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Capital Gang

Sen. Ron Wyden Discusses the Bush-McCain Rift, Congressional Investigations and Rudy Giuliani

Aired April 29, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET




I'm Mark Shields with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Thanks for coming in, Ron.

SEN, RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Thank you.

SHIELDS: Good to have you here.

Vice President Al Gore accelerated his campaign against Texas Governor George W. Bush.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Bush tax plan could shatter confidence in our economy, sending a message to the world that in a George W. Bush administration the era of fiscal responsibility would be over.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Clinton- Gore administration has been the most relentlessly partisan administration in our nation's history. I will restore civility and respect to our national politics.


SHIELDS: Governor Bush talked about discussing the vice presidency at his May 9th meeting with Senator John McCain.


BUSH: I'll give John McCain consideration. Until I talk him and find out how uninterested or interested he is.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We'd like to have an agenda and some substance that we can talk about. But if we're not going to be able to do that, then I'm not sure there's a lot of reason for us to meet.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is Senator McCain's public attitude spelling trouble for Mr. Bush?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I'm not sure it's trouble. He's a pain. He's a pain in the neck because he is the -- sorest loser I've ever seen in politics. He got beat badly for the nomination. He just -- he won't endorse, he keeps hanging around. You know, he get upset -- apparently somebody summarized a column I wrote that ran in the paper on Monday -- he was in Saigon -- said the meeting's off, which kind of indicates a little bit of a hair-trigger temper.

All the -- reading the column, you could tell the speculation about the vice presidency came from his people, not from Bush's people. All Bush wants to do -- I don't know if Bush really wants him on the ticket, but there are people in the House of Representatives who want him on the ticket, and they want him to get a chance to say no. I don't know what the fuss is about. There will be a meeting, though, I think.

NOVAK: Bad loser, bad -- bad loser, trigger temper, Bob? Let me just tell you one thing before you go any further, correct your misthinking, and that is the Republicans are of two minds right here. There are the Bush people who want John McCain to endorse and be quiet, and there's Tom Davis and every Republican who wants -- the whole House wants John McCain in their district campaigning for them -- Margaret.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: And John McCain is not a sore loser, Bush was a sore winner. And he did nothing those first couple of weeks to pull McCain to him.

But, you know, McCain doesn't know exactly how he wants to play this. And temperamentally, it may be easier for him to reconcile with the Vietnamese than with George Bush at the moment. And he likes the limelight, obviously. He enjoyed this last week in Vietnam. He has to come back, he has to face Bush. And he doesn't know whether he wants to stick his thumb in his eye and drive that Straight Talk Express right into the middle of Philadelphia or whether he wants to, you know, reconcile and, you know, be a good guy. But he doesn't want to be vice president, and doesn't want to give Bush this great opportunity to be seen as, you know, and wanting all of this.

NOVAK: Why not? Why doesn't he want to help him?

CARLSON: Because it's -- well, he may want to help him eventually, but why does he want to let him to use the vice presidency for something that he has no intentions of doing?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Ironically, the lead-up to this meeting is taking on the flavor of the Paris peace talks, like, have we decided what shape the table ought to be? And the media delights in this. They want to postpone as long as possible the day when John McCain endorses George Bush, which will happen. But they just can't let go of this McCain thing, so they want it to be far in future as possible. So they feed a lot of this, too, I think, to create problems between the two camps.

A lot of rank-and-file Republicans, I think, do see John McCain as a real plus on the ticket, but they're beginning -- they could be forgiven for beginning to wondering, what would that White House look like? Would the staff have to get together to figure out the agenda for a weekly lunch, you know, that John McCain would be having with President Bush?

It depends, Margaret, on whether -- what does he think his future is in the Republican Party, because that's who's watching his behavior now and that's what the suspicions are about John McCain. Is he going to be a good soldier, yet again, by supporting this ticket?

SHIELDS: Ron Wyden, it seems that John McCain and George W. Bush are not nearly as close, for example, as Bob Dole and Jack Kemp or George Bush and Ronald Reagan. Tell us your take on this, from the perspective of a Democratic leader.

WYDEN: My sense is we have this kabuki dance for a few more days when we talk about meetings to have a meeting. But ultimately, John McCain is a very talented guy, he's outspoken, and he casts a long shadow. My guess is it may be too long a shadow for the nominee.

NOVAK: I don't...

SHIELDS: In other words, to be on the ticket with him.

WYDEN: He's very able. I mean, when you have a fellow who's a populist, who's independent -- you know, I couldn't have gotten in Internet fax freedom bill through the Senate without John.

SHIELDS: Really?

NOVAK: See what...

WYDEN: But I think he does -- he does, to some extent, have more appeal than George.

NOVAK: See, that's -- the thing that bothers me is he got his brains beaten out by the Republicans in these primaries. And that's just -- he is a Republican...

O'BEIRNE: He wound up not having more appeal than George Bush.

NOVAK: Yes. And, you know, I hear all these Democrats saying how strong he would be on the ticket and how much they like him. I'm a little suspicious. What I would say, Rick, without McCain, I think Bush, whether he completed a sentence or not, is doing very well. And Gore is not doing very well. This business of just pounding and pounding and pounding on Bush, I don't think it's attractive. I think that's the reason why the latest Gallup poll for CNN shows, among white men, a 26-point gap. Nobody, not even a Democrat, can get elected president of the United States if they are losing the white men's vote by 26 points.

WYDEN: Bob, the point is the fight hasn't even started. And Al Gore has a record of answering that bell. Just look at what he did to Ross Perot, look at what he did to Jack Kemp. And, by the way, he did it again to Bill Bradley. He's got a great message. What he's going to do is go to the American people and say, folks, if you're tired of all this prosperity, if you're tired of this record-setting economy, if you're tired of all those good economic developments, vote for Bush. And we don't have a war, we've got strong economy. You know history, and that's why Gore is going to win.

SHIELDS: Bob, you cited polls, and I'll cite one right back at you. CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, "New York Times," CBS poll, "Washington Post," ABC poll, most popular figure in the country: John McCain in February/March of the year 2000, as he's not winning the Republican nomination -- not with Republicans, with everybody, beating Al Gore by 25 points in a matchup.

O'BEIRNE: He's a very attractive personality and he's liked, so all I can think is I guess he might really mean it when he says he doesn't want to be on this ticket because he certainly is not going the least distance to help make that happen.

SHIELDS: No, I agree. I think Kate makes a good point that he does not communicate that he's at all interested.

NOVAK: But there are people who support him in Congress, who want him to make a deal. They want him to go -- and the thing one thing they want him to do and they hope he'll do is make a compromise deal on campaign finance reform, not a Democratic bill, not a Feingold bill, but a Bush-McCain bill.

SHIELDS: Margaret.

CARLSON: McCain would be great for Republicans, but day-by-day terrible for Bush and McCain themselves. But that's how Bush wins, if he puts McCain on the ticket.

SHIELDS: What about Ron Wyden's point about the stature gap? Is there a perceived stature gap between the two? I mean, would that make Bush at all uncomfortable?

CARLSON: Well, that's a problem for Bush. You know, he needs somebody, if you're going to do that, he needs somebody younger, less experienced, shorter and all of that. But...

O'BEIRNE: No, look at -- I reject it entirely, even though that's what Bill Clinton did when he picked Al Gore to make sure he didn't have any gap.

CARLSON: Taller.

SHIELDS: As opposed to Dan Quayle.

O'BEIRNE: I totally agree. I think that what John McCain helped George Bush do was come up with a more winning message, the reformer kind of thing. I think the maverick thing would sort of help. He's an outsider outside Washington. I think they'd be all right.

SHIELDS: Pretty good money on that speech, Kate.

Kate gets the last word.

WYDEN: At the end of the day, Mark, they can't agree on campaign finance. We've got to stop this soft money.

O'BEIRNE: Well they agree on every other issue.

SHIELDS: All right, last word Ron Wyden. I was wrong.

Ron Wyden and THE GANG will be back with Congress investigating Elian.

And later, a startling political development in New York City.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll showed 60 percent-plus approval of the federal raid that seized Elian Gonzalez.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: In a law enforcement situation like that, it may not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it is effective, and it proves to be effective here.


SHIELDS: During a two-hour briefing on Capitol Hill, the attorney general did not convince Republican senators, who called for an investigation.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Maybe, you know, under oath and in an official proceeding we can get better information, because it was not clear to me. I didn't get an answer.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: The same group that brought us impeachment is now going to bring us Elian hearings. The American people are tired of this. They want us to be doing things like prescription drugs.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The less we all say about it and the more time he has to breathe the air of a normal life, the better.


SHIELDS: Senate hearings were indefinitely postponed after Senate Republicans said that the Justice Department was unable to supply the requested records. Margaret Carlson, did Democrats want to change the subject?

CARLSON: No. And they so convinced Republicans this week that they were happy to have these hearings that Republicans may never have these hearings. And the Justice Department papers are just a graceful way of backing out of it for a while.

Public opinion is just hardening on the fact that this was finally ended in the best way for Elian. And there's almost no dispute now. There was a warrant. Maybe there was too much force used, but there was information that Alpha 66 and anti-Castro militants were ready to not just form a human chain but be violent. Violence was threatened. And people thought those negotiations had gone on way too long, in fact, Attorney General Janet Reno had been too easy on the relatives.

WYDEN: Mark, the reality is this began around Thanksgiving, and we're headed now for Memorial Day. And what I heard in Oregon during town meetings is at a time when senior citizens are being put into hospitals because they can't afford to get their prescription drugs on an outpatient basis, we ought to knock off these hearings and deal with a patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs, public education so it's more accountable and better funded. And that's what's going on.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, "The New York Daily News"' Tom DeFrank reported on Saturday that George Bush had actually ordered these hearings scheduled by the Republican Senate off. He doesn't want them because it's a political loser for the Republicans.

NOVAK: Well, if that's true -- I don't know if that's true or not. Tom's a very good reporter.

SHIELDS: Very good reporter.

NOVAK: If that's the truth, it's a shame on George W. Bush. These hearings should be held. And if the Republicans are so chicken hearted that they can't stand being on the wrong side of an issue, that's what political leadership is and political courage is.

Now I have never been quite as depressed, I don't think, in my life about anything as the American people saying it's OK if you smash in a door without a proper justification, you trash the place, you use police-state tactics and jack-booted storm troopers, and you get 60 percent, 70 percent approval. Now what the hearings should do is a lot of things to find out about the hearing: why they felt they had to do that, why in the warrant they didn't put in all this phony intelligence information about all the stuff they put out after the fact, why our colleagues -- why aren't the journalists antagonized that they walked up the NBC cameraman, that they pulled the plug out of his camera? Why aren't the freedom of information people crazy on that? I think it's a sickening performance by the politicians, the American people and the Fourth Estate.

WYDEN: Bob, I guess the bottom line is nobody was hurt, the child's back with his dad, and the fact is if -- the partisans probably would be asking for hearings if an INS person had gotten hurt.

NOVAK: I'll tell you something right now. That's the way it started in Nazi Germany, where nobody got hurt. They just knocked down the door and rushed into a private home.

SHIELDS: Nazi Germany -- Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: I share Bob's disgust, but I disagree about whether or not any of those questions would answered through hearings. It seems to me the past years have told us that the administration is just far better at this. They leak out other material, contradictory later, they're much better at the propaganda game, they have friends in the media. There are plenty of questions to answer, though, but they don't have to have hearings, it seems to me. The committees can request these documents.

NOVAK: Do you think those questions will be asked and answered?

O'BEIRNE: Why -- well, first of all, why did the INS change its position? They first said on December 1st a family court will determine this. The 11th Circuit refused to give an order to go seize that child. They went to a magistrate instead. You typically don't get a search warrant to grab somebody whose location you're aware of. And it looks as though, based on Janet Reno's friends who were negotiating, the family had even conceded the custody issue. I question, what kind of a loving father freely says risk gunfire to get my son back rather than let me be reunited with him peacefully, which was always an option for this father.

NOVAK: Because they waned to get him...

SHIELDS: All right, that's enough from you. I'll tell you what kind of father does, the father that knows and is told that there are guns there and they're...

NOVAK: Where was (OFF-MIKE)

SHIELDS: In and out of the house. Guns were in and out of the house.

O'BEIRNE: Mark...

NOVAK: There's no proof of that.

SHIELDS: I believe -- I believe...

NOVAK: The INS says there's no proof of it.

SHIELDS: I beg your pardon, Bob, they were relying upon the testimony and the firsthand evidence of guns being there.

NOVAK: There's no such evidence.

SHIELDS: I'll be happy to show it to you.

NOVAK: You can't, because it doesn't exist. CARLSON: Mark, they had threatened violence numerous times, and they had found that the way that this -- the perimeter of this area was patrolled, it was patrolled by paramilitary guys.

NOVAK: Oh, that's -- why wasn't that in...

CARSLON: No, and by the way...

NOVAK: Why wasn't that in the request for the warrant then?

CARLSON: And by the way, everyone but Janet Reno knew those negotiations were never going to produce this child. The circus would have ended...

O'BEIRNE: That's not...

NOVAK: That's not true.

CARLSON: The circus would have ended for the Miami relatives. They weren't giving up...

NOVAK: Why wasn't that...

CARLSON: ... the hostage.


NOVAK: Why wasn't that information the search warrant then?

CARLSON: There was enough information in that warrant...

SHIELDS: Bob, that is the last word...

CARLSON: ... to go in.

SHIELDS: ... Margaret.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Rudy Giuliani's revelation.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stunned the political world.


MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK CITY: I was diagnosed yesterday, with a -- with prostate cancer.


SHIELDS: What does that mean for his prospective Senate candidacy?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GIULIANI: I hope that I'd be able to run, but I -- the choice that I'm going to make about treatment is going to be contingent upon the treatment that gives me the best opportunity to have a full and complete cure. And then after I determine that, then I will figure out, does it make sense to run this year or doesn't it.


SHIELDS: Meanwhile, Democratic Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton was asked if she might run for president in 2004.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: I am going to serve my six-year term as senator. I owe it to the people of New York.


SHIELDS: Kate, does this development mean a sure Senate seat for the first lady?

O'BEIRNE: No. Mark, chances are Hillary Clinton will be running against Mayor Giuliani in November, and in that race I think she has to be favored. Everybody I spoke to in New York this week says that they expect Giuliani to be the candidate in November, but everyone added they wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't. They have been questioning whether or not his heart's really been in this race and wonder whether or not this might be an opportunity, his announcement, which he did with enormous grace this week, to sort of re-evaluate what he actually wants to do.

If he would leave the race, that would be really bad news for Hillary Clinton. The two of them need each other in this race. Any other Republican -- George Pataki or Peter King or Rick Lazio, congressman -- would be, I think, more competitive in that race than Rudy Giuliani.

SHIELDS: Let me echo what Kate said. I thought the mayor was incredibly gracious and graceful in his statement.

Ron Wyden, what -- how is this...

WYDEN: Well, your heart goes out to anybody with this kind of health problem, but I think Hillary wins for just one reason, and that is she's got the issues. The question of health care, education, closing the gun show loopholes, she's going to win for the same reasons that Chuck Schumer beat Al D'Amato. The most interesting thing about the last 24 hours is the fact that John McCain is going to be subbing for Rudy Giuliani. I mean, John is talented, he's ubiquitous. He's in South Carolina one day, he's in Vietnam the next. But he isn't going to be the Republican nominee for the Senate in New York, and Hillary's going to win.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak. NOVAK: I think the mayor is in very good shape on this. I am a prostate cancer survivor, and there's no reason if they catch it early, which apparently they did -- the further diagnoses on Saturday indicated that -- that there's no reason why something diagnosed in April he can't run a very good campaign this fall. It probably helps -- excuse me -- helps him as a candidate. But one thing I've got to say...

SHIELDS: Helps with what? By humanizing him?

NOVAK: I think it tends to humanize him. And I think, didn't Bill Clinton promise he would serve out his last term as governor...

O'BEIRNE: He did.

NOVAK: ... and not run for president?

O'BEIRNE: He did.

NOVAK: I think he did.

CARLSON: You know, it may not just humanize him for us -- and that was an astonishingly good press conference -- but it may give him some human thoughts, which is, is my heart in this? And do I do I want to face the grim reaper and then spend every day beating my brains out running for a Senate seat that I may not be happy there? I mean, being mayor and being senator are so different. And if you're -- if you have this moment of mortality, you say to yourself, do I want to spend the last years of my life -- no offense -- in United States Senate, dealing with people like Ron Wyden?

SHIELDS: Ron Wyden's fine.

CARLSON: No, no, no, the Democratic part of it.

SHIELDS: Every governor who is senator -- executive, mayor -- I know who served in the Senate -- except Dale Bumpers -- said he preferred being governor or mayor. And I think Rudy has an executive personality.

I would say this, though. If for any reason he can't run or doesn't run or decides not to run, then I think Mrs. Clinton is in trouble running against Jack Quinn of Buffalo, Rick Lazio from Long Island or Peter King from Queens by way of Long Island. OK, that's my assessment, three congressman who would be tougher to beat.

Ron Wyden, thanks for being with us.

WYDEN: Thank you.

SHIELDS: THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: And now, the "Outrage of the Week." If you too are outraged by the epidemic of blame-shifting and finger-pointing that infects our national life, it's never anybody's fault, the no-fault approach, then meet billionaire investor Warren Buffett of Omaha, who's sure business made him and a lot of others very wealthy indeed. When Buffett's company's earnings fell some 42 percent to $1.6 billion last year, Buffett said 1999 was his company's worst year ever. And what or whom did he blame? He took full responsibility and blamed himself. That's refreshing.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Makeshift boats are carrying hundreds of people out of Haiti with 18 just drowned in a shipwreck. They are fleeing government-condoned chaos leading up to national elections. Opposition political party members are hacked to death with machetes, and a popular radio commentator critical of the government was murdered. But wait. Didn't the U.S. military invade Haiti to bring democracy? Isn't this a Clinton foreign policy triumph? Actually, it's an outrage. And the Congressional Black Caucus, which called for military intervention, now is deadly silent.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.


Moving is expensive and hellish unless you are an official of the U.S. Postal Service. Chief Financial Officer Richard Porras got $140,000 to make sure he didn't have to lift a finger, including $25,000 for new rugs and plumbing fixtures. Not only were the payments extravagant, even by private industry standards, they weren't justified at all. Porras changed neighborhoods, not job locations. Since the inspector general said the payments look like a way to get around statutory salary limitations, Porous resigned -- but he got to keep the money and the plumbing fixtures.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: While delivering his recent lectures to us about respecting the rule of law, President Clinton filed his response in the disbarment case in Arkansas. The White House won't release the 85-page filing, but it seems that attorney Clinton doesn't think he should be disbarred because he's president and hasn't done much wrong. What about the $90,000 fine the president was ordered to pay for obstructing the judicial process, for finding that he gave sworn false answers? What about rule of law?

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for "THE CAPITAL GANG."

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" covers the NBA playoffs.



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