Cleveland Democratic Debate – 26 February 2008


FEBRUARY 26, 2008 – Part 3

OBAMA:  First of all, she talked about me objecting to caps on
credit cards.  Keep in mind, I objected to the entire bill, a bill that
Senator Clinton, in its previous version in 2001, had voted for and at
one of the debates with you guys said, well, I voted for it, but I hoped
it wouldn’t pass.  Which, as a general rule, doesn’t work.
If you don’t want it to pass, you vote against it.

You know, she mentioned that she is a fighter on health care, and,
look, I do not in any way doubt that Senator Clinton genuinely wants to
provide health care to all Americans.  What I have said is that the way
she approached it back in ’93, I think, was wrong in part because she
had had the view that what’s required is simply to fight.
And Senator Clinton ended up fighting not just the insurance companies
and the drug companies, but also members of her own party.

And as a consequence, there were a number of people like Jim Cooper
of Tennessee and Bill Bradley and Pat Moynihan, who were not included in
the negotiations.  And we had the potential of bringing people together
to actually get something done.

I am absolutely clear that hope is not enough.  And it is not going
to be easy to pass health care.  If it was, it would have already gotten

It’s not going to be easy to have a sensible energy policy in this
country.  Exxon Mobil made $11 billion last quarter.  They are not going
to give up those profits easily.

But what I also believe is that the only way we are going to
actually get this stuff done is, number one, we are going to have to
mobilize and inspire the American people so that they’re paying
attention to what their government is doing.  And that’s what I’ve been
doing in this campaign, and that’s what I will do as president.

And there’s nothing romantic or silly about that.  If the American
people are activated, that’s how change is going to happen.

The second thing we’re going to have to do is we’re actually going
to have to go after the special interests.  Senator Clinton, in one of
these speeches — it may have been the same speech where you showed the
clip — said, you can’t just wave a magic wand and expect special
interests to go away.

That is absolutely true, but it doesn’t help if you’re taking
millions of dollars of contributions from those special interests.
They are less likely to go away.
So it is important for us to crack down on how these special
interests are able to influence Congress.  And, yes, it is important for
us to inspire and mobilize and motivate the American people to get
involved and pay attention.

RUSSERT:  Senator Obama, let me ask you about motivating,
inspiring, keeping your word.  Nothing more important.

Last year you said if you were the nominee you would opt for public
financing in the general election of the campaign, try to get some of
the money out.  You checked “yes” on a questionnaire.

And now Senator McCain has said, calling your bluff, let’s do it.
You seem to be waffling, saying, well, if we can work on an arrangement

Why won’t you keep your word in writing that you made to abide by
public financing of the fall election?

OBAMA:  Tim, I am not yet the nominee.  And what I have said is,
when I am the nominee, if I am the nominee — because we’ve still got a
bunch of contests left, and Senator Clinton is a pretty tough opponent
— if I am the nominee, then I will sit down with John McCain and make
sure that we have a system that is fair for both sides.
Because, Tim, as you know, there are all sorts of ways of getting around
these loopholes.

Senator McCain is trying to explain some of the things that he has
done so far, where he accepted public financing money but people aren’t
exactly clear whether all of the t’s were crossed and the i’s were
dotted.  Now, what I want to point out, though, more broadly is how we
have approached this campaign.

I said very early on I would not take PAC money, I would not take
money from federal registered lobbyists.  That was a multi-million-
dollar decision, but it was the right thing to do.  And the reason we
were able to do that was because I had confidence that the American
people, if they were motivated, would, in fact, finance the campaign.

We have now raised 90 percent of our donations from small donors,
$25, $50.  We average — our average donation is $109.  So we have built
the kind of organization that is funded by the American people that is
exactly the goal and the aim of everybody who’s interested in good
government and politics that works.

RUSSERT:  So you may opt out of public financing.  You may break
your word.

OBAMA:  What I’ve said is, at the point where I’m the nominee, at
the point where it’s appropriate, I will sit down with John McCain and
make sure that we have a system that woks for everybody.

RUSSERT:  Senator Clinton, an issue of accountability and

You have loaned your campaign $5 million.  You and your husband
file a joint return.  You refuse to relation that joint return, even
though former President Clinton has had significantly overseas business

RUSSERT:  Your chief supporter here in Ohio, Governor Strickland,
made releasing his opponent’s tax return one of the primary issues of
the campaign, saying repeatedly, “accountability,” “transparency.”
“If he’s not releasing,” his campaign said, “his tax return, what is he
hiding?  We should question what’s going on.”

Why won’t you release your tax return so the voters of Ohio, Texas,
Vermont, Rhode Island know exactly where you and your husband got your
money, who might be in part bankrolling your campaign?

CLINTON:  Well, the American people who support me are bankrolling
my campaign.  That’s obvious.  You can look and see the hundreds of
thousands of contributions that I’ve gotten.

And ever since I lent my campaign money, people have responded just
so generously.  I’m thrilled at so many people getting involved.
And we’re raising on average about a million dollars a day on the

And if anybody’s out there who wants to contribute, to be part of
this campaign, just go to HillaryClinton.com, because that’s who’s
funding my campaign.

And I will release my tax runs.  I have consistently said that.

RUSSERT:  Why not now?

CLINTON:  Well, I will do it as others have done it, upon becoming
the nominee or even earlier, Tim, because I have been as open as I can
be.  The public has 20 years of records from me.  And I have very
extensive filings with the Senate where you can see…

RUSSERT:  So before next Tuesday’s primary?

CLINTON:  Well, I can’t get it together by then, but I will
certainly work to get it together.  I’m a little busy right now; I
hardly have time to sleep.  But I will certainly, you know, work toward
releasing, and we will get that done and in the public domain.

RUSSERT:  One other issue.  You talk about releasing documents.
On January 30th, the National Archives released 10,000 pages of your
public schedule as first lady.  It’s now in the custody of former
President Clinton.

Will you release that, again, during this primary season — you
claim that eight years as experience — let the public know what you
did, who you met with those eight years?

CLINTON:  Absolutely, I’ve urged that the process be as quick as
possible.  It’s a cumbersome process set up by law.  It doesn’t just
apply to us.  It applies to everyone in our position.  And I have urged
that our end of it move as expeditiously as we can.

Now, also, President Bush claims the right to look at anything that
is released, and I would urge the Bush White House to move as quickly as

RUSSERT:  But you had it for more than a month.  Will you get it to
him — will you get it to the White House immediately?

CLINTON:  As soon as we can, Tim.  I’ve urged that, and I hope it
will happen.

RUSSERT:  Senator Obama, one of the things in the campaign is that
you have to react to unexpected developments.  On Sunday, the headline
in your hometown paper, Chicago Tribune, “Louis Farrakhan Backs Obama
for President at Nation of Islam Convention in Chicago.”
Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?

OBAMA:  You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of
Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments.  I think they are
unacceptable and reprehensible.

I did not solicit this support.  He expressed pride in an
African-American who seems to be bringing the country together.

I obviously can’t censor him, but it is not support that I sought.
And we’re not doing anything, I assure you, formally or informally with
Minister Farrakhan.

RUSSERT:  Do you reject his support?

OBAMA:  Well, Tim, I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that
he thinks I’m a good guy.


You know, I have been very clear in my denunciations of him and his
past statements.  And I think that indicates to the American people what
my stance is on those comments.

RUSSERT:  The problem some voters may have is, as you know, the
Reverend Farrakhan called Judaism “gutter religion.”

OBAMA:  Tim, I think — I am very familiar with his record, as are
the American people.  That’s why I have consistently denounced it.

This is not something new.  This is something that — I live in
Chicago.  He lives in Chicago.  I’ve been very clear, in terms of me
believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate.
And I have consistently distanced myself from him.

RUSSERT:  The title of one of your books, “Audacity of Hope,” you
acknowledge you got from a sermon from Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the
head of the Trinity United Church.  He said that Louis Farrakhan
“epitomizes greatness.”

He said that he went to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan to visit
with Moammar Gadhafi and that, when your political opponents found out
about that, quote, “your Jewish support would dry up quicker than a
snowball in Hell.”

RUSSERT:  What do you do to assure Jewish-Americans that, whether
it’s Farrakhan’s support or the activities of Reverend Jeremiah Wright,
your pastor, you are consistent with issues regarding Israel and not in
any way suggesting that Farrakhan epitomizes greatness?

OBAMA:  Tim, I have some of the strongest support from the Jewish
community in my hometown of Chicago and in this presidential campaign.
And the reason is because I have been a stalwart friend of Israel’s.
I think they are one of our most important allies in the region, and I
think that their security is sacrosanct, and that the United States is
in a special relationship with them, as is true with my relationship
with the Jewish community.

And the reason that I have such strong support is because they know
that not only would I not tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, but also
because of the fact that what I want to do is rebuild what I consider to
be a historic relationship between the African-American community and
the Jewish community.

You know, I would not be sitting here were it not for a whole host
of Jewish Americans, who supported the civil rights movement and helped
to ensure that justice was served in the South.  And that coalition has
frayed over time around a whole host of issues, and part of my task in
this process is making sure that those lines of communication and
understanding are reopened.

But, you know, the reason that I have such strong support in the
Jewish community and have historically — it was true in my U.S.
Senate campaign and it’s true in this presidency — is because the
people who know me best know that I consistently have not only
befriended the Jewish community, not only have I been strong on Israel,
but, more importantly, I’ve been willing to speak out even when it is
not comfortable.

When I was — just last point I would make — when I was giving
— had the honor of giving a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church in
conjunction with Martin Luther King’s birthday in front of a large
African-American audience, I specifically spoke out against anti-
Semitism within the African-American community.  And that’s what gives
people confidence that I will continue to do that when I’m president of
the United States.

WILLIAMS:  Senator…

CLINTON:  I just want to add something here, because I faced a
similar situation when I ran for the Senate in 2000 in New York.  And in
New York, there are more than the two parties, Democratic and
Republican.  And one of the parties at that time, the Independence
Patty, was under the control of people who were anti-Semitic, anti-
Israel.  And I made it very clear that I did not want their support.
I rejected it.  I said that it would not be anything I would be
comfortable with.  And it looked as though I might pay a price for that.
But I would not be associated with people who said such inflammatory and
untrue charges against either Israel or Jewish people in our country.

And, you know, I was willing to take that stand, and, you know,
fortunately the people of New York supported me and I won.  But at the
time, I thought it was more important to stand on principle and to
reject the kind of conditions that went with support like that.

RUSSERT:  Are you suggesting Senator Obama is not standing on

CLINTON:  No.  I’m just saying that you asked specifically if he
would reject it.  And there’s a difference between denouncing and
rejecting.  And I think when it comes to this sort of, you know,
inflammatory — I have no doubt that everything that Barack just said is
absolutely sincere.  But I just think, we’ve got to be even stronger.
We cannot let anyone in any way say these things because of the
implications that they have, which can be so far reaching.

OBAMA:  Tim, I have to say I don’t see a difference between
denouncing and rejecting.  There’s no formal offer of help from Minister
Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it.  But if the word “reject”
Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word “denounce,” then I’m
happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce.

CLINTON:  Good.  Good.  Excellent.


WILLIAMS:  Rare audience outburst on the agreement over rejecting
and renouncing.

We’re going to take advantage of this opportunity to take the
second of our limited breaks.  We’ll be back live from Cleveland right
after this.


WILLIAMS:  We are back from Cleveland State University.  We
continue with our debate.

The question beginning this segment is for you, Senator Obama.

The National Journal rates your voting record as more liberal than
that of Ted Kennedy.

In a general election, going up against a Republican Party, looking
for converts, Republicans, independents, how can you run with a more
liberal voting record than Ted Kennedy?

OBAMA:  Well, first of all, let’s take a look at what the National
Journal rated us on.

It turned out that Senator Clinton and I had differences on two
votes.  The first was on an immigration issue, where the question was
whether guest workers could come here, work for two years, go back for a
year, and then come back and work for another two years, which meant
essentially that you were going to have illegal immigrants for a year,
because they wouldn’t go back, and I thought it was bad policy.

The second — and this, I think, is telling in terms of how silly
these ratings are — I supported an office of public integrity, an
independent office that would be able to monitor ethics investigations
in the Senate, because I thought it was important for the public to know
that if there were any ethical violations in the Senate, that they
weren’t being investigated by the Senators themselves, but there was
somebody independent who would do it.

This is something that I’ve tried to push as part of my ethics

OBAMA:  It was rejected.  And according to the National Journal,
that position is a liberal position.

Now, I don’t think that’s a liberal position.  I think there are a
lot of Republicans and a lot of Independents who would like to make sure
that ethic investigations are not conducted by the people who are
potentially being investigated.  So the categories don’t make sense.

And part of the reason I think a lot of people have been puzzled,
why is it that Senator Obama’s campaign, the supposed liberal, is
attracting more Independent votes than any other candidate in the
Democratic primary, and Republican votes as well, and then people are
scratching their head?  It’s because people don’t want to go back to
those old categories of what’s liberal and what’s conservative.

They want to see who is making sense, who’s fighting for them,
who’s going to go after the special interests, who is going to champion
the issues of health care and making college affordable, and making sure
that we have a foreign policy that makes sense?  That’s what I’ve been
doing, and that’s why, you know, the proof is in the pudding.  We’ve
been attracting more Independent and Republican support than anybody
else, and that’s why every poll shows that right now I beat John McCain
in a match-up in the general election.

WILLIAMS:  Let’s go from domestic to foreign affairs and Tim

RUSSERT:  Before the primary on Tuesday, on Sunday, March 2,
there’s an election in Russia for the successor to President Putin.
What can you tell me about the man who’s going to be Mr. Putin’s

CLINTON:  Well, I can tell you that he’s a hand-picked successor,
that he is someone who is obviously being installed by Putin, who Putin
can control, who has very little independence, the best we know.
You know, there’s a lot of information still to be acquired.  That the
so-called opposition was basically run out of the political opportunity
to wage a campaign against Putin’s hand-picked successor, and the
so-called leading opposition figure spends most of his time praising
Putin.  So this is a clever but transparent way for Putin to hold on to
power, and it raises serious issues about how we’re going to deal with
Russia going forward.

I have been very critical of the Bush administration for what I
believe to have been an incoherent policy toward Russia.  And with the
reassertion of Russia’s role in Europe, with some of the mischief that
they seem to be causing in supporting Iran’s nuclear ambitions, for
example, it’s imperative that we begin to have a more realistic and
effective strategy toward Russia.  But I have no doubt, as president,
even though technically the meetings may be with the man who is labeled
as president, the decisions will be made by Putin.

RUSSERT:  Who will it be?  Do you know his name?

CLINTON:  Medvedev — whatever.



RUSSERT:  Senator Obama, do you know anything about him?

OBAMA:  Well, I think Senator Clinton speaks accurately about him.
He is somebody who was hand-picked by Putin.  Putin has been very clear
that he will continue to have the strongest hand in Russia in terms of
running the government.  And, you know, it looks — just think back to
the beginning of President Bush’s administration when he said — you
know, he met with Putin, looked into his eyes and saw his soul, and
figured he could do business with him.

He then proceeded to neglect our relationship with Russia at a time
when Putin was strangling any opposition in the country when he was
consolidating power, rattling sabers against his European neighbors, as
well as satellites of the former Soviet Union.  And so we did not send a
signal to Mr. Putin that, in fact, we were going to be serious about
issues like human rights, issues like international cooperation that
were critical to us.  That is something that we have to change.

RUSSERT:  He’s 42 years old, he’s a former law professor.  He is
Mr. Putin’s campaign manager.  He is going to be the new president of
Russia.  And if he says to the Russian troops, you know what, why don’t
you go help Serbia retake Kosovo, what does President Obama do?

OBAMA:  Well, I think that we work with the international community
that has also recognized Kosovo, and state that that’s unacceptable.
But, fortunately, we have a strong international structure anchored in
NATO to deal with this issue.

We don’t have to work in isolation.  And this is an area where I
think that the Clinton administration deserves a lot of credit, is, you
know, the way in which they put together a coalition that has

OBAMA:  It has not been perfect, but it saved lives.  And we
created a situation in which not only Kosovo, but other parts of the
former Yugoslavia at least have the potential to over time build
democracies and enter into the broader European community.

OBAMA:  But, you know, be very clear:  We have recognized the
country of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign nation, as has Great
Britain and many other countries in the region.  And I think that that
carries with it, then, certain obligations to ensure that they are not

RUSSERT:  Before you go, each of you have talked about your careers
in public service.  Looking back through them, is there any words or
vote that you’d like to take back?

Senator Clinton?

CLINTON:  Well, obviously, I’ve said many times that, although my
vote on the 2002 authorization regarding Iraq was a sincere vote, I
would not have voted that way again.

I would certainly, as president, never have taken us to war in
Iraq.  And I regret deeply that President Bush waged a preemptive war,
which I warned against and said I disagreed with.

But I think that this election has to be about the future.  It has
to be about what we will do now, how we will deal with what we’re going
to inherit.

You know, we’ve just been talking about Russia.  We could have gone
around the world.  We could have gone to Latin America and talked about,
you know, the retreat from democracy.  We could have talked about Africa
and the failure to end the genocide in Darfur.

We could have gone on to talk about the challenge that China faces
and the Middle East, which is deteriorating under the pressures of
Hamas, Hezbollah, and the interference that is putting Israel’s security
at stake.

We could have done an entire program, Tim, on what we will inherit
from George Bush.

And what I believe is that my experience and my unique
qualifications on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue equip me to handle
with the problems of today and tomorrow and to be prepared to make those
tough decisions in dealing with Putin and others, because we have so
much work to do, and we don’t have much time to try to make up for our

RUSSERT:  But to be clear, you’d like to have your vote back?

CLINTON:  Absolutely.  I’ve said that many times.

RUSSERT:  Senator Obama, any statements or vote you’d like to take

OBAMA:  Well, you know, when I first arrived in the Senate that
first year, we had a situation surrounding Terri Schiavo.  And I
remember how we adjourned with a unanimous agreement that eventually
allowed Congress to interject itself into that decisionmaking process of
the families.

It wasn’t something I was comfortable with, but it was not
something that I stood on the floor and stopped.  And I think that was a
mistake, and I think the American people understood that that was a
mistake.  And as a constitutional law professor, I knew better.

And so that’s an example I think of where inaction…

RUSSERT:  This is the young woman with the feeding tube…

OBAMA:  That’s exactly right.

RUSSERT:  … and the family disagreed as to whether it should be
removed or not.

OBAMA:  And I think that’s an example of inaction, and sometimes
that can be as costly as action.

But let me say this, since we’re wrapping up this debate.  We have
gone through 20 debates now.  And, you know, there is still a lot of
fight going on in this contest, and we’ve got four coming up, and maybe
more after that.

But the one thing I’m absolutely clear about is Senator Clinton has
campaigned magnificently.  She is an outstanding public servant.
And I’m very proud to have been campaigning with her.

And part of what I think both of us are interested in, regardless
of who wins the nomination, is actually delivering for the American

You know, there is a vanity aspect and ambition aspect to politics.
But when you spend as much time as Senator Clinton and I have spent
around the country, and you hear heartbreaking story after heartbreaking
story, and you realize that people’s expectations are so modest.

You know, they’re not looking for government to solve all of their
problems.  They just want a little bit of a hand-up to keep them in
their homes if they’re about to be foreclosed upon, or to make sure
their kids can go to college to live out the American dream.

You know, it is absolutely critical that we change how business is
done in Washington and we remind ourselves of what government is
supposed to be about.

And, you know, I have a lot of confidence that whoever ends up
being the nominee that the Democratic standard-bearer will try to
restore that sense of public service to our government.  That’s why I
think we’re both running, and I’m very pleased that I’ve had this
opportunity to run with Senator Clinton.

RUSSERT:  But the voters can only choose one, Brian.

RUSSERT:  And I think you have a question.

WILLIAMS:  Well, we don’t have such thing in our format as a
closing statement, but I am going to ask a closing and fundamental
question of you both.  And I’ll ask it of you fist, Senator Obama.

What is the fundamental question you believe Senator Clinton must
answer along the way to the voters here in Ohio and in Texas, and for
that matter across the country, in order to prove her worthiness as the
nominee?  And then we will ask the same question of Senator Clinton.

OBAMA:  I have to say, Brian, I think she is — she would be worthy
as a nominee.  Now, I think I’d be better.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be
running.  But there’s no doubt that Senator Clinton is qualified and
capable and would be a much better president than John McCain, who I
respect and I honor his service to this country, but essentially has
tethered himself to the failed policies of George Bush over the last
seven years.

On economics, he wants to continue tax cuts to the wealthy that we
can’t afford, and on foreign policy he wants to continue a war that not
only can we not afford in terms of money, but we can’t afford in terms
of lives and is not making us more safe.  We can’t afford it in terms of

So I don’t think that Senator Clinton has to answer a question as
to whether she’s capable of being president or our standard bearer.

I will say this, that the reason I think I’m better as the nominee
is that I can bring this country together I think in a unique way,
across divisions of race, religion, region.  And that is what’s going to
be required in order for us to actually deliver on the issues that both
Senator Clinton and I care so much about.

And I also think I have a track record, starting from the days I
moved to Chicago as a community organizer, when I was in my 20s, on
through my work in state government, on through my work as a United
States senator, I think I bring a unique bias in favor of opening up
government, pushing back special interests, making government more
accountable so that the American people can have confidence that their
voice is being heard.

Those are things — those are qualities that I bring to this race,
and I hope that the people of Ohio, Texas, Rhode Island and Vermont
decide that those are qualities that they need in the next president of
the United States.

WILLIAMS:  Senator Clinton, same question, and that is again — is
there a fundamental question Senator Obama must answer to the voters in
this state and others as to his worthiness?

CLINTON:  Well, Brian, there isn’t any doubt that, you know, both
of us feel strongly about our country, that we bring enormous energy and
commitment to this race and would bring that to the general election and
to the White House.

As I said last week, you know, it’s been an honor to campaign.  I
still intend to do everything I can to win, but it has been an honor,
because it has been a campaign that is history making.

You know, obviously I am thrilled to be running, to be the first
woman president, which I think would be a sea change in our country and
around the world, and would give enormous…


… you know, enormous hope and, you know, a real challenge to the
way things have been done, and who gets to do them, and what the rules

So I feel that either one of us will make history.

The question that I have been posing is, who can actually change
the country?  And I do believe that my experience over 35 years in the
private sector as well as the public and the not-for-profit sector,
gives me an understanding and an insight into how best to make the
changes that we all know we have to see.

You know, when I wasn’t successful about getting universal health
care, I didn’t give up.  I just got to work and helped to create the
Children’s Health Insurance Program.  And, you know, today in Ohio
140,000 kids have health insurance.  And yet this morning in Lorain, a
mother said that she spent with the insurance and everything over $3
million taking care of her daughter, who had a serious accident.  And
she just looked at me, as so many mothers and fathers have over so many
years, and said, “will you help us?”

That’s what my public life has been about.  I want to help the
people of this country get the chances they deserve to have.  And I will
do whatever I can here in Ohio, in Texas, Rhode Island, in the states to
come making that case.  Because I think we do need a fighter back in the
White House.

You know, the wealthy and the well-connected have had a president.
It’s time we had a president for the middle class and working people,
the people who get up every day and do the very best they can.  And they
deserve somebody who gets up in that White House and goes to bat for

And that’s what I will do.

WILLIAMS:  Senator, thank you.

Transcript Part One

Transcript Part Two


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