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Voices of Power Transcript: Sen. John Kerry

Thursday, October 1, 2009 6:56 AM

MS. ROMANO: Welcome Senator John Kerry

SENATOR KERRY: Good to be with you.

MS. ROMANO: Chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee and someone who has his hand on every major piece of legislation before the Senate this fall. Thanks for being with us.

SENATOR KERRY: Glad to be with you. Thank you.

MS. ROMANO: Let's start with climate control. You and your colleague from California, Senator Boxer, have introduced the long-awaited version of the climate control bill.

SENATOR KERRY: There is no silver bullet. No single step is going to deal with climate change. We have to have a broad-based approach that includes wind, solar, but also natural gas, nuclear. If there is a possibility of clean coal technology, we want to explore it as robustly as possible. We really have to look at all of the possibilities, and we have to move on a rapid pace because others in the world are already. And this will determine a great deal of America's future economically.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Rapid Pace. How important is it for this to come up for a vote before the world meeting in Copenhagen in December?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, I think it's important to try to get it done or at least be moving very seriously towards it. I mean, a little bit of it will be dictated by the health care debate on the floor of the Senate, but, nevertheless, you know, it's better to get this passed.

It is best for Copenhagen, for them to know that the United States is taking a lead and is serious about dealing with the issue.

And I find increasingly that there are Republicans who take the issue seriously. They're not yet all certain about exactly what steps to take, but they are clear that it is happening, and it's happening at an alarming rate.

MS. ROMANO: Realistically, though, with six committees involved, do you--and--and your own leader saying that it might have to get pushed until next year

SENATOR KERRY: Well, he's no. He's determined to move forward.

He's been very clear about that, and--and the White House is determined to move forward. I believe the six committee thing is going to come together.

The Energy Committee has already reported out its bill.

MS. ROMANO: Well, that aside, you have health care and financial reform also.

00:02:45 SENATOR KERRY: Well, but I believe this should come before financial reform

00:02:47 MS. ROMANO: Oh, you do?

SENATOR KERRY: Sure, I do because financial reform doesn't have an international agreement, a meeting in Copenhagen sitting over its head.

Yes, we have to do it, but I actually think it may be more complicated than some people think, and I think we ought to tackle this first.

MS. ROMANO: So you have said yourself, this is a work in progress?

SENATOR KERRY: It is. I think we have a terrific starting point, and I'm proud of the progress that we've made. We have a nuclear title in there that actually embraces the notion that nuclear is going to be part of the solution, and we need to simplify and, in fact, accelerate the ability to get decisions and let that market work or not work on its own.

We also have incentives for natural gas, as well as an offset for natural gas because ...

we can close up leaks and capture methane that is, you know, escaping from the coal mines and other places, that reduces the damage to the atmosphere and to the climate. So there's an incentive to do those things, and we embrace that.

You have health security at stake, economic security at stake, energy security, our independence from the Middle East, et cetera, and in the end, America's national security is very much at stake, as many former flag officers, admirals and generals in the Army and the Navy have said. This is something we need to do to reduce the threat multiplier in other nations.

MS. ROMANO: You've mentioned nuclear energy a couple of times, but now we also have a leading Republican Senator, John McCain, saying he will not support it because there's not enough new funding for nuclear energy. Where's the

SENATOR KERRY: Well, on the contrary, we've opened up. I mean, the House bill did not, but we have initiated additional funding in order to try to deal with some of the nuclear issues, and we're open to sitting down with John and with others in order to move this process forward.

You know, there will be there will be a committee process. Subsequent to that, we will meld the six different committee interests into one bill, with a leader, with Harry Reid's leadership, and that is the bill that will come to the floor. And then there's plenty of time on the floor for the White House and Senator McCain and all of us to be involved in the negotiation that tries to come up with a bill.

MS. ROMANO: What will be the major points of contention?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, I think, you know, what levels of assistance might be appropriate to any of those particular sectors, what the target may be that we're going to try to reach; I think, you know, how much allowance goes to who and what shape. I think those will be the principal things, and then, finally, you know, are we making certain that a sufficient amount of cushioning money is going back as a rebate to average citizens, so that the costs are insignificant or, you know, very, very manageable. And I believe they are, and I believe they will be. I think we have the mechanism.

We could all argue about adjusting it, but we are very sensitive about that, and our bill is as the House bill is going to return very significant components of any kind of proceeds from the training mechanism. That will go back to families in order to reduce any costs.

MS. ROMANO: Carbon allowances and allocations are a fairly significant issue. That's not resolved. Who's going to control that?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, we have a very good sense of where that's going, on the contrary. The Finance Committee had some jurisdiction. The EPW Committee had some jurisdiction, and

MS. ROMANO: Isn't there a little bit of friction there about who's going to control it?

SENATOR KERRY: There was a little. I don't think there is now. I think that

MS. ROMANO: So what is it?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, there will be different pieces done in both. I mean, they're both going to do things.

MS. ROMANO: Okay.

SENATOR KERRY: And then Harry Reid will play Solomon and decide what we can do to go forward.

00:07:11 MS. ROMANO: The House bill that passed last June caused a lot of Members--a lot of moderate House Members to go back and face a lot of hostility in their districts, and, in fact, they think their seats are on the line because they were forced to take the vote. And some of them think that the House is on the line. Can you talk about that a little bit?

SENATOR KERRY: I think that in the end, they will be proud of a courageous and important vote, and in the end, I think the American public will see that they were leaders, and they'll reelect them because of that.

I think they have terrific arguments on which to run, andand I think the American people as they watch, you know, how we progress, in the end we're going to have to get 60 votes. I think if we do get those 60 votes, people will see that they were justified in their votes.

But what do they tell constituents who say this is nothing but a tax?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, there is no tax. There is no tax.

MS. ROMANO: That's not what these people think.

SENATOR KERRY: Well, I know some people don't think that, but somewhere in America, truth has to come home to roost, and we just have to hammer away at it.

There is no revenue raised that goes to the government here.

SENATOR KERRY: There is no tax, in fact, on any individual. There is an opportunity for a company to purchase the right to pollute further, and they pay not the government, but they pay some individual who has already reduced their emissions. It creates a marketplace, if you will, for the right to be able to benefit from the fact that you lowered your pollution and to benefit from the fact that you may continue to pollute a little bit because you're benefiting from that.

That's a marketplace, and the government is simply going to make sure that it's run fairly, transparently, accountably, without any speculative, you know, excesses, and that's it. No tax. There is no tax here.

In fact, what we're trying to do is cushion any impact on any industry that might have to raise its rates, and so that's why we give a rebate to citizens, to make up for that difference. And I think in the end that people will feel that this is an appropriate investment to make in the longterm security and interest of our country.

MS. ROMANO: And what's the price tag on this particular bill?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, it's deficit neutral. We don't have the final price tag because we still have to define the allowances in the two committees, but we've cut the level of the House bill by 25 percent, so that OMB could tell us that it is, in fact, deficit neutral to a certainty, even though we don't k know the maximum limit of...

MS. ROMANO: Have they told you that?

SENATOR KERRY: Yes. Yes.

MS. ROMANO: They have. Okay.

SENATOR KERRY: They have signed off that the 25 percent reduction makes this deficit neutral.

Chapter 2:

MS. ROMANO: Okay, good. Let's move to Afghanistan. You are sounding more and more skeptical about launching a new broad counter-insurgency.

SENATOR KERRY: I don't want us to launch additional troops until we have thoroughly vetted exactly what their mission will be and what the possibilities are of achieving it, so where the difficulties are.

The fact is that we've been through this before. You know, in Vietnam, we heard the commanding general on the ground saying we need more troops. We heard the President of the United States say if we just put in more troops, we're going to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

And the fact is that they were wrong because they never examined the underlying assumptions on which our involvement was based.

We are ostensibly in Afghanistan to prevent alQaeda from reconstituting itself in Afghanistan and also to guarantee the stability of Pakistan. We have to make certain that the counterinsurgency we engage in is properly linked to the level of counterterrorism we need to prevent alQaeda from coming back, but I'm not sure that that requires rebuilding all of Afghanistan --we haven't determined yet how much of it we need to do.

It may be that we will all decide we need additional troops to accomplish the mission as defined and that is properly defined, but there's a big question looming which wasn't around last year, and that is the degree to which the current government of Afghanistan has proven itself to be incapable of delivering services, even corrupt, andand dysfunctional. And that is a central component of any counterinsurgency strategy.

So I want to make certain that we're not committing the troops to something that , by definition, is unachievable. Once we know the answer to those questions, we make our determination of how to go forward.

00:13:10 I am not talking about just getting out. I am not talking about, you know, somehow severing America's involvement there. That would be an enormous mistake for any number of reasons, Pakistan, alQaeda, and other, you know, issues globally.

00:13:30 The issue here is how do we best achieve which mission, and I think it's not properly vetted yet.

00:13:38 MS. ROMANO: Let me follow up on a couple of points that you made. If our goal is to eradicate alQaeda and particularly in Pakistan, are we misallocating our resources? I mean, should we be more focused on making sure Pakistan doesn't collapse?

00:13:54 SENATOR KERRY: I believe Pakistan is the central focus here, but alQaeda is equally a focus in that you don't want them to have a sanctuary in which they can just return and plot and attack with impunity.

The question is what does it take to guarantee that. AlQaeda is fundamentally not in Afghanistan today. I mean, tangentially, they come across; there are connections. But they're not based there. They're based in Northwest Pakistan, to the best of our knowledge, and in some 58 or 9 other countries.

So we have to think very, very carefully about exactly, you know, how much counterterrorism--counterinsurgency is essential to the mission of preventing alQaeda from plotting and reconstituting itself and to what degree is the Taliban, in fact, central to that outcome or to a threat to the United States. Those issues are not yet even thoroughly resolved.

I hear different things from even our Pakistan friends who tell me that, you know, we're not calculating this correctly, and so I think it's very important for us to step back. I think the President has made the right choice to analyze this as thoroughly as possible, so that when we go forward, it's with a consensus of the Congress, the executive department, and the American people, through both.

MS. ROMANO: Are you prepared to buck the administration on this? There seems to be kind of this force of--

SENATOR KERRY: Sure. No, I'm prepared. Look, I'm recognize our separate constitutional responsibilities. I have lived through a period when they weren't properly exercised, you know, once when I served in the military and once here in the Senate and in Iraq, and I think we've all learned some tough lessons since then.

My obligation is to the citizens of Massachusetts and to my oath as a Senator and to the constitutional responsibility we have in the Senate to share in, you know, foreign policy and in war-making.

MS. ROMANO: Karzai government. Things have changed a little bit since last year, and, in fact, we've criticized the election, and he's alluded to the fact he doesn't want us there. Are we fast approaching a moment where we're not, you know, considered helpers anymore, that we're considered occupiers? That's my first

SENATOR KERRY: Well, we have to be very, very careful of the occupier label. There are those who view that. I know that General McChrystal and others are very sensitive to that. Ambassador Eikenberry. That's why, again, the shape of our footprint on the ground in Afghanistan is really critical here.

We're in a moment of uncertainty here simply because the election isn't even finished. We presume Karzai is the victor and the government, you know--and he's been so, you know, labeled publicly, but the process is going to have to be healed, and unless President Karzai indicates a very clear way in which he is prepared to do that, I think counterinsurgency is going to be very, very difficult, and those are questions I want to ask, which is why I'm going over to Pakistan and Afghanistan in about 10 days or so to spend as much time as I can face to face with General McChrystal and with Ambassador Eikenberry and with leaders in Pakistan and others to really vet, as thoroughly as possible, all of the questions. And believe me, there are literally hundreds of questions.

I think it's very important to ask many of these questions publicly, those that can be, and to bring the American people into this discussion, so that when we make a decision going forward, people won't say, "Whoa. Where's that come from?" or, you know, there's a sense of transparency and accountability to this.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Let's move to Iran....Do you believe that diplomacy can work?

SENATOR KERRY: Well, diplomacy always has a possibility of working, and you always have an obligation to exhaust the diplomatic possibilities before there's some dire emergency that requires an immediate military response before you decide to engage in that kind of response.

We have yet to thoroughly exhaust the possibility. In fact, we have barely initiated those possibilities.

A lot of that will depend on Iran. A lot of it is out of our hands. I mean, Iran is going to have to make some fundamental decisions about where it wants to go and what kind of country it wants to be. They have a big obligation to step up in Geneva and defuse this.

They have, after all, misled people. They have not been transparent and accountable. They refuse to answer the questions or allow inspections in critical cases, and so the obligation is on them to come clean here, and I think the administration has appropriately put that to them. And that's the test that will take place in Geneva.

MS. ROMANO: From what you've heard in the past 48 hours from Ahmadinejad, realistically, do you think sanctions are inevitable?

SENATOR KERRY: He's obviously so quixotic and engages in such insulting and at times-- even disgraceful rhetoric that it's very hard to tell sort of where he's coming from.

I do think, though, the events in Iran have changed the equation for him to some degree, and at some point, there may well be a question of whether the Supreme Ayatollah and others see him as a liability here, whether or not there aren't other, you know, ways in which the Iranian people manifest a distaste for where they find themselves.

Iran has some very serious economic problems right now. There are a lot of pressures on their society that not everybody sees immediately, but if we were to bring additional sanctions, which may well have to happen, there are ways of really having an impact on Iran, and that will not sit well with a lot of Iranians.

So this is a critical moment, andand we just have to stay steady. We have to be very clear. We need to do all our diplomacy with Russia, with the UN, with China and others, but we have to stay steady here to make certain that what we have said, we mean. And that is that it is unacceptable for them to have a weapon.

MS. ROMANO: You said that sanctions could have the possibility of squeezing Ahmadinejad. You believe that- instead of making him a hero and kind of this anti-American

SENATOR KERRY: No, I think that if the international community moves as a whole, if there is a consensus and the evidence is laid out clearly, the Iranian people are very intelligent people.

They have a very sophisticated level of understanding of their place in the world. They have a great history, and it's a shame, it's a tragedy that their leadership is playing such a negative side of it, if you will, because I think there are great aspirations, and we've seen those in this election process, people who courageously have gone into the street.

Notwithstanding all of the threats and notwithstanding the brutality of the forces that repress them, they're still fighting, and I think if Iran has even greater difficulty for instance, people have difficulty moving out of Iran. People have difficulty moving money. People have difficulty engaging in commerce in normal ways. There continues to be a pinch on their ability to produce or transport products, et cetera. I think you could find people suddenly saying, " why are we doing this?" particularly if we are sensible about how we approach what they are allowed to do versus where the prohibitions exist.

MS. ROMANO: Okay. Health care reform. You also sit on the Senate Finance Committee, which is marking up the bill right now. Democrats lost two votes on public option yesterday. Is it dead?

SENATOR KERRY: No, not yet. I think you have to let this fight take place on the floor of the Senate and see where the larger votes of the Senate may be, and even then, depending on what the Senate does, you still have the House where you have four committees that have embraced a public option, and you have the White House that supports something. We're not exactly clear.

MS. ROMANO: Senator Baucus said he doesn't see any way to get 60 votes on public option.

SENATOR KERRY: And I think it's very tough. Given the votes we had on the Democratic side yesterday, I think it's going to be very tough to get the votes on the floor.

MS. ROMANO: Are there alternatives to keeping the market competitive without public option?

SENATOR KERRY: There are, and we're going to look at a few of those. One of them is this discussion about the cooperative, but I'm not convinced that that will, in fact, work, Lois.

I think that, you know, maybe Senator Snowe and I have talked together about the possibility if we can't get public option on the floor, of a trigger that might put it in place down the road if, in fact, the private sector doesn't deliver what they say they're going to deliver. So you kind of have this incentive that pushes people increasingly towards reform.

MS. ROMANO: There have been a lot of criticism of the President, a lot of pundits saying that he has not been specific enough about what he wants in the legislation.

SENATOR KERRY: I think the President was unbelievably specific when he spoke to the Congress asking for a special session to speak on health care, and he said what he wants in the bill.

I've been through this before. I did this in '93, '94, and I saw what happens when the White House sends you a prepackaged product and says this is the deal and you don't get Congressmen and Senators to invest and get the people who have worked on this for a lifetime on their committees to invest.

I personally believe that the way the President has approached this, by allowing the committees to work through, will in the end produce a product, and the Congress is now invested in that product, and I think the President has weighed in appropriately. Maybe he let a month go by that he might have you know, you can argue about that one, and he could have jumped in conceivably a little earlier, and so you can argue about it, but I don't think it's an argument worth having.

MS. ROMANO: Okay, great. Thank you very much.

SENATOR KERRY: Thank you. My pleasure

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