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FTN - 9/21/03

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JOHN ROBERTS, Chief White House Correspondent: Senator John Edwards officially announced he is running for president. Where does he stand on the war in Iraq? What does he think about the newest entry into the race, retired General Wesley Clark? And where does he think President Bush is vulnerable? All questions this morning for John Edwards. Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times will join us in the questioning.

But first, presidential candidate John Edwards on Face The Nation.

ANNOUNCER: Face The Nation, with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from Washington, substituting for Bob Schieffer, CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

ROBERTS: And good Sunday morning to you, and welcome to the broadcast. Bob Schieffer is off this morning.

And joining us now from Los Angeles is Senator John Edwards.

Good morning to you, Senator.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-NC, Democratic Presidential Candidate: Good morning, John.

ROBERTS: And joining us in the questioning this morning from our studio, Doyle McManus, the Washington bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times.

Good morning to you, Doyle.

DOYLE McMANUS, The Los Angeles Times: Good morning, John.

ROBERTS: So, Senator, to start off, we appear to have a new front-runner in the Democratic race for president. A new Newsweek poll out this morning shows Wesley Clark with 14 percent, 2 points ahead of his closest competitors, Howard Dean and Senator Joseph Lieberman. My question to you this morning is, can Wesley Clark be beaten?

EDWARDS: Oh, John, this campaign's just beginning. What's clear from General Clark's entry into the race -- General Clark's not very well-known across America, but he had a couple of days of being on television this week and he jumped to the front. Something similar to that happened to me when I first announced back in January.

I think what this all means is that we're all -- if you look at it -- we're all relatively close together. Now I think this race is completely wide open and this is why we have campaigns.

ROBERTS: So you think he can be beaten then?

EDWARDS: Oh, of course. Of course. Anybody can be beaten. This thing is just starting. Voters are just beginning to pay attention. And I can tell you that I'm incredibly encouraged by my own campaign. You know, I'm leading in South Carolina, moving up in other states. And most importantly, when I'm in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, talking to voters on the ground, they're responding.

They want to hear what we have to say, they are looking for a candidate who they believe will be their champion, who will stand up for the things that they're interested in.

ROBERTS: Right. A campaign aide of yours told me earlier this week when we were talking about the Clark candidacy that Clark will go nowhere, that other than national security credentials he doesn't have a whole lot to offer. Do you agree?

EDWARDS: Well, I think General Clark's a good man, you know? He's -- I can tell you that I've spent a long time putting together my very specific proposals to make sure that all kids in America have health care, to make sure that kids who want to go to college get the chance to go, what we need to do to allow people to invest and be able to buy homes, expand opportunity for more people, and I've given the most specific detailed proposals to support that vision.

And now General Clark has the same responsibility, and I think we have to wait and see what he has to say about those things.

McMANUS: Senator, one of the striking things about the campaign so far is that while you have been trying to talk about those issues -- health and education and jobs -- Democratic voters seem to be worried mostly about Iraq and terrorism.

Senator, General Clark is obviously campaigning on his military credentials. Governor Dean has talked mostly about Iraq or gotten attention about that. Is that what's holding your campaign back? And as Americans look for a commander in chief, what qualifications can you offer?

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, if you're out there actually meeting with and talking to voters and, more importantly, listening to them, what's clear is there are a group of things that they're concerned about. They're concerned about the economy, and most specifically jobs, the loss of jobs, how do we protect the jobs we have and create jobs? I have a whole group of ideas about that.

Second, how do we deal with the health-care crisis in America? Voters are very worried about that. Not just coverage, which is important, but also costs.

And you're right, they're also concerned about Iraq, and I think I've been very clear for over a year now that in order for us to be successful in Iraq, it was important for the president to have a plan for this period, which it's now clear he did not have, and secondly, we need the help of our friends and allies to make this an international effort in order for it to be successful.

McMANUS: OK. Well, now you face a choice about voting for or against $87 billion in money that will mostly go to Iraq. Are you going to vote for that package, and are there any conditions you're going to attach to that?

EDWARDS: Well, here's the situation. We have young men and women over there in a dangerous environment. They're in a shooting gallery, very dangerous situation, and we have to make sure they get what they need. That's pretty simple.

But we have a lot of questions to ask, and we need answers to these questions. You know, what is, in fact, the exit strategy in Iraq? Is the president going to bring our friends and allies in? To what extent are others around the world going to share not only the responsibility on the ground, but also the financial responsibility? And are we going to stop these no-bid contracts for Halliburton? I mean, I think there are a whole group of questions that have to be answered.

At the end of the day though, those of us who are responsible for our young men and women have to make sure that they're supported.

ROBERTS: Senator, another three American soldiers were killed in Iraq in the past 24 hours. You initially supported the war. You said that you celebrated the liberation of Iraq. But knowing what you know now about the occupation, the way it's being run, as you say, the president doesn't have a plan, and about the somewhat sketchy nature of some of the reasons why this country went to war, if you had it to do all over again, would you have supported that resolution?

EDWARDS: I think that Saddam Hussein being gone is a very good thing. It's good for the Iraqi people. It's good for the freedom of the Iraqi people. It's good for the security of that region of the world, and actually it's good for the security of the American people.

But the real -- I think the real test here is not what's happening right this minute, although this is important. The real test is five, six, seven years down the road.

ROBERTS: Sure.

EDWARDS: Whether in fact we're still mired down there; whether international -- our international friends are involved in the effort, whether the Iraqi people are governing themselves, and moving toward democracy and giving us a foothold for democracy in that region of the world, and also in an Arab country. That's the test -- that's always been the test, and that's the test that this president should be held to.

ROBERTS: Certainly. But if you had the benefit of foresight back then, would you have voted for the resolution?

EDWARDS: Well, I stand by my belief that Saddam Hussein being gone is a very good thing. But the real issue here, as I just mentioned, John, is what's going to happen over time, and I think that test is a test that this president should be held to.

ROBERTS: OK, and on that point, let me put on my White House correspondent's hat for just a second here. If you were president and you were trying to get this United Nations resolution to get some more help into Iraq from the international community, would you be prepared to give up substantial control over the future of Iraq as this president is not willing to?

EDWARDS: What I would be willing to do, because I think it's so important to bring in an international effort into Iraq, to reduce some of the hostility toward America and improve our chances of success over the long term, what I'd be willing to do is give other folks a seat at the table.

I mean, other countries are not going to give us their troops, give us their financial resources unless they're allowed to participate in the decision-making.

ROBERTS: But how big would that seat be?

EDWARDS: Well, I think those are things that have to be negotiated, and we will be willing to negotiate because we need them there. That does not mean that we'd put our troops under somebody else's authority. But it does mean that they would be allowed to participate, for example, in how we go about setting up the transitional government, over what period of time. I mean, those are the kind of things that we should be talking to our friends and allies about.

McMANUS: Senator, you're sounding pretty supportive of the premises the Bush administration had when it went into Iraq, but this week your colleague in the Senate, Ted Kennedy, said he thought that the argument for going into Iraq was a fraud that was cooked up by the Bush administration largely for partisan Republican political purposes. Do you agree with him?

EDWARDS: Well, I said earlier what I believe about Saddam being gone. It is true and actually the president has admitted some of this that the president did hype some of these things, that he exaggerated.

I, for example, don't believe that there was ever a strong connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qawda. However, I do think the fact that Saddam Hussein is gone is very important to the security of that part of the world.

McMANUS: Do you think President Bush and his political advisers are unfairly using the war on terrorism to, in effect, pump up his re-election campaign?

EDWARDS: Well, I have no way of evaluating their motives. What I do know is they said some things that in hindsight have turned out not to be true. The president took an awful long time to take responsibility for those now famous 16 words in the State of the Union, which I think he's responsible for. The president of the United States is responsible for what he says to the nation, and to the world, not George Tenet, not the CIA, not somebody else. So I think there are a lot of missteps by the president since this war occurred, including his failure to have a plan and bring in our friends and allies.

ROBERTS: Senator, let me come back to the campaign for a moment, if I could. Howard Dean: Is he electable?

EDWARDS: Well, I think that's -- you know -- I think all the Democratic candidates are electable, depending on what's happening with George Bush. You know, I -- speaking for myself, I think I could best take this fight right at George Bush for a simple reason: because I'm going to fight for, in this campaign, and as president, the same people I have fought for all my life. And I am going to fight for them with everything I've got.

And I'm talking about the people I grew up with in a small town in North Carolina, working people, people just like them all over America. These are the very people this president is leaving behind every single day. And if I can be on the stage with George Bush in 2004, it will be clear, first, that I understand their problems better than he does, and, number two, I have real answers, real solutions to those problems and I think those are the people that George Bush has to get to get elected.

Those are the people we need to win, and those are the very people that I'm talking to.

ROBERTS: You've come back to this theme of you're running a campaign of opportunity, that you want to be a champion for regular Americans. But if you're elected president, don't you need to be a champion for all Americans?

EDWARDS: Absolutely. Absolutely. We want to make sure that everybody in America gets the kind of opportunities they're entitled to, which is why...

ROBERTS: Right, but...

EDWARDS: ...which is why, John, which is why when I talk about making sure we improve people's chances of buying a home, being able to invest, making sure they can save, what we want to do is expand opportunity. We want opportunity available for all Americans, absolutely.

But we want to make sure that opportunity is available for that vast majority of Americans who have a hard time every day. This is the kind of family I grew up in, they have trouble paying the bills, trouble sending their kids to college; they're having trouble with health-care costs. Those are the folks who this White House is leaving behind while they look out for their friends, and those are the very people that I want to stand up for.

ROBERTS: So you say that you want to be a champion for all Americans, yet some of your policies, you would roll back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, you would rescind some of the capital gains taxes.

We heard some of these themes similarly in the 2000 election, and people started raising the flag of class warfare. Are you not playing that card in this election?

EDWARDS: No, I think George Bush is the one who's playing class warfare because what he's doing is what -- it goes to his fundamental problem as a president.

He absolutely believes that if you empower and help people at the top, somehow the whole country is going to do better. And he is just dead wrong about that, John.

The truth of the matter is America works when it works for all of us. The economy grows when everybody does well. What we want is wealth-creation for all Americans. We want those opportunities for a good education, health care, available to all Americans. We want to address the fact, for example, that we still have two public school systems in this country, you know, one for the haves and one for the have-nots.

I mean, what this is about for me at the end of the day is making sure we provide real equality of opportunity for everybody which is why that's not only my vision, I have very specific ideas to support all those ideas -- that vision.

McMANUS: Senator, let me ask about another issue you've been campaigning on, and that's the Patriot Act, the law that gave the Justice Department a lot of new authorities in law enforcement to fight terrorism. And that's been quite controversial.

Now you have been saying, and I think these are your words, that that act needs some radical revision. When that bill was up in the Senate, you voted for it. You said it was a good bill and you voted against four amendments that Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin had introduced to soften some of those measures. Do you wish now that you had voted for some of those amendments back then?

EDWARDS: Well, here's the truth. The Patriot Act had some provisions in it that are very good -- provisions about information sharing, things that would make us more effective in fighting the war on terrorism and that addressed some of the problems that existed before September the 11th.

The problem is it gave an enormous amount of discretion to the attorney general of the United States. And Attorney General Ashcroft is clearly abusing that discretion. And, I -- and in addition to that, we see things like the administration having a policy that allows them to arrest an American citizen on American soil, label them an enemy combatant, put them in prison, keep them there indefinitely. They never see a lawyer or a judge or get a chance to even prove that they did absolutely nothing wrong.

This is not what we believe in in this country. We can't -- we have to keep the American people safe. And I don't take a backseat to anybody in doing that, but in that effort, we can't forget what it is we're supposed to be fighting for and protecting.

McMANUS: Well, now the administration has asked for new authorities. They're being called Patriot Act Two. How are you going to vote on those?

EDWARDS: Well, I am extre -- we're looking at them right now. I'm very suspicious of giving Attorney General John Ashcroft any additional authority and we're in the process of critically examining those proposals right now.

ROBERTS: Senator, the chattering class for the last week or so has been -- oh, last few weeks, I guess, has been talking about the possibility of Hillary Clinton entering this race. For the sake of the Democratic Party, for the person who could best potentially give a run for the White House against President Bush, would you welcome her into this campaign?

EDWARDS: Oh, Hillary Clinton is a friend of mine. She's a wonderful person. She'd certainly make a good candidate. She has told me and told many others that she does not intend to run.

I think the most important thing for us is to stay focused on what this is about, which is not any of the individual candidates; it is about what needs to be done to move America forward, what our vision is for this country and how we're going to give the American people what they should be entitled to, which is opportunity as a matter of birthright.

ROBERTS: After saying...

EDWARDS: That's what this campaign is about.

ROBERTS: After saying what she said about not getting into this race, do you think she can go back on that? Could she get into it, because there's a story this morning that -- in the Time magazine that says that her husband has been urging her to get into the race if she wants to get in, trying to figure out a way to be able to rescind her comments saying she wouldn't get into the race?

EDWARDS: Well, that -- this is all just the daily chatter of what's going on. I am not focused on that. I am focused on this campaign and standing up for the things that I believe in.

McMANUS: There's chatter but there's also a Newsweek poll, Senator, that shows that if she were in the race, Hillary Clinton would be the Democrats' favorite with 33 percent. What does it tell you about this race that you and others have been campaigning for nine or 10 months that electorate has yet to fall in love with any one of you, but even the whisper of Hillary Clinton's name jumps her to the top?

EDWARDS: It tells me that she's well known. It tells me that this campaign is just beginning as I said at the very outset of our discussion. It tells me that voters over the next four or five months are going to begin to focus on people like me and the other candidates to determine, number one, where we come from and what we believe and, number two, what our vision for this country is and what our specific ideas are about how to get there. That's exactly what they always do. It's what they'll do here.

The voters of this country, particularly the voters in the early primary states, who are starting to pay more attention, they take this process very seriously. They are going to elect the leader of the Free World. And as we go through this campaign, they're going to hear every one of us. They're going to hear what our ideas are. And I believe at the end of the day is to decide that John Edwards can best take this fight to George Bush.

ROBERTS: Well, Senator, on that note, paint me a scenario where you come from behind and you win the nomination? Is South Carolina a critical win for you?

EDWARDS: South Carolina is very important to me, John. I mean, I was born in South Carolina. I feel strong ties there. I am leading in South Carolina right now. But the truth of the matter is it's a long process. We have the Iowa caucuses, about a week later, the New Hampshire primary, a week later, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico...

ROBERTS: Sure, but...

EDWARDS: ...and then the other states that follow.

ROBERTS: ...take me...

EDWARDS: But here's the scenario, very simple. I'm going to be out there working my rear end off to make my case in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and these other states. I will be competitive in Iowa, in New Hampshire. I intend to win South Carolina. I'm going to do everything in my power to do that, and I'm going to work hard in these other states.

I am in this for the long haul, not just to be the Democratic nominee for president, but to beat George Bush, not for me but for what we need to do to change the direction of this country.

ROBERTS: Well, good luck to you, Senator, and thanks very much for getting up early to be with us this morning from Los Angeles. Appreciate it.

EDWARDS: Thank you for having me.

ROBERTS: All right. And we'll be back in just a moment on Face The Nation with our roundtable discussion. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: We're back again with Doyle McManus of The Los Angeles Times.

I guess the question is, Edwards seems to be a pretty polished candidate at this point. He's spent months working on his positions, far better candidate than I think he was 15 months ago, yet he has yet to catch fire. Why do you think that's the case?

McMANUS: John, I really do think it's because Iraq, Iraq, Iraq has been the center of this campaign.

Now Senator Edwards was right, the voters do have a lot of other things on their minds and he has interesting things to say on education and health and jobs and other issues. But really, the defining issue so far has been, what was your position on the war in Iraq, and what is your position now? And I have to say that he hasn't really developed a specific crisp full set of answers on those issues in the way, for example, that Governor Dean has.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Now what about Dean? I asked the question to Edwards. Is he electable? He's running front or now maybe second, third when you throw Wesley Clark in there.

Is he somebody who can carry the Democratic torch or is he, as some people have said, too liberal?

McMANUS: Is he capable of winning the Democratic nomination? Sure, he is. He's shown enormous appeal to the Democratic base and he's shown an increasing amount of skill out on the campaign as well. Is he electable in the general election? You talk to any professional Republican campaigner in this town and they will tell you that Howard Dean is the Democrat they'd most want to meet because they believe George W. Bush can clean his clock.

ROBERTS: Now Wesley Clark comes into the race, goes from nowhere to front-runner in this latest Newsweek magazine poll, but national security is his forte.

What happens when they get down to the nitty-gritty issues like education and the economy, the deficit, all of those other niggling issues that people care so much about that presidential candidates have to address on the campaign trail?

McMANUS: Well, that's exactly right. It really does seem as if General Clark has jumped up so high in the polls because he used to wear a uniform, because he embodies the commander in chief image that Democrats are looking for in a candidate.

But what has been striking there is how unformed his positions are. He's had months and weeks to think about this candidacy, but he's still asking his aides exactly what his position is on a set of issues. And when he tried to define his position on the war in Iraq, it took him three tries over the course of the week.

That kind of hesitance, that kind of uncertainty is not going to serve him well. He's got about two or three weeks to get this to gel, and if it doesn't gel, he's just going to turn out to be a blur.

ROBERTS: And he's facing a very big event in New York this coming Thursday when he joins in the debate with the nine other Democratic candidates. What does he need to do in that debate?

McMANUS: That's going to be his debut. He's going to have to prove that he's ready for prime time. Now the question may also be, are the other Democrats going to jump on him? I suspect, just as they did with Howard Dean a couple of weeks ago, they will hang back and see whether Wesley Clark is ready for prime time. And if he's not, they'll let him take care of himself.

ROBERTS: Do you think this entire debate will be about Wesley Clark?

McMANUS: I think it will be about Wesley Clark without anyone saying it's about Wesley Clark.

ROBERTS: So what do you make of all of the chatterings about Hillary Clinton? Is this a potential possibility? Can she go back on her pledge to not enter the race?

McMANUS: Oh, I don't think so because she has been so insistent on that pledge, because it is so late, but it certainly shows that the Democratic electorate hasn't fallen in love with any of these candidates and it also shows that Mrs. Clinton has the '08 nomination wrapped up already.

ROBERTS: Just in the 50 seconds we've got left, how badly has President Bush been hurt on this whole mess in Iraq, and this idea, too, of blurring the lines between 9/11 and Iraq? It -- does the White House benefit from creating some sort of ambiguity there?

McMANUS: Oh, I think the White House definitely benefits from the perception among most Americans, about two-thirds, that Saddam Hussein had something with September 11th. Now the question of whether they have deliberately blurred that line, it depends on who you talk to. It depends on which official you're talking to. Vice President Cheney last week certainly leaned very heavily in the direction of saying that Saddam and September 11th were close to the degree that President Bush had to back off.

ROBERTS: Right. We'll have to leave it there. Doyle McManus, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

McMANUS: Always good to be here.

ROBERTS: I appreciate it. And we'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERICAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: And that's our broadcast for this Sunday morning. Bob Schieffer will be back again next week with an exclusive interview with presidential candidate Governor Howard Dean of Vermont.

Thanks very much for watching Face The Nation this morning. I'm John Roberts.

Have a good day.