...

SEN. KERRY:  In 1968, he wasn't sworn in yet.

MR. RUSSERT:  But he was president-elect, not president.

SEN. KERRY:  That's correct.

MR. RUSSERT:  Many people who've been criticizing you have said:  Senator, if you would just do one thing and that is sign Form 180, which would allow historians and journalists complete access to all your military records.  Thus far, you have gotten the records, released them through your campaign.  They say you should not be the filter.  Sign Form 180 and let the historians...

SEN. KERRY:  I'd be happy to put the records out.  We put all the records out that I had been sent by the military.  Then at the last moment, they sent some more stuff, which had some things that weren't even relevant to the record. So when we get--I'm going to sit down with them and make sure that they are clear and I am clear as to what is in the record and what isn't in the record and we'll put it out.  I have no problem with that.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you sign Form 180?

SEN. KERRY:  But everything, Tim...

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you sign Form 180?

SEN. KERRY:  Yes, I will.  But everything that we put in it, Tim--everything we put in--I mean, everything that was out was a full documentation of all of the medical records, all of the fitness reports.  And I'd call on those who have challenged me, let's see their records.  I want to see the records of each of those people who have put up a challenge, because some of them have some serious questions in them, and it hasn't been appropriate...

MR. RUSSERT:  So they should sign Form 180s for themselves as well?

SEN. KERRY:  You bet.

MR. RUSSERT:  Jerome Corsi, the co-author of this book, says he's moving to Massachusetts and will run against you for the U.S. Senate in 2008.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, that's terrific.  I'm not thinking about 2008 right now, but he can do whatever he wants.

MR. RUSSERT:  Will you run for re-election in the Senate in 2008?

SEN. KERRY:  Tim, I'm not thinking about 2008 right now.  I'm really focused on what we're doing now.  I'm excited about what I'm doing now.  There are any number of potential things that I may wind up doing, and I'm going to keep all my options open.

MR. RUSSERT:  Including running for president?

SEN. KERRY:  I'll keep all my options open.

MR. RUSSERT:  Could you run for the Senate and the presidency in 2008?

SEN. KERRY:  I haven't even thought about it, honestly.

MR. RUSSERT:  Our affiliate, Channel 7 in Boston, WHDH, and Suffolk University took a poll asking Massachusetts voters, "Should Kerry run for president in 2008?"  Yes, 33; no, 59.  And the man who runs the poll, David Paleologos, has said that--"`Massachusetts voters have built a presidential ceiling over John Kerry's head,' said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk's Political Research Center."  Six out of 10 Massachusetts voters don't want you to run again.  Why?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, Tim, if you ask me about polls today, you're going to get one of the sort of quick and easy dismissals of all politics, because I'm a poll expert.  And if you'll recall, every poll in the country eliminated me from the race in December prior to Iowa, and I turned around and won.  And every poll eliminated me two or three times from even making the race close. So I think polls today are almost irrelevant, and I just don't pay any attention to them.

MR. RUSSERT:  One area that many Democrats were concerned was leftover money.  This is the way one of the papers, The New York Times, reported it: "Senator John Kerry had more than $14 million in one of his election accounts in late November, according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission, causing some Democrats to complain that he should have spent all of it to defeat President Bush or to help other Democratic candidates."

Why did you hold that money?  Why didn't you spend it on yourself and other Democrats?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, we spent unprecedented sums on other Democrats around the country.  No candidate has ever given as much money as I did to the Democratic Committee.  We gave $40 million.  I gave $3 million, $4 million, to the DSCC, to the Democratic Senate committee.  I gave $3 million to the House committee. We gave money to parties, to the degree that every state director wanted.  And the reason we had some of the money left over is that, as you know, I wanted to hold my--I wanted to accept the nomination later.  There was an uproar in the party.  People didn't want you to accept it because there was a 13-week general election for our campaign and an eight-week general election for the Republicans.  We couldn't spend the money legally in the month of August.  We had the money held in reserve in the event that some state director said, "We desperately need the money," and we gave more money than the directors seemed to be able to--we were--money was not an issue in the outcome of what happened in this race.

MR. RUSSERT:  How much do you have left?

SEN. KERRY:  I don't know what it is now because we paid extra costs of the campaign.  We still have audits.  We paid--I gave $1 million to the Senate Campaign Committee.  I gave $250,000 to Christine Gregoire's recount in Washington.  I gave $50,000 to a House race in Louisiana...

MR. RUSSERT:  A few more dollars...

SEN. KERRY:  ...so we're trying to build parties...

MR. RUSSERT:  ...a few more television ads in Ohio may have turned over those 70,000 voters?

SEN. KERRY:  There was no request for them.  Could it in retrospect?  It's conceivable, but there was no demand at that point in time.  People thought they had what they needed.

MR. RUSSERT:  The 15 Democratic senators who won across the country all had more votes than you in each of their respective states.  Why do you think that is?

SEN. KERRY:  Because the vote for president is different and because security was the overwhelming issue and because, as I said, there was a 9/11 hurdle. There's a lot of evidence in the aftermath of the analysis that people found it hard to shift commander in chief in midstream.  And, you know, I can understand.  That's a difficult hurdle to get over.  It's never been--nobody's ever gotten over it in history, and this was no exception.

MR. RUSSERT:  During the campaign you said that Howard Dean did not have the credibility or judgment to be president.  Do you believe he has the credibility or judgment to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee?

SEN. KERRY:  Sure, absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Do you support him?

SEN. KERRY:  I think Howard Dean proved during this campaign that he was really a loyal and go-to person.  He campaigned his heart out for me.  He wanted us to win.  And I'm very grateful to him for that--as did every other member who's running, incidentally--every other person running for the chairmanship.  They worked hard.  They're capable people and I think any one of them would be able to lead our party and be helpful.

And, you know, we're not looking for a spokesperson in the chairmanship.  I think if you talk to any of my colleagues or any people in the House or Senate or others, what we're looking for is somebody who's going to help the party modernize and do the things we need to do in order to be able to technically, organizationally, structurally be able to catch up to the Republicans.  We're behind.

And I think that--you know, if you figure--I mean, Karl Rove really had six years to prepare for Election Day.  We in many ways had only a few months, notwithstanding the outstanding work that Terry McAuliffe did, but Terry McAuliffe was struggling uphill.  We didn't have a president, we didn't have a House, we didn't have a Senate.  He did an amazing job of raising money, getting voter lists, putting the committee in the best position possible.  But he'd be the first to tell you, we still have a distance to travel in order to catch up.  And I think whoever is chosen as our new chairman, we're going to have a united Democratic Party that is working overtime to put those pieces in place.

MR. RUSSERT:  Some Democrats and many Republicans believe that Howard Dean is too liberal to be chairman of the Democratic Party.  Do you agree?

SEN. KERRY:  No, I don't agree with that.  I think, in fact, if you look at Howard's record as a governor, he was a strong balance-the-budget governor. He was conservative on a lot of issues.  And I think that's part of what happens in campaigns.  You get these stamps and broad brushes that aren't exactly accurate.

MR. RUSSERT:  We're going to take a quick break and come back and talk about Social Security and a whole lot of other issues.

Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004, is our guest.

We'll be right back with more.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  More with Senator John Kerry after this very brief station break.

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  And we are back.

Senator, as you said, a lot of the voters thought about security, 9/11.  But many thought about social and cultural values.  And you seem to reflect that in a Newsweek magazine article after the campaign.  Let's read it here.

"The week after Thanksgiving [2004], dozens of Democratic Party loyalists gathered at AFL-CIO headquarters for a closed-door confab on the election. John Kerry dropped by to thank [them]. ... When Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice political network EMILY's List, asked about the future direction of the party, Kerry tackled one of the Democrats' core tenets: abortion rights.  He told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn't like abortion.  Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party.  `There was a gasp in the room,' says Nancy Keenan, the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America."

Is that accurate?

SEN. KERRY:  It's pretty accurate, sure.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why and how do you believe the Democrats can broaden the base with pro-life Democrats when the party seems to require down-the-line voting in terms of abortion rights?

SEN. KERRY:  We have pro-life Democrats today.  Harry Reid is a leader.  He is pro-life.  We have others who are pro-life.  I think what I was saying, Tim, is that, you know, you can't be doctrinarian negative against somebody simply because they have that position.  There's more to it.  Now, does that change the position of the Democratic Party in defending the right to choose? No, absolutely not.  Not in the least.

But you can't be--I mean, let me put it this way.  Too many people in America believe that if you are pro-choice that means pro-abortion.  It doesn't.  I don't want abortion.  Abortion should be the rarest thing in the world.  I am actually personally opposed to abortion.  But I don't believe that I have a right to take what is an article of faith to me and legislate it to other people.  That's not how it works in America.

So you have to have room to be able to talk about these things in a rational way.  We also need--I mean, I thought Hillary gave a good speech the other way in which she talked about the need--and many of us have talked about this for a long period of time.  The discussion is not about being pro-abortion.  The discussion is about how you truly value life.  Valuing life is also valuing choice.  Valuing life is the exception for the life of a mother or rape or incest.  I mean, there are all kinds of values here.  And in addition to that, we ought to be making certain that people understand there are other options. Abstinence is worth talking about.  Adoption is worth talking about.  There are many things we can do.

And do you know that in fact abortion has gone up in these last few years with the draconian policies that Republicans have where they talk about it, but they do nothing to find this kind of place of discussion.  And under President Clinton, abortion went down because we did have adequate family planning services, because we talked about counseling, adoption and other kinds of things.

MR. RUSSERT:  How about parental notification where a 16, 17...

SEN. KERRY:  I think it's important.  I am for parental notification.

MR. RUSSERT:  With a judicial bypass?

SEN. KERRY:  With a judicial and doctor combined--I think you have to have some kind of adult involvement in the life of a young child to make a choice like that.  But you can't have one that drags on administratively or that you can't have finality.  It has to be done rapidly.  It has to be done, you know, with certitude, and it has to be done sensitively in a way that sort of brings the parties together necessarily.

MR. RUSSERT:  Would you introduce that legislation that would have that at the federal level?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, I hadn't thought about introducing it, but I certainly would support it or entertain a discussion about it.  I mean, I--you know, I think it's important for parents, for adults to be more involved in the lives of their children.  But let's be clear.  This administration that keeps talking about family values does precious little to actually put that into effect.  An example, I just introduced a Kids First bill this past week. Eleven million children in America have no health insurance.  Think about that.  A quarter of kids don't get their immunizations up-to-date.  You've got a third of the kids in America who have no insurance.  They saw no doctor for a year.  You have people who have learning disabilities as a result of the fact that they can't even get a doctor's visit.  For the price, Tim, of simply rolling back the tax cut for people earning more than $500,000 a year, $300,000 a year, you could insure every child in America.  I think that's a value and that's a value worth fighting for.

MR. RUSSERT:  And yet if President Bush nominated a Democrat who said publicly that he believed Roe vs. Wade was incorrectly decided, you said during the campaign you would vote against that Democrat to be on the Supreme Court.

SEN. KERRY:  That's correct, on the Supreme Court, because I believe that Roe vs. Wade represents the settled constitutional law of the country, and I don't think--and the majority of the country believes that, the majority of Catholics believe that.  The majority of people in America believe that Roe vs. Wade is settled and the majority of the Senate believes that.  Because we've had several votes where we've said, "Do you want to get rid of Roe vs. Wade or do you want to keep it?," and the Senate has voted to keep it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Yeah.

SEN. KERRY:  Now, I don't think President Bush, frankly, wants to get rid of Roe vs. Wade, and we'll see what happens.

MR. RUSSERT:  If there is a vacancy for chief justice of the United States and the president nominated Antonin Scalia to take that position, would you vote for him?

SEN. KERRY:  No.

MR. RUSSERT:  In 1986, when Scalia was put on the court, he was confirmed 98-to-nothing, and this is what John Kerry said then about Judge Scalia.  "I believe Judge Scalia is a man of principle and integrity.  I believe that his conservative view of the role of the judiciary will provide a valuable and needed balance on the Court. ... While I may often disagree with Judge Scalia's views, I respect him as a jurist, a legal scholar.  I believe that he will make a positive contribution to the Supreme Court, and I support his nomination."

SEN. KERRY:  I was wrong.

MR. RUSSERT:  Why?

SEN. KERRY:  You asked me--somebody asked me during the campaign, "What mistakes have you made or have you made any mistakes?" and I listed a number of mistakes and that was one of them.  I think that vote was a mistake.

MR. RUSSERT:  What has he done in the last...

SEN. KERRY:  I think he's proven to be ideologically rigid and so far to the right and unwilling to find the kind of common consensus, and I think that's the perception of a lot of people.

MR. RUSSERT:  Any specific decisions that bother you?

SEN. KERRY:  Well, affirmative action, others, absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT:  Let me turn to Social Security and find out your current thinking.  I want to take you back to your campaign in '96 when you talked to your hometown paper, the Boston Globe, and said that, "Dramatic changes are needed to make sure Social Security benefits are available for future retirees."  Kerry "said the next Congress should consider controversial measures, such as raising the retirement age and means-testing benefits, called it `wacky' that taxes that pay for the system do not apply to income over $62,700."  It's now 90,000.  "I know it's all going to be unpopular."

SEN. KERRY:  So I was right about wacky.

MR. RUSSERT:  Well, we'll see if he runs it--"We have a generational responsibility to fix them."

And then in 2003, you said--"Declaring `I am blessed to be wealthy,' Senator John F. Kerry said that, if elected president, he would consider some form of means-testing for rich Americans as part of a broader review of ideas to shore up the Social Security system." ...  But "`Rich people are getting checks from poor people well beyond what they put in the system,' said Kerry.  ...Another idea Kerry said he would consider is raising the cut-off point after which people no longer pay into the system.  ...`Maybe people ought to pay up to $100,000 or $120,000, I don't know,' the senator said."

Specifically, Senator, do you still agree with yourself?  Should we raise the retirement age or consider it?  Should we raise the cap on income level that people pay payroll tax?

SEN. KERRY:  Precisely what I said in 1996 is "We should consider" a number of these things.  We did consider them.  I considered them.  Others did.  I rejected them.  And I have said again and again throughout the campaign this last year, I do not believe we have to raise the retirement age.  I'm not in favor of it.  I am absolutely opposed to cutting benefits, and I believe we can save Social Security in any number of ways, Tim, other than what President Bush wants to do.

President Bush is hyping a phony crisis.  The crisis in America today is 45 million Americans who don't have health care.  The crisis are 11 million children that I just talked about that we ought to be covering with health care.  You know, Social Security does not run out as the president says and become bankrupt in 2018.  It can pay 100 percent of the benefits until 2042, and after 2042, it can pay 80 percent of the benefits.  And all you need to do to move Social Security into safety, well into the 22nd century, into the next century, is to roll back part of George Bush's tax cut today.  His tax cut takes three times the deficit of what is contained in Social Security.

Now, there are any number of other things that you could do to try to fix it smart.  What President Bush wants to do is put at risk something that has stood up not as an investment program but an insurance program, an insurance against poverty.  Without Social Security, 50 percent of seniors would be in poverty.  Without Social Security, people with disabilities, widows, orphans, children would not get help.  And the president is willing to put that at risk so that you have $940 billion in fees that go to Wall Street and a whole bunch of young people get to invest money in who knows what, and there's no guarantee that money will be there for them in their lifetime.

MR. RUSSERT:  But people you know...

SEN. KERRY:  It's a bad program...

MR. RUSSERT:  People you know...

SEN. KERRY:  ...and we should oppose it.

MR. RUSSERT:  People you know and respect--Bob Kerrey, Democratic senator; Warren Rudman, former Republican senator...

SEN. KERRY:  Right.

MR. RUSSERT:  ...Pete Peterson, Concord Coalition--said this is it, straight out.  "Ensuring a more sustainable system will require change, meaning that someone is going to have to give up something-- either in the form of higher contributions, lower benefits or a combination of both.  No Social Security reform will succeed unless this fact is acknowledge up front."

SEN. KERRY:  Tim...

MR. RUSSERT:  You're saying raise taxes by rolling back the top bracket. You're raising taxes on richer Americans to pay for Social Security.

SEN. KERRY:  Well, Tim, you can call it what you want.  I mean, if you think rolling back to the level that we had in the 1990s, when an awful lot of our friends made an awful lot of money and people did very well in America--if you think that's raising taxes, then you can go ahead and have that definition.  I think it's rolling back.  I think it's rolling them back to a level of responsibility.

What you have today is irresponsibility.  The president is going to add $4 trillion to the debt of this nation just with his tax cut, which is $1.9 trillion over the next 10 years, and his Social Security plan, which is about $1.6 trillion.  It's almost $4 trillion, just in those two choices the president is making.  Now, you can look at--look at this headline.  Here's a headline that ought to send shudders through America:  Central Banks Shun U.S. Assets.  This was last week in The Financial Times.  Why are they shunning U.S. assets?  Because of the fiscal irresponsibility of this administration. And the president's plan on Social Security is not only dangerous for Social Security, it's dangerous for the fiscal long-term health of our country.

Now, I'm for creating wealth with young people.  I think they have a right to try to have better means of being able to put money away for retirement.  But there are plenty of ways to do it without privatizing, without putting it at risk.  If the president would say to us, "Look, let's all get together and make sure Social Security is going to be saved the way President Clinton did, for the long term, and we're going to do it without privatizing it but we'll find one of these ways of doing it that's responsible," we will be at the table and we will join him to depoliticize it.

MR. RUSSERT:  Ten seconds.  The most important thing you learned running for president?

SEN. KERRY:  How great, how unbelievable the American people themselves are. They are just--the courage of the American people day to day blew me away. And I think that, you know, this is an amazing country, and I came to love it even more.

MR. RUSSERT:  Senator John Kerry, we thank you for joining us.  Thank you for your views.

SEN. KERRY:  Thank you.

MR. RUSSERT:  We'll see you opening day at Fenway when the Red Sox play the New York Yankees.

SEN. KERRY:  That'll be a deal.

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

SEN. KERRY:  And how about...

                               (Announcements)

MR. RUSSERT:  Stay with NBC News and MSNBC all day for coverage of the elections in Iraq.  Brian Williams will broadcast live from Baghdad tonight on "NBC Nightly News," and later on "Dateline."

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

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