Monday, June 04, 2007

"Obama and Edwards clash sharply on war in 2nd debate"

Seattle Times:
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Eight Democratic presidential hopefuls differed sharply over Iraq and terrorism Sunday night in a debate that highlighted their contrasting histories on the war.

In one of the evening's most barbed exchanges, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama snapped at former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards for suggesting that Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had failed to show leadership in the effort to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq.

Obama, who opposed the war before he was elected to the Senate, noted that Edwards had voted in 2002 to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq. "The fact is ... I opposed this war from the start," Obama said. "So you are about 4 1/2 years late on leadership on this issue."
Edwards, who reiterated Sunday that he regrets his 2002 vote, has taken one of the strongest antiwar positions of the Democratic candidates, calling on Congress to cut off funding for the war.

Obama said it was "important not to play politics on something that is as critical and as difficult as this."

"I'll let Hillary speak for herself," Obama said, "but the fact of the matter is, is that all of us exercise our best judgment, just as we exercised our best judgment to authorize or not authorize this war."

Clinton, whose vote to authorize force in Iraq has proved a drag on her appeal to the party's antiwar faction, was the least confrontational of the three. "What we are trying to do, whether it's by speaking out from the outside or working and casting votes that actually make a difference from the inside, we are trying to end the war," she said.

Clinton has called for a congressional resolution withdrawing approval of military action in Iraq. Like Obama and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., another candidate, Clinton voted last month against the latest bill funding the war.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio said the war on Iraq should not just be blamed on Bush but on the Congress that authorized it.

U.S. troops "never should have been sent there in the first place," he said. Rather than debate timetables and benchmarks, the Democratic-controlled Congress should "just say no money, the war's over," he said.

Also appearing at the debate were Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska.

The two-hour debate, the second among the eight Democratic presidential candidates, was held at Saint Anselm College just outside Manchester and was co-sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and the Manchester Union Leader. Republicans will debate here Tuesday night.

The candidates also differed over health care, with Edwards this time on the offense.

The former senator has proposed rolling back Bush's tax cuts for wealthy Americans to pay for universal health care and suggested that any candidate who said it was possible to expand coverage without spending more was being disingenuous.

"I believe you cannot cover everybody in America, create a more efficient health-care system, cover the cracks — you know, getting rid of things like pre-existing conditions and making sure that mental health is treated the same as physical health — I don't think you can do all those things for nothing," Edwards said.

Richardson disagreed on the need for higher taxes, saying he expanded health care in his home state by building on existing programs and placing greater emphasis on prevention — steps he said he would seek to replicate nationally.

Edwards also took issue with Obama's recently unveiled health-care plan, saying it fell short of covering the estimated 45 million uninsured people in the United States. "I believe unless we have a law requiring that every man, woman and child in America be covered, we're going to have millions of people who aren't covered," Edwards said.

Obama said his plan would eventually achieve universal coverage. The starting point, he said, is making health coverage more affordable by driving down costs and more heavily regulating the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. He said he would pay for his plan by rolling back the Bush tax cuts.

Kucinich differed sharply with both, expressing his support for a government-run not-for-profit health-care system.

There was even disagreement on how best to use the spouse of one of the candidates in a new Democratic administration.

Gravel said he would appoint Bill Clinton as a roving ambassador. Richardson said he would make him a Middle East peace envoy.

Clinton reiterated her previous suggestion that she would make her husband a roving ambassador who would repair existing diplomatic problems.

"... My dear husband will be one of the people who will be sent around the world as a roving ambassador," she said, "to make it very clear to the rest of the world that we're back to a policy of reaching out ... and stopping the alienation of the rest of the world."

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