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Gore, Bradley Stage Final Debate Before Iowa Caucus

Aired January 17, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Al Gore versus Bill Bradley. With one week left before the Iowa caucuses, which Democrat goes into the home stretch looking like a winner?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, in Des Moines, Iowa, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, an Al Gore supporter, and in San Francisco, Congressman George Miller, a supporter of Bill Bradley.

PRESS: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Al Gore, Bill Bradley celebrated Martin Luther King's birthday the way candidates always do: more politicking. Gore spoke today at King's church in Atlanta, and later, laid a wreath at King's tomb. Bradley led a discussion on race relations at Drake University. And tonight, they met up in Des Moines, Iowa for a debate on black/brown issues in a state that is 97 percent white.

This last debate before next Monday's Iowa caucuses sparked lively exchanges, not just on race, but on healthcare, public schools, and even Atlanta Braves player John Rocker.

One of the evening's liveliest clashes was over presidential action to end racial profiling.


BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want you to walk down that hallway, walk into his office and say, "Sign this executive order today."

ALBERT A. GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think President Bill Clinton needs a lecture from Bill Bradley about how to stand up and fight for African-Americans and Latinos.


PRESS: That debate ended just just 30 minutes ago, and it continues now with surrogates for both men. In Des Moines, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson will be speaking for Vice President Gore, and in San Francisco, Congressman George Miller speaking for Senator Bradley.

Congressman Miller, let me start with you, and let's go right to the debate tonight, because one of the issues actually both candidates more or less agreed on was the question of Elian Gonzalez and what ought to happen to this little Cuban kid who's now down in Miami. Let me remind you and your audience, who may not have seen the debate, what Bill Bradley had to say about that tonight.


BRADLEY: As an American, I wanted Elian Gonzalez to be in the United States. I said that when he came. There's a court proceeding going on. That court proceeding ought to work.

As a father, I can understand why his father wants him in Cuba.


PRESS: Now, George, why is he waffling on this issue? You and I both know that kid belongs with his father. Why doesn't he just come out and say that?

REP. GEORGE MILLER, BRADLEY SUPPORTER: Well, I don't think he was waffling on the issue. I think he was clearly recognizing what many people in America, they admire people who are fleeing at some risk to their lives. In the case of this young boy's mother, she lost her life fleeing for freedom. But I think also recognizes that this child does belong with the father.

But we now have the situation become so political, we're going to have to go through the courts. I wish the father would come here and make his statement on behalf of reuniting himself with his child, but we recognize we would, in any -- The court law is very clear on this. We recognize that family unification is a very important element, especially for very young children. And in this case, it would be much better for this child to be reunited with his father than parading him around on a daily basis showering him with material goods and going to end up with a child that is later very confused about what his status is going to be, what his identity is going to be.

The fact of the matter is his father took very good care of his son, he took care of him most days of the week, and then now to find out that he can't get his son back because of internal politics within the state of Florida in the United States.

PRESS: So Congressman Miller, the INS has spoken, and Janet Reno has said that the INS clearly has authority when it comes to immigration matters. They've said that the kid ought to be reunited with his father; the father ought to have jurisdiction. And so, I mean, what's the issue other than to satisfy the Cuban-Americans in Miami?

MILLER: Well, as you know, I happen to agree with you, Bill. But as you know, people are going to challenge that decision by the INS as is their right in the court, and we're going to have to go through that process. I think that's going to delay the inevitable, which is that the child will be reunited.

I think the vast majority of people in this country recognize that that's where this child belongs with his father, and eventually, that will happen.

PRESS: Well, one more issue on Cuba, which is, obviously, related to the Elian Gonzalez matter, and maybe you and I agree on this one, too. It's a question of sanctions. Congressman, when I interviewed Senator Bradley just before Christmas, I asked him whether he would be in favor of lifting the sanctions now, and he said he would not. As a supporter of his, are you willing to go to him and say, "Look, we're doing business with North Vietnam, we're doing business with Communist China. The sanctions are 34 years old now. It's clear they're not working. You ought to change your position and let Americans go down to Cuba and start doing business there"?

MILLER: Absolutely. That would be my position. And when he's elected president of the United States, I would expect to go to him with exactly that statement, with the realistic recognition of what needs to be done to heal this relationship, to expand the opportunities in Cuba, to expand the freedoms in Cuba. And the best way we know, the most successful way we know that has been to expand the contact between this nation and any other nation that lives in less than full freedom. That's been the success of the American way.

And I would hope -- I don't agree with Bill Bradley on every issue. I'm supporting him because I admire his courage and his integrity. And I believe that integrity will allow us to get a fair hearing on these kinds of issues. And I think this is a very important one.

MARY MATALIN, CROSSFIRE, CO-HOST: OK, Mr. Secretary, let's talk about your candidate, Vice President Gore. You're there in Iowa. We saw you in the audience. And I must say, you're looking very slim and trim in the land of the best pork chops in America.

Let's -- There's only -- It'll be one week from tonight that the first real votes will be cast in campaign 2000. Can you hear us all right, Mr. Secretary? Apparently not.

BILL RICHARDSON, GORE SUPPORTER: Mary, I'm having difficulty hearing you. Do you might repeating that? I'm sorry.

MATALIN: We were saying that there's exactly one night -- one week from tonight that the first votes are going to be cast in this 2000 contest, so let's talk a little bit about the vice president's efforts toward that end. This is a -- And I hope you're able to hear this. If you're not, maybe you're familiar with the...

RICHARDSON: Yes, I can...

MATALIN: You now can hear us OK?

RICHARDSON: I could hear that. Yes, I can hear. My sense -- and I've been in Iowa several times, Mary -- is that things are looking very good here in Iowa. I think the vice president is moving up in New Hampshire, also, from the polling that I've seen.

I think across the country, you are seeing his campaign jelling. You are seeing him separate himself between being vice president as a candidate. I think some of the positions he has taken on some of these issues relating to Elian Gonzalez show that independence. And I think you are seeing the vice president tonight show his enormous qualifications for the presidency. He's got the experience.

MATALIN: OK, OK, Mister...

RICHARDSON: He's got the background.

MATALIN: Can you hear this, Mr. Secretary? I want to talk about how he is campaigning, not as wonderful and as eloquent as you are, your spin on how good he did in the debate. Here is an ad that he is running in Iowa.


ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Al Gore was the only Democratic candidate for president who helped make sure that Iowa got the help we desperately needed after those floods.


MATALIN: Did you hear that OK, Mr. Secretary?

RICHARDSON: Yes, yes, I hear that. I think he is dealing with the issues affecting Iowa, the farming issue...

MATALIN: But Mr. Secretary, please...

RICHARDSON: ... ethanol.

MATALIN: Can I ask you a question? There's two things about that statement just read. The first is that he is not the only Democratic candidate that supported that aid. Senator Bradley supported it as well.

The second is that Al Gore made sure they got that aid. Al Gore had nothing to do with the getting of that aid. In fact, his colleague, Senator Harkin, complained the day before the vote that the administration was doing nothing. This ad is totally false. Is that why the vice president's going ahead in the polls because of false ads and false statements about his opposition?

RICHARDSON: I think Senator Bradley, he reversed his position on ethanol, and he did cast that vote against disaster assistance. I mean, that's a record. And I think the vice president has had a consistent record over the years of supporting agriculture in Iowa. I think his grass roots efforts with farmers have been successful. I think you are seeing a very grass roots campaign.

And Mary, if I don't fully answer you, it's because I'm still having difficulty hearing you.

MATALIN: All right, let's try to fix that.

PRESS: We'll work on that while -- Let me go back to -- talk to Congressman George Miller. Congressman, there's a name that we suddenly hears in this campaign we hadn't heard in a long time in this country? The name is Willie Horton, raised, of course, by Bill Bradley accusing Al Gore of first raising the Willie Horton issue back in 1988 in the primary against Michael Dukakis. Don't you think that is an unfair attack on the vice president and kind of a desperation measure on the part of Bill Bradley?

MILLER: No, I think Senator Bradley was answering a question that was asked of him by the "Boston Globe" about whether or not this was raised in '88, initially the furlough question was raised initially by Vice President Gore when he was running back in '88. And the answer is, in fact, it was.

The vice president may want to erase that part of history, but that's the fact. It's well documented that that was the case. And that was an effort there to divide. Mary just talked about this ad on disaster aid in Iowa, and the fact is the "Des Moines Register" said that that ad doesn't tell the whole story, that it's misleading, because, in fact, Bill Bradley voted for disaster aid. What he didn't vote for was an amendment that was going to provide a lot of aid to people who didn't necessarily need it.

And so we see this constant attack, you saw it again tonight, on the healthcare issue where he tried to scare poor minority America into believing that Bill Bradley was going to deny them healthcare. In fact, what Bill Bradley's talking about is bringing them into the mainstream of healthcare and not having them continue to live in second-class healthcare system in this country.

And so, you know, Gore's very good at these attacks. That's what Gore does best. When he got desperate in '88, he made that attack. In Iowa, he sees Bill Bradley coming after him, so he makes this attack that tries to put Bill Bradley in a position that is not accurate and not truthful.

PRESS: But, Congressman, it's more than voting against that amendment on the farm aid. As it was reported today, Bill Bradley, back in 1993, not only voted against the amendment on flood relief -- although he did vote, you're right, for the final bill, -- but then he turned around, because he owns -- partly owns a farm in Missouri, he turned around and accepted federal subsidies for his farm from the program that he voted against in the Senate. So, I mean, isn't Bill Bradley the one who's trying to say one thing and then he does another?

MILLER: No, I don't think -- I don't think that's accurate at all. I think what he has said time and again with respect to the farm programs, with respect to disaster aid, that these programs, in fact, should be targeted. And many of us have voted against amendments to these programs. We voted on behalf of these programs. And as you just point out, he voted for that program. And that's far different than the attack that Vice President Gore is trying to use to scare the farmers the fact he's not for the family farmer. Well, the fact is we've had these policies for ten years under the Clinton/Gore administration, or eight years, and the family farmer is worse off today. People in Iowa are starting to realize that. To just be blindly for farm aid helps very good corporate farmers, very good for the big commodity people, but it doesn't do very much for the family farmers, and that's why we have a farm crises.

PRESS: You don't think it's inconsistent to vote against an amendment, vote against a program, and then turn around and take the money from the program? Don't you think that makes voters cynical?

MILLER: I don't know the details, but Bill, I believe there he gave that money to charity, I think, if that's the same article that I saw. I don't know if it is the same one that you're talking about.

MATALIN: Well, it is, Congressman. He did give the money to charity.

We'll be back. Well, let's tell the truth. This show is about truth telling. We'll tell more about the Democrats and truth if that's possible, after this quick break on CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.


MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. With only six days to go until the Iowa caucuses, the Democrats debated in Des Moines less than hour ago. Debating here, our Gore supporter, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson; on site in Iowa and Bradley advocate, California Congressman George Miller joining us from San Francisco.


PRESS: Mr. Secretary, glad we got your earpiece problem fixed there. And now it's my turn to come to you. Let me ask you, while you've been out on the trail today, maybe you didn't hear about this, but there has been an article that the director of the Gore campaign up in Massachusetts is running the campaign out of the office of a lobbying group, the Dewey Square Group (ph), it's called. Running a political campaign for the vice president out of a lobbyist office. Isn't that just dead wrong, Bill Richardson?

RICHARDSON: Well, if that is the case, that is dead wrong. I don't know anything about that. I just know that in this campaign here in Iowa, this organization is clicking. It's grass roots, it's broadly based. You've got a lot of African-American, Hispanic farmers. It's a very broad coalition here.

But, Billy, I don't know about that incident. Clearly, if it's running out of a lobbyist operation, that's not right, and I'm sure the campaign would deal with that.

PRESS: Well, I guess the question, though, becomes -- I mean, this is on top of Naomi Wolfe, which is on top of the Donna Brazile comments about Colin Powell and J.C. Watts last week. I mean, you get the impression, Bill Richardson, that Al Gore can't even control his own campaign. RICHARDSON: This campaign right now with Tony Coelho heading it with Brazile, it's very finely tuned. It is working. I think you are seeing polls show a dramatic increase in support and favorability for the vice president. I think you saw him today forceful, strong, emotional, independent. I think you are seeing right now the American people seeing Al Gore as he really is, not just experienced, not just committed, but as a good guy, somebody that they could very comfortably see as being their president.

PRESS: Mr. Secretary, there were questions tonight about the vice president's willingness to appoint minorities, particularly African-Americans and Latinos, to top positions in his administration, maybe to the Supreme Court, and maybe even as his running mate.

Mr. Secretary, your name is out there as a possible candidate for vice president. Have you discussed that with Vice President Al Gore, and is that why you're in Iowa tonight helping him?

RICHARDSON: No, I haven't discussed it with him, and I wouldn't dare discuss it with him. But listen, Al Gore has always promoted minorities, not just on his Senate staff, but as vice president, he pushed for a lot of minorities being named to the Clinton Cabinet.

I think you see in his campaign staff, his vice presidential staff, he's always been committed. And he also has the record. This was Black/Brown debate with universal education, comprehensive healthcare, Hispanic education to stop some of the dropout rates in Hispanic high school students.

The difference between Bradley and Gore, both are superb candidates on the issues of civil rights and affirmative action, but Gore has the record. He has the commitment. And I thought that Senator Bradley, who's a superb guy and a superb candidate, should not have taken a shot at President Clinton, especially on issues of civil rights, where he has a great record and has overwhelming support among minorities.

MATALIN: Congressman, speaking of the Black/Brown debate tonight, I found candidate Bradley -- this may be heresy to some of my friends -- quite eloquent on the issue of race and quite eloquent about some of the solutions, which would include changing our hearts. And he has made racial reconciliation the -- He has said it's the moral -- I don't necessarily agree with this -- but the moral issue of our time. Why then, with his emphasis on this and his eloquence on this, is -- are blacks still supporting the vice president two to -- three to -- whatever is, by overwhelming margins?

MILLER: Well, I think you saw tonight that the audience, I think, agrees with you. They -- He was very well received tonight in the debate audience. I think they respect that he has committed his entire adult life to the question of correcting many of the racial problems we have in this country. And he has a long history of involvement in the -- in this athletic life and his life in the Senate. He, you know, wrote and co-sponsored many, many parts of various civil rights acts for all of various minorities in this country to provide additional protection. There's a very understandable problem here, however. He's running against the vice president of the United States with the full support of the White House, and not a lot of people are going out, whether they're minorities or majorities in this country, going out to alienate that entrenched power. But he's made it very clear that this is a campaign against entrenched power, this is a campaign against people who believe that everything begins and ends in Washington, D.C.

And so it's not surprising. And Bill Clinton has a very good record on racial issues, as both of these -- as both of these individuals do. But I don't think anybody in the political world can't be surprised that the incumbent vice president after eight years with Bill Clinton's record is going to get strong support within the -- within the minority community.

MATALIN: Here's one of the things Senator Bradley had to say about what -- a person he perceives to be a leader in the civil rights community today. This is what he had to say on Al Sharpton.


BRADLEY: I don't agree with Al Sharpton on everything, but I think that he's got to be given respect, and people have to -- have to be allowed to grow.


MATALIN: OK, Congressman, what was striking about this is that it followed a question on John Roker.

MILLER: Rocker.

MATALIN: Rocker. Excuse me, I'm not into sports. All those ugly comments you know. But the answer to that from Bradley was dismissive. He blew them off. No hope for redemption. "I don't know him. I don't want to know him." Here's a guy who had, as far as we know, one incident of ugliness.

Al Sharpton has been an anti-Semite and a racist over a long time. What is Bradley's standard here?

MILLER: Well, in, first of all, the standard would be the suggestion was that somehow maybe politicians shouldn't meet with Al Sharpton or that this was going to damage you or not. And I think Bill Bradley made it very clear he was going to the community in Harlem to meet with the community, he wasn't going there to pick their leaders. And we all know in politics that from time to time, we have to meet with people who we don't fully agree, who we don't like some of the things they do or say or what have you, but we also recognize that in many instances, those people are respected for many of those reasons and maybe for other reasons within those communities. And I don't think it's up to politicians going into those communities to decide who the leaders are going to be or not going to be.

PRESS: Congressman, that's going to have to be the last word, because we've run the clock. Congressman George Miller out in San Francisco, thanks for being there.

MILLER: Thank you.

PRESS: Mr. Secretary, Bill Richardson, in Des Moines, thanks for joining us. We will see you next weekend in Iowa, and then we'll talk about, of course, both of you.

Mary Matalin and I will be right back with our little post debate debate. We call it closing comments.


MATALIN: I wish we'd had more time with Secretary Richardson, because your man, Gore -- This is a pander extraordinaire. He said our economic prosperity is because of diversity. I thought he was awful tonight. I thought Bradley was wonderful and included in his solution changing our hearts.

PRESS: My man is Al Gore or Bill Bradley. And what was exciting to me tonight was to see these two candidates and to contrast them with those six Republicans again that I saw on the stage last Saturday. Not one of those Republicans could hold a candle to Bill Bradley or Al Gore, Mary, and you know it.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: He's going to have to get used to it, because they'll be in the White House soon, one of them.

PRESS: Yes. Baloney.

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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