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Kerry: I will stand by my record

'I take nothing for granted'

Sen. John Kerry:
Sen. John Kerry: "I'm fighting for evey single vote."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic front-runner in the race for his party's presidential nomination, spoke to CNN anchor Judy Woodruff about his campaign. The interview started with Kerry's comments on the importance of the labor endorsement from the AFL-CIO he won Thursday. The following is an edited transcript.

KERRY: ... I've never taken endorsements as a free-standing effort. What you have to do is talk to voters. I've been doing that. I've won 15 out of 17 now. I take nothing for granted. Every step of the way now. I was in Ohio yesterday talking to workers who've lost their jobs, who are desperate about health care.

The people want somebody who's going to offer leadership, Judy. And in the end, that's the measurement. Do you have a plan to put America back to work? I do. Do you have a plan (for) care? I do. Do you have a plan to make our schools better? I do. And those are the things that will decide this race.

WOODRUFF: Senator, questions are already being raised about what you said to some of these labor leaders in order to get their endorsement. James Hoffa of the Teamsters said in an interview just this week, he said you told him that while you opposed drilling in ANWAR -- the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- that you are, quote, he said, going to put that pipeline in and drill like never before, drill all over the United States to create more jobs.

KERRY: I think he -- I said exactly what my policy has been all my life. Which is I'm for the natural gas pipeline. Absolutely. I voted for the natural gas pipeline. I think it's important to build it. And so do most Americans. I'm also for the drilling in the 95 percent of the Alaska oil shelf that's up for leasing now. In fact, President Clinton put out the biggest lease in American history in that part of the shelf. I'm not for drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and I haven't changed and I won't change.

WOODRUFF: You're saying there's no contradiction here?

KERRY: Absolutely none whatsoever.

WOODRUFF: Senator Edwards ... pointing out all the time that he doesn't take money from lobbyists. On top of that you have this story today in the "Los Angeles Times," I'm sure you've heard about it, about dozens of letters that you wrote to government officials on behalf of a defense contractor who pleaded guilty to illegally funneling money contributions to you. Now the Center for Responsive Politics says this at least raises questions about whether that money caused you to do what you did.

KERRY: Look, I fought for jobs in Massachusetts. Every person in the United States Senate and Congress fights for their state and there are people who support them for those reasons, obviously. I have limited the amount of money that I ever take in any of my campaigns.

I'm the only United States senator who has been elected four times, voluntarily refusing to ever take political action committee money in my races. Now, what I've done is reduce the giving to the single individual. And the minute we learned anything about this person's, the way they'd given the money, I said we're going to give that money back.

WOODRUFF: But doesn't this just add to the Bush administration charge, oh,...


WOODRUFF: Here's another Washington insider?

KERRY: No, it doesn't, because I've been very different from almost everybody in Washington in how I have gone about raising money. I'm the only United States senator elected four times, serving in the Senate today, who has voluntarily refused to take the big checks, the money from political action committees.

I've gone out and raised money from individual Americans. And if you added up all the money in my lifetime that's been given to me by lobbyists, anybody who's lobbied for anything, it's about 1 percent of the total of everything I've done.

My average contribution, I think, in my last Senate race was around $70 or $80. I'm very proud of that. And if you look at the things I fight for, I've stood up against Newt Gingrich's efforts to kill the Clean Air/ Clean Water Act. I stood up and led the fight to stop the drilling of the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. It's like night and day, the difference between what George Bush fights for, and what I've fought for 35 years. And I think Americans will realize that.

WOODRUFF: Let me change the subject and ask you about Wisconsin. You won it this Tuesday. But some exit polls, Senator, showed that Senator Edwards was the one who did better with voters who identified themselves as independents and moderates. These are clearly the voters the Democratic nominee is going to have to win in November to have any hope of defeating George Bush.

KERRY: And that's exactly who I've won. No, that's exactly how I've won 15 out of 17 primaries and caucuses. I won the independents and Republicans in Tennessee. And in Virginia, in Ohio, in New Hampshire, in Missouri, I mean I'm very, very pleased with what we've done. And I will continue to appeal across the board.

WOODRUFF: But Wisconsin was different.

KERRY: Different states are different. Obviously, it's an open primary, it's run differently. But I'm very pleased with what is happening nationally. And in fact, I've won by appealing to people across the board and not just niching or targeting one particular group. And I will continue to do that.

WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about something. It was reported by, I think, "The Washington Post" that you were a little irritated with the way Senator Edwards went after you in that debate. At one point he said, "That was the longest answer I've ever heard to a yes or no question." At another point he said, "Not so fast, John Kerry." Is he getting under your skin?

KERRY: Not in the least. I don't know who reported that. But that's just not correct. I like John Edwards. He's done a terrific job. And I made no comments at all about the other candidates. I think most people know that.

WOODRUFF: Is this a bit of an irritant to have to be still running against him at this point?

KERRY: Not in the least. Look, I'm not running just against him. You know there are others in the race. Obviously he's one of the leading contenders. I take that seriously. I take nothing for granted. I have continually said every single step of the way, I'm fighting for every single vote.

And I have continually talked about my vision for the country. I want to put America back to work. I have a plan for health care that will lower the cost for employers and give health care to all Americans. I have a plan to actually fund our schools, and roll back George Bush's unfair, unaffordable tax cut for the wealthiest people. Those are the things that make a difference to people. And I intend to keep running on the issues.

WOODRUFF: To the extent that John Edwards is your main opponent, he is out there saying it would be a real loss for the Democratic party if you and he didn't debate in New York, and debate anywhere and everywhere the voters want you to debate. Now I gather you've agreed to do the CNN/Los Angeles Times debate next week...

KERRY: I don't know what the schedule is...

WOODRUFF: Are there going to be other one-on-one debates?

KERRY: I have no clue, Judy, where the schedule is, I really don't. You're looking at somebody who's got to figure out where I'm going to be on the weekends.

WOODRUFF: But are you up for doing as many...

KERRY: I've always been -- but let's see where the schedule takes us. I've got to do what I need to do to run my own campaign. That's what I've done from day one. And I intend to continue to do that.

WOODRUFF: Let me cite to you something, Senator, The Washington Post editorial page said the other day ... What they said was you had been fuzzy -- their word -- on a number of issues ranging from gay marriage to Iraq to free trade. They go on and say -- they say they call on you to make an honest accounting without the fuzzing. Do you have some explaining to do?

KERRY: Ask me any question.

WOODRUFF: Well, on gay marriage. They said you've taken...

KERRY: Gay marriage -- no, I've not -- I've taken one position. I believe that marriage is between a man and woman. I'm for civil unions and partnership rights. There's your answer. What's the next question?

WOODRUFF: NAFTA. They said that you voted with NAFTA but now you're saying that there were so many things wrong with it?

KERRY: There are side agreements in NAFTA. There are two side agreements on labor and on the environment, they haven't been enforced. It is not inconsistent to expect that if you have a trade agreement you enforce it. Just like we have in the China trade agreement. Surge and anti-dumping. They haven't been enforced. I'm for enforcing trade agreements to fight for American workers.

Ask me any other precise question? Iraq. There was a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it. George Bush chose the wrong way. If I had been president, we'd be doing it the right way, period, end of issue.

WOODRUFF: Why do I think thoughtful news organizations like The Washington Post are taking up this much space...

KERRY: You know what, I welcome going in and talking to them. I look forward to being clear about any issue they have a question on. And I'll answer any question you or any American has directly and straight.

WOODRUFF: Two other very quick things, Senator. One is, it's been reported that, well you're aware of this, Vietnam veterans upset with the fact that when you came back from the war, you went to Capitol Hill, and you testified in so many words against the kinds of things that U.S. soldiers were doing over there...

KERRY: Yes, I did.

WOODRUFF: To the Vietnamese.

KERRY: Yes, I did.

WOODRUFF: They are saying, in effect, you were accusing American troops of war crimes.

KERRY: No, I was accusing American leaders of abandoning the troops. And if you read what I said, it is very clearly an indictment of leadership. I said to the Senate, where is the leadership of our country?

And it's the leaders who are responsible, not the soldiers. I never said that. I've always fought for the soldiers. In fact, not only did we oppose the war, but we proudly stood up and fought for the additions to the GI Bill so that vets would be able to use it. We fought for the V.A. Hospitals. I wrote the Agent Orange legislation with Tom Daschle. I helped with the post-Vietnam stress syndrome outreach centers.

I'm proud of the record of fighting for soldiers and for veterans. And the fact is if we want to redebate the war on Vietnam in 2004, I'm ready for that. It was a mistake, and I'm proud of having stood up and shared with America my perceptions of what was happening.

WOODRUFF: One very last question. Senator Edwards frequently points out that one main difference between the two of you is that he feels what people who've lost their jobs are going through. His father was a mill worker. He likes to talk about sitting around the table with his family worrying about how he was going to pay his way through college. The implication being you never had to worry about that.

KERRY: Well, people are given different hands in life. I respect John Edwards and I respect his family's history and everything about it. But if the qualification is sort of where you're born or whether you can feel things, we'd have never had a great president in Franklin Roosevelt. We'd have never had a great president in John Kennedy. I think the test is, what do you fight for? What are your values?

WOODRUFF: But John Edwards keeps bringing this up, Senator.

KERRY: Well, that's fine.

WOODRUFF: You've given that answer before and he keeps coming back and saying...

KERRY: That's OK. I think Americans are looking for leadership. I think Americans are looking for somebody who has a proven record in fighting for working people. I'll take a second seat to nobody in my fights through the years, for people who are hurting. I have fought, and that's why the labor, that's why today, the AFL-CIO, working people who are getting the short end of the stick in America, stood up, and embraced my candidacy.

Because they know I fought for them with a 91 percent voting record throughout my lifetime, and I have fought to raise the minimum wage. I fought for health care. I fought for children. I fought for clean air and clean water. I fought for things that make a difference. And I've walked that walk for 35 years. And I will stand by my record.

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