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Democrats Debate Iraq, Health Care in New Hampshire

In the next round of debates for the 2008 Democratic presidential hopefuls, candidates outlined their opinions on Iraq and the war on terror, as well as health care and the crisis in Darfur. A political reporter discusses the debate.

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    Now, the Democrats debate in the first primary state. NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman recaps the evening in New Hampshire.


    Welcome to New Hampshire, site of the first-in-the-nation Democratic primary.


    St. Anselm's College played host to the second Democratic debate of this early election season. Differences among the candidates over the war in Iraq, an issue likely to dominate the campaign over the next 17 months, took center stage.

    FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: They went quietly to the floor of the Senate, cast the right vote, but there is a difference between leadership and legislating.


    Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards criticized Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for not being more vocal in their opposition to the Iraq war funding bill passed by Congress last month.


    Senator Clinton and Senator Obama did not say anything about how they were going to vote until they appeared on the floor of the Senate and voted. They were among the last people to vote.

    And I think that the importance of this is — they cast the right vote, and I applaud them for that. But the importance of this is, they're asking to be president of the United States. And there is a difference between making clear, speaking to your followers, speaking to the American people about what you believe needs to be done.


    That drew this response from Obama.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), Illinois: I think it is important to lead. And I think, John, the fact is, is that I opposed this war from the start. So you're about four-and-a-half years late on leadership on this issue.

    It is not easy to vote for cutting off funding, because the fact is there are troops on the ground. And I'll let Hillary speak for herself, but the fact of the matter is, is that all of us exercised our best judgment, just as we exercised our best judgment to authorize or not authorize this war. And I think it's important for us to be clear about that.


    Clinton responded to Edwards' criticism by turning fault for the war onto President Bush.

    SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), New York: This is George Bush's war. He is responsible for this war. He started the war. He mismanaged the war. He escalated the war. And he refuses to end the war.

    And what we are trying to do, whether it's by speaking out from the outside or working and casting votes that actually make a difference from the inside, we are trying to end the war.

    The differences among us are minor. The differences between us and the Republicans are major. And I don't want anybody in America to be confused.


    Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, one of the earliest critics of the war, said Democrats, including Clinton, cannot escape responsibility.

    REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), Ohio: You want to end it, bring them home, stop the funding. And this is where Senator Clinton says, "Well, this is George Bush's war." Oh, no.

    There's a teachable moment here, and a teachable moment is that this war belongs to the Democratic Party, because the Democrats were put in charge by the people in the last election with the thought that they were going to end the war. Well, they haven't.

    They have to stop the funding. And I certainly am urging all of my colleagues here, don't give them any more money. The money's in the pipeline right now, enough to bring the troops home. Let's end the war, and let's make this a productive evening.


    Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel agreed that several of his rivals must be held accountable.

    FORMER SEN. MIKE GRAVEL (D), Presidential Candidate: Four of these people here will say that it's George Bush's war. It was facilitated by the Democrats. They brought the resolution up, one of them authored, co-authored it here, standing here, and so it's — sure, it's George Bush's war, but it's the Democrats' war, also.

    Now, do you want to end it? You're concerned about what's going to happen after we withdraw. Remember Vietnam. All the dominoes are going to fall, Southeast Asia's going to go — is going to go Communist. Well, how do we know what will happen? I do know this: that the insurgency is successful because the population sustains that insurgency, period.


    Meanwhile, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who also voted against further funding of the war, argued for its immediate end.

    SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), Connecticut: This policy in Iraq has failed. It is a civil war in that country. Everyone who has looked at this issue has drawn the conclusion that there is no military solution to it.

    It seems to me, then, it's incumbent upon us, given the fact that we are less safe, less secure, more vulnerable, weaker today, not stronger, as a result of this policy, that we ought to try to bring it to a close.


    But Delaware's Joseph Biden, the lone senator and candidate to vote in favor of more war funding, said ending the Iraq war was easier said than done.

    SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: We have 50 votes in the United States Senate. We have less of a majority in the House than at any time other than the last eight years.

    Ladies and gentlemen, you're going to end this war when you elect a Democratic president. You need 67 votes to end this war. I love these guys who tell you they're going to stop the war.

    Let me tell you straight up the truth: The truth of the matter is, the only one that's emboldened the enemy has been George Bush by his policies, not us funding the war. We're funding the safety of those troops there until we can get 67 votes.


    Debate host Wolf Blitzer of CNN returned to former Senator Edwards, questioning his recent claims that the war on terror was not an actual war, but a phrase made up by the Bush administration.


    Do you believe the U.S. is not at war with terrorists?


    What this global war on terror bumper sticker — political slogan, that's all it is, it's all it's ever been — was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does, the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture, none of those things are OK. They are not the United States of America.


    Senator Clinton disagreed, citing the 9/11 attacks.


    And I have seen firsthand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda.

    And I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough. And I have proposed over the last year a number of policies that I think we should be following.


    Domestic issues also got a share of the attention during the two-hour debate. Edwards and Obama again differed over the cost and coverage of each other's proposals for universal health care.


    Senator Obama came out with a plan just a few days ago, which I don't believe is completely universal, but it deserves to be credited because he laid out what the cost is and exactly how he was going to pay for it.


    John believes that we have to have mandatory insurance for everyone in order to have universal health care. My belief is that most families want health care, but they can't afford it. And so my emphasis is on driving down the costs…


    And on the issue of immigration, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson praised parts of the bipartisan compromise reached in the Senate, but said he could not support a bill that would keep families apart.

    GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), New Mexico: There's a touchback provision. The head of household has to go back and then apply. I believe that is unworkable, too. It divides up families.

    But you don't immediately get an amnesty. You don't immediately get citizenship. It's a process that takes about 13 years. Now, I commend the Congress for facing up to having a legalization plan, but I will not support a bill — our immigration laws in this country always bring families together. This separates families.


    The 10 Republican presidential candidates will take their turn debating at St. Anselm's College tomorrow evening.