Edwards urges tough stance

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said Monday he believes President Bush will capitulate if Congress continues to confront him with bills to pull troops out of Iraq.

“The president is just ignoring what the Congress is saying and ignoring what the American people want,” Edwards said in an interview in Las Vegas. “He just doesn’t care. He’s just going to do whatever he wants, and he has to be stopped.”

The Democratic Congress has passed a war funding bill that includes a timeline for troop withdrawal; Bush has promised to veto it and is expected to do so this week. Although Bush said Monday he would work with Congress on an alternative, Edwards said legislators must not compromise.

Instead, Edwards said Congress should continue to pass similar bills. “They need to submit another bill to him with a timetable, and they need to continue doing it until he finally signs one,” he said. Asked whether he believed Bush would back down in such a showdown, he said, “Eventually.”

Edwards was in Las Vegas Monday for a campaign stop at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he spoke to a crowd of about 250 people. The former North Carolina senator and former vice presidential nominee stood in the center of the octagonal room in the Richard Tam Alumni Center, speaking and taking questions from the audience for about 45 minutes.

Edwards said former CIA Director George Tenet’s new book bolstered his conviction that Congress must confront Bush.

“It appears that he’s saying that the administration exaggerated the intelligence in trying to sell the war,” Edwards said of Tenet’s memoir, “At the Center of the Storm,” released Monday. “If that’s true, then that’s even more reason that I think the Congress needs to stay firm right now.”

Edwards has apologized for his 2002 vote in favor of authorizing Bush to go to war, and he said he had learned a lesson that would serve him if elected president: “Trust my own judgment.”

Edwards said he had concerns at the time that Bush would abuse the authority Congress gave him, “that he wouldn’t go to the international community, he wouldn’t take the responsible steps in Iraq that should be taken,” but still voted in favor of the war.

His regret over that vote would influence his thinking, he said. “I think it would mean that when I get information, intelligence information, I’m going to question it and be critical about it, to be certain that the information I’m getting is reliable. And secondly, at the end of the day, instead of depending on lots of other people who supposedly have more expertise, to trust my own judgment, my own instincts.”

Edwards trails Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama in most polls of Democratic partisans. A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found he had 20 percent of the vote, compared with 36 percent for Clinton and 31 percent for Obama.

Edwards said he is the best candidate because of the details he has proposed.

“I have the clearest, most specific and bold plans to deal with the problems our country faces,” he said. “I’m the only candidate with a specific universal health care plan. I’ve been the clearest on what the Congress should do if Bush vetoes this bill; I haven’t heard others do that. I have the most aggressive plan to combat climate change, and I think those are all important and substantive differences. I’m the only one with a plan to end poverty in the country.”

In his speech, Edwards said the United States should take action to stop the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region and close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay to improve America’s standing in the world. He said the U.S. government could help build schools overseas so that fewer youths in Islamic countries turn to terrorism.

Edwards called for action on global warming, saying billions of dollars should be spent on renewable energy, carbon-sequestration technology and fuel-efficient vehicle technology. Carbon emissions should be capped, and there should be a ban on building new coal-fired power plants, he said.

He touted his plan for universal health care, which he said is the only specific plan among the candidates, and called for action to reduce poverty.

Asked by a questioner why he didn’t support impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney, Edwards said, “I totally understand the feeling” but said he thought Democrats’ energy could be better spent “moving the country forward.”

Audience member Jeanette Coates, a 47-year-old civil engineer, said she liked Edwards’ ideas but was uncertain whether she would support him or Clinton.

“A candidate that can win, that’s key,” she said. “I think it’s about which candidate will be able to appeal to voters.”

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