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Capital Gang

Vice President Al Gore Develops a Kindler, Gentler Tone; Bush Halts Imminent Execution of Convicted Killer and Rapist

Aired June 3, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Democratic Senator Charles Robb of Virginia, recently renominated, just today.

Great to have you back, Charlie.

SEN. CHARLES ROBB (D), VIRGINIA: Good to be back. Thank you, Mark.

SHIELDS: Good to have you here.

After weeks of pounding, George W. Bush, Vice President Al Gore's campaign has developed a kinder, gentler tone.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I am entrusted with the presidency, I will move this country toward the day when mental illness is treated just like any other illness by every health plan in the United States of America.

We can develop a new generation of cancer treatments that free families from the pain of surgery or chemotherapy.


SHIELDS: But Gore surrogates batter the Republican candidate, including questions about his National Guard service.


JESSE BROWN, FMR. SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: It's time that he set the record straight, let the people American people know if he was keeping his commitment during a time when over 58,000 people died in Vietnam.


SHIELDS: Pollster John Zogby shows a virtual dead heat, with Bush holding only the slightest of leads. Rasmussen Research tracking, however, has Bush ahead by 10 points. Bob Novak, is the new Gore proving to be a better presidential candidate?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I don't think he really is. You know, I don't think you're going to win this election talking about cancer research and mental health. Mental health, of all things, that was back in the '50s.

SHIELDS: You're again mental health, Bob.

NOVAK: But I really think they have a problem, and that is I have heard from every kind of person close to Gore that I've talked to, that they have to do wage issues, abortion, gun control, and show a fine line between them and Governor Bush, but when Vice President Gore says those things, it makes him unpopular. He looks negative. He looks combative. So they sent out these surrogates to come out and make these attacks. Nobody listens to them, except if they watch them on "CAPITAL GANG." So I think he has real a dilemma.

SHIELDS: I beg your -- Bob, don't sell the old hometown short -- Al Hunt.

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mark, look, this is basically a toss-up race, and the fundamentals, the economy and the experience tested, still favor Gore.

I care a lot about cancer research. This Gore proposal, he had actually talked about it first a year ago in Philadelphia. And I care about mental health, too, but Bob is right, these are not going to be deciding issues in the fall. I think that what this reflects is two Gore camps: one is the touchy-feely camp -- his daughter Karenna and a few others; and the other is some of the political advisers -- the machine gun attacks on George Bush. I think he's got to find a tactic that's somewhere different than both of those, as a matter of fact. He's got to, one, offer some vision, or at least a sense of how he's going to build on the remarkable Clinton economic success.

And secondly, I don't he has to focus, I don't think he should focus, rather, on wedge issues. He ought to focus -- and not in a mean-spirited way, and also selectively on three or four important issues -- Social Security, tax cuts, maybe health care and foreign policies, and delineate a difference with George Bush.

NOVAK: Kate O'Beirne.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I think this year, because there's no dominant issue, even though the candidates have staked out profoundly different approaches on issues, I think issues are playing as sort of proxies, to the extent they tell us something about the candidates. And I take Al's point about the economy, but Al Gore has fundamental weaknesses. He's stuck at sort of 41 percent in the polls, he has been for months. He hasn't hit 50 percent in a poll in a year and a half. The public doesn't much like him.

So even though at the moment, he's become Amiable Al, it's because for the next four month, he just couldn't stand the kind of criticisms he was getting for being so crude and repetitive as Attack Al. But I think come the fall, we're going to see Attack Al back again, because I think his only choice is to try to drag down Governor Bush, to try to create doubts about Governor Bush's readiness. The stature gap is something, because I don't think the issues, in the traditional sense, favor Al Gore, and as I said, the public has pretty much made up its mind about this guy.

SHIELDS: OK, Chuck Robb, you have a disadvantage, because you've run for office successfully every time...


SHIELDS: Tells us, is this...

O'BEIRNE: As opposed to we experts.


SHIELDS: That's right. Is this a touchy-feely campaign year, or is it, you know, attack and punch the other guy in the nose here?

ROBB: Mark, with all due apologies, I think this, to quote Shakespeare, is much ado about nothing. We have that period in between, when the party nominating contests have been completed, and it's along time until we get to the party convention, and I think both candidates are going to try to establish a roll out there, plan their vision for the future, and most of the rest of us around Washington are going to do everything we can to analyze and dissect it, but I the don't think we're seeing any major movement, and I don't -- I think we can predict what's going to happen between now and the convention, and that's we can write the stories ahead of time and go to the beach.

SHIELDS: Well, I just have to say one, of the good things I think -- encouraging things for the Gore people and the Democrats, has to be the John Zogby poll, John Zogby/Reuters poll, showed him for the first time tied with George Bush among the parents of children under the age of 17 living at home, which had been a big group of support that Gore had been -- with family voters, supposedly, trailing very badly, and other thing is, good news like the Zogby poll does reassure your own people. He's been getting a lot of sniping from Democrats, a lot of criticism, and he can at least say, hey, we are doing something right.

O'BEIRNE: That one good poll was welcome, but there have been 15 polls in May, and on average, Bush maintains a 5-6 percent lead, in part because, and this is consistent throughout the polls, Al Gore has about 75 percent of the Democrats. George Bush has 90 percent of Republicans. Bush has done a much better job of rallying his base to him, and Al Gore has not yet done that, and he has Ralph Nader sort of sitting out there from the left.

HUNT: Let me say this about the polls. If you look at those polls and you look at the undecideds, they are disproportionately Democrats, disproportionately women, disproportionately minorities. And I'm saying if they come home, that makes this -- let me just say one thing, Bob a I are talking slightly differently about Democrats, because I really don't tell get the stuff about wage issues. I'll tell you what I do here, Mark, and I think it's the candidate, not the staff, that's going to decide this election. And do you know what I do hear? A lot of people who say it's time for the Gore campaign chairman Tony Cohelo, who did an effective job in delivering labor in the primaries, he's outweighed his usefulness, and he ought to go.

NOVAK: Let me say something about the Zogby poll that you bought up. They were delighted to see it, but -- and I have a great deal of respect for John Zogby, but it is a little different than the other polls, but just taking the Zogby poll, he is stuck, as Kate said, at 41 percent. He's been 41 percent all year, except there was one blip up to 45 percent, when McCain was battering Bush in the Republican primary.

Secondly, among people in the Zogby poll who put morality first, it's 68-17. Guess for who? For Bush.

SHIELDS: For Bush.

And among people who played health care and education, it's a big lead for Gore. Same poll.

ROBB: Let me just suggest to you that Al Gore suffers from the same thing that every other vice president suffers from this time of the campaign, and particularly because he has been clearly the most effective, the most influential vice president in history, people are still seeing him in that role, notwithstanding the fact he's out on his own.


ROBB: Well, he gets out of it after the convention when people start focusing on the programs that he is articulating. But for right now, he's done such a good in helping to put the country where it is today, that he gets credit it and he gets blamed for it.

SHIELDS: Remember, the magic moment of New Orleans in 1988, when George Bush took over, the handing in the baton from The Gipper, and Bush became his own man, which he hadn't been up until that point. You remember that, Bob, you were there.

Chuck Robb and the GANG we will be back with the changing politics of capital punishment.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Texas Governor George W. Bush halted the imminent execution of a convicted killer and rapist.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have recommended and Senator Ellis has accepted my recommendation to grant a 30-day reprieve in the case of Ricky McGinn. Anytime DNA evidence can be used in its context and can be relevant as to the guilt or innocence of a person on death row, we need to use it.


SHIELDS: The reprieve follows a surprising anti-capital punishment stand taken by prominent Republicans.


GOV. GEORGE RYAN (R), ILLINOIS: We need answers before we put any innocent people to death.

PAT ROBERTSON, PRESIDENT, CHRISTIAN COALITION: What's happened is an inequal application of justice that weighs heavily on minorities, African Americans particularly.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, does the Bush reprieve reflect changing public opinion about the death penalty?

HUNT: Yes, there has been, Mark, and it always affects a new playing field with the ability to use DNA evidence. There are only two states, New York and Illinois, that give a convicted person an automatic right to use DNA. That really ought to be a minimum standard it seems to me, and there's a bill in congress, Congressman Delahunt, Congress LaHood, I think there's a counterpart in the Senate, and they are on opposite sides of the fence on capital punishment, but they say that every convicted person ought to have a right to DNA evidence, and if it's relevant, they ought to have good representation. I think that, as I said, is something everybody should be for.

Governor Bush -- first of all, I think it's good policy and politics what he did this week. I don't think his problem is his position on capital punishment, but sometimes he has appeared disinterested, even frivolous, about a very solemn issue. There was the interview with Tucker Carlson where he sort of sneeringly made fun of Carla Faye Tucker, who was about to be executed in Texas. And he asked on an interview show a couple of months ago about vetoing a bill that would have given better legal representation, and he said, "I don't even remember the bill." So I think that's his problem.

SHIELDS: Kate, is there a problem here? I mean, George Ryan, the Republican governor of Illinois, was the man who called the moratorium, Pat Robertson, you know, a pillar of the conservative movement.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, more inmates in Illinois have been exonerated off death row than executed off death row. I think there is slowly a subtle shift in public opinion on the death penalty. We're not completely seeing it yet in polls. Sixty-six percent of the public still supports the death penalty. But that is the lowest level in 19 years. As a result, I think of two different things. Crime rates are down. People don't feel quite as threatened as they did fairly recently, and secondly, the anti-death penalty crowd, instead of complaining and whining about poor, misunderstood mass murderer on death row, is now raising doubts about the process, whether or not it's such that it really does protect the innocent. Might the process contribute in some instances to seeing the innocent killed, and that really causes people, I think, to become very squeamish about capital punishment.

However, the Democrats, I don't believe, will be able to -- although they'll attempt it -- use it much against Governor Bush, because it's only recently that they've shown the image of being soft on crime. So I think they probably might be tempted to criticize Governor Bush, although in Texas, less than 3 percent of murder cases wind up in executions, but I don't think they dare, because of their own history of being viewed as soft.

SHIELDS: Chuck Robb, it just strikes me in watching George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, eighth years apart. Bill Clinton earned his bona fidees by flying back from New Hampshire to pull the switch on Ricky Ray Rector and light up old sparky and send him off to eternity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who was retarded.

SHIELDS: Who was retarded, severely retarded. And George W. Bush, who had been rather boastful about the fact that Texas led the nation in executions, now is showing a little bit of a sensitivity, and a little concern that he doesn't want anybody obviously executed, that this could come back, and that DNA evidence could overturn it and make him look bad.

ROBB: Well, I think there's no question that the public is concerned about the process. And if we have any evidence that is credible and relevant to the conviction in which capital punishment has been opposed, that it ought to be brought to the attention of those who can make a difference and make the change.

I will you as one who was governor of Virginia during the time that the capital punishment was reinstituted, it is a very sobering responsibility, and I think that anybody who understand the consequences of that responsibility is bound to be chastened by the experience and is going to do everything they can to make certain that they're not sending somebody who is not, in fact, guilt of the crime which they have committed to the death chamber.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak -- yes.

NOVAK: Let me just add a few things. Number one, there's no question that the people who want an end to all capital punishment, which you do don't; you support capital punishment, is that correct?

ROBB: I do. I do, but I do so reluctantly without the enthusiasm that some of my friends do, because I don't think there's an adequate alternative for some of the high crimes.

NOVAK: They're dead whether you're enthusiastic or not, Charles.

ROBB: I understand. I understand.

NOVAK: But the people who really hate capital punishment are using this DNA stuff to try to go against it. George Ryan has A political support of about 20 percent in Illinois right now. He's in a great deal of difficulty. Number three, a guy we haven't mentioned, Al Gore, is for capital punishment. He's not getting into this debate. And all this stuff about Bush. They're using that stale Tucker Carlson interview, which was a print interview. And as a matter of fact, in 1998, George Bush commuted the Henry Lee Lucas murderer, he commuted his sentence, saved him from death row, and the poor Democratic candidate running against Bush attacked him for it.

ROBB: Gary Morrow.

NOVAK: Gary Morrow. So this is all politics, and I don't take it very seriously.

SHIELDS: Well, Bob, you should take it a little bit more seriously -- this is the last word -- because a 68-vote swing in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has never been accused of being the birth of city council. Sixty-eight vote swing, 40 votes against in 1998, 28 votes passed a repeal of capital punishment. In New Hampshire, -- am I right, Al?


HUNT: You're on, Mark.

SHIELDS: Bob, go to your room.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Elian and presidential politics.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Welcome back. An appeals court supported the government ruling against granting political asylum to Elian Gonzalez, but his return to Cuba will probably be delayed by a court appeal.


GREGORY CRAIG, ATTY. FOR JUAN MIGUEL GONZALEZ: Right now, it's within the power of the Miami relatives to release them and to set them free to go their way, to allow this family to live in peace.

JOSE GARCIA-PEDROSA, ATTY. FOR MIAMI RELATIVES: It's sad and kind of strange to hear the attorney that represents the interests of the Cuban government talk about setting people free. I wish he would tell that to his other client, the dictator of communist Cuba.


SHIELDS: President Clinton hailed the verdict, but the presidential candidates did not follow Mr. Clinton's lead.


BUSH: I continue to believe that it's in the child's best interests for this -- for the decision to be made in a family Florida court.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I long have believe the best way to handle it would have been to put it in a family court.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, what is the political fallout of this case?

O'BEIRNE: Well, the court did us a big favor by explicitly reminding us that the decision of the INS, the Clinton administration, to reject the asylum application, was a matter dictated by the law. It was a matter of discretion by the Clinton administration, an the court's bound by the discretion of government agencies. So Clinton has not been upholding the law in this case. He's been capitulating to Castro.

The 35 percent of the public who always strenuously objected to seeing this child returned to Cuba are going to be more intent than eve to get rid of the Clinton crowd, and Al Gore has not helped himself with his position on there. And I think it will be the backdrop in this case to any discussion about easing sanctions. I don't think there can be another win for Castro, or it will be much more difficult now, or another setback for Cuban-Americans.

SHIELDS: Chuck Robb.

ROBB: I'm no fan of Castro, and I'm no fan of communist Cuba, but I think that the court did the right thing. I think that this young boy ought to be with his father, and if his father wants to go back to Cuba, so be it.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, what happened to the Republican call for hearings on this investigation? Trent Lott, and Tom DeLay and all these lions. What happened?

NOVAK: They read the polls, and people who read the polls should not be in public life, but most of them do read the polls. This is not going to be an issue. These people just -- this is not going to be an issue in the campaign.

But I'm not as sanguine as you are about the idea that they won't lift sanctions. I think in the last months, one of the things on President Clinton's agenda is to open up Cuba. I think that would be devastating for Al Gore, but I think there's a great temptation to use this, because I think Castro has gotten more popular because of this, to use this to open up this communist dictatorship.


HUNT: This has been like a goldies, oldies reunion for the political right. You know, a very wise man, as a matter of fact, it was you Mark Shields, said that the problem with the political right, they had to go to a theme park in Albania to find a communist. This has brought a commie back. They've got Castro. They feel good. The American public could care less about it however. They agree with Chuck Robb, that a father basically ought to make a decision for his 6-year-old. I hope he stays here. If he want to go back to Cuba, that's his business. And I would remind Governor Bush and Vice President Gore there was a Florida state judge who already has ruled on this case.

NOVAK: You know, the irony of the whole thing is that most of the world now, the Europeans, the Latin Americans, are pulling away from this brutal dictatorship. And the truth is, he has become more repressive on his people in recent months. He's not getting better. He's getting better. He's getting worse.


SHIELDS: Unlike China who of course...


NOVAK: They are getting better. They are getting better. They are indeed.

SHIELDS: Thanks a lot, Bob (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Bob Novak.

Chuck Robb, thank you for being with us.

The GANG will be back for the "Outrage of the Week."

Thanks, Chuck.

ANNOUNCER: Our "Viewer Outrage of the Week" is from Helen Filkins from Cape Canaveral, Florida. She writes: "I am outraged that no one challenges the NRA on its erroneous Second Amendment claims. Federal courts have ruled many times that the Second Amendment grants states the right to have well-regulated militias, not the individual. The U.S. Constitution grants the federal courts the right to make that interpretation, not the NRA."


SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

Bob Novak, you go first.

NOVAK: Former Pennsylvania governor Robert P. Casey died this week at age 68. The son of a coal miner, he won the governorship on his fourth try in 1986, as an old-fashioned liberal labor Democrat. Yet while serving his second term as governor, he was refused permission to address the 1992 Democratic National Convention, because he would have spoken against abortion. That was an outrage. And it is an outrage that the world's oldest political party imposes support for abortion as a litmus test.

SHIELDS: And what a record Governor Casey wrote -- medical coverage for every child in the state, increasing funding for public schools, worker rights, more women in his cabinet than any U.S. governor. So then why did the major press, including CNN, call Bob Casey, an FDR, JFK liberal, a conservative? Because the press predictably calls for Republican big tent to welcome pro-choices. But when pro-life Bob Casey was silenced by Democrats, the press lost its voice. You don't have to back economic and racial justice. The litmus test to be a liberal by contemporary press standards is simply to be an unqualified supporter of legal abortion.

Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Last evening, a local TV station in Nashville reported on yet another Al Gore -- Landlord Al. Tracy Mayberry (ph), who rents a house on the vice president's property in Carthage, Tennessee, claims Landlord Al refused to fix plumbing problems and threatened eviction when she complained. Thanks to the taxpayers, the plumbing works just fine at the vice president's house. But Mrs. Mayberry must be pleased that he, too, faces eviction next year.


HUNT: Sean Gonzalez (ph), a reporter for "The Cape Cod times," a newspaper for which I sit on the board, was conducting a roadside interview with a traveling evangelist when he was stopped and frisked by police. The police contend someone thought the reporters tape recorder was a gun. The real Reason? Sean Gonzalez is black. This is racial profiling, and it's a disgrace.

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on Dallas against New Jersey for the Stanley Cup.



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