Election 2008

Democratic Candidates Join NPR Debate

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Seven Democratic presidential candidates gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday for the NPR News and Iowa Public Radio audio-only debate. We hear highlights of the debate, which covered the topics of Iran, relations with China and immigration.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

There were no huge fireworks but a spirited, substantive debate today in Des Moines, Iowa. The Democratic presidential candidates gathered this afternoon at the State Historical Museum there for the first audio-only debate of this presidential race.

The NPR News and Iowa Public Radio debate comes just a month before the Iowa caucuses. My co-hosts, Robert Siegel and Michele Norris, along with MORNING EDITION host Steve Inskeep, moderated. And I'll be talking to Robert and Michele in just a few minutes.

First, a brief recap. There were just three topics of discussion - Iran was the first; specifically, the new National Intelligence Estimate that revealed Iran is not believed to be pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd all argued for diplomatic engagement with Iran.

BLOCK: We're not going to reach the kind of resolution that we should seek unless we put that into the context of a diplomatic process.

BLOCK: They need now to aggressively move on the diplomatic front.

BLOCK: I've advocated, and others have as well, and that is, pursuing as much of a diplomatic solution to the problems that Iran poses. And there are some.

BLOCK: There was some disagreement over what diplomatic steps would be appropriate. And specifically, criticism of Clinton's vote designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. She defended that vote.

BLOCK: I believe in aggressive diplomacy when it comes to Iran, and when you engage in aggressive diplomacy, you need both carrots and sticks.

BLOCK: In response, John Edwards said this.

BLOCK: Declaring a military group sponsored by the state of Iran a terrorist organization, that's supposed to be diplomacy? What possible conclusion can you reach other than we are at war?

BLOCK: The second topic of the debate was China. And much of the talk was about Chinese products, including toys.

Michele Norris put this question to John Edwards.


Will you be buying toys that are made in China to place under the Christmas tree this year?

BLOCK: No, ma'am. I will not.

BLOCK: And not to be outdone, Chris Dodd, the father of two young girls, chimed right in.


BLOCK: My toys are coming from Iowa.


BLOCK: I'm buying Iowa toys.


BLOCK: They're going to eat Iowa food.

BLOCK: And many of the candidates criticized the current administration's policy toward China.

Here is Joe Biden, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

BLOCK: We won't even designate China as a violator of human rights. Now, what's the deal there? We're talking about competition in terms of trade. It's capitulation.

BLOCK: The last major topic of discussion was immigration. When asked whether he would crack down on illegal immigrants come January 2009, Barack Obama pledged this.

BLOCK: I will initiate the process immediately, but to get comprehensive reform, to get an employer verification system that works, is going to take some time, just the same way that a pathway to legalization is going to take some time. But what it takes is some leadership.

BLOCK: The candidates were also thrown a listener question about the changing culture of America and the issue of language.

Here's Hillary Clinton.

BLOCK: Part of what the challenge here is, is to make it clear that we do expect people who want to become legal in America to try to learn English.

BLOCK: And Joe Biden.

BLOCK: Like every other large wave of immigrants, once they're bond to the second generation, they'll all be speaking English. What's the fear here?

BLOCK: Those are just some snippets from today's two-hour long NPR News and Iowa Public Radio debate in Des Moines, Iowa.

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