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Former Senator John Edwards

posted on December 21, 2007

Borg: Moving Left. Political Analysts say Democratic Presidential Candidate John Edwards' campaign is decidedly more populist-oriented than his bid for the party's 2004 nomination. We'll question John Edwards on this edition of Iowa Press.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation; The Association of American Railroads, dedicated to a clean environment by shipping each ton of freight over 400 miles on one gallon of fuel. America's Freight Railroads, on the Web at FreightRailWorks.org; The Iowa Bankers Association, for personal, business and commercial needs, Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals; by Policy Works, a public and government affairs firm offering lobbying, grass-roots and advocacy services to help you meet your strategic public policy needs. Information is available on the Web at www.policyworksllc.com.

On statewide Iowa Public Television, this is the Friday, December 21st edition of Iowa Press.Here is Dean Borg.

Borg: Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards picked up where he left off after the 2004 Iowa caucus. John Edwards was the very first candidate to establish a 2008 campaign presence in Iowa. It seems to have paid off. Political observers noting the early start is giving Edwards an organizational edge. Caucus night will show if it really pays off. Welcome back to Iowa Press.

Edwards: Thank you, glad to be with you.

Borg: And you know from the campaign trail over the last eight years almost the two gentlemen across the table. Des Moines Register political columnist, David Yepsen and Associated Press senior political writer, Mike Glover.

Glover: Senator, as we head into the final couple of weeks of this campaign on the Democratic side it's pretty clear the tenor has gotten a bit warmer. Give us your assessment of what the tenor of this race is and where you think it's going to head.

Edwards: Well, you're talking about the tone?

Glover: Yeah.

Edwards: I think it's, at least for me, I'm focused on a positive vision for the country and where I think America needs to go because I think that's what Iowa caucus-goers are looking for. There's still some sniping going on among some of the other candidates but I am locked in on what I want to do as president.

Glover: Do you anticipate that sniping as you put it is going to continue?

Edwards: I would expect so, based on past experience.

Glover: And what are the risks for Democrats here? I mean, if this tenor gets hot is there a danger of sending a wounded candidate into the general election? Are you giving Republicans ammunition, I guess?

Edwards: There is always that risk and that's, at least from my perspective, I think what Iowa caucus-goers are looking for is not petty, personal fighting between politicians. They're looking for somebody who is actually willing to take on some of the corporate power and corporate greed that is standing between them and the country they believe in.Yepsen: Senator, four years ago you finished second. Do you have to win this time?

Edwards: I think all three of us, Clinton, Obama, me, are at a very tight race here and they have invested and so have I very heavily in this contest and I think what that means in practical terms is that somebody is going to come out of here with momentum. I don't think you can say for any of the three of us that you have to win because it depends on how it plays out. But I can tell you having been through this I know what you have to do, I know what you have to do to close and what Iowa caucus-goers are looking for, they're not looking for academic and they're not looking for analytical, they're looking for somebody who speaks from right here, from their gut and who believes deeply and passionately in what they're talking about.Yepsen: Can you survive a third place finish here?

Edwards: I think that's unknowable. It's unknowable for the other two, too. I think it depends on how close it is. It depends on what happens in the next state. You know, I'm not a political pundent. My job is to be the candidate for president and I know, because I've been through this before, I know what caucus-goers are looking for. I mean, they're looking for energy and passion and focus and they're going to get that from me.

Borg: I spoke of organization earlier, you said that you probably have an edge in that. As that relates to turnout, about 124,000 I think in the 2004 caucus, how will turnout affect you and what do you predict it might be? Are you looking for a big turnout?

Edwards: I make no predictions, too many factors involved. Who knows what the weather is going to be, who knows what all the other circumstances will be. What I know is my people will be at the caucus. That’s what I know. And if you come to my events the people how are at my events, in fact, I think David has said this before, they look like caucus-goers and my people are strongly for me. That's what I know.

Borg: So, fair weather candidates probably won't fare so well is what you're saying?

Edwards: I think my people will be there no matter what the weather is.

Glover: Senator, just this past week we talked about some differences. Senator Clinton said she would have all the troops out of Iraq within 12 months. Some of her opponents have accused her of flip-flopping on that issue, changing positions. What is your view?

Edwards: Well, I was startled by it to be honest with you. Having been on the stage with her so many times in forums and debates and heard her say something that was very different than that I was surprised by it. So, she is certainly entitled to change her opinion, there's nothing wrong with that. It is certainly different than what she said in the past.

Glover: And some people have accused her, one of the weaknesses she has is being accused of shifting her positions to meet the changing winds. Do you think this is another example of that?

Edwards: I don't know the answer to that. I mean, I think you have to ask her that question. What I know is I have said very clearly I'd have all combat troops out in the first year of my presidency, end all combat missions and until the last few days she was in a different place.Yepsen: Senator, help the caucus-goer out, we've all mentioned here the polls show this thing is in a statistical tie. What distinguishes you? Why you over Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or any of the others for that matter?

Edwards: Because I will take on the corporate greed, I will stand and fight for jobs in the middle class in this state and in this country and for me this is a battle. I mean, it is an epic fight for the future of our children, making the promise of this country available to everybody and this fight is a fight that I've been in my whole life. I'm 54 years old, I didn't start yesterday. And everybody will know when they hear me in the next two weeks before this caucus that this is a fight that I'm ready for. And I think that's the distinction. I don't think you can take money from these people and make a deal with them, that doesn't work. And I don't think you can sit at a table and negotiate with them and think they're going to give their power away, they won't. There is a fight in front of us and we have to be honest about that and we need the Democrats, we need to send somebody both into the campaign and into the presidency that is ready for that fight and I was born for it.Yepsen: Senator, I want to talk about electibility here. Is Hillary Clinton too divisive to win a November election?

Edwards: I don't know the answer to that.Yepsen: Are negatives too high?

Edwards: Everybody knows that people feel very strongly about her on both sides. What that means for a general election I don't know. What I know is I'm the Democratic candidate who has won in a red state, who grew up in small town rural America and therefore can campaign in all those places and at least according to a big poll that I saw about a week ago I'm the only Democrat that beats every single Republican in the general election.Yepsen: I want to ask you about Barack Obama as well. Can a man who four years ago was a state senator in Illinois be president of the United States?

Edwards: Well, I mean, it's a fair question. I think he's been trying to answer that.Yepsen: What do you think?

Edwards: I don't know. I mean, I think that -- I've watched him in the campaign, I think that, you know, occasionally we've seen some signs that he's new to this. But having said all that I think he's a good candidate. So, it's not for me to judge, that's for voters to judge.

Glover: Senator, I'd like to get to a question about the real John Edwards. During your tenure in the Senate you voted one way on the war and a number of other issues and you're in a different place now on the campaign trail. What is the real John Edwards?

Edwards: The real John Edwards is the guy who has been fighting for the kind of people I grew up with, worked in the mills with my father. I grew up myself in little towns and have been fighting for these people my whole life. It hasn't changed a bit.

Borg: But is the real John Edwards, is what Mike's asking, a person who is entitled to change his mind on major issues?

Edwards: Well, the war I've been very open about that and very direct. I wasn't being cross-examined about it, I voluntarily said that I was wrong, I shouldn't have voted for the war. Anybody over a period of time can learn and experience and then the world changes too, it's not just me. I mean, if you look what's happened the war has gotten worse, health care has gotten worse, poverty has gotten worse, inequality has gotten worse. I mean, there are some changing circumstances in the world but I don't accept the premise, first of all. I don't accept the premise there's been some big change. I think I am the same person I was in 2004, I'm fighting for the same causes. If you look back in the years when I ran for the United States Senate my whole campaign was about being the people's senator, it was about standing up against special interests. When I first ran the United States Senate I committed to never take ever in political life take money from Washington lobbyists or from professional interest packs. I'm the only candidate that I know of in this race who has done that the entire time I've been in public life.

Glover: The question is not just about the war, it's about hog lots, it's about a whole series of other issues where you voted one way and now campaign differently.

Edwards: But I'm just telling you that I hear what you're saying, there has been no change in who I am. I mean, some of the circumstances have changed and I do think, I mean, hog lots, you bring up hog lots. I mean, I look at what has happened in my home state of North Carolina where we had to put a moratorium in place on the expansion and building of any more of these concentrated animal feeding operations. It was important and it made a difference. So, yes, do I learn from what I see happening? Yes. But I want to go right back to this though because nothing about who I am and what it is I believe and what I'm fighting for has changed one iota.Yepsen: Dennis Kucinich suggested that there is a question here in one of the debates about who John Edwards really is. The war, the Patriot Act, Yucca Mountain, China trade, No Child Left Behind, Kapos and Smithfield when you were a Senator and bankruptcy, those are all positions you took as a senator that now are different. You have admitted you were wrong on several of them and changed your position. What are we to make of that, Senator?

Edwards: What you make of it is, first of all, I don't want to go through every one of those, there are some of those I would dispute what you just said and what Kucinich said. But the truth is if you look at what I have fought for, I have fought for jobs in the middle class and health care, I have fought for the kind of working people and the middle class that I grew up with, I have fought for the cause of ending poverty in America which is the personal cause of my life. Nothing about me has changed. I mean, do you learn from experience? Of course you learn from experience. There is nobody who has been in public life for any significant period of time who has not learned from their own experience, nobody, there's nobody in this race who hasn't done that. But there's a difference between that and at the same time saying one thing one place and one thing another which I don't do and have never done. Yepsen: Senator, you criticized special interests in Washington lobbyists yet you've taken a lot of campaign contributions over the years from your fellow trial lawyers. Now, what's the difference between taking money from any other political action committee or lobbying group and taking money from trial lawyers?

Edwards: The difference is the Washington lobbyists are in the business of influencing legislation.Yepsen: And trial lawyers are not?

Edwards: No, of course they're not. Lawyers are around the country, David, doing work. Do they have an interest? Of course they have an interest. But they're not in Washington every day getting paid for a living to influence legislation. That's what lobbyists do. Everybody in America, every single caucus-goer listening to this broadcast knows that lobbyists have distorted the way the political system works, they know that. Are there interest groups, doctors, school teachers, lawyers? Of course there are. But that's not the same thing as people who make a living doing it and it's not the same thing as special interest packs who by definition are special interest. And what I have said from the beginning is I won't take money from those people, I've never taken money from them. As far as I know I am the only candidate who the entire time I've been in public life has taken that stance and stood behind it. You know, it's cost me in campaign contributions but it was the right thing to do. If you're going to fight special interest you can not sit at a table and negotiate with them while you're taking their money at the same time, it doesn't work.

Glover: Senator, let's go to some issues that are out there on the campaign trail. On the Republican side maybe the top issue in the race is immigration, illegal immigration. Where is that issue on the Democratic side and where are you?

Edwards: On immigration? My view is that there are three things that we need to do. Well, let me start with a bigger picture. I think first of all the trade laws, the trade policies that America has had in place has not just, NAFTA, CAFTA, etc., has not just cost America jobs and Iowans jobs, it's also not been helpful tot he economy of Mexico which results in there being an economic incentive for Mexicans to cross the border illegally and come into America. We need a different trade policy that focuses on not the profits of big corporations which is what we've been doing but instead focuses on jobs in the middle class. That kind of trade policy might actually benefit other countries instead of hurting the economies of other countries. What we need to do specifically about immigration is we need to do a much better job of securing our border, more border patrol, better use of technology. I wouldn't build a fence all the way across the border, I think that's nutty but I think there are some places some fencing may do some good. We've got to be much tougher on employers that are violating the law and I'm not in favor of amnesty, I am in favor of a pact to earn citizenship with at least a couple of requirements, payment of a fine if you want to be an American citizen and a little more controversial I think if you want to become an American citizen you should learn to speak English.

Glover: And let's take the first part of the question. Where is that issue among a Democratic activist? I mean, there seems to be an anger among Republicans. They really want to force that issue. What is your sense of where Democrats are?

Edwards: Oh, I think they're like a lot of Americans, they're divided about it. I mean, they're worried about the issue, they're worried about what needs to be done. I think it's one of those things that shouldn't be driven by the politics of it, we ought to do what is right and moral and fair. Yepsen: Let's talk a little more about Iraq for a moment here, it came up earlier in the show. Why is your position on Iraq, what you want to do there better than the position that all your opponents are taking, the positions that your opponents are taking?

Edwards: Well, I have consistently said several things. One, that we have to get all combat troops out because without getting combat troops out and without ending combat missions and no permanent military bases, all of which I am committed to, you can't end the occupation. And I think we must end the occupation for a whole variety of reasons. I have also consistently said that Congress should never send a funding bill to this president on the Iraq war that doesn't have a timetable for withdrawal. So, I think I've been out front and very aggressive about doing the things that need to be done to bring this war to an end.

Glover: And what do you say to the members of Congress who just sent the President a funding bill that doesn't have a timeline in it? And do you understand the number of votes they have in the Senate, the difficulty of just cutting off funds?

Edwards: I do, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't do it. I think what you hear from a lot of voters, not just Democratic voters by the way, is what they did in November of 2006 is they sent the Congress a mandate and that mandate was make George Bush change course in Iraq and I think they expect the Congress to follow that mandate.

Glover: And how does the Congress go about making the President change foreign policy when you have a barely evenly divided Senate?

Edwards: You use every single power you have, procedural and otherwise, to ensure that no funding bill goes to the President that doesn't have a timetable involved.

Borg: Expand just a little bit more on Iraq. Does withdrawal from Iraq mean no residual force?

Edwards: Withdrawal means no residual combat force. Unless you're going to close the embassy -- and the embassy is a mammoth monstrosity to begin with -- but if we're going to have any kind of embassy in Baghdad there has to be something there, some force there to protect it. Everybody says that by the way, every candidate says that. But the issue is what are you going to do about combat troops because combat troops are there for the purpose of engaging in war and I will get all combat troops out, end combat missions, no permanent military bases.Yepsen: Senator, I want to go back to the question of trade that came up in your answer to immigration. Why do we not conclude that your trade policies and what you want to do with trade aren't protectionist? In fact, they're going to create trade wars around the world?

Edwards: What you should conclude from my trade policy is that I actually care about jobs in the middle class in this country which we have not been doing for over a decade now. We've had a policy that has enriched big corporations, it's fed the corporate greed that is going on and it's cost America millions of jobs, devastating to jobs in the middle class. And instead of asking is this good for the profits of big companies the question we should be asking is, is this good for working middle class America? That should be the question.Yepsen: Okay, Senator, you described the problem. How do you solve it then without creating trade wars or protectionist policies? I mean, you do agree the country benefits from vigorous trade abroad, do you not?

Edwards: Trade done the right way, yes.Yepsen: How would you do that?

Edwards: The way you do it is you have trade policy that if, number one, it has to have labor standards, environmental standards in the text of the agreement, real labor standards and environmental standards. You need a president who will actually enforce those standards. And we have to also close tax loopholes that continue to give American companies tax breaks for sending jobs overseas. This is insanity. And by the way, our trade policy, NAFTA, CAFTA, our tax laws which incentivize companies to send jobs overseas, this is all part of the bigger problem. I mean, we have a healthcare policy, a tax policy, a trade policy, all these things, our failure to deal with global warming, are driven by the same thing, entrenched corporate interest to keep America from getting what it needs. And if we don't have a president in the mold of a Teddy Roosevelt or a Franklin Roosevelt or a Harry Truman, I mean, Franklin Roosevelt transformed America and he was vilified by big corporate interest because he stood up to them on behalf of the American people. We need a president of the United States who will do that today.

Glover: Let's go to another issue, Congress just sent the President an energy bill that he signed that would increase standards, mileage requirements for automobiles. Is that enough? Will it make a difference? And what more needs to be done?

Edwards: It helps, it's not enough. Our mileage standard for vehicles should be at least 40 miles to the gallon by the year 2016. It needs to be part of a bigger, more comprehensive package of ideas to move America off its addiction to oil. We ought to cap carbon emissions. We ought to reduce our carbon emissions by at least 80% by 2050. Beneath the cap we ought to make polluters pay to get a permit to put out carbon dioxide, take that money and invest it, a big chunk of it, in wind, solar, cellulose based biofuels. I do not favor building more nuclear power plants. Senator Obama and Senator Clinton have indicated they may. I think we ought to have a moratorium on coal fired power plants until we have the ability to capture and sequester the carbon which we should be doing. And just one last thought, we also need a president who will ask Americans to sacrifice, to be willing to be patriotic about something other than war because without sacrifice we can not solve this problem.

Glover: And let's go back and look at a larger picture on all of these issues. Your critics say that you're a divisive figure like Senator Clinton, you're viewing the true Americans and that kind of thing and they say the only way to accomplish something in Washington is to pull people together. How do you answer that criticism?

Edwards: They're just dead wrong, absolutely dead wrong. I mean, there is a reason why I'm the Democrat who beats every single Republican in head to head matchups in the national election. That's not what America believes about me. What America sees in me is somebody who is positive, optimistic, strong and a fighter. The country sees not what -- the critics you're talking about are my political opponents -- what America sees is a different John Edwards. And I am the candidate who will fight for the change we need, not just wish it's going to come, I'm going to fight for it with everything I've got and I am the candidate who can go into the general election, win this election, strengthen not only -- not only put a Democrat in the White House -- but strengthen Democratic numbers in the House and the Senate because I can campaign every place in America on behalf of the Democrats who are running for Congress.Yepsen: Senator, I asked you to distinguish yourself on Iraq, I want to do the same question on health care. All the Democratic presidential candidates have got health care plans. Why is yours better?

Edwards: The plan itself or how we'd implement it?Yepsen: Either way.

Edwards: Well, I think the implementation is the biggest difference. Let me do the plan first. The difference between me and Senator Obama is very basic. My plan is universal, his is not. My plan has a mandate that requires by law everyone to be covered, his plan is not universal. So, we have a subtenant difference on that front. With Senator Clinton the difference is it's mostly implementation but there are a couple of other differences. For example, we all have savings in Medicare on our healthcare plans. She takes those savings out of Medicare and uses them to pay for her universal healthcare plan. I think that's a mistake. Medicare is already having financial trouble, we shouldn't be taking anything out of Medicare. So, the savings that I create for Medicare, I keep in Medicare. The reason I can do that is I get rid of Bush's tax cuts for those who make over $200,000 a year. She only gets rid of them if you make over $250,000 a year. But the biggest difference between all three of us is what we'll do to put healthcare in place. And Senator Clinton says she'll sit at the table with the people that have been supportive of her financially and make a deal. Senator Obama says he will negotiate with I think he calls the stakeholders, insurance companies, drug companies and their lobbyists to try to make a deal. I just think that's a complete fantasy. We'd have universal healthcare today if that would work. We have to have a president who will stand up to these people, who will stand up to them, galvanize America to stand behind the president and drive through them because that's what is going to be necessary to have universal healthcare.

Borg: That speaks to the leadership of the executive branch. Senator Clinton speaking yesterday in Tipton that I heard her say, I have experienced government now in both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, extolling the fact that she is better qualified because of that. But that speaks also to the relationship of the executive branch to Congress. Will you speak a little bit about that? How would you -- you've been on one side of Pennsylvania Avenue as a Senator -- has the presidency grown too strong?

Edwards: Oh, the executive branch of the government has grown mightily in its power under George Bush. But let me go to the practical part of this. When I talk about this epic fight that we have in front of us it's not with politicians. I want to be really clear about that because the last thing Americans want to see are a bunch of politicians fighting with each other. So, the president's job and it would be my responsibility is to work with the Congress to get things done. Now, to sometimes put pressure on them to galvanize the American people behind an effort to put pressure on them because many times politicians don't lead, they follow public will so convincing America about what needs to be done is crucial. But the battle is not with the politicians. The battle is with the entrenched interests that are stopping the change that we make.

Glover: Senator, you have said in the past your healthcare plan is expensive and might add to the deficit and that is a policy choice that you have made. But that has consequences as well including the money we have to borrow from China that is devastating the dollar worldwide. How do you deal with that?

Edwards: The way we deal with it is first of all everything that I have proposed, healthcare, energy, education, college, every single thing I have proposed I have specifically proposed how it will be paid for. So, what I have committed to is not making the deficit worse in the short-term and secondly growing the economy by strengthening the middle class, growing the middle class, creating jobs. We can create millions of jobs including at least a million with energy transformation, greening the economy. And that growing of the middle class we know historically in American history what that means is what you grow the middle class, you grow the economy, it's sustainable and it drives down the deficit. So, if the long-term goal here is to get rid of the structural deficiencies in the American economy, our addiction to oil, our dysfunctional healthcare system, a tax policy that favors a few and big corporations, a trade policy that has cost American jobs and hurt the middle class, we change all those things then we can grow and strengthen the middle class in ways that we have seen post FDR, Harry Truman, etc. in the past.Yepsen: Senator, we've got 30 seconds left and we always like to give candidates a free throw. What do you want caucus-goers to remember most about you as they head out the night of January 3rd?

Edwards: That I am the positive, optimistic guy, I have been all my life and I am the fighter that they need in this battle to change this country and to stand up to the interests that are stopping the promise of America from being available to their children.

Borg: Thank you for being with us.

Edwards: Thank you very much.

Borg: On our next edition of Iowa Press -- it'll be the final show for 2007 -- we're reviewing the year's top news events and how they'll affect 2008. You'll see our year ending reporters' roundtable with special emphasis, of course, on the January 3rd presidential preference caucus at 7:30 Friday night and 11:30 Sunday morning. And a closing reminder Iowa Public Television now has a Campaign 2008 Web site featuring on-demand streaming and debates and up-to-date campaign features. Iptv.org highlights coverage from Iowa Public Television, Iowa Public Radio, National Public Radio and the PBS News Hour. It has audio and video streaming and program transcripts too if you want that. We've got campaign news and archived events at iptv.org. And all of us here at Iowa Public Television extend holiday greetings and our wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I'm Dean Borg. Thanks for joining us today.

Funding for Iowa Press was provided by Friends, the Iowa Public Television Foundation; The Association of American Railroads, dedicated to a clean environment by shipping each ton of freight over 400 miles on one gallon of fuel. America's Freight Railroads, on the Web at FreightRailWorks.org; The Iowa Bankers Association, for personal, business and commercial needs, Iowa banks help Iowans reach their financial goals; by Policy Works, a public and government affairs firm offering lobbying, grass-roots and advocacy services to help you meet your strategic public policy needs. Information is available on the Web at www.policyworksllc.com.


Tags: presidential candidates