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Sen. John Kerry Slams President Bush For His Actions on 9/11

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“Had I been reading to children and had my top aide whispered in my ear, 'America is under attack,' I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the president of the United States had something that he needed to attend to,” said Kerry yesterday at UNITY 2004, the largest gathering of journalists of color in the nation’s history. [includes rush transcript]

Perhaps the Unity Journalists Convention owes a debt of gratitude to the NAACP for its 2 highest profile speakers at this year’s conference. It seems George W Bush could not afford another NAACP fiasco and John Kerry apparently showed up only because Bush was slated to speak. Senator Kerry hadn’t planned on addressing the conference. Initially, his campaign offered to send Edwards. But not Kerry’s running mate John Edwards, rather his wife Elizabeth Edwards. It was only after Bush said he would come that the Kerry campaign called to say the Senator would grace the largest conference of journalists in US history in person. Yesterday morning, Kerry addressed the thousands of journalists. He received sustained applause at several points during his speech. Kerry’s address was followed by questions from a pre-selected group of reporters.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday morning, Kerry addressed the thousands of journalists. He received sustained applause dozens of times throughout his speech. Kerry’s address was followed by questions from a representative of each of the four journalist organizations.

CATALINA CAMIA: I’m Catalina Camia of the Gannett News Service and the Asian American Journalists Association. You talked this morning about bridging the divide in America and being inclusive, and yet, there are some people of color who believe that the Democratic Party has taken them for granted, especially after the votes had been counted. What would make the Democratic Party different under John Kerry, especially compared to Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, and how will you walk the talk?

JOHN KERRY: Well, I’ve done it for 35 years. From the moment I came back from Vietnam and I stood up and when I testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 about the war, I didn’t just talk about the war. I talked about what was happening to minority service people who had been drafted in huge numbers out of the barrios and out of the inner cities, who didn’t have the power to make the choices of other people. And how they were coming back to a country that was still divided where they didn’t have full opportunity. I talked about racism in 1971. In every office I’ve ever run, district attorney, lieutenant governor and senator, my staffs has reflected the face of America and my administration will. In every vote I have cast, 100% NAACP rating this year, I have voted to expand the rights, enforce the rights, to be inclusive. I worked with President Clinton to fix affirmative action so we didn’t end it, we mended it. So there were a lot of questions about quota. I support affirmative action. I’ve practiced affirmative action. I stood alone and fought to keep the minority business set asides and the small business committee so that we could guarantee that we were trying to empower people and open the doors of opportunity. Today those are being reduced. Those quotas aren’t being met. Those goals aren’t being met. The standards are being reduced. The lending is being cut. I believe that what you need is somebody whose record shows a demonstrated persistent commitment to opening up those doors of opportunity. I’m proud that my campaign has people like Bill Lynch and Alexis Herman and Aida Alvarez and Henry Cisneros and a host of others who are helping me to reach out to communities all across this country. And we can always do better in America but I’ll tell you this. No one will ever have to twist my arm, ever, to know that you cannot possibly govern effectively if you don’t meet with the Hispanic Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Civil Rights Conference in Leadership and bring people to the table to lead this country. And that is exactly what I did in the Senate. It’s exactly what I’ll do as president.

LORI EDMO-SUPPAH: Thank you, Senator. I’m Lori Edmo-Suppah, Sho-Ban News editor and Native American Journalists Association member. Speaking of defending our country, American Indian tribes are sovereign nations, yet currently tribes have to go through states or counties to access Homeland Security funds. Currently, there’s legislation proposed to have funds go directly to tribes. What is your position on that?

JOHN KERRY: I think some of the funds need to go directly to tribes. I think there are law enforcement jurisdictional difficulties right now in the dealings with many of the tribal jurisdictions. We need to work those through. Particularly in the Southwest. I’m prepared to do that. Some of the funds clearly ought to go directly. Some of them need to be used in coordination and there are some coordinated efforts. But what we have to do, fundamentally, is a better job of coordinating, and that hasn’t been taking place. So you’ve actually had resistance to mutual interest in border issues and others. I think we have to recognize that the Native American community, which has not been recognized, has as much desire, has as much interest and is as prepared and is as capable and always has protected America with as much zeal as any other community and we ought to trust it and provide the funding necessary as a separate jurisdiction where that coordination is not absolutely necessary.

CAROLYN CURIEL: Thank you, Senator. Carolyn Curiel with the New York Times editorial board and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. If there is a clear line in the minds of many of the voters who are straddling the fence right now, it is on the issue of terror. The question is, how would you lead as a president in the age of terror? Specifically, what would you have done if you had been caught in a Florida newsroom, or I’m sorry, a Florida classroom on September 11, 2001? Would you, given the power of hindsight, have taken the nation to war as President Bush has said he would, given hindsight, and lastly, what would you do to get the nation out of Iraq, specifically?

JOHN KERRY: Great question. And I appreciate it. Thank you. [applause] I’m going to take a minute on this question, because it’s one of the most important questions facing the nation obviously. First of all, had I been reading to children and had my top aide whispered in my ear, “America is under attack,” I would have told those kids very politely and nicely that the President of the United States had something that he needed to attend to. And I would have attended to it. [applause] Secondly, and this is important, ladies and gentlemen, because Americans want to know that the person they choose as president has all of the skills and the ability, all of the mental toughness, all of the gut instinct, necessary to be a strong commander-in-chief. I’m asking you to trust our nation, our history, the world, your families, in my hands, and I understand that. It’s a big ask. And it’s a tough judgment you have to make. But I believe in this case there is a very clear choice. I come to the job of commander-in-chief with the rare, gratefully, but important experience of having fought in a war. And the war that I fought in was a war where we saw America lose its support for the war, where the soldiers came back, having had to do what our soldiers are doing today, carry an M-16 in another country, try to tell the difference between friend and foe, I know what it’s like to go out on night on patrol, and you don’t know what’s around the next corner. I know what it’s like to write home to your family and tell them, “Hey, everything’s ok,” even though in your gut you’re scared stiff and you don’t know if it is ok. And I believe we need a commander-in-chief who understands the test before you send young people to war. You’ve got to be able to look parents in the eyes if they lose their son or daughter and say to them, “I tried to do everything in my power to avoid this, but we had no choice as a nation, as a people, because of the challenge to our country, to our fundamental values, from a threat that was real and imminent.” I believe in my heart of hearts and in my gut that this president fails that test in Iraq and I know this because I, personally, and others, were deeply involved in the effort with other countries to bring them to the table. I met with the Security Council of the United Nations in the week preceding the vote in the Senate. I voted to hold Saddam Hussein accountable because had I been president I would have wanted that authority. Because that was the way to enforce the U.N. resolutions and be tough with the prospect of his development of weapons of mass destruction. But the President said he would go to war as a last resort. The President said he would exhaust the remedies of the U.N. The President said he would build a legitimate international coalition. And here we are, several years later, having made an end run around the United Nations, alienated our allies, put our soldiers at greater risk than they needed to be, asked the American people to pay almost $200 billion because we didn’t have the patience, we didn’t have the maturity to exhaust the remedies available to us and truly build that coalition and understand the nature of the threat. My friends, I believe there is a firm conviction with which I approach defending our country. And that is that the United States of America, through all of our history, has set up a standard. The United States doesn’t go to war because we want to. We only go to war because we have to. And that’s the standard that I will apply to the presidency. Now —

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of John Kerry addressing UNITY 2004, the largest gathering of North American journalists in the history of this country. More than 7,500 journalists gathered at the Washington Convention Center. Democracy Now! Broadcasting from the nation’s capital for this event.

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