TRANSCRIPT: The Democratic Debate

George Stephanopoulos moderates Democratic debate on "This Week".

ByABC News
August 19, 2007, 11:02 AM

Aug. 19, 2007— -- STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this special edition of "This Week." We're back here at Drake University in Iowa for the firstDemocratic presidential debate in Iowa. It's been sanctioned by theDemocratic National Committee. All of our guests here have beeninvited by the Iowa Democratic Party, and all eight Democraticcandidates are here.

The podium order was determined by lot, but here's where theystand in Iowa, according to our latest ABC News poll.

At 27 percent, Illinois Senator Barack Obama. New York SenatorHillary Clinton is at 26 percent, as is former North Carolina SenatorJohn Edwards, also at 26 percent. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardsonis at 11 percent. Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is at 2 percent,along with Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, also at 2 percent.Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd is at 1 percent. And former AlaskaSenator Mike Gravel, no support registered.

Candidates, welcome.



STEPHANOPOULOS: Not so bad, Senator Gravel. Maybe it'll go upafter today.

I'm joined here in the questioning by David Yepsen of the DesMoines Register, and we want to cover a lot of ground today. We wantto cover the economy, health care, education, and of course the war.

But let's start with the two questions that have really beendominating this race so far. I think Democrats across the country arestruggling with these questions. It comes up in the dialogue betweenyour campaigns.

And the first one is: Is Barack Obama ready to be president,experienced enough to be president?

And can Senator Clinton, Hillary Clinton, in part because of yourexperience, bring the country together and bring about the kind ofchange that all of you say the country needs?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, you stepped into this last week.You told Newsweek magazine that Senator Obama is "not yet ready" to bepresident.

Senator Clinton, is he right?


CLINTON: Well, George, I was going to say good morning...


... and, as soon as I wake up, I'll answer your question.


You know, I'm running on my own qualifications and experience.It's really up to the voters to make these decisions.

And I'm excited because I have a campaign that is growing insupport, because we do need to make big changes. And I've set biggoals for my presidency. I want to have universal health care andmove toward energy independence and do what we need to do in educationand reform our government, and, of course, end the war in Iraq.

So I think we have a great group of candidates. You don't haveto be against anybody. This is a great problem to have. You canchoose who you're for.

And I hope people will choose to be for me based on myexperience, my qualifications and my plan for the future as to what Iwill do as president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, Senator Clinton, you did tell the Quad CityTimes that Senator Obama's views on meeting with foreign dictators arenaive and irresponsible. Doesn't that imply that he's not ready forthe office?

CLINTON: Well, George, we had a specific disagreement, because Ido not think that a president should give away the bargaining chip ofa personal meeting with any leader, unless you know what you're goingto get out of that.

It takes a lot of planning to move an agenda forward,particularly with our adversaries. I think the next president willface some of the most difficult international dangerous threats andchallenges that any president has faced in a very long time.

CLINTON: We're going to have to mend fences with our allies.We're going to have to deal with global warming. We're going to haveto get back on the track of trying to prevent nuclear proliferation --and so much else.

So I think that, when you've got that big an agenda facing you,you should not telegraph to our adversaries that you're willing tomeet with them without preconditions during the first year in office.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Dodd, you've called Senator Obama'sviews confusing and confused, dangerous and irresponsible. Do youthink he's ready to be president?

DODD: Well, again, I'd certainly underscore the point thatSenator Clinton has made here. The point I'd make on that, when Idisagreed with my colleague from Illinois, was about the issue ofwhether or not a speech, a prepared speech, which suggested here ahypothetical situation and a hypothetical solution here -- that raisedserious issues within Pakistan.

As I pointed out before, the only person that separates us from ajihadist government in Pakistan with nuclear weapons is PresidentMusharraf. And, therefore, I thought it was irresponsible to engagein that kind of a suggestion here. That's dangerous. Words meansomething in campaigns.

And so I think it's an important distinction to make here. We'reasking Democrats across the country to choose amongst us here who isbest able to lead.

The experience, the background, the demonstrated success indealing with both domestic and foreign policy issues are criticalquestions. You're not going to have time in January of '09 to getready for this job.

You've got to be ready immediately for it and bringing back theexperience over the years to deal with these issues, as I have, bothon the Foreign Relations Committee, dealing with every major foreignpolicy debate -- sitting there working with children and family issuesover the last quarter of the century -- I think demonstrated abackground and an experience and ability with proven success to dealwith the issues...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, it seems like your colleagueshere don't want to reach the judgment that you've made. Why isn'tSenator Obama ready?

BIDEN: Look, I think he's a wonderful guy, to start off, numberone. It was about Pakistan we were talking about. The fact of thematter is, Pakistan is the most dangerous, potentially the mostdangerous country in the world. A significant minority of jihadistswith nuclear weapons. We have -- and I disagree with all three of myfriends -- we have a Pakistan -- we have no Pakistan policy; we have aMusharraf policy. That's a bad policy. The policy should be basedupon a long-term relationship with Pakistan and stability.

We should be encouraging free elections. There is anoverwhelming majority of moderates in that country. They should havetheir day. Otherwise, they're going to go underground.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But Senator Biden, you did go beyond talkingabout Pakistan. You were asked: Is he ready? You said, "I think hecan be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency isnot something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

BIDEN: I think I stand by the statement.

RICHARDSON: You know, I think that Senator Obama does representchange. Senator Clinton has experience. Change and experience: Withme, you get both.



And you know, my point -- and, here, we're going to need changeto become energy independent. We're going to need experience to dealwith foreign leaders, as I have.

RICHARDSON: You know, it's interesting. You talk about thedispute between the two senators over dictators that -- should we;should we not meet?

I've met them already, most of them. All my life I've been adiplomat, trying to bring people together. This campaign is...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Senator Obama ready?

GRAVEL: Senator Obama represents change and he's an enormouslyfresh voice in the political process.



OBAMA: Well, you know, to prepare for this debate, I rode in thebumper cars at the state fair, and...



But, George, I don't actually see that much difference or peoplecriticizing me on the substance of my positions. I think that there'sbeen some political maneuvering taking place over the last couple ofweeks.

I do think that there's a substantive difference between myselfand Senator Clinton when it comes to meeting with our adversaries. Ithink that strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk withour adversaries. We shouldn't be afraid to do so.

We've tried the other way. It didn't work.

I think that, if we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and we'veexhausted all other options, we should take him out before he plans tokill another 3,000 Americans. I think that's common sense.

So there's one other thing that I believe.

OBAMA: And that is that we should describe for the Americanpeople both in presidential debates, as well as president, what ourforeign policy is and what we're going to do. We shouldn't havestrategic ambiguity with the American people when it comes todescribing how we're going to deal with the most serious nationalsecurity issues that we face.

And it is my belief that we need a fundamental change if we'regoing to dig ourselves out of the hole that George Bush has placed usin. And that's going to require the kind of aggressive diplomacy --preparation, yes, but aggressive diplomacy, the personal diplomacy ofthe next president -- to transform how the world sees us. That usultimately going to make us safer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Clinton, one of the areas that -- one ofthe things that Senator Obama just talked about is that he thinks thatsome of your differences aren't as great as people have said.

Your campaign criticized Senator Obama after he made a commentruling out the use of nuclear weapons against Al Qaida, yet, here'swhat you said last year when asked about Bush administration reportsthat they might use tactical nuclear weapons in Iran. Take a look.


CLINTON: No option should be off the table, but I wouldcertainly take nuclear weapons off the table. And this administrationhas been very willing to talk about using nuclear weapons in a way wehaven't seen since the dawn of the nuclear age. I think that's aterrible mistake.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So Senator Obama rules out using them against AlQaida. You rule out using them against Iran. What's the principaldifference there?

CLINTON: Well, George, you've got to put it into context. I wasasked specifically about what was, very clearly, an effort by theBush-Cheney administration to drum up support for military actionagainst Iran.

CLINTON: Combine that with their continuing effort to try to getwhat are called bunker-buster bombs, nuclear bombs that couldpenetrate into the earth to go after deeply buried nuclear sites.

And I thought it was very important. This was not ahypothetical, this was a brushback against this administration whichhas been reckless and provocative -- to America's damage, in myopinion.

So I think there's a big difference, and I think it's adifference that really goes to the heart of whether we should be usinghypotheticals. I mean, one thing that I agree with is we shouldn'tuse hypotheticals. You know, words do matter.

And this campaign, just like every other things that happens inthe United States, is looked at and followed with very great interest.And, you know, Pakistan is on a knife's edge. It is easily,unfortunately, a target for the jihadists. And, therefore, you've gotto be very careful about what it is you say with respect to Pakistan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you accept that distinction?

OBAMA: There was no difference. It is not hypothetical that AlQaida has established base camps in the hills between Afghanistan andPakistan. That was acknowledged in the national intelligenceestimates. And every foreign policy understands that.

No military expert would advise that we use nuclear weapons todeal with them, but we do have to deal with that problem.

And so, this is part of what I think Americans get frustratedabout in politics, where we have gamesmanship and we manufactureissues and controversies instead of talking about the serious problemthat we have, a problem that this administration has made worse andthat our invasion of Iraq has made worse, but a problem that the nextpresident is going to have to deal with. And the American peopledeserve to hear what we're going to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Edwards, is there a difference or not?

EDWARDS: How about a little hope and optimism? Where did it go?You know, I listened to this debate, and this is what I hear.

EDWARDS: First of all, I think we have a clear path for Americaand for our friends on Iran, which Senator Clinton just spoke about.And that path is to work with our friends in Europe to put up a choicebetween carrots and sticks on the table for the Iranian people.Because there is a division between the Iranian people and theirradical leader, Ahmadinejad. There's no question about that. We cantake advantage of that. We should take advantage of that, drive awedge between the two.

In the case of Pakistan, the truth of the matter is: Musharrafis not a wonderful leader, but he provides some stability in Pakistan.And there is a great risk, if he's overthrown, about a radicalgovernment taking over.

They have a nuclear weapon. They're in constant tension withIndia, which also has a nuclear weapon, over Kashmir. I mean, it's adangerous, volatile situation.

But the last thing I want to say about this is it's not shockingthat -- first of all, I think Senator Obama is entitled to express hisview. And it's not shocking that people who have been in Washington along time criticize him when he comes along and expresses his view.

EDWARDS: I think his view adds something to this debate, and Ithink he ought to be able to express it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But is he right or wrong?

EDWARDS: On which issue?

STEPHANOPOULOS: The one I just asked, was there a differencebetween Senator Clinton and Senator Obama on this issue.

EDWARDS: I personally think, and I would as president, not talkabout hypotheticals in nuclear weapons. I think that's not a healthything to do. I think what it does for the president of the UnitedStates is it effectively limits your options. And I do not want tolimit my options, and I don't want to talk about hypothetical use ofnuclear weapons.

I would add to that that I think what the president of the UnitedStates should actually do, beyond stopping bunker-buster nuclearweapons, which this administration's moving forward with, is whatAmerica should do and what I would do as president, is to actuallylead an international effort over time to eliminate nuclear weaponsfrom the planet. That's the way to make the planet more secure.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Gravel, then Governor Richardson.

GRAVEL: That's very good but, under the last 25 years, thisnation has continued to expand its nuclear capability.

GRAVEL: I would say that, essentially, they're all wrong onthis. They're, sort of, leading up -- the administration is cookingthe books, the intelligence on Iran.

And we're playing into this. And I'm very concerned. I wouldhope the Congress would pass a resolution saying, under nocircumstances do you invade Iran.

Stop and think. What have we -- what have they done to us?

They're giving us intelligence, saying that they're destroyingour troops. Well, what about our trying to destabilize theirgovernment, which we've been doing for the last 25 years?

We destroyed their democracy. And now we're looking at them asan excuse to expand the war, which is the plan the neocons had back in1997. And so, when Democrats buy into the problem of Iran, they justhelp Vice President Cheney, who should be committed, with his recentstatements...



RICHARDSON: You know, when a president talks about foreignpolicy, a president has to be clear.

RICHARDSON: And this talk about hypotheticals, I think, iswhat's gotten us in trouble. Here's what I would do on nuclearweapons: I wouldn't, as an American president, use nuclear weaponsfirst. However, you can never take the military option off the table.

The key is that in our foreign policy today, this administrationhas used the military option preemption. It should be diplomacyfirst, negotiation, build international support for our goals, findways that America can get allies in our fight against terrorism,against nuclear proliferation.

We should have a treaty on fissionable material, loose nuclearweapons -- that's even more dangerous today than nuclear weapons.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn now to the second question I raised,the topic question about Senator Clinton. And outgoing White Housecounsel Karl Rove opined on that this week. He was on Rush Limbaugh.Here's what he had to say.


KARL ROVE: There is no front-runner who has entered the primaryseason with negatives as high as she has in the history of modernpolling. She's going into the general election with, depending onwhat poll you're looking at, in the high forties on the negative sideand just below that on the positive side.

And there's nobody who's ever won the presidency who started outin that kind of position.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, Senator Obama, I know you're loathe toagree with Karl Rove on just about anything.


OBAMA: I am.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the Associated Press this week wrote anarticle. They talked to 40 Democratic activists and officeholdersacross the country. It led to the series of headlines across thecountry: "Democrats worry Clinton may weigh down lesser candidates";"Democrats worry Clinton may hurt the rest of the ticket."

Are they right to be worried?

OBAMA: You know, I think Senator Clinton and all the candidatesup here are capable. And whoever wins the general election I believe-- whoever wins the primary I believe is going to win the generalelection.

But I think there's something bigger at stake here. We all agreethat the last six years have been disastrous for America, both at homeand abroad. But the fact is that the big challenges we face, whetherit's health care or a bold energy strategy or schools that aren'tproducing young people that can compete on the global stage, those areproblems that pre-date the Bush administration.

OBAMA: They're not just Republican problems. They're Democraticproblems and American problems. And, you know, I think a winningstrategy is not crafted by a political calculus that divides thecountry into red states and blue states.

So what I've been trying to express in my campaign is that if youbelieve that part of the problem is the failed politics of Washingtonand the conventional thinking in Washington, if you're tired of thebackbiting and the score keeping and the special-interest-drivenpolitics of Washington, if you want somebody who can bring the countrytogether around a common purpose and rally us around a common destiny,then I'm your guy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But when you say that, are you saying thatSenator Clinton is part of the failed politics of Washington, or not?

OBAMA: What I'm suggesting is that we're going to need somebodywho can break out of the political patterns that we've been in overthe last 20 years. And part of that is the notion that half thecountry's on one side; the other half's on the other.

OBAMA: You maybe have a few people in Iowa or a few people inOhio and Florida who we're all battling over, and afterwards, we can'tgovern.

And what I'm interested in is not only winning the election, butalso providing relief to people who don't have health care, makingsure that we're tackling climate change in a serious way. And I thinkthat's going to require building a new majority, getting new peopleinvolved in the process, and I wouldn't be running if I didn't believethat I was the person best equipped to do that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So the answer is yes?

OBAMA: The answer is: I would not be running if I did notbelieve that I was the best person to do this.

EDWARDS: Well, let me just say -- I have a slightly differentview. Here's what I believe. I think we were out of power in theCongress for 13 years. In November of 2006, the Democrats took overthe Congress again. I think there was a reason for that. Because theDemocrats in November of 2006 stood for change.

America wants change in the most serious way. And if we becomethe party of status quo in 2008, that's a loser.

EDWARDS: If we...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that is the fundamental question, though.

EDWARDS: ... maintain -- but let me finish. If we maintain themomentum of change, yes, we will win again in 2008. I think that'sthe question. And the real question for Democratic caucus-goers andvoters across this country is, "Who's most likely to bring aboutchange?"

Here's what I believe: I don't believe you can change thiscountry without taking on very entrenched interests in Washington,including lobbyists, that stand between us and the change Americaneeds. And I don't believe you can do it by sitting at a table,negotiating with them and trying to bring them together.

These people will never give away their power voluntarily. Wehave to take their power away from them. This is what I've been doingmy whole life, and that is why I believe I am the candidate who canbring change to this country.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're seeing that Senator Clinton is not?

EDWARDS: Listen, Senator Clinton, both as first lady and as aUnited States senator, has done a terrific job. She's been inWashington a long time. I've asked -- Senator, I have never takenmoney from Washington lobbyists.