Democrats at Debate Agree Iran Policy is Flawed
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Iran was the first topic of the gate of the Democratic presidential candidates' debate in Des Moines, Iowa today. It was hosted by NPR and Iowa Public Radio.
NPR's Mara Liasson joins us now from Des Moines.
And, Mara, it sounded like all seven of the candidates who were there had a pretty united front when they were responding to this latest news on the NIE that we were just talking about with Mike Shuster.
MARA LIASSON: Yeah. There's no doubt about it. All of them took the opportunity to bash the Bush administration's handling of Iran - not surprising. They basically said that the Bush administration has not paid attention to the facts, that it's been saber-rattling, that it has neglected diplomacy. And they were as one. This was an opportunity pretty much for the Democrats to say that Bush has now been proven wrong by his own intelligence community and they took a certain amount of pleasure in that.
They did circle back, however, to a debate among themselves that has been coming up in several other debates, which is the debate over the vote to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization. Now, of the candidates, only Senator Clinton voted for that. Today, John Edwards said that was a vote for the Bush administration's march to war in Iran.
She has sided with the Bush administration on the global war on terror, on Iraq. And now, she is giving carte blanche to the Bush administration. Hillary Rodham Clinton shot back by saying that's an outlandish charge. I think the vote was correct. And as a matter of fact, she said, that calling them a terrorist organization has changed their behavior. In other words, that has forced Iran to change its behavior.
At that, Biden jumped in to say there was no evidence - none, zero - that that vote caused any change in action by the Iranian government. So that, I think, was the biggest clash - really, the only clash of this debate.
BLOCK: On the question of Iran. And that was one of three topics. Another topic was immigration. You're saying, Mara, that there was a fair amount of unanimity among the Democrats on that issue, which is a key issue in Iowa.
LIASSON: Well, it's a key issue in Iowa - more on the Republican side than the Democratic side because on the Democratic side, there's been unanimity all along. In other words, everyone is for a comprehensive solution to immigration that would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 12 million illegals in this country.
They were asked questions about would you encourage - should American citizens turn in people that they know who are here illegally. The Democrats said no, we don't - Barack Obama, for example, said, no, we want - don't want to deputize American citizens to do what the federal government should be doing.
Hillary Rodham Clinton said that she would crack down on employers - that that was part - one of the steps that needed to be - to happen to get the immigration problem under control. So there wasn't a lot of disagreement there. And there hasn't been up to now in the campaign.
BLOCK: Now, the last topic that NPR chose to focus on was China. And in particular, questions about tainted products from China. The candidates were asked whether they would buy toys made in China as gifts this holiday season. And let's listen to a little bit of an exchange that followed. We'll hear from former Senator John Edwards and Senator Christopher Dodd.
(Soundbite of Iowa Democratic Presidential Debate)
Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (Former Democratic Senator, North Carolina; Democratic Presidential Candidate): My kids will not have toys coming from China.
Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut; Democratic Presidential Candidate): Barack and I would like to comment on this.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. DODD: My toys are coming from Iowa.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. DODD: I'm buying Iowa toys.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Sen. DODD: They're going to eat Iowa food.
BLOCK: A little opportunity for Iowa pandering there, Mara.
LIASSON: Yes. And as a matter of fact, Senator Dodd has moved his kids to Iowa and enrolled them in school here. So he has been putting his money where his mouth is on that one. But yes, it's always a good opportunity to pander to Iowa and, you know, he took it. That was, I think, kind of the most lighthearted moment today.
BLOCK: Mara, when you look at the conversation and the debate today, the candidates were asked to stick to the issues. And pretty much they did, would you say so?
LIASSON: Oh, absolutely. They stuck to those three issues. If, you know, they could have brought in some of the clashes they've been having on the campaign trail. They chose not to. Every - some of these candidates got opportunities to make their case.
For instance, Edwards took every opportunity he could to talk about buying American, fighting against big corporations. He really pushed his populous methods here. Senator Clinton was giving an opportunity to tell about the kind of advice she gave to her - former President Bill Clinton on foreign policy. And she of course painted herself as being very, very involved. But there was no direct engagement except for on that question about Iran. Nothing that really reflected the heated back and forth that is occurring on the campaign trail here.
BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Mara Liasson who is in Des Moines for the NPR Iowa Public Radio Democratic candidates' debate.
Mara, thanks a lot.
LIASSON: Thank you, Melissa.
BLOCK: And some of our other reporters were watching the debate today and listening as well. Their fact check of the candidates is on our Web site, npr.org.
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