George Stephanopoulos' Interview with Sen. John Edwards

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, everyone. We are here on the debate stage at Saint Anselm College the morning after not one but two presidential debates, and with two days to go before the nation's first primary, let's start with a look at where things stand here according to the latest poll by our New Hampshire affiliate WMUR.

On the Republican side, John McCain is in the lead, 33 percent, followed by Mitt Romney at 27 percent, Rudy Giuliani at 14 percent, Mike Huckabee at 11 percent and Ron Paul at 9 percent.

For the Democrats it's now a tie. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are both at 33 percent. John Edwards is at 20 percent and Bill Richardson way back at 4 percent..

Which brings us to our first guest today, former Sen. John Edwards. Welcome back to "This Week."

EDWARDS: Good morning, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you made a choice last night. It sure seemed to me at least that you decided that Hillary Clinton is your primary opponent. After she went at Barack Obama, you stepped in, in his defense. Let's take a look.

EDWARDS (from debate): Every time he speaks out for change, every time I fight for change, the forces of status quo are going to attack every single time. I mean I didn't hear these kind of attacks from Senator Clinton when she was ahead. Now that she's not, we hear them.

CLINTON (from debate):Wait a minute now. Wait a minute. I'm going to respond to this. I want to make change, but I've already made change. I will continue to make change. I'm not just running on a promise of change. I'm running on 35 years of change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You really pushed her button there. And you didn't have a chance to respond at that moment. The conversation moved on. What would you have said?

EDWARDS: I would say the real question is, what is day one in the White House going to look like? Day one in my White House, there will be no corporate lobbyists, nobody who lobbied for foreign governments. I as president will not be taking money from lobbyists or special interest PACs. On all of those fronts, Senator Clinton is in a very different place. I mean, I think it would be surprising to a lot of people - she's a good candidate, but it would be surprising to a lot of people that among all the candidates, Democrats and Republicans, she's actually taken more money from lobbyists, the pharmaceutical industry, the defense industry than any candidate, Democrat or Republican.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, you've made such an issue on lobbyists and we've talked about this in the past but I have to press this a little bit.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You're very careful. You say no corporate lobbyists in the White House, no lobbyists for foreign governments in the White House. Some of your biggest contributors are trial lawyers, and the Association of Trial Lawyers for America is the sixth largest lobbying group in the country. $6 million spent on lobbying. Six of your top fundraisers are on the executive committee of that organization, 18 of your top fund-raisers are on their board of governors. Will they be barred from the White House, as well?




STEPHANOPOULOS: No - even though they've given you money? So any lobbyists of any kind?

EDWARDS: I have - there will be - there will be no lobbyists who's worked for the trial lawyers, no lobbyists who's worked for big corporations who will be working in my White House, period. The - there is a fundamental choice here. If you are going to have lobbyists working in the White House intending to take money - I'm talking about the president.

STEPHANOPOULOS You're going to shut down an industry here.

EDWARDS: That's okay. It doesn't bother me at all. I don't think the lobbyists are doing America any good. I think what they're doing is they're standing up against working middle class families and the middle class is struggling and at risk, as a result.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no lobbyists, no paid lobbyists of any kind in your White House?

EDWARDS: I will not have people who have been working and lobbying against the middle class working for me in the White House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's move on to the issue of this new alliance you seem to have with Senator Barack Obama. Is it an alliance of convenience or conviction?

EDWARDS: I think there is a conviction alliance. First of all, I wouldn't go so far as to call it an alliance. Let me disagree with that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you guys talk about it before the debate?

EDWARDS: Not a minute, not a second. This is what happened, I listened to Senator Clinton continuing to talk about change, and she continues to talk about it in a way that simply represents status quo to me. She defends the way Washington works. She defends the influence of big corporate lobbyists. She defends the interests of special interest PACs. That's not change. That's status quo. That's yesterday. That's not tomorrow.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if people want a break from the past, if people want tomorrow, not yesterday, isn't Barack Obama more of a break from the past?

EDWARDS: This is the reason, George, that voters here in New Hampshire and in all the future states need an unfiltered debate between the two of us about who can best bring about change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want a two-person race.

EDWARDS: I want a debate with - listen, I like Senator Obama very much and we do have a basic general view that's very similar. But I have a very different view than he does about how we bring about change. I think we have an epic fight on our hands against these entrenched moneyed interests and I think that we will never be successful -

STEPHANOPOULOS: He led the fight for lobbying reform in the Senate, he says.

EDWARDS: But he talks about this in a way that suggests you sit at a table and negotiate with drug company lobbyists and insurance company lobbyists and oil company lobbyists and you can somehow negotiate - they'll negotiate their power away. That's a fantasy in my judgment. I don't think it'll ever happen. I've been fighting these people my entire life, first for 20 years in courtrooms and now again in public life -

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, but this is also a change for you. You did an interview with the Web site MyDD last year where you were asked specifically about this, do you want to work with the corporations? You said, I want to bring them to the table. Now you've shifted.

EDWARDS: Oh, no, I haven't. What I'm saying is these people have a is proportionate influence on the way the government works, and they are stopping progress. It sure is - and let me be specific, we're talking about this too generically. Drug companies, insurance companies have killed health care reform in America. Oil companies have kept us from protecting the environment by attacking global warming. The biggest multinational corporations have set up a trade system and a set of tax laws that benefit them and profit them but the middle class and working people are struggling as a result. That is wrong, and I want to be the president who fights for the middle class, fights for working people. The kind of people I grew up with, George. I said this last night. This is not abstract or academic for me. It is personal. I see these people and I get - you know, go into their cocktail parties and have these receptions. You've been there. You know how it works.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean the doors to the White House are closed to them, as well? Don't you have to speak with them if you're going to work out an effective solution of the problems you bring up?

EDWARDS: It is not my job to sit and negotiate with insurance company lobbyists. I mean, I mentioned this last night. This young woman who lost her life, Natalie Sarkisyan, just a few weeks ago because her insurance company, one of the largest in America, would not pay for a liver transplant operation even though she had insurance. They would not pay for it and people say to me as their president, they want me to sit at a table and negotiate with these people? I mean, they're the problem. They're not the solution. And my job is to stand up for the American people against them.

Now, I made this clear last night. I want to do it again. I have no intention of going and fighting with politicians. I actually work with Congress and I will do that as president. It's my job to unify the American people and galvanize them behind this cause but there is a fight with these very powerful entrenched interests.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also have a fight to get there. You did not win in Iowa. You're behind here in New Hampshire now. Sketch out the path to the nomination and victory for John Edwards. You have much less money than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. You're behind now. There's no clear path to the next win.

EDWARDS: But let's look at what happened in Iowa, and I'll be glad to tell you exactly what I did. What happened in Iowa is I was running against $200 million candidates, raised more money.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're still there.

EDWARDS: Yeah, right now they're still there. $200 million candidates. I finished between them not having anywhere close to the money they had. There's a reason for that, because my message of standing up, my personal message, fighting for the middle class, fighting for jobs, fighting against these special interests that are stealing the children – our children's futures and killing the middle class, it works. People hear it. And the same thing is hard because we've had a lot of glamour associated with the two of them and they have a ton of money. But when I get heard, it works. And my - this cause of fighting for people like Natalie Sarkisyan and fighting for people like my own family and for the middle class and giving them a decent life and making sure that kids have a better life which is what this is ultimately about, this is the cause of my life and I have no intention of stopping. I am in this through the convention and to the White House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Through the convention?

EDWARDS: Absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if you lose here, lose in South Carolina, lose in Florida?

EDWARDS: I am in this through the convention and to the White House.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Senator Edwards, thanks very much. That means we'll be talking to you again further down the road.

EDWARDS: Thanks, George.