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DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES PARTICIPATE IN A DEBATE SPONSORED BY CNN FEBRUARY 21, 2008 SPEAKERS: SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y. SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL. JORGE RAMOS, UNIVISION JOHN KING, CNN CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN [*] BROWN: And the candidates have taken their seats. We are ready to get started. On behalf of CNN, Univision and the candidates, we want to thank our hosts, the University of Texas and the LBJ School and Library. And now I want to give you an idea of what to expect over the next 90 minutes or so. We want to have a real conversation between these two candidates on the issues important to Texas and the entire nation, so we won't have any hard and fast rules for them to follow. We simply ask the candidates to keep their answers to a reasonable length and to stay on point. And we have given the candidates the opportunity to make opening statements. The order was determined by a draw. Senator Obama won the draw and elected to go second. So please go ahead, Senator Clinton. CLINTON: Well, thank you. And I am just delighted to be back here in Austin. You know, nearly 36 years ago I came to Austin for my very first political job, and that was registering voters in south Texas. And I had the great privilege of living for a while in Austin and in San Antonio, and meeting people and making friends that have stayed with me for a lifetime. And I found that we had a lot in common, a lot of shared values, a belief that hard work is important, that self-reliance and individual responsibility count for a lot. CLINTON: And among the people whom I got to know, who became not only friends, but heroes, were Barbara Jordan, who taught me a lot about courage, and today... (APPLAUSE) ...would actually be her birthday. I remember all the time about how she got up every single morning, facing almost insurmountable odds, to do what she did. And another was my great friend Ann Richards, who taught me so much... (APPLAUSE) ... about determination. Ann was a great champion for the people of Texas. She also reminded us that every so often it is good to have a laugh about what it is we're engaged in. And as I think back on those years and the work that I've done ever since, you know, for me politics is about making real differences in people's lives. I am very, very proud that over these years I have been able to make a difference in the lives of people in Texas, Ohio and elsewhere. CLINTON: You know, 350,000 children in Texas get health care every month because I helped to start the Children's Health Insurance Program. (APPLAUSE) And 21,000 National Guard and Reserve members get access to health care because I went across the party line and joined up with a Republican senator to make that happen. So there's a lot that we've already done. But there's so much more to do. I want to take on the tough issues that face us now. I want to stop the health insurance companies from discriminating against people because they're sick. You know, it's unconstitutional to discriminate on the basis of race or gender or ethnic origin or religion, but it's OK to discriminate against sick people. And we're going to end that, because it's time we said no more. (APPLAUSE) And I want to continue the work that I've done in the Senate to take care of our veterans. CLINTON: It was shocking and shameful, what happened, that we discovered about a year ago at Walter Reed. We can do so much better, to take care of the people who've taken care of us. And there is a lot of work ahead. I offer a lifetime of experience and proven results. And I know that, if we work together, we can take on the special interests, transfer $55 billion of all those giveaways and subsidies that President Bush has given them, back to the middle class, to create jobs and provide health care and make college affordable. (APPLAUSE) And I ask you -- I ask you to join in my campaign. It's now up to the people of Texas, Ohio, and the other states ahead. So, if you'll be part of this campaign, which is your really your campaign, about your futures, your families, your jobs and your health care, we'll continue to make a difference for America. Thank you all very much. (APPLAUSE) BROWN: Senator Clinton, thank you. BROWN: Senator Obama? (APPLAUSE) OBAMA: First of all, thank you so much to the University of Texas for hosting us, and it's a great honor to share the stage once again with Senator Clinton. I've said before that we've been friends before this campaign started; we'll be friends afterwards, unified to bring about changes in this country. You know, we are at a defining moment in our history. Our nation is at war, and our economy is increasingly in shambles. And the families of Texas and all across America are feeling the brunt of that failing economy. This week, I met a couple in San Antonio, who -- as a consequence of entering into a predatory loan -- are on the brink of foreclosure and are actually seeing them having to cut back on their medical expenses, because their mortgage doubled in two weeks. OBAMA: I've met a young woman who gets three hours of sleep a night because she has to work the night shift even as she's going to school full time, and still can't afford to provide the health care for her sister who's ill. In Youngstown, Ohio, talked to workers who have seen their plants shipped overseas as a consequence of bad trade deals like NAFTA, literally seeing equipment unbolted from the floors of factories and shipped to China, resulting in devastating job losses and communities completely falling apart. And all across America I'm meeting not just veterans, but also the parents of those who have fallen. One mother in Green Bay gave me this bracelet in memory of a 20- year-old son who had been killed in a roadside bomb, as a consequence of a war that I believe should have never been authorized and should have never been waged and has cost us billions of dollars that could have been invested here in the United States in roads and bridges and infrastructure and making sure that young people can go to college and that those who need health care actually get it. OBAMA: Now, Senator Clinton... (APPLAUSE) ... Senator Clinton and I have been talking about these issues for the last 13 months. We both offer detailed proposals to try to deal with them. Some of them are the same. Some we have differences of opinion. But I think we both recognize that these problems have to be dealt with and that we have seen an administration over the last seven years that has failed to address them and -- in many ways -- has made them worse. But understand that what is lacking right now is not good ideas. OBAMA: The problem we have is that Washington has become a place where good ideas go to die. They go to die because the lobbyists... (APPLAUSE) They go to die because lobbyists and special interests have a strangle-hold on the agenda in Washington. They go to die in Washington because too many politicians are interested in scoring political points rather than bridging differences in order to get things done. And so the central premise of this campaign is that we can bring this country together, that we can push against the special interests that have come to dominate the agenda in Washington, that we can be straight with the American people about how we're going to solve these problems and enlist them in taking back their government. You know, Senator Clinton mentioned Barbara Jordan, somebody who was an inspiration to me and so many people throughout the country. And she said that what the American people want is very simple: They want an America that is as good as its promise. OBAMA: I'm running for president because I want to help America be as good as its promise. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE) BROWN: All right, Senator Obama, thank you, and let's begin with questions. Jorge Ramos? RAMOS: Thank you very much (SPEAKING IN SPANISH). Thank you so much for being with us, and let me start with a little news. After nearly half a century in office, Fidel Castro resigned as the head of the Cuban government. Ninety miles off the coast of the United States, we might have a new opportunity. The question for you, Senator Clinton: Would you be willing to sit down with Raul Castro, or whoever leads the Cuban dictatorship when you take office at least just once, to get a measure of the man? CLINTON: Well, Jorge, I hope we have an opportunity. The people of Cuba deserve to have a democracy. And this gives the Cuban government, under Raul Castro, a chance to change direction from the one that was set for 50 years by his brother. I'm going to be looking for some of those changes: releasing political prisoner, ending some of the oppressive practices on the press, opening up the economy. Of course the United States stands ready. And, as president, I would be ready to reach out and work with a new Cuban government, once it demonstrated that it truly was going to change that direction. I want to bring the region together, our European allies who have influence with Cuba, to try to push for some of those changes, and to make it very clear that, if Cuba moves toward democracy and freedom for its people, the United States will welcome that. CLINTON: And as president, I would look for opportunities to try to make that happen and to create the momentum that might eventually lead to a presidential visit. But there has to be evidence that indeed the changes are real; that they are taking place; and that the Cuban people will finally be given an opportunity to have their future determined by themselves. RAMOS: Very simply, would you meet with him or not, with Raul Castro? CLINTON: I would not meet with him until there was evidence that change was happening, because I think it's important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. Then I think, you know, something like diplomatic encounters and negotiations over specifics could take place. But we've had this conversation before, Senator Obama and myself, and I believe that we should have full diplomatic engagement where appropriate. But a presidential visit should not be offered and given without some evidence that it will demonstrate the kind of progress that is in our interest, and in this case, in the interests of the Cuban people. BROWN: Senator Obama, just to follow up, you had said in a previous CNN debate that you would meet with the leaders of Cuban, Iran, North Korea, among others, so presumably you would be willing to meet with the new leader of Cuba. OBAMA: That's correct. Now, keep in mind that the starting point for our policy in Cuba should be the liberty of the Cuban people. And I think we recognize that that liberty has not existed throughout the Castro regime. And we now have an opportunity to potentially change the relationship between the United States and Cuba after over half a century. I would meet without preconditions, although Senator Clinton is right that there has to be preparation. It is very important for us to make sure that there was an agenda, and on that agenda was human rights, releasing of political prisoners, opening up the press. And that preparation might take some time. But I do think that it's important for the United States not just to talk to its friends, but also to talk to its enemies. In fact, that's where diplomacy makes the biggest difference. (APPLAUSE) OBAMA: One other thing that I've said, as a show of good faith that we're interested in pursuing potentially a new relationship, what I've called for is a loosening of the restrictions on remittances from family members to the people of Cuba, as well as travel restrictions for family members who want to visit their family members in Cuba. And I think that initiating that change in policy as a start and then suggesting that an agenda get set up is something that could be useful, but I would not normalize relations until we started seeing some of the progress that Senator Clinton was talking about. BROWN: But that's different from your position back in 2003. You called U.S. policy toward Cuba a miserable failure, and you supported normalizing relations. BROWN: So you've backtracked now... OBAMA: I support the eventual normalization. And it's absolutely true that I think our policy has been a failure. I mean, the fact is, is that during my entire lifetime, and Senator Clinton's entire lifetime, you essentially have seen a Cuba that has been isolated, but has not made progress when it comes to the issues of political rights and personal freedoms that are so important to the people of Cuba. So I think that we have to shift policy. I think our goal has to be ultimately normalization. But that's going to happen in steps. And the first step, as I said, is changing our rules with respect to remittances and with respect to travel. And then I think it is important for us to have the direct contact, not just in Cuba, but I think this principle applies generally. I recall what John F. Kennedy once said, that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this moment, this opportunity when Fidel Castro has finally stepped down, I think, is one that we should try to take advantage of. (APPLAUSE) BROWN: Senator Clinton, do you want a quick response? CLINTON: Well, I agree, absolutely, that we should be willing to have diplomatic negotiations and processes with anyone. I've been a strong advocate of opening up such a diplomatic process with Iran, for a number of years. Because I think we should look for ways that we can possibly move countries that are adversarial to us, you know, toward the world community. It's in our interests. It's in the interests of the people in countries that, frankly, are oppressed, like Cuba, like Iran. But there has been this difference between us over when and whether the president should offer a meeting, without preconditions, with those with whom we do not have diplomatic relations. And it should be part of a process, but I don't think it should be offered in the beginning. Because I think that undermines the capacity for us to actually take the measure of somebody like Raul Castro or Ahmadinejad and others. CLINTON: And, as President Kennedy said, he wouldn't be afraid to negotiate, but he would expect there to be a lot of preparatory work done, to find out exactly what we would get out of it. And therefore, I do think we should be eliminating the policy of the Bush administration, which has been very narrowly defined, and frankly against our interests, because we have failed to reach out to countries, we have alienated our friends, and we have emboldened our enemies. So I would get back to very vigorous diplomacy, and I would use bipartisan diplomacy. I would ask emissaries from both political parties to represent me and our country, because I want to send a very clear message to the rest of the world that the era of unilateralism, preemption and arrogance of the Bush administration is over and we're going to... (APPLAUSE) BROWN: Very briefly and then we're going to move on. (APPLAUSE) OBAMA: I think, as I said before, preparation is actually absolutely critical in any meeting. And I think it is absolutely true that either of us would step back from some of the Bush unilateralism that's caused so much damage. But I do think it is important precisely because the Bush administration has done so much damage to American foreign relations that the president take a more active role in diplomacy than might have been true 20 or 30 years ago. Because the problem is, if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world at this point in time. And I think that it's important for us in undoing the damage that has been done over the last seven years, for the president to be willing to take that extra step. OBAMA: That is the kind of step that I would like to take as president of the United States. (APPLAUSE) BROWN: A question now on the economy. John King? KING: Campbell, Senators, good evening, first. I want to bring the conversation back home. You know from your travels -- you don't need to look at the polls or anything else -- that the economy is by far now the dominant issue that voters want to hear about from the candidates. For some, that is a question about: What should we do about an economy that is at the edge or perhaps in the early stages of a recession? For some, it is more focused. Maybe it is: Will you raise the minimum wage? Maybe it's about trade deals that they think leave them on the raw end, as you mentioned in your opening statement, Senator Obama. But when we ask Democrats, "How are these two candidates different?," they even think they don't know. Senator Obama, beginning with you, tell us as specifically as you can, how would a President Obama be different than a President Clinton in managing the nation's economy? OBAMA: Well, first of all, let me emphasize the point that you just made, which is: You don't need an economist or the Federal Reserve to tell the American people that the economy's in trouble, because they've been experiencing it for years now. Everywhere you go, you meet people who are working harder for less, wages and incomes have flatlined, people are seeing escalating costs of everything from health care to gas at the pump. And so people have been struggling for a long time. In some communities, they have been struggling for decades now. So this has to be a priority of the next president. Now, what I've said is that we have to restore a sense of fairness and balance to our economy, and that means a couple of things. Number one, with our tax code: We've got to stop giving tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas and invest those tax breaks in companies that are investing here in the United States of America. (APPLAUSE) We have to end the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy... (APPLAUSE) ... and to provide tax breaks to middle-class Americans and working Americans who need them. OBAMA: So I've said that if you are making $75,000 a year or less, I want to give an offset to your payroll tax that will mean $1,000 extra in the pockets of ordinary Americans. Senior citizens making less than $50,000, you shouldn't have to pay income tax on your Social Security. We pay for these by closing tax loopholes and tax havens that are being manipulated. (APPLAUSE) On our trade deals, I think it is absolutely critical that we engaged in trade, but it has to be viewed not just through the lens of Wall Street, but also Main Street, which means we've got strong labor standards and strong environmental standards and safety standards, so we don't have toys being shipped in the United States with lead paint on them. (APPLAUSE) So these are all issues that I've talked about repeatedly, and I think there are also opportunities in our economy around creating a green economy. We send $1 billion to foreign countries every day because of our addiction to foreign oil. OBAMA: And for us to move rapidly to cap greenhouse gases, generate billions of dollars that we can reinvest in solar and wind and biodiesel -- that can put people back to work. So