Hillary Clinton will be center stage. The order on the stage from left to right will be Dodd, Biden, Edwards, Hillary, Obama, Kucinich, Richardson.
Sen. Hillary Clinton was preparing Tuesday to fight off a gang assault from the rest of the Democratic presidential field, led by her closest rival, who was closely studying the playbook of the master — Clinton’s husband, the former president.
Clinton, D-N.Y., and most of the other major Democratic contenders gathered in Philadelphia for a two-hour debate at 9 p.m. ET, which will be telecast on MSNBC and streamed live on msnbc.com. Brian Williams, managing editor and anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” will moderate.
Also on stage at Drexel University will be Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. NBC News and the Democratic National Committee excluded former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska on grounds that he did not meet fundraising and polling thresholds.
Advisers to Obama, who trails Clinton by a wide margin in national polls, told NBC News that Obama was reviewing tapes of Bill Clinton’s debate performances in his victorious 1992 campaign for clues to how to ratchet up his attacks on the senator without sacrificing his likability.
Obama’s camp adopted the same strategy being used by other Democratic contenders seeking to chip away at Clinton’s growing lead: It declared her to be incapable of winning the general election.
Here we go:
Williams: You gave an interview saying Clinton was sounding Republican in foreign policy issues. What issues has she sounded like a Republican.
Obama: This has been hyped. We have big challenges like health care and global challenges. The way to change is have sharp contrasts with the other party. We have to be honest. It does not mean changing positions. Clinton has been for NAFTA, Iraq, and now is against. We need honesty. That is how I am running my campaign.
Clinton: I am the topic of great consternation because I want to stop the Iraq war and prevent a rush to war with Iran, stop global warming.
Russert: You said Americans do not deserve double talk. What did you mean?
Edwards: President Bush has destroyed the trust relationship with Americans. Americans need to know who is honest and has integrity. Senator Clinton says she is for change but she defends a corrupt system. Says she is against the war but will keep combat troops. Says she is against an Iran war but voted to help Bush attack Iran. And she said she is against any changes to Social Security but privately she says something different. Americans deserve someone who will be honest.
Clinton: Americans know my record. I fought for health care. I fight the Republicans on Social Security and I take on the special interests. On specific issues I have specific plans. On Social Security my position is for fiscal responsibility. I am not going to balance Social Security on the backs of seniors. Lets get Halliburton to pay taxes before we tax seniors.
Russert: You voted for Kyl-Lieberman. Webb said it can be interpreted as a declaration of war. Why did you vote for K-L.
Clinton: I was the first person, in February, to say Bush has no authority to wage war against Iran. But Iran wants nuclear weapons. I prefer vigorous diplomacy. We used it for North Korea. This was an expression of support for diplomacy. Senator Durbin agrees with me. We can argue about a non-binding sense of the Senate resolution or stop George Bush from attacking Iran. We reject Bush attacking Iran.
Dodd: This issue will come back to haunt us. This administration used a similar resolution to attack Iraq. It is a dangerous move. Dick Lugar and others voted against that resolution. Bush will wave that resolution as justification to attack Iran. We have a lot of problems confronting the next president. That was a wrong resolution.
Biden: We have a problem in the Senate. 75 other Senators voted with Hillary. After that resolution oil went up to $90 a barrel. We emboldened Bush. This has consequences for Pakistan and Afghanistan. This puts those presidents in jeopardy. All the resolution has done is hurt us. Big nations can’t bluff.
Williams: What is your “red line” for attacking Iran?
Obama: We should not attack Iran. The president has been talking about World War III. We should be reaching out to our allies and talking to our enemies. We have not made serious attempts. This resolution does not send the right signal. There may come a point but we should not discuss those now.
Clinton: We have to try diplomacy. The resolution starts diplomacy. Joe is right. Bush can do this without a resolution. That is why we need to pass something immediately. What we are trying to do is push forward on vigorous diplomacy. But we need both carrots and sticks. The Revolutionary Guard needs to see the potential stick. We all agree that Bush has made a total mess out of Iran.
Williams: Do you have a threshold?
Clinton: We need diplomacy. But we should not do nothing. A full court press on this issue.
Edwards: Clinton says that she wants diplomacy. But this resolution looks like it was written by neo-cons. This is like Iraq. The way to put pressure on this administration is to say no. This is an important issue. We are not going to allow this.
Williams: Would you talk with Iran without preconditions?
Richardson: I am the only one here who has negotiated with Iran. There are moderate elements in Iran. We can achieve a compromise on the nuclear issue. Carrots and sticks. The problem is we saber rattle. I do believe we need to talk with these countries. We have to engage them, potentially with sanctions. Russia and Iran are now embracing each other.
Kucinich: We reject war with Iran. We have enablers in the Democrats who enable Bush. These policies of preemption are illegal. Bush has violated international law. When will the Democratic congress stand up to Bush and impeach him? We need to challenge him on this war. Time to stand up for the constitution.
Russert: Will you pledge that Iran will not develop a nuclear bomb?
Clinton: Yes. I have pledged.
Obama: All of us have pledged not to have Iran get nuclear weapons. But we are being governed by fear. It is important to say we will not be governed by fear. We cannot operate as if we are the weakest nation on earth. We need to talk about civil liberties and our world reputation.
Biden: I will pledge to keep us safe. Pakistan has a lot of enriched uranium. Presidents make informed decisions by the situation in the world. Pakistan is more dangerous with all its uranium than Iran.
Dodd: There is a lot of danger, which one of us has more experience. I agree with Joe. Pakistan is more dangerous. Results matter. Experience matters. I suggest Joe is right. I negotiated in Latin America to bring about reduced violence.
Richardson: I will make the pledge and through diplomacy. Fissionable materials are the danger. We need an international agreement. It is going to take leadership. I went head to head with Saddam Hussein. I’ve done it. I have the most international experience here.
Kucinich: The media has to be careful how they frame these questions. I urge restraint. I would go to Iran. I would urge them to give up nuclear weapons and nuclear power. It is time the U.S. government enforce the non-proliferation treaty.
Williams: One of your supporters has said she has never heard you oppose the war in Iraq.
Clinton: I oppose the war. I will bring the troops home because Bush has made it clear that he won’t. That is why I have been pressing the Pentagon to prepare plans. They have thus far refused to do so. Bush relies on a small group of people. I would bring in a lot of our best people to fix things. I agree with Joe on Pakistan. We need to do more than just send out our young men and women.
Williams: Is Clinton being consistent?
Obama: No. This is a rationale for what we are doing in Iraq. I would convene a meeting of Muslim leaders. The real key for the next president is not to be a co-author of the Iraq war. I opposed the war from the beginning.
Edwards: I want to make certain voters know they have very clear choices. If you want combat troops in Iraq and no timetable then Clinton is your choice. I don’t. I will end combat missions in my first year. There is a clear choice. We need to learn from the past. We cannot trust this president. Are we going to hear “If I only knew now what we knew then”. Clinton says she is in general election mode.
Clinton: I don’t know where to start to rebut this. Most of us agree that we will take out combat troops but we will pursue Al Queda. For that we need combat troops. I have been explaining that to the American people but I also want to be responsible. Our troops will guard our embassy, train troops and pursue Al Queda.
Williams: Electability. What experience does she have? Rudy asked.
Clinton: The Ripublicans idea of experience is one we don’t need. My experience on health care and children’s health care and my experience in the Senate is the right one. The Ripublicans and their constant obsession with me, we need to turn the page, throw out the whole Ripublican book. We need to end the war in Iraq, ….
Russert: Will you allow the National Archives to release your papers?
Clinton: The Archives has 20 million papers and moving as fast as they moved. The papers on health care are already available.
Russert: But Bill Clinton wrote a letter stopping that release?
Clinton: The archives will do what they can.
Obama: This is part of the problem. This administration is very secretive. Hillary needs to stop the secrecy. You took my ‘turning the page’ phrase. The Ripubicans are comfortable attacking you. That is why we need a change. We don’t need another 8 years of bickering.
Edwards: The Republicans may want to run against you. Our system is broken. We need to tell the truth about that. Too much influence from Washington lobbyists. The candidate that has raised the most money from the defense industry, healthcare industry, Wall Street, that is Clinton.
Clinton: We were making progress in the 1990s. The Supreme Court handed the election to George Bush. I have laid out specific plans. I will take 10 billion from these industries. Change is just a word if you don’t have the experience to make it happen.
Williams: What experience do you have to be president?
Obama: My experience is legislative. I worked with both sides in the state house. I worked with Dick Lugar. That is critical experience. I am the only person who has passed tough ethics legislation. We need someone who will stand up when it is not easy. Principled leadership.
Williams: Is your contention that the top 3 frontrunners are less qualified than you.
Richardson: I am bothered by these personal attacks against Senator Clinton. It is close to personal. I have differences with her. But it is important that we save the ammunition against the Republicans. The reality is the last senator election was JFK. Governors get elected. Who can govern. I am the only CEO. I prepared budgets and negotiated with other countries. But we need to stay positive. I trust Clinton.
Williams: Electability, what is your point?
Dodd: Electability is important and a critical question. 50% say they will not vote for her. We need to take that into consideration. I don’t like situational ethics. Edwards condemns taking money from lobbyists but he takes money from other interests. We need to elect a Democrat.
Williams: Situational ethics?
Edwards: No one is perfect. I disagree with Bill. Do we believe this system works? The power should reside with the people not with the rich and the powerful. I am guilty as charged.
Williams: Why are you smiling?
Kucinich: I smile because someone who takes money from hedge funds attacks another for taking money from hedge funds. I am for single payer health care. I will cancel NAFTA. We need to talk about peoples aspirations.
Williams: Are you infering Clinton is less qualified than you?
Biden: I am not running against Hillary, I am running for president. Guiliani is not qualified to be president. Rudy has been silent. This man is not qualified to be president. I negotiated with Brezhnev and Bosnia. I am running to be leader of this country.
Russert: Senator Clinton, on the issue of credibility, you were asked at the AARP about raising taxes on Social Security. You have denied being against it but you were overheard saying you were for it?
Clinton: I do not want to balance Social Security on the backs of seniors. I am for fiscal responsibility. In the 1990s we fought to have the resources to pay for Social Security. The Ripublicans want to destroy Social Security. I am not going to repeat Ripublican talking points. I have laid out what I do believe. Social Security is not in crisis, that is a Ripublican talking point.
Russert: Bill Clinton in 1998 said Social Security was in crisis?
Clinton: But he acted to get the resources for Social Security.
Russert: Obama, you said everything is on the table? Now you are saying not everything is on the table.
Obama: Let’s talk straight. Social Security is a sound system but it has a problem. We have more retirees than workers. What I have said is that the best option is to lift the cap on the Social Security tax. We cannot give convoluted answers and say we don’t want to repeat Republican talking points.
Russert: You told the NYTimes Clinton is not telling the truth?
Obama: We have an actuarial gap that is not going to vanish. We need a serious conversation.
Clinton: I don’t see a difference. The best way to handle this is like in 1993. A bi-partisan commission. I don’t want these decisions to be made in a vacume. We need fiscal responsibility.
Williams: Are you fearful of confusion on the basis of name and religion?
Obama: I don’t care about what Romney says, this week which might be different from what he says next week. The way to respond to swiftboating is to respond truthfully and rapidly.
Williams: $100 barrel oil. Are Americans doomed to pay high oil prices, what can be done on energy?
Dodd: Invest in alternative energy. Low income energy assistance. For longer term stop borrowing a billion dollars a day to buy oil.
Biden: Risk. People are betting on bad news. Provide for emergency fuel assistance.
Edwards: My Justice Department will enforce the law. We can’t continue to promise everything. We have to sacrifice and conserve. Alter our behavior.
Clinton: I agree with everything said. We need to overcome the Ripubican opposition and possibly look at the oil reserve. We also need to conserve.
Obama: As Joe said 30% of that price is risk. All these suggestions are sound. Fuel efficiency standards.
Kucinich: Everyone knows the war in Iraq was about oil. Saber ratling is driving up the price of oil. Enforce the constitution. Impeach Bush and Cheney.
Richardson: We need an Apollo program on energy. 50 miles per gallon. 30% renewable resources in heating. Reduce consumtion. 65% of our oil is imported.
Williams: Dodd, water, are you prepared to lead on the environment.
Dodd: I have called for a corporate carbon tax. Price is most important. Consumers cannot afford more expensive fuels.
Williams: Should we pay for people who live in disaster zones?
Edwards: Natural disasters call for a response from the national community. New Orleans is heartbreaking. The government failed but not the people.
Williams: Unlimited federal dollars?
Edwards: Smart but our government has to be there.
Russert: Charles Rangel wants to repeal the alternative minimum tax. You were in Harlem with Rangel. Bill agrees with Rangel.
Clinton: I admire Charlie Rangel. I don’t know all the details of what Charlie is proposing. I agree with the goals. My husband is expressing what a lot of wealty people think. Bush wants to give more tax cuts to the rich. We are not comfortable with that. We need to provide money for things like college loans. Charlie is being courageous on the AMT.
Russert: So you are in favor of a 4% tax increase.
Clinton: No, I like the goals but there are a lot of moving pieces here. I will not commit to a specific plan until I see the details?
Russert: Do you agree with the Rangel plan?
Obama: I do not know the details. Many Americans need help. The tax code has many corporate tax loopholes. I have a specific plan to offset taxes for the poor. Progressive tax steps. Roll back the Bush tax cuts.
Russert: Hedge funds. At the top these managers make many millions. Reid said ‘we will not change it this year.’
Kucinich: Our party will not stand up. My candidacy will protect Main Street. We redistribute the wealth upwards.
Russert: You worked for a hedge fund. Why won’t the Democratic Party act on this.
Edwards: The system is corrupt. Hedge fund lobbyists stopped reform. Politically connected people make millions while our young people don’t. Our system does not work.
Williams: 30 second round. Overseas students go 193 days to school. Do you believe we need to extend the school day/year?
Richardson: yes. We are 29th in science and math. Competitiveness gap. Hire more well paid teachers.
Kucinich: We need to be for peace. Cut the Pentagon budget 50% and put it in education.
Obama: More instruction in the classroom. Increase research grants. Our long-term national security.
Clinton: Start to help our families. Nurse visitation, child care. An overall innovation agenda.
Edwards: 2 systems. One for the affluent and another for the poor. A national teaching university. Incentive pay. Second chance schools. College.
Biden: I proposed it in 1987. Minimum 16 years of education. Help minorities.
Dodd: The single most important issue. Tuition free college.
Williams: Attracting people to medical field, how?
Dodd: Solve medical malpractice issue.
Biden: Help them pay off education bills.
Edwards: Universal health care that gets doctors out of the insurance business. We need to help nurses.
Clinton: I agree with all. We give the health insurance companies an ultimatum: they need to insure all. We need to clean up Medicare/Medicade.
Obama: Prevention in a universal health care plan. Expand national service.
Kucinich: Establish medicare for all. Insurance companies have to be taken on.
Richardson: Give students incentive by providing national service for education. Get rid of student loans.
Williams: Commercial aviation system. What would you do?
Obama: Deregulation got airlines into trouble. They are sacrificing service for solvency.
Russert: Clinton, Governor Spitzer on licenses for “illegal aliens”. You said you agree?
Clinton: There are millions driving without a license. Spitzer is trying to fill the vacume. We need immigration reform.
Dodd: This is a privilege. This is troubling. A license is a privilege.
Clinton: I did not say I was for it, but I said I understand what Spitzer is trying to do. Spitzer is now going to have 3 different licenses.
Russert: Do you support Spitzer on giving licenses?
Clinton: This is gotcha. I understand Spitzer is trying to make an honest effort. We should have passed immigration reform.
Williams: Government guidelines on internet content?
Edwards: Yes. Senator Clinton said 2 different things in 2 minutes. We need honesty not doubletalk.
Obama: I am confused with Senator Clinton’s answer. I do not know if she is for or against it. Let’s be honest.
Russert: Are you for or against it?
Russert: Kucinich, did you see a UFO?
Kucinich: Yes, it was unidentified. I am moving my campaign office to Roswell New Mexico. Jimmy Carter saw a UFO.
Russert: 14% of Americans say they saw a UFO.
Obama: There is life here on earth. I will attend to us first.
Williams: Are you willing to be the president who fights cancer as the biggest killer of Americans?
Clinton: Yes. Bush has cut the National Institutes of Health. I will fund the research. Do everything we can.
Russert: Dodd, you want to decriminalize marijuana?
Edwards: I am against it. The Children.
Dodd: We are sending too many to jail.
[Note Hillary raised her arm to decriminalize]
Biden: Shut down all the imports
Williams: Halloween costume?
Obama: I will wear a Mitt Romney mask which has 2 sides to it.