Lieberman, Lamont Spar in Conn. Primary Debate
Friday, July 7, 2006; 12:10 AM
SPEAKERS: U.S. SENATOR JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT)
NED LAMONT, FORMER SELECTMAN, GREENWICH, CT
ANNOUNCER: Live from NBC 30, Connecticut's news leader, this is a "Decision 2006" special presentation, the Democratic primary debate, Lieberman and Lamont.
JOANNE NESTI, NBC 30 NEWS: Good evening, and welcome to the first and only scheduled televised debate between the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. They are incumbent Senator Joseph Lieberman and challenger Ned Lamont. Welcome to both of you.
I am Joanne Nesti of NBC 30, joined tonight by NBC 30 news anchor Gerry Brooks and NBC 30 chief political correspondent Tom Monahan. We would also like to welcome those of you who are watching tonight on MSNBC, on C-span, and at NBC30.com.
Both campaigns have agreed to tonight's debate format. Each candidate will be given 90 seconds for an opening statement. After that, Gerry, Tom, and I will direct questions to the candidates, and each will get 60 seconds to answer. That will be followed by a few of the questions voters emailed to us in advance of tonight's debate, and others we randomly solicited from around Connecticut.
During the final segment, Senator Lieberman and Mr. Lamont will ask each other a question. They will each be given 60 seconds to respond. Then, each candidate will have 90 seconds for a closing statement.
Earlier tonight, we flipped a coin. Senator Lieberman won the coin toss, and he will give the first opening statement. Senator.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Joanne. Thanks to Channel 30 and thanks to all who are watching.
Connecticut Democratic voters have a clear choice to make on primary day. I'm running for a better future for Connecticut based on my 18 years of service and results for our state. Ned Lamont seems just to be running against me, based on my stand on one issue, Iraq. And he is distorting who I am and what I have done.
So let me tell you some things that may surprise at least Ned, but shouldn't. I know George Bush. I have worked against George Bush. I have even run against George Bush. But, Ned, I'm not George Bush. So why don't you stop running against him and have the courage and honesty to run against me and the facts of my record? The fact is that I have opposed George Bush on most of the major policy initiatives of his administration, from tax cuts for the rich to privatizing Social Security.
I have done so not for partisan reasons, but because I believe he was wrong. I'm a Democrat with a 35-year record of fighting for progressive causes, for the middle class, for civil rights, for women's rights, for human rights and a lot more. I voted with my Senate Democratic colleagues 90 percent of the time. And when I have disagreed, I have had the courage of my convictions to say so. That's who I am. That's who I have been. And that's what I offer Connecticut voters for the next six years -- experience, principles and results.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator. Mr. Lamont, could we have your opening statement, please.
NED LAMONT (D), FOR U.S. SENATE: Thank you, NBC, for hosting us. Thank you, Senator Lieberman, for being here. And I want to say to all of our all of our TV viewers, I appreciate you being here and I hope you had a great July 4th.
My name is Ned Lamont, and I'm not a traditional politician. I started up a business from scratch. I have spent a lot of time as a volunteer in my community, as many of you have. I was on the board of selectmen. I was on the board of the Urban League, the YMCA, and I have been a volunteer teacher at Harding High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut. And as a teacher there, I was talking to the kids and telling them that if you work hard and you play by the rules and make good choices, opportunity is going to come your way.
But as I was saying this, I was thinking, in Washington, we are making a lot of bad choices right now. We're losing a lot of our good-paying jobs here in the state of Connecticut, and I wonder about the opportunities for our kids as they get older.
And, Senator Lieberman, if you won't challenge President Bush on his failed agenda, I will.
Look at the record. Gas prices have doubled. Skyrocketing health care costs are bankrupting families and small businesses alike. Connecticut families are working harder and harder and earning less and less.
We're more dependent upon foreign oil. We're more dependent upon foreign capital, and we have 135,000 of our bravest troops stuck in the middle of a bloody civil war. And I say that those who got us into this mess should be held accountable. Let's have the debate.
NESTI: Thank you, Mr. Lamont. Again, based on our coin toss tonight, the first question will go to Senator Lieberman from Gerry Brooks.
GERRY BROOKS, NBC 30 NEWS: Senator, now that you have distanced yourself from the president in your opening statement, clearly the reason we are here tonight is because of the war, the genesis of this campaign, your stand versus Mr. Lamont's.
You're aware that you've taken an unpopular stand, and you have been asking Democrats all along, from your first ad on, please overlook this, look at my past accomplishments. But how can you ask Democrats to overlook or look past what they consider to be the central issue of the race?
LIEBERMAN: Well, it's a very good question. And let me say this. My position on Iraq has been clear. And I believe it was the right thing for us to overthrow Saddam Hussein. I have been critical of the things that the administration did after that. But the fact is, we're there now. And we have a choice. And that choice is between helping the Iraqis achieve a free and independent Iraq or abandoning them and letting the terrorists take over.
The latter choice is one we cannot make. And I have leveled with people about it and asked them to respect me for having the guts to take an unpopular political position.
My opponent is running against me, as you said, on this one issue. And yet even on this one issue, he has not leveled and been consistent with the people of Connecticut. He has taken all sorts of positions. One day saying he is for withdrawal and another day he is not. One day saying he is for a specific deadline, another day he is not.
Ned, and when you're a senator, you've got to make decisions. By God, if you believe we should get out of Iraq right now, have the courage of your convictions to say so. Then we can have a debate. Now we can't.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator. Mr. Lamont, 60 seconds to you.
LAMONT: Senator, you're the only person in Connecticut who is confused about my position on the war in Iraq. President Bush rushed us into this war. He told us it would be easy. We would be welcomed as liberators. Weapons of mass destruction. And Senator Lieberman cheered on the president every step of the way, when we should have been asking the tough questions. And here we are, what do we do?
I was impressed when Congressman Murtha stood up and he said, stay the course is not a winning strategy. It's time for us to change course. It's time for us to start bringing our troops home.
As General Casey and others have said, our very visible military presence is fueling the insurgency. It's making the situation worse. So our best hope for success is to start bringing the troops home now.
And this war is not a single issue, Senator. It says so much about what type of a country we are. The tens of thousands of people who have died and been wounded, the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent and wasted and the values, the values about this country and our moral authority, and what it says about who we are. It's destabilized the Middle East, it was a mistake, and we should admit it.
LIEBERMAN: Joanne, I'd like to rebut if I might.
NESTI: You can have 30 seconds.
LIEBERMAN: I appreciate it. Look, I'm going to give you this piece of paper, Ned. It shows on one day in March you support redeployment of troops. Then you said you're not willing to set a timetable for withdrawal. Then you said I think it's time for the troops to start heading home. A couple of weeks ago, you took two different positions on the same day. You said you would have voted for John Kerry's amendment, setting a deadline for withdrawal. Then you said you would not have supported the amendment, and your campaign manager said a third thing. I still don't know what your position is. Do you support a specific deadline for getting out of Iraq?
LAMONT: Absolutely. Like Chris Dodd, like the heart of the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C., I supported both of those amendments. Those amendments in Washington, D.C. were clear. It's time for us to change course. Time for us to start getting our frontline troops out of harm's way. We get our troops out of harm's way within the next six months, we get our troops out of Iraq over the course of the next year. That's important. That fundamentally is a change of direction. You have an open-ended stay-the-course strategy...
LIEBERMAN: No way...
LAMONT: I think it's important to look at the facts on the ground, and we're not making the situation better by our frontline presence there.
LIEBERMAN: Absolutely untrue. I have said the sooner we get out of Iraq, the better. But if we get out too soon, it will be a disaster for the Iraqis and for us.
I fought this fight during the '90s when Republicans tried to get President Clinton to set a deadline for when we were getting out of Bosnia. It was wrong then; it's wrong now.
If you tell your enemy when you're going to leave, they'll wait and create disaster.
If you want to turn Iraq over to the terrorists, follow the policy you've enunciated. But at least -- this is your fifth different policy on withdrawal -- but at least you've said something, and I'm going to hold you to it.
NESTI: Gentlemen, we're going to step in now for another question for you, Mr. Lamont, from Tom Monahan.
TOM MONAHAN, NBC 30: Well, somewhere in the answer there both of you gave you pretty much answered my next question, but I'm going to ask it anyway.
Mr. Lamont, you had said -- and let me go to your Web site now, this is why I picked it up. You have said, "we will start winning in Iraq as the Iraqis take control of their own destiny," unquote. Isn't that essentially the position of Senator Lieberman, that we stay there until the job is done and that the Iraqi government is firmly in control? What's the difference here?
LAMONT: I'd say there's a dramatic difference. Senator Lieberman over the last three years keeps saying we're turning the corner, we're turning the corner, things are getting better and better. That corner is a square. We are not making progress in the war in Iraq right now.
As you remember, the senator said over six months ago, look at all the cell phones, look at the satellite dishes. We're on the way to progress. In fact, in the last six months, the number of sectarian deaths has increased a lot. There are deaths of Americans. It's going downhill.
Tom Friedman calls it anarchy. Others have called it just an incipient civil war.
I think our very visible, frontline military presence is making the situation worse. I think that our best hope for success, Tom, our best hope for success is to take the very American military face off of this occupation and start bringing our troops out of harm's way, and start bringing our troops home.
We'll be there for reconstruction. We'll be there for humanitarian assistance. We'll be there for political support. But at the end of the day, only the Iraqis can solve this. They can solve it politically and only they can solve it militarily.
NESTI: Senator Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Well, Tom and Joanne, Ned has got me confused again. But I'll tell you one thing he is wrong about. The situation in Iraq is a lot better, different than it was a year ago. The Iraqis held three elections. They formed a unity government. They are on the way to building a free and independent Iraq. Their military -- two-thirds of their military is now ready, on their own, to lead the fight with some logistical backing from the U.S. or stand up on their own totally. That's progress.
And the question is, are we going to abandon them while they are making that progress?
Let me repeat. I'm not for an open-ended commitment to Iraq. The sooner we're out of there, the better it will be for the Iraqis and for us. But if we leave too soon, we will create disaster there. A terrorist state, civil war, regional instability, and the terrorists will be emboldened to strike us again.
So I am confident that the situation is improving enough on the ground that by the end of this year, we will begin to draw down significant numbers of American troops, and by the end of the next year more than half of the troops who are there now will be home. But not because we set a deadline. That would make it harder.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator.
LAMONT: I'll take 30 seconds, if I might.
NESTI: OK, you've got it.
LAMONT: Look, it's General Casey who said we ought to start bringing our troops home, you know, as early as September or October. It's the American generals who are beginning to come up with the timeline.
It's important we set a timeline. The Maliki government is asking us to set a timeline. Many members of Congress are asking us to set a timeline. Many Iraqis are asking us to do that. The Arab League is saying, let's set a timeline, let the Iraqis know that only they can solve this. We don't have permanent designs on their oil. No permanent military bases. Let them have a timeframe that they know they are going to step up.
As some have said -- I'll leave it there.
LIEBERMAN: There you go. You have just taken the sixth position. There's a big difference between a timeline you hope to keep, as General Casey and Abizaid have said and I support, and a deadline, where you tell your enemies I'm getting out by this date. That's as dumb as saying to somebody, I want you to do X by next Wednesday. If you don't do it by next Wednesday, I won't ask you to do it anymore. That doesn't work.
NESTI: I have got to step in here at this point.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the creation of so-called military commissions to try enemy combatants held at Guantanamo, and some have called that the latest blow to the attempt by the president and vice president to concentrate more power in the executive.
My question is, do you believe that the nation's response to the September 11th attacks should allow the president greater leeway in conducting the war on terrorism? Senator Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Well, what I think is we entered a new age of our history after September 11th, when we were attacked here at home as we have never been attacked before by a brutal enemy, radical Islamist terrorism, killed 3,000 of our fellow Americans and they want to do it again.
But in war, America has always been attested to achieve two goals, security and liberty, and liberty is what we're all about.
This administration felt its way and stretched -- pushed the envelope, and the Supreme Court last week in what I thought was an extraordinary decision, an excellent decision, in the best tradition of America, said, Mr. President, no one in this country is above the law, not even the president in a time of war.
That was the right decision, and now the president will have to do what he should have done earlier, come to Congress and negotiate a legal way to treat the detainees at Guantanamo.
And please understand that there's nothing in that court decision that orders us to release those detainees. They are dangerous. And the last thing we want to do is release them.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator. Mr. Lamont, has Congress been left out of this equation?
LAMONT: Congress has not only been left out, but they are not asserting their authority here. I think it's very important. We have a president who is acting as if he is above the law right now. Be it the illegal wiretaps -- look at what Guantanamo, look at what Haditha, look at what Abu Ghraib has done to the moral authority to the United States of America. We are a much stronger country when we are true to our values, a much stronger country when it comes to the war on terror when we're true to what we stand for, and we've compromised a lot of that over the last few years, and that weakens our country right now.
I look at the illegal wiretaps. I thought that was a time that Democrats should have stood up and held the president accountable. I think we should have said that was wrong. I think we should have had hearings. If there's any debate about whether those wiretaps were illegal, we should have had a debate in the Senate. And if not, I think censure was an appropriate remedy. I think censure was a way of telling the president of the United States, what you did was wrong. Quick, to the point, and we move on.
NESTI: OK. Thank you, Mr. Lamont. Next question is to you from Gerry Brooks.
BROOKS: Mr. Lamont, if you're elected to the Senate, and if at some point President Bush put forth a policy that you essentially agreed with, would you support that policy even if it meant alienating members of your own party, nationally and in the state?
LAMONT: Of course. What you do in the U.S. Senate is you act on behalf of your conscience, you do what you think is right, and you act on behalf of your state. It's not a question of partisan advantage one way or the other.
But I do believe that George Bush's administration has been bad for the state of Connecticut, bad for this country, and bad for our foreign policy positions around the world. Iraq is just a symptom of that.
So I think it's important that Democrats stand up and talk with a voice about a constructive alternative to what's going on.
So I would be there, I would be listening to the president, I'd hear what he had to say on any particular issue. I'm more than happy to find common ground where I think it's appropriate. But when it comes to an awful lot of the issues, I think Senator Lieberman is finding too much common ground with the president. I think it's important for us to stand up and offer our own point of view.
NESTI: Senator, one minute.
LIEBERMAN: Well, there you go again. The record shows that I have opposed most of what President Bush has tried to advance.
But, you know, when I'm in agreement with his goals, as I was in immigration reform in the Senate, or the goal of a free and independent and democratic Iraq, I'm not going to oppose him -- I'm not going to oppose that policy or change my position because he happens to be of the other party. That's the importance of your question, Gerry.
The fact is that Washington has become rigidly and reflexively partisan. And it stops us from doing what the people want us to do. I'm one of the senators who is able to reach across the partisan divide to get things done, and that's helped me deliver for Connecticut. It helped me save the 31,000 jobs at the sub base in New London. It helps me to clean up Long Island Sound. It helps me to return more money to Connecticut for our transportation funding, and it will help me in the years ahead, which this is all about, not just Iraq. Deliver affordable health care, lower energy prices, make us energy independent, and do something finally about producing new jobs, high-paying jobs for people here in Connecticut.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator. The next question is to you from Tom Monahan.
MONAHAN: Senator Lieberman, in terms of North Korea, what is your take on North Korea? What it's doing, what dangers if any do the North Koreans pose to the United States, and what should we do about it?
LIEBERMAN: Well, the North Korean act of firing those missiles was a provocative act. We should take it seriously. But, Tom, we should not overreact to it. The fact is that the Bush administration in the last five and a half years has had an inconsistent and ultimately unsuccessful policy toward North Korea. And when I say inconsistent, sometimes saying that we would talk to the North Koreans in the six-party talks, sometimes saying we would not.
I think we are a strong enough nation that the one thing that hasn't been tried either by the Clinton administration or the Bush administration is to talk directly to Kim Jong Il. We don't lose any options if we do that. I wouldn't do it now, because I wouldn't reward his provocative act from a few days ago, but let's take comfort from the fact that the Taepodong 2 missile in the three stages which could have hit western United States failed after 40 seconds. So this is not a crisis, but it's a provocation.
The danger is Kim Jong Il will sell these things to anybody who will buy them, including terrorists. That's why it's time for tough diplomacy and, I believe, economic sanctions against this regime.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator.
Mr. Lamont, one minute.
LAMONT: Tom, the biggest threat to the United States and world peace is a rogue nation that has nuclear arms capability, and they can sell that to terrorists or potentially launch that. And Korea fits that description. North Korea fits that description.
And I know the Bush administration called this provocative and not an imminent threat, but I think it's the most serious threat facing the United States of America today. And I would do, as a senator -- I would urge the president to do not what he did in Iraq.
I would get Republicans and Democrats together. I would get them behind closed doors. I'd give them real intelligence. I'd explain the severity of the situation. I'd explain it to the American people. I'd let them know the importance of what we've got to do.
Obviously, we can't work North Korea alone. China, South Korea, and Japan are so key to everything we have got to do there. And working with them in a constructive way, with a constructive dialogue, we have got to get Kim Jong Il off of that murderous path that he's got. But there's no greater threat to the United States of America and President Bush has got to get it right this time.
NESTI: Thank you.
This question is for you, Mr. Lamont. This contest between the two of you has been described as a fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. But I'd like to know what does being a Democrat mean to you? Who are your supporters? And if you were to win the primary, would you broaden your appeal to more of the party?
LAMONT: Well, first of all, in terms of support for the Ned Lamont campaign, it's grassroots support. We have got tens of thousands of people across the state of Connecticut and beyond who want the Democrats to stand up and be counted, be clear about where we stand, think boldly, talk boldly about what we want to do, offer real, constructive alternatives to the Bush agenda.
Now as it regards Democrats, look, it seems to me that as a party, right now we have got 63 lobbyists for every Congressman in Washington, D.C. You have got the best Congress that money can buy. And I know that Senator Lieberman is often talking about finding common ground with the Republicans.
But when it comes to the Democrats, I think it's important we go down to Washington, D.C., and start talking about the common good. I think that's where we make a difference as Democrats, and I think that's when we start winning again.
NESTI: Thank you.
Senator, what does being a Democrat mean to you and why, this week, have you opted to become a petitioning candidate if you don't win the primary?
LIEBERMAN: Yes, well what a Democrat means to me is what it meant in 1960 when President Kennedy summoned my generation into public service. It meant the dream of opportunity and freedom here at home and throughout the world. President Kennedy said that "freedom doesn't come from the generosity of the state, it comes from the hand of God."
And America's mission is to pay any price, bear any burden, support any friend, and oppose any foe to assure the success and survival of liberty. In our time, the Democratic Party has been the great hope of people rising in our country, and it remains that way.
That's why I say he's running a single issue campaign. Every campaign, as President Clinton reminded us, is about the future. And what I'm saying to the people of Connecticut, I can do more for you and your families to get something done to make health care affordable, to get universal health insurance, to make America energy independent, to save your jobs and create new ones. That's what the Democratic Party is all about.
He is a single issue candidate who is applying a litmus test to me. It's not good enough to be 90 percent voting with my colleagues in the Senate Democratic Caucus. He wants 100 percent. And when a party does that, it's the beginning of the defeat of that party.
I want Democrats to be back in the majority in Washington and elect a Democratic president in 2008. This man and his supporters will frustrate and defeat our hopes of doing that.
NESTI: Let me give you 30 more seconds, Mr. Lamont, if you would like on respond to that. Who is the real Democrat in this race? Can you define the party as you see it?
LAMONT: I think it's so important that the Democrats stand up and present a constructive alternative to the Bush administration. And I do find that Senator Lieberman too often is willing to undermine the Democrats, be it on issues of war and peace like the war in Iraq, or be it on a variety of other issues, be it, you know, Social Security, be it affirmative action, be it vouchers.
These are important issues that say a lot about what type of a party we are and what we stand for. We stand for the public good. We stand for public education. We stand for universal health care for each and every American, and I think it's important that when Democrats say that, that's when we start winning again.
NESTI: OK, thank you.
LIEBERMAN: If I may, very briefly ...
NESTI: Thirty seconds.
LIEBERMAN: He is spending a lot of his own money to really disseminate an untruth about my record, and he did it again. Social Security privatization -- I looked at it in the late 90s. I decided it was a bad idea. I opposed it in 2000. I voted for resolutions against it.
On the day that President Bush started his campaign to privatize Social Security in 2005, I was one of 41 Democratic senators to say explicitly that I think it's a bad idea, it would hurt Social Security. So why don't you stop spreading that kind of untruth?
NESTI: The next question is to you, Senator, from Gerry Brooks.
GERRY BROOKS, WVIT - HARTFORD: Senator, you wrote a book on a man who wrote the book on Democratic politics, John Bailey, the former state and national Democratic Party chairman. If Mr. Bailey were here, what would he say about you running as a petitioning candidate instead of supporting Mr. Lamont should you lose the primary?
LIEBERMAN: Well, of course, the first thing Mr. Bailey would do is try to stop Mr. Lamont from hurting the Democratic Party's chances of electing a Democratic senator who might help to make a Democratic majority in the Senate, who would help the three Democratic challenging candidates for the House of Representatives, who might help make the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
I have been a Democrat all my life. And I must say I laugh at Ned Lamont holding party loyalty up as a test of my candidacy. He fails that test. When he was on the Greenwich boards, he voted 80 percent of the time with Republicans against education, for cuts in healthcare, for lower health benefits for public employees.
Look at his campaign. He's got a former Republican senator, a former Republican state chairman working in his campaign. And the guy doing the ads he is paying for on TV helped to put George Bush in the White House in 2000, and tried to stop Barack Obama from being a senator a couple of years ago. So he fails his own test.
I'm the Democrat in this race and I know I can do better for the people of Connecticut than he or Alan Schlesinger can in the tough years ahead. That's why I'll go on if this primary doesn't work as I want it to. But I believe it will, because I think the voters see the difference between us.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator.
Mr. Lamont, one minute.
LAMONT: I think Mr. Bailey would ask Senator Lieberman to make up his mind. Are you a Democrat or are you an Independent? If you're going to run as a Democrat, play by the rules, stick with the Democratic rules as I have. Instead of going through the primary, I'm going to endorse the winner of that primary. I hope his name is Ned Lamont. We go forward together as a unified party. We'll be a stronger party for it.
Or if you want to be an Independent, run as an Independent, but you can't have it both ways. He brings up a lot of poppycock about the days when I was on the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Finance. All I can tell you is that you look at the press, the press has asked them to stop it, told him it's misleading, told them it's false. These rumors that he is passing around are just not true.
The point is, look, I convinced the Republicans to vote with me 80 percent of the time. It was questions about potholes and stop signs and the Board of Selectmen. But when he compromises, he's not compromising on questions of potholes. You're compromising on questions of principles and things that are key to the Democratic Party and what we stand for. And that's why I'm in this race.
LIEBERMAN: Joanne, I'll say very briefly, by way of rebuttal, everything I have said about his voting record in Greenwich comes from records of the town hall or from the Greenwich newspaper.
NESTI: Go ahead, Senator.
LIEBERMAN: Well, that's the point of it. And let me stress again, I intend to win the primary, but I want to say, why did I do what I announced the other day, create the option? It's because I believe this man can't be elected in November.
And I know -- and I have to say this directly -- that I can do a better job for the people of Connecticut, a lot of whom are going to need some special help in the next six years than either he or Alan Schlesinger can, and I want to give all the voters, including a lot of Democrats, the opportunity to make that final decision in November.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator.
Mr. Lamont, you need 30 seconds or ...
LAMONT: Yes, look at the last 18 years. We have lost 40 percent of our manufacturing-related jobs. We have lost over half of our defense-related jobs. People are earning less. A lot of our good paying jobs are leaving the state and leaving the country. Senator Lieberman has never seen a trade agreement that he didn't applaud.
I don't think this is the type of leadership we want. When it comes to bringing home things for the state of Connecticut, we are 49th out of 50 states -- 49th out of 50. New Jersey is last. I think we can do an awful lot better.
With Ned Lamont down there, we're going to win. We're going to win because we have Democrats energized who believe, who are going to turn out, and who are going to be part of a Democratic majority, and that's how we start winning
NESTI: OK, Mr. Lamont, the next question is for you from Tom Monahan.
MONAHAN: Mr. Lamont, Senator Lieberman has said during the course of this campaign that -- in labeling you, that you are a closet Republican, that you are running with the far left of the Democratic Party, and also that you're perhaps Lowell Weicker's so-called "bear cub" in those famous ads. How do you perceive yourself there?
LAMONT: Well, the senator has got to make up his mind. Either I'm far left or I'm too cozy with the Republicans, but it's a little difficult to be both. And I thought the bear ad, while slightly cute, was somewhat unbearable.
I think these are all distractions from the issues that people care about. What people want to know is how come Senator Lieberman in 18 years in the U.S. Senate has never signed onto a bill that provides universal health care for each and every American? That's a basic question that people want to know. People want to know how come, Senator, when it came to providing all necessary medical care for rape victims at hospitals in the state of Connecticut, you said, oh, it's a short drive for a rape victim. If you can't get emergency contraception in one hospital, go to another.
I think fundamentally, the senator has seniority, but when you use seniority on the wrong side of issues that people care about, that's a problem.
LIEBERMAN: Well, the reality is that Ned Lamont has to make up his mind about who he is. He did vote, as his local newspaper said in Greenwich, like a conservative Republican when he was last in public office on the town board. This year, he has reappeared as a very liberal Democrat. And he has changed. He is very inconsistent. I said, he has not taken one position on when to get out of Iraq.
Just a few weeks ago, he sat next to an honorable man, Chuck Berry, the American Legion commander, said to him, according to the commander, I will support the constitutional amendment against desecration of the flag. Then he came out and said no, I didn't do it.
He used to be for free trade. Now he is trying to curry favor with every interest group he can find and says he is for it. He actually supported me, gave me contributions, three times after I took the position I did on Iraq.
I haven't changed my position. What changed is that some people convinced him that he had the opportunity to become a United States senator. And so the question the people of Connecticut are reasonably asking is who is Ned Lamont, and do we have any way to know what he would do if he ever became a United States senator? I don't think there's a clear answer to that.
LAMONT: Ned Lamont is going to stand up and speak on behalf of the Democrats, we're going to speak on behalf of our shared values, and we're going to provide a constructive alternative to the Bush agenda. And we're not going to cozy up to the Bush agenda. We're not going to provide a lot of cover for the Bush agenda. We're going to get our troops out of Iraq, and rather than spending $250 million a day in Iraq, we're going to start investing in our own country again. We're going to start investing in universal health care for all Americans, we're going to start investing in great schools so our kids can compete, so we can get good-paying jobs back to the state of Connecticut. We're going to fight for a change in Washington, D.C., and I mean to be that change agent.
NESTI: Senator, this next question is for you. One of your campaign commercials, and your Web site, make a point of labeling Mr. Lamont a Greenwich multi-millionaire. I guess my question is, of what significance is that? Why would his wealth be a campaign issue to you?
LIEBERMAN: Well, it's part of who he is. But really, the point is who is he? And that's what -- he has taken so many different positions in his campaign, different from what he took before, that I think we really don't know who this man is. And part of the reality of this campaign, and part of why I opened the option of going on after the primary, is that whereas he said at the beginning, he would only put at most half a million dollars, and he's now up to 2.5 million. And I don't have that kind of money. I have to work hard for everything that I raise. So I would say this. People have to ask themselves, who is Ned Lamont?
And this campaign is about the future. It's about your jobs. He criticizes me because of the loss of jobs. I'm the one who saved the 31,000 jobs at EB and a lot of others. I was able to raise the money we got for transportation funding over the next five years, by 20 percent, to $2.5 billion, creating tens of thousands of jobs in construction.
I delivered for the state. And that's what I'll do, because I'm not just about one issue. I'm about the people of Connecticut and their well-being.
NESTI: Thank you. Thank you, Senator. Mr. Lamont, should wealth be an issue in this campaign?
LAMONT: It's just a distraction for Senator Lieberman. Senator Lieberman has millions of dollars he has raised from lobbyists, millions of dollars he's raised from political action committees. And he is using that money to go after me in a very personal way.
Look, I have got to be frank. I have been blessed in this country. It's the greatest country. I was blessed with two great parents, who inspired me every day. I have been blessed to be born in the United States of America, land of opportunity. I started up a business from scratch. I know what it is to meet a payroll. I have been working. My wife has started up a number of businesses, and we have done well.
But now what I want to do is give back to the state of Connecticut and give back to the people. I think right now, we have a government that's heading in the wrong direction, and every time Senator Lieberman brings up these personal attacks, it's just an effort to distract us from the things you care about.
You care about education for your kids, you care about universal health care, and you care about choice. These are the issues that I think are important, and that's what I'm going to fight for.
LIEBERMAN: Well, you know my record...
NESTI: Thirty seconds.
LIEBERMAN: You know my record on these things. The AFL-CIO wouldn't have supported me over you if they didn't think I would fight for jobs in this state. Planned Parenthood wouldn't have supported me over you if they weren't confident that I was for women's reproductive rights. The League of Conservation Voters wouldn't have supported me over you if they didn't appreciate my strong, strong record on environmental protection. The Human Rights Campaign political action committee wouldn't have supported me over you if they didn't -- be able to say that since the 1970s, I have been fighting to protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. So look at my record and deal with the reality of it.
NESTI: Senator, Mr. Lamont, we are going to take a quick one- minute break. And when we come back, we'll have questions from Connecticut voters.
O'DONNELL: We have been watching the very hot Connecticut Senate debate between Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman. And his primary challenger, Ned Lamont. With me now here in Washington is "Wall Street Journal" editor John Harwood. I'm going to go back to the debate and we're going to talk in a moment after that.
NESTI: We have arrived now at the second part of tonight's debate, questions directly from Connecticut voters. Over the past few days, we have gotten hundreds of emails and we have also asked viewers on camera for their questions and we have randomly selected a few of each for tonight.
John Watts of Elington and Jesus Perez of Hartford are concerned about the cost of energy. We will begin with a taped question followed by an email.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JESUS PEREZ, HARTFORD: Hello. My name is Jesus Perez. I'm from Hartford and my question is about gas prices. What would do you about them?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NESTI: And John in Elington sent us this email, "what do you propose doing to meet today's energy needs and high costs?" Mr. Lamont, we'll start with you.
LAMONT: I think after 9/11, our country would have done just about anything, anything our government asked us to do, and there was nothing more important than energy conservation and the environment, in a serious way, to free us from this dependence upon foreign oil. And instead, Vice President Cheney invited 50 of his favorite lobbyists behind closed doors and passed the bill called the energy bill. Even Senator Lieberman's friend John McCain nicknamed the bill "no lobbyist left behind." It was a bad bill.
It was loaded with tax subsidies for big oil and did little or nothing for conservation and the environment and freeing us from a horrible dependence upon Middle Eastern oil. And since that bill has passed, look at what's happened to the price of gasoline.
I think conservation is our best effort that we can make right now. Look what happened when Jimmy Carter 20 years ago put on the cardigan and said, it's the moral equivalent of war. We doubled the fuel mileage standards of our automobiles. We greatly increased the fuel efficiency of our appliances, and the price of gasoline went down, went down for the next 20 years.
We got a little fat and happy and we started driving S.U.V.'s again. But now is the time, now is the time again to deal with conservation in a serious way. And Senator Lieberman's support of the Dick Cheney's energy bill was a mistake, and it's done nothing for energy prices.
NESTI: Senator, one minute on energy.
LIEBERMAN: Right, there you go again. You've been spending your money on commercials to criticize me for voting for that energy bill. Look, very rarely do you get a perfect bill. The tax credits for the energy industry in that big energy bill last year were bad. I said so. As a matter of fact, I am co-sponsoring legislation with John Kerry to try and repeal them. They were wrong.
But I'll tell you why I voted for the bill. There were other parts of it, including one that I worked very hard on and lead the way, that resulted in a change in something called Lycap (ph) that the Consumer Council of Connecticut, Mary Healey says, was historic and will save Connecticut electricity customers $800 million. Would you have voted against that?
The other thing that it did is had the most substantial incentives for clean fuel, alternative fuel and fuel cells, which can create thousands of new jobs in the fuel cell industry in Connecticut, and I hope you would not have voted against that.
Jesus, we didn't answer your question. I have introduced excess profits legislation, which would tax the oil companies and give it back to consumers for their outrageous ripoff of consumers. But most of all, we've got to get energy independent. For me, that will be a priority in my next term if I'm fortunate enough to have it. And I'm going to do it with people in both parties.
NESTI: Thank you.
Thirty seconds, Mr. Lamont.
LAMONT: You did it with people in the Republican Party when you supported that energy bill. There wasn't one other New England Democrat that supported that bill.
LIEBERMAN: Did you know those two parts that were good for Connecticut were in there?
NESTI: Hold on, Senator, please.
LAMONT: Just let me -- this isn't Fox News, sir. But that was a bad bill, and that was one of the reasons. Another reason is it takes away all Connecticut authority over the citing of a floating LNG, liquefied natural gas facility in the middle of Long Island Sound.
You know, I appreciate your support for ANWR, but let's talk about protection of our sound. I think it was a bad bill because it takes away local control from the state of Connecticut. It did nothing for conservation, and gas prices have gone up accordingly.
LIEBERMAN: Quick rebuttal, Joanne, if I might.
NESTI: Thirty seconds.
LIEBERMAN: Let me just say that I'm opposed to the broad water liquid natural gas terminal in Long Island Sound. There was a part of this bill that I didn't like, but it doesn't take authority away. It just changes the appeal that we can make from the state court to the federal court.
Let me come back to Jesus. I'm co-sponsoring -- I'm the lead Democratic sponsor in a bill we call Set America Free. It will demand that half of the new cars sold in America be hybrids, hybrid plug-ins or biofuels. And it will set a goal, 10 million barrel reduction in daily consumption of oil in America. That would be a 50 percent reduction. We can do it. It's going to be a priority for me in my next term.
NESTI: All right. We're moving on now to our next e-mail questions that center on jobs. Several Connecticut companies like Winchester Firearms in New Haven have closed their doors in recent months, and Kerry Krassner of Pawcatuck asked "Now that the sub base has been saved, what is to become of the thousands of Electric Boat employees and their families facing impending layoffs?"
And Eric Lee of Southington asks, "What are you going to do about companies sending jobs overseas?"
We'll begin this one with Senator Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Well, the first thing to say is that I built up some seniority, and I'm the second in seniority in the Armed Services Committee and that helps me deliver contracts and jobs for Electric Boat. I was able to insert in a bill $75 million of design work which will keep hundreds of designers and engineers at Electric Boat working.
I am the second in seniority among Democrats on the Public Works Committee. That allows me to return transportation, more transportation and public works money to the state. And I'm supporting legislation that will invest in our schools and training of our workers.
Ned's come out against trade now. He was always for it before. Connecticut benefits from trade. Not everybody does, some people suffer, and we need to help them with trade adjustment assistance. But we do $9 billion worth of exporting from Connecticut every year. That creates hundreds of thousands of jobs.
One quarter of the manufacturing jobs in Connecticut depend on exports. If he thinks he can put a bubble over the United States and stop all of that and make more jobs in Connecticut, he's wrong.
NESTI: Mr. Lamont, one minute.
LAMONT: Senator, we just keep exporting jobs. Over the last 18 years, as I said before, we have lost most of our -- 40 percent of our manufacturing jobs, a lot of our defense-related jobs.
We are the largest market on the face of this earth. People want to do business with the United States of America. And we should negotiate these trade agreements from the position of strength. Labor agreements, environmental standards, these should be key to what we want to do. We owe it to our workers to give them a level playing field and let them compete around the world. Our workers can compete with anybody. They can compete with anybody if given a fair shot.
Going forward, other things that I have proposed, first and foremost is education and investing in the infrastructure of the state of Connecticut. Again, that's public transportation. That's freight. That's ports. These are all things necessary to be able to build a base upon which small businesses can grow. We have been losing jobs, losing good-paying jobs in the state, and if Ned Lamont is a U.S. senator, we can turn that around with a long-term strategy.
NESTI: Thank you.
Our next topic involves immigration. We have an e-mail from a viewer, but first a question on tape from Bernadette Capella of Newington.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNADETTE CAPELLA, NEWINGTON: What do we do about illegal immigrants? What would do you about the illegal immigrants?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NESTI: And Pat Hartman of Stratford e-mailed us and wants to know, "what do you plan to do to prevent companies from hiring illegal aliens?"
Mr. Lamont, we start with you.
LAMONT: I think the latter part of that question is the most important. When it comes to immigration, the three legs of that stool. But when it comes to securing our border which so important, you can militarize the border like George Bush says, you can put up fences and walls, but as long as you have employees hiring illegals, and waving thousands dollar bills, people will be coming across the border and looking for a better opportunity for their kids.
And under the Bush administration, we have cut down on the number of sanctions, cut down on the number of employer enforcements there and that's why we have a lot of the illegal immigration that we have today. I support the Senate bill, as did Senator Lieberman, I think. We both agree that you have to have comprehensive immigration reform. You've got to deal with the folks who are here in this country, the 11 or 12 billion people. Give them a path to earn the legal status. I think that's so important.
I'll say one other thing, though, about immigration. It does trouble me. I think we have got to be careful about all of the guest workers on the grounds that they are doing jobs that Americans just won't do. You'll find Americans are willing to do these jobs. You pay a decent wage with decent benefits, you'll find Americans are there.
NESTI: Senator, one minute.
LIEBERMAN: One of the few bipartisan accomplishments we have had in the Senate in the Bush years is the immigration reform bill that passed. John McCain and Ted Kennedy co-sponsored. I was the second Democratic co-sponsor of that bill after Ted Kennedy. We worked together on a bipartisan basis to get it past the Senate.
It's a good bill. It does toughen border security. The truth is now it's too easy to come over and too many people naturally want to come over to make more money than they can make at home. We expand the number of border agents. We actually authorized the building of fences along many hundreds of miles there, and we increased the penalties against employers who hire illegal immigrants and hire 10,000 new agents to actually enforce those laws.
But we also say come on, we have got a choice about the 11 million illegals who are here now. You're either going to try to arrest them and deport them all, which will never happen, or you're going to give them a path to become citizens or legal.
And what they have to do is to work hard, play by the rules, pay their taxes, not violate the law and learn English. And after 11 years waiting in the back of the line, they can become citizens.
NESTI: Mr. Lamont, I can give you some rebuttal time on immigration.
LAMONT: Let me just add something. I teach this class at Harding High School, and some of the brightest kids in that class are kids who weren't fortunate enough to be born here in the United States of America and aren't technically legal.
They came to this country, in many cases, not even able to speak English, and here they are, some of the best kids in our class, in many cases getting into very good colleges. And what's happened, they find out as illegals, no student loans, no scholarships, no way to go forward.
We've got to find a way that we can deal with these kids, find a way that they can earn their way back to legal status, and find a way they can be good, productive members of our society. It's so important that we are an inclusive society. The Statue of Liberty has been our symbol for so many years, and it was just heartbreaking to see those kids when they find out they didn't have an opportunity to go forward.
NESTI: Thank you.
We have now arrived at the final questions of tonight's debate, and this is where Mr. Lamont and Senator Lieberman get the opportunity to ask each other a question.
And Senator, we're going to start that with you.
LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Joanne.
I think everyone knows the sad fact that Washington has been hit with a run of ethical scandals again and conflicts of interest. It is really necessary to have total transparency in people who serve in our government. The public has a right to know.
A couple of weeks ago the Associated Press here in Connecticut asked me if I would release my state and federal tax returns. I said yes. In fact, I have done it previously back to 1995.
Ned, I presume you were also asked that question, and I ask you tonight, will you release your state and federal tax returns to respect the public's right to know?
LAMONT: I have done everything asked of me to respect the public's right to know. We have submitted hundreds of pages of documentation on everything there is regarding financially Annie and Ned Lamont, which is important.
But let me talk about the ethical scandals in Washington, D.C., talk about that transportation bill. Talk about that bill with 6,341 earmarks. An earmark is a special piece of pork written by a lobbyist, submitted at the last moment. And it's wrong. It's legal, but it's wrong. If you're not shouting from the rafters that this is wrong, then you're complicit and you're part of the problem.
That bill also included the infamous bridge to nowhere. That's a lot of the waste. Those are the misplaced priorities. Those are the facts that we have 63 lobbyists for every Congressman in Washington, D.C. I think it's so important we get people to Washington, D.C. who are free of lobbyists influence, who can't be bought, who are going stand up and act on behalf of the public good.
LIEBERMAN: Joanne, he hasn't answered the question. I take it that he is saying he will not release the his returns. I think that's an insult to the public's right to know. I want to say briefly about that bill, that transportation bill, of course, we were all against the bridge to nowhere. But there are earmarks that are good.
Is he against the earmarks I put in the bill for $50 million to decrease congestion along I-95, or the money that I got for intermodal transportation centers at New Haven, Bridgeport, Hartford and Stamford, or the money for ferry service from Bridgeport -- New Haven and Stamford to take cars off of I-95? Those are good earmarks which I gather he'll be against.
NESTI: Thirty seconds, Mr. Lamont, please, if you'd like to respond to that.
LAMONT: Look, you want to boast about how many earmarks you bring to the state of Connecticut? Alaska gets 10 times what we do. We're not doing very well on that front. But more importantly, I think we should outlaw these earmarks.
LAMONT: Hear me out, sir. I think we should outlaw these earmarks. I think they corrupt the political process. I think they are written by lobbyists and they're wrong.
LIEBERMAN: Try to explain that to the (inaudible).
LAMONT: I think these things should go through the congressional process. Sir, you have been there for 18 years. You support the earmarks, you work with the lobbyists, and that's what needs to be changed.
LIEBERMAN: The earmarks are great for Connecticut.
NESTI: Senator, I'm sorry, our time is limited. It's your turn, Mr. Lamont, to ask the senator a question.
LAMONT: Senator, it was 18 years ago that you challenged a three-term incumbent and you said that Connecticut needs a senator who will bring "new energy to Washington, new health back here in Connecticut," and you said "after 18 years, the people of Connecticut say now is the time for a change." Do you think those words are just as true today as they were 18 years ago?
LIEBERMAN: You're not going to be surprised by my answer.
LAMONT: I don't think I will.
LIEBERMAN: Then it was true, because that senator had stopped working for and delivering for the people. That senator, who is now your supporter, basically went off on his own, on his own tangents.
I'm a bread and butter guy. I have worked to deliver for the people of this state, and they know it. I have saved the thousands of jobs. I have cleaned up the sound. I have gotten transportation money. And I am the one based on my seniority -- incidentally, I think people have to ask themselves, with all that's at stake in the next six years, could Ned Lamont have saved those 31,000 jobs at the submarine base?
Could he deliver the contracts that will save jobs at E.B.? Will he be able to get grants to fuel cell energy companies, and biotech companies here in Connecticut that will create more new jobs and whole new industries?
No, I think I have got six more good years left in me. The people of Connecticut know me for a long time. They know I listen to them. I care about them. And I am about more than one issue. I'm about what they worry about every day when they get up here in Connecticut. Whether they can have a better, safer life for themselves and their children.
NESTI: Senator, thank you. Excuse me. It is time now for our closing statements, which were also determined by the toss of a coin. And we will start those with Senator Lieberman.
LIEBERMAN: Joanne, thank you. Thanks to Gerry and Tom, and Channel 30. Thanks for the listeners.
I think this has been a really good debate, because it has clarified the choice Democrats have on primary day, August 8th. It's a choice between a senator with 18 years of experience and a record of results for Connecticut, and a challenger who last served on a Greenwich town board more than a decade ago. It's a choice between a senator who has agreed with Democrats 90 percent of the time, but had the courage of his convictions when he did not.
And a challenger who agreed with Republicans 80 percent of the time in Greenwich, but now has emerged as a very liberal Democrat who can't even make up his mind about how we should exit Iraq, the issue that brought him into this race. A choice between a senator who has reached across the partisan divide in Washington to get things done for Connecticut and a challenger who would make the Senate more polarized and unproductive. It's a choice between a senator the people of Connecticut know, who offers you experience, principles and hope for a better future, and a challenger, frankly, you don't know, who has been inconsistent, is unpredictable and offers mostly criticism, negativism and pessimism.
The people of Connecticut and I have known each other for a long time. We have laughed and cried together. We prayed and dreamed together. And most of all, we have worked together. Tonight, for Connecticut's future, I ask you to give me the honor of working for you for six more years.
NESTI: Thank you, Senator. Mr. Lamont, you have 90 seconds for your closing.
LAMONT: As I travel flat out around the state of Connecticut, people tell me one thing. They want their political leaders to stand up, think big ideas, dream big dreams, say what you mean, and mean what you say. And with Ned Lamont as your next Democratic senator, I mean to do just that. It won't take me 18 years to sign onto a bill that says health care is a basic right for each and every American. And I'll vote to roll back the Bush-Cheney-Lieberman energy bill, which provides billions of subsidies to big oil and does so little for conservation, energy independence and the environment.
And I will not find common ground with the Bush administration when they are trying to privatize Social Security. I'll fight for Social Security. I'll fight for our constitutional liberties. I believe so strongly that we're stronger as a country when we are true to our basic values and we work in concert with our allies.
And most importantly, I will bring our brave troops home to the heroes' welcome that they deserve. Rather than spending $250 million a day, $250 million a day in Iraq, we're going to invest. We're going to invest in those kids at Harding High School, we're going to invest in grade schools and clean energy and affordable housing and public transportation. We're going to bring our cities back as great as they were 100 years ago.
And, Senator, this is not about anybody's career. This election is about the people. And I don't want you to vote against somebody. I want you to vote for somebody. I want you to vote for your dreams. I want you to vote for your hopes. I want you to vote for your heart.
My name is Ned Lamont, and if you approve this message, I could use your support on August 8th.
NESTI: Thank you.
To our viewers now, if you'd like to weigh in on tonight's debate, you can do that at our Web site. For the next hour, you can share your thoughts in a web forum at NBC30.com. If you joined us late, you can also watch this debate at NBC30.com. The video will be online a little later this evening. And we will have a wrap-up and reaction tonight on NBC 30 news at 11:00. Thank you for watching tonight. Mr. Lamont, Senator Lieberman, thank you both for sharing this past hour with us to talk about the issues as we make our way to the August 8th Democratic primary.
Thanks again to viewers watching on C-span, on MSNBC, and at NBC30.com. For Gerry Brooks, Tom Monahan and all of us at NBC 30, I'm Joanne Nesti. Good night.
Source: CQ Transcriptions
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