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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Senator Kennedy Responds After Bush Press Conference

Aired November 7, 2002 - 14:46   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring in Senator Ted Kennedy to get the Democratic perspective on this.
He is also marking, I believe, yesterday, Senator -- what? -- 40 years of serving in the U.S. Senate. We want to say thank you and congratulations on that.

SENATOR EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you.

SAVIDGE: What do you think? In regard to the legislative agenda the president has outlined here, will Democrats cooperate; are you going to go along with the president?

KENNEDY: Well, I think the president had a very positive tone in his presentation today. I think Democrats understand that the most demanding issue domestically is the state of our economy. That's why we believe that there should be an extension of the unemployment insurance, that there ought to be an increase in the minimum wage -- people that work at the lowest end of the economic ladder; that any future tax reduction ought to be fair and it ought to be balanced.

I think the issues which he raised again in terms of the privatization of Social Security, I think there are very deep concerns about it within the Democratic Party. I think that really is a questionable policy, and we continue to stand strong on that.

On the issues of immigration, the fact is that the Haitians are treated entirely differently from others the way the people are being treated.

Nonetheless, I think the president had a positive tone. He talked about homeland security. It was the Democrats that first advanced the homeland security legislation. We want to see that that is going to be successful.

SAVIDGE: Do you think that can be achieved?

KENNEDY: And we welcome the fact that -- yes, I would certainly hope so -- the president will continue to have the kind of power that he referenced President Kennedy having. But there are questions about some protections for individuals that would be treated under the civil service protections. We ought to be able to make sure that those individuals are going to be protected, but also get the legislation.

Finally I'd say on the issues of the domestic spending, we are quite prepared to see the belt tightening. But within that belt tightening, we think that there are national priorities, funding education. We saw our education reform from K through 12, but that was never really funded. We want to make sure that higher education is going to be accessible and available. That's going to be a very important issue next year.

Basically, we want to work in dealing with the nation's issues and nation's problems, but we have -- and we want to look to the future, but we have strong principles which we are committed to, and we want to try and work through those in a very close and balanced Senate.

SAVIDGE: This spirit of cooperation, do you think it's motivated also by the fact of the disappointment Democrats suffered in the previous election?

KENNEDY: Well, there's no questions that the -- now the control of the Senate is narrowly under the Republicans. You have to remember, however, there are 276 million Americans. A switch of 70,000 votes would have retained the Senate under the hands of the Democrats. So it is a divided -- very closely divided.

I think what's important is trying to find common ground. We were able to do that in some areas. I think there continue to be questions about the administration's policy on judges.

The procedure that the president outlined, we don't really need to -- we can shorten the whole process if we have the kind of relationship which we had historically with Republicans and Democratic presidents where you have some consultation and have the nomination of mainstream candidates for the judiciary.

They will move very rapidly through. The president got about 95 percent of his nominees through this last year. And that, I would expect, will continue.

But if there's going to be a determination to send right wing ideologues, that will not be -- that will cause a battle on the Senate floor.

SAVIDGE: Senator Kennedy, thank you very much for joining us, we appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thank you very much.

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