21st April 07:34
Democrats take aim at Bush in debate
Democrats take aim at Bush in debate
Friday, September 5, 2003 Posted: 7:41 AM EDT (1141 GMT)
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) -- In a mostly cordial televised debate, Democrats
vying to replace President Bush brushed aside their own differences on Thursday
and roundly condemned his handling of the economy, Iraq and immigration
"This president is a miserable failure," said former House Democratic leader
**** Gephardt of Missouri, repeating the line twice and blaming Bush for the
loss of American jobs and prestige.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, who achieved front-runner status after a summer
surge in the polls and in fund raising, had expected to be a primary target of
his rivals. But the contenders spent most of their time assailing the
president's policies rather than each other.
They welcomed Bush's decision to finally seek U.N. help in stabilizing postwar
Iraq, but argued that he should have done it earlier and suggested his delay has
jeopardized U.S. relations around the world.
Now Bush must "go back to the very people he humiliated," said Dean, who by the
luck of the draw got the first question at a televised debate among eight of the
nine Democrats seeking the party's presidential nomination.
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who had cast himself as the early
front-runner, said that "the swagger of a president who says 'bring 'em on' does
not bring our troops peace or safety." Added Gephardt: "We have a president who
has broken up alliances that Democratic and Republican presidents have put
together over 70 years."
The gathering at the University of New Mexico was broadcast live on public
television with a Spanish translation available and will be aired Saturday on
Univision, the nation's largest Spanish-language network, in a nod to the rising
influence of Hispanic voters. New Mexico has a large Hispanic population --
about 42 percent -- and a Hispanic governor, Democrat Bill Richardson.
In his opening remarks, Richardson challenged "Hispanics across the country to
mobilize and energize our communities for next year's election."
Among the issues put to the contenders were proposals to overhaul immigration
laws, particularly to allow the estimated 3 million undo***ented immigrants from
Mexico to remain in the United States. Relaxing current law drew broad support
from the Democratic rivals.
"This country is a melting pot, a fabric," Gephardt said.
"Immigration for me is not just another issue. It's me, it's my family," said
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, noting that his ancestors, like those of most
Americans, had come from overseas.
"He (Bush) has used 9-11 as an excuse for not doing what he promised to do in
reforming immigration laws," Lieberman added.
Hispanics, who number 38.8 million according to the latest census, represent
about 7 percent of the voting population nationwide. In 2000, about 7.5 million
Hispanics were registered to vote.
The candidates did air some differences on trade and on tax policies.
Gephardt, who counts organized labor as a crucial constituency, continued his
attack on his rivals for supporting free-trade pacts.
The candidates sparred briefly over whether their respective positions on trade
agreements would protect workers rights and environmental standards.
Several of the Democratic contenders advocate rolling back Bush tax cuts, but
Lieberman said he disagreed "with Governor Dean and others" who advocate undoing
the full Bush tax plan to pay for other priorities, including universal health
care coverage. Gephardt has also called for such a repeal.
Lieberman said that only cuts benefiting upper-income taxpayers be repealed and
suggested the health insurance plans advocated by Dean and Gephardt were too
"Why would we want to keep anything of the Bush tax plan?" asked Gephardt in
response. "It's a miserable failure."
The candidates joined in criticizing Bush's tax cuts and suggested that his
policies had help eliminate U.S. jobs.
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina also suggested that Bush's attempts to woo
Hispanic voters was shallow.
"The president goes around the country speaking Spanish. The only Spanish he
speaks when it comes to jobs is 'hasta la vista'," Edwards said, borrowing a
line made famous by actor and California GOP gubernatorial candidate Arnold
Kerry noted pointedly that the stock market had risen sharply over the past
month. "You know, it's interesting that the Standard & Poor's went up to 1,000,
and the Dow went up to 9,400, which proves that good things happen when George
Bush is on vacation, folks."
Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie belittled the Democratic forum. "They are
a party divided," he said. "They have differing positions on everything from
Iraq to tax cuts...The one thing they were unified on was their negativity and
their attacks on the president."
The eight candidates -- the ninth, Al Sharpton was delayed in New York by poor
weather and could not participate -- stood at individual podiums arranged in a
semicircle on the stage. All eight wore dark suits; all the men but Dean wore
red ties. He preferred blue.
Former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, the only woman candidate, reminded the
audience that Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 terrorist attacks
against the United States, remained at large. "We haven't been looking for him
because we got off on the wrong track (in Iraq)," she said.
Lieberman, who like Gephardt was an early supporter of the war with Iraq, said
he would send more U.S. troops to help safeguard those there now and to help
stabilize the country.
Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the only senator seeking the nomination who voted
against the Iraq war resolution last fall, said he voted that way because "I
thought it was the wrong war against the wrong enemy."
Despite his consistent opposition to the war, Graham said he would support the
administration's request for an estimated $60 billion to $70 billion to help
cover continuing costs.
"We have an obligation to support those troops," Graham said.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who voted against the war resolution in the House,
declared: "It is time to bring the troops home. It is time to bring the U.N. in
and get the U.S. out."
The event was moderated by PBS correspondent Ray Suarez and Univision anchor
Maria Elena Salinas.
Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not