Complete transcript.Democratic presidential debate. Cleveland, Feb. 26, 2008.

SHARE Complete transcript.Democratic presidential debate. Cleveland, Feb. 26, 2008.

CLEVELAND, OHIO–Complete transcript of the Democratic presidential debate on Feb. 26, courtesy MSNBC.



FEBRUARY 26, 2008






WILLIAMS: Thanks to our candidates for being here on a snowy

night in the great city of Cleveland, Ohio.

A lot has been said since we last gathered in this forum,

certainly in the few days since you two last debated.

Senator Clinton, in your comments especially, the difference has

been striking. And let’s begin by taking a look.


CLINTON: You know, no matter what happens in this contest — and

I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am

absolutely honored and…

So shame on you, Barack Obama. It is time you ran a campaign

consistent with your messages in public. That’s what I expect from

you. Meet me in Ohio. Let’s have a debate about your tactics and

your behavior in this campaign.


WILLIAMS: Senator Clinton, we’re here in Ohio. Senator Obama is

here. This is the debate. You would agree the difference in tone

over just those 48 hours was striking.

CLINTON: Well, this is a contested campaign. And as I have said

many times, I have a great deal of respect for Senator Obama. But we

have differences.

And in the last several days, some of those differences in

tactics and the choices that Senator Obama’s campaign has made

regarding flyers and mailers and other information that has been put

out about my health care plan and my position on NAFTA have been very

disturbing to me.

And, therefore, I think it’s important that you stand up for

yourself and you point out these differences so that voters can have

the information they need to make a decision.

You know, for example, it’s been unfortunate that Senator Obama

has consistently said that I would force people to have health care

whether they could afford it or not.

You know, health care reform and achieving universal health care

is a passion of mine. It is something I believe in with all my heart.

CLINTON: And every day that I’m campaigning — and certainly

here throughout Ohio, I’ve met so many families, happened again this

morning in Lorain, who are just devastated because they don’t get the

health care they deserve to have.

And, unfortunately, it’s a debate we should have that is accurate

and is based in facts about my plan and Senator Obama’s plan, because

my plan will cover everyone and it will be affordable. And on many

occasions, independent experts have concluded exactly that.

And Senator Obama’s plan does not cover everyone. It would

leave, give or take, 15 million people out.

So we should have a good debate that uses accurate information,

not false, misleading and discredited information, especially on

something as important as whether or not we will achieve quality,

affordable health care for everyone.

That’s my goal. That’s what I’m fighting for and I’m going to

stand up for that.

WILLIAMS: On the topic of accurate information and to that end,

one of the things that has happened over the past 36 hours, a photo

went out on the Website, the “Drudge Report,” showing Senator Obama in

the native garb of a nation he was visiting, as you have done in a

host country on a trip overseas.

Matt Drudge, on his Website, said it came from a source inside

the Clinton campaign.

Can you say unequivocally here tonight it did not?

CLINTON: Well, so far as I know, it did not and I certainly know

nothing about it and have made clear that that’s not the kind of

behavior that I condone or expect from the people working in my


But we have no evidence where it came from. So I think that it’s

clear what I would do if it were someone in my campaign, as I have in

the past, asking people to leave my campaign if they do things that I

disagree with.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, your response.

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I take Senator Clinton at her word

that she knew nothing about the photo. So I think that’s something

that we can set aside.

I do want to focus on the issue of health care, because Senator

Clinton has suggested that the flyer that we put out, the mailing that

we put out was inaccurate.

Now, keep in mind that I have consistently said that Senator

Clinton’s got a good health care plan. I think I have a good health

care plan. I think mine is better.

But I have said that 95 percent of our health care plan is

similar. I have endured, over the course of this campaign, repeated

negative mail from Senator Clinton in Iowa, in Nevada, and other

places, suggesting that I want to leave 15 million people out.

According to Senator Clinton, that is accurate. I dispute it and

I think it is inaccurate. On the other hand, I don’t fault Senator

Clinton for wanting to point out what she thinks is an advantage to

her plan.

The reason she thinks that there are more people covered under

her plan than mine is because of a mandate. That is not a mandate for

the government to provide coverage to everybody. It is a mandate that

every individual purchase health care.

And the mailing that we put out accurately indicates that the

main difference between Senator Clinton’s plan and mine is the fact

that she would force, in some fashion, individuals to purchase health


If it was not affordable, she would still presumably force them

to have it, unless there is a hardship exemption, as they’ve done in

Massachusetts, which leaves 20 percent of the uninsured out. And if

that’s the case, then, in fact, her claim that she covers everybody is

not accurate.

Now, Senator Clinton has not indicated how she would enforce this

mandate. She hasn’t indicated what level of subsidy she would provide

to assure that it was, in fact, affordable. And so it is entirely

legitimate for us to point out these differences.

But I think it’s very important to understand the context of

this, and that is that Senator Clinton has, in her campaign at least,

has constantly sent out negative attacks on us, e-mail, robo-calls,

flyers, television ads, radio calls, and we haven’t whined about it

because I understand that’s the nature of this campaigns.

But to suggest somehow that our mailing is somehow different from

the kinds of approaches that Senator Clinton has taken throughout this

campaign I think is simply not accurate.

CLINTON: I have to…

WILLIAMS: And, Senator Clinton, on this subject…

CLINTON: I have to respond to that, because this is not just any

issue and certainly we’ve had a vigorous back-and-forth on both sides

of our campaign.

But this is an issue that goes to the heart of whether or not

this country will finally do what is right, and that is to provide

quality, affordable health care to every single person.

Senator Obama has a mandate in his plan. It’s a mandate on

parents to provide health insurance for their children. That’s about

150 million people who would be required to do that.

CLINTON: The difference between Senator Obama and myself is that

I know from the work I’ve done on health care for many years that if

everyone’s not in the system, we will continue to let the insurance

companies do what’s called cherry picking, pick those who get

insurance and leave others out. We will continue to have a hidden tax

so that when someone goes to the emergency room without insurance, 15

million or however many, that amount of money that will be used to

take care of that person will be then spread among all the rest of us.

And most importantly, you know, the kind of attack on my health

care plan which the University of Pennsylvania and others have said is

misleading, that attack goes right to the heart of whether or not we

will be able to achieve universal health care. That’s a core

Democratic Party value. It’s something that ever since Harry Truman

we have stood for.

And what I find regrettable is that in Senator Obama’s mailing

that he has sent out across Ohio, it is almost as though the health

insurance companies and the Republicans wrote it, because in my plan

there is enough money, according to the independent experts who have

evaluated it, to provide the kind of subsidies so that everyone would

be able to afford it. It is not the same as a single state trying to

do this, because the federal government has many more resources at its


So I think it’s imperative that we stand as Democrats for

universal health care. I’ve staked out a claim for that. Senator

Edwards did. Others have. But Senator Obama has not.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, a quick response.

OBAMA: Well, look, I believe in universal health care, as does

Senator Clinton. And this is — this is, I think, the point of the

debate, is that Senator Clinton repeatedly claims that I don’t stand

for universal health care. And, you know, for Senator Clinton to say

that I think is simply not accurate.

Every expert has said that anybody who wants health care under my

plan will be able to obtain it. President Clinton’s own secretary of

labor has said that my plan does more to reduce costs and, as a

consequence, makes sure that the people who need health care right now

all across Ohio, all across Texas, Rhode Island, Vermont, all across

America, will be able to obtain it. And we do more to reduce costs

than any other plan that’s been out there.

Now, I have no objection to Senator Clinton thinking that her

approach is superior. But the fact of the matter is, is that if, as

we’ve heard tonight, we still don’t know how Senator Clinton intends

to enforce a mandate, and if we don’t know the level of subsidies that

she’s going to provide, then you can have a situation which we’re

seeing right now in the state of Massachusetts, where people are being

fined for not having purchased health care but choose to accept the

fine because they still can’t afford it even with the subsidies.

And they are then worse off. They then have no health care and

are paying a fine above and beyond that.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

OBAMA: That is a genuine difference between myself and Senator


And the last point I would make is, the insurance companies

actually are happy to have a mandate. The insurance companies don’t

mind making sure that everybody has to purchase their product. That’s

not something they’re objecting to.

The question is, are we going to make sure that it is affordable

for everybody? And that’s my goal when I’m president of the United


CLINTON: You know, Brian…

WILLIAMS: Senator, as…

CLINTON: Brian, wait a minute. I’ve got — this is too


You know, Senator Obama has a mandate. He would enforce the

mandate by requiring parents to buy insurance for their children.

OBAMA: Yes. This is true.

CLINTON: That is the case. If you have a mandate, it has to be

enforceable. So there’s no difference here. It’s just that I know…

OBAMA: No, there is a difference.

CLINTON: … that parents who get sick have terrible

consequences for their children. So you can insure the children, and

then you’ve got the breadwinner who can’t afford health insurance or

doesn’t have it for him or herself.

And, in fact, it would be as though Franklin Roosevelt said,

let’s make Social Security voluntary. That’s, you know — that’s —

let’s let everybody get in it if they can afford it. Or if President

Johnson said, let’s make Medicare voluntary.

OBAMA: Well, let me…

CLINTON: What we have said is at the point of employment, at the

point of contact with various government agencies, we would have

people signed up. It’s like when you get a 401(k) at your employer,

the employer automatically enrolls you.

You would be enrolled. And under my plan, it is affordable

because, number one, we have enough money in our plan.

A comparison of the plans like the ones we’re proposing found

that actually I would cover nearly everybody at a much lower cost than

Senator Obama’s plan because we would not only provide these health

care tax credits, but I would limit the amount of money that anyone

ever has to pay for a premium to a low percentage of your income. So

it will be affordable.

Now, if you want to say that we shouldn’t try to get everyone

into health insurance, that’s a big difference, because I believe if

we don’t have universal health care, we will never provide prevention.

CLINTON: I have the most aggressive measures to reduce cost and

improve quality. And, time and time again, people who have compared

our two approaches have concluded that. So let’s have a debate about

the facts.

OBAMA: Brian, I’m sorry, I’m getting — I’m a little

filibustered a little bit here.

WILLIAMS: The last answer on this topic.

OBAMA: It is just not accurate to say that Senator Clinton does

more to control costs than mine. That is not the case. There are

many experts who’ve concluded that she does not.

I do provide a mandate for children because, number one, we have

created a number of programs in which we can have greater assurance

that those children will be covered at an affordable price.

On the point of many adults, we don’t want to put in a situation

in which on the front end we are mandating them, we are forcing them

to purchase insurance, and if the subsidies are inadequate the burden

is on them and they will be penalized. And that is what Senator

Clinton’s plan does.

Now, I am happy to have a discussion with Senator Clinton about

how we can both achieve the goal of universal health care. What I do

not accept, and which is what Senator Clinton has consistently done —

and, in fact, the same experts she cites basically say there’s no real

difference between our plans, that they are not substantial — but it

has to do with how we’re going to achieve universal health care.

That is an area where I believe that, if we make it affordable,

people will purchase it. In fact, Medicare Part B is not mandated.

It is voluntary, and yet people over 65 choose to purchase it,

Hillary. And the reason they choose to purchase it is because it’s a

good deal.

And if people in Cleveland or anywhere in Ohio end up seeing a

plan that is affordable for them, I promise you they are snatching it

up because they are desperate to get health care. And that’s what I

intend to provide as president of the United States.

WILLIAMS: Senators, I’m going to change the subject.

CLINTON: About 20 percent of the people who are uninsured have

the means to buy insurance. They’re often young people who think

they’re immortal…

OBAMA: Which is why I cover them.

CLINTON: … except when the illness or the accident strikes.

And what Senator Obama has said, that then, once you get to the

hospital, you’ll be forced to buy insurance, I don’t think that’s a

good idea. We ought to plan for it, and we ought to make sure we

cover everyone. That is the only way to get to universal health care


OBAMA: With respect…

CLINTON: That is what I’ve worked for, for 15 years…

OBAMA: With respect…

CLINTON: … and I believe that we can achieve it. But if we

don’t even have a plan to get there and we start out by leaving

people, you’ll never, ever control costs, improve quality, and cover


OBAMA: With respect to the young people, my plan specifically

says that, up until the age of 25, you will be able to be covered

under your parents’ insurance plan. So that cohort that Senator

Clinton is talking about will, in fact, have coverage.

WILLIAMS: Well, a 16-minute discussion on health care is

certainly a start.


I’d like to change up…

CLINTON: Well, there’s hardly anything more important. I think

it would be good to talk about health care…

WILLIAMS: Well, here’s another important topic, and that’s

NAFTA, especially where we’re sitting here tonight. And this is a

tough one, depending on who you ask.

The Houston Chronicle has called it a “big win” for Texas, but

Ohio Democratic Senator Brown, your colleagues in the Senate, has

called it a “job-killing” trade agreement.

Senator Clinton, you’ve campaigned in south Texas. You’ve

campaigned here in Ohio. Who’s right?

CLINTON: Well, could I just point out that, in the last several

debates, I seem to get the first question all the time? And I don’t

mind. You know, I’ll be happy to field them, but I do find it

curious. And if anybody saw “Saturday Night Live,” you know, maybe we

should ask Barack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow.

I just find it kind of curious that I keep getting the first

question on all of these issues, but I’m happy to answer it.

You know, I have been a critic of NAFTA from the very beginning.

I didn’t have a public position on it because I was part of the

administration. But when I started running for the Senate, I have

been a critic.

I’ve said it was flawed. I said that it worked in some parts of

our country, and I’ve seen the results in Texas. I was in Laredo in

the last couple of days. It’s the largest inland port in America now.

So, clearly, some parts of our country have been benefited.

But what I have seen, where I represent upstate New York, I’ve

seen the factories close and move. I’ve talked to so many people

whose children have left because they don’t have a good shot.

I’ve had to negotiate to try to keep factories open — sometimes

successfully, sometimes not — because the companies got tax benefits

to actually move to another country.

So what I have said is that we need to have a plan to fix NAFTA.

I would immediately have a trade time-out. And I would take that time

to try to fix NAFTA by making it clear that we’ll have core labor and

environmental standards in the agreement.

We will do everything we can to make it enforceable, which it is

not now.

CLINTON: We will stop the kind of constant sniping at our

protections for our workers that can come from foreign companies

because they have the authority to try to sue to overturn what we do

to keep our workers safe.

This is a big issue in Ohio, and I have laid out my criticism;

but, in addition, my plan for actually fixing NAFTA.

Again, I have received a lot of incoming criticism from Senator

Obama. And the Cleveland Plain Dealer examined Senator Obama’s

attacks on me regarding NAFTA and said they were erroneous.

So I would hope that, again, we could get to a debate about what

the real issues are and where we stand, because we do need to fix

NAFTA. It is not working. It was, unfortunately, heavily

disadvantaging many of our industries, particularly manufacturing. I

have a record of standing up for that, of chairing the Manufacturing

Caucus in the Senate, and I will take a tough position on these trade


WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.

Before we turn the questioning over to Tim Russert, Senator


OBAMA: Well, I think that it is inaccurate for Senator Clinton

to say that she’s always opposed NAFTA. In her campaign for Senate,

she said that NAFTA, on balance, had been good for New York and good

for America.

I disagree with that. I think that it did not have the labor

standards and environmental standards that were required in order to

not just be good for Wall Street, but also be good for Main Street.

And if you travel through Youngstown and you travel through

communities in my home state of Illinois, you will see entire cities

that have been devastated as a consequence of trade agreements that

were not adequately structured to make sure that U.S. workers had a

fair deal.

Now, I think that Senator Clinton has shifted positions on this

and believes that we should have strong environmental standards and

labor standards. And I think that’s a good thing.

But when I first moved to Chicago in the early ’80s and I saw

steel workers who had been laid off at their plants, black, white and

Hispanic, and I worked on the streets of Chicago to try to help them

find jobs, I saw then that the net costs of many of these trade

agreements, if they’re not properly structured, can be devastating.

And as president of the United States, I intend to make certain

that every agreement that we sign has the labor standards, the

environmental standards and the safety standards that are going to

protect not just workers, but also consumers.

We can’t have toys with lead paint in them that our children are

playing with. We can’t have medicines that are actually making people

more sick instead of better because they’re produced overseas. We

have to stop providing tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs

overseas and give those tax breaks to companies that are investing

here in the United States of America.

And if we do those things, then I believe that we can actually

get Ohio back on the path of growth and jobs and prosperity. If we

don’t, then we’re going to continue to see the kind of deterioration

that we’ve seen economically here in this state.

RUSSERT: I want to ask you both about NAFTA, because the record

I think is clear, and I want — Senator Clinton, Senator Obama said

that you did say in 2004, that on balance, NAFTA has been good for New

York and America. You did say that.

When President Clinton signed this bill — and this was after he

negotiated two new side agreements for labor and environment —

President Clinton said it would be a force for economic growth and

social progress. You said in ’96 it was proving its worth as free and

fair trade. You said that in 2000, it was a good idea that took

political courage.

So your record is pretty clear. Based on that — and what you’re

now expressing your discomfort with it — in the debate that Al Gore

had with Ross Perot, Al Gore said the following: “If you don’t like

NAFTA and what it’s done, we can get out of it in six months. The

president can say to Canada and Mexico, we are out. This has not been

a good agreement.”

RUSSERT: Will you as president say, we are out of NAFTA in six


CLINTON: I have said that I will renegotiate NAFTA, so obviously

you’d have to say to Canada and Mexico that that’s exactly what we’re

going to do. But you know, in fairness…

RUSSERT: So let me be clear…

CLINTON: Yes, I am saying…

RUSSERT: You will get out, you will notify Mexico and Canada,

NAFTA is gone in six months?

CLINTON: No. I will say, we will opt out of NAFTA unless we

renegotiate it. And we renegotiate it on terms that are favorable to

all of America.

But let’s be fair here, Tim. There are lots of parts of New York

that have benefited, just like there are lots of parts of Texas that

have benefited. The problem is in places like upstate New York,

places like Youngstown, Toledo and others throughout Ohio that have

not benefited. And if you look at what I’ve been saying, it has been


You know, Senator Obama told the farmers of Illinois a couple of

years ago that he wanted more trade agreements…

RUSSERT: We’re going to get — we’re going to get to Senator



RUSSERT: But I want to stay on your comments…

CLINTON: Well, but that — but that is important.

RUSSERT: … because this was something that you wrote about as

a real success for your husband. You said it was good on balance for

New York and America in 2004. And now you’re in Ohio, and you’re

words are much different, Senator. The record is very clear.

CLINTON: Well, you don’t have all the record, because you can go

back and look at what I’ve said consistently. And I haven’t just said

things, I have actually voted to toughen trade agreements, to try to

put more teeth into our enforcement mechanisms. And I will continue

to do so.

But, you know, Tim, when you look at what the Cleveland “Plain

Dealer” said when they examined the kind of criticism that Senator

Obama was making of me, it’s not me saying it. They said it was

erroneous. And it was erroneous because it didn’t look at the entire

picture, both of what I said and what I’ve done. But let’s talk about

what we’re going to do.

It is not enough just to criticize NAFTA, which I have, and for

some years now. I have put forth a very specific plan about what I

would do. And it does include telling Canada and Mexico that we will

opt out unless we renegotiate the core labor and environmental


Not side agreements, but core agreements. That we will enhance

the enforcement mechanism, and that we will have a very clear view of

how we’re going to review NAFTA going forward to make sure it works.

And we’re going to take out the ability of foreign companies to sue us

because of what we do to protect our workers.

I would also say that you can go back and look at from the very

beginning. I think David Gergen was on TV today remembering that I

was very skeptical about it.

It has worked in some parts of America. It has not worked in

Ohio. It has not worked in upstate New York. And since I’ve been in

the Senate, neither of us voted on this. That wasn’t something either

of us got to cast an independent vote on.

Since I have been in the Senate, I have worked to try to

ameliorate the impact of these trade agreements.

RUSSERT: But let me button this up. Absent the change you’re

suggesting, you are willing to opt out of NAFTA in six months?

CLINTON: I’m confident that as president, when I say we will opt

out, unless we renegotiate, we will be able to renegotiate.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, you did, in 2004, talk to farmers and

suggest that NAFTA had been helpful. The Associated Press today ran a

story about NAFTA saying that you have been consistently ambivalent

towards the issue.

A simple question. Will you as president say to Canada and

Mexico, this has not worked for us, we are out?

OBAMA: I will make sure that we renegotiate in the same way that

Senator Clinton talked about, and I think actually Senator Clinton’s

answer on this one is right. I think we should use the hammer of a

potential opt-out as leverage to ensure that we actually get labor and

environmental standards that are enforced.

And that is not what has been happening so far. That is

something that I have been consistent about.

I have to say, Tim, with respect to my position on this, you

know, when I ran for the United States Senate, the “Chicago Tribune,”

which was adamantly pro-NAFTA noted that in their endorsement of me,

they were endorsing me despite my strong opposition to NAFTA. And

that conversation that I had with the Farm Bureau, I was not

ambivalent at all.

What I said was that NAFTA and other trade deals can be

beneficial to the United States, because I believe every U.S. worker

is as productive as any worker around the world. And we can compete

with anybody.

And we can’t shy away from globalization. We can’t draw a moat

around us. But what I did say in that same quote, if you look at it,

was that the problem is we’ve been negotiating just looking at

corporate profits and what’s good for multinationals, and we haven’t

been looking at what’s good for communities here in Ohio, in my home

state of Illinois, and across the country. And as president, what I

want to be is an advocate on behalf of workers.

Look, you know, when I go to these plants, I meet people who are

proud of their jobs. They are proud of the products that they have

created. They have built brands and profits for their companies. And

when they see jobs shipped overseas and suddenly they’re left not just

without a job, but without health care, without a pension, and are

having to look for seven-buck-an-hour jobs at the local fast-food

joint, that is devastating on them, but it’s also devastating on the


That’s not the way that we’re going to prosper as we move


RUSSERT: Senator, two journalists here in Ohio wrote a piece

called, “Business as Usual,” which is very well known, suggesting it

wasn’t trade or manufacturing jobs that were being lost because of it,

but rather business as usual, lack of patents, lack of innovation,

lack of investment. Seventy percent of the Ph.D.s in biology,

chemist, engineering, leaving the state.

The fact is, exports now have the highest share of our national

income ever. Ohio ranks fourth in terms of exports to Canada and


Are you sure this has not been better for Ohio than you’re


OBAMA: I’m positive that it hasn’t been better for Ohio. But

you are making a very legitimate point, which is, is that this —

trade can’t be the only part of our economic agenda.

OBAMA: Look, we’ve seen seven years in which we have a president

who has been looking out for the well-heeled and people who are doing

very well in the global economy in the financial industries, in the

telecommunications industries, and has not been looking out for

ordinary workers.

What do we have to do? We’re going to have to invest in an

infrastructure to make sure that we’re competitive, and I’ve got a

plan to do that.

We’re going to have to invest in science and technology. We’ve

got to vastly improve our education system. We have to look at energy

and the potential for creating green jobs that can not just save on

our energy costs, but more importantly, can create jobs in building

windmills that will produce manufacturing jobs here in Ohio, can put

rural communities back on their feet by working on alternative fuels,

making buildings more energy efficient.

We can hire young people who are out of work and put them to work

at a trade. So there are all sorts of things that we’re going to have

to do to make the United States economy much more competitive and

those are plans that I have put forward in this campaign and I expect

to pursue as president of the United States.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, on the issue of jobs, I watched you

the other day with your economic blueprint in Wisconsin, saying, “This

is my plan, hold me accountable.” And I’ve had a chance to read it

very carefully.

It does say that you pledge to create five million new jobs over

10 years, and I was reminded of your campaign in 2000 in Buffalo, my

hometown, just three hours down Route 90, where you pledged 200,000

new jobs for upstate New York.

There’s been a net loss of 30,000 jobs. And when you were asked

about your pledge, your commitment, you told the “Buffalo News,” “I

might have been a little exuberant.”


RUSSERT: Tonight, will you say that the pledge of five million

jobs might be a little exuberant?

CLINTON: No, Tim, because what happened in 2000 is that I

thought Al Gore was going to be president and when I made the pledge,

I was counting on having a Democratic White House, a Democratic

president, who shared my values about what we needed to do to make the

economy work for everyone and to create shared prosperity.

And as you know, despite the difficulties of a Bush

administration and a Republican Congress for six years of my first

term, I have worked very hard to create jobs. But, obviously, as

president, I will have a lot more tools at my disposal.

And the reason why we can create at least five million new jobs

— I mean, this is not a big leap — 22.7 million new jobs were

created during the eight years of the Clinton administration under my


We can create at least five million new jobs. I’m not just

talking about it. I helped to pass legislation to begin a training

program for green collar jobs. I want to see people throughout Ohio

being trained to do the work that will put solar panels on roofs,

install wind turbines, do geothermal, take advantage of biofuels.

And I know that if we had put $5 billion into the stimulus

package to really invest in the training and the tax incentives that

would have created these jobs, as the Democrats wanted, as I

originally proposed, we would be on the way to creating those.

You know, take a country like Germany. They made a big bet on

solar power. They have a smaller economy and population than ours.

They’ve created several hundred thousand new jobs, and these are jobs

that can’t be outsourced.

These are jobs that have to be done in Youngstown, in Dayton, in

Cincinnati. These are jobs that we can create here with the right

combination of tax incentives, training and a commitment to following


So I do think that at least five million jobs are fully capable

of being produced within the next 10 years.


WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, yesterday, Senator Clinton gave a

speech on foreign policy, and I’m going to read you a quote from it.

Quote, “We’ve seen the tragic result of having a president who

had neither the experience nor the wisdom to manage our foreign policy

and safeguard our national security. We cannot let that happen again.

America has already taken that chance one time too many.”

Some of the comments in the speech were more pointed. The

Senator has compared your foreign policy expertise to that of George

W. Bush at the same period.

Provided you could be going into a general election against a

Republican with vast foreign policy expertise and credibility on

national security, how were her comments about you unfair?

OBAMA: Well, Senator Clinton, I think, equates experience with

longevity in Washington. I don’t think the American people do and I

don’t think that if you look at the judgments that we’ve made over the

last several years, that that’s the accurate measure.

On the most important foreign policy decision that we face in a

generation, whether or not to go into Iraq, I was very clear as to why

we should not, that it would fan the flames of anti-American

sentiment, that it would distract us from Afghanistan, that it would

cost us billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and would not make us

more safe, and I do not believe it has made us more safe.

OBAMA: Al Qaida is stronger than any time since 2001, according

to our own intelligence estimates.

And we are bogged down in a war that John McCain now suggests

might go on for another 100 years, spending $12 billion a month that

could be invested in the kinds of programs that both Senator Clinton

and I are talking about.

So on Pakistan, during the summer, I suggested that not only do

we have to take a new approach towards Musharraf, but we have to get

much more serious about hunting down terrorists that are currently in

northwestern Pakistan.

And many people said at the time, “Well, you can’t target those

terrorists because Musharraf is our ally and we don’t want to offend

him.” In fact, what we had was neither stability in Pakistan nor

democracy in Pakistan.

And had we pursued a policy that was looking at democratic

reforms in Pakistan, we would be much further along now than we are.

So on the critical issues that actually matter, I believe that my

judgment has been sound and it has been judgment that I think has been

superior to Senator Clinton’s, as well as Senator McCain’s.

WILLIAMS: Well, Senator Clinton, in the last debate you seemed

to take a pass on the question of whether or not Senator Obama was

qualified to be commander-in-chief. Is your contention in this latest

speech that America would somehow be taking a chance on Senator Obama

as commander-in-chief?

CLINTON: Well, I have put forth my extensive experience in

foreign policy, you know, helping to support the peace process in

Northern Ireland, negotiating to open borders so that refugees fleeing

ethnic cleansing would be safe, going to Beijing and standing up for

women’s rights as human rights, and so much else.

And every time the question about qualifications and credentials

for commander-in-chief are raised, Senator Obama rightly points to the

speech he gave in 2002. He’s to be commended for having given the

speech. Many people gave speeches against the war then.

And the fair comparison is he didn’t have responsibility; he

didn’t have to vote. By 2004, he was saying that he basically agreed

with the way George Bush was conducting the war. And when he came to

the Senate, he and I have voted exactly the same. We have voted for

the money to fund the war, until relatively recently.

So the fair comparison is when we both had responsibility. When

it wasn’t just a speech, but it was actually action, where is the

difference? Where is the comparison that would in some way give a

real credibility to the speech that he gave against the war?

And on a number of other issues, I just believe that, you know,

as Senator Obama said, yes, last summer, he basically threatened to

bomb Pakistan, which I don’t think was a particularly wise position to


I have long advocated a much tougher approach to Musharraf and to

Pakistan and have pushed the White House to do that. And I disagree

with his continuing to say that he would meet with some of the worst

dictators in the world without preconditions and without the real, you

know, understanding of what we would get from it.

So I think you’ve got to look at, you know, what I have done over

a number of years, traveling on behalf of our country to more than 80

countries, meeting and working out a lot of different issues that are

important to our national security and our foreign policy and our

values, serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee for now five


And I think that, you know, standing on that stage with Senator

McCain — if he is, as appears to be, the nominee — I will have a

much better case to make on a range of the issues that really America

must confront going forward and will be able to hold my own and make

the case for a change in policy that will be better for our country.

WILLIAMS: Senator Obama, quick response?

OBAMA: Let me just follow up.

My objections to the war in Iraq were not simply a speech. I was

in the midst of a U.S. Senate campaign. It was a high-stakes

campaign. I was one of the most vocal opponents of the war, and I was

very specific as to why.

And so when I bring this up, it is not simply to say, “I told you

so,” but to give you an insight in terms of how I would make


And the fact was this was a big strategic blunder. It was not a

matter of, “Well, here is the initial decision, but since then we’ve

voted the same way.”

Once we had driven the bus into the ditch, there were only so

many ways we could get out. The question is: Who’s making the

decision initially to drive the bus into the ditch?

And the fact is that Senator Clinton often says that she is ready

on day one, but, in fact, she was ready to give in to George Bush on

day one on this critical issue. So the same person that she

criticizes for having terrible judgment and we can’t afford to have

another one of those — in fact, she facilitated and enabled this

individual to make a decision that has been strategically damaging to

the United States of America.

With respect to Pakistan, I never said I would bomb Pakistan.

What I said was that if we have actionable intelligence against bin

Laden or other key Al Qaida officials and we — and Pakistan is

unwilling or unable to strike against them, we should.

And just several days ago, in fact, this administration did

exactly that and took out the third-ranking Al Qaida official. That

is the position we should have taken in the first place. And

President Musharraf is now indicating that he would generally be more

cooperative in some of these efforts. We don’t know how the new

legislature in Pakistan will respond. But the fact is, it was the

right strategy.

And so, my claim is not simply based on a speech. It is based on

the judgments that I’ve displayed during the course of my service on

the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while I’ve been in the United

States Senate, and as somebody who during the course of this campaign

I think has put forward a plan that will provide a clean break against

Bush and Cheney, and that is how we’re going to be able to debate John


Having a debate with John McCain where your positions were

essentially similar until you started running for president I think

does not put you in a strong position.

WILLIAMS: Tim Russert?

RUSSERT: Let me talk about the future — let me talk about the

future about Iraq, because this is important I think to Democratic

voters particularly.

You both have pledged a withdrawal of troops from Iraq. You both

have said you’d keep a residual force there to protect our embassy, to

seek out Al Qaida, to neutralize Iran. If the Iraqi government said,

President Clinton or President Obama, you’re pulling out your troops

this quickly? You’re going to be gone in a year? But you’re going

to leave a residual force behind? No. Get out! Get out now! If you

don’t want to stay and protect us, we’re a sovereign nation, go home

now. Will you leave?

OBAMA: Well, if the Iraqi government says that we should not be

there, then we cannot be there. This is a sovereign government, as

George Bush continually reminds us.

Now, I think we can be in a partnership with Iraq to ensure the

stability and the safety of the region, to ensure the safety of Iraqis

and to meet our national security interests. But in order to do that,

we have to send a clear signal to the Iraqi government that we are not

going to be there permanently, which is why I have said that as soon

as I take office, I will call in the Joint Chiefs of Staff. We will

initiate a phased withdrawal. We will be as careful getting out as we

were careless getting in. We will give ample time for them to stand

up to negotiate the kinds of agreements that will arrive at the

political accommodations that are needed. We will provide them

continued support.

But it is important for us not to be held hostage by the Iraqi

government in a policy that has not made us more safe, is distracting

us from Afghanistan, and is costing us dearly not only and most

importantly in the lost lives of our troops, but also the amount of

money that we are spending that is unsustainable and will prevent us

from engaging in the kinds of investments in America that will make us

more competitive and more safe.

RUSSERT: So, Senator Clinton, if the Iraqis said, I’m sorry,

we’re not happy with this arrangement, if you’re not going to stay in

total and defend us, get out completely. They’re a sovereign nation.

You would listen?

CLINTON: Absolutely. And I believe there is no military

solution that the Americans, who had been valiant in doing everything

that they were asked to do, can really achieve in the absence of full

cooperation from the Iraqi government and…

RUSSERT: Let me ask you this, Senator, I want to ask you…

CLINTON: And they need to take responsibility for themselves.

RUSSERT: I want to ask both of you this question, then. If this

scenario plays out and the Americans get out in totality, and Al Qaida

resurges and Iraq goes to hell, do you hold the right in your mind as

American president to reinvade, to go back into Iraq to stabilize it?

CLINTON: You know, Tim, you ask a lot of hypotheticals. And I

believe that…

RUSSERT: But this is reality.

CLINTON: No, well, it isn’t reality. You’re making lots of

different hypothetical assessments.

I believe that it is in America’s interest and in the interest of

the Iraqis for us to have an orderly withdrawal.

I’ve been saying for many months that the administration has to

do more to plan. And I’ve been pushing them to actually do it. I’ve

also said that I would begin to withdraw within 60 days based on a

plan that I ask begun to be put together as soon as I became

president. And I think we can take out one to two brigades a month.

I’ve also been a leader in trying to prevent President Bush from

getting us committed to staying in Iraq regardless, for as long as

Senator McCain and others have said it might be — 50 to 100 years.

So when you talk about what we need to do in Iraq, we have to

make judgments about what is in the best interest of America.

CLINTON: And I believe this is in the best interest. But I also

have heard Senator Obama refer continually to Afghanistan, and he

references being on the Foreign Relations Committee.

He chairs the subcommittee on Europe. It has jurisdiction over

NATO. NATO is critical to our mission in Afghanistan. He’s held not

one substantive hearing to do oversight, to figure out what we can do

to actually have a stronger presence with NATO in Afghanistan.

You have to look at the entire situation to try to figure out how

we can stabilize Afghanistan and begin to put more in there to try to

get some kind of success out of it. And you have to…

RUSSERT: All right. Let me…

CLINTON: … work with the Iraqi government so that they take

responsibility for their own future.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, I want you to respond to not holding

oversight for your subcommittee. But also, do you reserve a right as

American president to go back into Iraq once you have withdrawn with

sizable troops in order to quell any kind of insurrection or civil


OBAMA: Well, first of all, I became chairman of this committee

at the beginning of this campaign, at the beginning of 2007. So, it

is true that we haven’t had oversight hearings on Afghanistan.

I have been very clear in talking to the American people about

what I would do with respect to Afghanistan. I think we have to have

more troops there to bolster the NATO effort. I think we have to show

that we are not maintaining permanent bases in Iraq because Secretary

Gates, our current defense secretary, indicated that we are getting

resistance from our allies to put more troops into Afghanistan because

they continue to believe that we made a blunder in Iraq. And I think

even this administration acknowledges now that they are hampered now

in doing what we need to do in Afghanistan in part because of what’s

happened in Iraq.

Now, I always reserve the right for the president — as commander

in chief, I will always reserve the right to make sure that we are

looking out for American interests. And if al Qaeda is forming a base

in Iraq, then we will have to act in a way that secures the American

homeland and our interests abroad. So that is true, I think, not just

in Iraq, but that’s true in other places. That’s part of my argument

with respect to Pakistan.

I think we should always cooperate with our allies and sovereign

nations in making sure that we are rooting out terrorist

organizations. But if they are planning attacks on Americans like

what happened on 9/11, it is my job, it will be my job as president to

make sure that we are hunting them down.

WILLIAMS: And Senator, I need to reserve…

CLINTON: No, but I have — I just have…

WILLIAMS: I’m sorry, Senator.

CLINTON: No, wait a minute. I have to…

WILLIAMS: I’ve get to get us to a break.

CLINTON: The question was about invading.

WILLIAMS: Television doesn’t stop.

CLINTON: Invading Iraq.

WILLIAMS: Can you hold that thought until we come back from a

break? We have limited commercial interruptions tonight, and we have

to get to one of them now. Despite the snowstorm swirling outside

here in Cleveland, we’re having a warm night in the arena.

We’ll return to it right after this.


WILLIAMS: And because our first segment went long and we are in

a large arena…


… we are just now welcoming back both of our candidates to the

stage and asking our cooperation of the audience. We’re back live

tonight in Cleveland, Ohio.

Senator Obama, we started tonight talking about what could be

construed as a little hyperbole. It happens from time to time on the

campaign trail.

You have recently been called out on some yourself. I urge you

to look at your monitor. We’ll take a look.


CLINTON: Now, I could stand up here and say let’s just get

everybody together. Let’s get unified. The sky will open. The light

will come down. Celestial choirs will be singing and everyone will

know we should do the right thing and the world will be perfect.


OBAMA: Sounds good.

WILLIAMS: Of all the charges…


… of all the charges and counter-charges made tonight, we can

confirm that is not you, Senator Obama. That was Senator Clinton.

But since we played that tape, albeit in error for this segment,

how did you take that? How did you take those remarks when you heard


OBAMA: Well, I thought Senator Clinton showed some good humor

there. I would give her points for delivery.


And, look, I understand the broader point that Senator Clinton’s

been trying to make over the last several weeks. She characterizes it

typically as speeches, not solutions, or talk versus action.

And as I said in the last debate, I’ve spent 20 years devoted to

working on behalf of families who are having a tough time and are

seeking out the American dream.

That’s how I started my career in public service. That’s how I

brought Democrats and Republicans together to provide health care to

people who needed it. That’s how I helped to reform a welfare system

that wasn’t working in Illinois.

That’s how I’ve provided tax breaks to people who really needed

them as opposed to just the wealthy. And so I’m very proud of that

track record and if Senator Clinton thinks that it’s all talk, you

know, you’ve got to tell that to the wounded warriors at Walter Reed

who had to pay for their food and pay for their phone calls before I

got to the Senate, and I changed that law, or talk to those folks who

I think have recognized that special interests are dominating

Washington and pushing aside the agenda of ordinary families here in


OBAMA: And so when I pass an ethics reform bill that makes sure

that lobbyists can’t get gifts or meals or provide corporate jets to

members of Congress and they have to disclose who they’re getting

money from and who they’re bundling it for, that moves us in the

direction of making sure that we have a government that is more

responsive to families.

Just one point I’ll make. I was in Cincinnati, met with four

women at a table like this one. And these were middle-aged women who,

as one woman put it, had done everything right and never expected to

find themselves in a situation where they don’t have health care.

One of them doesn’t have a job; one of them is looking after an

aging parent; two of them were looking after disabled children; one of

them was dipping into their retirement accounts, because she had been

put on disability on the job.

And you hear these stories, and what you realize is nobody has

been listening to them. That is not who George Bush or Dick Cheney

has been advocating for over the last seven years.

And so I am not interested in talk. I’m not interested in

speeches. I would not be running if I wasn’t absolutely convinced

that I can put an economic agenda forward that is going to provide

them with health care, is going to make college more affordable, and

is going to get them the kinds of help that they need not to solve all

of their problems, but at least to be able to achieve the American


WILLIAMS: And let me ask you, Senator Clinton. What did you

mean by that piece of videotape we saw from the campaign?

CLINTON: Well, I was having a little fun. You know, it’s hard

to find time to have fun on the campaign trail, but occasionally you

can sneak that in.

But the larger point is that I know trying to get health

insurance for every American that’s affordable will not be easy. It’s

not going to come about just because we hope it will or we tell

everybody it’s the right thing to do.

You know, 15 years ago, I tangled with the health insurance

industry and the drug companies. And I know it takes a fighter. It

takes somebody who will go toe-to-toe with the special interests.

You know, I have put forth very specific ideas about how we can

get back $55 billion from the special interests, the giveaways to the

oil companies, the credit card companies, the student loan companies,

the health insurance companies.

These have all been basically pushed onto these special interests

not just because of what the White House did, but because members of

Congress went along.

And I want to get that money back and invest it in the American

middle class — health care, college affordability, the kinds of needs

that people talk to me about throughout Ohio — because what I hear,

as I go from Toledo to Parma, to Cleveland to Dayton, is the same

litany, that people are working harder than ever, but they’re not

getting ahead. They feel like they’re invisible to their government.

So when it came time to vote on Dick Cheney’s energy bill, I

voted no, and Senator Obama voted yes. When it came time to try to

cap interest rates for credit cards at 30 percent — which I think is

way too high, but it was the best we could present — I voted yes, and

Senator Obama voted no.

WILLIAMS: And, Senator Clinton…

CLINTON: So part of what we have to do here is recognize that

the special interests are not going to give up without a fight. And I

believe that I am a fighter, and I will fight for the people of Ohio

and the people of America.

WILLIAMS: What I was attempting to do here is show something

Senator Obama said about you, and I’m told it’s ready…


OBAMA: But, Brian…

WILLIAMS: Let’s try it. Hang on. Watch your monitor.

OBAMA: I think I’m going to have to respond to this.

WILLIAMS: Let’s try it. We’re going to come back to you.


OBAMA: … herself as co-president during the Clinton years.

Every good thing that happened she says she was a part of. And so the

notion that you can selectively pick what you take credit for and then

run away from what isn’t politically convenient, that doesn’t make



WILLIAMS: Now, Senator Obama, you can react to whatever you

wanted to react to from earlier, but I’ve been wanting to ask you

about this assertion that Senator Clinton has somehow cast herself as


OBAMA: Well, I think what is absolutely true is that when

Senator Clinton continually talks about her experience, she’s

including the eight years that she served as first lady and often

says, “You know, here’s what I did, here’s what we did, here’s what we

accomplished,” which is fine.

And I have not in any way said that that experience is not

relevant, and I don’t begrudge her claiming that as experience.

What I’ve said — and what I would continue to maintain — is you

can’t take credit for all the good things that happen but then, when

it comes to issues like NAFTA, you say, “Well, behind the scenes, I

was disagreeing.”

That doesn’t work. So you have to, I think, take both

responsibility, as well as credit.

Now, there are several points that I think Senator Clinton made

that we need to discuss here.

OBAMA: First of all, she talked about me objecting to caps on

credit cards. Keep in mind, I objected to the entire bill, a bill

that Senator Clinton, in its previous version in 2001, had voted for

and at one of the debates with you guys said, well, I voted for it,

but I hoped it wouldn’t pass. Which, as a general rule, doesn’t work.

If you don’t want it to pass, you vote against it.

You know, she mentioned that she is a fighter on health care,

and, look, I do not in any way doubt that Senator Clinton genuinely

wants to provide health care to all Americans. What I have said is

that the way she approached it back in ’93, I think, was wrong in part

because she had had the view that what’s required is simply to fight.

And Senator Clinton ended up fighting not just the insurance companies

and the drug companies, but also members of her own party.

And as a consequence, there were a number of people like Jim

Cooper of Tennessee and Bill Bradley and Pat Moynihan, who were not

included in the negotiations. And we had the potential of bringing

people together to actually get something done.

I am absolutely clear that hope is not enough. And it is not

going to be easy to pass health care. If it was, it would have

already gotten done.

It’s not going to be easy to have a sensible energy policy in

this country. Exxon Mobil made $11 billion last quarter. They are

not going to give up those profits easily.

But what I also believe is that the only way we are going to

actually get this stuff done is, number one, we are going to have to

mobilize and inspire the American people so that they’re paying

attention to what their government is doing. And that’s what I’ve

been doing in this campaign, and that’s what I will do as president.

And there’s nothing romantic or silly about that. If the

American people are activated, that’s how change is going to happen.

The second thing we’re going to have to do is we’re actually

going to have to go after the special interests. Senator Clinton, in

one of these speeches — it may have been the same speech where you

showed the clip — said, you can’t just wave a magic wand and expect

special interests to go away.

That is absolutely true, but it doesn’t help if you’re taking

millions of dollars of contributions from those special interests.

They are less likely to go away.

So it is important for us to crack down on how these special

interests are able to influence Congress. And, yes, it is important

for us to inspire and mobilize and motivate the American people to get

involved and pay attention.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, let me ask you about motivating,

inspiring, keeping your word. Nothing more important.

Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for

public financing in the general election of the campaign, try to get

some of the money out. You checked “yes” on a questionnaire.

And now Senator McCain has said, calling your bluff, let’s do it.

You seem to be waffling, saying, well, if we can work on an

arrangement here.

Why won’t you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by

public financing of the fall election?

OBAMA: Tim, I am not yet the nominee. And what I have said is,

when I am the nominee, if I am the nominee — because we’ve still got

a bunch of contests left, and Senator Clinton is a pretty tough

opponent — if I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain

and make sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides.

Because, Tim, as you know, there are all sorts of ways of getting

around these loopholes.

Senator McCain is trying to explain some of the things that he

has done so far, where he accepted public financing money but people

aren’t exactly clear whether all of the t’s were crossed and the i’s

were dotted. Now, what I want to point out, though, more broadly is

how we have approached this campaign.

I said very early on I would not take PAC money, I would not take

money from federal registered lobbyists. That was a multi-million-

dollar decision, but it was the right thing to do. And the reason we

were able to do that was because I had confidence that the American

people, if they were motivated, would, in fact, finance the campaign.

We have now raised 90 percent of our donations from small donors,

$25, $50. We average — our average donation is $109. So we have

built the kind of organization that is funded by the American people

that is exactly the goal and the aim of everybody who’s interested in

good government and politics that works.

RUSSERT: So you may opt out of public financing. You may break

your word.

OBAMA: What I’ve said is, at the point where I’m the nominee, at

the point where it’s appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and

make sure that we have a system that woks for everybody.

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, an issue of accountability and


You have loaned your campaign $5 million. You and your husband

file a joint return. You refuse to relation that joint return, even

though former President Clinton has had significantly overseas

business dealings.

RUSSERT: Your chief supporter here in Ohio, Governor Strickland,

made releasing his opponent’s tax return one of the primary issues of

the campaign, saying repeatedly, “accountability,” “transparency.”

“If he’s not releasing,” his campaign said, “his tax return, what is

he hiding? We should question what’s going on.”

Why won’t you release your tax return so the voters of Ohio,

Texas, Vermont, Rhode Island know exactly where you and your husband

got your money, who might be in part bankrolling your campaign?

CLINTON: Well, the American people who support me are

bankrolling my campaign. That’s obvious. You can look and see the

hundreds of thousands of contributions that I’ve gotten.

And ever since I lent my campaign money, people have responded

just so generously. I’m thrilled at so many people getting involved.

And we’re raising on average about a million dollars a day on the


And if anybody’s out there who wants to contribute, to be part of

this campaign, just go to, because that’s who’s

funding my campaign.

And I will release my tax runs. I have consistently said that.

RUSSERT: Why not now?

CLINTON: Well, I will do it as others have done it, upon

becoming the nominee or even earlier, Tim, because I have been as open

as I can be. The public has 20 years of records from me. And I have

very extensive filings with the Senate where you can see…

RUSSERT: So before next Tuesday’s primary?

CLINTON: Well, I can’t get it together by then, but I will

certainly work to get it together. I’m a little busy right now; I

hardly have time to sleep. But I will certainly, you know, work

toward releasing, and we will get that done and in the public domain.

RUSSERT: One other issue. You talk about releasing documents.

On January 30th, the National Archives released 10,000 pages of your

public schedule as first lady. It’s now in the custody of former

President Clinton.

Will you release that, again, during this primary season — you

claim that eight years as experience — let the public know what you

did, who you met with those eight years?

CLINTON: Absolutely, I’ve urged that the process be as quick as

possible. It’s a cumbersome process set up by law. It doesn’t just

apply to us. It applies to everyone in our position. And I have

urged that our end of it move as expeditiously as we can.

Now, also, President Bush claims the right to look at anything

that is released, and I would urge the Bush White House to move as

quickly as possible.

RUSSERT: But you had it for more than a month. Will you get it

to him — will you get it to the White House immediately?

CLINTON: As soon as we can, Tim. I’ve urged that, and I hope it

will happen.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, one of the things in the campaign is

that you have to react to unexpected developments. On Sunday, the

headline in your hometown paper, Chicago Tribune, “Louis Farrakhan

Backs Obama for President at Nation of Islam Convention in Chicago.”

Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?

OBAMA: You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of

Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments. I think they are

unacceptable and reprehensible.

I did not solicit this support. He expressed pride in an

African-American who seems to be bringing the country together.

I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I

sought. And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or

informally with Minister Farrakhan.

RUSSERT: Do you reject his support?

OBAMA: Well, Tim, I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that

he thinks I’m a good guy.


You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and

his past statements. And I think that indicates to the American

people what my stance is on those comments.

RUSSERT: The problem some voters may have is, as you know, the

Reverend Farrakhan called Judaism “gutter religion.”

OBAMA: Tim, I think — I am very familiar with his record, as

are the American people. That’s why I have consistently denounced it.

This is not something new. This is something that — I live in

Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I’ve been very clear, in terms of me

believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate.

And I have consistently distanced myself from him.

RUSSERT: The title of one of your books, “Audacity of Hope,” you

acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the

head of the Trinity United Church. He said that Louis Farrakhan

“epitomizes greatness.”

He said that he went to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan to

visit with Moammar Gadhafi and that, when your political opponents

found out about that, quote, “your Jewish support would dry up quicker

than a snowball in Hell.”

RUSSERT: What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether

it’s Farrakhan’s support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah

Wright, your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel

and not in any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?

OBAMA: Tim, I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish

community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign.

And the reason is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel’s.

I think they are one of our most important allies in the region, and I

think that their security is sacrosanct, and that the United States is

in a special relationship with them, as is true with my relationship

with the Jewish community.

And the reason that I have such strong support is because they

know that not only would I not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, but

also because of the fact that what I want to do is rebuild what I

consider to be a historic relationship between the African-American

community and the Jewish community.

You know, I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole

host of Jewish Americans, who supported the civil rights movement and

helped to ensure that justice was served in the South. And that

coalition has frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part

of my task in this process is making sure that those lines of

communication and understanding are reopened.

But, you know, the reason that I have such strong support in the

Jewish community and have historically — it was true in my U.S.

Senate campaign and it’s true in this presidency — is because the

people who know me best know that I consistently have not only

befriended the Jewish community, not only have I been strong on

Israel, but, more importantly, I’ve been willing to speak out even

when it is not comfortable.

When I was — just last point I would make — when I was giving

— had the honor of giving a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in

conjunction with Martin Luther King’s birthday in front of a large

African-American audience, I specifically spoke out against anti-

Semitism within the African-American community. And that’s what gives

people confidence that I will continue to do that when I’m president

of the United States.

WILLIAMS: Senator…

CLINTON: I just want to add something here, because I faced a

similar situation when I ran for the Senate in 2000 in New York. And

in New York, there are more than the two parties, Democratic and

Republican. And one of the parties at that time, the Independence

Patty, was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti-

Israel. And I made it very clear that I did not want their support.

I rejected it. I said that it would not be anything I would be

comfortable with. And it looked as though I might pay a price for

that. But I would not be associated with people who said such

inflammatory and untrue charges against either Israel or Jewish people

in our country.

And, you know, I was willing to take that stand, and, you know,

fortunately the people of New York supported me and I won. But at the

time, I thought it was more important to stand on principle and to

reject the kind of conditions that went with support like that.

RUSSERT: Are you suggesting Senator Obama is not standing on


CLINTON: No. I’m just saying that you asked specifically if he

would reject it. And there’s a difference between denouncing and

rejecting. And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know,

inflammatory — I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said

is absolutely sincere. But I just think, we’ve got to be even

stronger. We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of

the implications that they have, which can be so far reaching.

OBAMA: Tim, I have to say I don’t see a difference between

denouncing and rejecting. There’s no formal offer of help from

Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the

word “reject” Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word

“denounce,” then I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject

and denounce.

CLINTON: Good. Good. Excellent.


WILLIAMS: Rare audience outburst on the agreement over rejecting

and renouncing.

We’re going to take advantage of this opportunity to take the

second of our limited breaks. We’ll be back live from Cleveland right

after this.


WILLIAMS: We are back from Cleveland State University. We

continue with our debate.

The question beginning this segment is for you, Senator Obama.

The National Journal rates your voting record as more liberal

than that of Ted Kennedy.

In a general election, going up against a Republican Party,

looking for converts, Republicans, independents, how can you run with

a more liberal voting record than Ted Kennedy?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, let’s take a look at what the

National Journal rated us on.

It turned out that Senator Clinton and I had differences on two

votes. The first was on an immigration issue, where the question was

whether guest workers could come here, work for two years, go back for

a year, and then come back and work for another two years, which meant

essentially that you were going to have illegal immigrants for a year,

because they wouldn’t go back, and I thought it was bad policy.

The second — and this, I think, is telling in terms of how silly

these ratings are — I supported an office of public integrity, an

independent office that would be able to monitor ethics investigations

in the Senate, because I thought it was important for the public to

know that if there were any ethical violations in the Senate, that

they weren’t being investigated by the Senators themselves, but there

was somebody independent who would do it.

This is something that I’ve tried to push as part of my ethics


OBAMA: It was rejected. And according to the National Journal,

that position is a liberal position.

Now, I don’t think that’s a liberal position. I think there are

a lot of Republicans and a lot of Independents who would like to make

sure that ethic investigations are not conducted by the people who are

potentially being investigated. So the categories don’t make sense.

And part of the reason I think a lot of people have been puzzled,

why is it that Senator Obama’s campaign, the supposed liberal, is

attracting more Independent votes than any other candidate in the

Democratic primary, and Republican votes as well, and then people are

scratching their head? It’s because people don’t want to go back to

those old categories of what’s liberal and what’s conservative.

They want to see who is making sense, who’s fighting for them,

who’s going to go after the special interests, who is going to

champion the issues of health care and making college affordable, and

making sure that we have a foreign policy that makes sense? That’s

what I’ve been doing, and that’s why, you know, the proof is in the

pudding. We’ve been attracting more Independent and Republican

support than anybody else, and that’s why every poll shows that right

now I beat John McCain in a match-up in the general election.

WILLIAMS: Let’s go from domestic to foreign affairs and Tim


RUSSERT: Before the primary on Tuesday, on Sunday, March 2,

there’s an election in Russia for the successor to President Putin.

What can you tell me about the man who’s going to be Mr. Putin’s


CLINTON: Well, I can tell you that he’s a hand-picked successor,

that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who

Putin can control, who has very little independence, the best we know.

You know, there’s a lot of information still to be acquired. That the

so-called opposition was basically run out of the political

opportunity to wage a campaign against Putin’s hand-picked successor,

and the so-called leading opposition figure spends most of his time

praising Putin. So this is a clever but transparent way for Putin to

hold on to power, and it raises serious issues about how we’re going

to deal with Russia going forward.

I have been very critical of the Bush administration for what I

believe to have been an incoherent policy toward Russia. And with the

reassertion of Russia’s role in Europe, with some of the mischief that

they seem to be causing in supporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, for

example, it’s imperative that we begin to have a more realistic and

effective strategy toward Russia. But I have no doubt, as president,

even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is

labeled as president, the decisions will be made by Putin.

RUSSERT: Who will it be? Do you know his name?

CLINTON: Medvedev — whatever.



RUSSERT: Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?

OBAMA: Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about

him. He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin. Putin has been

very clear that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia

in terms of running the government. And, you know, it looks — just

think back to the beginning of President Bush’s administration when he

said — you know, he met with Putin, looked into his eyes and saw his

soul, and figured he could do business with him.

He then proceeded to neglect our relationship with Russia at a

time when Putin was strangling any opposition in the country when he

was consolidating power, rattling sabers against his European

neighbors, as well as satellites of the former Soviet Union. And so

we did not send a signal to Mr. Putin that, in fact, we were going to

be serious about issues like human rights, issues like international

cooperation that were critical to us. That is something that we have

to change.

RUSSERT: He’s 42 years old, he’s a former law professor. He is

Mr. Putin’s campaign manager. He is going to be the new president of

Russia. And if he says to the Russian troops, you know what, why

don’t you go help Serbia retake Kosovo, what does President Obama do?

OBAMA: Well, I think that we work with the international

community that has also recognized Kosovo, and state that that’s

unacceptable. But, fortunately, we have a strong international

structure anchored in NATO to deal with this issue.

We don’t have to work in isolation. And this is an area where I

think that the Clinton administration deserves a lot of credit, is,

you know, the way in which they put together a coalition that has


OBAMA: It has not been perfect, but it saved lives. And we

created a situation in which not only Kosovo, but other parts of the

former Yugoslavia at least have the potential to over time build

democracies and enter into the broader European community.

OBAMA: But, you know, be very clear: We have recognized the

country of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign nation, as has Great

Britain and many other countries in the region. And I think that that

carries with it, then, certain obligations to ensure that they are not


RUSSERT: Before you go, each of you have talked about your

careers in public service. Looking back through them, is there any

words or vote that you’d like to take back?

Senator Clinton?

CLINTON: Well, obviously, I’ve said many times that, although my

vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I

would not have voted that way again.

I would certainly, as president, never have taken us to war in

Iraq. And I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war,

which I warned against and said I disagreed with.

But I think that this election has to be about the future. It

has to be about what we will do now, how we will deal with what we’re

going to inherit.

You know, we’ve just been talking about Russia. We could have

gone around the world. We could have gone to Latin America and talked

about, you know, the retreat from democracy. We could have talked

about Africa and the failure to end the genocide in Darfur.

We could have gone on to talk about the challenge that China

faces and the Middle East, which is deteriorating under the pressures

of Hamas, Hezbollah, and the interference that is putting Israel’s

security at stake.

We could have done an entire program, Tim, on what we will

inherit from George Bush.

And what I believe is that my experience and my unique

qualifications on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue equip me to handle

with the problems of today and tomorrow and to be prepared to make

those tough decisions in dealing with Putin and others, because we

have so much work to do, and we don’t have much time to try to make up

for our losses.

RUSSERT: But to be clear, you’d like to have your vote back?

CLINTON: Absolutely. I’ve said that many times.

RUSSERT: Senator Obama, any statements or vote you’d like to

take back?

OBAMA: Well, you know, when I first arrived in the Senate that

first year, we had a situation surrounding Terri Schiavo. And I

remember how we adjourned with a unanimous agreement that eventually

allowed Congress to interject itself into that decisionmaking process

of the families.

It wasn’t something I was comfortable with, but it was not

something that I stood on the floor and stopped. And I think that was

a mistake, and I think the American people understood that that was a

mistake. And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better.

And so that’s an example I think of where inaction…

RUSSERT: This is the young woman with the feeding tube…

OBAMA: That’s exactly right.

RUSSERT: … and the family disagreed as to whether it should be

removed or not.

OBAMA: And I think that’s an example of inaction, and sometimes

that can be as costly as action.

But let me say this, since we’re wrapping up this debate. We

have gone through 20 debates now. And, you know, there is still a lot

of fight going on in this contest, and we’ve got four coming up, and

maybe more after that.

But the one thing I’m absolutely clear about is Senator Clinton

has campaigned magnificently. She is an outstanding public servant.

And I’m very proud to have been campaigning with her.

And part of what I think both of us are interested in, regardless

of who wins the nomination, is actually delivering for the American


You know, there is a vanity aspect and ambition aspect to

politics. But when you spend as much time as Senator Clinton and I

have spent around the country, and you hear heartbreaking story after

heartbreaking story, and you realize that people’s expectations are so


You know, they’re not looking for government to solve all of

their problems. They just want a little bit of a hand-up to keep them

in their homes if they’re about to be foreclosed upon, or to make sure

their kids can go to college to live out the American dream.

You know, it is absolutely critical that we change how business

is done in Washington and we remind ourselves of what government is

supposed to be about.

And, you know, I have a lot of confidence that whoever ends up

being the nominee that the Democratic standard-bearer will try to

restore that sense of public service to our government. That’s why I

think we’re both running, and I’m very pleased that I’ve had this

opportunity to run with Senator Clinton.

RUSSERT: But the voters can only choose one, Brian.

RUSSERT: And I think you have a question.

WILLIAMS: Well, we don’t have such thing in our format as a

closing statement, but I am going to ask a closing and fundamental

question of you both. And I’ll ask it of you fist, Senator Obama.

What is the fundamental question you believe Senator Clinton must

answer along the way to the voters here in Ohio and in Texas, and for

that matter across the country, in order to prove her worthiness as

the nominee? And then we will ask the same question of Senator


OBAMA: I have to say, Brian, I think she is — she would be

worthy as a nominee. Now, I think I’d be better. Otherwise, I

wouldn’t be running. But there’s no doubt that Senator Clinton is

qualified and capable and would be a much better president than John

McCain, who I respect and I honor his service to this country, but

essentially has tethered himself to the failed policies of George Bush

over the last seven years.

On economics, he wants to continue tax cuts to the wealthy that

we can’t afford, and on foreign policy he wants to continue a war that

not only can we not afford in terms of money, but we can’t afford in

terms of lives and is not making us more safe. We can’t afford it in

terms of strategy.

So I don’t think that Senator Clinton has to answer a question as

to whether she’s capable of being president or our standard bearer.

I will say this, that the reason I think I’m better as the

nominee is that I can bring this country together I think in a unique

way, across divisions of race, religion, region. And that is what’s

going to be required in order for us to actually deliver on the issues

that both Senator Clinton and I care so much about.

And I also think I have a track record, starting from the days I

moved to Chicago as a community organizer, when I was in my 20s, on

through my work in state government, on through my work as a United

States senator, I think I bring a unique bias in favor of opening up

government, pushing back special interests, making government more

accountable so that the American people can have confidence that their

voice is being heard.

Those are things — those are qualities that I bring to this

race, and I hope that the people of Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and

Vermont decide that those are qualities that they need in the next

president of the United States.

WILLIAMS: Senator Clinton, same question, and that is again —

is there a fundamental question Senator Obama must answer to the

voters in this state and others as to his worthiness?

CLINTON: Well, Brian, there isn’t any doubt that, you know, both

of us feel strongly about our country, that we bring enormous energy

and commitment to this race and would bring that to the general

election and to the White House.

As I said last week, you know, it’s been an honor to campaign. I

still intend to do everything I can to win, but it has been an honor,

because it has been a campaign that is history making.

You know, obviously I am thrilled to be running, to be the first

woman president, which I think would be a sea change in our country

and around the world, and would give enormous…


… you know, enormous hope and, you know, a real challenge to

the way things have been done, and who gets to do them, and what the

rules are.

So I feel that either one of us will make history.

The question that I have been posing is, who can actually change

the country? And I do believe that my experience over 35 years in the

private sector as well as the public and the not-for-profit sector,

gives me an understanding and an insight into how best to make the

changes that we all know we have to see.

You know, when I wasn’t successful about getting universal health

care, I didn’t give up. I just got to work and helped to create the

Children’s Health Insurance Program. And, you know, today in Ohio

140,000 kids have health insurance. And yet this morning in Lorain, a

mother said that she spent with the insurance and everything over $3

million taking care of her daughter, who had a serious accident. And

she just looked at me, as so many mothers and fathers have over so

many years, and said, “will you help us?”

That’s what my public life has been about. I want to help the

people of this country get the chances they deserve to have. And I

will do whatever I can here in Ohio, in Texas, Rhode Island, in the

states to come making that case. Because I think we do need a fighter

back in the White House.

You know, the wealthy and the well-connected have had a

president. It’s time we had a president for the middle class and

working people, the people who get up every day and do the very best

they can. And they deserve somebody who gets up in that White House

and goes to bat for them.

And that’s what I will do.

WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.


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