Andrea Mitchell pronounced Kerry's explanation for his Iraq comment -- that he was referring to President Bush -- "hard to imagine"
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During the 2 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC News Live, several NBC correspondents baselessly suggested that Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) explanation for a remark he made during an October 30 appearance at Pasadena City College in California lacked credibility, with NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell stating that it was "hard to imagine" Kerry's explanation is true. As CNN reported, in his speech, Kerry told "a group of college students they could either work hard in school or 'get stuck in Iraq,' " and later reported Kerry's assertion that "the remark was a 'botched joke' meant to target the president, not U.S. troops." According to CNN, a Kerry aide said "Kerry was supposed to say, 'I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq.' " The Associated Press reported that Kerry made the remark after opening his speech "with several one-liners, saying at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now 'lives in a state of denial.' " The White House, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and other conservatives have seized on Kerry's "stuck in Iraq" remark to claim that Kerry, a Vietnam War veteran, smeared U.S. troops, and have demanded Kerry apologize.
According to CNN's October 31 article:
[T]he senator took the stage to roaring applause before regaling the crowd with one-liners, Bush barbs and tales of surfing at nearby Mission Beach.
He then said: "You know, education -- if you make the most of it, you study hard and you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well.
"If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."
A Kerry aide told CNN that the prepared statement, which had been designed to criticize President Bush, "was mangled in delivery."
Kerry was supposed to say, "I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq."
While reporting on Kerry's comment and subsequent explanation, Mitchell stated that "[I]t's hard to imagine," as Kerry claimed, that he "really meant to say," "getting us stuck in Iraq [emphasis added]." Mitchell opined that "it's going to be very tough" for Kerry to explain his remark, "given the context." She added: "It's hard to believe that the Democrats could give away a national security advantage ... this close to Election Day." Mitchell concluded that it was "understandable" that "[White House press secretary] Tony Snow and others in the Republican camp are jumping on" Kerry over the remark.
Responding to Mitchell, NBC's Today weekend edition co-host Lester Holt asserted that "these words, no matter what Democrat would utter them, would have been jumped upon," but, "coming from Senator John Kerry," the "liberal lightning rod" may "make this particularly difficult" for the Democrats. Mitchell replied by commenting on how "this is just another example" of Kerry being "his own worst enemy."
Similarly, during an earlier report on Kerry's remark, NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O'Donnell opined that it was "going to be tough to explain away the fact that some people will have the impression that he was being unflattering about the educational level of U.S. troops."
From the 2 p.m. ET hour of the October 31 edition of MSNBC News Live:
HOLT: And, Kelly, as you noted, we're going to hear from Senator Kerry shortly. But I'm looking at that same statement you are. On it, I don't see anywhere he denies actually using those words and, with regard to him apparently making a mistake, that only came from someone described as a source close to John Kerry. So, to our knowledge, he's not -- he's not come out and said, "I didn't say these words."
O'DONNELL: Well, I'm the person who talked to that source, and worked that. As you may remember, I covered the Kerry campaign in 2004 so, I'm familiar with people close to him. I was able to reach out to that person, try and get some context for this. Clearly, you heard the words on tape. The senator will not refute that the words came out of his mouth the way that they did.
What his campaign is now trying to do is say it was a mistake -- that the senator simply messed up his words. He was making a series of jokes about the president, partisan jokes, and that he misspoke. That's really up to the interpretation of viewers who will listen to his words -- listen to his response later today. But whether he intended to say it or not, it has certainly caused a controversy.
The Kerry side is trying to reframe this, saying that, given his whole record, he would not talk in an unflattering way about the troops, while Republicans say that Senator Kerry has said some very tough things about U.S. personnel in Iraq and, of course, his longtime criticism of the Vietnam War when he was a young man.
This is a volatile subject, especially when John Kerry is involved. And now, because of the clock -- the calendar toward the midterm election -- it becomes more important in the Iraq debate of present day. So, it's -- it's something that when we hear Senator Kerry today, I would anticipate he will reiterate his written statement, but it's going to be tough to explain away the fact that some people will have the impression that he was being unflattering about the educational level of U.S. troops. It's a tough one for John Kerry and, certainly, an opportunity for Republicans.
HOLT: The White House is being joined by a long list of Republicans now in calling on Senator John Kerry to apologize to U.S. troops in Iraq. It's all over this comment. Watch.
KERRY [video clip]: -- education. If you make the most of it, and you study hard, and you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.
HOLT: Kerry's camp said this was a joke about President Bush that got slightly mangled. They say he left out two words, "get[ting] us stuck in Iraq." He reportedly wanted to say, "[Y]ou end up getting us stuck in Iraq."
NBC's Andrea Mitchell is live in Washington, D.C., with reaction. I kind of mangled that lead but help me out there, Andrea.
MITCHELL: No, you didn't mangle the lead as much as John Kerry mangled either the thought process or what he meant to say. It's hard to imagine that he really meant to say, "get us stuck in Iraq," given the context. He was speaking in Los Angeles about education, about students -- to college people, so I'm not entirely clear on what's happened.
He, we understand, is about to have a news conference and explain this, but it's going to be very tough. It's hard to believe that the Democrats could give away a national security advantage, hard-fought, this close to Election Day, but this is going to cause a ruckus. And as you've already seen, Tony Snow and others in the Republican camp are jumping on him, and it's understandable.
HOLT: And Andrea, these words, no matter what Democrat would utter them, would have been jumped upon, but coming from Senator John Kerry, is he still positioned somewhat as a liberal lightning rod in terms of the Republicans? And does that make this particularly difficult -- potentially difficult for Democrats that it came from him?