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Clinton vs. Obama: The Democratic Debate

Transcript: Obama and Clinton Debate

Full Transcript of the Democrats' Before Pennsylvania Primary

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But I have to say that, you know, for Pastor Wright to have given his first sermon after 9/11 and to have blamed the United States for the attack, which happened in my city of New York, would have been just intolerable for me. And, therefore, I would have not been able to stay in the church.

And maybe it's, you know, just, again, a personal reflection that, regardless of whatever good is going on, and I have no reason to doubt that a lot of good things were happening in that church.

You get to choose your pastor. You don't choose your family, but you get to choose your pastor. And when asked a direct question, I said I would not have stayed in the church.

OBAMA: Well, let me just respond to two things. Absolutely, many of these remarks were objectionable. I've already said that I didn't hear them because I wasn't in church that day. I didn't learn about those statements until much later. But...

GIBSON: But you did rescind the invitation to him...

OBAMA: But that was on something entirely different, Charlie. That was on a different statement. And I think that what Senator Clinton referred to was extremely offensive, to me and a lot of people.

But what I should also point out is that Senator Clinton's former pastor publicly talked about how Reverend Wright was being caricatured and that, in fact, this is somebody who had maintained an extraordinary ministry for many years.

And so there are two important points. Number one, I wasn't aware of all these statements, and I can understand how people would take offense.

But, number two, the church is a community that extends beyond the pastor. And that church has done outstanding work for many, many years.

The third point I guess I would make is, once again, that unless we can bridge some of these divides, we're not going to solve problems in this country. And what my entire body of work over the last 20 years has been devoted to is getting blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, young, old to work together, starting when I was a community organizer.

And my own life embodies that diversity. That's what America is about, and that's what this campaign has been about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, two questions. Number one, do you think Reverend Wright loves America as much as you do? And, number two, if you get the nomination, what will you do when those sermons are played on television again and again and again?

OBAMA: You know, George, look, if it's not this, then it would be something else. I promise you, if Senator Clinton got the nomination, there will be a whole bunch of video clips about other things.

In a general election, we know that there are going to be all kinds of attacks launched and leveled. There have been quite a few leveled in this primary campaign.

And I have confidence in the American people that when you talk to the American people honestly and directly about what I believe in, what my plans are on health care, on energy, when they see my track record of the work that I've done on behalf of people who really need help, I have absolute confidence that they can rally behind my campaign.

And, you know, the notion that somehow that the American people are going to be distracted once again by comments not made by me, but somebody who is associated with me that I have disowned, I think doesn't give the American people enough credit.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You've disowned him?

OBAMA: The comments, comments that I've disowned. Then that is not something I...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you do believe he's as patriotic as you are?

OBAMA: This is somebody who's a former marine. So, I believe that he loves this country. But I also believe that he's somebody who, because of the experiences he's had over the course of a lifetime, is also angry about the injustices that he's had.

GIBSON: I'm getting a little out of balance here. Do you want to take a few seconds or do you want to go to the next question?

CLINTON: I think in addition to the questions about Reverend Wright and what he said and when he said it, and for whatever reason he might have said these things, there were so many different variations on the explanations that we heard.

And it is something that I think deserves further exploration because clearly, what we've got to figure out is how we're going to bring people together in a way that overcomes the anger, overcomes the divisiveness and whatever bitterness there may be out there. You know?

It is clear that, as leaders, we have a choice who we associate with and who we apparently give some kind of seal of approval to. And I think that it wasn't only the specific remarks but some of the relationships with Reverend Farrakhan, with giving the church bulletin over to the leader of Hamas, to put a message in.

You know, these are problems. And they raise questions in people's minds. And, so, this is a legitimate area, as everything is, when we run for office, for people to be exploring and trying to find answers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Clinton, we also did a poll today. And there's also questions about you raised in this poll. About six in 10 voters that we talk to say they don't believe you're honest and trustworthy. And we asked a lot of Pennsylvania voters for questions that they had. A lot them raised this honesty issue and your comments about being under sniper fire in Bosnia. Here's Tom Rooney from Pittsburgh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM ROONEY, VOTER: Senator Clinton, how do you reconcile the campaign credibility that you have when you made those comments about what happened getting off the plane in Bosnia, which totally misrepresented what really happened on that day? You really lost my vote. And what can you tell me to get that vote back?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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CLINTON: Well, Tom, I can tell you that I may be a lot of things. But I'm not dumb. And I wrote about going to Bosnia in my book in 2004. I laid it all out there. And you're right. On a couple of occasions in the last weeks, I just said some things that weren't in keeping with what I knew to be the case and what I had written about in my book.

And, you know, I'm embarrassed by it. I have apologized for it. I've said it was a mistake. And it is, I hope, something that you can look over because, clearly, I am proud that I went to Bosnia. It was a war zone. General Wesley Clark is here in the audience with me, as one of my major supporters. He and I were talking about it before I came out.

You know, our soldiers were there to try to police and keep the peace in a very dangerous area. They were totally in battle gear. There were concerns about potential dangers. The former president of Bosnia has said he was worried about the safety of the situation.

So, I know that it is something that some people have said wait a minute. What happened here? But I have talked about this and written about it. And then, unfortunately, in a few occasions, I was not as accurate as I have been in the past.

But I know, too, that being able to rely on my experience of having gone to Bosnia, gone to more than 80 countries, having represented the United States in so many different settings, gives me a tremendous advantage going into this campaign, particularly against Senator McCain.

So, I will either try to get more sleep, Tom or, you know, have somebody that, you know, is there, as a reminder to me. You know, you can go back for the past 15 months. We both have said things that, you know, turned out not to be accurate. You know, that happens when you're talking as much as we have talked. But, you know, I'm very sorry that I said it. And I have said that, you know, it just didn't jive with what I had written about and knew to be the truth.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, your campaign has sent out a cascade of e-mails just about every day, questioning Senator Clinton's credibility. And you, yourself, said she hasn't been fully truthful about what she would do as president. Do you believe that Senator Clinton has been fully truthful about her past?

OBAMA: Well, look, I think that Senator Clinton has a strong record to run on. She wouldn't be here if she didn't.

And, you know, I haven't commented on the issue of Bosnia. You know, I...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign has.

OBAMA: Of course. But the -- because we're asked about it.

But, look, the fact of the matter is, is that both of us are working as hard as we can to make sure that we're delivering a message to the American people about what we would do as president. Sometimes that message is going to be imperfectly delivered because we are recorded every minute of every day.

And I think Senator Clinton deserves the right to make some errors once in a while. Obviously, I make some as well.

I think what's important is to make sure that we don't get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history. We are going to be tackling some of the biggest issues that any president has dealt with in the last 40 years.

Our economy is teetering not just on the edge of recession but potentially worse. Our foreign policy is in a shambles. We are involved in two wars. People's incomes have not gone up, and their costs have. And we're seeing greater income inequality now than any time since the 1920s.

In those circumstances, for us to be obsessed with this -- these kinds of errors I think is a mistake. And that's not what our campaign has been about.

What our campaign has been about is offering some specific solutions to how we move these issues forward and identifying the need to change the culture in Washington, which we haven't talked at all about but that has blocked real reform decade after decade after decade.

That, I think, is the job of the next president of the United States. That's what I intend to do. That's why I'm running.

(APPLAUSE)

GIBSON: And, Senator Obama, I want to do one more question, which goes to the basic issue of electability. And it is a question raised by a voter in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, a woman by the name of Nash McCabe. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NASH MCCABE, VOTER: Senator Obama, I have a question, and I want to know if you believe in the American flag. I am not questioning your patriotism, but all our servicemen, policemen and EMS wear the flag. I want to know why you don't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIBSON: Just to add to that, I noticed you put one on yesterday. But you've talked about this before, but it comes up again and again when we talk to voters. And, as you may know, it is all over the Internet.

And it's something of a theme that Senators Clinton and McCain's advisers agree could give you a major vulnerability if you're the candidate in November.

How do you convince Democrats that this would not be a vulnerability?

OBAMA: Well, look, I revere the American flag. And I would not be running for president if I did not revere this country.

This is -- I would not be standing here if it wasn't for this country. And I've said this -- again, there's no other country in which my story is even possible. Somebody who was born to a teenage mom, raised by a single mother and grandparents from small towns in Kansas, you know, who was able to get an education and rise to the point where I can run for the highest office in the land, I could not help but love this country for all that it's given me.

And so, what I've tried to do is to show my patriotism by how I treat veterans when I'm working in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; by making sure that I'm speaking forcefully about how we need to bring this war in Iraq to a close, because I think it is not serving our national security well and it's not serving our military families and our troops well; talking about how we need to restore a sense of economic fairness to this country, because that's what this country has always been about, is providing upward mobility and ladders to opportunity for all Americans.

That's what I love about this country. And so I will continue to fight for those issues.

And I am absolutely confident that during the general election, that when I'm in a debate with John McCain, people are not going to be questioning my patriotism; they are going to be questioning, how can you make people's lives a little bit better?

And let me just make one last point on this issue of the flag pin. As you've noted, I wore one yesterday when a veteran handed it to me, who himself was disabled and works on behalf of disabled veterans.

I have never said that I don't wear flag pins or refuse to wear flag pins. This is the kind of manufactured issue that our politics has become obsessed with and, once again, distracts us from what should be my job when I'm commander-in-chief, which is going to be figuring out how we get our troops out of Iraq and how we actually make our economy better for the American people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Senator, if you get the nomination, you'll have...

(APPLAUSE)

... to beat back these distractions.

And I want to give Senator Clinton a chance to respond, but first a follow-up on this issue, general theme of patriotism, in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers. He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He's never apologized for that.

And, in fact, on 9/11, he was quoted in the New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough." An early organizing meeting for your State Senate campaign was held at his house and your campaign has said you are "friendly."

Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?

OBAMA: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George.

The fact is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.

Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those, either.

So this kind of game in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, that somehow their ideas could be attributed to me, I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't.

CLINTON: Well, I think that is a fair general statement, but I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position.

And, if I'm not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York and, I would hope, to every American, because they were published on 9/11, and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more.

And what they did was set bombs. And in some instances, people died. So it is -- I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about.

And I have no doubt -- I know Senator Obama's a good man and I respect him greatly, but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising.

And it goes to this larger set of concerns about how we are going to run against John McCain. You know, I wish the Republicans would apologize for the disaster of the Bush-Cheney years and not run anybody, just say that it's time for the Democrats to go back into the White House.

(APPLAUSE)

Unfortunately, they don't seem to be willing to do that. So we know that they're going to be out there, full force.

And, you know, I've been in this arena for a long time. I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years.

(LAUGHTER)

And so, therefore, I have an opportunity to come to this campaign with a very strong conviction and feeling that I will be able to withstand whatever the Republicans send our way.

OBAMA: Look, I'm going to have to respond to this just really quickly, but by Senator Clinton's own vetting standards, I don't think she would make it, since President Clinton pardoned or commuted the sentences of two members of the Weather Underground, which I think is a slightly more significant act...

(APPLAUSE)

GIBSON: Please.

OBAMA: ... than me serving on a board with somebody for actions that he did 40 years ago.

Look, there is no doubt, that the Republicans will attack either of us. What I've been able to display during the course of this primary, is that I can take a punch. I've taken some pretty good ones from Senator Clinton.

And I don't begrudge her of that. That's part of what the political contest is about. I am looking forward to having a debate with John McCain. And I think every poll indicates that I am doing just as well, if not better, in pulling together the coalition that will defeat John McCain.

When it comes to November and people go to the polling place, they're going to be asking, are we going to go through four more years of George Bush economic policies? Are we going through four more years of George Bush foreign policy? If we as Democrats and if I as the nominee have put forward a clear vision for how we're going to move the country forward, deal with issues like energy dependence, lower gas prices, provide health care, get our troops out of Iraq, that is a debate that I'm happy to have and a debate that I'm confident that I can win.

GIBSON: And, Senator Clinton, I'm getting out of balance in terms of time. You're getting short-changed here. If you want to reply here, fine. If you want to wait, we'll do it in the next half hour.

CLINTON: We can wait. GIBSON: All right. We'll take a commercial break. We will come back to the Democratic debate from the city of Philadelphia, before the Pennsylvania primary. We'll continue. Stay with us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIBSON: "The president shall be commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy of the United States and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Live coverage from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, continues. Here, again, Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos.

GIBSON: Another quote from the Constitution, apropos, because we are here, as the -- you heard just a moment ago at the Constitution Center.

Senator Clinton, a question for you. We talked about the military applications from the Constitution. And this is a question that involves the war in Iraq. It comes from Mandy Garber of Pittsburgh.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANDY GARBER, PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA: The real question is, I mean, do the candidates have a real plan to get us out of Iraq, or is it just real campaign propaganda? And it's really unclear. They keep saying we want to bring the troops back. But considering what's happening on the ground, how is that going to happen?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GIBSON: Let me just add a little bit to that question, because your communications director of your campaign, Howard Wolfson, on a conference call recently was asked, is Senator Clinton going to stick to her announced plan of bringing one or two brigades out of Iraq every month, whatever the realities on the ground?

And Wolfson said, I'm giving you a one-word answer so we can be clear about it. The answer is, yes. So, if the military commanders in Iraq came to you on day one, and said, this kind of withdrawal would destabilize Iraq, it would set back all of the gains that we have made, no matter what, you're going to order those troops to come home?

CLINTON: Yes, I am, Charlie. And here's why. Thankfully, we have a system in our country, of civilian control of the military. And our professional military are the best in the world. They give their best advice. And then they execute the policies of the president.

I have watched this president, as he has continued to change the rationale and move the goal posts when it comes to Iraq. And I am convinced that it is in America's best interests, it is in the best interests of our military, and I even believe it is in the best interests of Iraq that upon taking office I will ask the secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and my security advisers to immediately put together for me a plan so that I can begin to withdraw within 60 days.

I will make it very clear that we will do so in a responsible and careful manner because, obviously, withdrawing troops and equipment, is dangerous. I will also make it clear to the Iraqis that they no longer have a blank check from the president of the United States.

Because I believe that it will be only through our commitment to withdrawal that the Iraqis will begin to do what they have failed to do for all of these years. I will also begin an intensive diplomatic effort, both within the region and internationally, to begin to try to get other countries to understand the stakes that we all face when it comes to the future of Iraq.

But I have been convinced and very clear that I will begin to withdraw troops within 60 days. And we've had other instances in our history where some military commanders have been very publicly opposed to what a president was proposing to do. But I think it's important that this decision be made. And I intend to make it.

GIBSON: But Senator Clinton, aren't you saying -- General Petraeus was in Washington. You both were there when he testified. Saying that the gains in Iraq are fragile and are reversible. Are you essentially saying: I know better than the military commanders here?

CLINTON: No, what I'm saying, Charlie, is that no one can predict what will happen. There are many different scenarios.

But one thing I am sure of is that our staying in Iraq, our continuing to lose our men and women in uniform, having many injured, the Iraqi casualties that we are seeing, as well, is there -- is no way for us to maintain a strong position in the world.

It's not only about Iraq. It is about ending the war in Iraq so that we can begin paying attention to all of the other problems we have.

There isn't any doubt that Afghanistan has been neglected. It has not gotten the resources that it needs. We hear that from our military commanders responsible for that region of the world.

And there are other problems that we have failed to address.

So the bottom line for me is: We don't know what will happen as we withdraw. We do know what will happen if we stay mired in Iraq.

The Iraqi government will not accept responsibility for its own future. Our military will continue to be stretched thin. And our soldiers will be on their second, third, even their fourth deployment. And we will not be able to re-assert our leadership and our moral authority in the world.

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