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‘We know that these explosives were there’

Sen. John Edwards talks about the Iraq war, playing to fear and his position on stem-cell research.
/ Source: TODAY

With the presidential election only days away, “Weekend Today” host Campbell Brown talks with Sen. John Edwards in Florida — an important battleground state. Brown starts the interview by asking the vice presidential candidate about the recent discovery of 377 tons of missing explosives in Iraq.

Sen. John Edwards: We know that these explosives were there. We know that the Bush administration was notified they were there … they needed to be secured.  We know that they weren't secured and we know that they're now missing.  So, those are the facts and the facts are pretty powerful in this case.

Campbell Brown: But they could have disappeared before coalition forces got to that location.

Sen. Edwards: But the answer is … we knew about it. We knew we were supposed to do something about it.  We didn't do it.  But there's a chance they were gone before we got there?  I mean, that's basically what they're saying.They had a responsibility to secure this material. It was important for securing Iraq. It was important for the safety of our troops.  It was important to keep that material out of the hands of terrorists and what we know is they didn't do it. We know that.

Brown: You've accused the president of playing on people's deepest fears — calling it, quote, “The lowest kind of politics.” But aren't you also playing to people's fears and anxiety?

Sen. Edwards: No. We want people, and I think it's fair, fair in any presidential campaign, to know the facts about what's happened over the last four years.

Brown: Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. Over the weekend, you warned a crowd in Florida that President Bush is considering raising the retirement age on Social Security. The president never said that.

Sen. Edwards: What I said specifically was, according to an article in Fortune magazine that just came out, there are members of the Social Security Administration, part of the Bush Administration, who have actually been working on a plan that would include raising the retirement age to 76.

Brown: That article, though, did not name President Bush.

Sen. Edwards: But President Bush is also quoted in another story — I believe in the New York Times — as having said to a private gathering, that he wants to privatize Social Security.  Now he says he doesn't want to privatize Social Security. When the President says something and there are news reports to verify that it's happened, it’s fair game. It's information the American people deserve to know and he can respond in whatever way he thinks is right — that's what campaigns are about.

Brown: Vice presidential candidates are often put in the role of attack dogs for the boss.

Sen. Edwards: Uh-huh.

Brown: You've had to do that a little bit.                      

Sen. Edwards: Uh-huh.Brown: Has that been hard?

Sen. Edwards: No. I wouldn't say it the way you just said it. I think that holding George Bush and Dick Cheney accountable for what they've done over the last four years is very important.  You remember when President Bush ran and talked about uniting the country back in 2000? Now we see this extraordinary, at least political division in America today. We want to do something about that.John and I both feel deeply about it. We think that we can do really good work to start bringing this country back together.

Brown: How? Look at the numbers, though. Look at how divided this country is right now.

Sen. Edwards: But I …

Brown: How do you do that?

Sen. Edwards: It's a fair question, but I think it’s gotten much more divided [but] you can't fix it overnight — it's going to take time. It requires a president and vice president who will reach out to the American people, across party lines, to leaders of the other party, to build consensus and do the kind of work that needs to be done in this country.

Brown: Let me ask you about another statement you made, that some people say was a little bit over the top, in relation to the issue of stem-cell research. You said, “If we do the work we can do in this country, the work we will do when John Kerry is president, people like Christopher Reeve are going to walk.  Get up out of that wheelchair, and walk again.” How can you say that?

Sen. Edwards: Well, what I was saying is, Chris Reeve represents hope for a lot of Americans. If you listen to his own doctor, he said in the beginning he didn't talk about a cure for Chris Reeve's problem, but now he does. The point of all this is, there's a dramatic difference between my position and John Kerry's position, and George Bush's position on stem-cell research.

Brown: If you're elected, what do you think your relationship with Senator/President-elect Kerry would be, in comparison to the relationship between President Bush and Vice President Cheney?

Sen. Edwards: I want to be involved in every part of this administration.I don't want to be limited to particular areas. There may be areas that you have particular interest in. But I want to be involved in every part of what this administration’s going to do.