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Transcript: Bush, Kerry debate domestic policies


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Sen. John Kerry and President Bush debate domestic policy in Tempe, Arizona, Wednesday.
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Bob Schieffer
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TEMPE, Arizona (CNN) -- The following is the final part of a transcript of the final debate between President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry held Wednesday night at Arizona State University.

CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer moderated the debate that focused on domestic policy.

All answers are linked to the questions in the box to the right.

Question 15: What relief can be offered to Guard and Reserve forces?

SCHIEFFER: All right, let's go to another question. And it is to Sen. Kerry.

You have two minutes, sir.

Senator, the last debate, President Bush said he did not favor a draft. You agreed with him. But our National Guard and Reserve forces are being severely strained because many of them are being held beyond their enlistments. Some of them say that it's a back-door draft.

Is there any relief that could be offered to these brave Americans and their families?

If you became president, Sen. Kerry, what would you do about this situation of holding National Guard and Reservists for these extended periods of time and these repeated call-ups that they're now facing?

KERRY: Well, I think the fact that they're facing these repeated call-ups, some of them two and three deployments, and there's a stop-loss policy that prevents people from being able to get out when their time was up, is a reflection of the bad judgment this president exercised in how he has engaged in the world and deployed our forces.

Our military is overextended. Nine out of 10 active-duty Army divisions are either in Iraq, going to Iraq or have come back from Iraq. One way or the other, they're wrapped up in it.

Now, I've proposed adding two active-duty divisions to the Armed Forces of the United States -- one combat, one support.

In addition, I'm going to double the number of Special Forces so that we can fight a more effective war on terror, with less pressure on the National Guard and Reserve. And what I would like to do is see the National Guard and Reserve be deployed differently here in our own country.

There's much we can do with them with respect to homeland security. We ought to be doing that. And that would relieve an enormous amount of pressure.

But the most important thing to relieve the pressure on all of the armed forces is frankly to run a foreign policy that recognizes that America is strongest when we are working with real alliances, when we are sharing the burdens of the world by working through our statesmanship at the highest levels and our diplomacy to bring other nations to our side.

I've said it before, I say it again: I believe the president broke faith to the American people in the way that he took this nation to war.

He said he would work through a real alliance. He said in Cincinnati we would plan carefully, we would take every precaution. Well, we didn't. And the result is our forces today are overextended.

The fact is that he did not choose to go to war as a last result.

And America now is paying, already $120 billion, up to $200 billion before we're finished and much more probably. And that is the result of this president taking his eye off of Osama bin Laden.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President?

BUSH: The best way to take the pressure off our troops is to succeed in Iraq, is to train Iraqis so they can do the hard work of democracy, is to give them a chance to defend their country, which is precisely what we're doing. We'll have 125,000 troops trained by the end of this year.

I remember going on an airplane in Bangor, Maine, to say thanks to the Reservists and Guard that were headed overseas from Tennessee and North Carolina, Georgia. Some of them had been there before.

The people I talked to, their spirits were high. They didn't view their service as a back-door draft. They viewed their service as an opportunity to serve their country.

My opponent, the senator, talks about foreign policy.

In our first debate he proposed America pass a global test. In order to defend ourselves, we'd have to get international approval. That's one of the major differences we have about defending our country.

I'll work with allies. I'll work with friends. We'll continue to build strong coalitions. But I will never turn over our national security decisions to leaders of other countries.

We'll be resolute, we'll be strong, and we'll wage a comprehensive war against the terrorists.

SCHIEFFER: Senator?

KERRY: I have never suggested a test where we turn over our security to any nation. In fact, I've said the opposite: I will never turn the security of the United States over to any nation. No nation will ever have a veto over us.

But I think it makes sense, I think most Americans in their guts know, that we ought to pass a sort of truth standard. That's how you gain legitimacy with your own countrypeople, and that's how you gain legitimacy in the world.

But I'll never fail to protect the United States of America.

BUSH: In 1990, there was a vast coalition put together to run Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. The international community, the international world said this is the right thing to do, but when it came time to authorize the use of force on the Senate floor, my opponent voted against the use of force.

Apparently you can't pass any test under his vision of the world.

Question 16: Why didn't Bush try to extend the assault weapons ban?

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, new question, two minutes.

You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons, that you'd sign the legislation, but you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?

BUSH: Actually, I made my intentions -- made my views clear. I did think we ought to extend the assault weapons ban, and was told the fact that the bill was never going to move, because Republicans and Democrats were against the assault weapon ban, people of both parties.

I believe law-abiding citizens ought to be able to own a gun. I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere to make sure that guns don't get in the hands of people that shouldn't have them.

But the best way to protect our citizens from guns is to prosecute those who commit crimes with guns.

And that's why early in my administration I called the attorney general and the U.S. attorneys and said: Put together a task force all around the country to prosecute those who commit crimes with guns.

And the prosecutions are up by about 68 percent -- I believe -- is the number.

Neighborhoods are safer when we crack down on people who commit crimes with guns.

To me, that's the best way to secure America.

SCHIEFFER: Senator?

KERRY: I believe it was a failure of presidential leadership not to reauthorize the assault weapons ban.

I am a hunter. I'm a gun owner. I've been a hunter since I was a kid, 12, 13 years old. And I respect the Second Amendment and I will not tamper with the Second Amendment.

But I'll tell you this.

I'm also a former law enforcement officer. I ran one of the largest district attorney's offices in America, one of the 10 largest. I put people behind bars for the rest of their life. I've broken up organized crime. I know something about prosecuting.

And most of the law enforcement agencies in America wanted that assault weapons ban. They don't want to go into a drug bust and be facing an AK-47.

I was hunting in Iowa last year with a sheriff from one of the counties there, and he pointed to a house in back of us, and said, "See the house over? We just did a drug bust a week earlier, and the guy we arrested had an AK-47 lying on the bed right beside him."

Because of the president's decision, today, law enforcement officers will walk into a place that will be more dangerous.

Terrorists can now come into America and go to a gun show and, without even a background check, buy an assault weapon today.

And that's what Osama bin Laden's handbook said, because we captured it in Afghanistan. It encouraged them to do it.

So I believe America's less safe.

If Tom DeLay or someone in the House said to me, "Sorry, we don't have the votes," I'd have said, "Then we're going to have a fight."

And I'd have taken it out to the country and I'd have had every law enforcement officer in the country visit those congressmen. We'd have won what Bill Clinton won.

Question 17: Is there a need for affirmative action programs?

SCHIEFFER: Let's go to a new question. For you, Sen. Kerry, two minutes.

Affirmative action: Do you see a need for affirmative action programs, or have we moved far enough along that we no longer need to use race and gender as a factor in school admissions and federal and state contracts and so on?

KERRY: No, Bob, regrettably, we have not moved far enough along.

And I regret to say that this administration has even blocked steps that could help us move further along. I'll give you an example.

I served on the Small Business Committee for a long time. I was chairman of it once. Now I'm the senior Democrat on it.

We used to -- you know, we have a goal there for minority set-aside programs, to try to encourage ownership in the country. They don't reach those goals. They don't even fight to reach those goals. They've tried to undo them.

The fact is that in too many parts of our country, we still have discrimination.

And affirmative action is not just something that applies to people of color.

Some people have a mistaken view of it in America. It also is with respect to women, it's with respect to other efforts to try to reach out and be inclusive in our country.

I think that we have a long way to go, regrettably. If you look at what's happened -- we've made progress, I want to say that at the same time.

During the Clinton years, as you may recall, there was a fight over affirmative action. And there were many people, like myself, who opposed quotas, who felt there were places where it was overreaching. So we had a policy called "Mend it, don't end it." We fixed it.

And we fixed it for a reason: because there are too many people still in this country who feel the stark resistance of racism, and so we have a distance to travel.

As president, I will make certain we travel it.

Now, let me just share something. This president is the first president ever, I think, not to meet with the NAACP. This is a president who hasn't met with the Black Congressional Caucus. This is a president who has not met with the civil rights leadership of our country.

If a president doesn't reach out and bring people in and be inclusive, then how are we going to get over those barriers? I see that as part of my job as president, and I'll make my best effort to do it.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President?

BUSH: Well, first of all, it is just not true that I haven't met with the Black Congressional Caucus. I met with the Black Congressional Caucus at the White House.

And secondly, like my opponent, I don't agree we ought to have quotas. I agree, we shouldn't have quotas.

But we ought to have an aggressive effort to make sure people are educated, to make sure when they get out of high school there's Pell Grants available for them, which is what we've done.

We've expanded Pell Grants by a million students.

Do you realize today in America, we spend $73 billion to help 10 million low- and middle-income families better afford college?

That's the access I believe is necessary, is to make sure every child learns to read, write, add and subtract early, to be able to build on that education by going to college so they can start their careers with a college diploma.

I believe the best way to help our small businesses is not only through small-business loans, which we have increased since I've been the president of the United States, but to unbundle government contracts so people have a chance to be able to bid and receive a contract to help get their business going.

Minority ownership of businesses are up, because we created an environment for the entrepreneurial spirit to be strong.

I believe part of a hopeful society is one in which somebody owns something.

Today in America more minorities own a home than ever before. And that's hopeful, and that's positive.

Question 18: What part does faith play in policy decisions?

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President, let's go to a new question.

You were asked before the invasion, or after the invasion, of Iraq if you'd checked with your dad. And I believe, I don't remember the quote exactly, but I believe you said you had checked with a higher authority.

I would like to ask you, what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

BUSH: First, my faith plays a lot -- a big part in my life. And that's, when I answering that question, what I was really saying to the person was that I pray a lot. And I do.

And my faith is a very -- it's very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm's way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls.

But I'm mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You're equally an American if you choose to worship an almighty and if you choose not to.

If you're a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you're equally an American. That's the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.

Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency.

I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, "Well, how do you know?" I said, "I just feel it."

Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else.

But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am.

I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we've unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt.

I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe.

And that's been part of my foreign policy. In Afghanistan, I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can't tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.

And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me, and religion is a part of me.

SCHIEFFER: Sen. Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it's important and I share it. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty.

Everything is a gift from the Almighty.

And as I measure the words of the Bible -- and we all do; different people measure different things -- the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being.

And people all find their ways to express it.

I was taught -- I went to a church school -- and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There's one for the people who have, and there's one for the people who don't have. And we're struggling with that today.

And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith.

I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead.

I think we've got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody's right to practice religion as they choose -- or not to practice -- because that's part of America.

Question 19: How can the president unite America?

SCHIEFFER: Sen. Kerry, after 9/11 -- and this is a new question for you -- it seemed to me that the country came together as I've never seen it come together since World War II. But some of that seems to have melted away.

I think it's fair to say we've become pretty polarized, perhaps because of the political season.

But if you were elected president, or whoever is elected president, will you set a priority in trying to bring the nation back together? Or what would be your attitude on that?

KERRY: Very much so.

Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may. I think in those days after 9/11, I thought the president did a terrific job.

And I really was moved, as well as impressed, by the speech that he gave to the Congress.

And I think the hug Tom Daschle gave him at that moment was about as genuine a sense of there being no Democrats, no Republicans, we were all just Americans. That's where we were.

That's not where we are today.

I regret to say that the president who called himself a uniter, not a divider, is now presiding over the most divided America in the recent memory of our country.

I've never seen such ideological squabbles in the Congress of the United States. I've never seen members of a party locked out of meetings the way they're locked out today.

We have to change that. And as president, I am committed to changing that. I don't care if the idea comes from the other side or this side. I think we have to come together and work to change it.

And I've done that. Over 20 years in the United States Senate, I've worked with John McCain, who's sitting here, I've worked with other colleagues. I've reached across the aisle. I've tried to find the common ground, because that's what makes us strong as Americans.

And if Americans trust me with the presidency, I can pledge to you, we will have the most significant effort, openly -- not secret meetings in the White House with special interests, not ideologically driven efforts to push people aside -- but a genuine effort to try to restore America's hope and possibilities by bringing people together.

And one of the ways we're going to do it is, I'm going to work with my friend, John McCain, to further campaign finance reform so we get these incredible amounts of money out of the system and open it up to average people, so America is really represented by the people who make up America.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President?

BUSH: My biggest disappointment in Washington is how partisan the town is. I had a record of working with Republicans and Democrats as the governor of Texas, and I was hopeful I'd be able to do the same thing.

And we made good progress early on. The No Child Left Behind Act, incredibly enough, was good work between me and my administration and people like Sen. Ted Kennedy.

And we worked together with Democrats to relieve the tax burden on the middle class and all who pay taxes in order to make sure this economy continues to grow.

But Washington is a tough town. And the way I view it is there's a lot of entrenched special interests there, people who are, you know, on one side of the issue or another and they spend enormous sums of money and they convince different senators to taut their way or different congressmen to talk about their issue, and they dig in.

I'll continue, in the four years, to continue to try to work to do so.

My opponent said this is a bitterly divided time. Pretty divided in the 2000 election. So in other words, it's pretty divided during the 1990s as well.

We're just in a period -- we've got to work to bring it -- my opponent keeps mentioning John McCain, and I'm glad he did. John McCain is for me for president because he understands I have the right view in winning the war on terror and that my plan will succeed in Iraq. And my opponent has got a plan of retreat and defeat in Iraq.

Question 20: What have you learned from your wife and daughters?

SCHIEFFER: We've come, gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud.

I'd like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women?

BUSH: To listen to them.

(LAUGHTER)

To stand up straight and not scowl.

(LAUGHTER)

I love the strong women around me. I can't tell you how much I love my wife and our daughters.

I am -- you know it's really interesting. I tell the people on the campaign trail, when I asked Laura to marry me, she said, "Fine, just so long as I never have to give a speech."

I said, "OK, you've got a deal."

Fortunately, she didn't hold me to that deal. And she's out campaigning along with our girls. And she speaks English a lot better than I do.

I think people understand what she's saying.

But they see a compassionate, strong, great first lady in Laura Bush.

I can't tell you how lucky I am. When I met her in the backyard at Joe and Jan O'Neill's in Midland, Texas, it was the classic backyard barbecue.

O'Neill said, "Come on over. I think you'll find somebody who might interest you."

So I said all right. Bopped over there.

There was only four of us there. And not only did she interest me, I guess you would say it was love at first sight.

SCHIEFFER: Sen. Kerry?

KERRY: Well, I guess the president and you and I are three examples of lucky people who married up.

(LAUGHTER)

And some would say maybe me more so than others.

(LAUGHTER)

But I can take it.

(LAUGHTER)

Can I say, if I could just say a word about a woman that you didn't ask about, but my mom passed away a couple years ago, just before I was deciding to run. And she was in the hospital, and I went in to talk to her and tell her what I was thinking of doing.

And she looked at me from her hospital bed and she just looked at me and she said, "Remember: integrity, integrity, integrity."

Those are the three words that she left me with.

And my daughters and my wife are people who just are filled with that sense of what's right, what's wrong.

They also kick me around. They keep me honest. They don't let me get away with anything. I can sometimes take myself too seriously. They surely don't let me do that.

And I'm blessed, as I think the president is blessed, as I said last time. I've watched him with the first lady, who I admire a great deal, and his daughters. He's a great father. And I think we're both very lucky.

Closing Statements

SCHIEFFER: Well, gentlemen, that brings us to the closing statements.

Sen. Kerry, I believe you're first.

KERRY: My fellow Americans, as you heard from Bob Schieffer a moment ago, America is being tested by division. More than ever, we need to be united as a country.

And, like Franklin Roosevelt, I don't care whether an idea is a Republican idea or a Democrat idea. I just care whether it works for America and whether it's going to make us stronger.

These are dangerous times. I believe I offer tested, strong leadership that can calm the waters of the troubled world. And I believe that we can together do things that are within the grasp of Americans.

We can lift our schools up. We can create jobs that pay more than the jobs we're losing overseas. We can have health care for all Americans. We can further the cause of equality in our nation. Let me just make it clear: I will never allow any country to have a veto over our security. Just as I fought for our country as a young man, with the same passion I will fight to defend this nation that I love.

And, with faith in God and with conviction in the mission of America, I believe that we can reach higher. I believe we can do better.

I think the greatest possibilities of our country, our dreams and our hopes, are out there just waiting for us to grab onto them. And I ask you to embark on that journey with me.

I ask you for your trust. I ask you for your help. I ask you to allow me the privilege of leading this great nation of ours, of helping us to be stronger here at home and to be respected again in the world and, most of all, to be safer forever.

Thank you. Goodnight. And God bless the United States of America.

SCHIEFFER: Mr. President?

BUSH: In the Oval Office, there's a painting by a friend of Laura and mine named -- by Tom Lee. And it's a West Texas painting, a painting of a mountain scene.

And he said this about it.

He said, "Sarah and I live on the east side of the mountain. It's the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It's the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that is gone."

I love the optimism in that painting, because that's how I feel about America. And we've been through a lot together during the last 3 3/4 years. We've come through a recession, a stock market decline, an attack on our country.

And yet, because of the hard work of the American people and good policies, this economy is growing. Over the next four years, we'll make sure the economy continues to grow.

We reformed our school system, and now there's an achievement gap in America that's beginning to close. Over the next four years, we'll continue to insist on excellence in every classroom in America so that our children have a chance to realize the great promise of America.

Over the next four years, we'll continue to work to make sure health care is available and affordable.

Over the next four years, we'll continue to rally the armies of compassion, to help heal the hurt that exists in some of our country's neighborhoods. I'm optimistic that we'll win the war on terror, but I understand it requires firm resolve and clear purpose. We must never waver in the face of this enemy that -- these ideologues of hate.

And as we pursue the enemy wherever it exists, we'll also spread freedom and liberty. We got great faith in the ability of liberty to transform societies, to convert a hostile world to a peaceful world.

My hope for America is a prosperous America, a hopeful America and a safer world.

I want to thank you for listening tonight.

I'm asking for your vote.

God bless you.


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