Street Journal Presidential Democratic Candidate Debate
Thursday, September 25, 2003 at Pace University's downtown campus, New York, NY 4:00-6:00 p.m. ET.
Transcript Provided by and Reprinted with Permission of NBC
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Main
WILLIAMS: We are back.
WILLIAMS: All 10 Democrats in the race for president. Our
two- hour debate this evening. And we're going to talk about another
perceived difference between two of our candidates up here on stage: Congressman
Gephardt and General Clark.
Beginning with Congressman Gephardt, it's the subject of trade. Do you wear the label "free trader" or "Made in America"?
GEPHARDT: I'm for a progressive trade policy and I will be a president who will lead not only America but the entire world toward a trade policy that will help every business and every worker in the world. That's what we need.
Some of the candidates were saying that they wouldn't be for a trade agreement that doesn't have labor and environmental standards in it. Well, that's what I tried to get in NAFTA. That's what I tried to get in the China agreement. And that's what I will do as president.
I finally got, at the end of the Clinton administration, an agreement with Jordan that I encouraged that had labor and environmental standards in it.
This will be hard to do. It will take a long time to get those
standards to be realized, but let me tell you something, if any human being
in this world works for a living, they ought to be treated as a human being.
I have been in the villages in Mexico and China. I have seen the
raw sewage coming down the middle of the road. We owe this to our
fellow human beings.
WILLIAMS: Congressman, thank you.
General, NAFTA is now on the table. Same question: "free trader" or "Made in America"; pick a label.
CLARK: Well, I believe in open trade. I think the record is that we do better if we keep our borders open and we have reciprocal trade agreements.
But I emphasize reciprocal. If we're going to open our markets to them, they've got to open their markets to us. And we want to make sure that they're not practicing anti-competitive practices, like dumping.
And as president, I'd have no hesitancy in enforcing trade agreements.
I'd like to see them have better labor standards, better environmental standards abroad. Those need to be put into the agreements, they need to be enforced.
We're not going to bring those countries up to our standards; that's
impossible. But we can help. We can help move this whole mankind
forward, and that's what I believe in.
WILLIAMS: Senator Lieberman, same question.
LIEBERMAN: What's the question?
WILLIAMS: "Free trade" or "Made in the U.S."?
LIEBERMAN: Made in the U.S. and sold abroad -- that's what this is all about.
I'm for trade because trade is all about breaking down barriers abroad so that we can sell more American-made goods there and make them here to create jobs.
You know, Brian, this is all about jobs, and I want to talk about something we ought to talk about here so close to Wall Street now after Dick Grasso's resignation.
There's a loss of confidence in the American economy, and part of it is because of the culture of greed and irresponsibility. And at the top of that, unfortunately, is the president of the United States. He's taken our government into terrible debt. His administration has yielded to special interests over and over again. Halliburton writes the specs and then gets the no-bid contracts.
LIEBERMAN: In the Bush administration, the foxes are guarding
the foxes and the middle-class hens are getting plucked. I want to
make clear I said plucked.
WILLIAMS: Roger that.
Roger that. Senator Lieberman, noted. Distinction noted.
Gerry Seib, Wall Street Journal, continue the question.
SEIB: Let me also speak clearly here to Congressman Kucinich.
Any discussion of trade and everybody leans fairly quickly to China these days. President Bush as well as Democrats are criticizing China for unfair trading practices, for a big trade surplus with the U.S.
Would you today revoke China's most favorite nation trading status? And what would you say to all those voters in the...
KUCINICH: I was not in favor of it.
SEIB: And what would you say to those voters?
KUCINICH: I voted against most favored nation status for China for a number of reasons.
First of all, we have to keep in mind that there has to be some correspondence in trade. There has to be some relationship between what a country sells in America and what it buys form America. And that's not my idea, it's Lester Thurow who's talked about it and other economists who recognize that there has to be some reciprocity.
China right now -- we have $100 billion trade deficit with China, and we have an overall trade deficit approaching $500 billion; the exact total is $435 billion. I raised this issue before. Unless we challenge the underlying structure of our trade, this idea of made in the U.S. and sold abroad, what does it mean? $435 billion deficit.
What we need to do is go back to our trading structures.
KUCINICH: We need to cancel NAFTA, cancel the WTO, which makes any changes in NAFTA -- WTO -- illegal. My friend Dick Gephardt ought to know that, because his name was on the bill that created the WTO.
And we need to go back to bilateral trade that's conditioned on workers'
rights, human rights and the environment.
WILLIAMS: Congressman, thank you.
INSANA: Reverend Sharpton, you've been critical of President Bush's trade policies, when, in fact, it was Bill Clinton who signed more free trade deals than almost any other president in history.
So why are you picking on President Bush in that regard when his predecessor's responsible for some of the things we're talking about today?
SHARPTON: Well, I picked on President Clinton when he was in, I disagreed...
... I disagreed with NAFTA when Clinton was in, and I think that we have come to see that that disagreement was correct.
I think that we cannot have trade policy that overlooks labor, overlooks workers' rights, overlooks environmental concerns. We can't act like just because something is trade, that also that makes it right.
African-Americans are here on a bad trade policy...
We're talking about where we are near, we are near an African burial ground. I'm here on a bad trade policy. So just because it's trade, doesn't mean that it is good and it is something that we should support.
Democrats ought to always say that we support human rights, environmental rights and protection, not just making money.
SHARPTON: And we need to walk over to the African burial ground here and understand what bad trade policy -- non-ethical trade policy has led to in the history of this country.
BORGER: Well, let's talk some more about trade with Governor Dean.
To put it mildly, Governor Dean, some of your colleagues on this stage have recently questioned your position on free trade. That is because at first you said that U.S. labor standards should be the model for negotiating free trade, and then you changed that to international labor standards.
Did you feel the need to restate your position because Joe Lieberman said that your original policy would lead to what he called a "Dean Depression"?
DEAN: These days I feel my need to restate practically every position I have based on all the things these guys have said about me in the last three or four weeks.
My position on trade is pretty clear. I supported NAFTA, I supported the WTO. I think the admission of WTO to -- China to the WTO was a national security issue, which I told President Clinton in 1999.
However, the problem is that these trade agreements are skewed toward multinational corporations. They benefit them, but they do not have equal protection for the people who work either in this country or elsewhere.
I agree with Al: If you put human rights and labor standards in these -- and environmental standards in these trade agreements, that will both help American workers and help workers in other countries.
Now, what's my position on labor standards? Eventually we have
to have the same labor standards through every trade agreement. The
European Union is often held up as the model, but you can't get into the
European Union unless you have the same environmental and trade standards.
I think the place to start is international labor organization standards
adhered to and enforced by every one of our trading partners, but ultimately
we have to have exactly the same labor standards everywhere.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Governor.
Ambassador Moseley Braun, a lot of agreement going on here. Do you agree with what Governor Dean just said?
MOSELEY BRAUN: I think the whole idea is to create a partnership for prosperity between the government and the private sector.
And let me suggest a slightly different way of looking at these international trading agreements and arrangements. And that is that it's in the interest of American firms to embrace the idea of labor and environmental and human rights standards, because, otherwise, not to embrace them, simply gives a price advantage to firms and countries that exploit workers, exploit the environment and take advantage of that exploitation by passing it along in their price.
One of the reasons we have such difficulty is that we are making ourselves noncompetitive by allowing firms and other nations to enjoy the advantages, if you will, of exploiting the environment and their workforce.
I think we have to really incorporate and head for the deep integration
of our markets. As Joe Lieberman said, made in America sold abroad,
but sold under conditions in which the playing field is level and we do
not allow others to take advantage of us.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Ambassador.
Gerry Seib will continue the questioning.
SEIB: Senator Graham, we're talking about trade agreements, but the underlying issue is really labor.
Simply put, is the Democratic Party too beholden to Big Labor?
GRAHAM: No. The Democratic Party is a big tent. Labor is a very important occupant of a portion of that big tent.
I think there are two questions in the discussion of trade that are paramount.
GRAHAM: One is, of course, we have to have a playing field which is as level for the competition of free enterprise to take place as possible. And I agree with my friends on the stage that that includes taking into account the context of trade, such as labor and environmental policies.
The second aspect is how is America going to win on that level playing field? We are going to win by making an investment in our people, to have the best trained, the best educated workforce in the world with the ability to retrain periodically throughout the work life.
We Americans have had a great tradition of being able to accomplish
what we set out to do. We are Americans. The only question
is not whether we can do it; it's whether we have the will to do it.
WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.
To Ron Insana, final question in the area of trade.
INSANA: Senator Edwards, the world trade talks in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed recently because poor countries walked out, complaining that big countries like the United States unfairly support their own farmers. Would you be willing -- facing the Iowa caucuses soon -- to repeal farm subsidies if it helped poor farmers overseas gain a greater standard of living?
EDWARDS: My belief is we have to stand by our farmers. It's been a huge issue in my state of North Carolina.
I have specifically proposed that we stop subsidies for millionaire farmers. I don't think we should do that, and I don't think we need to be doing that.
I also want to go back to the question that was just raised, the issue of whether labor is too -- or the Democratic Party is too beholden to labor.
EDWARDS: I think, in fact, when you come from a family like mine where my mother, who's a letter carrier and a member of the Letter Carriers, she and my father have health care because of the union. My younger, and only, brother, who's a member of IDEW, has health care because of the union. We need to do -- empower working people to organize.
We need labor law reform in this country. Things like card check neutrality, putting teeth in the law to make sure that those who violate the law during organizing campaigns are, in fact, held responsible.
And I think we ought to make the hiring of permanent replacement workers for strikers -- we ought to ban it. We ought to make it the law of the land tomorrow.
We need to empower working people so that they have more voice, not
less voice in this country.
WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.
Let's talk about corporate responsibility for a moment. Reverend Sharpton, a lot of populist talk in the last campaign for president. Lot of Democrats figured post-Enron and now post-$140 million salaries here on Wall Street there may be traction in it for them as an issue going into this next election. Do you agree with that?
SHARPTON: I absolutely agree. I think that anytime you've seen, from Enron where thousands of people's life earnings gone, to now in the midst of record unemployment, the vulgarity of what happened here on Wall Street with $130 million salaries, that that is something the American people need to understand came from deregulation. It came from a social policy set in Washington.
When you have non-bid contractors rebuilding Iraq, if any Democrat holding office in this country had given away those non-bid contracts, they would be in front of a grand jury, probably in court as a defendant.
SHARPTON: If any Democrat holding office in this country had given away those nonbid contracts, they would be in front of a grand jury, probably in court as a defendant.
This is an absolute issue that should be raised before the American people. Greed and runaway deregulation I think has added to the deficit. And I think George Bush should have to face that in this next election -- that combined with the fact that where they can count so many billions and can't count enough votes to elect him to office, that will defeat him in 2004.
WILLIAMS: Reverend, thank you.
Gerry Seib, continue the questioning.
SEIB: Senator Kerry, Congressman Kucinich, Reverend Sharpton just mentioned the Grasso resignation over the compensation package. Does that episode suggest to you there should be some more legal oversight of the exchange or of the way corporate boards are put together?
Senator Kerry, first.
KERRY: I think we need to democratize the process. Clearly, boards of directors need to be represented better with respect to shareholders. There are many things we can do. Look, this goes to the core of what we are and who we are as Americans. The reason to be concerned about it is not as a matter of targeting CEOs or being, you know, angry at business. It's because it's a matter of fundamental fairness of how we hold ourselves together as a country.
It goes to the core of how Americans ought to have a relationship between worker and those they work for. And that workplace has been abused. When you have misconduct in the boardroom, it's as bad as a mugging in the streets, except that in many ways it's broader because more people are hurt.
And many Americans are feeling mugged by what is happening in this country today, the fundamental unfairness.
KERRY: When you have a $7 billion no-bid contract to Halliburton, it breaks faith with the American people. I mean, one wishes that they built bridges in schools in America, because maybe then Bush would invest in them.
And that's the kind of thing we need to do.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, Senator.
KUCINICH: Thank you very much. The question of Wall Street and the problems that exist on Wall Street today really go to the center of a debate in this country about wealth and democracy.
We cannot keep our democracy if those who are in charge of handling the engines of our economy are not honest with the American people, are not honest with their shareholders, are not honest with their investors.
That's why there is a role for government here. And that role for government is regulation. That role for government is breaking up the monopolies. That role for government is insisting on public disclosure, insisting on public audits, insisting on restitution whenever someone has been cheated.
You know, when you look at how corporate corruption has cost American workers jobs. I have a card here you'd find interesting. Hewlett Packard laid off 25,700 workers. Its executive's salary went from $1.2 million to $4.1 million. Delta laid off 17,400 workers. The executive salary of the CEO went from $2.1 million to $4.6 million. Tyco went from $11...
WILLIAMS: We'll have to...
KUCINICH: Tyco's executive went from $36 to $71 million.
There has to be accountability and there has to be honesty on Wall Street.
WILLIAMS: Have to leave it there, Congressman. We're getting into a little bit of a time crunch as the end of the broadcast nears.
The next question is going to be from Ron Insana. All of the respondents, we're going to switch to a 30-second rule.
INSANA: For Governor Dean, Congressman Gephardt and Ambassador Moseley Braun.
Senators Edward and Lieberman called for Richard Grasso's resignation from the New York Stock Exchange amid the furor over his pay package. None of the rest of you did.
Governor Dean, I'll start with you: Why not? Did you support Dick in his position? Or did you just not feel it was appropriate to make a statement about it?
DEAN: I thought that while what Dick did was legal, it was really inappropriate. And it's a symptom of a larger problem with corporate America. There's an incredible insensitivity both in the Bush administration and at the highest levels of corporate governance in terms of the plight of the middle class.
Middle-class people are really struggling in this country. They did not benefit from the president's tax cuts.
And I think corporate America has lost touch with the average Americans'
concern in this country. And until they get that touch back, we're
going to have this big divide and need for supervision of issues like salary
and pension reform.
WILLIAMS: Congressman Gephardt?
GEPHARDT: I'm glad he resigned. He should have. We have a crisis of confidence in this country because we see every day excesses of people that have more money than people can imagine wanting more money.
Greed, selfishness can kill this great democracy and ruin capitalism. We need a president different than George Bush who was brought to office by the millionaires, and we need to have governance to make capitalism work for everybody.
WILLIAMS: Time, Congressman.
INSANA: Ambassador, I hope we didn't mischaracterize your position.
MOSELEY BRAUN: No, you -- well, I didn't issue a statement. The fact of the matter is, we are right now at Pace University that is in walking distance of Wall Street on the one hand, but also in walking distance to a main street that suffered from the tragedy of September 11th.
MOSELEY BRAUN: We are near hallowed ground in this country.
And when you look at the small businesses nearby the former -- the site of the World Trade Center, what has happened to them is emblematic of the kind of excesses and the failure to build community that this administration has demonstrated.
WILLIAMS: Thirty seconds gets rough.
MOSELEY BRAUN: I know, I've used up 30 seconds. I got less questions than anybody else up here.
WILLIAMS: Sorry about that.
MOSELEY BRAUN: So I just want...
WILLIAMS: I got our bookkeepers to lean on.
MOSELEY BRAUN: That's OK.
BORGER: This is for General Clark.
Your Web site says that you're a licensed investment banker. You've also held some prominent positions on corporations since you left the Army. Specific reforms from you on corporate governance?
CLARK: I think Sarbanes-Oxley is a step in the right direction. I think we need to continue to emphasize independent corporate boards. That's the key. Put the corporate governance in place, independent, put the responsibility of the board to the shareholders, not just to the CEO and that will start the ball moving in the right direction.
BORGER: Well, no, I just -- I was -- everybody, sort of, is saying that, General. But do you have anything more specific about what you would do rather than independent corporate boards?
CLARK: Well, I'm out there on the...
BORGER: You talk about problems with accounting standards for example.
CLARK: Gloria, I'm out there on the cutting edge in five different companies, and I can tell you that Sarbanes-Oxley is tough, it's difficult and companies are working through it. They are working on revenue recognition. They are working on transparency of options so everybody knows what the full diluted value is.
CLARK: These rules are in place, but they've got to be implemented.
I think the one additional thing that needs to be looked at is more
emphasis on the independence of the boards of directors.
WILLIAMS: We're going to try something that actually Senator Edwards referenced earlier in the broadcast.
For Senator Dean, I'm sorry, I was mistaken, for all of you...
DEAN: Governor Dean.
WILLIAMS: Boy, I have changed your name and office. By the...
... time we leave, you could be elevated to at least the vice presidency.
What in office, as president, would be the least popular, most right
thing you would do? Again, 30 seconds each.
Senator Graham, we'll go around the horn.
GRAHAM: I would begin the process of rebuilding America's relationship with the world. And I would do what this president has been unwilling to do, and that is to recognize that if we are going to have the respect for the world, we must allow the world to participate in important decisions, such as who's going to control the occupation of Iraq.
We seem to be elevating the commercial interest of those American firms
like Halliburton, which are getting the no-bid contracts, above the patriotic
interest of getting more countries involved, less American casualties,
less American cost.
WILLIAMS: That's all the time we have.
Congressman Gephardt, again, least popular, most right?
GEPHARDT: I will do for the middle class of this country and for the people of this country what I did in 1993, which was very unpopular.
The Clinton economic program wasn't popular. We raised taxes on the wealthiest Americans, we cut taxes on others, we cut spending in some areas that were tough to cut, and we raised spending and invested money in other areas.
It was the proudest moment of my time in the Congress, because we lost
the Congress because we did the right thing for the American people.
That's what I'll do.
WILLIAMS: Senator Lieberman?
LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Brian.
Let me say this has been a significant debate for because it's the first Democratic debate in a while at which I have not been booed.
It's not over, I know.
And I have been booed -- I know perfectly well after 30 years in public life what you have to say to any crowd to get a round of applause. But if I'm before a labor group and I believe that trade creates jobs, I'm going to say that.
That's what being president is all about: having a clarity of judgment and the courage to stick with it.
Here's the answer. I'm going to prosecute the war against terrorism...
WILLIAMS: Senator, you are...
LIEBERMAN: And win it even if it's unpopular because that's here
our future security rests.
WILLIAMS: You are spending time spending time you do not have.
Senator Kerry, least popular, most right?
KERRY: I think there are two things. Number one, young people don't believe that Social Security will be there for them. I intend to take the politics out of how we are going to guarantee that Social Security is sound into the future.
KERRY: And that requires leadership.
And secondly, I'm going to ask Americans to join in the great effort
of living up to our responsibilities in a global plate basis, not unlike
George Marshall did with the Marshall Plan. We need to rebuild all
of our relationships in the world. We need to do a better job of
making ourselves safe and creating cooperation. And that will require
WILLIAMS: Senator Edwards, same question?
EDWARDS: I know the American people are worried about their safety and security. I'm also worried about it and I don't take a back seat to anybody in what needs to be done to keep America safe.
But we can't ever forget what it is we're supposed to be fighting for. And in this effort to protect ourselves and fight our war on terrorism, we cannot allow people like John Ashcroft to take away our rights, our freedom and our liberties.
Those things are under assault. And we have to stand -- it's easy
to stand up for those things when times are easy. Now, after September
11th, it's much harder. And the real test will be 20 years from now.
WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you.
CLARK: If I am president, we are going to build on a new kind of American patriotism. We are going to reach out to people and bring them together based on a concept of public service and contribution to the public good, the protection of our liberties, the right to speak out. And we're going to focus that.
And you asked for something that's unpopular but necessary. We're going
to focus it on deficit reduction. We're going to put this economy
back on a sound footing so we can not only pay our bills but meet the other
needs that we have in education, health care, the environment and Social
WILLIAMS: General, thank you.
DEAN: As governor, I'm an expert in doing things that sometimes people don't like. I actually had the pleasure of serving through both Bush recessions, not one of them. And I had to balance the budget during very difficult conditions.
We have to balance the budget. That means we have to make unpopular choices. That's why we think we ought to repeal the entire Bush tax cut so we can, in fact, have health care programs.
I also signed a civil unions bill which gave equal rights to gay and lesbian people when only 35 percent of the people in my state supported it.
That's what American people want. They do not want people who
are going to promise them everything. What they want is somebody
who's going to tell them where they stand.
WILLIAMS: Governor, thank you.
SHARPTON: I think two things. I would take a critical review of our defense budget. I would not do anything that would jeopardize America. But I think things like F-11 bombers and other unnecessary military equipment, we need to take the money away.
And we need to have an honest discussion about what still separates us in America. Today is Thursday. If you read the Wall Street Journal and the Amsterdam News, you wouldn't know you were in the same town. We need to really talk about that in America.
And a lot of people don't want to do that because it's politically risky.
Tonight we have eight career politicians, an officer and a gentleman -- this is the Democratic Party.
WILLIAMS: Ambassador Moseley Braun?
MOSELEY BRAUN: And a lady. And a lady. Thank you. I would work to build community and civil society and fight the discrimination against women in daily life.
It's recently been reported one in five women cadets at the Air Force Academy were either raped or sexually assaulted, and it is like the biggest kept secret in town.
MOSELEY BRAUN: I think looking at this at the academies to see
the treatment that women cadets are receiving, giving women opportunity
in the workforce, ending what I call the sticky floor of the pay discrimination
that women suffer.
WILLIAMS: Ambassador, thank you.
And finally, Congressman?
KUCINICH: Three things come to mind. First, I would take action to stop the federal death penalty.
Second, I would move to cut the Pentagon budget by 15 percent, which would in no way affect adversely our national defense, and put the money into child care.
Third, I would move to create a Department of Peace which would seek to make nonviolence an organizing principle in our society and to work with the nations of the world to make war itself archaic.
WILLIAMS: Congressman, thank you very much.
And it is -- we have gotten to that time. We get to do this all over again. That is, a rebroadcast on tape later this evening, MSNBC at 9 o'clock for the entire two hours.
To all who helped, to our candidates, organizers and our hosts, I am Brian Williams, NBC News. Thank you for being with us.
Copyright 2003 Eric
M. Appleman/Democracy in Action.