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Kennedy — Chase debate transcript  

This is a transcript for Tuesday’s debate between Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy and Republican challenger Kenneth Chase, moderated by NECN’s Chet Curtis. The debate marked the first time Kennedy had debated a campaign rival since 1994, when he sparred with Mitt Romney, the current governor of Massachusetts.

Chet Curtis: Good evening and thank you for joining us for this special edition of our program. Tonight we’re pleased to present a debate between the two candidates for the United States senate from Massachusetts. We’ve got a limited amount of time so lets meet the candidates. Democrat Edward Kennedy of Hyannisport has represented the citizens of Massachusetts in the US Senate since 1962. Republican Kenneth Chase of Belmont is the director and co-owner of the French and Spanish Saturday School, Inc. He ran against Congressman Ed Markey in 2004. Welcome gentlemen to you both. As decided by a draw the first question goes to Senator Kennedy:

Senator the government of North Korea claims it’s successfully tested a nuclear weapon. Foreign intelligence has not 100 percent confirmed that but most indications are that it is true. If the United Nations Security Council resolutions and diplomatic backgrounds have not worked thus far, why should the American people have any faith in the UN that they could make something work now?

Senator Edward Kennedy: Well I think we have to look at where we are today and how we got there in order to try and think about where we’re going to go in the future. In the time when President Bush took the office of the presidency, he was handed a document that gave him the two most dangerous situations in the world, were one, North Korea and the second was Al Qaeda. In 2002 President Bush made that famous speech about the Axis of Evil, the three different countries, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. And at the same time we had a, the country had a national intelligence estimate about the dangers of the growth of the nuclear weaponry in Korea. President Bush kept that secret from the Congress until after the Congress voted to authorize forces to go into Iraq. At the time when we knew that North Korea was developing nuclear weapons and we never found the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, this administration and this president effectively hid that from the Congress of the United States. Now we have a situation where the previous administration had direct contact with the North Koreans and this administration broke down every degree of contact with them so that when the North Korean ambassador came to the United States he had to go to New Mexico to meet Bill Richardson, who’d been at the United Nations, because he didn’t have anyone else to talk to. This administration has boycotted effectively all of those agreements. The United States is the heavy in this.

Curtis: That being said, is the United States, the United Nations capable –

Kennedy:: The United States has to engage. President Kennedy said we should never negotiate from fear, but we should never fear to negotiate. And this administration has to have direct contact with North Korea. That is essential aspect. James Baker has said we ought to talk to our enemies as well as our friends. And then the United States must provide the leadership in the international community in this area because the danger of nuclear weapons with North Korea – let me just finish this – the dangers of nuclear weaponry with North Koreans is that they’ll get into the hands of terrorists, and that is the great danger.

Curtis: Alright Ken Chase your response. Will diplomatic efforts work or how long should we give the United Nations to work out a resolution of this critical issue.

Ken Chase: Well, we called their bluff and much to our chagrin they weren’t bluffing, they had the bomb. Clearly this is going the path of the UN, it’s going to go to the UN, it’s going to go to the Security Council, unfortunately I don’t know what kind of sanctions are going to come out but I’m afraid they’re not going to matter a while lot, especially to a country that’s as destitute of North Korea. But ironically I came here to debate Senator Kennedy but I find myself on this very first point agreeing with him on one key issue. This is my background, foreign affairs. Part of the problem is here, and I don’t agree with the current administration in this respect, in boycotting certain governments and dictators frankly we find repulsive – whether it’s Assad in Syria, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, or Kim Jong Il in North Korea, I do believe engagement is important and I do believe it’s appropriate given the events of the last 48 hours that, yes, perhaps we send the Secretary of State around the world but particularly in this case, in short order North Korea to engage her counterpart because that’s what we have to do. If Gerry Adams can sit down with John Major, and Ariel Sharon – no shrinking violet he – can sit down with Yasser Arafat, then I do believe it’s important that we engage these nations with whom we find –

Curtis: In bilateral talks.

Chase: In bilateral talks. Obviously this is what he’s been demanding for several years. We’ve wanted to engage him the six-party talks, clearly it hasn’t worked. We have to reengage and take on a new direction.

Curtis: Alright, you’re in agreement there. Mr. Chase in regard to Iraq, do you support the war in Iraq, even though we now know there were no weapons of mass destruction and some of the intelligence was cooked?

Chase: The war in Iraq Chet was easily avoidable. It was easily avoidable if we had an energy policy in this nation and this is what I believe is the greatest legislative act of malfeasance in the last half century. We have, sitting to my right here, this gentleman Senator Kennedy, the most powerful Democrat in the nation for the last half century, the last 44 years. He’s had the opportunity to understand our desperate over-reliance on Middle Eastern oil and he’s done nothing about it. Ted Kennedy was there in 1973 during the last Arab oil embargo. He wasn’t a rookie, he’d already been there about 11 years, all the way up to 1990. Still the Senator had done nothing with respect to Middle Eastern oil, that despite the fact the Arab oil embargo was destined, was designed to bring a $12 trillion economy to it’s economic knees. It nearly succeeded. You would have thought that our Senator would have gotten the message back in ’73. Flash forward to 1990, still no progress on Middle Eastern oil. We went into Kuwait Chet not to liberate the Kuwaitis, not because we’re enamored of them. We went into Kuwait for one strategic reason and historians will write, fundamentally all of our problems including the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the war on terror can be traced to one three-letter word and that’s oil.

Curtis: Senator let me give you a chance to respond.

Kennedy: Well I think the question was on Iraq. How we got into Iraq and what we’re going to do about it. We never should of, all of this country was together when we had the attack on 9/11. We lost over 200 families in Massachusetts; I’ve spent time visiting their memorial on the Boston Garden, 200 families. So we were focused. The connation was on getting after al-Qaeda and after getting after the Taliban in Afghanistan. So what did we do? The administration went and decided to go into Iraq and we know what the challenge, where we are at the present time. What’s necessary now is: 1., they have to fire Don Rumsfeld, 2., we have to see that the militias of these various Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, the militias, are disbanded, 3. You have to have an international conference from the countries, form the Arab League, and the neighboring countries to come together to help to try to bring some resolution, peaceful resolution, and 4. We have to begin to bring American troops out. When we have polls in Iraq that say 78 percent of Iraqis want Americans out, when we have polls in Iraq that said the assaults on Americans, 71 percent of the Iraqis believe that the attacks on Americans is correct, when we know that we will be into Iraq longer than we fought in World War II, we have asked the military to do everything that they possibly could. It’s the politicians that have failed on this and that is why we have to have policy, change in policy. The idea we’re going to stay the course is not a policy. John Warner even has stated that.

Curtis: If the Democrats regain Congress would you vote to impeach the president?

Kennedy: No, that’s not what the issue is at the present time and I’m interested in 1. The whole issue of how we’re going to get out of Iraq. Secondly, I’m interested in the whole issue of global terrorism. We have to get back into giving focus and attention to Afghanistan. We have to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations in terms of security here in the United States and then you know, what we have to do with one of the 9/11 Commission reports is understand the Arab culture and the culture of Islam and begin to think about how we’re going to engage countries around the world in that kind of culture.

Curtis: OK hold it right there. Ken Chase, should Donald Rumsfeld be fired?

Chase: Well Senator you’ve had 44 years to promote and take this country in the direction of understanding the Arab culture Senator and three years ago, I should say, just after 9/11 we learned to our embarrassment that we have a 3-year backlog in intercepts from Arabic-speaking individuals that we couldn’t translate because we don’t have that sort of capability Senator and with all due respect, you’ve had an opportunity to do something about that but here’s the answer with respect to Iraq. We’re going to finish that job when the men on the ground, when the generals on the ground, determine it’s concluded. We saw this in Vietnam when senators, and Senator Kennedy was one of those individuals, got up and started to tell those folks, the generals in Vietnam, how to conduct the war on the ground and any historian who’s ever saw that has stated that cost more lives than it saved. With respect to Iraq we ought not to be making that same mistake again. It’s not a political decision it’s a military decision. We leave when the generals say the mission is accomplished –

Curtis: No matter how long it takes?

Chase: And that’s when we leave with honor and in safety. Of course we all want to bring them home Chet, as soon as possible, Democrat and Republican, and that’s one of the reasons why I don’t want this to denigrate into simple sound bytes. I don’t like that term ‘cut and run,’ it’s inappropriate. Everybody in American wants to bring these troops home as soon as we possibly can, but here’s the solution, here’s how we avoid three years from now Chet, whoever’s sitting in these two chairs, you saying how do we get out of Iran? Because we’re going into Iran, if we don’t understand the complexities over there in the Middle East here’s the problem Senator. When we become energy independent we walk away from the Middle East.

Curtis: You think we should go into Iran?

Chase: Absolutely not. I’m prescribing how we avoid going into Iran, but we have foolishly and unnecessarily ended up in Iraq, fundamentally because we don’t have an oil policy that frees us from the Middle East. When we become energy independent we only go into the Middle East if and when we want to and on our terms.

Curtis: Senator, doesn’t Mr. Chase have a point about energy independence?

Kennedy: Yes, he has. But just to come back to one of the questions about the understanding of the cultures. I’m proud to have worked with Dick Lugar. We have a cultural bridges program now that brings young students from the Arab countries to the United States to live with families and study in schools. We’ve had a wonderful student that was up in Andover recently from Palestine. We had another student in Falmouth, Mass. And this has been useful, and this has been helpful, we need more of it. Questions of energy independence? Sure. I have welcomed the opportunity to work with Scoop Jackson to the first, what they call café standards to the limitations on automobiles and worked with them. I’m a strong believer in bio fuels. I think there’s a great possibility in solar energy and also in wind energy. I think we need to move ahead in this area but you know it’s interesting to talk about this issue here, but this administration is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the oil companies. When Dick Cheney formed the energy policy it was for the oil companies. When we had the energy bill this year it was a bill written by the oil companies, for the only companies, and only by the oil companies. That’s the reality. We need to change the Congress and change the leadership to really get to energy independence.

Curtis: On the subject of energy independence, do you support the Cape Wind Project?

Kennedy: No, I don’t. I support wind energy but not the Cape Wind Project. I think it’s the wrong location for it.

Curtis: What about that Mr. Chase?

Chase: It’s remarkable Senator. With all due respect, you’ve had 44 years to do something about energy diversification, sir, and frankly the record is a blank sheet. Here’s the problem Senator, you say no to ANWR, no to offshore drilling, no to Cape Wind, nothing on refineries. The electrical grid – when the lights went out three years ago Senator, we found out that our electrical grid was dated from the 1930s. Nuclear power Senator, again, a no from you. Ultimately the choice is very simple, it is very stark and it is this: either we become energy independent or we continue to derive our energy sources from the Middle East. Two thirds of our petroleum. The choice is there and here’s the problem Senator, as long as we continue to go to the Middle East either we continue to spend hundred of billions of dollars on our war ships, keeping the Strait of Hormuz open or on occasion we end up in a place like Kuwait or Iraq, and three or four years from now potentially Iran. I’ve made my choice, I’m taking a hard stance, and yes it’s made me unpopular on the Cape, but that’s ultimately the choice. We need to achieve energy independence and stop sacrificing lads from places like Woburn and Attleboro and Swanzey and Springfield on the altar of Middle Eastern oil. It’s wrong.

Curtis: Senator I’ll give you a chance to respond and then we’re going to take a break.

Kennedy: OK. Well, the idea that we should go ahead with nuclear power now is just amazing to me because everyone knows we haven’t figured out how we’re going to dispose the waste from nuclear power. France is in a desperate situation at the present time and when you come up with the solution about how you’re going to dispose the waste on nuclear power then I think we can sort of take a look at it, but it isn’t there now. And it’s basically sort of an easy way out of this. I’m strongly opposed to drilling in the ANWR. I think we can get, there are other ways and means to do it. I’ve been a supporter as I say, the bio fuels are produced here, they’re replenishable, we can work on those, we ought to be on this, but we have to be realistic you know. We have to understand how the institutions work. You can have speeches and you can have positions, but this Senate is basically an oil-controlled body and this administration is and it’s owned by Big Oil. Until you change that, with all the good intentions on this thing, we can make progress in a number of other areas but that’s where it’s at.

Commercial break

Curtis: Welcome back, the next questions goes to Mr. Chase, but I want to give you an opportunity to respond. We were talking about energy independence just before the break and quickly now before we go to the next topic.

Chase: Well Chet it’s important. We have to stop finding excuses to say no to energy diversification, whether it’s wind, solar, or nuclear. You know with all due respect Senator, John McCain, President Bush, Christie Todd Whitman, and this was her job, and Tony Blair all agreed with me two or three months ago with what I’ve been saying for the last three or four years, which is nuclear power is safe, it’s clean, it’s affordable and it’s domestically produced. We have to learn from our friends in Japan and France, France is the world –

Curtis: What about the disposal problem?

Chase: Perfect example. That judge who threw out Christie Todd Whitman’s recommendations I thought certainly was a miscarriage of justice and utterly illogical. Here’s why – her greatest concern was after 10,000 years she didn’t adequately address the waste issue? Ten thousand years? I like our odds in 10,000 years from now our scientists finding a way to de-nuclearize that waste.

Curtis: All right, we’ve got to leave that there and lets move on. We want to talk about education. President Bush’s No Child Left Behind plan has been criticized as a large, unfunded mandate forcing states and municipalities to pay for a federal program. Do you agree with that criticism Mr. Chase and if so what would you do to remedy the situation if you were in the Senate?

Chase: Well I am an educator Chet. Certainly with respect to education we need to promote and compensate the good teachers and teachers who aren’t performing well, we need them to find other careers. I’m for accountability, I’m for competition, I’m for testing but lets be very clear, the greatest problem – I am an educator, I’m in the classroom most days of the week – and here’s the problem with children in this country with education with respect to our children. And that is if Ted Kennedy has his way and he continues to flood the nation with illegal immigrants, those children who come into the public school classrooms around this nation, which is what they’ve been doing now for about 20 years, the problem is and I see this everyday because –

Curtis: Well hopefully we’ll get to immigration, but on the No Child Left Behind Act, let’s stick to that for the moment and Senator Kennedy, who had a great deal to do with getting that legislation passed.

Chase: Sure. A whole lot of children are left behind Chet in the real world, in a classroom when you’ve got 10 to 18 percent of a given classroom population that has limited or no proficiency in the English language. The class lesson of that particular day comes to a screeching halt. So we can talk about the various provisions of No Child Left Behind, but I’m in these classrooms sir and I see what happens when you have limited English proficiency. The teacher has to explain in broken Spanish to that child what the lesson is. This is retarding our educational growth and India and China aren’t waiting around for us. They’re building the universities and the grade schools of the future, as are our friends in the EU. We ought not to be taking on the burden of educating 60 percent of Mexican poor.

Curtis: OK Senator you had a lot to do with passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and yet Congress has really failed to fund it. Any regrets now?

Kennedy: Not really and I, one of the reasons I want to go back to the Senate is to fight for the increased resources for children here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and across the country. We had reform and resources, smaller class size, well-paid teachers, supplementary services, reaching out to limited-English speaking, looking out after the disabled, bringing parents involved, informing parents what schools could work and what weren’t doing it, and today Massachusetts is the number one school in the country for fourth graders, we’re tied for eighth graders, but we still need to have the resources and this is really about national priorities. John Adams wrote into the Massachusetts constitution the importance of public education. The public education system started here and we have to invest in the No Child Left Behind, but we also have to invest in early education and we also have to realize that in the student loan programs today they work for the banks, they don’t work for the students. Some of the financial institutions are getting 9.5 percent back from the federal government in return for guaranteeing education. That is a rip-off for the public and for the middle class. We have to provide and assistance to the middle class in terms of reducing their interest on the debts of their kids and Congressman Miller and I have legislation that will reduce the interest by a half. We can do a great deal, but education is the key to opportunity, it’s the key to our economy, it’s the key to our national security, and we shouldn’t have a higher priority.

Curtis: Before we move on, quickly on MCAS: good idea?

Chase: I like them.

Kennedy: Yes.

Curtis: Both in favor. All right, you’ve touched on immigration Mr. Chase and Senator, you’ve been a supporter of a plan to create a system for illegal immigrants to earn legal status over a period of years. Isn’t it unfair to the millions of immigrants who have come here, who’ve played by the rules, and who have no chance of becoming citizens?

Kennedy: Well let’s look at the immigration just issue because that is one aspect of it, the adjusting of the status of the 12 million people that are here. There are three parts to it; one is securing the borders. We have open borders down in the Southern part of the country on this thing and we have to seal those borders. Secondly we have to have enforcement inside the country. Employers now hire undocumented and lower the wages for others. It’s a big magnet. As long as you have the jobs there you’re going to have people coming here. You have to adjust it with the way we have done it in our legislation and third, you have the 12 million people here. What we’re saying to them is if you’ve played by the rules over the time that you’ve been here – you’ve paid your taxes, you’ve played by the rules – you’ll pay a penalty and you’ll go to the back of the line of those who are waiting in line to come in here today, and you’ll be able to then to be a part of the America and the American Dream. Just like our own parents and grandparents have been a part. That isn’t amnesty; amnesty was what was done in 1986, that was President Reagan, that was legislation I opposed. This proposal we have is supported by President Bush, supported by John McCain, and supported by 63 Republicans and Democrats in the United States Senate.

Curtis: Mr. Chase you’ve criticized the Senator’s support for what you call amnesty for illegal workers, but even President Bush supports – he doesn’t call it amnesty but limited amnesty – for so-called undocumented workers.

Chase: Sure, of course it’s amnesty. It has nothing to do with citizenship. It’s amnesty Senator because you’re giving the illegal immigrants exactly what they want, which is the right to come here and work and not suffer any of the consequences. They’re breaking into the country. It’s unfair to people like my wife, my mom, and the millions of people who’ve come here playing by the rules. They’ve done it right Senator and it is wrong, you’re pardoning the illegality and let me tell you Senator, because I just spent another week down at the border, I talked to these people and I speak that language – you’re sending out a clarion call, not just to 300 million impoverish south of this border Senator, but ¾ of a billion rural Chinese, Indians, and others all around the planet that all you have to do is break in, hang around long enough, and you’re going to put them on the fast track to citizenship Senator. It’s wrong. We ought to be gaining votes based on the quality and the merit of our ideas, not trading something as sacred as citizenship for those votes. It’s wrong Senator.

Kennedy: I don’t understand what he’s going to do with the 12 million people here. I’ve heard Mr. Chase say well we can, we have human repatriation. We can get them on Air Blue and give them peanuts and they can fly on planes, and take trains, and automobiles, and they can go back to Mexico City. Human repatriation. I mean, I think we need to be somewhat realistic about the people who are here, who are part of the American Dream. You know, part of this, a major part of our whole immigration are the employers because that’s the magnet. As long as you have the magnet you’re going to have people who are going to work, work hard, and want to be part of the American system. We’re not saying they’re forgiven. They pay a penalty, they pay a penalty.

Curtis: I’ve got to hold you there Senator. Unfortunately there’s never enough time to cover all the topics we’d like to. We have reserved 90 seconds for each candidate for a closing statement. The first one to Mr. Chase.

Chase: Well thank you Chet and I thank the Senator for being here today. It’s certainly a pleasure to have this opportunity. I think the Senator certainly has served this state and nation for 44 years, he’s had the honor of doing it, and I think we certainly ought to all tip our hat to him because he’s accomplished much, but I’m running because in my opinion there are areas where the Senator has come up short, shall we say. I don’t think the Senator understands the ill effects, the consequences, of flooding this nation with illegal immigration. It has become the issue of this generation, it’s changing our nation fundamentally in ways that we never dreamed of and in ways we can no longer tolerate. Right now in this state there are skilled tradesman, like a carpenter, a plumber, a sheet metal worker, a pipe-fitter, an electrician, who is losing his job and consequently his health insurance because Senator Kennedy and others who think in his manner believe it’s OK to flood the nation with illegal aliens because they’re potentially a more reliable voting block. But that worker, that American, that tradesman can’t keep his job because that illegal alien is willing to take it for $5 or $6 an hour in cash under the table. If this keeps up, and I was just at the border, our hospitals – some hospitals – will close under the burden of debt of providing emergency health care for all these folks flooding in. With respect to our schools they’re already over-burdened because of this issue, they’re already overwhelmed, and it’s going to be a case of leaving many children behind.

Curtis: I’ve got to stop you there, your 90 second is up.

Kennedy: Thank you very much. HL Mencken said for every problem there’s a simple, easy answer, and it’s wrong. Well, this is a complex issue and a complex challenge and we’ve tried to work in a bipartisan way on the immigration issue to resolve it and we’re going to have to continue to do it. But let me thank you for watching, thank Chet, and thank the network here, NECN, for having this program. Thank you for watching this program, the greatest honor of my life has been representing you in the United States Senate and I want to return to the United States Senate. I want to fight for the break-through kinds of new drugs that are going to come because we’re in the life science century and I want it to benefit the people of Massachusetts. I want to go back and fight to make sure education is going to be available to the people of Massachusetts. I want to be a part of the solution to the problem that we’re facing in Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. I want to be there on the floor of the United States Senate representing you. Finally, I want to say how impressed, I didn’t have chance this evening, to the extraordinary families of the servicemen and women that I’ve met over the course of this campaign and what a job they’ve done. The Hart family from Dracut, Mass. that helped me as a member of the armed services committee up arm a Humvee, those that helped me fight in the armed services committee to get body armor, those of the 220th transportation unit that were dropped out in Indiana. I was able to get the plane rides back for them, as they should of gotten, back here home. I ask for your help, I ask for your vote on Nov. 7, and I’d be grateful to return to the Senate to fight for you.


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