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JIM LEHRER: Now, two takes on the Democratic presidential nomination race. First, their debate yesterday in Johnston, Iowa — seven of the nine candidates were there. It was one of their last televised debates before the caucuses in two weeks. At one point the format allowed the candidates to question each other. Howard Dean began.
HOWARD DEAN: I have repeatedly said, because we’ve got to beat George Bush, that I will vigorously support the nominee of the Democratic Party, and I will vigorously encourage all my supporters to do the same. I will campaign for the Democratic nominee of this party, should it not be me. And I’d like to find out who on this stage agrees that they will pledge to vigorously support the Democratic nominee. (Laughter) (applause)
SPOKESMAN: We go, then, to Senator Lieberman.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Paul. Excuse me. My question, not surprisingly, is to Howard Dean. One of the most troubling decisions that Howard has made in this campaign — although, made before — is to close and seal his records, or most of them, when he was governor of Vermont.
You have the power with one stroke of the pen to open up your records to public view. You have the power; I’m prepared to give you the pen. Why don’t you sign this agreement and open your gubernatorial records to full public view?
HOWARD DEAN: What we have done is we have stepped aside. We have turned everything over to the attorney general of the state of Vermont. And the attorney general of the state of Vermont will go to court and a judge will look over every document in our records. And they are free to release whatever they’d like, and that’s fine with me.
SPOKESMAN: Back to Senator Lieberman. ( Applause )
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: That is an unsatisfactory and disappointing answer. Why should you have to force a judge to force you to do what you know is right?
HOWARD DEAN: Joe, a judge should decide that, because if we decide it, nobody is going to believe us, and they’re going to say there’s more stuff in the record. Why can’t a judge look at every single piece of paper and make that decision?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: You are ducking the question. You should not force a judge to force you to do what you know is right and which will assure public confidence. ( Applause )
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: A question to Dr. Dean. You … you’re aware you and I have a difference of opinion on the health care issue, where I favor universal single-payer, and you favor keeping the health care system within the context of the present system, but you want to make sure more people are insured.
When you told The New York Times that if someone wants fundamental change in the system, they’re not your man, or you’re not their man, did you mean by that to suggest that you aren’t prepared to challenge the health insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies, which are holding health care in this country captive?
HOWARD DEAN: The reason that I have taken the position that I have, I have tried twice to have huge health care reforms in Vermont. We didn’t get it. We did get health insurance for all children.
We did get prescription benefits for a third of our seniors and disabled people. We do have health insurance for everybody under 150 percent of poverty, whether they’re eligible for Medicaid or not.
But we didn’t get it, and I do not want another reform effort where we fail, for whatever reason, and leave 43 million people uninsured. I wrote my health care plan so that it would pass Congress and that we could get everybody insured.
REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT: My question has to do with 1995 and the fight we had in the budget over Medicare funding. The Republicans tried to cut Medicare by $270 billion, and Bill Clinton and the democrats fought them off. They even shut the government down. At that time, you were head of the Governors’ Association and you agreed with their proposal. How do you explain that position?
HOWARD DEAN: Well, I didn’t agree with their proposal. What I believe in is that we need to save Medicare; we need to make it work. To think that I, as a physician and a governor, am going to try to get rid of Medicare is silly. What we need to do is make Medicare work.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Howard, Joe raised the question about things you say versus things that you do, and things you sometimes say and then change. For instance, you said that if George Bush released his records, you would release your records.
Then when you found out George Bush had released his records, you changed. Another example of that: When you were asked by the Concord Monitor about Osama bin Laden, you said we couldn’t prejudge his guilt for Sept. 11. What in the world were you thinking?
HOWARD DEAN: I’ll tell you exactly what I was thinking, senator. I understand that Osama bin Laden has essentially claimed responsibility for these unbelievable terrorist acts. And as an American, I want to see Osama bin Laden get what he deserves, which is the death penalty.
But I was asked that question as a candidate for president of the United States, and a candidate for president of the United States is obligated to stand for the rule of law.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: Actually, what you’ve just said is even different from the release that your office put out clarifying the comment you made to the Concord Monitor. And this is the pattern. You’ve said on one occasion that we shouldn’t go to war without the permission of the U.N.
You’ve said that we have to prepare for the day when America isn’t the strongest military. You’ve said that … you yourself have said you sometimes shoot from the hip. You’ve said that the president of the United States had prior warning about Sept. 11th; you got it off the Internet, you passed it on to national television.
I think these changes, even the difference of what you’ve just said now, which is different from your own clarification, raises a serious question about your ability to be able to stand up to George Bush and make Americans feel safe and secure.
SPOKESMAN: One last comment.
HOWARD DEAN: Two quick comments. First of all, in general, there’s been a lot of talk about this from the Washington politicians. And a gaffe in Washington is when you tell the truth and the Washington establishment thinks you shouldn’t have.
Secondly, senator, you’d better go back and look at the quote, because you are doing exactly what so many of you all have done over the past year with my record. You’d better go look what I said about Saudi Arabians tipping off the president. I said I didn’t believe it and I said it right on that show.