NPR NEWS AND IOWA PUBLIC RADIO DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE: COMPLETE
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The NPR/IPR national Democratic Presidential debate is being broadcast
and webcast live from 2:00-4:00PM (ET) today, Tuesday, December 4; it’s
the first audio-only debate of the presidential race. Moderators are
NPR journalists Steve Inskeep, Michele Norris and Robert Siegel.
NPR programs reach more than 26 million listeners weekly, and NPR Member
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NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE
CANDIDATES: SENATOR JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE); SENATOR HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
(D-NY); SENATOR CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT); FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS
(D-NC); FORMER SENATOR MIKE GRAVEL (D-AK); REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS
KUCINICH (D-OH); SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL)
MODERATORS: STEVE INSKEEP, MICHELE NORRIS, AND ROBERT SIEGEL
TIME: 2:08 P.M. EST
DATE: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2007
ROBERT SIEGEL: But the Democrats are here, and they are, from left to
right on your radio dial, Senator Hillary Clinton, former Senator Mike
Gravel, Senator Barack Obama, Senator Christopher Dodd, Senator Joseph
Biden, former Senator John Edwards and Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
Governor Bill Richardson could not join us. He’s attending the funeral
of a Korean War soldier whose remains the governor recently helped
repatriate from North Korea.
So we’re going to get started with the debate, and let’s stipulate in
advance what I know many feel obliged to say. We’re grateful that all
of you are here, and we expect that you’re grateful to the Iowa State
Historical Museum, the people of Iowa, public radio in Iowa and NPR
News. And we appreciate that and hope we can move on to the topic of
The new National Intelligence Estimate contains a major change. It says
that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003.
Today President Bush said that nothing’s changed in light of the report.
He said the NIE, the National Intelligence Estimate, doesn’t do anything
to change his opinion about the danger Iran poses to the world.
For all of you — and let’s go left to right across the radio dial — do
you agree with the president’s assessment that Iran still poses a
threat? And do you agree that the NIE’s news shows that isolation and
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I’m relieved that the intelligence
community has reached this conclusion, but I vehemently disagree with
the president that nothing’s changed and therefore nothing in American
policy has to change.
I have for two years advocated diplomatic engagement with Iran, and I
think that’s what the president should do. He should seize this
opportunity and engage in serious diplomacy, using both carrots and
sticks. I think we do know that pressure on Iran does have an effect. I
think that is an important lesson. But we’re not going to reach the
kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the
context of a diplomatic process.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Clinton.
Senator — former Senator Mike Gravel.
MR. MIKE GRAVEL: Iran’s not a problem, never has been, never will be.
What you’re seeing right here is something very unique, very courageous.
What the intelligence community has done is drop-kicked the president of
the United States. These are people of courage that have watched what
the president is doing, onrush to war with Iran.
And so by releasing this information, which is diametrically opposed to
the estimate that was given in ’05 by showing that there is no
information to warrant what the White House has been doing, they have
now boxed in the president in his ability to go to war. So, my hat is
off to these courageous people within the bureaucrats — bureaucracy of
the intelligence community.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Gravel.
Senator Barack Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think Iran continues to be a threat to some
of its neighbors in the region, so they’re still funding Hamas, they’re
still funding Hezbollah, and those are things we have to be concerned
about. But it is absolutely clear that this administration and
President Bush continues to not let facts get in the way of his
ideology. And that’s been the problem with their foreign policy
generally. They should have stopped the saber-rattling, should have
never started it, and they need now to aggressively move on the
I have said consistently since the beginning of this campaign that it is
important for the president to lead diplomatic efforts, to try to offer
to Iran the prospect of joining the World Trade Organization, potential
normalized relations over time, in exchange for changes in behavior.
That’s something that has to be pursued.
SIEGEL: Senator Chris Dodd.
SEN. CHRIS DODD: Well, again, this is 16 agencies that have drawn this
conclusion, it wasn’t just one. So it’s a very compelling case that’s
been made here for exercising caution and pursuing what I’ve advocated,
and others have as well, and that is, pursuing as much of a diplomatic
solution to the problems that Iran poses. And there are some. It would
be foolish to say otherwise here.
But the important point is we can’t do this unilaterally. And that’s
one of the dangers here. If we really try to impose sanctions by
ourselves or other such efforts here, they will fail. It’s very
important to understand the linkage, obviously, not only between Iran,
but Iraq and Iran, and our ability to build this kind of international
support for efforts to convince Iran on a variety of issues to move in a
different direction is being seriously compromised by our continued
military presence in Iraq.
So there needs to be not only understanding what’s written in this
report, but simultaneously understanding that that more multilateral
approach is going to be hobbled and difficult as long as we find
ourselves bogged down in the Iraq situation.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Dodd.
Senator Joseph Biden.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: With all due respect with anybody who thinks that
pressure brought this about, let’s get this straight. In 2003, they
stopped their program.
You cannot trust this president. He is not trustworthy. He has
undermined our security in the region. He has undermined our
credibility in the world. He has made it more difficult to get
cooperation from the rest of the world. He has caused oil to go up
roughly $25 a barrel with a security premium because of his threat of
It is outrageous, intolerable, and it must stop. The president of the
United States — it was like watching a rerun of his statement on Iraq
five years earlier. This — Iran is not a nuclear threat to the United
States of America. Iran should be dealt with directly with the rest of
the world at our side, but we’ve made it more difficult now because who
is going to trust us? Who in Europe, who in China, who in Russia? It’s
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Biden.
Senator John Edwards.
MR. JOHN EDWARDS: Thank you.
What — what I believe is that this president, who just a few weeks ago
was talking about World War III, he, the vice president, the neocons
have been on a march to possible war with Iran for a long time. We know
that they’ve prepared contingency plans for a military attack. My view
is that the — this has been going on since the famous “Axis of Evil”
speech, and the United States Senate had an important responsibility in
standing up to him and stopping him on the vote on whether to declare
the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. The president
says we’re in a global war on terror, and then he declares the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and also a proliferator of
weapons of mass destruction. It’s absolutely clear and eerily similar
to what we saw with Iraq, where they were headed — and there’s a
different approach, a smart approach using our friends in Europe and the
European banking system to deal with this.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Edwards.
And Congressman Kucinich.
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Just as five years ago I warned that there was no
evidence that would merit war against Iraq and warned this country not
to do it, so for the past few years I’ve been saying that there’s no
evidence that Iran had a nuclear weapons program. And unfortunately,
the president, just as he was able to convince some of my colleagues
here to vote for the war against Iraq, despite the fact there wasn’t any
real evidence, so he has been able to get some of my colleagues here —
Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards — to say of Iran “all options are
on the table.” As a matter of fact, he’s still saying that. So we
really need to switch to not just diplomacy, but my candidacy offers the
American people someone for president who was right the first time.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Congressman Kucinich.
A question from Steve Inskeep.
STEVE INSKEEP: Senator Clinton, as some of your opponents have noted,
in September you voted on a resolution involving the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards, which, among other things, called them
proliferators of mass destruction. In view of this latest intelligence
estimate, which says Iran’s nuclear program was stopped in 2003, do you
believe that’s still true?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, there were other purposes for that resolution. It
does label the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization,
and there is evidence that they do support Hamas and Hezbollah, as
Senator Obama just said, and in addition have, until recently, been
supplying weapons and technical advisers to various factions within
Since that resolution passed — which was non-binding and did not in any
way authorize the president to take any action that would lead to war —
our commanders on the ground in Iraq have announced that we’ve seen some
progress from the Iranians backing off, no longer sending in weapons and
materiel, and beginning to withdraw their technical advisers.
INSKEEP: Forgive me, are the Revolutionary Guards proliferators of mass
SEN. CLINTON: Well, many of us believe that. You know, earlier this
year, Senator Edwards told an audience in Israel that the nuclear threat
from Iran was the greatest threat to our generation. Back in 2004,
Senator Obama told the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board that he would
even consider nuke — surgical strikes by missiles to take out Iran’s
nuclear capacity. So there was a very broadly based belief that they
were pursuing a nuclear weapon.
INSKEEP: Let’s hear from people you’ve just mentioned. Senator
Edwards, do you remember saying that?
MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, Senator Clinton and I just have an
honest disagreement about this, but a very strong disagreement. I think
it’s very clear that Bush and Cheney have been rattling the saber about
Iran for a very long time, and I said very clearly when this vote took
place on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that it was important for us to
stand up to them.
INSKEEP: But your remarks in Israel that Senator — that Senator —
MR. EDWARDS: Well, everyone — everyone at the table would acknowledge
that Iran represents a serious issue for the Middle East and for us —
REP. KUCINICH: No, I do not acknowledge —
INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich does not, but —
MR. EDWARDS: Let me finish, if I can.
REP. KUCINICH: Let me characterize my own remarks.
MR. EDWARDS: If I can just finish, Dennis, for just a second.
But I do want it to be clear that, especially on an issue as big as
Iran, it’s very important for voters in Iowa — caucus-goers in Iowa and
New Hampshire voters — to understand the differences. And I do believe
very strongly that it was important for us to stand up because what Bush
and Cheney did after the vote in the Senate is they declared the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization and a proliferator of
weapons of mass destruction.
SIEGEL: Senator Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, Senator Clinton’s mention of the Chicago Tribune
article back in 2004, I think, is a little bit misleading. Because what
I was specifically asked about was if Iran was developing nuclear
weapons, how could we respond? And in those situations, what I said is
we should keep options on the table. But what I’ve been consistent
about was that this saber-rattling was a repetition of Iraq, a war I
opposed, and that we needed to oppose George Bush again. We can’t keep
on giving him the benefit of the doubt, knowing the ways in which they
SIEGEL: Senator Obama, we’re going to have to take a break here, and
we’ll continue with our debate. We’ll continue discussing Iran in just
You’re listening to special coverage from Iowa Public Radio and NPR
INSKEEP: Welcome back to the NPR News debate. We’re with the Democrats
in Des Moines, Iowa, along with Michele Norris. I’m Steve Inskeep.
SIEGEL: And I’m Robert Siegel. We’re discussing Iran, the lessons
learned from the war in Iraq.
A moment ago when Congressman Kucinich objected to or interrupted the
statement from Senator Edwards that everybody agrees Iran is a threat,
you say, Congressman Kucinich, I misinterpreted your earlier remarks
that Iran is not a threat.
REP. KUCINICH: All I did was raise my hand. I wanted a chance to
REP. KUCINICH: Thank you.
The point that Senator Clinton made was a valid point with respect to
the comments of Senator Obama and also the comments of Senator Edwards
at the Herzliya conference. See, when people say all options are on the
table, as the three senators have, they actually encouraged President
Bush and licensed his rhetoric. And what I’m saying is that I’m the
only one here who in Congress repeatedly challenge, in every chance and
every legislation, repeatedly challenge this mindset that said all
options are on the table and that Iran had nuclear weapons programs.
SIEGEL: Okay. Cleared up.
REP. KUCINICH: I’m the only one who can make that claim.
Senator Chris Dodd, are all options on the table, should they be on the
SEN. DODD: Well, certainly under — what circumstances we’re talking
about here. I think the vote in September was very important. We’re
all seeking to be the nominee of our party, seeking the presidency.
SIEGEL: You’re talking about the vote on the Kyl-Lieberman resolution
SEN. DODD: I am. That’s very important, because it was a — there are
only about 20 of us here — Senator Biden and myself are the only two on
this table here when confronted with that vote that voted against it,
along with Senator Lugar, I might point, Senator Chuck Hagel and others,
Jim Webb, who felt that this was — the language of the Resolved clause
in that resolution, that non-binding resolution, specifically eliminated
any option except a military one. And that kind of framework is exactly
the thing you’re going to hear back again, in my view. And the danger
involved — those critical moments come periodically, but it
demonstrates leadership on a critical issue such as this one —
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Dodd.
SEN. DODD: — where there’s enough information to reach a different
SIEGEL: Senator Clinton — you voted for it, Senator Clinton.
SEN. CLINTON: Oh, I did, along with many others, including strong
opponents of the Iraq war and the use of military force, like Senator
Dick Durbin and Senator Carl Levin. And all of us have said that if we
thought that anything in that resolution gave even a pretense of
legitimacy to President Bush taking any action, we wouldn’t have voted
that way. In fact, a number of the Democrats worked furiously to
clarify the meaning of that resolution.
The specifics about designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a
terrorist organization, I believe, fits into a broader diplomatic
effort. I believe in aggressive diplomacy when it comes to Iran, and
when you engage in aggressive diplomacy, you need both carrots and
sticks. And I think the designation provides one of those sticks that
will give us a chance to make progress to where we could have a
SIEGEL: I want you to hear what one of the sponsors of that resolution,
Senator Joseph Lieberman, said about Iran and about the Revolutionary
Guard, explaining that resolution, when he spoke one month ago on “All
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I-CT): (From tape.) Iran has crossed a red
line. I mean, they are responsible for the killing of hundreds of
American soldiers. And right now, all that we, the United States, has
done is to tell them — show them the evidence that we have that they’re
doing it and tell them they got to stop; and they haven’t. So now we
have economic sanctions. If that doesn’t work, we really have to
consider military action to stop them from doing it, perhaps by striking
the bases around Tehran, where we know they are training these Iraqi
terrorists who go back to kill Americans.
SIEGEL: Senator Edwards, why not?
MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, diplomacy. Declaring a military group
sponsored by the state of Iran a terrorist organization, that’s supposed
to be diplomacy? And I would add, this has to be considered in the
context that — Senator Clinton has spoken about me, let me just respond
— this has to be considered in the context that Senator Clinton has
said she agrees with George Bush terminology that we’re in a global war
on terror, then she voted to declare the military group in Iran a
terrorist organization. How — what possible conclusion can you reach
other than that we are at war? And —
SIEGEL: Senator Clinton may reply, and then we’ll hear from Senator
MR. EDWARDS: — I have very — a very different view about what you
need to do to stand up to Bush.
SIEGEL: We’ll have a response from Senator Clinton and then Mike
SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I understand politics and I understand
making outlandish political charges, but this really goes way too far.
In fact, having designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist
organization, we’ve actually seen some changes in their behavior. There
is absolutely no basis for a rush to war, which I oppose and have
opposed for two years.
But there is also a recognition that the Iranians were supplying weapons
that killed Americans. They were supplying technical assistance from
the Qods Force, which is their special operations element. So I think
we’ve actually seen the positive effects of having labeled them a
terrorist organization, because it did change their behavior.
SIEGEL: Mike Gravel, then Joe Biden.
MR. GRAVEL: There is no evidence. There is no evidence, and they’ve
produced none. Our military has no evidence and they’ve not produced
But let’s — I want to touch something that they’re all giving license
to, that there’s something wrong with Iran supporting Hamas and
Hezbollah. These are two elected organizations, and — and why can’t
they give support to those organizations? Israel doesn’t want it, so
why do they buy hook, line and sinker that they can’t give aid to Hamas
and Hezbollah? We give unlimited aid to Israel. These people are
fighting for their rights.
SIEGEL: You believe —
MR. GRAVEL: Is there something wrong with that?
SIEGEL: We’ll come back to your points in a moment.
Senator Biden, you wanted to talk about the al-Qods Brigade.
SEN. BIDEN: No, I wanted to talk about this issue.
As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I’m the only one at this
table for the last four years who’ve been laying out concrete
alternatives to the Bush administration’s policy. The vote — what
everybody misunderstands, in my humble opinion, is the vote to declare
the Qods Force and the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization was
not a view that could be established without question, number one.
Number two, it is self-defeating. The moment that declaration was made,
oil prices jumped over $18 a barrel. The moment that declaration was
made, every one of our friends, from Iraq to Pakistan, felt they had to
distance themselves from us because it appears to be a war on Islam.
My — with all due respect to my colleagues, with the exception of
Senator Dodd, they’re not connecting the dots here. This matters, and
there’s no evidence — none, zero –
SIEGEL: Thank you.
SEN. BIDEN: — that this declaration caused any change in action on the
part of the Iranian government.
SIEGEL: Senator Barack Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: There was another problem with the resolution that we
haven’t spoken about, and that was that it suggested that we should
structure in some way our forces in Iraq with the goal of blunting
Iranian influence in Iraq.
Now, this is a problem on a whole bunch of fronts, but number one, the
reason that Iran has been strengthened was because of this misguided war
in Iraq. We installed — helped to elect a government in Iraq that we
knew had connections with Iran. And so the notion somehow that they’re
not going to have influence and that we may be using yet another
justification for a continuing mission in Iraq I think is an extreme
problem and one of the reasons why this was a bad idea.
SIEGEL: Senator Edwards.
MR. EDWARDS: I just want to be clear to the listeners that we have a
real division here. I mean, among the Democratic candidates, there’s
only one that voted for this resolution. And this is exactly what Bush
and Cheney wanted.
Second, there is a clear path for America on Iran. They’ve got a
president, Ahmadinejad, who’s unpopular in his own country.
We have the capacity to work with our European allies and the European
banking system to put a proposal of sticks and carrots on the table that
actually will help influence their behavior. The Iranian people in many
ways do not support this guy, and they’re looking for a path. We need
to help provide that path by making a serious proposal, with our friends
in Europe, of sticks and carrots to help them with their economy.
SIEGEL: Senator Clinton and then another question.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think, first of all, it’s important to recognize
that Ahmadinejad does not control the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. They
are directly controlled from the clerical leadership and the supreme
leader. And in fact because we have not engaged in diplomacy, we are
quite unsure about what exactly goes on inside of Iran, which is one of
the reasons why I’ve advocated diplomatic efforts for two years.
If we were to engage in such diplomatic efforts, because of the
enmeshment of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the economic activity
of Iran, I believe these economic sanctions, as part of diplomacy, would
be an advantage going into those diplomatic efforts.
I have the greatest respect for my friend and colleague Joe Biden. He
and I just respectfully disagree about this.
But I think that the important issue is that this is something that we
have strong feelings about, but none of us is advocating a rush to war.
I have been against that. I was the first of anyone at this table to go
to the floor of the Senate, speak against the possibility that Bush
could take us to war in Iran, back in February. And I think that we
have two different ways of approaching this. Our goals are the same:
diplomatic engagement with Iran.
SIEGEL: Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thrives on
anti-Americanism. One of our listeners, Ray Conrad (ph) from Keosauqua,
Iowa, who incidentally has made campaign contributions to Senator
Edwards and also to Senator Biden, sent us a question about that, and he
put it this way: “Clearly, many Muslims hate the U.S. enough to want to
do us grievous harm. Would you speculate on the reasons for their
hatred of us?”
Senator Biden, why?
SEN. BIDEN: By the way, terminology matters. I’m a great admirer of
Senator Clinton. It’s not about not advocating a rush to war. I’m
advocating no war. A rush to war means that war, taken slowly, going
slowly, is possible. I’m advocating no war, no justification for war.
SIEGEL: Take military off the table, you say.
SEN. BIDEN: Number two, the reason why — the reason why we are
disliked so much is because we are trusted so little. The reason why we
are disliked so much, obviously — I’m not talking about al Qaeda. I’m
talking about the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world who look at us and,
when we say and do things as we’re talking about now with Iran, conclude
that this is a war on Islam.
I’ll make one point. When we went into Afghanistan, the word was, the
Arab street would rise up. We did it the right way. The Arab street
knew that Arabs, the Muslims in al-Qaeda were bad guys. They supported
us. When we do things that don’t sound rational to them, it undercuts
our legitimacy. We have no legitimacy.
SIEGEL: Let me put this to Senator Edwards first and then others.
When we do things that policymakers in Washington may think are
rational, like very strong support of Israel, that also upsets a lot of
those 1 billion Muslims you’ve described. How would you, Senator
Edwards, how would you as president, Senator Edwards, answer the
complaint that the U.S., in its support of Israel, is so pro-Israeli, it
can’t be an evenhanded, honest broker of matters and is anti-Muslim?
MR. EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I think that what’s driving this
belief about America and the Muslim community around the world is the
bullying, selfish, abusive behavior of George Bush and this
I do want to go back to one quick point. I listened to Senator Clinton
talk about what’s happening inside Iran. We know what’s happening
inside Iran. We know a great deal about what’s happening. We know, for
example, that Ahmadinejad’s candidates in the election this — December,
about a year ago, got clobbered. We know that there’s a serious
political — lack of political support for this man, and we have a huge
wedge there that’s available to America.
Now, as to the Muslim community, I think that the most important thing
for America to do is to demonstrate that we have a responsibility not
just to ourselves but to humanity, and to help make education available
to fight global poverty. We need to take serious steps to demonstrate
that America’s actually worthy of leadership.
SIEGEL: Senator Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think John’s point is right, but I want to broaden
it a little bit.
Listen to the Republican candidates’ debates and how they frame this
issue. And if you were a Muslim overseas listening to Rudy Giuliani
say, they are coming here to try to kill you, which is the tenor of many
of the speeches that are delivered by the Republican candidates, you
would get an impression that they are not interested in talking and
resolving issues peacefully. Now, what we need to do is we need to
close Guantanamo. We need to restore habeas corpus. We need to send a
strong signal that we are going to talk directly to not just our friends
but also to our enemies.
And I have to say that when I brought this up early on in this campaign,
I was called naive and irresponsible. And yet the point, the reason for
that was not necessarily because we’re going to change Ahmadinejad’s
mind. It’s because we’re going to change the minds of people inside
Iran, moderate forces inside Iran, as well as our Muslim allies around
the region, that we are willing to listen to them and try to engage in
finding ways to resolve conflicts cooperatively.
SIEGEL: Senator Christopher Dodd.
SEN. DODD: Well, this is longstanding. I mean, in the immediate
aftermath of 9/11, we had – there were, I think, classified ads in The
Washington Post trying to find out if there was anyone in the region who
spoke Arabic. This has been a vacuum for a long time in terms of our
relationship with the Muslim world, the 22 countries of the world that
are Muslim nations. We’ve been basically AWOL on dealing with these
nations here, and that has bred a lack of understanding and
appreciation, the point I think that Barack was trying to make here.
But also over these last six years, despite this effort over the last
few days in Annapolis, where has this administration been on the Middle
East issues here? They are connected in many ways here. It appears
definitely here that we’re sort of just — we’re not engaged at all.
Over the past years, both Republican and Democratic administrations have
made it a part of their agenda to stay engaged, to make it clear that
we’re an honest broker trying to resolve the issue of Israel’s security
as well as the legitimate issue of Palestinians seeking an independent
state. We’ve walked away from that. And that — that — that absolute
— that absence of our participation, as well as our failure to
understand and to try to have a better feeling for what the culture of
the Muslim world is, I think has created the very environment you talked
SIEGEL: Last word on this topic from Dennis Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: Thank you.
To answer your question directly, we need to reach out to Muslim nations
and to tell them America’s taking a different direction — no more
unilateralism, preemption, first strike. We’re going to — our policy
will be strength through peace. As the one up here who not only voted
against, but voted 100 percent of the time against funding the war in
Iraq, the war in Iraq was used to create a wedge between the United
States and Islam. The — the buildup to an attack on Iran was really a
danger to Israel because everyone knows that Israel would have paid the
price for the United States’ wrongheaded policy. That’s not being
discussed in any of the analysis yet, but I’m here to say it.
We need to protect and provide for the security of Israel and to make
sure that the Palestinians can have a state, and it has to be done under
circumstances where the security of all parties, and the civil rights
and human rights of all parties, are — are protected.
SIEGEL: Well, this question comes from a listener. It’s political
science professor Chris Pence (ph) of Marion, Indiana.
PROF. CHRIS PENCE (MARION, INDIANA): (From tape.) American diplomatic
history books recount the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, and will
likely discuss the Bush Doctrine. When future historians write of your
administration’s foreign policy pursuits, what will be noted as your
doctrine and the vision you cast for U.S. diplomatic relations?
SIEGEL: Time for a couple of you at least. Senator Clinton, what do
you think the Clinton Doctrine will be?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, it will be a doctrine of restoring America’s
leadership and moral authority through multilateral organizations,
through attempts to come to agreements on issues ranging from global
warming to stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other
dangerous weapons. It will be a doctrine that demonstrates that the
United States is not afraid to cooperate; that through cooperation in
our interdependent world, we actually can build a stronger country and a
stronger world that will be more reflective of our values.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Clinton.
The Edwards Doctrine.
MR. EDWARDS: The Edwards Doctrine will be longer term, visionary, not
the kind of ad hoc foreign policy, policy — foreign policy of
convenience that we’ve seen over the last seven years, but instead
looking at not only the short-term issues that America and the world
faces. We’ve talked about Iran, Pakistan, what’s happening with North
Korea. We’re about to talk about China. But also to think about what
is it that America does over the long term to strengthen not only our
leadership role, but our ability to provide stability. And that — the
key to that is for America, both through our actions and through our
language from the president of the United States, to demonstrate that we
respect people who grow up in different cultures with different faith
beliefs, that we respect people who have a different perspective than we
do. And we intend to lead, but to work with those people. And for
America, with education, health, et cetera, to meet its responsibility
SIEGEL: And Senator Biden, the Biden Doctrine.
SEN. BIDEN: Clarity. Prevention, not preemption. An absolute
repudiation of this president’s doctrine, which has only three legs in
the stool: one, push the mute button, don’t talk to anybody; two,
preemption; and three, regime change. I would reject all three. We
need a doctrine of prevention. The role of a great power is to prevent
the crises. And we don’t have to imagine any of the crises. We know
what’s going to happen on day one when you’re president. You have
Pakistan, Russia, China, the subcontinent of India. You have
Afghanistan. You have Darfur. And it requires engagement — engagement
and prevention. That does not rule out the use of force; it
incorporates the notion of prevention — prevention.
SIEGEL: Senator Obama, the short version of the Obama Doctrine.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I think one of the things about the Obama Doctrine is
it’s not going to be as doctrinaire as the Bush Doctrine because the
world is complicated. And I think part of the problem we’ve had is that
ideology has overridden facts and reality.
But I think that the basic concept — and I’ve heard it from some of the
other folks — is that, increasingly, we have to view our security in
terms of a common security and a common prosperity with other peoples
and other countries. And that means that if there are children in the
Middle East who cannot read, that is a potential long-term danger to us.
If China is polluting, then eventually that is going to reach our
shores. We have to — and work with them cooperatively to solve their
problems as well as ours.
SIEGEL: And we will continue our debate from Des Moines in just a
minute. This is special coverage from NPR News.
MICHELE NORRIS: From NPR News and Iowa Public Radio, we’re back with
our debate among the Democratic presidential candidates.
I’m Michele Norris.
SIEGEL: I’m Robert Siegel.
INSKEEP: And I’m Steve Inskeep.
We’re broadcasting from Des Moines, Iowa, and in this part of the
debate, we’re going to focus on a changing China and its effects here at
SIEGEL: We’ll talk about the economic power of China and what it means
for U.S. consumers, U.S. workers and the American financial system.
We’ll also hear about the strategic challenges China presents, its huge
military buildup, its enormous appetite for natural resources, its
environmental record. We’ll also cover human rights, we hope, and
China’s growing influence in the world.
NORRIS: And that’s where we’d like to start, and I’d like to pose a
question to many of you. Given China’s size, its muscular manufacturing
capabilities, its military buildup, at this point — and also including
its large trade deficit — at this point, who has more leverage, China
or the U.S.? And I’m going to begin with you, Senator Edwards.
SEN. EDWARDS: I think that what’s happened with the last seven years
with the Bush administration is America’s faced over the long term with
two very serious challenges, one of which they’ve been a bit obsessed
with, which is the issue of terrorism. The other is the rise and
strength of China, which they’ve done virtually nothing about on any
front, I mean, ranging from China sending dangerous toys into the United
States to our trade relationship with China to, as Robert just
mentioned, their buildup of their military, which they’re doing
opaquely. We know very little about what they’re actually doing.
On top of that, they’re obsessed with their own internal economic
development, and that results in them propping up bad regimes, like
Sudan, like Iran. They’re doing incredible damage to the environment.
So the answer to the question is, America continues to have serious
economic leverage with the Chinese — and diplomatic leverage with the
NORRIS: Who has more leverage?
MR. EDWARDS: Well, I think that’s — what we know is they’re growing —
they’re strong. I think America is stronger today, and if we deal with
these issues and we deal with them in a serious way, across the board,
and we engage on these issues, which we have not been doing, and we see
the consequences for American children right now, with these dangerous
lead-filled toys coming into the United States, with this extraordinary
trade deficit that we have, their growing of their military, we see them
propping up genocide in western Sudan, in Darfur, with their economic
MR. EDWARDS: America must engage the Chinese on all these issues.
NORRIS: All right. We’ll get to that question of product safety in
just a minute.
First, Senator Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, there are three issues that we have to deal with.
Number one is we’ve got to get our own fiscal house in order. Our
leverage is weakening when we run up enormous deficits funding a war
that should have never been authorized, and we then are taking out the
credit card with the Chinese. That gives us less leverage.
Number two, when I was visiting Africa, I was told by a group of
businessmen that the presence of China is only exceeded by the absence
of America in the entire African continent. And it indicates the
unwillingness of our administration to think strategically about other
countries beyond the war on terror.
Number three, we have to be tougher negotiators with China. They are
not enemies, but they are competitors of ours. And on the economic
front, on trade issues, on issues in importation, we have not been the
best negotiators, and oftentimes we’re negotiating on behalf of — on
behalf of Wall Street, as opposed to on behalf of Main Street
NORRIS: I heard you say “less leverage.” Who has more leverage at this
SEN. OBAMA: Well, right now the United States is still the dominant
superpower in the world. But we have to — the next president can’t be
thinking about today; he or she also has to be thinking about 10 years
from now, 20 years from now, 50 years from now. And if we continue on
current trends, without dealing with the problems that we have,
economically, and unless we are engaging in the world more effectively,
then our influence is going to slip.
NORRIS: Representative Kucinich, very quickly.
REP. KUCINICH: Yes. And I may be the only one up here who actually
voted against China trade because of the concerns I had that the U.S.
was not going to be able to maintain its manufacturing base, which is
central to maintaining a middle class. What we’ve seen is that without
solid trade policies, we’re undermined. Without a
strength-through-peace doctrine of rejecting war as an instrument of
policy, we’re going to keep borrowing money from China. Let us not
forget we’re borrowing money from China to finance the war in Iraq. And
in addition to that, the speculation on Wall Street has weakened our
We need a policy of constructive engagement with China, stop the arms
race with them, work to make sure we have a global climate change treaty
with China, get them to transition out of nuclear and coal and oil. You
know, I’m talking about a whole new direction that’s based on a doctrine
of strength through peace, and I have a voting record up here to back it
up, unlike some of my esteemed colleagues.
NORRIS: Senator Clinton, do we need them more than they need us?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, your question about leverage is related to that —
the second question. We currently still have more leverage, but it
doesn’t really count because we’re not using it. We have handicapped
ourselves because of the irresponsible fiscal policies pursued by the
Bush economic direction, but we’ve also, unfortunately, seen an
incoherent foreign policy.
So until we set our fiscal house back in order and until we understand
that we have to have a strategic relationship with China, it’s going to
be very difficult for us to use whatever leverage we have. And I fear
that if we don’t start taking steps to demonstrate that we are back in
charge of our fiscal destiny, that we do have a coherent diplomatic
approach toward China, China will continue to gain leverage over us.
NORRIS: It’s the holiday season and many Americans are heading to the
stores, and many of the products that they’re going to find on the
shelves have a “Made in China” label. We’ve talked to Iowans about
China, and there’s one listener in particular, whose name is Don
Frommelt(ph), he said that consumers and politicians both have a
somewhat schizophrenic relationship when it comes to China. Let’s
listen to what he had to say.
MR. DON FROMMELT: (From tape.) You can’t have it both ways. And I
think we need candidates who are willing to bite the bullet. And if
you’re going to say our balance of trade is upside down with China,
there’s one way to fix it; put on some kind of a tariff and prevent the
American people from buying $300 TVs instead of $600 TVs.
NORRIS: Senator Biden, how would — would you actually restrict trade
with China? And given the WTO guidelines, could you actually do that?
SEN. BIDEN: With the WTO guidelines, we could stop these products
coming in now. This president doesn’t act. We have much more leverage
on China than they have on us.
Let’s get something straight here. We’re making them into 10 feet tall.
It took them 30 years to get 20 percent of their population out of
poverty. They’ve got 800 million people in poverty. They’re in real
The idea that a country with 800 million people in poverty has greater
leverage over us is preposterous. What it is: We’ve yielded to
corporate America. We’ve yielded to this president’s notion of what
constitutes trade, and we’ve refused to enforce the laws that exist.
As president, I would end — flat, bang, no importation of those toys.
Why? Under WTO, you’re allowed to do it until you send inspectors to
guarantee. Why aren’t they doing it? Corporate America doesn’t want —
NORRIS: Now, this listener called for tariffs. Are you willing to go
SEN. BIDEN: I’m not. No, I’m not willing to go there. You don’t need
to start a tariff war. All you have to do is enforce the law. Enforce
NORRIS: Thank you.
SEN. DODD: Well, I want to go back to the characterization of the
relationship. Obviously it’s a strategic one, but this is not a
competition. If we’re a competition, competition implies that people
are playing by the same rules. We’re not playing by the same rules
This is an adversarial relationship today. That needs to change. But
when you manipulate your currency as they do, in violation of the World
Trade Organization here, to the tune of 40 percent, you’ve immediately
created a huge disadvantage for our country. When you employ slave
labor in the production of your manufactured goods, when you deny access
on your shelves to the products and services we produce, it is not a
competition. It’s adversarial.
Now, I’m not interested in being bellicose about this. But you need to
understand exactly what the relationship is today, before we decide what
steps you take. We ought to be far, not raising our voice in a loud
necessarily way. But we ought to be able to talk about that we need to
stand up and say, this is a market you want to be in.
If you want to be here, then you’re going to have to play like an adult
here. If you’re going to continue following policies that allow you to
manipulate your currency, produce goods that you sell in our marketplace
that do damage to our consumers — when we got word that they were
sending toys over here with lead paint in them, cat food and toothpaste
here, the president had the authority immediately to suspend
importation. He wouldn’t do it. Had that been a U.S. corporation doing
that, their doors would have been shut in 20 minutes.
NORRIS: My colleague Steve has a question. But first, before we get
there, I just want to follow up on something that Mr. Frommelt also
said. He said he wants a president who’s going to level the playing
Senator Obama, what would you do in order to give the U.S. more
leverage, to be able to deal with China at least as an equal partner?
And are you willing to do that despite the consequences, even if it
means that consumers have to kiss those $300 televisions goodbye?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I mean, I think Chris and Joe made a good
point, which is, we have laws on the books now that aren’t being
enforced. This is what I mean in terms of us negotiating more
effectively with them.
Part of the problem is, is that the relationship has shifted over time.
Joe’s absolutely right that they were much impoverished 10, 20 years
ago, and so our general attitude was, you know what, whatever they send
in, it doesn’t really impact us that much, and they’re a poor country.
NORRIS: But what would you do to level the playing field?
SEN. OBAMA: Things have now shifted. So, well, I’ll just give you an
example. I would say toys cannot come in. Food — we will have our own
safety inspectors on the ground. Japan does this right now. They set
up their own inspection standards in China, and they say, “Unless you
meet our inspection standards, you cannot ship in here.” If we don’t
have labor agreements and environmental agreements that are enforceable,
then there are consequences in terms of them being able to import into
The point is, is that we have a set of tools available to us that have
not been used, and part of the reason is because when we talk about
Chinese exports, oftentimes we are talking about U.S. companies that
have moved to China, are manufacturing there and are trying to ship back
here, and they still have influence, and those special interests have to
be diminished in their voice in Washington.
NORRIS: Thank you, Senator.
MR. EDWARDS: I want to expand on a point that Joe made and he
mentioned, it was important, which is, what’s happened is big corporate
America is driving American policy with respect to China. They get
their way, and the American people lose. This is only one place that
that happens, by the way.
NORRIS: So what would you do to stand up to U.S. manufacturers?
MR. EDWARDS: There are a bunch of things we need to do. We have
country-of-origin labeling laws. They’ve been in place for years, but
we don’t enforce them.
NORRIS: But we also know that China can easily get around that. They
can sometimes use the “Made in Hong Kong” label instead of the “Made in
SEN. EDWARDS: But the starting place is to actually enforce the laws
that exist here in the United States and their obligation to the WTO,
neither of which are being done. They’re not being done because
corporate America drives so much of what happens in Washington, whether
it’s trade policy that costs Americans millions of jobs — NAFTA, CAFTA,
et cetera; whether it is these dangerous Chinese toys coming into the
United States of America; whether it is country-of-origin labeling. Why
is the president of the United States not saying to the American people,
to local communities, “Buy local”? It is good for the local economy.
It is good for farmers. It is good on the issue of global warming.
Because everything that comes from China carries an enormous carbon
footprint with it.
NORRIS: Steve, just indulge me for just a minute. Your patience,
INSKEEP: Please go right ahead.
NORRIS: I’m just curious. You mentioned these Chinese toys. Senator
Edwards, you have two small children. Will you be buying toys that are
made in China to place under the Christmas tree this year?
MR. EDWARDS: No, ma’am, I will not.
INSKEEP: Got to give Chris Dodd equal time on that question.
NORRIS: You know, it’s difficult to do that, because, you know, 70
percent of the goods and most of the toys that you find at the local
Wal-Mart are made in China.
MR. EDWARDS: My kids will not have toys coming from China.
SEN. DODD: Barack and I would like to comment on this. (Laughter.) My
toys are coming from Iowa. (Laughter continues.) I’m buying Iowa toys.
They’re going to eat Iowa food. Iowa toys. (Laughter.)
NORRIS: Senator Obama, and then Senator Gravel. Senator Obama first on
this issue of Chinese toys.
SEN. OBAMA: As I said before, the problem is that we are not using the
power that we have. And we just have — I can’t amplify this point
enough. Right now, laws with respect to China are being made in part
with the interests of Wall Street in mind and special interests who are
manufacturing in China — used to manufacture here in Iowa, now are
manufacturing in China, are shipping the goods back here and taking
advantage of low — cheap labor and lower environmental standards.
We have to have a president — and this is part of the reason I’m
running for president, is to give a voice to American workers. I
believe in trade, and I think trade can strengthen America. And I want,
by the way, Chinese workers and consumers to benefit. That’s good for
our long-term security. But I don’t want every single trade decision to
be looked at through the lens of does this increase corporate profits as
opposed to is it good for U.S. consumers and U.S. workers.
NORRIS: Senator Gravel, and then Steve has a question.
MR. GRAVEL: Yeah, Michele, I want to take you to task right at your
first rhetoric, and that was this great, tremendous —
NORRIS: I believe it was a question.
MR. GRAVEL: Right. The tremendous increase in their defense. They’re
only 10 percent of American defense. They haven’t had a tremendous
increase. Ten percent of our defense.
And I want to take all of them to task. Clearly, none of them are
running for China — president of China — because this amount of
demagoguery is shameful.
Here, the Chinese people have a problem. And when we continue this
rhetoric of beggar thy neighbor, where our interests always come first,
there should be the interests of human beings, the interests of human
NORRIS: Senator Gravel, thank you.
MR. GRAVEL: Because when you have a foreign policy that’s beggar thy
neighbor, we all become beggars. And so when they talk about the
currency of China, what about the — what manipulations we do? What
about the American companies that dump things abroad?
NORRIS: Senator Gravel, thank you.
MR. GRAVEL: What about the tariffs — you want to have a —
NORRIS: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
MR. GRAVEL: Thank you.
NORRIS: In the interest of time.
Steve has a question.
INSKEEP: Just want to wrap up Dan Frommelt’s tradeoff that he
discussed, the $300 TVs versus the $600 TVs. Is any of you willing to
state frankly that, if you do what you’re talking about — getting tough
on the currency, cracking down on what Senator Dodd called slave labor,
taking other steps — that Americans are going to pay more for consumer
goods at Wal-Mart, and you believe it’s worth it? Is anyone willing to
state frankly that that is the tradeoff?
REP. KUCINICH: Either buy America or bye-bye America. We have to
recognize that, and a Kucinich administration will rebuild American
industry. And while I’m listening to this debate right here, I’m the
only one up here who voted against China trade. My good friend John
Edwards, who is a friend of mine, you know, he voted for it and is now
decrying what’s come over.
I’m saying that it is critical that we rebuild America’s industry, that
we not get in an arms race with China, that we have new trade laws based
on workers’ rights, human rights, environmental quality, that we take a
new direction with respect to environmental policy, getting China away
from nuclear, coal and oil.
I mean, we should be able to have solid relations with China, but we got
to get our own house in order, stop the speculation on Wall Street and
stop Wall Street from moving our jobs out of this country. And that’s
what the China trade vote was all about.
INSKEEP: But Senator Obama, is that the trade-off, that people will
have to pay higher prices if we do what you propose; and that’s worth
it, in your view?
SEN. OBAMA: I actually believe that China will modify its behavior if
we actually are tough in our negotiations. Look, we are the biggest
market for China. They can’t afford to just say, “See ya later.”
They’re going to have to sell here. And if we tell them you have to
meet certain safety standards, that you have to enforce certain labor
and environmental agreements, they will meet them.
Now, could there potentially be some higher costs in the front end?
Probably. But I guarantee you I don’t meet a single worker in Iowa
who’s been laid off who says, “I wouldn’t rather pay a little bit more
for sneakers at Wal-Mart but still have a job.”
NORRIS: Now listen, just quickly, I want to bring another listener into
this, because we did get some questions from the listeners. And I want
to hear from Karen Zuch (ph). She is a listener. She is also a mother.
So let’s take a quick listen.
MS. KAREN ZUCH (Santa Cruz, California): (From tape.) As the mom of a
1-year-old son, I am very concerned about the toxic chemicals that lace
many toys and other products sold in America. These chemical agents
cause cancer, birth defects and genetic damage. Unlike the European
Union, the U.S. does nothing to limit the use of these agents and does
not require that the toxic ingredients are listed.
If you are elected president, what changes will you make to ensure that
my son will grow up free from these frightening dangers?
NORRIS: Karen Zuch there. She’s from Santa Cruz, California. She’s
pointing out that the European Union has stricter standards. But if you
look at the Chinese recalls in this country, they still represent fewer
than 1/100th of all of the toys and products that come into this
country. Is it possible that the U.S. could overreact to this?
I’m posing this to Senator Clinton. What’s the danger of that?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, first, I really sympathize with the young mother,
because we don’t do anywhere near enough to try to prevent dangerous
materials and products from coming into our country. We don’t even do
enough of it within our own country. We have totally turned our back on
the information that is available to try to better track the impact on
children and others of these kinds of exposures to toxic materials.
So, number one, we need tougher standards across the board, something
I’ve been advocating for for years. Number two, it should be especially
applied to any kind of imports, and that requires going and making sure
that we have inspectors on the ground and we have tough standards and we
You know, the reason we have such few recalls, even though they have
been increasing because the evidence has been so overwhelming, is
because this administration has basically defanged the Consumer Product
Safety Commission. They do not have any real appetite for going after
these companies and countries that are flooding our markets with
dangerous products, and that has to stop.
NORRIS: We only have just a few — very short time, Senator Dodd. But
I just want to ask you, because you’ve served in the Senate for some
time, given the concerns about currency manipulation, product recalls,
is there any vote that you would look back at and think, “You know, I
really wish I could reconsider that”?
SEN. DODD: No, no, I wish the Senate would have reconsidered when I
offered legislation on lead paint, for instance, here to try and reduce
the kind of problems that Karen has talked about.
I have a child that has serious food allergies. I know what it’s like
every day to read a label — every single day — because my child could
die if she consumed the wrong products here. Eighty percent of the food
we consume in this country is imported and only 1 percent of it is
inspected. And there’s no country of labeling on the products here, and
you’ll have about 10 different descriptions of an egg here. And that’s
very difficult, if not impossible, for women like Karen and parents who
have children who have to be careful about the products they consume.
NORRIS: Okay. We’re going to have to leave this part of our discussion
right there. We’ll take a break for just a few minutes, then we will
continue with the second hour of our Democratic presidential debate from
Des Moines. This is special coverage from NPR News.
INSKEEP: From NPR News and Iowa Public Radio, this is the second hour
of our Democratic presidential candidates debate from Des Moines. I’m
SIEGEL: I’m Robert Siegel.
NORRIS: And I’m Michele Norris.
INSKEEP: We are at the Iowa State Historical Museum, near the State
Capitol Building. And with us are seven of the Democratic candidates.
From left to right on your radio dial, they are Senator Hillary Clinton,
former Senator Mike Gravel, Senator Barack Obama, Senator Christopher
Dodd, Senator Joseph Biden, former Senator John Edwards and Congressman
By the way, we also invited the Republicans to debate this week in a
separate forum. They were unable to come for scheduling reasons and
they are working with us to find a new date.
SIEGEL: This is an unusual debate. We’ve selected just three topics,
subjects we think deserve close examination. And because we’re limiting
the topics, the candidates will have more time to explain their
positions, and we will have the time to follow up on some of those
We’ve already heard the candidates on Iran and the lessons of Iraq. And
coming up, we’ll talk immigration. Right now, it’s China, and that’s
where my colleague Michele Norris is going to pick up.
NORRIS: Thank you, Robert.
Every modern president has faced a delicate balancing act with China.
And this is how one listener, Panpan Wang of Venice, California, put it.
MR. PANPAN WANG (Venice, California): Many presidential candidates have
talked tough about China and its human rights record in the past but, in
the end, favor securing our economic interest rather than risk upsetting
China by substantively talking about the human rights issue. China is
given a free path to go at her own pace. How would you balance human
rights and trade with China?
NORRIS: Senator Biden, I’d like to begin with you.
What kind of human rights commitment should the U.S. try to exact from
China, particularly in advance of the 2008 Olympics? And how do you
ensure that the country would actually live up to those commitments?
SEN. BIDEN: You can’t ensure it but look, this is all about playing by
the rules. I’ve been pushing, as chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee for the last seven years, or the ranking member during that
period, that we hold China accountable at the United Nations. We won’t
even, at the United Nations, we won’t even designate China as a violator
of human rights.
Now, what’s the deal there? We’re talking about competition. That’s
the — in terms of trade. It’s capitulation, not competition. Name me
another country in the world that we would allow to conduct themselves
the way this country has — China — and not called them on the carpet
at the U.N. Name me another country in the world who would use the
trade practices they use with us, that we would not call them on the
MS. NORRIS: So, Senator Biden, are you saying that you would call them
on the carpet, that you would —
SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely. Why —
MS. NORRIS: — that you would appoint a U.N. ambassador who would press
SEN. BIDEN: And the reason I would is that, well, it’s the one way to
get China to reform. You can’t close your eyes. You can’t pretend. It
is self-defeating. It’s a Hobson’s choice we’re giving people here.
MS. NORRIS: A Hobson’s choice is how Senator Biden characterized this.
Senator Clinton, what kind of commitments should we try to exact from
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I agree with Joe very much. You know, 12 years
ago, I went to China, and the Chinese didn’t want me to come. And they
didn’t want me to make a speech, and when I made the speech, they
blocked it out from being heard within China, where I stood up for human
rights and in particular women’s rights, because women had been so
brutally abused in many settings in China.
And I think you do have to call them on it. I mean, the Chinese respect
us if we actually call them on their misbehavior and their breaches of
human rights, economic activities and other kinds of problems that we
have with them.
That’s what I object to about this administration. We’ve gotten the
worst of both worlds. We’ve gotten neither the kind of smart
enforcement nor the kind of cooperation that might lead to changes in
behavior. Instead we have this erratic, incoherent policy.
So I think it’s important that, as the next president, I would make it
very clear what we expect from China and use every tool at our disposal
to try to change behavior.
MS. NORRIS: Just a quick follow. When you traveled to China and then
when you returned to the White House, did you advise your husband on
Chinese foreign policy or on foreign policy in regard to any other
countries that you traveled to? And conversely, if you were elected
president, would he advise you?
SEN. CLINTON: I certainly did. I not only advised; I often met with he
and his advisers, both in preparation for, during and after. I traveled
with representatives from the Security Council, the State Department,
occasionally the Defense Department, and even the CIA. So I was deeply
involved in being part of the Clinton team in the first Clinton
administration. And I am someone who wants the best possible advice
from as many different sources as possible, and that would certainly
include my husband.
MS. NORRIS: Senator Dodd.
SEN. DODD: Well, I think this is an ongoing situation. I want to
commend at this point here people like Nancy Pelosi and others, who just
recently, when the Dalai Lama was here, presented him with a gold medal.
We’ve raised the issue — not often enough — on Tibet and what’s
happened with the almost genocidal behavior, when dealing with this
remarkable culture that’s been under assault. And the idea that we’d
recognize him and welcome him here as a religious leader in the world is
exactly the kind of symbols (sic) we need to send.
We’re talking here about a lot of things we would do to be tougher on
China. It’s also important to understand a balance is necessary here.
China is acquiring massive natural resources, you raised earlier, around
the world. They have huge energy issues. Twenty-five million people a
year move from rural China to urban China. We ought to be working with
them in various areas on energy policy, environmental policy as well.
So I don’t want this to be seen, as we discuss this today here, always
just about the acrimonious or the difficult or the tough positions we’re
going to take —
MS. NORRIS: But — but —
SEN. DODD: — but to make them recognize that the Dalai Lama is an —
is an international religious leader who’s worthy of recognition. And
if they, as they apparently did, threaten to deny some ships to able to
move in waters off China over that, they need to be able to understand
this isn’t going to change in a Democratic administration.
MS. NORRIS: Senator Edwards, with all this tough talk about China, how
do you actually hold them accountable?
MR. EDWARDS: You hold them accountable in the WTO. America uses its
diplomatic and economic leverage. We have enormous leverage with the
And I want to add on to one thing that Chris just said. This whole
issue of balance — if you look at what’s happened — and this didn’t
just happen under George Bush; this has been going on for a decade and a
half now — in my hometown, the mill that my father worked in, and the
people that grew up with — that mill’s closed now. The jobs are gone.
The same thing has happened in Newton, Iowa, and all across this state.
I met a man named Doug Bishop a couple — few years ago, who talked
about having to look his child in the eye and explain why his — her
daddy, who had worked in that mill his entire life, that factory, had
lost his job and hadn’t done anything wrong, because his child did not
American trade policy is catering to the interests of big corporate
America. It has been for a decade and a half. And we desperately need
a president of the United States who, instead of asking, “Is this going
to help corporate profits,” is just actually going to stand up for
American workers and American jobs.
MS. NORRIS: Robert has a question, but just for clarity, just — I just
heard you say that America has enormous leverage. To my first question
when we began this discussion on China, you said that America did not
have enough leverage —
MR. EDWARDS: Oh, no, I didn’t. No, I said we have more leverage than
they do. We do. I think everybody actually agrees with that.
But our leverage is economic, our leverage is diplomatic, and we have
leverage within the WTO, which Senator Biden and others have spoken
But we have not held China accountable, and the result is the loss of
American jobs, the struggling of American families, the struggles of the
middle class. Those jobs help support the middle class and build the
middle class in this country. And as we’ve already talked about,
dangerous Chinese products coming into the United States.
MS. NORRIS: So diminished, but significant.
Robert, you have question.
MR. SIEGEL: Senator, there’s an implication in what you just said. The
— that the United States can become once again a major power in textile
production, an industry we associate with low-wage emerging economies.
Isn’t it fair to think that no matter what our relationship with China,
obviously poorer countries are going to be producing textiles in mills
around the world, it’s just not what our economy should be specializing
in at this time?
MR. EDWARDS: What is fair to think is that we have had a trade policy
that has cost America — my father, who worked in a mill for 37 years so
that I could be — and my brother and sister could have a better life
than he had, that mill that he worked in is gone. Jobs all across Iowa
are gone. And the reason is because America has catered to the
interests of corporate profits, not the interests of the American middle
class, not the interests of American workers, and not the interests of
these manufacturing jobs.
Are there other things we need to do? Of course there are. America, to
be competitive over the long term, needs a trade policy that works, that
looks out for the interests of the middle class, but it also needs —
America needs to be the most creative, best-educated, most-innovative
workforce on the planet. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.
They can both be done at the same time.
MS. NORRIS: Thank you very much.
Senator Obama, I just want to return to the question of currency
manipulation. You had said that if China is actually manipulating their
currency, this country needs to “take them to the mat.” What exactly
did you mean by that?
SEN. OBAMA: We have legislation that says that if, in fact, they are
manipulating their currency — and I think there’s no dispute that they
are — that we need to take strong action. It’s in the Banking
Committee. Chris is presiding over that.
And — now, here’s the problem. I will say that it’s actually a blunt
tool. I’d prefer not doing this legislatively. The problem is we’ve
had a president that has shown no leadership on it. So if — and when I
am in the White House, I will meet directly with the Chinese leadership
and indicate we have to restore balance. And, by the way, we have to
mobilize our allies, such as the European Union, to have that
conversation with us.
This is an imbalance that is not good for any economy over time. It’s
not sustainable, the trade imbalances that we have.
But just to go to a point that was made earlier, so often we see these
issues as contradictory. Mike Gravel, I am interested, as I said, in
making sure that the Chinese population is fed and clothed and
advancing. I think that is important. It is not, I think, in the
long-term interest of China to expand solely on the backs of low-wage
worker — work that is undermining U.S. work. If we are saying to
China, raise your labor standards, that will over time improve the lot
of Chinese workers as well as U.S. workers. And that’s what we should
be looking at, is how can we improve the working conditions, the safety
conditions, the consumer protections that are available for all people,
and that’s not what’s happening right now.
MS. NORRIS: Senator Obama, thank you.
Senator Biden, very quickly.
SEN. BIDEN: Look, first of all, I don’t buy this being, “Why are you
being so tough on China?” Would we do any of these things with regard
to France or Germany or England, our friends, our allies? The answer is
MS. NORRIS: Do you think it’s analogous situation?
SEN. BIDEN: No, I think it is — look, if France was acting like
China’s acting, we’d be tough with them. If England was doing what
China’s doing, we’d be tough with them. This is about being fair.
And by the way, to deal with the currency — back in ’88 we had the same
deal, and what happened, we had a thing called the Plaza Accords. We
brought in all of the major currencies in the world to sit down and say
we’ve got to rationalize the currency here. Us doing it by ourselves is
the ultimate blunt instrument. We may be able to do that, but were I
president, I’d be calling a similar conference, bringing in the rest of
the world to rationalize our currencies here.
MS. NORRIS: Time is short. I just want to turn to something that
Senator Clinton said. You said that China reacts if they are pressed.
So would we believe that — should we believe that the relationship —
the U.S. relationship with China under a Hillary Clinton administration
would be less one of cooperation and engagement and one more akin to
SEN. CLINTON: No. No, absolutely not. It would be a position where we
would operate from strength with a coherent policy about what our
interests were and what we hope to achieve.
I’ll give you a quick example. I have a company in my state that has
exported into China for many years. All of a sudden, out of the blue,
they were told that they were going to start having tariffs slapped on
their product that would have made it absolutely uncompetitive for them
to compete. Their alternative was to go into business with some Chinese
company, more than likely some kind of front group for the People’s
Army, and therefore lose their intellectual property. And so I helped
them stand up to that, and they respected it and backed down.
MS. NORRIS: Thank you. That’s where we’re going to have to end our
discussion to China. We could have gone on, but thanks to all the
candidates. We’ll continue in just a minute with our Democratic
MR. SIEGEL: From NPR News and Iowa Public Radio, this is special live
coverage of our Democratic Presidential Debate from Des Moines. I’m
MR. INSKEEP: I’m Steve Inskeep.
MS. NORRIS: And I’m Michele Norris.
The other day, an Iowa voter advised us of a big campaign issue. He
called it the M-word, M-igration. The so-called M-word is our next
topic, and Steve Inskeep will lead our questioning.
MR. INSKEEP: Thanks, Michele.
Candidates, we’ve just been doing some reporting in the last few days
from Marshalltown, Iowa, a city that I know many of you have visited.
This is a city with a lot of immigrants, a number of illegal immigrants.
There have been immigration raids there. And that raises questions
about citizens in places like that all over America.
Some citizens in Marshalltown turn in illegal immigrants, some take them
in. There’s actually a person who’s been indicted for sheltering
immigrants, which raises a question that I’d like to put to you: What
obligations do American citizens have when it comes to illegal
And let’s start within Senator Obama. Would you expect Americans, if
you’re president — January 2009, immigration reform, whatever you want
hasn’t happened yet. Would you expect Americans to turn in illegal
immigrants when they come across?
SEN. OBAMA: We do not deputize the American people to do the job that
the federal government is supposed to do. So as president of the United
States, I will make sure that the federal government does what it’s
supposed to do, which is to do a better job of closing our borders and
preventing hundreds of thousands of people to pour in, have much tougher
enforcement standards when it comes to employers, and create a pathway
of citizenship for the 12 million people who are already here.
MR. INSKEEP: So does that mean that Americans should not turn in
SEN. OBAMA: The point is that we are not going to have — we’re not
going to deputize a whole bunch of American citizens to start grabbing
people or turning them in, in part because the ordinary American citizen
may not know whether or not this person is illegal or not.
Now, we do — we should be holding employers accountable, because they
have a mechanism whereby they can actually enforce. But you know, the
notion that we’re going to criminalize priests, for example, or doctors
who are providing services to individuals and throw them in jail for
doing what they’re calling asks them to do, which is to provide health
and service to people in need, I think that is a mistake. I think
that’s out of America’s character.
MR. INSKEEP: I’m going to get to several candidates on this. Senator
Dodd, let’s say that you’re hiring a nanny. Perhaps you’ve have this
experience. A number of —
SEN. DODD: No, I haven’t had that experience, and I —
MR. INSKEEP: Well, let’s say that you have.
SEN. DODD: Nice try. (Laughter.)
MR. INSKEEP: — for your kids. Let’s say that a citizen is hiring a
SEN. DODD: (Inaudible) — be checking out, very thoroughly —
MR. INSKEEP: Working parent — well that’s the question.
SEN. DODD: Yeah.
MR. INSKEEP: You interview a number of applicants. They all seem very
nice. They seem like they would take care of the kids, but it would
appear that their documents may not be in order. What would you want an
American to do?
SEN. DODD: Well, I think you’ve got an obligation here to go beyond
that if you have any doubts or questions here. People who knowingly
hire undocumented workers, I think, need to be held accountable to a far
higher degree of penalty, civil and possibly criminal, if in fact it’s
widespread, because there are the things that are going to slow down the
4(00,000) to 500,000 people who come here each year.
You know, I understand — look, I think this debate has to begin
someplace. I’m very worried about the fear- and hatemongers out there
who are going to divide this country very terribly on this subject
matter. We’ve been a welcoming people for the entire history of our
nation. I hear there were exceptions in the 19th century with the
“Know-Nothings” and at the end of World War I, which were dangerous
But obviously, any self-respecting country has to control its borders.
It has to impose penalties — it would otherwise attract people to come
here — understanding why they want to be here but also understanding
our capacity and ability to handle this.
That’s why I’ve taken the strong position here of doing whatever we can
on both sides of the border, and I’ve worked this for a long time. For
20 years, I’ve chaired the interparliamentary meeting with Mexico. I
speak the language fluently. We have a large percentage of people
coming from Latin America. We passed the CAFTA trade agreement here.
You want to go right to the heart of these things here. We allowed
every single country under CAFTA to be able to set its own labor
standard. Exactly what happens is, businesses locate there and race to
the bottom. Instead of improving the quality of working conditions that
would give people in these countries a chance to stay in their own
nation, which most of them would prefer to do, we’re encouraging people
to come here by not having trading agreements that don’t insist upon —
MR. INSKEEP: We’re going to talk more about that, those issues, as we
go along here.
But sticking with real people, Congressman Kucinich, the real person in
that situation, what should they do?
REP. KUCINICH: Rely on the Constitution. You know, we don’t encourage
vigilantism in this country. We have a Constitution, we have due
process, we have equal protection, we have habeas corpus. This
administration, as — like — you know, would like to shred the
Constitution and deny people all those rights. But when we get into
that, what we do, we take the path of the nonconstitutional rights, and
we’re back to Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and all those other violations
of rights that we’re ashamed of now. And I’m saying that we have to
realize that these are economic refugees from NAFTA.
You know, I’ve said it over and over. Cancel NAFTA. Negotiate a new
trade agreement with Mexico based on workers rights, human rights,
environmental quality principles. Give a path to legalization for the
people who have been here. You can’t send them home willy-nilly. You
have to have a way in which our immigration policy resonates with the
deeper principles of inclusiveness in America, as symbolized by our
Statue of Liberty.
MR. INSKEEP: We may get to NAFTA as well, time permitting.
I want to play a bit of tape though of Amy Vybiral. She’s at the
Marshalltown Education & Training Center so she’s somebody who deals
with this in real time. And here’s the policy that she follows as an
English as a Second Language institution teaching immigrants.
Q I don’t know their status and I don’t — we don’t ask. Let me put
it this way. We ask a Social Security number of everybody who enters
and we require it of no one. So it’s not a prerequisite to attend the
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Clinton, if you’re president in January of 2009,
is “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which is a way you could characterize her
policy there, is that appropriate for people and institutions that
receive government funding?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I agree with what Barack and Chris and Dennis have
already said. It’s the failure of the federal government that puts
people like Amy into this position. I do not think we should be
criminalizing her or expecting her to enforce the broken laws of our
federal immigration system.
In fact, I spoke out very strongly against an effort that was undertaken
in the House of Representatives to do just that, to basically say anyone
who offered aid, comfort or any kind of service to someone in need, who
turned out to be an illegal immigrant, was going to face criminal
penalties. That is not in keeping with who we are as Americans. What
is in keeping is having a government fulfill its responsibilities. That
would be my highest priorities and that’s what I would attempt to
achieve with comprehensive immigration reform.
MR. INSKEEP: Although if a citizen witnessed some other kind of crime,
wouldn’t you want them to report it?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, it’s a very clever question, Steve. But
I think it really begs a question, because what we’re looking at here is
12 to 14 million people. They live in our neighborhoods. They take
care of our elderly parents. They probably made the beds in the hotels
that some of us stayed in last night. They are embedded in our society.
If we want to listen to the demagogues and the calls for us to begin to
try to round up people and turn every American into a suspicious
vigilante, I think we will do graver harm to the fabric of our nation
than any kind of, you know, person by person reporting of someone who
might be here illegally. I reject that. I think again you have to look
at the failure of the federal government and the failure of our
political system to make a change in how we should be enforcing our
immigration laws. And that’s what I will try to do.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Biden.
SEN. BIDEN: I’d like to make a distinction here, and I agree with
Hillary on this.
What Amy, as I understood the question, is doing is providing a service
to children. There’s 1.8 million children here.
MR. SIEGEL: Many adults as well, people learning English as a second
SEN. BIDEN: Okay, well, that — I just assumed she was talking about
There’s a distinction, quite frankly, between providing a service and
providing for you being able to make money by hiring someone you can
hire cheaply in order to be able to make your business grow. I find a
moral distinction there, number one.
Number two, as a single parent for five years after my wife and daughter
were killed, raising two kids, I went through, out of necessity, trying
to figure out how to get a nanny to help me out. Thank God I had my
sister and my mother, but I went through that, to try to relieve them.
Guess what? Most of the illegals that came to seek a job with me, they
did not speak Spanish. They were from Ireland, England. They were from
Germany. They were from Poland. The majority of the people here
undocumented — 60 percent — are not Spanish speaking. They’ve
overstayed their visas. And —
MR. INSKEEP: Question from our colleague — from our colleague, Robert
MR. SIEGEL: You used the same figure at the Brown and Black Forum on
Saturday, but the Pew Research Center has estimated this, that in fact
56 percent of the illegal immigrants are from Mexico and 22 percent from
other Latin American countries. Aren’t the vast majority of the people
here, in fact, Spanish speakers?
SEN. DODD: They are.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, Chris tells me they are. The data I received was
that the total amount of people who are here undocumented and the people
overstaying their visas were people who are not from Latin America.
Chris knows more about this than anybody here —
SEN. DODD: I think — I think both of you are right. A few statistics,
I think more recent arrivals — and that number is higher coming from
Latin America. Overall, Joe’s point, the people going back years here,
would include a larger number coming from non-Latin American countries.
So both numbers may have — may be accurate; just depends how you frame
SEN. BIDEN: But the point is — the idea here is — and it seems to me
there’s an obligation on the part of an employer who is seeking someone
to work for him or her to know whether or not that opportunity is being
given first to an American before they hire someone here who is legal or
illegal — I mean, excuse me, who is illegal.
MR. INSKEEP: Just a yes-or-no question before we go on, Senator. Those
Irish people and others, illegal immigrants, you interviewed, did you
SEN. BIDEN: Did not hire one, absolutely not.
MR. INSKEEP: You found someone legal?
SEN. BIDEN: I found — I didn’t — I didn’t find anyone. I thank God
for my sister.
And by the way, you may remember, I’m the guy that reminded the former
administration that Zoe Baird was a little bit of a problem, if you may
MR. INSKEEP: Let me move on to Senator Edwards, if I might. Senator
Edwards, in a recent debate you said, as I’m sure you’ve said many
times, that illegal workers are exploited, that they’re paid less, if
they try to report problems they’re asked about their immigration
status. But you have also said that you do not believe that illegal
immigration is driving down wages. If they’re being paid less, how can
they not be driving down wages?
MR. EDWARDS: What I’ve actually said is there have been some serious
academic studies done on this question and the studies are not the same.
They have not reached the same conclusions. I think that — that there
is — there is some confusion in the work that’s been done, the research
that’s been done on this question.
But what I’ve also described are some of the things that I’ve seen
firsthand. The town — small town that I grew up in in North Carolina
is now about half Latino, Hispanic. I did a poverty tour earlier this
year that began in — in New Orleans, but it also went through
Mississippi. And in Canton, Mississippi, I met with a group of workers
who worked at a poultry plant there, largely Hispanic, and the abuses
that they described to me were extraordinary. There was a man there who
had been injured on the job — had his back broken, literally, on the
job — and was told by the company doctor that it was just a generic
condition and there was nothing they could do for him.
And what I consistently heard from the workers — I’ve heard this all
over the place — is if they’re — they’re not being paid in many cases
for the work that they’re done, not being paid overtime, not being paid
in many cases the minimum wage. And if they raise any question about
it, they’re — the first question the employer asks is, “What is your
MR. INSKEEP: Well, how are they not driving down wages for everybody
else if that’s the case?
MR. EDWARDS: Well, I think what the studies show is there are a lot of
things driving down wages in the United States of America. One of those
things, which I hope we have time to talk more about, is the loss of
good, middle-class jobs, which has been accelerated under this
administration but didn’t begin under this administration. And I think
there are a variety of things that are contributing to that. And one —
the great issue facing the next president — that will be facing me as
president is, what do we do to strengthen and grown the middle class?
And there are a whole range of things that we need to do, that — if we
actually want to — want to save the middle class and strengthen the
MR. INSKEEP: Let me go over to our colleague, Michele Norris, who has a
MS. NORRIS: I just want to follow up with Senator Edwards, on something
that you said. I’ve had the pleasure to sit in a debate setting in
front of you twice within the last week, and at the debate on Saturday,
you noted that undocumented immigrants are punished if they complain
about unsafe conditions, if they speak up. And you noted that these
workers would have rights, they would be looked after, in an Edwards
administration. What rights do immigrants have if they’re working
without proper authorization?
MR. EDWARDS: Well, the — the answer to this is not a short-term
solution. I wish there were a clear short-term solution that would be
The answer to this is comprehensive immigration reform. That is
ultimately the answer. But we —
MS. NORRIS: But until you get to that point, what —
MR. EDWARDS: But until we get to that –
MS. NORRIS: — if workers don’t have proper identification, proper
authorization, what rights would they have under your administration?
MR. EDWARDS: They’re in a — they’re in a very vulnerable position.
And what we want to make certain, and that we would do in my
administration, is that we are enforcing the laws that apply to
employers. People in this discussion have talked about enforcing the
responsibilities of employers not to have undocumented workers. That’s
true and that is a responsibility. And I would do that as president,
until we had comprehensive immigration reform. But we can’t continue to
allow — in my state, we have agricultural workers who are being taken
advantage of and abused and in many cases living in horrid, horrid
conditions. And so —
MS. NORRIS: So I’m just going to try this one more time. How would
you, quote, “take care of” —
MR. EDWARDS: What we would do is we’d use the power of the federal
government and the power of our regulatory agencies to ensure that these
people are not being abused. Like the — I’ll give a specific example:
the poultry workers that I met in Canton, Mississippi. We would make
certain that their work conditions were safe. We’d make certain that
they’re in fact being paid for the work that they’re doing, if they’re
working overtime, that they’re being paid for their overtime. Those are
all things that we would do in my administration.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Obama, then Congressman Kucinich.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, this requires leadership. I believe that there
are circumstances where, in fact, illegal immigrants are driving down
wages. The question is, how do we fix it? Because oftentimes when it’s
posed that way, then the thinking is that somehow we have to pit
low-wage American workers versus low-wage immigrant workers.
My answer is to stop illegal workers from coming in, hold employers
accountable, but give the 12 million people who are here illegally, many
of whom have been here for years, many of whom have U.S. citizens for
children, to make sure that they’ve got a pathway to legalization. If
we do that, then they do have rights that they can —
MR. INSKEEP: What about January 2009, still millions of illegals?
Would you let them work? Would you encourage them to work? Would you
give them rights as they work?
SEN. OBAMA: No, no, no, no. The — I think that if they are illegal,
then they should not be able to work in this country. That is part of
the principle of comprehensive reform, that we’re going to crack down on
employers who are hiring them and taking advantage of them. But I also
want to give them a pathway, so that they can earn citizenship, earn a
legal status, start learning English, pay a significant fine, go to the
back of the line. But they can then stay here and they can have the
ability to enforce a minimum wage that they’re paid, make sure the
worker safety laws are available, make sure that they can join a union.
MR. INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich, would you let people work in January
REP. KUCINICH: Absolutely, I mean, you know, we have to recognize that
many of them have continued to work in providing services. We have to
get them a path to legalization.
But you raised a question. The question is, are they driving wages
down? The passage of NAFTA helped drive wages down. Wall Street
speculation, ending in closing plants, has driven wages down.
Non-productive military spending drives wages down.
What your panel here is conjuring is taking — is the same approach
that the Bush administration has used in denying any kind of rights at
all to so-called enemy noncombatants. And I say that a Kucinich
administration, everyone who’s in this country or within the reach of
this country has to be accorded constitutional rights that would be
accorded to anyone else, because that’s what we stand on. This is one
of the reasons why I’m pursuing impeachment against the vice president,
because he’s trashed the Constitution.
MR. INSKEEP: Former Senator Gravel.
MR. GRAVEL: Hasn’t it become obvious in this discussion that there has
to be a reason why over the last 15 years we haven’t solved this problem
as a nation? Stop and think. Our unemployment level is about 4.5, and
that’s about as low as you can get it. So, where is the problem? We
have to have people fill these jobs. They come in and fill these jobs.
We call them illegal. Are they illegal? They’re filling jobs that need
to be done.
If we were to chase them out, aren’t we playing to the nativists, the
crazies, who are opposed to anybody coming in since they got here? And
the media plays into this. The Congress plays into this. Just open our
doors. When the jobs are there to be filled, they’ll come in. If the
jobs aren’t there, they’ll go home. We can deal with all these other
problems in trade.
But we’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. We’re creating laws.
We’re trying to deal with this. Deal with the obvious: We do not seem
as a nation to be able to solve this problem the way we’ve been
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Mike Gravel, former Senator Mike Gravel, thanks
A couple other candidates had their hands up but we are approaching a
break here. So let me assure you that we will continue a bit more on
this topic after the break.
You are listening to the NPR Democratic Candidates Debate from Des
Moines. We’re going to take a break of about a minute. This is special
MR. SIEGEL: From NPR News and Iowa Public Radio, this is NPR’s
Democratic presidential debate. Along with Michele Norris and Steve
Inskeep, I’m Robert Siegel.
Our topic right now is immigration, and Steve is leading the questions.
MR. INSKEEP: Now, let’s dive right back in with Senator Clinton, who
had her hand up before. And I do want to ask about a very similar
You said in a debate on Saturday night that you support people who are,
as you put it, “Yes, undocumented, but also working hard, trying to
support their families. That’s why they’re here.” In the same answer,
you said you want to crack down on employers. Is there a contradiction
there? If you crack down on employers, doesn’t that mean you’re telling
employers to put these hardworking people, as you define them, out of
SEN. CLINTON: No, there is no contradiction.
You know, comprehensive immigration reform means five things. You have
to have tough border security plus a system of knowing who’s here and
what they’re doing. Secondly, you’ve got to crack down on employers,
because people wouldn’t come if there weren’t a job waiting for them.
Third, you’ve got to provide more help to local communities to be able
to bear the costs, because they don’t set immigration policy. Fourth,
you do have to do what Chris Dodd is talking about, and that is try to
create some economic activity by working with the countries to our
south. But fifth, you’ve got to have a path toward legalization.
MR. INSKEEP: But granted that it —
MS. CLINTON: And I’m in favor of all of that. Now, I just want to —
MR. INSKEEP: But granting that it may take a while to do that —
MS. CLINTON: Well, yes it will. But let’s put this in context because,
you know, sometimes we talk about these issues as though they’re
Part of the reason we’re having this contentious, demagogic debate right
now about immigration is because the economy is not performing for
average Americans. Yes, the reported unemployment rate is 4.7 percent,
but the labor force participation rate has fallen dramatically. That
means people have given up looking for work. There is no effort to try
to ease the transitions that do happen in any economy.
You know, I traveled this country extensively during the 1990s. I did
not hear this kind of contentious debate. Why? Because we had 22.7
million new jobs. People’s incomes were rising. They felt like there
was plenty of opportunity to go around. Now, Americans feel like
they’re standing on a trap door.
MR. INSKEEP: Granting that you want to do several things, it appears
from the reality of the moment that the easy thing to do is to crack
down. Everything else is hard and may take a while. January 2009, as
I’ve asked other candidates, are you going to crack down on employers,
given that that may harm people you’ve defined as hardworking?
SEN. CLINTON: I will crack down on employers. I will do all five
things that I just outlined.
But I think it’s important to look at where this debate is often taken
to such an extreme, because you’ll hear the voices of those saying
deport people, round them up. That is absolutely unrealistic, and it is
not in keeping with American values.
The best estimates I have is it would take about $200 billion over five
years to round up 12 to 14 million people. It would take tens of
thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of new law enforcement
officials. It would take a convoy of 200,000 buses stretching 1,700
miles. People in America would be outraged at the loss of their privacy
and the invasion of their homes and businesses.
So we’ve got to do all five of the things, and I would start immediately
to do that.
MR. INSKEEP: Senators Obama and Dodd, can you limit yourselves to 30
seconds each? Senator Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: Steve, you’ve — you’ve asked a couple of times, are you
going to crack down on January 1st, 2009? Listen, I will initiate the
process immediately, but to get comprehensive reform, to — to get an
employer verification system that works, is going to take some time,
just the same way that a pathway to legalization is going to take some
time. But what it takes is some leadership.
Look, two years ago I worked with about 10 other senators — McCain,
Kennedy, Graham — an unlikely group — Brownback — and we put together
a package that had everything that Senator Clinton and others have
talked about. It had some provisions we didn’t like in it, but we were
able to pass it with a significant majority in the Senate. But what you
have not seen over the last several years is leadership from the
president to change the tone and to describe to the American people how
we can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Dodd.
SEN. DODD: Just a couple of points.
That point that Barack has just made is very important. This is a
failure of leadership by this administration to step at a critical
moment when we could have gotten something done.
We need to also recognize there are people at this very hour that are
showing up at U.S. embassies all over the world who are seeking to come
here through legal means, and we need to keep them in mind. If it looks
as though they’re fools to be doing what they’re doing because we’re
creating virtually an amnesty program in this country, then you’re going
to have an awful problem around the world. So we need to understand
And thirdly, this point. Look, let’s understand this. The Republicans,
the extreme conservatives here, want this issue on the table. They
don’t want to talk about the war in Iraq. They don’t want to talk about
the failure of fiscal policies here at home. They don’t want to talk
about what’s going on with health care in the country. So they’re going
to use this issue as a wedge issue here to inflame the passions, the
fears and hatreds of too many Americans. We have seen it in the past in
our country. It’s dangerous politics, and we need to describe it for
what it is.
MR. INSKEEP: I’m sorry that we’re limited on time. We need to move on.
Our colleague Robert Siegel has a question for the candidates.
MR. SIEGEL: A question for Senator Edwards. If you’re elected
president, you’ll hear competing claims about H1-B visas for highly
skilled workers. People like Bill Gates will tell you we should have
much, much more of them to bring in more highly skilled workers.
Critics of that will say no, the United States is training other
countries’ engineers and in fact those workers are working for less than
American-trained specialists and engineers would.
What would you do as president? Expand H1-B visas or scale them back?
MR. EDWARDS: Well — well, the first point is, why is America not
educating and training American workers to do these jobs? I mean,
that’s the starting point —
MR. SIEGEL: Well, there are Americans who say that they are being
trained for those jobs but that they can’t compete with workers from
India who will work for 10 percent less.
MR. EDWARDS: And that’s the reason — if American workers are actually
competent to do those jobs, American workers should be doing those jobs.
The whole purpose of the H1-B visa program is to bring people from other
places who have to do jobs that we don’t have American workers to do.
Now, I think there are two pieces to this. One is, if there are
American workers who can do the jobs, they should be doing them, as I
just said. And they will when I’m president.
Second, if we don’t have adequate American workers — and this is the
other side of the equation, what Bill Gates and others would argue, and
I’ve heard the same argument — then that means America’s not doing its
job of educating our young people —
MR. SIEGEL: But are you saying that for you, it’s a matter of fact
finding to see which way you would go on H1-B visas, or have you already
made up your mind that they should be limited or they should be
MR. EDWARDS: I believe that there are American workers who can do some
of these jobs that people are being brought from other places to do.
And I think those American workers, if they’re there and available,
should be doing the jobs.
But I — I’ve — you got to give me 30 more seconds on this, because you
can’t ignore the underlying issue. The underlying issue is, are we
making it easier for kids to go to college? Are we driving our young
people into engineering, science and math, the very areas that we’re
talking about? And are we doing it in a way that will strengthen the
American economy over the long term? Because if we don’t — if we are
not the most creative, the best-educated, the most innovative workforce
on the planet, it is very difficult for us to compete.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Biden.
SEN. BIDEN: Look, I have been working with this for a long time, as
former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. That’s were it comes out
of. We have it about right now, except that the employers aren’t doing
You use the — Robert, you use the example of an Indian engineer who
would work less than an American engineer. The truth is they’re not
allowed to hire based on that. They’ve got to offer the job. If
there’s an American there who will take the job, they can’t undercut it
by hiring an Indian engineer who will work for less; that’s illegal.
We’re not enforcing it.
Second point I’d make is, you know, we make this out to be so black and
white. I’m the author of the Violence Against Women Act. It came to my
attention not long ago — it is relevant, believe it or not — what
happened? Immigrant women getting the living crap beat out of them,
getting brutalized — brutalized — and they’re afraid to come forward
and acknowledge they’re being brutalized because they’ll be deported.
So what we have to do — sometimes humanitarian needs trump — trump —
And so what did I do? I changed the law. My colleagues all voted for
it. It’s now the law that a woman who comes forward of being beaten
will be effectively immune from being deported so you can put the SOB
who’s beating her in jail. So sometimes it trumps. Sometimes
humanitarian needs trump an existing law relating to immigration like
MR. INSKEEP: Let me move onto another subject here because our time is
quite short. We’re going to go —
SEN. DODD: Health care would be good example of that as well —
REP. KUCINICH: Exactly right. A not-for-profit system, (naturally ?).
MR. INSKEEP: Let me — let me move on. We’re running shy of time here,
and I’ll tell you, we’re going to do about five or six minutes on
immigration, and then there’s one final question we’re going to throw to
all of you and give you an opportunity on.
We mentioned that we’ve been taking questions from listeners in recent
weeks about this debate, and one is on a small issue that, I think,
points to a large concern. It comes from Tally Wilson (ph) of Boone,
North Carolina, and her concern has to do with those voicemail automated
messages that you get if you call a government office or a business
office; the ones that say for English press one, “para Espanol oprima
numero dos.” She says, “Suddenly we’re asked what language we speak in
our own country. Will you remove the questions about what language we
speak when we call any U.S. government office?”
SEN. OBAMA: No.
MR. INSKEEP: Okay.
SEN. OBAMA: Because there are Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens who may
not speak English well, and if they’re seeking help, for example, on
some vital health care question, or a senior citizen who immigrated here
a long time ago and they’re trying to get their Social Security check, I
don’t want them to not be able to get those services.
MR. INSKEEP: Larger question here to Senator Clinton, which is, is this
country gradually going to become more a Spanish-speaking country, and
should we accept that?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, there’s three different points here. First, we
need to have English as a common, unifying language. It’s an important
part of who we are and how we keep this big, diverse country of ours
Secondly, as Barack said, there are a lot of Americans who are citizens
who speak different languages. I represent New York City. I think
there’s, like, 170 languages and dialects; that the city would be in
total chaos if people didn’t get some services and some, you know, help
in the language that they actually understood.
And thirdly, you know, part of what the challenge here is is to make it
clear that we do expect people who want to become legal in America to
try to learn English. But that doesn’t mean that they have to give up
the language that they originally had, but we have to do more with
English as second language, more help in schools, to get people to be
able to speak and comprehend English.
MR. INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: I was able to defeat an English-only proposal in the
Ohio Senate years ago when I pointed out our state founding documents
were in German. We need to have our children learn languages. I mean,
what is this fear of the other? Why are we separating ourselves from
the possibility of being able to merge with the world? An insular and
isolated America doesn’t cut it. And so what I’m talking about is
rebuild our economy, do it confidently, and encourage the American
people to work — to reach out.
My political philosophy, I see the world as one. I see the world as
being interconnected and interdependent and there being an imperative
for human unity. And so we need to reach out, and education is the way
to do it. Let’s have our children learn languages, and let’s grow our
economy in a confident way, full-employment economy, jobs for all,
health care for all, not-for-profit health care for all.
MR. INSKEEP: Anybody here willing to say directly that immigration,
because of the millions and millions of people involved, is going to
change American culture as it is in the past; America’s not going to be
the same kind of place it is now?
SEN. OBAMA: Of course it will. Of course it will.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Gravel?
MR. GRAVEL: It always has been. Always has changed our society. And
it’s a change that’s for the good.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Biden?
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, it will change our culture, but they’ll all speak
English. Like every other large wave of immigrants, once they (have
gone ?) to a second generation, they’ll all be speaking English. What’s
the fear here? Give me an example where that hasn’t happened.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Dodd.
SEN. DODD: Well, Dennis said something important. I believe I’m the
only candidate here who speaks fluently a second language. Bill
Richardson isn’t here today — (cross talk).
The point is that you need to be, I think, enriching this. Paul Simon,
a former colleague in the United States Senate, wrote a book called “The
Tongue-Tied American.” And understanding what I mentioned at the outset
of this debate about having to run classified ads to find Arabic
speakers at a time after 9/11 is an indication that we need to be
talking more about that.
And clearly as Joe has just said, this is a source of our wealth and
richness of this country. We have so benefited as a result of people
who have come here because of religious, political persecution, seeking
a better life for their families. This has been a great source strength
for our country. We need to work with it, obviously be practical about
it. But this is a source of pride in our country, not something to be
talked about in negative terms.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Obama, Senator Obama.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I completely agree with Chris. Look, a Pew study
just came out that shows the next generation, children of Spanish
speakers, learn English. You know, they’re going to do the same thing
that every generation did, so we shouldn’t worry about this.
But on the issue of legal immigration, I think, an earlier point was
made. We have a broken legal immigration system that has to be
expedited. That’s part of the problem that we’re seeing, whether it’s
H-1B visas or others. It’s too cumbersome. It’s often too expensive
and unwieldy. That’s something I will do as part of comprehensive
MR. INSKEEP: That has to be the last word on immigration. We still
have a few minutes left on the clock, and we want to use it for one more
question from voters. We were speaking to some Iowa voters on Saturday
morning in Des Moines and we received one question which we wanted to
put to you all. The gentleman’s name is — (name inaudible). He is a
Democrat, by the way. And we asked him, what are some things you want
to know from the Democratic presidential candidates? And this was his
Q What do you think the toughest choice you have left to make is?
Is it gay marriage, immigration, the war in Iraq? What haven’t you made
up your mind on yet? And why haven’t you?
MR. INSKEEP: We’ll go left to right, just the way we’ve introduced
Senator Clinton, what is something you don’t know the answer to?
SEN. CLINTON: Oh, there’s a lot of things I don’t know the answer to.
MR. INSKEEP: Name one.
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I mean, obviously, you know, everything we started
off talking about in the beginning of this debate, you know, we’re going
to have so much repair work to do around the world. What are the best
ways to try to stabilize the very difficult problems we face, from Iran
to China? And you know, I have some very clear ideas about it, but I’m
not going to sit here and say that I have answers.
MR. INSKEEP: We’re going to have to go rather quickly. If you can name
one specific thing — one specific thing.
MR. GRAVEL: I don’t have an answer to be able to persuade the American
people that they are the solution, not their leaders. I wish I had the
answer to convince them of that.
MR. INSKEEP: That’s Senator Mike Gravel — former Senator Mike Gravel.
SEN. OBAMA: The issue of climate change. I’ve put forward one of the
most aggressive proposals out there, but the science seems to be coming
in indicating it’s accelerating even more quickly with every passing
day. And by the time I take office, I think we’re going to have to have
a serious conversation about how drastic steps we need to take to
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Dodd?
SEN. DODD: I would say the single largest issue in many ways for us to
grapple with is education, because it’s the heart of who we are, both in
terms of our governance and economic strength and the future. And
convincing everyone in the country of the importance and the priority of
that issue is something that I think is going to be critical to the
success of our country in the 21st century.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Biden?
SEN. BIDEN: I know exactly what I’d do in those foreign policy issues.
But quite frankly, I think that the toughest choice for me, the thing
I’m most unsure about, is how you rationalize competition and trade
policy. I think that’s the single most difficult challenge that I will
have as president.
MR. INSKEEP: Senator Edwards?
SEN. EDWARDS: Who I would choose as my vice president and whether —
(laughter) — whether to consider any of these people sitting at the
table with me.
MR. INSKEEP: Anybody want to put in a resume or anything at this time?
No one seems to be very eager to get at that job at this time.
SEN. EDWARDS: They will, they will.
MR. INSKEEP: But is there seriously — is there seriously something
that you’re wrestling with?
SEN. EDWARDS: I think we have an enormous struggle to try to restore
the power in the country and the democracy back to the American people
and take it away from big corporate interests, et cetera, who’ve taken
over the democracy.
MR. INSKEEP: And you’re not sure –
SEN. EDWARDS: I think there are many ways to do that, and I think the
starting place is to galvanize America to do it. But I think it is
central to what we need to do for America.
MR. INSKEEP: Congressman Kucinich.
REP. KUCINICH: I wrestle with the question as to whether or not the
president and the vice president should be held liable for crimes, for
taking us into a war based on lies.
I mean, I’m ready to be president. I’ve been right all along on Iraq,
on Iran, on not-for-profit health care and giving our children a chance
for an education from age 3 all the way through to a degree —
MR. INSKEEP: Oh, come on. You know what you want to do on that. You
want to impeach people —
REP. KUCINICH: I know. Listen, I’m ready to be president. I am ready
to be president. And the standards — I’m the only one here who has
said that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney ought to be
impeached for lying to the American people, not only to take us into war
against Iraq, but now this new development with the — with the National
Tell us what our standards should be for the Oval Office. Tell us what
standards — I’m asking my colleagues here — that you would expect to
be obtained by anybody who would be president. Can you lie about a war?
Is that okay?
MR. INSKEEP: Let me — because we still have a few seconds left — I
heard a number of specific answers, and I want to come back to you,
Senator Clinton. You said there were a host of things that you don’t
know the answers to. Would you like to name one — since your fellow
candidates did, in general — name something in particular?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, I think that, you know, when you are
running for president, you do your very best to try to anticipate what
the problems are going to be. I think we have such serious issues when
it comes to the economy. I think we’re heading into some very turbulent
waters on the economy. How are we going to balance what we need to do
to perhaps stimulate our way out of some very difficult economic
conditions — which are certainly being predicted now — at the same
time, getting back to making sure we don’t put the burden on the middle
class. And I intend to have an economic policy that will get us through
what I’m afraid we’re going to inherit from the Bush administration.
MR. INSKEEP: Okay. Senator Clinton, Senator Gravel, Senator Obama,
Senator Dodd, Senator Biden, Senator Edwards, Congressman Kucinich,
that’s where we’ll have to leave it. Thank you very much to all of you.
It;’s been a great discussion.
SEN. CLINTON: Thank you.
MR. EDWARDS: Thank you very much.
MR. INSKEEP: We’ve appreciated going a little bit deeper into the
issues and hopefully given the voters of Iowa some things to think about
as they prepare for their caucuses in just under a month.
MS. NORRIS: Our coverage will continue on NPR’s “All Things
Considered,” also online, at npr.org. There you can hear more from
these Democratic presidential candidates. Thanks to our host, Iowa
Public Radio, and the State Historical Museum. And thanks also to the
people of Iowa. They have been so good to us in the time that we’ve
MR. SIEGEL: We are working with the Republican presidential candidates
to reschedule their debate for later in the election season. So for
now, from Des Moines, from my colleagues Michele Norris and Steve
Inskeep — this is Robert Siegel — thank you for listening. This has
been special coverage from Iowa Public Radio and NPR News.
MR. : I think we’re just NPR News.
MR. SIEGEL: NPR?
MR. : Yeah.
MR. SIEGEL: This is a question for NPR online, one last question.
Senator Clinton, you remarked that our situation with China is
constricted by the fiscal condition the country is in right now. All of
you, as you look ahead at the prospect of being president, possibility
of a recession this year, how many years do you think it would take
before the United States could set its fiscal house in order, stop
running deficits, and get to a position where we don’t have a mounting
enormous debt that, in one instance, gives the Chinese such leverage
over us in so many areas?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think our recent history shows that when it comes
to cleaning up the deficits and debt that the Republicans leave us, it
takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush. And that’s going to be very
difficult because we’ve gone from a projected $5.6 trillion surplus to a
$9 trillion debt. But it is among my highest priorities because I think
the dangers we face from being so indebted to countries like China and
so many others, including Mexico and everywhere else in the world, and
the leverage they hold over us because of their ability to dump dollars,
should they choose to do so, combined with how it has constricted our
ability to invest in our future, is among the challenges we’re going to
have to address because I do believe that our next president — and I
think that will be me — will inherit one of the most difficult domestic
and global economic situations we’ve ever seen.
MR. SIEGEL: Do you think you could right the ship in one term, you
could set our fiscal house in order in that time?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, it took — it took eight years — from ’93 to 2000.
It just depends upon what the conditions are once we actually are in
MS. NORRIS: I just have one follow-up. You said it takes a Clinton to
SEN. CLINTON: I did say that.
MS. NORRIS: — to clean up after a Bush. I want to give you a chance
to let you respond to something that I have heard over — and my
colleagues have heard over and over since we’ve been here. In looking
at the sort of hopscotch Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton, one of the things
that voters keep asking, sort of saying out loud, is, is it really
prudent or appropriate for two families to control the White House for
more than two decades. Your response to that?
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I don’t think it was prudent to have the Bush
family in the White House at all. (Laughter.) That’s been one of the
unfortunate consequences of our recent history.
But what’s great about this country is that people get to make up their
minds to judge everybody who’s running. There is no dynasty. There is
no, you know, determination from on high. People get to vote for
whomever they want or vote against whomever they want.
MR. SIEGEL: Senator Gravel, the outlook for — for your administration.
MR. GRAVEL: I think the outlook is very, very bleak. We have a $50
(trillion) to $70 trillion tax gap, and it won’t be solved by any
administration in a conventional fashion. The only way that I can see
is by changing the culture, and the only way we can do that is by
changing our system of taxation.
The income tax is very corrupt. It places the burden on the average
American. If we can change to what I call a fair tax, a retail sales
tax, we will then be changing the culture from a consuming culture to a
MR. SIEGEL: It would be less regressive than the income tax — a retail
MR. GRAVEL: No, it will be just as progressive. In fact, it would be
much more progressive than the tax system we have today. And that will
then change us from a consuming culture to a savings culture, which will
bring about the wherewithal to retire not only the government debt, but
the private debt, which is just as debilitating as the government debt.
MR. SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator — former Senator Mike Gravel.
Senator Obama, what’s your sense of the future, economically?
SEN. OBAMA: I don’t think we can balance the budget in one term because
we’re going to have a lot of pressing investment needs on education, on
health care. But I think we can start putting ourselves on a path of
fiscal sanity. That means ending the war, it means rolling back the
Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans, it means creating
transparency and how we spend money, so we’re cutting pork barrel
spending, we are eliminating bridges to nowhere, we are looking at how
the Pentagon is allocating its resources to make us more secure, as
opposed to just fatten defense contractors.
And the long term — most important — we’ve got to fix our health care
system because that is the nightmare scenario. Medicare and Medicaid
will create an enormous drag on our economy and our federal government
if we don’t fix it, and that involves creating a health care system that
works for everybody and improves prevention on the front end.
MR. SIEGEL: Senator Obama, thank you.
Senator Chris Dodd.
SEN. DODD: Yeah, Robert, I’m a pro-growth Democrat. And I believe that
you — I think putting a time frame on this would be a rather difficult
answer to give. I don’t think any of us can answer that question
absolutely, knowing the problems that are out there.
I would not wait even until January of 2009. I think energy policy and
health care policy need to be something you begin to work on
immediately, and I plan on doing that in November of 2008 after the
election. They’ve got to be a top priority here because the health care
issue is no longer just a health care issue, it’s a massive economic
issue for us.
I also believe we need to have progressivity in our tax code, but also
incentivize the various elements in our country that do create jobs in
this nation, who have been disadvantaged, and eliminate the tax breaks
that encourage businesses to leave the country, so we can offer some
optimism and hope for people about economic opportunities for them here.
Trade policies — I will never sign a trade policy that doesn’t have
labor standards, environmental standards and health standards in it that
create wealth in countries with whom we trade so there’s an opportunity
for growth in that area as well.
These are the basic elements that I think we need to address immediately
to offer people a sense of hope and confidence that our economy is going
to improve dramatically.
MR. SIEGEL: And Senator Biden, the question to you.
SEN. BIDEN: I’m extremely optimistic. I have incredible faith in the
American people and the ingenuity of the people if just we lead them.
Number one, if you start by ending the war in Iraq, that’s $2.5 billion
a month we are spending. If you change the tax policy in this country,
eliminating the trillion dollars worth of taxes over the next couple
years going to people in the top 2 percent; if you in fact have an oil
policy — just by having a rational oil policy, we could take down the
— the fact that we’re now being charged 30 percent more for every
barrel of oil because of speculation about war; if you have a health
care policy, which the country is ready to embrace, you can radically
make American companies more competitive when they compete
internationally; and if you deal with these things straight up with the
American people, they’re ready to front-end make an investment, make
some sacrifices in order to provide this opportunity.
I’ll conclude with this. Name me another country in the world you’d
want to be the president of that has a better opportunity, a better
opportunity for economic advancement and significant growth over the
next 20 years.
MR. SIEGEL: I won’t answer, because that could make for a much more
complicated debate even than talking with the seven of you for this
Senator Edwards, your sense of what could be done in four years.
SEN. EDWARDS: Well, the most important thing is we know from history
that growing the American economy and being able to sustain that
economic growth over an extended period of time requires both lifting
people out of poverty and strengthening the middle class. Those are the
times when the American economy has been on the kind of firm foundation
that sustained long-term economic growth. The middle class in this
country is struggling mightily these days. We’ve become a country where
wealth and power has become concentrated in a few, and most of America’s
having a hard time.
So the question is, how do we get rid of the structural deficiencies in
the American economy that are creating that environment? There are a
variety of things that we need to do. Universal health care, which
others have spoken about, is crucial. Half the bankruptcies in America
are the result of health care costs.
Our dependence on oil is strangling the American economy, so we need an
aggressive effort to get off that dependence and get toward cleaner
alternative sources of energy. We have to lift people out of poverty by
raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, expanding the Earned Income
Tax Credit, strengthening the right of unions to organize in the
workplace. Protect people’s assets by having a national predatory
lending law, having a housing policy that actually works. Our housing
policy in America is dysfunctional.
MR. SIEGEL: Could it all lead to a balanced budget in one term?
MR. EDWARDS: I think it would take two realistically. And can I
mention one last thing?
MR. SIEGEL: A very short one.
MR. EDWARDS: Also making it easier for kids to go to college. I think
all those things in combination grow and strengthen the middle class,
which is crucial to eliminating the debt.
MR. SIEGEL: Congressman Kucinich, you have the last word, your sense of
the future of this country’s economy over the next four years.
REP. KUCINICH: Well, with Senator Clinton saying that it takes a
Clinton to clean up after a Bush, Hillary, I want you to know, this is
the first argument that I’ve heard for you to be on my ticket, so I’m
glad to hear you say that.
I think that we need to recapture the Democratic Party’s tradition of
providing economic opportunity for people. Here’s how I would do it.
Jobs for all, a full employment economy where the government becomes the
employer of last resort when the private sector gets rid of jobs. We
have to create jobs. Rebuilding America, a new WPA, put millions of
people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our water
systems, our sewer systems.
Put millions more back to work building new microtechnologies for wind
and solar, lowering our carbon footprint and enabling a transition away
from oil, coal and nuclear, and have a not-for-profit health care
system. And I’m the author of that bill, H.R. 676. Medicare for all,
it’s the only way to go.
Thank you very much.
MR. SIEGEL: Congressman Kucinich, thank you very much, and thanks to
all of you.