KERRY: Can we also move it around the table?
BUMILLER: I'll ask you, and then I'll ask the Reverend Sharpton.
As you know, Iraq is to begin ruling itself on June 30th, when the U.S. is transferring authority. Now, there's a lot of people in Washington and Baghdad who are saying this is completely set on a political timetable at the convenience for President Bush.
Should we put off the June 30th transfer?
KERRY: I think the transfer should depend entirely on the ability to guarantee a stable Iraq. It should not be set arbitrarily, certainly not by an election date.
What is critical is that you have...
BUMILLER: Is that a yes or no?
KERRY: It's, obviously, it's a...
BUMILLER: It's a what?
KERRY: You should put it off if it's needed to be put off. I mean, look, if the date works, terrific. But the test is not a date. The test is the stability and viability of Iraq. And what is critical...
BUMILLER: Reverend Sharpton, what do you think?
SHARPTON: I think the date was set for political reasons. If it, by some miracle -- and I don't foresee it -- that we could see a stabilized enough situation to meet the date, we should do it. But I don't see how we can do it.
I think I am part of those that think that this was set in time for the '04 election, time for George Bush, when he's trailing in the fall, to say that they're already in self-government, and try to take it off the table.
I think that we cannot take Iraq off the table. I think the president misleading the country, and those that supported his misleading it, while hundreds of thousands of us marched, must be a central issue in the fall campaign.
BUMILLER: Senator Edwards?
EDWARDS: First of all, I think the date has now been embraced by the United Nations. The key to this is that there be legitimacy. There will not be legitimacy as long as this to the Iraqis has the stamp, "Made in America." This has to be changed.
And in order for it to be changed, the United Nations has to be involved in setting up this provisional government. That way, it'll be more acceptable to the Iraq people, more acceptable to the rest of the world.
KIRTZMAN: Senator Edwards...
EDWARDS: And the administration, by the way, the Bush administration, is completely responsible for us being in this place. They have squandered our credibility around the world, which is why we're in this place.
RATHER : Just before you answer, let me remind people who may have just turned in, we have just passed the halfway mark. We're roughly 33 and a half minutes into an hour program with the four remaining contenders to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Now, Congressman, the question is whether you think that date should be postponed.
KUCINICH: Well, I'd say that the date is not as significant as the fact that the United States wants to maintain control over the oil assets of Iraq, wants to privatize Iraq, run the contracts in Iraq and continue an occupation of Iraq.
See, that's the key issue. Because you have 130,000 troops there. You have all kinds of families who are wondering when are my sons and daughters, mothers and fathers going to come home.
And you know what? I've been the only one up here to, throughout this whole campaign, talk about a specific plan for withdrawal. We have to find a way to bring U.N. peacekeepers in and to bring our troops home.
And that's what we ought to be talking about here. I mean, it would be good to hear from Senator Kerry, who the other day said that there's a right way and wrong way to do it, and that we're in there for the long haul -- it'd be good for you to tell the American people what are you going to do with those other 40,000 troops you say you're going to bring in the first 100 days?
And also, are you going to have a draft? Are you going to get us out of Iraq, or are you going to be the Democratic version of the Republican war that you voted for?
KERRY: No, I'm not going to have a draft. Yes, I will get us out of Iraq.
KERRY: None of those troops are going to Iraq that I've talked about, that 40,000.
That is a reflection of the fact that our military is extraordinarily overextended. Our Guards and Reserves have been turned into almost active duty. When we bring the rotation of these four divisions back, over the course of the spring, we'll only have two divisions actively prepared to do what we need to do in our country.
KUCINICH: How are we going to get another 40,000 troops, John?
KERRY: Dennis, I laid out -- I think I was the first United States senator to stand up and lay out a very specific plan for how you approach the rest of the world and bring them to the table with respect to Iraq.
And the way -- you can't just cut and run, Dennis.
KUCINICH: I've never suggested that, John.
KERRY: Well, then, you've adopted my plan, because my plan...
KUCINICH: No, John, I've...
BUMILLER: Can I ask a more personal question about Iraq and funerals? Could I just -- let me just ask that, because...
KERRY: But wait a minute, we actually have an issue that's on the table here, and I'd like to finish it.
BUMILLER: Can you do it quickly?
KERRY: There is a better way to do what George Bush is doing, which is to bring the international community in. He refuses to share responsibility in the reconstruction. He refuses to share responsibility for the decisionmaking of the transformation of the country. And both of those are prerequisites to being able to get other countries to share in the responsibility.
KERRY: And what is incredible is that all of Europe has a huge interest in not having Iraq as a failed state on its doorstep, all of the Arab countries have a huge interest in not having a failed Iraq...
BUMILLER: Let me...
KERRY: ... as their neighbor, and notwithstanding...
KERRY: ... the president has none of them legitimately involved.
BUMILLER: Thank you.
Here's the question. As you well know, more than 500 American men and women have died in Iraq, and the president has been criticized for not attending a single funeral.
Now, the argument of the White House is that he can't attend one without attending them all.
KERRY: I disagree with that.
BUMILLER: What would you do?
KERRY: That is just profoundly wrong. I've talked to a number of families, many families, and those families have said to me, you know, we haven't really from the president or anybody, why can't you make phone calls to those families?
BUMILLER: How can you go to 500 funerals and be president?
KERRY: You don't go to 500 funerals. But you can certainly say to people -- and it shows respect to all the families, if you pick a funeral, go to that funeral. And then, you know what else...
SHARPTON: Or reach out to the families.
BUMILLER: The president does do that.
SHARPTON: I preached at one of the funerals of one of the young men killed, Darius Jennings. It's not about going to all of the funerals, it's showing compassion. These people lost their lives in the service of this country.
The real question, though, is why they lost their lives in the first place. And that's why I said we've got a debate out in this party. There were those that supported the president doing that. You can't give a man a blank check, and then go back and ask how come there's no money in the account. They gave him a blank check. He used it.
KUCINICH: There's a point that's being missed here, and the point that's being missed is, we should be taking action to make sure there are no funerals.
SHARPTON: That's correct.
KUCINICH: We should be bringing our troops home.
KIRTZMAN: OK, fair enough. Fair enough. Everyone...
KERRY: ... allowing those those caskets to be viewed when they come in to Dover Air Force Base...
BUMILLER: Well, do you think they should be photographed when they come back?
KERRY: I think you should give them full honors after their return to the United States.
KIRTZMAN: OK. Fair enough. Fair enough.
Senator Edwards, one of the main issues of the general election is going to be whether the president can keep you safe. There has not been a terrorist attack on United States soil for two-and-a-half years since the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Now, is that just luck, or can you credit President Bush with that?
EDWARDS: Oh, I think -- first of all, I don't credit the president. I think there are a number of things that the administration and the Congress have done that have moved the country in the right direction toward keeping the American people safe.
We have not done enough. There are a whole group of things that need to be done to keep the American people safer.
KIRTZMAN: Has George Bush kept the country safe, in your opinion?
EDWARDS: No, that's what I'm trying to tell you. I think there are a whole group of things that we need to do in addition to what's being done now.
For example, a better job at our ports. We have thousands of containers coming in every day. We inspect 4 or 5 percent of them. All of the experts tell us if we don't inspect at least 10 to 20 percent, it's very difficult to have a deterrent effect.
We have nuclear and chemical plants that are extraordinary vulnerable.
But by the way, this is a perfect example of Bush being married to special interests, because the chemical industry -- what happened was, they recognized the problem that I recognized, and others, about the vulnerability of chemical plants. We have over a hundred...
KIRTZMAN: But put yourself in the place...
EDWARDS: You just asked -- you just asked me what he's not done...
KIRTZMAN: We just have limited time, so we want to try to give everybody...
EDWARDS: ... you'll let me finish this, please.
This is a perfect example of what this administration does. We have chemical plants, over 100, any one of which, if they were attacked, could cost a million lives or more.
All of us recognized this was a problem. We wanted to take action. The chemical industry pushed back, lobbied against it, and the Bush administration caved.
KIRTZMAN: With all due respect, Senator, I'm trying to get to the bottom line of my question, though...
EDWARDS: Yes, sir.
KIRTZMAN: ... which is that the typical American, when he or she goes to a voting booth in November, has got to make a bottom-line decision: Who is going to keep me safe? Now, we've got Bush in the White House already or a one-term senator who doesn't have that much foreign policy experience.
Number one, how do you convince that person that you can keep him as safe or safer than Bush? And number two, would you consider running with a running-mate, perhaps, who has more foreign policy credentials than you do to make up for that deficiency?
EDWARDS: First of all, there is no deficiency. The issue here is not the length of your resume. The issue is the strength of your vision, what it is you believe needs to be done to keep the American people safe, convincing them that -- for example, when I have been campaigning around the country, I have consistently asked to groups of people, "What would you do differently today than you would have done on September 11th if a terrorist attack occurred in your community?"