Online NewsHour Special Reports:
2000: Speeches and Debates
Oct. 8, 2004:
Labor Department reports lower-than-expected number of jobs were
added to payrolls in September.
Oct. 6, 2004:
Iraq report shows Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction.
Oct. 5, 2004:
Political analysts offer instant
assessment of night's clash
Oct. 5, 2004:
Political operatives discuss what
Vice President Cheney and Senator Edwards each did to boost their
parties run for the White House.
Oct. 5, 2000:
Cheney delivers strong
performance in 2000
Oct. 4, 2000:
Lee Hochberg talks
with military families speaking out for and against the Iraq War
Sept. 30, 2004:
Shields and Brooks preview the
first presidential debate between President Bush and Senator Kerry.
Sept. 29, 2004:
An analysis of President
Bush's and Senator Kerry’s previous debating records.
Sept. 28, 2004:
the impact of debates on presidential campaigns from a historical
Sept. 27, 2004:
Adam Nagourney of the New York Times discusses
the importance of the debates.
Sept. 17, 2004:
Susan Dentzer discusses Medicare
as a presidential campaign issue.
Oct. 20, 2000:
Shields and Gigot assess
how the debates affected the campaign.
Oct. 9, 1996:
Kohut considers historical
impact of the Vice Presidential debates.
Oct. 4, 1996:
The NewsHour's historians weigh the
role debates have played in decades past.
More NewsHour coverage of the White
House, and politics
CHARLES GIBSON, Moderator: Good evening from the Field House at Washington
University in St. Louis. I'm Charles Gibson of ABC News and "Good
Morning America." I welcome you to the second of the 2004 presidential
debates between President George W. Bush, the Republican nominee, and
Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. The debates are sponsored
by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Tonight's debate is going to be a bit different. We have assembled a
town hall meeting. We're in the "Show Me State," as everyone
knows Missouri to be, so Missouri residents will ask the questions.
These 140 citizens were identified by the Gallup organization as not
yet committed in this election.
earlier today, each audience member gave me two questions on cards like
this -- one they'd like to ask of the president, the other they'd like
to ask the senator. I have selected the questions to be asked and the
order. No one has seen the final list of questions but me -- certainly
not the candidates. No audience member knows if he or she will be called
upon. Audience microphones will be turned off after a question is asked.
Audience members will address their question to a specific candidate.
He'll have two minutes to answer.
The other candidate will have a minute-and-a-half for rebuttal. And
I have the option of extending discussion for one minute, to be divided
equally between the two men. All subjects are open for discussion. And
you probably know the light system by now; green light at 30 seconds,
yellow at 15, red at five, and flashing red means you're done.
Those are the candidates' rules. I will hold the candidates to the time
limits forcefully but politely, I hope.
And now please join me in welcoming with great respect President Bush
and Senator Kerry. (Applause.)
Gentlemen, to the business at hand. The first question is for Senator
Kerry, and it will come from Cheryl Otis (sp), who is right behind me.
Question: Senator Kerry, after talking with several co-workers and
family and friends, I asked the ones who said they were not voting for
you, why. They said that you were too wishy-washy. Do you have a reply
SEN. KERRY: Yes, I certainly do. (Laughs.) (Laughter.) But let me just
first, Cheryl (sp), if you will: I want to thank Charlie for moderating.
I want to thank Washington University for hosting us here this evening.
Mr. President, it's good to be with you again this evening, sir.
Cheryl (sp), the president didn't find weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq, so he has really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception.
And the result is that you've been bombarded with advertisements suggesting
that I've changed a position on this or that or the other.
the three things they try to say I've changed position on are the Patriot
Act. I haven't. I support it. I just don't like the way John Ashcroft
has applied it, and we're going to change a few things. The chairman
of the Republican Party thinks we ought to change a few things. No Child
Left Behind Act. I voted for it. I support it. I support the goals.
But the president has under-funded it by $28 billion.
Right here in St. Louis, you've laid off 350 teachers. You're 150 --
excuse me, I think it's a little more -- about $100 million shy of what
you ought to be under the No Child Left Behind Act to help your education
system here. So I complain about that. I've argued that we should fully
fund it. The president says I've changed my mind. I haven't changed
my mind. I'm going to fully fund it.
So these are the differences.
Now, the president has presided over the economy where we've lost 1.6
million jobs. First president in 72 years to lose jobs. I have a plan
to but people back to work. That's not wishy-washy. I'm going to close
the loopholes that actually encourage companies to go overseas. The
president wants to keep them open. I think I'm right. I think he's wrong.
I'm going to give you a tax cut. The president gave -- the top 1 percent
of income earners in America got $89 billion last year, more than the
80 percent of people who earn a hundred thousand dollars or less all
put together. I think that's wrong. That's not wishy-washy. And that's
what I'm fighting for, you.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. President, a minute and a half.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Charlie, thank you, and thank our panelists, and senator,
I can -- and thanks, Washington U., as well. I can see why people at
your workplace think he changes positions a lot, because he does. He
said he voted for the $87 billion -- or voted against it right before
he voted for it. And that sends a confusing signal to people.
He said he thought Saddam Hussein was a grave threat, and now said it
was a mistake to remove Saddam Hussein form power. Now I can see why
people think he changes position quite often, because he does.
know, for a while, he was a strong supporter of getting rid of Saddam
Hussein. He saw the wisdom, until the Democratic primary came along,
and Howard Dean, the anti-war candidate, began to gain on him. And he
I don't see how you can lead this country in a time of war, in a time
of uncertainty if you change your mind because of politics.
He just brought up the tax cut. You remember we increased that child
credit by a thousand dollars, reduced the marriage penalty, created
a 10 percent tax bracket for the lower-income Americans. That's right
at the middle class.
He voted against it, and yet he tells you he's for a middle-class tax
cut. It's -- you've got to be consistent when you're the president.
There's a lot of pressures, and you've got to be firm and consistent.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. President, I would follow up, but we have a series
of questions on Iraq, and so I will turn to the next question.
The question for President Bush, and the questioner is Robin Dahl
Question: Mr. President --
MR. GIBSON: Can you get a microphone, Robin? I'm sorry.
Question: Mr. President, yesterday in a statement you admitted that
Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, but justified the invasion
by stating, I quote, "He retained the knowledge, the materials,
the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and
could have passed this knowledge to our terrorist enemies."
Do you sincerely believe this to be a reasonable justification for invasion
when this statement applies to so many other countries, including North
PRESIDENT BUSH: Each situation is different, Robin. And, obviously,
we hope that diplomacy works before you ever use force. The hardest
decision a president makes is ever to use force.
After 9/11, we had to look at the world differently. After 9/11, we
had to recognize that when we saw a threat, we must take it seriously
before it comes to hurt us. In the old days we'd see a threat and we
could deal with it if we felt like it, or not. But 9/11 changed it all.
I vowed to our countrymen that I would do everything I could to protect
the American people. That's why we're bringing al Qaeda to justice;
75 percent of them have been brought to justice.
That's why I said to Afghanistan, if you harbor a terrorist, you're
just as guilty as the terrorist. And the Taliban is no longer in power,
and al-Qaida no longer has a place to plan. And I saw a unique threat
in Saddam Hussein, as did my opponent, because we thought he had weapons
of mass destruction. And the unique threat was that he could give weapons
of mass destruction to an organization like al Qaeda, and the harm they
inflicted on us with airplanes would be multiplied greatly by weapons
of mass destruction. And that was the serious, serious threat.
I tried diplomacy. I went to the United Nations. But as we learned in
the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food
program to get rid of sanctions. He was trying to get
rid of sanctions for a reason. He wanted to restart his weapons programs.
We all thought there was weapons there, Robin (sp). My opponent thought
there was weapons there. That's why he called him a grave
threat. I wasn't happy when we found out there wasn't weapons, and we've
got an intelligence group together to figure out why. But Saddam Hussein
was a unique threat, and the world is better off without him in power.
And my opponent's plans lead me to conclude that Saddam Hussein would
still be in power, and the world would be more dangerous.
Thank you, sir.
MR. GIBSON: Senator Kerry, a minute and a half.
SEN. KERRY: Robin (sp), I'm going to answer your question. I'm also
going to talk -- respond to what you asked, Cheryl (sp), at the same
The world is more dangerous today. The world is more dangerous today
because the president didn't make the right judgments. Now, the president
wishes that I had changed my mind. He wants you to believe that, because
he can't come here and tell you that he's created new jobs for America.
He's lost jobs. He can't come here and tell you that he's created health
care for Americans, because 1.- -- what, we got 5 million Americans
who've lost their health care, 96,000 of them right here in Missouri.
He can't come here and tell you that he's left no child behind, because
he didn't find No Child Left Behind.
So what does he do? He's trying to attack me. He wants you to believe
that I can't be president, and he's trying to make you believe it because
he wants you to think I changed my mind. Well, let me tell you straight
up: I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I did believe Saddam Hussein
was a threat. I always believed he was a threat. Believed in 1998, when
Clinton was president. I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force
if necessary. But I would've used that force wisely. I would've used
that authority wisely, not rush to war without a plan to win the peace.
I would've brought our allies to our side. I would've fought to make
certain our troops had everybody possible to help them win the mission.
president rushed to war, pushed our allies aside, and Iran now is more
dangerous, and so is North Korea, with nuclear weapons. He took his
eye off the ball, off of Osama bin Laden.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. President, I do want to follow up on this one, because
there were several questions from the audience along this
PRESIDENT BUSH: (Off mike) -- rebuttal thing --
MR. GIBSON: Go ahead. Go ahead. Well, I was going to have you do the
rebuttal on that, but you go ahead. (Laughter.) You're up.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (Laughs.) You remember the last debate? My opponent
said that America must pass a global test before we use force to protect
ourselves. That's the kind of mindset that says sanctions
That's the kind of mindset that said let's keep it at the United Nations
and hope things go well.
Saddam Hussein was a threat because he could have given weapons of
mass destruction to terrorist enemies. Sanctions were not working. The
United Nations was not effective at removing Saddam Hussein.
MR. GIBSON: Senator?
SEN. KERRY: The goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein,
it was to remove the weapons of mass destruction. And, Mr. President,
just yesterday the Duelfer report told you and the whole world they
worked. He didn't have weapons of mass destruction, Mr. President. That
was the objective.
And if we'd used smart diplomacy, we could have saved $200 billion and
an invasion of Iraq, and right now Osama bin Laden might be in jail
or dead. That's the war against terror.
MR. GIBSON: We're going to have another question now on the subject
of Iraq. And I'm going to turn to Anthony Baldie (sp) with a question
for Senator Kerry.
Question: Senator Kerry, the U.S. is preparing a new Iraq government
and will proceed to withdraw U.S. troops. Would you proceed with the
same plans as President Bush?
SEN. KERRY: Anthony, I would not. I have laid out a different plan because
the president's plan is not working. You see that every night on television.
There's chaos in Iraq. King Abdullah of Jordan said, just yesterday
or the day, before you can't hold elections in Iraq with the chaos that's
going on today.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations
Committee, said that the handling of the reconstruction aid in Iraq
by this administration has been incompetent. Those are the Republican
chairman's words. Senator Hagel of Nebraska said that the handling of
Iraq is beyond pitiful, beyond embarrassing; it's in the zone of dangerous.
Those are the words of two Republicans, respected, both on the Foreign
Now, I have to tell you: I would do something different. I would reach
out to our allies in a way that this president hasn't. He pushed them
away, time and again. Pushed them away at the U.N., pushed them away
weeks ago, there was a meeting of the North Atlantic Council, which
is the political arm of NATO. They discussed the possibility of a small
training unit or having a total takeover of the training in Iraq. Did
our administration push for the otal training of Iraq? No. Were they
silent? Yes. Was there an effort to bring all the allies together around
that? No. Because they've always wanted this to be an American effort.
You know, they even have the Defense Department issue a memorandum saying
don't bother applying for assistance or for being part of the reconstruction
if you weren't part of our original coalition. Now that's not a good
way to build support and reduce the risk for our troops and make America
safer. I'm going to get the training done for our troops. I'm going
to get the training of Iraqis done faster. And I'm going to get our
allies back to the table.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Two days ago in the Oval Office I met with the finance
minister from Iraq. He came to see me. And he talked about how optimistic
he was and the country was about heading toward elections.
Think about it. They're going from tyranny to elections.
He talked about the reconstruction efforts that are beginning to take
hold. He talked about the fact that Iraqis love to be free.
He said he was optimistic when he came here, then he turned on the TV
and listened to the political rhetoric, and all of a sudden he was pessimistic.
This is a guy who, along with others, has taken great risks for freedom.
And we need to stand with him.
My opponent says he has a plan. It sounds familiar because it's called
the Bush plan. We're going to train troops, and we are. We'll have 125,000
trained by the end of December. We're spending about $7 billion.
He talks about a grand idea; let's have a summit; we're going to solve
the problem in Iraq by holding a summit. And what is he going to say
to those people that show up to the summit? Join me in the wrong war
at the wrong time at the wrong place? Risk your -- risk your troops
in a -- in a war you've called a mistake?
is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed and somebody
who says the war where we are is a mistake. I know how these people
think. I meet with them all the time. I talk to Tony Blair all the time.
I talk to Silvio erlusconi. They're not going to follow an American
president who says "follow me into a
Our plan is working. We're going to make elections, and Iraq is going
to be free, and America will be better off for it.
MR. GIBSON: Do you want to follow up, senator?
SEN. KERRY: Yes, sir, please.
Ladies and gentlemen, the right war was Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan.
That was the right place. And the right time was Tora Bora when we had
him cornered in the mountains.
Now, everyone in the world knows that there were no weapons of mass
destruction. That was the reason Congress gave him the authority to
use force, not -- after excuse to get rid of the regime.
Now we have to succeed. I've always said that. I have been consistent.
Yes, we have to succeed, and I have a better plan to help us do it.
PRESIDENT BUSH: First of all, we didn't find out he didn't have weapons
till we got there. And my opponent thought he had weapons and told everybody
he thought he had weapons.
And secondly, it's a fundamental misunderstanding to say that the war
on terror is only Osama bin Laden. The war on terror is to make sure
that these terrorist organizations do not end up with weapons of mass
destruction. That's what the war on terror is about. Of course we're
going to find Osama bin Laden. We've already got 75 percent of his people,
and we're the hunt for him. But this is a global conflict that requires