HOLLYWOOD, CALIF.–Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton meet in the first one-on-one Democratic presidential debate. Transcript.
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DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PARTICIPATE IN A DEBATE SPONSORED BY
JANUARY 31, 2008
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.
WOLF BLITZER, MODERATOR
JEANNE CUMMINGS, MODERATOR
DOYLE MCMANUS, MODERATOR
BLITZER: Let’s begin with Senator Obama.
OBAMA: Wolf, thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
First of all, first of all, I want to acknowledge a candidate who left
the race this week, John Edwards, who did such an outstanding job…
… elevating the issues of poverty and the plight of working families
all across the country. And we wish him and Elizabeth well. He’s going
to be a voice for this party and for this country for many years to
come. I also want to note something that you noted at the beginning,
which is that, when we started off, we had eight candidates on this
stage. We now are down to two after 17 debates.
And, you know, it is a testimony to the Democratic Party and it is a
testimony to this country that we have the opportunity to make history,
because I think one of us two will end up being the next president of
the United States of America.
And I also want to note that I was friends with Hillary Clinton before
we started this campaign; I will be friends with Hillary Clinton after
this campaign is over.
She has done — she’s run a — we’re running a competitive race, but
it’s because we both love this country, and we believe deeply in the
issues that are at stake. I believe we’re at a defining moment in our
history. Our nation is at war; our planet is in peril. Families all
across the country are struggling with everything from back-breaking
health care costs to trying to stay in their homes. And at this moment,
the question is: How do we take the country in a new direction? How do
we get past the divisions that have prevented us from solving these
problems year after year after year? I don’t think the choice is
between black and white or it’s about gender or religion. I don’t think
it’s about young or old. I think what is at stake right now is whether
we are looking backwards or we are looking forwards. I think it is the
past versus the future.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
OBAMA: And just to finish up, Wolf. And I think that, as we move
forward in this debate, understand we are both Democrats and we
understand the issues at stake. We want change from George Bush.
But we also have to have change that brings the country together, pushes
back against the special interests in Washington, and levels with the
American people about the difficult changes that we make. If we do
that, I am confident that we can solve any problem and we can fulfill
the destiny that America wants to see, not just next year, but in many
years to come.
BLITZER: Senator Clinton?
CLINTON: Well, on January 20, 2009, the next president of the United
States will be sworn in on the steps of the Capitol. I, as a Democrat,
fervently hope you are looking at that next president. Either Barack or
I will raise our hand and swear to uphold the Constitution of the United
CLINTON: And then, when the celebrations are over, the next president
will walk into the Oval Office, and waiting there will be a stack of
problems, problems inherited from a failed administration: a war to end
in Iraq and a war to resolve in Afghanistan; an economy that is not
working for the vast majority of Americans, but well for the wealthy and
the well-connected; tens of millions of people either without health
insurance at all or with insurance that doesn’t amount to much, because
it won’t pay what your doctor or your hospital need…
… an energy crisis that we fail to act on at our peril; global
warming, which the United States must lead in trying to contend with and
reverse; and then all of the problems that we know about and the ones we
can’t yet predict. It is imperative that we have a president, starting
on day one, who can begin to solve our problems, tackle these
challenges, and seize the opportunities that I think await. I’m very
grateful for the extraordinary service of John and Elizabeth Edwards.
CLINTON: And among the many contributions that they have made, both by
their personal example of courage and leadership, is their reminder that
in this land of such plenty and blessings, there are still 37 million
Americans who are living below the poverty line and many others barely
hanging on above. So what we have to do tonight is to have a discussion
about what each of us believes are the priorities and the goals for
America. I think it’s imperative we have a problem-solver, that we roll
up our sleeves.
I’m offering that kind of approach, because I think that Americans are
ready once again to know that there isn’t anything we can’t do if we put
our minds to it. So let’s have that conversation.
BLITZER: Thank you. Thank you, Senator. The first question will go to
MCMANUS: Senator Clinton, your two campaigns have been going on for
more than a year now and it’s clear that the two of you have had
different experiences in your lives. You have different styles.
But when most voters look at the two of you, they don’t see a lot of
daylight between you on policy. So what I’d like to ask is: what do
you consider the most important policy distinction between the two of
CLINTON: Well, I want to start by saying that whatever differences
there are among us, between us now, it’s hard to forget between — we
keep talking about all those who aren’t here.
But the differences between Barack and I pale in comparison to the
differences that we have with Republicans, and I want to say that first
and foremost, because it’s really…
… a stark difference. But we do have differences and let me mention a
couple. First, on health care. I believe absolutely passionately that
we must have universal health care. It is a moral responsibility and a
right for our country, and…
… and I have put forth a plan similar to what Senator Edwards had
before he left the race that would move us to universal health care.
Secondly, I think it’s imperative that we approach this mortgage crisis
with the seriousness that it is presenting. There are 95,000 homes in
foreclosure in California right now. I want a moratorium on
foreclosures for 90 days so we can try to work out keeping people in
their homes instead of having them lose their homes, and I want to
freeze interest rates for five years. I think when it comes to how we
approach foreign affairs, in particular, I believe that we’ve got to be
realistic and optimistic, but we start with realism in the sense that we
do have serious threats, we do have those who are, unfortunately and
tragically, plotting against us, posing dangers to us and our friends
and our allies.
And I think that we’ve got to have a full diplomatic effort, but I don’t
think the president should put the prestige of the presidency on the
line in the first year to have meetings with out preconditions with five
of the worst dictators in the world.
So we have differences both at home and around the world, but, again, I
would emphasize that what really is important here, because the
Republicans were in California debating yesterday, they are more of the
same. Neither of us, just by looking at us, you can tell, we are not
more of the same. We will change our country.
BLITZER: We heard Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, define some of the
differences on policy issues she sees between the two of you. What do
you see as the most significant policy differences between the
two of you?
OBAMA: Well, I actually think that a couple of the ones that Hillary
mentioned are genuine policy differences that are worthy of debate.
Let’s take health care. About 95 percent of our plans are similar. We
both set up a government plan that would allow people who otherwise
don’t have health insurance because of a preexisting condition, like my
mother had, or at least what the insurance said was a preexisting
condition, let them get health insurance. We both want to emphasize
prevention, because we’ve got to do something about ever escalating
costs and we don’t want children, who I meet all
the time, going to emergency rooms for treatable illnesses like asthma.
It is true we’ve got a policy difference, because my view is that the
reason people don’t have health care, and I meet them all the time, in
South Carolina, a mother whose child has cerebral palsy and could not
get insurance for and started crying during a town hall meeting, and
Hillary, I’m sure, has had the same experiences.
What they’re struggling with is they can’t afford the health care. And
so I emphasize reducing costs. My belief is that if we make it
affordable, if we provide subsidies to those who can’t afford it, they
will buy it.
Senator Clinton has a different approach. She believes that we have to
force people who don’t have health insurance to buy it. Otherwise, there
will be a lot of people who don’t get it.
OBAMA: I don’t see those folks. And I think that it is important for
us to recognize that if, in fact, you are going to mandate the purchase
of insurance and it’s not affordable, then there’s going to have to be
some enforcement mechanism that the government uses. And they may
charge people who already don’t have health care fines, or have to take
it out of their paychecks. And that, I don’t think, is helping those
without health insurance. That is a genuine difference. On the
On the mortgage crisis, again, we both believe that this is a critical
problem. It’s a huge problem in California and all across the country.
And we agree that we have to keep people in their homes. I have put
forward a $10 billion home foreclosure prevention fund that would help
to bridge the lender and the borrower so that people can stay in their
I have not signed on to the notion of an interest rates freeze, and the
reason is not because we need to protect the banks. The problem is, is
that if we have such a freeze, mortgage interest rates will go up across
the board and you will have a lot of people who are currently trying to
get mortgages who will actually have more of a difficult time.
So, some of the people that we want to protect could end up being hurt
by such a plan. Now, keep in mind, the one thing I suspect that Senator
Clinton and I agree on. Part of the reason we are in this mortgage mess
is because there’s been complete lack of oversight on the part of the
The mortgage lending industry spent $185 billion — $185 million
lobbying to prevent provisions that go against predatory lending, for
example, that I introduced. Which brings me to another difference. I
believe that it is very important for us to reduce the influence of
lobbyists and special interests in Washington.
I think that a lot of issues that both Senator Clinton and I care about
will not move forward unless we have increased the kinds of ethics
proposal that I passed just last year — some of the toughest since
Watergate — and that’s something that John Edwards and I both talked
about repeatedly in this campaign. That’s why I don’t take federal PAC
and federal lobbyist money. That is a difference.
And the last point I’ll make is on Iraq. Senator Clinton brought this
up. I was opposed to Iraq from the start.
And that — and I say that not just to look backwards, but also to look
forwards, because I think what the next president has to show is the
kind of judgment that will ensure that we are using our military power
It is true that I want to elevate diplomacy so that it is part of our
arsenal to serve the American people’s interests and to keep us safe.
And I have disagreed with Senator Clinton on, for example, meeting with
Iran. I think, and the national intelligence estimate, the last report
suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and
offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change
their behavior. And we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost
billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and hurt our reputation around
BLITZER: Those are three important issues…
… that you both have defined where there are some differences —
health care, the housing crisis, national security, Iraq, Iran. We’re
going to go through all of those issues over the course of this debate.
But let’s start with health care, because this is a critical issue
affecting millions and millions of Americans. And, Jeanne, you have a
question on that.
CUMMINGS: You both mentioned that health care is a priority for your
party, but the truth is that most Democrats really do want full
coverage, everybody covered. Now, Senator Obama, this is a question for
you. Under your plan, which is voluntary, it creates incentives for
people to buy, but still is voluntary. There would be around — about
15 million people who would still not be covered. Now, why is your plan
superior to hers?
OBAMA: Well, understand who we’re talking about here. Every expert who
looks at it says anybody who wants health care will be able to get
health care under my plan. There won’t be anybody out there who wants
health care who will not be able to get it. That’s point number one.
So the estimate is — this is where the 15 million figure comes in — is
that there are 15 million people who don’t want health care. That’s the
Now, first of all, I dispute that there are 15 million people out there
who don’t want it. I believe that there are people who can’t afford it,
and if we provide them enough subsidies, they will purchase it. Number
one. Number two, I mandate coverage for all children. Number three, I
say that young people, who are the most likely to be healthy but think
they are invulnerable — and decide I don’t need health care — what I’m
saying is that insurance companies and my plan as well will allow people
up to 25 years old to be covered under their parents’ plan.
So, as a consequence, I don’t believe that there will be 15 million out
OBAMA: Now, under any mandate, you are going to have problems with
people who don’t end up having health coverage. Massachusetts right now
embarked on an experiment where they mandated coverage. And, by the
way, I want to congratulate Governor Schwarzenegger and the speaker and
others who have been trying to do this in California, but I know that
those who have looked at it understand, you can mandate it, but there’s
still going to be people who can’t afford it. And if they cannot afford
it, then the question is, what are you going to do about it? Are you
going to fine them? Are you going to garnish their wages?
You know, those are questions that Senator Clinton has not answered with
respect to her plan, but I think we can anticipate that there would also
be people potentially who are not covered and are actually hurt if they
have a mandate imposed on them.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Clinton, this is a substantive difference
on health care between the two of you. Go ahead and respond.
CLINTON: Well, let me start by saying that this is the passionate cause
of my public service. I started trying to expand health care many years
ago, first to children, then to rural areas in Arkansas, and obviously
tackled it during my husband’s administration. And the reason why I
have designed a plan that, number one, tells people, if you have health
insurance and you are happy with it, nothing changes, is because we want
to maximize choice for people. So, if you are satisfied, you’re not one
of the people who will necessarily, at this time, take advantage of what
I’m offering. But if you are uninsured or underinsured, we will open
the congressional health plan to you. And contrary to…
Contrary to the description that Barack just gave, we actually will make
it affordable for everyone, because my plan lowers costs aggressively,
which is important for us all; improves quality for everyone, which is
essential. And the way it covers all of those who wish to participate
in the congressional plan is that it will provide subsidies, and it will
also cap premiums, something that is really important, because we want
to make sure that it is affordable for all.
So, when you draw the distinction that, “Well, it’s not affordable,
therefore people will have to be made to get it,” well, the fact is, it
has been designed to be affordable with health care tax credits. And
it’s also important to recognize that right now, there are people who
could afford health care, and they are not all young, they’re people who
just don’t feel they have to accept that responsibility. There are many
states which give families the option of keeping children up until 25 on
their policies, but their rates of uninsurance are still very high.
We cannot get to universal health care, which I believe is both a core
Democratic value and imperative for our country, if we don’t do one of
three things. Either you can have a single payer system, or — which, I
know, a lot of people favor, but for many reasons, is difficult to
achieve. Or, you can mandate employers. Well, that’s also very
controversial. Or, you can do what I am proposing, which is to have
Now, in Barack’s plan, he very clearly says he will mandate that parents
get health insurance for their children. So it’s not that he is against
mandatory provisions, it’s that he doesn’t think it would be politically
acceptable to require that for everyone. I just disagree with that. I
think we as Democrats have to be willing to fight for universal health
And what I’ve concluded, when I was looking at this — because I got the
same kind of advice, which was, it’s controversial, you’ll run into all
of this buzz saw, and I said, been there, done that. But if you don’t
start by saying, you’re going to achieve universal health care, you will
be nibbled to death. And I think it’s imperative that, as we move
forward in this debate and into the campaign, that we recognize what
both John Edwards and I did, that you have to bite this bullet. You
have to say, yes, we are going to try to get universal health care.
What I have designed makes it affordable, provides premium caps so it’s
never above a small percentage of what individuals are asked to pay.
BLITZER: Senator Obama, let me just fine-tune the question, because I
know you want to respond. On this issue of mandates, those who don’t,
whether it’s 10 million or 15 million, those who could afford it but
don’t wind up buying health insurance for one reason or another, they
wind up getting sick, they go to an emergency room, all of us wind up
paying for their health care. That’s the biggest criticism that’s been
leveled at your plan.
OBAMA: If people are gaming the system, there are ways we can address
that. By, for example, making them pay some of the back premiums for
not having gotten it in the first place. But understand that, number
one, Hillary says that she’s got enough subsidies. Well, we priced out
both our plan and Senator Clinton’s plan, and some of the subsidies are
not going to be sufficient. Point number one.
Point number two is that I am actually not interested in just capping
premiums. I want to lower premiums by about an average of $2,500 per
family per year, because people right now cannot afford it.
I can’t tell you how many folks I meet who have premiums that are so
high that essentially they don’t have health insurance, they have house
insurance. What they do is…
… they have a $10,000 deductible, or what have you, to try to reduce
costs. They never go to a doctor. And that ends up something that we
pay for, so I’m trying to reduce premiums for all families. But the
last point I want to make has to do with how we’re going to actually get
this plan done. You know, Ted Kennedy said that he is confident that we
will get universal health care with me as president, and he’s been
working on it longer than I think about than anybody. But he’s gone
through 12 of these plans, and each time they have failed. And part of
the reason, I think, that they have failed is we have not been able to
bring Democrats, Republicans together to get it done.
That’s what I did in Illinois, to provide insurance for people who did
not have it. That’s what I will do in bringing all parties together,
not negotiating behind closed doors, but bringing all parties together,
and broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American
people can see what the choices are.
Because part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this
process. And overcoming the special interests and the lobbyists who —
Senator Clinton is right. They will resist anything that we try to do.
My plan, her plan, they will try to resist.
And the antidote to that is making sure that the American people
understand what is at stake. I am absolutely committed to making sure
that anybody in America who needs health care is going to get it.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, and I’ll let Senator Clinton
respond. But you say broadcast on C-SPAN these deliberations. Is that
a swipe at Senator Clinton because…
OBAMA: No, it’s not a swipe. This is something that I’ve been talking
about consistently. What I want to do is increase transparency and
accountability to offset the power of the special interests and the
If a drug company — if the drug companies or a member of Congress who’s
carrying water for the drug companies wants to argue that we should not
negotiate for the cheapest available price on drugs, then I want them to
make that argument in front of the American people. And I will have
experts who explain that, in fact, it is legitimate for drug companies
to make profits, but they are making outsized profits on
the backs of senior citizens who need those prescription drugs. And
that is an argument that the American people have to be involved with,
otherwise we’re not going to get any plan through.
BLITZER: Senator Clinton, we remember in ’93, when you were formulating
your health care plan, it was done in secret.
CLINTON: Well, it was an effort to try to begin this conversation,
which we’re now continuing. It has been a difficult conversation.
There have been a lot of efforts. And I’m proud that one of the efforts
I was involved in 10 years ago resulted in the Children’s Health
Insurance Program. We now have a million children in California…
… who every month get health insurance because of that bipartisan
effort. We obviously are running into the presidential veto and not
being able to expand it. But this issue is so important, and I just
want to underscore three really critical points. First of all, I have
said in my plan that we have to regulate the health insurance industry
differently. We have to say to them that they can no longer deny
coverage to anyone and they have to cover everyone, including every
And they have to compete on cost and quality, instead of the way they
compete now, which is to try to cherry-pick people, and only insure the
healthy, and make it so costly for people with diabetes or cancer or
some other chronic condition.
Secondly, we’ve got to make it clear to the drug companies that they do
deserve to be part of the solution, because we all benefit from the
life-saving remedies they come up with, but we pay for it many times
over. It is American taxpayers who pay for the research. It is
American taxpayers who pay for a lot of the clinical studies. That’s
why, while we’re looking at getting to universal health care, we also
have to give Medicare the right to negotiate with drug companies to get
the price down, to begin to rein in those costs across the board.
And, finally, it is so important that, as Democrats, we carry the banner
of universal health care. The health insurance industry is very clever
and extremely well-funded. I know this. I had $300 million of incoming
advertising and attacks during our efforts back in ’93 and ’94. And one
of the reasons why I’ve designed the plan that I have put forward now is
because I learned a lot about what people want, what people are willing
to accept, and how we get the political process to work.
CLINTON: And, certainly, it is important that the president come up
with the plan, but we’ll have to persuade Congress to put all of those
deliberations on C-SPAN. Now, I think we might be able to do that, but
that’s a little heavier lift than what the president is going to
propose, because what happens is we have to have a coalition. And I
think the plan that I have proposed is if you take business, which
pays the costs and wants to get those costs down, take labor that has to
negotiate over health care instead of wages, take doctors, nurses,
hospitals who want to get back into the business of taking care of
people instead of working for insurance companies, I think we will have
a coalition that can withstand the health insurance…
BLITZER: Thank you.
CLINTON: … and the drug companies.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
CLINTON: And that’s what I intend to do.
BLITZER: All right. The next question, a related question, from Doyle.
MCMANUS: Senator Obama, one other thing both of your health insurance
proposals have in common is they would cost billions of dollars in new
spending and both of you have proposed raising taxes on a lot on
Americans to pay for that and for other proposals.
Well, now, you know what’s going to happen this fall in the general
election campaign. The Republicans are going to call you
“tax-and-spend” liberal Democrats, and that’s a charge that’s been
effective in the past. How are you going to counter that charge?
OBAMA: Well, first of all, I don’t think the Republicans are going to
be in a real strong position to argue fiscal responsibility, when they
have added $4 trillion or $5 trillion…
… worth of national debt. I am happy to have that argument. If John
McCain, for example, is the nominee, I respect that John McCain, in the
first two rounds of Bush tax cuts, said it is irresponsible that
we have never before cut taxes at the same time as we’re going into war.
And somewhere along the line, the straight talk express lost some wheels
and now he is in favor of extending Bush tax cuts that went to some of
the wealthiest Americans who don’t need them and we’re not even asking
So I’ve already said a sizeable portion of my health care plan will be
paid for because we emphasize savings. We invest in prevention.
So that as I said before, the chronically ill that account for 20
percent — or the 20 percent of chronically ill patients that account
for 80 percent of the costs, that they’re getting better treatment. We
are actually paying for a dietitian for people to lose weight as opposed
to paying for the $30,000 foot amputation. That will save us money. We
can conservatively save…
… $100 billion to $150 billion a year under my plan. That pays for
part of it. Part of it is paid for by rolling back the Bush tax cuts on
the top one percent. Now…
So my plan is paid for. But one thing that I think we’re going to have
to do as Democrats when we go after the Republicans is — the question
is not tax cuts, tax hikes. The question is who are the tax cuts for,
who are the tax hikes imposed upon.
What we have had right now is a situation where we’ve cut taxes for
people who don’t need them. Warren Buffett has said, “You know, I made
$46 million last year. It was a bad year for me. But I can still
afford to pay more than my secretary, who has a higher tax rate than I
That is not fair and I want to change that. We’ve got $1 trillion worth
of corporate tax loopholes and tax havens and I’ve said I will close
those and I will give tax cuts to people making $75,000 or less by
offsetting their payroll tax. Senior citizens making less than $50,000
a year, we want to eliminate taxes for them.
So the question is can we restore a sense of balance to our economy and
make sure that those of us who are blessed and fortunate and have
thrived in this economy, in this global economy, that we can afford to
pay a little bit more so that that child in east Los Angeles who is in a
crumbling school, with teachers that are having to dig into their own
pockets for school supplies, that they are having a chance at the
American dream, as well.
I’m happy to have that argument.
BLITZER: Senator Clinton, your health care plan, it is estimated, will
cost $110 billion annually. You want to tax the rich to pay for that,
is that what you’re saying?
CLINTON: Well, let me say that the way I would pay for this is to take
the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire on people making more than
$250,000 a year. That would raise about $55 billion and I would put
that into the subsidies for the health care tax credit, so that people
would be able to afford the health care that we are offering. The other
$55 billion would come from the modernization and the efficiencies that
I believe we can obtain. We spend more money than anybody in the world
on health care and there is no end in sight.
CLINTON: Yet, we don’t get the best results. We don’t have the longest
life span. We don’t have the best infant mortality rates. We could do
so much better. And here are some of the ideas that I have
put on the table.
Number one, the Bush administration has given enormous tax giveaways to
HMOs and drug companies under the Medicare prescription Part D program,
under the HMO program in Medicare. I would rein those in. They are not
being earned. They do not produce the results that are supposedly being
touted by the Bush administration.
I would also move for electronic medical records, something that I have
worked on for nearly five years on a bipartisan basis. Started with
Newt Gingrich and Bill Frist. We passed my legislation through the
Senate a year ago. Didn’t get it through the Republican House. Now
we’re going to try again in the Democratic Congress. If we had
electronic medical records, according to RAND Corporation —
hardly a bastion of liberal thinking…
… they have said we would save $77 billion a year. That money can be
put into prevention. It could be put into chronic care management. It
can be put into making sure that our health care system has enough
access so that if you are in a rural community somewhere in California
or somewhere in Tennessee or somewhere in Georgia, you’ll have access to
health care. If you are in an inner- city area and you see your
hospital, like the Drew Medical Center, closed on you, then you are
going to have a place once again where you can get health care in the
So we can begin to be more effective and more sensible about how we
cover everybody, and use the money from the top-end tax cults and from
modernizing the system.
BLITZER: Jeanne has a question on a different subject…
… but I just want to be precise. When you let — if you become
president, either one of you — let the Bush tax cuts lapse, there will
be effectively tax increases on millions of Americans.
OBAMA: On wealthy Americans.
CLINTON: That’s right.
OBAMA: And look…
BLITZER: And you are willing to go into…
OBAMA: I’m not bashful about it.
CLINTON: Absolutely. Absolutely.
OBAMA: I suspect a lot of this crowd — it looks like a pretty
well-dressed crowd — potentially will pay a little bit more. I will
pay a little bit more.
But as I said, you know, we have, I believe, a moral obligation to make
sure that everybody has the opportunity to get health care in this
country. And one last point I want to make. We will have to make some
upfront costs. That’s why in either of our plans, you know, if we want
to invest in electronic medical records, then we have got to go to rural
hospitals who might not be able to afford it and say, we’re going to
help you buy the computer software and the machinery to make sure that
But that investment will pay huge dividends over the long term, and the
place where it will pay the biggest dividends is in Medicare and
Medicaid. Because if we can get a healthier population, that is the
only way over the long term that we can actually control that spending
that is going to break the federal budget.
CLINTON: But Wolf, it’s just really important to underscore here that
we will go back to the tax rates we had before George Bush became
president. And my memory is, people did really well during that time
And they will keep doing really well.
BLITZER: All right, Jeanne?
CUMMINGS: On immigration. The Republicans have had a pretty fierce
debate over immigration. And it’s now pretty clear that that’s going to
be an issue for you all, as well, not just in the general, but it’s
bubbled up in some of the primaries. And it’s a divisive issue for you
all, as it is for the Republicans. And that was pretty evident when we
got a question through Politico. This is from Kim Millman (ph) from
Burnsville, Minnesota. And she says, “there’s been no acknowledgement
by any of the presidential candidates of the negative economic impact of
immigration on the African-American community. How do you propose to
address the high unemployment rates and the declining wages in the
African-American community that are related to the flood of immigrant
Senator Obama, you want to go first on that? And it’s for both of you.
OBAMA: Well, let me first of all say that I have worked on the streets
of Chicago as an organizer with people who have been laid off from steel
plants, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, and, you know, all of them are
feeling economically insecure right now, and they have been for many
years. Before the latest round of immigrants showed up, you had huge
unemployment rates among African-American youth.
And, so, I think to suggest somehow that the problem that we’re seeing
in inner-city unemployment, for example, is attributable to immigrants,
I think, is a case of scapegoating that I do not believe in, I do not
And this is where we do have a very real difference with the other
OBAMA: I believe that we can be a nation of laws and a nation of
Now, there is no doubt that we have to get control of our borders. We
can’t have hundreds of thousands of people coming over to the United
States without us having any idea who they are.
I also believe that we do have to crack down on those employers that are
taking advantage of the situation, hiring folks who cannot complain
about worker conditions, who aren’t getting the minimum wage sometimes,
or aren’t getting overtime. We have to crack down on them. I also
believe we have to give a pathway to citizenship after they have paid a
fine and learned English, to those who are already here, because if we
don’t, they will continue to undermine U.S. wages.
But let’s understand more broadly that the economic problems that
African-Americans are experiencing, whites are experiences, blacks and
Latinos are experiencing in this country are all rooted in the fact that
we have had an economy out of balance. We’ve had tax cuts that went up
instead of down. We have had a lack of investment in basic
infrastructure in this country. Our education system is chronically
And so, there are a whole host of reasons why we have not been
generating the kinds of jobs that we are generating. We should not use
immigration as a tactic to divide. Instead, we should pull the country
together to get this economy back on track. That’s what I intend to do
as president of the United States of America.
BLITZER: All right. Senator Clinton, we’re going to stay on this
subject, but Doyle has a follow-up.
MCMANUS: Senator Clinton, Senator Obama has said that he favors
allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses, and you oppose
that idea. Why?
CLINTON: Well, let me start with the original question from Kim,
because I think it deserves an answer. I believe that in many parts of
our country, because of employers who exploit undocumented workers and
drive down wages, there are job losses. And I think we should be honest
There are people who have been pushed out of jobs and factories and meat
processing plants, and all kinds of settings. And I meet them. You
know, I was in Atlanta last night, and an African-American man said to
me, “I used to have a lot of construction jobs, and now it just seems
like the only people who get them anymore are people who are here
without documentation.” So, I know that what we have to do is to bring
our country together to have a comprehensive immigration reform
That is the answer. And it is important that we make clear to Kim and
people who are worried about this that that is actually in the best
interests of those who are concerned about losing their jobs or already
Because if we can tighten our borders, if we can crack down on employer
who exploit workers, both those who are undocumented and those who are
here as citizens, or legal, if we can do more to help local communities
cope with the cost that they often have to contend with, if we do more
to help our friends to the south create more jobs for their own people,
and if we take what we know to be the realities that we confront — 12
to 14 million people here, what will we do with them?Well, I hear the
voices from the other side of the aisle. I hear voices on TV and radio.
And they are living in some other universe, talking
about deporting people, rounding them up.
I don’t agree with that, and I don’t think it’s practical. And
therefore, what we’ve got to do is to say, come out of the shadows. We
will register everyone. We will check, because if you have committed a
crime in this country or the country you came from, then you will not be
able to stay, you will have to be deported.
But for the vast majority of people who are here, we will give you a
path to legalization if you meet the following condition: pay a fine
because you entered illegally, be willing to pay back taxes over time,
try to learn English — and we have to help you do that, because we’ve
cut back on so many of those services — and then you wait in line.
That not only is, I think, the best way to approach the problem of our
12 million to 14 million who are here, but that also says to Kim, Kim,
this is the best answer, as well, because once we have those conditions
met, and people agree, then, they will not be in a labor market that
undercuts anybody else’s wages.
CLINTON: And therefore, it’s imperative we approach it this way, only
after people have agreed to these conditions, Doyle, and that they have
been willing to say, yes, they will meet those conditions, do I think we
ought to talk about privileges like drives’ licenses? Because otherwise,
I think you will further undermine the labor market for people like the
ones Kim is referring to.
CLINTON: We need to solve this problem, not exacerbate it. And that’s
what intend to do as president.
BLITZER: All right. All right, we have a follow-up. Senator Obama, in
an interview with CNN this week, you said this. You said, quote, “I
stood up for a humane and intelligent immigration policy
in a way that, frankly, none of my other opponents did.” What did you
mean by that?
OBAMA: Well, what I meant was that, when this issue came up — not
driver’s licenses, but comprehensive immigration reform generally — I
worked with Ted Kennedy. I worked with Dick Durbin. I worked with John
McCain, although he may not admit it now…
… to move this issue forward aggressively. And it’s a hard political
issue. Let’s be honest. This is not an issue that polls well. But I
think it is the right thing to do.
And I think we have to show leadership on the issue. And it is
important for us, I believe, to recognize that the problems that workers
are experiencing generally are not primarily caused by immigration.
BLITZER: Are you suggesting that Senator Clinton’s policy was not, in
your words, “humane”?
OBAMA: That is — what I said was that we have to stand up for these
issues when it’s tough, and that’s what I’ve done. I did it when I was
in the state legislature, sponsoring the Illinois version of the DREAM
Act, so that children who were brought here through no fault of their
own are able to go to college, because we actually want well-educated
kids in our country…
… who are able to — who are able to succeed and become part of this
economy and part of the American dream.
BLITZER: Was she lacking on that front?
OBAMA: Wolf, you keep on trying to push on this issue.
BLITZER: I’m just trying to find out what you mean.
OBAMA: There are those who were opposed to this issue, and there have
been those who have flipped on the issue and have run away from the
issue. This wasn’t directed particularly at Senator Clinton. But the
fact of the matter is I have stood up consistently on this issue. On
the driver’s license issue, I don’t actually want — I don’t believe
that we’re going to have to deal with this if we have comprehensive
immigration reform, because, as I said before, people don’t come here to
drive. They come here to work.
And if we have signed up them — if we have registered them, if they
have paid a fine, if they are learning English, if they are going to the
back of the line, if we fix our legal immigration system, then I believe
we will not have this problem of undocumented workers in this country,
because people will be able to actually go on a pathway to citizenship.
That, I think, is the right approach for African-Americans; I think it’s
the right approach for Latinos; I think it’s a right approach for white
workers here in the United States.
BLITZER: I want to let Senator Clinton respond. But were you missing
in action when Senator Obama and Senator McCain and Senator Kennedy
started formulating comprehensive immigration reform?
CLINTON: Well, actually, I co-sponsored comprehensive immigration
reform in 2004 before Barack came to the Senate.
So I’ve been on record on behalf of this for quite some time. And
representing New York, the homeland with the Statue of Liberty, bringing
all of our immigrants to our shores, has been not only an extraordinary
privilege, but given me the opportunity to speak out on these issues.
When the House of Representatives passed the most mean-spirited
provision that said, if you were to give any help whatsoever to someone
here illegally, you would commit a crime, I stood up and said that would
have criminalized the Good Samaritan and Jesus Christ himself. I have
been on record on this against this kind of demagoguery, this
And, you know, it is something that I take very personally, because I
have not only worked on behalf of immigrants; I have been working to
make conditions better for many years.
I was so honored to get the farm workers endorsement last week, because
for so many years I have stood with farm workers who do some of the
hardest work there is anywhere in our country. So we may be looking at
the immigration reform issue as a political issue, and it certainly has
been turned into one by those who I think are undermining the values of
It is a serious question. We have to fix this broken system. But let’s
do it in a practical, realistic approach. Let’s bring people together.
And I think, as president, I can.
You know, I’ve been going to town halls all over America, and I see the
people out there, thousands of them who come to hear me, and they’re
nervous about immigration, and for the reasons that the economy isn’t
working for people.
The average American family has lost $1,000 in income. They’re looking
for some explanation as to why this is happening. And they often ask
exactly the kind of question that Kim asked, with a real edge or a real
amount of anxiety in their voice. And then I ask them, well, what would
CLINTON: If you want to round up into four people, how many tens of
thousands of federal law enforcement officials would that take?”
BLITZER: All right.
CLINTON: And how much authority would they have to be given to knock on
every door of every business and every home? I don’t think Americans
would stand for that.
BLITZER: Senator, Senator…
CLINTON: So we have to get realistic and practical about this.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator, why not, then, if you’re that
passionate about it, let them get driver’s licenses?
CLINTON: Well, we disagree on this. I do not think that it is either
appropriate to give a driver’s license to someone who is here
undocumented, putting them, frankly, at risk, because that is clear
evidence that they are not here legally, and I believe it is a diversion
from what should be the focus at creating a political coalition with the
courage to stand up and change the immigration system.
OBAMA: The only point I would make is Senator Clinton gave a number of
different answers over the course of six weeks on this issue, and that
did appear political. Now, at this point, she’s got a clearer position,
but it took a whole and…
OBAMA: I’m just being — just in fairness. Initially, in a debate, you
said you were for it. Then you said you were against it. And the only
reason I bring that up is to underscore the fact that this is a
difficult political issue.
From my perspective, I agree with Bill Richardson that there is a
public safety concern here and that we’re better off, because I don’t
want a bunch of hit-and-run drivers, because they’re worried about being
deported and so they don’t report an accident. That is a judgment all.
But I do think it is important to recognize that this can be tough and
the question is who is going to tackle this problem and solve it. Many
of the solutions that Senator Clinton just talked about are solutions
that I agree with, that I’ve been working on for many years, and my
suspicion is whatever our differences, we’re going to have big
differences with the Republicans, but I think a practical, common sense
solution to the problem is what the American people are looking for.
CLINTON: Well, I just have to correct the record for one second,
because, obviously, we do agree about the need to have comprehensive
And if I recall, about a week after I said that I would try to support
my governor, although I didn’t agree with it personally, you were asked
the same question and could not answer it. So this is a difficult issue
and both of us have to recognize…
… that it is not something that we easily come to, because we share a
lot of the same values.
OBAMA: I agree.
CLINTON: We want to — we want to be fair to people. We want to
respect the dignity of every human being, every person who is here. But
we are trying to work our way through to get to where we need to be and
that is to have a united Democratic Party, with fair-minded Republicans
who will join us to fix this broken immigration system.
BLITZER: All right. We’re going to talk a lot more about this. We’re
going to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about. You can
follow all of the action, by the way, on cnnpolitics.com and there’s a
lively dialogue going on there right now, cnnpolitics.com. We’ll take a
quick break. We’ll pick up with two issues, experience and character,
and then move on to a lot more right after.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles. We’re
continuing this Democratic presidential debate. The next question goes
to Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times.
MCMANUS: Senator Obama, a few minutes ago, we heard Senator Clinton
refer to her tenure in the United States Senate, and in fact, one of her
overriding things in this campaign has been her experience. A lot of
Americans agree that she is better prepared than you are to manage the
nation’s economy, to be commander in chief from day one. Why are they
OBAMA: A lot of Americans disagree.
And think that we need to move forward with new leadership. So that’s
why we are having this contest.
You know, I have spent my entire adult life trying to bring about change
in this country. I started off as a community organizer, working on the
streets of Chicago, providing job training and after- school programs
and economic development for neighborhoods that have been devastated by
steel plants that had closed.
I worked as a civil rights attorney, turning down lucrative corporate
jobs to provide justice for those who had been denied on the job on at
the ballot box.
I worked as a state legislator for years, providing health care to
people who did not have it, reforming a death penalty system that was
broken, providing tax relief to those who needed it. And in the United
States Senate, I worked on everything from nuclear proliferation to
issues of alternative energy. And in each instance, what I found is
that the leadership that’s needed is the ability to bring people
together, who otherwise don’t see anything in common. The ability to
overcome the special interests. And I passed both in Washington in
Illinois comprehensive ethics reform that opened up government so that
the American people could be involved. And talking straight to the
American people about how we’re going to solve these problems, and
putting in the hard work of negotiations to get stuff done.
So I respect Senator Clinton’s record. I think it’s a terrific record.
But I also believe that the skills that I have are the ones that are
needed right now to move the country forward.
CLINTON: And I really spent a great deal of my early adulthood, you
know, bringing people together to help solve the problems of those who
were without a voice and were certainly powerless. I was honored to be
appointed by President Carter to the Legal Services Corporation, which I
chaired, and we grew that corporation from 100 million to 300 million.
It is the primary vehicle by which people are given access to our courts
when they have civil problems that need to be taken care of. You know,
I’ve run projects that provided aid for prisoners in prisons.
I helped to reform the education system in Arkansas and expand rural
health care. And I’ve had a lot of varied experiences, both in the
private sector, as well as the public, and the not-for- profit sector.
And certainly during the eight years that I was privileged to be in the
White House, I had a great deal of responsibility that was given to me
to not only work on domestic issues, like health care — and when we
weren’t successful on universal health care, I just turned around and
said, well, we’re going to get the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
And I’m so proud we do, because now six million children around the
country every month get health care. And I took on the drug companies
to make sure that they would test drugs to see if they were safe and
effective for our kids.
And began to change the adoption and foster care system. Here in
California, because of the Adoption and Safe Families Act, we have three
times more children being adopted out of foster care.
And certainly the work that I was able to do around the world, going to
more than 82 countries, negotiating with governments like Macedonia to
open their border again, to let Kosovar refugees in. Speaking on behalf
of women’s rights as human rights in Beijing, to send a message across
the world that this is critical of who we are as Americans.
And to go to the Senate and to begin to work across the party lines with
people who honestly never thought they would work with me. But I believe
public service is a trust. And I get up every day trying to make change
in people’s lives.
And today we have 20,000 National Guard and Reserve members in
California who have access to health care because I teamed up with
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to get that done. Really
positive change in people’s lives, in real ways, that I am very proud
BLITZER: Jeanne Cummings of Politico, go ahead.
CUMMINGS: Well, we’ve got a question on this that’s come in on
politico.com, and it echoes, I think, a message that you all might be
fighting up against if Mitt Romney turns out to be your opponent come
the fall. We’ve talked about McCain, now we have Romney’s strengths to
Now, Howard Meyerson (ph) of Pasadena, California, says he views the
country as a very large business, and neither one of you have ever run a
business. So, why should either of you be elected to be CEO of the
CLINTON: Well, I would, with all due respect, say that the United
States government is much more than a business. It is a trust.
It is the most complicated organization. But it is not out to make a
profit. It is out to help the American people. It is about to stand up
for our values and to do what we should at home and around the world to
keep faith with who we are as a country. And with all due respect, we
have a president who basically ran as the CEO, MBA president, and look
what we got. I am not too happy about the results.
OBAMA: Let me — let me just also point out that, you know, Mitt Romney
hasn’t gotten a very good return on his investment during this
And so, I’m happy to take a look at my management style during the
course of this last year and his. I think they compare fairly well.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Doyle.
MCMANUS: I want to switch to a different theme. Senator Clinton, this
week, as you know, Senator Obama was endorsed by Senator Ted Kennedy and
Caroline Kennedy. And they both argued that the
country is ready for a new generation of leaders, and they said Barack
Obama, like John F. Kennedy in 1960, is that kind of leader. How do you
respond to that?
CLINTON: Well, I have the greatest respect for Senator Kennedy and the
Kennedy family. And I’m proud to have three of Senator Robert Kennedy’s
children, Bobby and Kathleen and Kerry, supporting me. But what I this
What I think is exciting is that the way we are looking at the
Democratic field, now down to the two of us is, is we’re going to get
big change. We’re going to have change. I think having the first woman
president would be a huge change for America and the world.
CLINTON: But, of course, despite the enthusiasm of our supporters or
our endorsers — and we’re both proud of everyone who has come to be
part of our campaign — this is about the two of us. You have to, as
voters, determine who you think can be the best president, to tackle all
those problems on day one, waiting in the Oval Office, who can be the
best nominee for the Democratic Party to be able to withstand whatever
they decide to do on the other side of the aisle, and come out
But, ultimately, this is really about the American people. It’s about
your lives. It’s about your jobs, your health care, whether you can
afford to send your children to college, whether you’ll be able to
withstand the pressure of the rising interest rates on a home
foreclosure that might come your way, and whether we’re going to once
again be proud of our country, and our leadership, and our moral
authority in the world.
And so I think that, as we look at these upcoming contests — 22 of them
now on Tuesday — really, every voter should be looking and examining
what they want out of the next president.
What are the criteria that you have for determining who you will vote
for, what you think our country needs, what you and your family are
really looking for? And then you evaluate the two of us, because no one
else will be on the ballot.
This is a very exciting and humbling experience, I think I can say for
both of us.
BLITZER: All right. Senator…
CLINTON: Neither one of us would have either predicted — you know, not
very long ago — we would be sitting here. And it is a great tribute to
the Democratic Party and to America.
But now we have to decide who would be the best president.
BLITZER: Senator Obama, I want you to respond, but also in the context
of this. A lot of Democrats remember the eight years of the Clinton
administration, a period of relative peace and prosperity, and they
remember it fondly.
Are they right? Should they be remembering those eight years with
OBAMA: Well, I think there’s no doubt that there were good things that
happened during those eight years of the Clinton administration. I
think that’s undeniable. Look, we’re all Democrats. And, particularly,
when looked through the lens of the last eight years with George Bush,
they look even better.
So I don’t want to diminish some of the accomplishments that occurred
during those eight years. And I absolutely agree with Senator Clinton,
that ultimately each of us have to be judged on our own merits. All of
us have endorsers, and ultimately you’ve got to take a look and see:
Who do you want in that White House?
I do think that there was something that happened, and we’ve been seeing
it all across the country. We saw it at the event with Senator Kennedy.
We are bringing in a whole generation of new voters…
… which I think is exciting. And part of the task, I believe, of
leadership is the hard nuts-and-bolts of getting legislation passed and
managing the bureaucracy, but part of it is also being able to call on
the American people to reach higher, to say we shouldn’t settle for an
economy that does very well for some, but leaves millions of people
behind. We should not accept a school in South Carolina that was built
in the 1800s, where kids are having to learn in trailers, and every time
the railroad goes by the tracks, the building shakes and the teacher has
to stop teaching.
We should not accept a foreign policy that has seen our respect diminish
around the world and has not made us more safe.
So the question is — part of the question is: Who can work the levers
of power more effectively? Part of the question is also: Who can
inspire the American people to get re-engaged in their government again,
push back the special interests, reduce the influence of lobbyists? And
that is something that I have worked on all my life and we are seeing in
this campaign. And one of the things I’m thrilled with — and
this is good news for Democrats…
BLITZER: All right.
OBAMA: … every single election that we’ve had so far in this contest
you’ve seen the number of people participating in the Democratic primary
Now, that’s not all due to me. Senator Clinton is attracting enthusiasm
and support, as well. But I can say, for example, in Iowa, about 60
percent of those new voters voted for me.
And that, I think, changes the electoral map in such a way where we’re
going to have more people ready to move forward on the agendas that we
all agree with. That’s part of the leadership I want to provide as
BLITZER: We have a follow-up question from Jeanne. Go ahead, Jeanne.
CUMMINGS: Well, Senator Obama mentioned the generational issue. And
when we look at returns and exit polls, there is something going on
there. And we’ve got a question along those lines from Karen Roper (ph)
from Pickens, South Carolina. She asks to you: “Senator Clinton, that
you have claimed that your presidency would bring change to America.
I’m 38 years old and I have never had an opportunity to vote in a
presidential election in which a Bush or a Clinton wasn’t on the ticket.
“How can you be an agent of change when we have had the same two
families in the White House for the last 30 years?”
CLINTON: Well, as I have often said, I regret deeply that there is a
Bush in the White House at the time. But I think that what’s great
about our political system is that we are all judged on our own merits.
We come forward to the American public and it’s the most grueling
political process one can imagine. We start from the same place.
Nobody has an advantage no matter who you are or where you came from.
You have to raise the money. You have to make the case for yourself.
And I want to be judged on my own merits. I don’t want to be advantaged
or disadvantaged. I’m very proud of my husband’s administration. I
think that there were a lot of good things that happened and those good
things really changed people’s lives.
The trajectory of change during those eight years went from deficits and
debt to a balanced budget and a surplus, all those 22 million new jobs
… and the hopefulness that people brought with them. And, you know,
it did take a Clinton to clean after the first Bush and I think it might
take another one to clean up after the second Bush.
BLITZER: All right, Senators, stand by. We’re going to take another
quick break. We have a lot more to go through. Remember, you can go to
cnnpolitics.com and you can monitor what’s going on. There’s a lively
discussion going on at cnnpolitics.com right now. We’ll take a short
break. Much more of this Democratic presidential debate right after
BLITZER: We’re at the Kodak Theatre here in Los Angeles. Thousands of
people are outside, Hillary Clinton supporters, Barack Obama supporters.
We’re continuing this presidential debate right now. The next question
goes to Doyle McManus.
MCMANUS: A question about the issue of Iraq. Senator Clinton, you’ve
both called for a gradual withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, but
Senator Obama says he wants all combat troops out
within 16 months of his inauguration and you haven’t offered a specific
end date. Why shouldn’t voters worry that your position could turn into
an open-ended commitment?
CLINTON: Well, because, Doyle, I’ve been very clear in saying that I
will begin to withdraw troops in 60 days. I believe that it will take
me one to two brigades a month, depending on how many troops we have
there, and that nearly all of them should be out within a year. It is
imperative, though, that we actually plan and execute this right.
And you may remember last spring, I got into quite a back-and- forth
with the Pentagon, because I was concerned they were not planning for
withdrawal, because that was contrary to their strategy, or their stated
And I began to press them to let us know, and they were very resistant,
and gave only cursory information to us. So I’ve said that I will ask
the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense and my security advisers
the very first day I’m president, to begin to draw up such a plan so
that we can withdraw. But I just want to be very clear with people,
that it’s not only bringing our young men and women and our equipment
out, which is dangerous. They have got to go down those same roads
where they have been subjected to bombing and so much loss of life and
injury. We have to think about what we’re going to do with the more
than 100,000 Americans civilians who are there, working for the embassy,
working for businesses, working for charities.
And I also believe we’ve got to figure out what to do with the Iraqis
who sided with us. You know, a lot of the drivers and translators saved
so many of your young men and women’s lives, and I don’t think we can
walk out on them without having some plan as to how to take care of
those who are targeted.
At the same time, we have got to tell the Iraqi government there is no
— there is no more time. They are out of time. They have got to make
the tough decisions they have avoided making. They have got to take
responsibility for their own country.
And, you know, I think both Barack and I have tried in these debates —
and sometimes been pushed by some of our opponents — to be as
responsible as we can be, because we know that this president, based on
what he said in the State of the Union, intends to leave at least
130,000, if not more, troops in Iraq as he exits. It’s the most
irresponsible abdication of what should be a presidential commitment to
end what he started.
So, we will inherit it. And therefore, I will do everything I can to
get as many of our troops out as quickly as possible, taking into
account all of these contingencies that we’re going to have to contend
with once we are in charge and once we can get into the Pentagon to
figure out what’s really there and what’s going on.
BLITZER: But you can’t make a commitment, though, that 16 months after
your inauguration will be enough time?
CLINTON: I certainly hope it will be. And I’ve said I hope to have
nearly all of them out within a year.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think it is important for us to be as careful
getting out as we were careless getting in.
So I have said very clearly: I will end this war. We will not have a
permanent occupation and we will not have permanent bases in Iraq.
When John McCain suggests that we might be there 100 years, that, I
think, indicates a profound lack of understanding that we’ve got a whole
host of global threats out there, including Iraq, but we’ve got a big
problem right now in Afghanistan. Pakistan is of great concern. We are
neglecting potentially our foreign policy with respect to Latin America.
China is strengthening.
OBAMA: And if we neglect our economy by spending $200 billion every
year in this war that has not made us more safe, that is undermining our
BLITZER: All right.
OBAMA: But the — but I do think it is important for us to set a date.
And the reason I think it is important is because if we are going to
send a signal to the Iraqis that we are serious, and prompt the Shia,
the Sunni and the Kurds to actually come together and negotiate, they
have to have clarity about how serious we are.It can’t be muddy, it
can’t be fuzzy. They’ve got to know that we are serious about this
process. And I also think we’ve got to be very clear about what our
mission is. And there may be a difference here between Senator Clinton
and myself in terms of the four structures that we would leave behind.
Both of us have said that we would make sure that our embassies and our
civilians are protected. Both of us have said that we’ve got to care
for Iraqi civilians, including the four million who have been displaced
already. We already have a humanitarian crisis, and we have not taken
those responsibilities seriously.
We both have said that we need to have a strike force that can take out
potential terrorist bases that get set up in Iraq. But the one thing
that I think is very important is that we not get mission creep, and we
not start suggesting that we should have troops in Iraq to blunt Iranian
If we were concerned about Iranian influence, we should not have had
this government installed in the first place.
We shouldn’t have invaded in the first place. It was part of the reason
that I think it was such a profound strategic error for us to go into
this war in the first place.
And that’s one of the reasons why I think I will be — just to finish up
this point, I think I will be the Democrat who will be most effective in
going up against a John McCain, or any other Republican — because they
all want basically a continuation of George Bush’s policies — because I
will offer a clear contrast as somebody who never supported this war,
thought it was a bad idea. I don’t want to just end the war, but I want
to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.
That’s the kind of leadership I’m going to provide as president of the
CLINTON: And of course…
BLITZER: Senator Clinton, that’s a clear swipe at you.
CLINTON: We’re having — we’re having such a good time.
OBAMA: I wouldn’t call it a swipe.
CLINTON: We’re having such a good time. We are. We are. We’re having
a wonderful time.
OBAMA: Yes, absolutely.
CLINTON: And I am so — I am so proud to have the support of leaders
like Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who is here with us tonight, who was
one of the — who was one of the original conveners of the Out of Iraq
Caucus. Because it is imperative that as we move forward, with what
will be a very difficult process — there are no good options here.
We have to untangle ourselves and navigate through some very treacherous
terrain. And as we do so, it is absolutely clear to me that we have to
send several messages at once.
Yes, we are withdrawing, and I personally believe that is the best
message to send to the Iraqis. That they need to know that they have to
get serious, because so far they have been under the illusion that the
Bush administration and the Republicans who have more of the same will
be there indefinitely.
And I also think it’s important to send that message to the region,
because I think that Iran, Syria, the other countries in the
neighborhood, are going to find themselves in a very difficult position
as we withdraw. You know, be careful what you wish for. They will be
dragged into what is sectarian divisiveness with many different factions
among the three main groups. Therefore, we need to start diplomatic
efforts immediately, getting the Iranians, the Syrians, and others to
the table. It’s in their interest, it’s in our interest, and it
certainly is in the Iraqis’ interest.
The other point I want to underscore, though, is I asked Barack a few
debates ago — we’ve had so many of them — to join with me on
legislation which he has agreed to do that’s very important to prevent
President Bush from committing our country to an ongoing presence in
Iraq. That is something he is trying to push.
And we are pushing legislation to prevent him from doing that. He has
taken the view that I find absolutely indefensible, that he doesn’t have
to bring any such agreement about permanent bases, about ongoing
occupation. And if Senator McCain is the nominee, 100 years as
stretching forward, he doesn’t have to bring that to the United States
Congress. He only has to get the approval of the Iraqi parliament.
CLINTON: Well, we are saying absolutely no. And we’re going to do
everything we can to prevent him from binding any of us, going into the
future, in a way that will undermine America’s interests. So that’s a
BLITZER: We have a follow-up question on this subject from Jeanne
Cummings. Go ahead, Jeanne.
CUMMINGS: Senator Clinton, this one is for you. Judgment has been an
issue that’s been raised as part of this debate about Iraq. It’s been
raised by Senator Obama on a number of occasions.
And as this debate has gone on, more than half of the Politico readers
have voted for this question, and it is, in effect, a judgment question.
It comes from Howard Schumann (ph) from Phippsburg, Maine. And he asks,
“Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, you could have voted for the Levin
amendment which required President Bush to report to Congress about the
U.N. inspection before taking military action. Why did you vote against
CLINTON: Well, Howard, that’s an important question. And the reason is
because, although I believe strongly that we needed to put inspectors
in, that was the underlying reason why I at least voted to give
President Bush the authority, put those inspectors in, let them do their
work, figure out what is there and what isn’t there.
And I have the greatest respect for my friend and colleague, Senator
Levin. He’s my chairman on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The
way that amendment was drafted suggested that the United States would
subordinate whatever our judgment might be going forward to the United
Nations Security Council. I don’t think that was a good precedent.
Therefore, I voted against it.
I did vote with Senator Byrd to limit the authority that was being given
to President Bush to one year, and that also was not approved. You
know, I’ve said many times if I had known then what I know now, I never
would have given President Bush the authority. It was a sincere vote
based on my assessment at the time and what I believed he would do with
the authority he was given.
He abused that authority; he misused that authority. I warned at the
time it was not authority for a preemptive war. Nevertheless, he went
ahead and waged one, which has led to the position we find ourselves in
But I think now we have to look at how we go forward. There will be a
great debate between us and the Republicans, because the Republicans are
still committed to George Bush’s policy, and some are more committed
than others, with Senator McCain’s recent comments. He’s now accusing
me of surrendering because I believe we should withdraw starting within
60 days of my becoming president. Well, that is a debate I welcome,
because I think the Democrats have a much better grasp of the reality of
the situation that we are confronting. And we have to continue to press
It will be important, however, that our nominee be able to present both
a reasoned argument against continuing our presence in Iraq and the
necessary credentials and gravitas for commander-in- chief. That has to
cross that threshold in the mind of every American voter.
The Republicans will try to put either one of us into the same box that,
if we oppose this president’s Iraq policy, somehow we cannot fully
represent the interests of the United States, be commander-in- chief. I
reject that out of hand, and I actually welcome that debate with
whomever they nominate.
BLITZER: Senator? Look, I want you to respond, Senator, but also in
the context of what we’ve heard from General David Petraeus, that there
has been some progress made lately. The number of U.S. casualties has
gone down. There has been some stability in parts of Iraq where there
was turmoil before and that any quick, overly quick withdrawal could
undermine all of that and all of that progress would be for naught.
What do you say when you’ll hear that argument?
OBAMA: I welcome the progress. This notion that Democrats don’t want
to see progress in Iraq is ridiculous. I have to hug mothers in rope
lines during town hall meetings as they weep over their fallen sons and
daughters. I want to get our troops home safely, and I want us as a
country to have this mission completed honorably.
But the notion that somehow we have succeeded as a consequence of the
recent reductions in violence means that we have set the bar so low it’s
buried in the sand at this point.
And I’ve said this before. We went from intolerable levels of violence
and a dysfunctional government to spikes and horrific levels of violence
and a dysfunctional government. And now, two years later, we’re back to
intolerable levels of violence and a dysfunctional government. And in
the meantime, we have spent billions of dollars, lost thousands of
OBAMA: Thousands more have been maimed and injured as a consequence and
are going to have difficulty putting their lives back together again.
So understand that this has undermined our security. In the meantime,
Afghanistan has slid into more chaos than existed before we went into
Iraq. I am happy to have that argument. I also think it is going to be
important, though, for the Democrat — you know, Senator Clinton
mentioned the issue of gravitas and judgment. I think it is much easier
for us to have the argument, when we have a nominee who says, I always
thought this was a bad idea, this was a bad strategy.
It was not just a problem of execution. It was not just a problem of
execution. I mean, they screwed up the execution of it in all sorts of
ways. And I think even Senator McCain has acknowledged that. The
question is: Can we make an argument that this was a conceptually
flawed mission, from the start?
And we need better judgment when we decide to send our young men and
women into war, that we are making absolutely certain that it is because
there is an imminent threat, that American interests are going to be
protected, that we have a plan to succeed and to exit, that we are going
to train our troops properly and equip them properly and put them on
proper rotations and treat them properly when they come home.
And that is an argument that I think we are going to have an easer time
making if they can’t turn around and say: But hold on a second; you
And that’s part of the reason why I think that I would be the strongest
nominee on this argument of national security.
BLITZER: I’m going to let Senator Clinton respond. Senator Clinton,
you always say, if you knew then what you know now, you wouldn’t have
voted like that. But why can’t you just say right now that that vote
was a mistake?
CLINTON: Well, Wolf, I think that if you look at what was going on at
the time — and certainly, I did an enormous amount of investigation and
due diligence to try to determine what if any threat could flow from the
history of Saddam Hussein being both an owner of and a seeker of weapons
of mass destruction.
The idea of putting inspectors back in — that was a credible idea. I
believe in coercive diplomacy. I think that you try to figure out how
to move bad actors in a direction that you prefer in order to avoid more
And if you took it on the face of it and if you took it on the basis of
what we hoped would happen with the inspectors going in, that in and of
itself was a policy that we’ve used before. We have used the threat of
force to try to make somebody change their behavior.
I think what no one could have fully appreciated is how obsessed this
president was with this particular mission. And unfortunately, I and
others who warned at the time, who said, let the inspectors finish their
work, you know, do not wage a preemptive war, use diplomacy, were just
talking to a brick wall. But you know, it’s clear that if I had been
president, we would have never diverted our attention from Afghanistan.
When I went to Afghanistan the first time and was met by a young soldier
from New York, in the 10th Mountain Division who told me that I was
being welcomed to the forgotten frontlines in the war against terror,
that just, you know, just struck me so forcefully.
We have so many problems that we are going to have to untangle. And it
will take everyone — it will take a tremendous amount of effort. But
the one thing I’m convinced of is that, if we go into our campaign
against the Republicans with the idea that we are as strong as they are
and we are better than they are on national security, that we can put
together an effective strategy to go after the terrorists — because
that is real, that is something that we cannot ignore at our peril —
then we will be able to join the issues of the future.
And I think that’s what Americans are focused on. What are we going to
do going forward? Because day after day, what I spend my time working
on is trying to help pick up the pieces for families and for injured
soldiers, you know, trying to make sure that they get the help that they
need, trying to give the resources that are required.
We had to fight to get body armor. You know, George Bush sent people to
war without body armor.
BLITZER: So what I — what I…
CLINTON: We need a president who will be sensitive to the implications
of the use of force and understand that force should be a last resort,
not a first resort.
BLITZER: So, what I hear you saying — and correct me if I’m wrong —
is that you were naive in trusting President Bush?
CLINTON: No, that’s not what you heard me say.
Good try, Wolf. Good try. You know…
BLITZER: Was she naive, Senator Obama?
CLINTON: Well, you asked the question to me. You know, I deserve to
BLITZER: I thought you weren’t going to answer.
CLINTON: You know, I think that, you know, that is a good try, Wolf.
You know, the point is that I certainly respect Senator Obama making his
speech in 2002 against the war. And then when it came to the Senate,
we’ve had the same policy because we were both confronting the same
reality of trying to deal with the consequences of George Bush’s action.
I believe that it is abundantly clear that the case that was outlined on
behalf of going to the resolution — not going to war, but going to the
resolution — was a credible case. I was told personally by the White
House that they would use the resolution to put the inspectors in. I
worked with Senator Levin to make sure we gave them all the intelligence
so we would know what’s there. Some people now think that this was a
very clear open and shut case. We bombed them for days in 1998 because
Saddam Hussein threw out inspectors. We had evidence that they had a
lot of bad stuff for a very long time which we discovered after the
first Gulf War.
Knowing that he was a megalomaniac, knowing he would not want to compete
for attention with Osama bin Laden, there were legitimate concerns about
what he might do. So, I think I made a reasoned judgment.
Unfortunately, the person who actually got to execute the policy did
OBAMA: I don’t want to — I don’t want to belabor this, because I know
we’re running out of time and I’m sure you guys want to move on to some
other stuff, but I do just have to say this — the legislation, the
authorization had the title, an authorization to use U.S. military
force, U.S. military force, in Iraq. I think everybody, the day after
that vote was taken, understood this was a vote potentially to go to
I think were very clear about that. That’s the — if you look at the
headlines. The reason that this is important, again, is that Senator
Clinton, I think, fairly, has claimed that she’s got the experience on
day one. And part of the argument that I’m making in this campaign is
that, it is important to be right on day one.
And that the judgment that I’ve presented on this issue, and some other
issues is relevant to how we’re going to make decisions in the future.
You know, it’s not a function just of looking backwards, it’s a function
of looking forwards and how are we going to be making a series of
decisions in a very dangerous world.
I mean, the terrorist threat is real. And precisely because it’s real
— and we’ve got finite resources. We don’t have the capacity to just
send our troops in anywhere we decide, without good intelligence,
without a clear rationale.
That’s the kind of leadership that I think we need from the next
president of the United States. That’s what I intend to provide.
BLITZER: All right. We’re going to take a quick break and we’re going
to continue this. We have one more break to go through. A lot more
coming up, including questions involving character. And remember, you
can go to cnnpolitics.com and watch this online discussion that’s being
waged right now. We’ll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to the Kodak Theatre. This will be the final
round of questions. We have several questions. If both of you can keep
your answers relatively brief, we’ll get through some other subjects.
We’ll begin with Doyle.
MCMANUS: Senator Obama, we’re in Los Angeles, the entertainment capital
of the world. The audience here in the Kodak Theatre includes many of
the nation’s most influential directors, producers and actors. Now, for
many years, parents have worried that there’s just too much sex and
violence coming out of Hollywood. Do you agree with that? And if you
do, what will you do about it if you’re elected president?
OBAMA: Well, I’ve got a 9-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old daughter.
So I look at this not just as a legislator or a presidential candidate,
but as a parent. And as a parent, yes, I am concerned about what’s
coming over the airwaves. Now, right now, my daughters mostly are on
Nickelodeon, but they know how to work that remote.
And, you know, the primary responsibility is for parents. And I reject
the notion of censorship as an approach to dealing with this problem.
I do think that it is important for us to make sure that we are giving
parents the tools that they need in order to monitor what their children
are watching. And, obviously, the problem we have now is not just
what’s coming over the airwaves, but what’s coming over the Internet.
And so for us to develop technologies and tools and invest in those
technologies and tools, to make sure that we are, in fact, giving
parents power — empowering parents I think is important. The one other
thing I will say is — I don’t mean to be insulting here — but I do
think that it is important for those in the industry to show some
thought about who they are marketing some of these programs that are
being produced to.
And I’m concerned about sex, but I’m also concerned, you know, some of
the violent, slasher, horror films that come out, you see a trailer, and
I’m thinking, “I don’t want my 6-year-old or 9-year-old seeing that
trailer while she’s watching ‘American Idol.'”
And sometimes you see that kind of stuff coming up. I think it is
appropriate, in a cooperative way, to work with the industry to try to
deal with that problem. And I intend to work in that fashion when I’m
president of the United States of America.
BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.
All right, we’ve got another question from Jeanne. Go ahead, Jeanne.
CUMMINGS: Well, since we’ve dealt with the kids, let’s deal with the
spouses for a second. Senator Clinton…
CLINTON: He has a spouse, too.
OBAMA: Thankfully Michelle is not on stage. I’m sure she could tell
some stories, as well.
CUMMINGS: Senator Clinton, your husband has set off several firestorms
in the last few weeks in early primary states with the way that he has
criticized Senator Obama. Greg Craig, who was one of your husband’s top
lawyers and is now a senior adviser to Senator Obama, recently asked:
If your campaign can’t control the former president now, what will it be
like when you’re in the White House?
CLINTON: Well, one thing I think is fair to say, both Barack and I have
very passionate spouses…
OBAMA: We do, no doubt.
CLINTON: … who promote and defend us at every turn. You know, but
the fact is that I’m running for president, and this is my campaign.
And I have made it very clear that I want the campaign to stay focused
on the issues that I’m concerned about, the kind of future that I want
for our country, the work that I have done for all of these years. And
that is what the campaign is about.
And of course, I’m thrilled to have my husband and my daughter, who is
here tonight, you know, representing me and traveling around the
… speaking with people, but at the end of the day, it’s my name that
is on the ballot, and it will be my responsibility as president and
commander in chief, after consulting broadly with a lot of people who
have something to contribute to difficult decisions, I will have to make
the call. And I am fully prepared to do that. And I know that as we go
forward in this campaign, it’s a choice between the two of us. And we
are proud of our spouses, we’re proud of our families, we’re proud of
everybody supporting us. But at the end of the day, it’s a lonely job
in the White House, and it is the president of the United States who has
to make the decisions. And that is what I’m asking to be entrusted to
BLITZER: This will be the last question. It will go to both of you, to
Senator Obama first. The more I speak to Democrats out there — not
only the Democrats here at the Kodak Theatre, but all over the country
— they take a look at the two of you and they see potentially a dream
ticket. A dream ticket for the White House.
There may have been some nasty words exchanged or angry words or
whatever, but the question is this: Would you consider an Obama/Clinton
or Clinton/Obama ticket going down the road?
OBAMA: Well, obviously there’s a big difference between those two.
But, look, let me say this. And I said this at the top. I respect
Senator Clinton. I think her service to this country has been
extraordinary. And I’m glad that we’ve been walking on this road
together and that we are still on that road. We’ve got a lot more road
to travel. And so I think it’s premature for either of us to start
speculating about vice presidents, et cetera. I think it would be
premature and presumptuous.
I can say this about — about who I want not just as vice president but
as a cabinet member. Part of what I would like to do is restore a sense
of what is possible in government.
And that means having people of the greatest excellence and competence.
It means people with integrity. It means people with independence, who
are willing to say no to me so, so that, you know, no more yes-men or
women in the White House.
Because I’m not going to be right on every single issue. But you know,
it is really important, I think, for us also to give the American people
this sense, as they are struggling with their mortgages and struggling
with their health care and trying to figure out how to get their kids in
a school that will teach them and prepare them and equip them for this
century, that they get a sense that government’s on their side, that
government is listening to them, that it’s carrying their voices into
the White House.
And that’s not what’s happened over the last seven years. And whether
it’s my cabinet or it is the lowest federal civil servant out there, I
want them to understand they are working for the American people, to
help the American people achieve their dreams. That’s the reason I’m
running for president of the United States of America.
BLITZER: So, is the answer yes — it sounds like a yes, that she would
be on your short list.
OBAMA: I — you know, I’m sure Hillary would be on anybody’s short
BLITZER: All right. What about, Senator Clinton, what do you think
about a Clinton/Obama, Obama/Clinton ticket?
CLINTON: Well, I have to agree with everything Barack just said.
BLITZER: That means it’s a yes, right?
CLINTON: This has been an extraordinary campaign, and I think both of
us have been overwhelmed by the response that we have engendered, the
kind of enthusiasm and intensity that people feel about each of us. And
so, clearly, we are both dedicated to doing the best we can to win the
nomination, but there is no doubt we will have a unified Democratic
We will go into the November election prepared to win. And — and I
want to just add that, you know, on Monday night, I’m going to have a
national town hall, an interactive town hall. It will be carried on the
Hallmark Channel and on my Web site, HillaryClinton.com, because I know
you had tens of thousands of questions.
OBAMA: What about my Web site?
CLINTON: Yes. I want your folks to participate, too.
OBAMA: I’m just kidding.
CLINTON: And it’s going to be across the country. Monday night at 9:00
Eastern, 6:00 here on the West Coast.
BLITZER: All right.
CLINTON: For all those who didn’t get their questions asked or
answered, please, log on, turn on, and continue to be part of this
really, really exciting election for both of us.
BLITZER: Here is the bottom line — we do the plugs here. You guys can
do the plugs out on the campaign trail. That has to end our
conversation this evening. I want to thank both of you for coming very
OBAMA: Thank you.
CLINTON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama, Senator Hillary Clinton.