MANCHESTER, N.H.—It’s rare—maybe even the first time—that Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) has been asked directly about the infidelity of her husband. She was Monday night at a forum on faith sponsored by the Sojourners/Call to Renewal, an influential member of the growing religious left—still not as strong as the religious right but a potential factor in the 2008 contests.
Only the top three Democrats were invited to the forum—Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.)—all from Protestant denominations.
I often tell journalism students if you want a direct answer, ask a direct question. It’s clear Clinton is talking about the impact Bill Clintons' affairs have had on her because CNN’s Soledad O’Brien made the reference in her question.
O'BRIEN: But I'm going to ask you a delicate question. Infidelity in your marriage was very public. And I have to imagine it was incredibly difficult to deal with. And I would like to know how your faith helped you get through it.
CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my faith. And, you know, I take my faith very seriously and very personally. And I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who wear their faith on their sleeves……
For the full transcript, click below….
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to a special edition of our
SITUATION ROOM. I'm here in New Hampshire getting ready for tomorrow's
Republican debate following last night's showdown among the Democratic
candidates. Tonight, some of those candidates are meeting in Washington to
talk about values.
CNN's Soledad O'Brien is on the campus of George Washington University
in Washington. She'll be the moderator -- Soledad.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf, thank you very much.
Tonight, we're having an in depth discussion of religion, faith and
politics, with three presidential contenders -- John Edwards, Barack Obama and
Hillary Clinton. Now, CNN is pleased to broadcast this event, which was
organized by the Reverend Jim Wallis, who is author of the best-selling
book "God's Politics." He's also head of the Sojourners Social Justice
Now, Jim envisioned this forum. He invited the candidates and a
special panel of religious leaders who are going to be joining us in the
questioning tonight. Each candidate gets exactly 15 minutes of time. And if
they stray from answering the question directly -- well, we'll nicely put them
back on track.
Tonight, we expect to tackle some of the most important moral issues of
our times. So let's get started this evening.
We begin with the introduction of the former Senator John Edwards.
O'BRIEN: Nice to see you, sir. How are you?
A warm round of applause, maybe because you're first or maybe because
you own the crowd tonight, we'll have to wait and see. Let's get right to it.
There was quite a little dustup that Republicans had in their debate
over the question of evolution. So I'll put the same question to you. Do you
believe in evolution or do you believe in creationism?
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe in evolution.
O'BRIEN: What do you say to all the people -- and there are millions
of people who go to church every Sunday and who are told very clearly by their
pastors that, in fact, the Earth was created in six days, that it's about
creationism? Are those people wrong? Are their pastors wrong?
EDWARDS: No. First of all, I grew up in the church and I grew up as a
Southern Baptist, was baptized in the Baptist Church when I was very young, a
teenager at the time. And I was taught many of the same things. And I think
it's perfectly possible to make our faith, my faith belief system consistent
with a recognition that there is real science out there and scientific evidence
of evolution. I don't think those things are inconsistent. I think a belief
in God and a belief in Christ, in my case, is not in any way inconsistent with
O'BRIEN: There are some people who say, well, it's actually -- isn't
it mutually exclusive? I mean, either man was created by, you know, from
Adam's rib or, in fact, that man came evolution-wise from apes? Aren't the two
EDWARDS: No, I don't think they are. Because the hand of God was in
every step of what's happened with man. The hand of God today is in every step
of what happens with me and every human being that exists on this planet.
O'BRIEN: You had a question during the debate yesterday about gay
marriage. And with all due respect, I thought you dodged it a little bit, so
I'm going to ask you...
EDWARDS: No. No.
O'BRIEN: Maybe it's just me.
EDWARDS: What a ridiculous...
O'BRIEN: But I will -- so I'll just ask it again, maybe more
pointedly. Do you think homosexuals have the right to be married?
EDWARDS: No. Not personally. Now you're asking about me personally.
But I think there's a difference between my belief system and what the
responsibilities of the president of the United States are. It is the reason
we have separation of church and state. And there are very good people,
including some people that I'm very close to me, my daughter who is sitting in
the front row here tonight, feels very differently about this issue. And I
have huge respect for those who have a different view about this.
So I think we have to be very careful about ensuring that the president
of the United States is not using his belief system and imposing that belief
system on the rest of the country. So what that...
O'BRIEN: But if it's...
EDWARDS: So what that -- I'm sorry. All I was going to say is I think
what that means in this case is the substantive rights that go with
partnerships, civil unions, for example, and all the subsequent rights that go
with that, should be recognized in this country, at least in my judgment,
should be recognized. And I think it is not the role of the federal government
to tell either faith-based institutions, churches, synagogues, what they should
or should not recognize. Nor should the federal government be telling states
what they should recognize.
O'BRIEN: If you think something is morally wrong, though, you morally
disagree with it, as president of the United States, don't you have a duty to
go with your moral belief?
EDWARDS: No, I think that, first of all, my faith, my belief in Christ
plays an enormous role in the way I view the world. But I think I also
understand the distinction between my job as president of the United States, my
responsibility to be respectful of and to embrace all faith beliefs in this
country because we have many faith beliefs in America. And for that matter we
have many faith beliefs in the world. And I think one of the problems that
we've gotten into is some identification of the president of the United States
with a particular faith belief as opposed to showing great respect for all
O'BRIEN: Do you think this is a Christian nation?
EDWARDS: No, I think this is a nation -- I mean I'm a Christian; there
are lots of Christians in United States of America. I mean, I have a deep and
abiding love for my Lord, Jesus Christ, but that doesn't mean that those who
come from the Jewish faith, those who come from the Muslim faith, those who
come from -- those who don't believe in the existence of God at all, that they
don't -- that they're not entitled to have their beliefs respected. They're
absolutely entitled to have their beliefs respected. It is one of the basis
for which our democracy was founded.
O'BRIEN: I want to turn to get some questions from our host tonight,
Reverend Jim Wallis, and also a very distinguished panel that we have with us
as well. So Reverend Wallis, will you please stand?
REV. JIM WALLIS, EDITOR IN CHIEF, "SOJOURNERS" MAGAZINE: Hello,
EDWARDS: Hello, Jim.
WALLIS: In last night's New Hampshire debate, you rightly observed
that the poor never came up. Well, they will tonight...
WALLIS: ... so let's start right there.
WALLIS: Senator, you often speak of the 39 million Americans who wake
up in poverty every day. Many of us in churches and faith-based organizations,
for us this is a gospel issue, as you know. Changing this is a biblical
priority, so we are wanting to make a specific commitment to cut poverty in
half in the next 10 years as a beginning. As president, how would you mobilize
the nation and take concrete steps to accomplish that goal?
EDWARDS: Well, let me first say thank you to you, Jim, and to
Sojourners for its great leadership on this, what I think is a great moral
issue facing this country today and I would add to that, this the is the cause
of my life. It is the reason after the last election that I went back to the
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, started a poverty center. It is the
reason I've traveled around the world doing humanitarian work.
It is the reason I help lead minimum wage campaigns in six states.
It's the reason I've helped organize thousands of workers in the unions. And
before we ever got in politic, it's the reason that I was involved with urban
ministries, faith-based groups, doing work to help the poor and one of the
reasons that Elizabeth and I did a lot of other things, starting after school
centers for kids who need playgrounds, libraries, et cetera.
So I think there's a very long and consistent pattern of this being the
cause of my life. And I might add everything I can do, everything in my power
that I'm able to do, I will do to drive the issue of poverty in this
presidential campaign so that everyone is required to talk about it. Because I
think it is the great moral issue of our time. I've committed, actually, to an
agenda of eliminating poverty over the next 30 years.
I think it's a completely achievable agenda. There are lots of
components to that agenda. Making work pay, having a living wage, making sure
that workers can organize themselves into unions, having decent housing for
families that don't have it, having true universal health care, helping kids be
able to go to college, which is why I started a college for everyone program
for kids in a very poor section of eastern North Carolina. And I believe this
is an agenda that should be the agenda -- one of the agendas -- part of the
agenda of the president of the United States, so there's not much doubt about
where I am on this issue.
I have respect for my colleagues who are running for the presidency,
but I will say this is not an issue -- and I say this to everyone in the
audience. This is not an issue that I just talk about when I come to you.
This is an issue I talk about all over America in front of all kinds of
audiences because it's part of who I am. It's who I am as a human being. And
I will say this. This is such a part of my life that whatever happens in this
presidential campaign, as long as I am alive and breathing, I will be out there
fighting with everything I have to help the poor in this country. I can
promise you that.
O'BRIEN: And, Senator, a gentle reminder. You're welcome to stand,
because you're going to be taking questions from our panelists, but I'll give
you a gentle reminder. You have exactly 15 minutes, and we have a lot of
So we'll move on to our next panelists.
EDWARDS: Fair enough.
O'BRIEN: The Reverend Sharon Watkins is a minister with Christian
Church Disciples of Christ in the U.S. and Canada, a head of mainline
Protestant denomination that serves 750,000 people. Go ahead, Reverend.
REV. SHARON WATKINS, CHRISTIAN CHURCH, DISCIPLES OF CHRIST: Senator
Edwards, I'd like to ask you about prayer, admittedly a personal matter. How,
if at all, has prayer been a source of strength and wisdom for you in your
life? How would prayer influence the decisions that you make as president?
And, most importantly, when you pray, how do you know if the voice that you are
hearing is the voice of God or your own voice in disguise?
EDWARDS: Good, good. Let me -- some would argue we sometimes have
trouble telling the difference, right? I can tell you that it is a part of my
daily prayer to, when I pray, to ask the Lord to give me the strength to see
the difference between what I want to do and what he wants me to do, and to
give me the strength to do his will and not my will. And those things are in
conflict on a regular basis in every human being on the planet, and I think
it's a huge challenge for all of us to try to draw that distinction.
I can tell you that I pray daily. I've been through a faith journey in
my life, you know? I'll be the first to admit that. I grew up in the Baptist
church. I was baptized in the Baptist church, personal strong faith when I was
young. I strayed away from the Lord for a period of time, and then came back,
in my adulthood, and my faith came roaring back during some crises that my own
family was faced with.
And I can tell you, it is prayer that played a huge role in my survival
through that. You know, when Elizabeth and I lost our son, we were
nonfunctional for some period of time. And it was the Lord that got me through
that. And the same thing is true when Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer and
then re-diagnosed more recently.
But faith -- I mean, not only my faith, but prayer's played a huge role
in my life. It does every single day; it's what gives me strength to keep
O'BRIEN: Our next panelist has some questions. Reverend Suzan Johnson
Cook, she's the first female president of the largest African-American clergy
conference in the world, senior pastor of Believers Christian Fellowship. Go
REV. SUZAN JOHNSON COOK, PRES., HAMPTON UNIV. MINISTERS' CONF.: Good
evening, Senator. It takes a village is an African proverb. In fact, one of
your colleagues has written about it, but it speaks about...
... the blessed of us really helping the rest of us. Quite frankly,
the African-American community felt with Katrina that our American village
disappeared. You're president of the United States. What are the first two
things that you do to rebuild the Gulf and New Orleans, not just the damage
that was done physically, but also the hopes of the people that were deferred?
EDWARDS: Well, let me say, first of all, this cause of New Orleans is
also very personal to me, because you may know that I announced my campaign
from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I took 700 college kids down to work
during their spring break in New Orleans a little over a year ago. And I've
been to New Orleans and to Louisiana repeatedly since the hurricane hit,
including just a few weeks ago.
The single biggest thing to be done is the president of the United
States needs to put one person, a very high-level competent person in the White
House, in charge of New Orleans. And that person -- the president should say
to that person, "I want you in my office every morning telling me what you did
in New Orleans yesterday." And the next day say, "I want you in my office
telling me what you did yesterday. I'm not interested in what you're going to
do six months from now; I want to know what you did yesterday. And I want to
know what's happening on the ground," the president, "what's happening on the
ground every single day."
What has happened in New Orleans is a national embarrassment. All of
us should be embarrassed by it.
And it's clear the problem will still exist to a very large extent for
the next president. It's something that I will personally commit to making a
O'BRIEN: Senator, I'm going to have you sit while I ask you another
question, if you don't mind. Thank you. And while this is not exactly a
confessional, there are a whole bunch of people out there -- we certainly have
enough clergy here -- so I'll ask you this. What is the biggest sin...
EDWARDS: I don't like the way this has started.
O'BRIEN: I know, sorry.
What is the biggest sin you've ever committed? Are you willing -- are
you willing to say? You can take a pass, sir, as you know.
EDWARDS: Just between you and me?
O'BRIEN: Just between you and me and the 1,300 people in the crowd.
EDWARDS: I'd have a very hard time telling you one thing, one specific
If I've had a day -- I turn 54 years old this Sunday -- and if I've had
a day in my 54 years where I haven't sinned multiple times, I would be amazed.
I believe I have. I sin every single day. We are all sinners. We all fall
short, which is why we have to ask for forgiveness from the Lord. I can't --
to try to identify one particular sin that was worse or more extreme than the
others, the list is too long.
O'BRIEN: I was going to say, it sounds like you're saying it's a long
list. Senator John Edwards, it's nice to have you talk to us today. Our 15
minutes is up. Thank you so much.
EDWARDS: Thank you very much, a pleasure.
O'BRIEN: You're going to exit off this way.
EDWARDS: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: It was nice to see you.
EDWARDS: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Coming up next, we've got Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
They're coming up next, the candidates' faith put to the test. We're live from
George Washington University this evening. It's a special edition of THE
SITUATION ROOM. We're talking about faith and politics. Stay with us.
O'BRIEN: Welcome back to a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM,
everybody. Tonight we are bringing together the presidential candidates to
talk about faith and politics. You just heard from the former senator, John
Edwards. We are going to be hearing from Senator Hillary Clinton in just a
First, though, it's my pleasure to introduce Senator Barack Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Thank you so much.
OBAMA: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Nice to see you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Nice to see you.
OBAMA: Nice to see you.
O'BRIEN: We'll start by tackling a big topic, God.
Do you think that God takes sides in a war? For example, in the war on
terror, is God on the side of U.S. troops, would you say?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I always remember Abraham Lincoln, when, during
the Civil War, he said, "We shouldn't be asking whose side God is on, but
whether we're on his side." And I think that's the question that all of us
have to ask ourselves during any battle that's taking place, whether it's
political or military, is, are we following his dictates? Are we advancing the
causes of justice and freedom? Are we our brother's keeper, our sister's
keeper? And that's how I measure whether what we're doing is right.
O'BRIEN: The president talks a lot, as you know, about sort of good
versus evil in war. Do you agree with that?
OBAMA: Well, I do think there's evil in the world. I think that, when
planes crash into buildings and kill innocents, there's evil there. I think
violence and cruelty, wherever it's perpetrated, expresses evil in the world.
And I think that all of us have an obligation to speak to that and act against
Now, there have been times in our history where that requires that we
take up arms. I think that the Civil War was a just war. I believe that
defeating fascism and ensuring that Europe was liberated was the right thing to
What was also interesting about Lincoln, though, during the course of
the Civil War, was his recognition that simply because we've engaged in
something just doesn't mean that there aren't times where we may act unjustly.
Abu Ghraib obviously is something that all of us should be ashamed for, even if
you were supportive of a war. I believe Guantanamo, the decision to detain
people without charges, is unjust.
And so the danger of using good versus evil in the context of war is it
may lead us to be not as critical as we should be about our own actions.
And that's something that I'm very wary about.
O'BRIEN: You have been very clear in your support of Israel. Do you
think the Palestinians and the occupied territories are being treated morally,
and fairly, and justly by the Israelis?
OBAMA: I believe that the Israelis want peace, and they want
security. And oftentimes, in the midst of achieving security, there have been
times when there's no doubt that Palestinians have been placed in situations
that we wouldn't want our own families to be placed in.
Israelis have been killed. They've got bombs flying into their
territories right now. And we would expect them to act appropriately in
So when I look at the situation in the Middle East -- and this is true
in other conflicts around the world -- the question I ask myself -- and this is
where I do think faith comes in -- is, is there a way for us to reconcile the
claims of both sides of the conflict in a way that leads to resolution and a
better life for all people?
And that, I think, is something that can be achieved, but it's going to
require some soul-searching on the Palestinian side. They have to recognize
Israel's right to exist; they have to renounce violence and terrorism as a tool
to achieve their political ends; they have to abide by agreements. In that
context, I think the Israelis will gladly say, "Let's move forward negotiations
that would allow them to live side by side with the Palestinians in peace and
But, you know, we are so far from that right now, partly because, when
your brothers or sisters have been killed in a suicide bombing, when you feel
that you've been oppressed or treated unjustly, it's very hard to get out of
that immediate anger and seek reconciliation.
And that's where I think faith can inform what we do: Faith can say,
forgive someone who has treated us unjustly. Faith can say that, regardless of
what's happened in the past, there's a brighter future ahead. And that's the
kind of faith that I think has to inform, not just our international policies,
but also domestic policies, as well.
O'BRIEN: I want to open it up to our host, the Reverend Jim Wallis,
the editor-in-chief of "Sojourners." Reverend Wallis, why don't you have a
stand up there?
REV. JIM WALLIS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "SOJOURNERS" MAGAZINE: Hello,
OBAMA: Good to see you, Jim. Happy birthday.
WALLIS: Thank you.
OBAMA: Did we find out how old Jim was?
WALLIS: Let's change the subject. As you know from your organizing
days, the poor are trapped in poverty, but they're also trapped in our debate
over poverty, both sides blaming the other. You are one who's called for new
ways of doing politics. The old answers aren't working; they're failing. If
you were the president, what kind of moral and political imagination would you
bring to finding some real solutions? And try and give us some specifics.
OBAMA: Well, I think our starting point has to be based on the notion
that I just expressed, that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper,
that we are connected as a people, that when, as I said in my speech at the
Boston convention, when there's a child somewhere here in Washington, D.C., who
is impoverished in a crumbling school without prospects and hope for the
future, then that impoverishes me. If there's a veteran in Chicago that's
foraging through a dumpster because he's now homeless because we did not
provide him the services that he needed after he served our country, that
diminishes all of our patriotism.
So the starting point is that, "I've got a stake in other people, and
I've got a set of responsibilities towards others, not just towards myself,"
and that those mutual responsibilities, those obligations, have to express
themselves, not just through our churches, and our synagogues, and our mosques,
and our temples, not only in our own families, but they have to express
themselves through our government. That, I would argue, is part of what
created this amazing country that we live in.
We tend to tout our individualism and our self-reliance -- and those
are important things -- but we also arrived at this place because we rose and
fell together. And I think it's that spirit that's been lost in our politics
over the last several years.
So my starting point as president is to restore that sense that we are
in this together. That's the starting point. And faith informs that. My
moral commitments to that vision of what Dr. King called a beloved community
rose out of my faith.
Now, how do we then realize that faith? How do we make sure that it
actually lives, that it's not just something that we talk about? A couple of
things that we have to do is to fix our politics, and we have to get beyond
what Dr. King called the "either/or mentality" and embrace "the both/and
mentality." And our politics have exacerbated this notion of either/or.
So we say either people are entirely responsible for their own lot --
and this tends to be expressed within Republican circles, but not entirely --
pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, act responsibly, act morally, a great
emphasis on private morality, or, conversely, that individuals are responsible,
society is acting on them, and they are not free agents.
And my attitude -- and I think the attitude of every religious leader
and scholar that I value and listen to -- is that we have these individual
responsibilities and these societal responsibilities. And those things aren't
So what does that mean concretely? It means that, in education, a
starting point for me in lifting people out of poverty, partly because I am
where I am today because of the education that I received, I think, in terms
of, what are our government responsibilities? Early childhood education, we
know that if we invest a dollar in early childhood education, we get seven
dollars back in reduced dropout rates, improved reading scores, reduced
delinquency, increased graduation rates.
The reason we don't make those investments is not because they don't
work; it's because we lack the political will. We don't think those children
are deserving of a good education, although we won't say that explicitly. Our
actions indicate it.
Making sure that...
So one of my major commitments would be to make sure that we're
expanding early childhood education to everybody who needs it.
OBAMA: So one of my major commitments would be to make sure that we're
expanding early childhood education to everybody who needs it. And by the way,
that starts before pre-k, zero to 3.
There's wonderful programs that I'm going to be putting forward as
models for what we can do nationally, where nurses are matched up with at-risk
parents, particularly teenage parents, just so that they can be shown, you
know, how to provide proper nutrition to their child, how to read to them, how
to play with them, how to engage with them so that they are equipped when they
get to school. So that would be an example of government action.
At the same time, if we're going to improve our education system, then
we're going to have to instill in our children a sense of excellence and a
sense of delayed gratification. That's where individual responsibility comes
in. And religion speaks to that as well.
Just one other example that I want to use is on the criminal justice
system. We have ex-offenders who are coming out of prisons constantly.
Thousands each and every day. We're going to have to make a commitment to
provide them a second chance.
There's a biblical injunction that I see to make sure that...
OBAMA: ... those young men and women -- to make sure that those young
men and women have an opportunity to right their lives. And that will require
a government investment in transitional jobs because, in some cases, the
private sector won't hire people.
OBAMA: I know, this is getting long.
O'BRIEN: No, you've got 15 minutes. And you can spend them any way
you'd like, but we've got a lot of questions.
OBAMA: Well, this is important.
O'BRIEN: I understand. Just stick to your time cue.
OBAMA: I want to make sure we get this out.
So we've got to invest in transitional jobs because the private sector
may not be willing to initially hire somebody who has got a felon record. We
may need to provide them the kinds of job training support they are not
The notion that we take away educational programs in the prisons to be
tough on crime makes absolutely no sense. And we need to invest in that.
OBAMA: And I have to -- I have to say that I'm very proud of the fact
that we've seen some of my Republican colleagues informed by the evangelical
movement embrace this notion of providing second chances. And they're to be
applauded. This is an area where I think we can get past the left and right
Finally, the last thing I just want to -- want to point out is on the
issue of work and poverty.
One of the things that happened after welfare reform was that we made
sure that everybody had to work at some point. Unfortunately, we didn't lift
them out of poverty. We have got a lot of people who work and are still
impoverished. And so we've got to make work pay. That means that we've got to
increase the minimum wage.
O'BRIEN: Senator, I'm going to stop you there because we have one
final question that I need to ask...
OBAMA: Oh, you do?
O'BRIEN: ... from the Sojourners. Yes, we do.
OBAMA: Oh, OK.
O'BRIEN: So, if you don't mind...
O'BRIEN: I know. And I know. I hear you.
OBAMA: You didn't ask these questions.
O'BRIEN: I know. I get it. But you have one minute left to answer
this question. It's an online question from Sojourners, and we actually are
obligated to ask this. They invited online support, and the question came from
Reverend T. Randall Smith. He's a senior pastor at Deer Park United Methodist
in Deer Park, Texas.
He asked this: "Executive salaries are increasing by 300 percent in
recent years. Ordinary workers' salaries remain stagnant."
Specific policies -- and you have one minute. How do you address that,
haves and have-nots?"
OBAMA: Well, we've got a bill in right now that says at minimum,
shareholders should take a look at these executive pay scales, and they should
be able to vote on whether these are appropriate or not. That I think would
provide some constraint.
I also would like to see executives recognize that when they're getting
as much in one day as their average worker is getting in an entire year, that
there is a moral element to that. That that's problematic.
OBAMA: But look, America is a land of success, and that's terrific.
We just want to make sure that people are sharing in the burdens and benefits
of this global economy.
O'BRIEN: That's going to be the final word, Senator.
OBAMA: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: You're out of time.
Thank you, Senator.
You're going to go off this way. Thanks. Thank you.
OBAMA: Thank you.
O'BRIEN: Up next, Senator Hillary Clinton is going to join us live.
Plus, at the top of the hour, we've got Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich.
We've got Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson, as well.
You'll want to stay with us right after this short break. We'll be
O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching a special edition
of THE SITUATION ROOM, where tonight we are talking about faith and values and
We're bringing together three presidential candidates to discuss all of that.
Joining us now is Senator Hillary Clinton.
O'BRIEN: Nice to see you, Senator.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How are
O'BRIEN: I'm well. How are you?
CLINTON: Good to see you.
O'BRIEN: Have a seat.
Mike Gravel said last night that you lack moral judgment because of
your vote on the war in Iraq. You blame President Bush a lot.
Do you feel you have is a moral responsibility for your vote?
CLINTON: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.
I think that every vote I take carries with it a moral responsibility,
and it is always a challenge to try to arrive at what you think is the right
thing to do based on the information and the assessment that you make at a
time. And sometimes it turns out that you're right, and sometimes it doesn't.
But certainly every vote has a moral implication.
You know, we're debating immigration right now in the Senate. I think
that is a highly moral debate as to what we will do as a nation with respect to
immigrants. And the faith community has been very involved in that, as they
have been with questions of war and questions of poverty, too.
O'BRIEN: You've been, though, very reluctant to say "I'm sorry for my
Explain that to me.
CLINTON: Well, what I've said is that if I had known then what I know
now about how President Bush would use the authority that he was given, I never
would have voted to give it to him. So I think that is taking responsibility.
And I don't think you get off the hook.
I think you don't turn the page by saying that was really an
unfortunate outcome. I think you take responsibility and then you move on.
And certainly what I'm trying to do now is to figure out how we get out of Iraq
and how we get out as soon as possible, bringing our troops out, but trying to
encourage through both carrots and sticks the Iraqi government to take
responsibility for their own country, and to try to get more vigorous regional
and international diplomacy involved as well.
O'BRIEN: You don't talk a lot about your faith, truly. I -- I know
because I have Googled everything you have ever said, actually.
O'BRIEN: But I'm going to ask you a delicate question.
Infidelity in your marriage was very public. And I have to imagine it
was incredibly difficult to deal with. And I would like to know how your faith
helped you get through it.
CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my
And, you know, I take my faith very seriously and very personally. And
I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who
wear their faith on their sleeves, so, that a lot of the...
CLINTON: ... a lot of the talk about and advertising about faith
doesn't come naturally to me. It is something that -- you know, I keep
thinking of the Pharisees and all of Sunday school lessons and readings that I
had as a child.
But I think your -- your faith guides you every day. Certainly, mine
does. But, at those moments in time when you're tested, it -- it is absolutely
essential that you be grounded in your faith.
For some people, being tested leads them to faith. For some people,
being tested in cruel and tragic ways leads them away from faith. For me,
because I have been tested in ways that are both publicly known and those that
are not so well known or not known at all, my faith and the support of my
extended faith family, people whom I knew who were literally praying for me in
prayer chains, who were prayer warriors for me, and people whom I didn't know,
who I would meet or get a letter from, sustained me through a very difficult
But I -- I am very grateful that I had a grounding in faith that gave
me the courage and the strength to do what I thought was right, regardless of
what the world thought. And that's all one can expect or hope for.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: When you pray...
O'BRIEN: And this is a -- a very personal question. And you can defer
CLINTON: Oh, go ahead, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: All right.
O'BRIEN: It's just us girls.
O'BRIEN: What do you ask for? What do you ask God for?
CLINTON: Well, it depends upon the time of day.
CLINTON: And, you know, sometimes, I say, oh, lord, why can't you help
me lose weight?
CLINTON: Sometimes -- you know, sometimes, it's, you know, obviously
praying for discernment, for wisdom, for strength, for courage, praying for my
family and my friends, I mean, praying for people whom I don't have any
personal connection with that I -- I hear about, or I know about, or that I'm --
I'm struck by.
You know, I -- I will tell you, your question sort of prompted this in
my head. I was at a Methodist church in Decorah, Iowa. And I was attending
Sunday morning service. And I walked in, and I met the pastor, Carol Cress
(ph), who welcomed me to her church and her congregation.
And she introduced me to this man from the Congo who the church had
taken in as a refugee. And he said that he wanted to ask for my help for the
people of the Congo. And he told me about how he had been campaigning for
democracy, and he had been thrown in jail, and he had been beaten, and then he
had been dragged from the jail by the officials, and he had been hung on a tree
and left to die.
And the members of his church rescued him. And he told me this just as
I was walking into the sanctuary. And I was just so overcome. And I spent
much of the service thinking about and praying about these people in this
church in the Congo -- I don't even know where in the Congo -- who had saved
this man and given him the chance to come and witness to somebody like me.
So, I pray for all kinds of things, some of it, to be honest, trivial
and self-serving and all the rest of it.
CLINTON: And, when I do that, I try to say, oh, come on, that's -- you
can do better than that.
O'BRIEN: To God or your question?
CLINTON: Well, I say it -- I say it to myself...
CLINTON: ... because I assume, you know, that there's the rolling of
eyes going on, that...
CLINTON: ... I certainly can do better than that.
But, you know, somebody -- somebody asked me -- to go back to one of
your earlier questions, somebody asked me if I were a praying person, you know,
shortly after we had been in the White House.
And, you know, I said yes, I -- I had been fortunate. I was raised to
pray, you know, as a little girl, you know, saying my prayers at night, saying
grace at meals, praying in, you know, church. I see my old friend, my youth
minister praying in MYF, our Methodist Youth Fellowship.
And, so, they asked me, well, are you a praying person?
And I said, well, you know, fortunately, I -- I have always been a
praying person. And then I -- I'm grateful for that. But, if I had not been a
praying person, shortly after coming to the White House, I would have become
one in a big hurry.
O'BRIEN: Senator, we have seven minutes left, and I want to get to a
couple of questions from the panelists we have not yet heard from.
The Reverend Joel C. Hunter is the senior pastor at Northland Church,
one of the largest churches in Florida; 1,400 locations worship with them
around the globe every single weekend.
Go ahead, Reverend.
CLINTON: Hello, Reverend.
REVEREND JOEL C. HUNTER, NORTHLAND, A CHURCH DISTRIBUTED: Hi, Senator
Abortion continues to be one of the most hurtful and divisive facts of
our nation. I come from the part of the faith community that is very strongly
pro-life. I know you're pro-choice, but you have indicated that you would like
to reduce the number of abortions.
Could you see yourself, with millions of voters in a pro-life camp,
creating a common ground, with the goal ultimately in mind of reducing the
decisions for abortion to zero?
CLINTON: Yes. Yes.
And that is what I have tried to both talk about and reach out about
over the last many years, going back, really, at least 15 years, in talking
about abortion being safe, legal, and rare. And, by rare, I mean rare.
And it's been a challenge, because the pro-life and the pro-choice
communities have not really been willing to find much common ground. And I
think that is a great failing on all of our parts, because, for me...
CLINTON: ... there are many opportunities to assist young people to
make responsible decisions.
There is a tremendous educational and public outreach that could be
done through churches, through schools, through so much else. But I think it
has to be done with an understanding of reaching people where they are today.
We have so many young people who are tremendously influenced by the
media culture and by the celebrity culture, and who have a very difficult time
trying to sort out the right decisions to make.
And I personally believe that the adult society has failed those
people. I mean, I think that we have failed them in our churches, our schools,
our government. And I certainly think the, you know, free market has failed.
We have all failed.
We have left too many children to sort of fend for themselves morally.
And, so, I think there is a great opportunity. But it would require sort of a -
- a leaving at the sides the suspicion and the baggage that comes with people
who have very strong, heartfelt feelings.
You know, when I first started thinking about this very difficult
issue -- because it is. It's a moral issue. And it should not be in any way
diminished as a moral issue, no matter which side you're on, because I have
seen cases where I honestly believed that the -- the moral choice was very
complicated and not so straightforward as to what a young woman, her family,
her physician, her pastor should do.
And what concerns me is that there's been a -- a real reluctance for
anyone to make a move toward the other side, for fear of being labeled as
turning one's back on the moral dimensions of the issue from either direction.
So, I would invite you, and I would be willing to work with you, to see
whether there couldn't be some common ground that one could find.
O'BRIEN: Our next panelist, Senator, is Monsignor Kevin Sullivan. He
is with Catholic Charities USA, helps seven million people, Catholics and not
Catholics, around the United States.
CLINTON: Oh, I know his work very well.
It's good to see you.
MONSIGNOR KEVIN SULLIVAN, CATHOLIC CHARITIES USA: Senator Clinton,
just a very simple question.
You have spoken a lot about our need to work for the common good. In
an age in which there is, oftentimes, narrow and excessive individualism, how
will you speak to our country about the need for sacrifice, restraint, when it
comes to the critical issues of taxes, gun control, health care, and energy
CLINTON: Well, Monsignor...
CLINTON: ... you know, as they say in the Senate, I ask consent to
expand and extend my remarks.
CLINTON: You know, I -- I think that one of the great challenges
facing us -- and -- and I heard both of my friends Senator Edwards and Senator
And I think you can sense how we are attempting to try to inject faith
into policy and also to elicit from people a sense of our common humanity and
how we have to be in this together as a nation. And, on every issue you
mentioned, there is an opportunity for us to chart a new course.
But I know how difficult that is. We can set the vision. We can even
work to articulate the goal. But the pathway is extraordinarily complicated
because of how we live today and how we think of ourselves in relation to our
Take health care. I think we could get almost unanimous agreement that
having more than 45 million uninsured people, nine million of whom are
children, is a moral wrong in America. And I think...
O'BRIEN: One minute, Senator.
O'BRIEN: One minute, Senator.
CLINTON: I think we could reach that agreement, and then we would have
to start doing the hard work of deciding what we were going to do to make sure
that they were not uninsured, because an uninsured person who goes to the
hospital is more likely to die than an insured person. I mean, that is a
So, what do we do? We have to build a political consensus. And that
requires people giving up a little bit of their own turf, in order to create
this common ground.
The same with energy -- you know, we can't keep talking about our
dependence on foreign oil, and the need to deal with global warming, and the
challenge that it poses to our climate and to God's creation, and just let
business as usual go on.
CLINTON: And that means something has...
CLINTON: ... to be taken away from some people.
O'BRIEN: And that's our final word.
O'BRIEN: Thank you very much.
Senator Clinton, always a pleasure.
CLINTON: Thank you so much.
O'BRIEN: Nice to see you.
CLINTON: Thank you, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: My pleasure. It was my pleasure.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: We are going to exit off this way.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: Thank you. Pleasure.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
O'BRIEN: Ahead, in just a few minutes, we're going to continue this
conversation. You're watching a special edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW" with
Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bill Richardson and Chris Dodd
and Dennis Kucinich.
You will want to stay with us. We're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: Events like this do not go off without a lot of people, who
we have to thank this evening. We want to thank everybody who made this
evening possible, including, of course, Sojourners and the co-host, Catholic
Alliance for the Common Good, The ONE Campaign, Oxfam America, and Eastern
University as well.
We look forward to bringing you more candidate forums in the months,
many, many, many months, I should say, that lie ahead, including a similar
forum on faith and politics with Republican candidates who are running to be
president of the United States.
Let's send it right back to Wolf. He's in New Hampshire.
BLITZER: Hey, Soledad, excellent, excellent work, really, really
I thought some of the statements that all three of these candidates
made gave us a little bit more insight into their lives, into their religious
values, their faith.
And this one exchange you had with Senator Clinton on infidelity, I
want to play a little clip from that, and talk to you about it. Let's listen
to this clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Well, I'm not sure I would have gotten through it without my
And, you know, I take my faith very seriously and very personally. And
I come from a tradition that is perhaps a little too suspicious of people who
wear their faith on their sleeves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Soledad, I thought this statement from Senator Clinton and
also the statements from Senator Obama and Senator Edwards on their religious
values gave our viewers a little bit more insight into their background, their
belief in God, and their -- their values.
But I'm wondering what came out of it from your perspective.
O'BRIEN: You know, I thought it was very interesting, especially when
we heard Senator Clinton say -- answering that a little bit later on in the
She said, you know, if you went into the White House -- and I'm
paraphrasing here -- and you weren't a praying person, well, after a short
time, you -- you certainly would become one.
And it was a funny line, but you could also understand. I think it's
something we heard from -- from all the candidates today, really how much of a
role faith plays, not just in their lives now, but -- but, obviously, we're
asking them, if they were to be president, what would we expect from them, what
would we see from what they would do, and how would faith shape that? It's
I think where the Democrats have -- have learned a lesson, really, is
in embracing and talking much more about their faith, Wolf. We haven't seen
that as much.
And, again, I was joking with the senator, saying, you know, I Googled
everything she said, and she hadn't said a lot. And that's the same, with some
exceptions, for -- for the other candidates, too.
So, I think we're learning a lot about the values that shape the person
who wants to run our country. It is critical, not just to the 1,300 people who
are in the audience with me this evening, but I think to your average American
voter, is voting on a human being. And it's the values that shape a human
being that is going to, in turn, shape the decisions they make as president of
the United States -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Soledad, thank you.
Thank all three of these candidates for us. It was really, really an
hour well spent on television. Appreciate it very much.
Want to just share with our viewers, tomorrow night, the Republicans
will get their turn right here in New Hampshire. I will be moderating a
presidential debate here on CNN. We start at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. It will go on
for two hours without commercial interruption.
Until then, thanks very much for joining us.
Let's turn to Paula Zahn, as some of the other Democratic candidates
discuss the role religion plays in politics -- Paula.