Question: Senator Kerry, suppose you were speaking with a voter who
believed abortion is murder, and the voter asked for reassurance that
his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would
you say to that person?
SEN. KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you
right now. First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the
belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic. Raised a Catholic.
I was an alter boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. Helped
lead me through a war. Leads me today.
But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it
for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be
agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that. But I
can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility.
I can talk to people as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices
and about abstinence and about all these other things that we ought
to do as a responsible society. But as a -- as a president, I have to
represent all the people in the nation and I have to make that judgment.
Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro- abortion,
but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that
means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know
what their options are in life, and making certain that you don't deny
a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the Constitution
affords them if they can't afford it otherwise. That's why I think it's
why I think it's important for the United States, for
instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping
families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about
family planning. You'll help prevent AIDS. You'll help prevent unwanted
children, unwanted pregnancies. You'll actually do a better job, I think,
of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question.
And I truly respect it.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. President, a minute and a half.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Trying to decipher that. (Light laughter.) My answer
is we're not going to spend federal -- taxpayers' money on abortion.
I -- this is an issue that divides America, but certainly reasonable
people can agree on how to reduce abortions in America. I signed the
partial birth -- the ban on partial birth abortion. It's a brutal practice.
It's one way to help reduce abortions. My opponent voted against the
ban. I think there ought to be parental notification laws. He's against
them. I signed a bill called the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. In
other words, if you're a mom and you're pregnant and you get killed,
the murderer gets tried for two cases, not just one. My opponent was
These are reasonable ways to help promote a culture of life in America.
I think it is a worthy goal in America to have every child protected
by law and welcomed in life.
I also think we ought to continue to have good adoption law as an alternative
to abortion. And we need to promote maternity group homes, which my
administration has done.
The culture of life is really important for a country to have that's
going to be a hospitable society.
MR. GIBSON: Senator, do you want to follow up? Thirty seconds.
SEN. KERRY: Well, again, the president just said categorically, "My
opponent's against this, my opponent's against that." You know,
it's just not that simple. No I'm not.
I'm against the partial-birth abortion, but you've got to have an exception
for the life of the mother and the health of the mother under the strictest
test of bodily injury to the mother.
Secondly, with respect to parental notification, I'm not going to require
a 16- or 17-year-old kid who's been raped by her father and who's pregnant
to have to notify her father. So you got to have a judicial intervention.
And because they didn't have a judicial intervention where she could
go somewhere and get help, I voted against it.
It's never quite as simple as the president wants you to believe.
MR. GIBSON: And 30 seconds, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, it's pretty simple when they say, "Are you
for a ban on partial-birth abortion, yes or no?" And he was given
a chance to vote, and he voted no.
And that's just the way it is. That's a vote. It came right up. It's
clear for everybody to see. And as I said, you can run, but you can't
hide. It's the reality.
MR. GIBSON: And the final question of the evening will be address to
President Bush, and it will come from Linda Grabel (sp). Linda Grabel's
over here. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Put a head fake on us. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBSON: I got faked out myself.
PRESIDENT BUSH: (Laughs.) Hi, Linda.
Question: President Bush, during the last four years, you have made
thousands of decisions that have affected millions of lives. Please
give three instances in which you came to realize you had made a wrong
decision, and what you did to correct it. Thank you.
PRESIDENT BUSH: I have made a lot of decisions, and some of them little,
like appointments to boards you've never heard of, and some of them
big. And in a war, there's a lot of -- there's a lot of tactical decisions
that historians will look back and say he shouldn't of done that.
You shouldn't have made that decision." And I'll take responsibility
for 'em. I'm human. But on the big questions, about whether or not we
should have gone into Afghanistan, the big question about whether we
should have removed somebody in Iraq, I'll stand by those decisions
because I think they're right.
really what you're -- when they ask about the mistakes, that's what
they're talking about. They're trying to say, "Did you make a mistake
going into Iraq?" And the answer is absolutely not. It's a right
decision. The Duelfer Report confirmed that decision today, because
what Saddam Hussein was doing was trying to get rid of sanctions so
he could reconstitute a weapons program, and the biggest threat facing
America is terrorists with weapons of mass destruction. We knew he hated
us. We knew he'd been a -- invaded other countries. We knew he tortured
his own people.
On the tax cut, it's a big decision. I did the right decision. Our recession
was one of the shallowest in modern history.
Now, you asked what mistakes. I made some mistakes in appointing people,
but I'm not going to name them. I don't want to hurt their feelings
on national TV. But history will look back, and I'm fully prepared to
accept any mistakes that history judges to my administration, because
the president makes the decisions, the president has to take the responsibility.
MR. GIBSON: Senator Kerry, a minute and a half.
SEN. KERRY: I believe the president made a huge mistake, a catastrophic
mistake not to live up to his own standard, which was build a true global
coalition, give the inspectors time to finish their job and go through
the U.N. process to its end, and go to war as a last resort.
I ask each of you just to look into your hearts, look into your guts.
Gut check time. Was this really going to war as a last resort?
The president rushed our nation to war without a plan to win the peace.
And simple things weren't done. That's why Senator Lugar says incompetent
in the delivery of services.
That's why Senator Hagel, Republican, says, you know, beyond pitiful,
beyond embarrassing, in the zone of dangerous.
We didn't guard 850,000 tons of ammo. That ammo is now being used against
our kids. Ten thousand out of 12,000 humvees aren't armored. I've visited
some of those kids with no limbs today because they didn't have the
armor on those vehicles. They didn't have the right body armor. I've
met parents who've on the Internet gotten the armor to send their kids.
There's no bigger judgment for a president of the United States than
how you take a nation to war. And you can't say because Saddam might
have done it 10 years from now, that's a reason. That's an excuse.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: He complains about the fact our troops don't have adequate
equipment, yet he voted against the $87 billion supplemental I sent
to the Congress, and then issued one of the most amazing quotes in political
history: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against
Saddam Hussein was a risk to our country, ma'am. And he was a risk
that -- and this is where we just have a difference of opinion.
The truth of the matter is, if you listen carefully, Saddam would still
be in power, if he were the president of the United States, and the
world would be a lot better off.
MR. GIBSON: And Senator Kerry, 30 seconds.
SEN. KERRY: Not necessarily be in power.
here's what I'll say about the $87 billion. I made a mistake
in the way I talk about it; he made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which
is a worse decision? Now, I voted the way I voted because I saw that
he had the policy wrong and I wanted accountability. I didn't want to
give a slush fund to Halliburton. I also thought the wealthiest people
in America ought to pay for it, ladies and gentlemen. He wants your
kids to pay for it. I wanted us to pay for it, since we're at war. I
don't think that's a bad decision.
MR. GIBSON: That's going to conclude the questioning. We're going to
go now to closing statements. Two minutes from each candidate.
And the first closing statement goes to Senator Kerry. I believe that
was the agreement.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Actually --
SEN. KERRY: You want to go first?
PRESIDENT BUSH: Either way. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBSON: (Laughs.)
SEN. KERRY: Thank you.
Charlie, thank you.
And thank you all. Thank you, all of you, for taking part. Thanks for
your questions tonight, very, very much.
Obviously the president and I both have very strong convictions. I
respect him for that. But we have a very different view about how to
make America stronger and safer. I will never cede the authority of
our country or our security to any other nation. I'll never give a veto
over American security to any other entity -- not a nation, not a country,
not an institution.
But I know, as I think you do, that our country is strongest when we
lead the world, when we lead strong alliances. And that's the way Eisenhower
and Reagan and Kennedy and others did it. We are not doing that today.
We need to.
I have a plan that will help us go out and kill and find the terrorist,
and I will not stop in our effort to hunt down and kill the terrorists.
But I also have a better plan on how we're going to deal with Iraq:
training the Iraqi forces more rapidly; getting our allies back to the
table with a fresh start, with new credibility, with a president whose
judgment the rest of the world trusts.
In addition to that, I believe we have a crisis here at home, a crisis
of the middle class that is increasingly squeezed.
Health care costs going up. I have a plan to provide health care to
all Americans. I have a plan to provide for our schools so we keep the
standards, but we help our teachers teach and elevate our schools by
funding No Child Left Behind. I have a plan to protect the environment
so that we leave this place in better shape to our children than we
were handed it by our parents. That's the test.
I believe America's best days are ahead of us. I'm an optimist. But
we have to make the right choices to be fiscally responsible and to
create the new jobs of the future. We can do this, and I ask you for
the privilege of leading our nation to be stronger at home and respected
again in the world.
MR. GIBSON: Senator.
And a closing statement from President Bush.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Charlie, thanks.
Thank you all very much. It's been enjoyable.
The contest for the presidency is about the future -- who can lead,
who can get things done. We've been through a lot together as a country.
Been through a recession, corporate scandals, war. And yet think about
where we are.
We had 1.9 million new jobs for the past 13 months. The farm income
in America is high. Small businesses are flourishing. Homeownership
rate is at an all-time high in America. We're on the move.
I had a chance to discuss with you what to do to keep
this economy going: keep the taxes low, don't increase the scope of
the federal government, keep regulations down, legal reform, a health
care policy that does not empower the federal government but empowers
individuals, and an energy plan that will help us become less dependent
on foreign sources of energy.
And abroad we're at war, and it requires a president who is steadfast
and strong and determined. I vowed to the American people after that
fateful day of September the 11th that we would not rest nor tire until
The 9/11 commission put out a report that said America is safer, but
not yet safe. There's more work to be done. We'll stay on the hunt of
al-Qaida. We'll deny sanctuary to these terrorists. We'll make sure
they do not end up with weapons of mass destruction. It's the great
nexus. The great threat to our county is that these haters under up
with weapons of mass destruction.
But our long-term security depends on our deep faith in liberty, and
we'll continue to promote freedom around the world. Freedom is on the
march. Tomorrow, Afghanistan will be voting for a president. In Iraqi
(sic), we'll be having free elections and a free society will make this
world more peaceful.
MR. GIBSON: Mr. President, Senator Kerry, that concludes tonight's debate.
I want to give you a reminder that the third and final debate on issues
of domestic policy will be held next Wednesday, October 13th, at Arizona
State University in Tempe, Arizona, hosted by Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
I want to thank President Bush and Senator Kerry for tonight. I want
to thank these citizens of the St. Louis area who asked the questions,
who gave so willingly of their time, and who took their responsibility
very seriously. Thank you also to everyone at Washington -- (applause)
-- I want to thank everyone at Washington University in St. Louis for
being such gracious hosts.
I'm Charles Gibson. From ABC News, from St. Louis, good night.