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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

Rep. Rick Lazio Discusses His U.S. Senate Campaign

Aired June 4, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak. Al Hunt and I will question the Republican conservative nominee for the U.S. Senate from New York opposing Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.

AL HUNT, CO-HOST: He is Congressman Rick Lazio of Brightwaters, New York.


HUNT (voice over): Hurried into the Senate race two weeks ago after New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani dropped out, Congressman Rick Lazio was nominated by the state Republican convention in Buffalo on Tuesday and by the state conservative convention in Albany Saturday.

Mrs. Clinton, addressing a Manhattan labor rally, responded to his taunts that she is not a real New Yorker.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: You know while my opponent tells you where he's from, I'm going to tell you what I'm for. This is not about who's from New York. This is about who will fight the right fight for all New York families.

HUNT: Democrats also are trying to indict Lazio as a signer of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: I think it will be very, very difficult for Hillary Clinton to paint Rick Lazio as some kind of, you know, conservative, really by my standards, not a very conservative Republican. Really fits the mainstream mold of Northeastern Republicans who have been successful.

HUNT: Rick Lazio became an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County on Long Island in 1983 at age 25. Six years later he gained his first elective office as a county legislator. In 1992, he was elected to Congress, defeating Democrat Tom Downey, now a key adviser to Al Gore.

At age 42 he is serving his fourth term in Congress.


HUNT: Congressman, thank you for being with us today.


HUNT: You have complained that Hillary Clinton is not a native New Yorker. She's complained that you are a Gingrich acolyte. Let's ignore those for a moment and turn to matters of substance.

LAZIO: Right.

HUNT: Let me just ask you, what is the biggest difference on a specific issue between you and Mrs. Clinton?

LAZIO: Well, I think there's a lot of differences. I would say if you want to talk about health care for example, I've been working hard to make sure that we extend coverage for people who are self- employed by giving them a tax credit so they can afford to purchase insurance.

We want to do things in a private-public partnership. Right now we're working on a Medicare prescription benefit, but by doing it without having the government takeover of one-seventh of our economy.

And of course if you remember when Mrs. Clinton has responsibility for forming policy for the administration, they did that in a secretive way. It led to a fine. It was illegal -- declared illegal. So, they pushed people out that they felt had different views than what they shared. And they ended up with a disastrous policy, that in part led to the defeat of her party in the House of Representatives.

HUNT: OK, let's stay on that issue because it's very hot right now. There was a vote in Congress this past session on the question of a patients' bill of rights.

HUNT: You voted on the same side as the insurance companies and business groups that said the Democratic plan went too far. Mrs. Clinton favors that. That plan is supported by patients' groups and by almost every medical group because it gives doctors and patients more rights, and holds insurance companies more accountable.

As a Senator, would you continue to vote the way you've voted in the House? Or, are you beginning to change on that, that issue?

LAZIO: No. No, not at all. You know I went up to a symposium -- it was very interesting -- sponsored by the Kennedy School of Government, and that's not exactly a right-wing group. And I think every professional speaker, everybody who spoke and presented at that group, spoke out against the bill that Mrs. Clinton supports because it creates liability for businesses.

No business is going to extend health care coverage to its employees if all of a sudden it can be sued simply because it has opened up this as an option. And I've supported the very same patients' rights that others clamor for. I absolutely support access for women to an OBGYN. Absolutely support access to specialty centers. Absolutely embrace the idea of ensuring that there is a quick turn around with HMOs. No HMO should deny coverage and we should have a sense of punishing them so that they have the incentive to extend the right degree of coverage.

HUNT: Congressman, let's try...

LAZIO: That doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to extend that liability to businesses that will lead to fewer people being covered.

HUNT: Let's try one more issue. New Yorkers like people who stand up and are counted. Mrs. Clinton, whether you agree or disagree with her, has said that she favors only a smaller targeted tax cut and that the Bush tax cut plan of $1.7 trillion over 10 years would be dangerous for the economy.

I'd like to ask you, as a member of the United States Senate, would you vote for the Bush tax cut plan as proposed or would you favor a smaller tax cut?

LAZIO: You know, I already have a record on taxes and the record is that I have supported significant tax relief. I believe in it. I believe in it for working families to help them send their children to school. I believe it for retirees. I voted against the Clinton proposal that increased taxes on Americans who are receiving Social Security. I thought that was wrong. I think that inhibits economic security for people in their retiree years. And my votes would continue to reflect that.

I'm not going to say exactly right now what I will do on taxes or whether I'm going to support Governor Bush's proposal on taxes until I see what the revenues look like. I want to take a responsible position.

LAZIO: But you can be assured that I will support significant tax relief. I believe in it. I think it incentivizes work. I think it incentivizes risk-taking and job creation in the business climate that we have now. It certainly didn't exist in New York 10 years ago.

NOVAK: Congressman Lazio, Mrs. Clinton, in trying to draw a difference between you and her, at the union rally on Wednesday, had this to say. Let's listen to it.


CLINTON: While my opponent calls himself pro-choice, he would cut off funds for poor women even in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother and he would deny choice for women serving in the military.

You know my friends, that is just the wrong choice for New Yorkers.

So, as you can see, there are clear differences between us.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOVAK: What do you say to that charge, that you're for abortion rights for rich people, but not for poor people?

LAZIO: It's nonsense. You know, this is an example of somebody who wants to push an issue to the extreme. And that's where Hillary Clinton lives -- in the extreme.

You know, she will define me as not being pro-choice because I believe in the ban on partial birth abortions. But you know what, so does Ed Koch. So does Daniel Patrick Moynihan. So does the vast majority of New Yorkers and Americans -- they believe in that.

But Hillary Clinton thinks that we should have abortion on demand. I don't believe in that.

I believe we can have a right without subsidizing the right. And I also believe that we should try and make -- although I believe in a woman's right to chose -- I believe that we should try and make abortions rarer.

I think this is where her rhetoric and their actions do not jive.

NOVAK: Mr. Lazio...

LAZIO: ... and, and on the hospital situation, if I just could on that, you know there is nothing that inhibits somebody from leaving the base and going to -- which they're absolutely entitled to -- to have an abortion in a private hospital. The question is do we have to -- do the taxpayers have to hire special doctors to be there to ensure that we can do abortions in military hospitals?

NOVAK: Congressman...

LAZIO: I would say give people the leave to go back into the hospitals that they can get that procedure done if they want that.

NOVAK: On the question of partial birth abortion, some of the more moderate opponents of it say that if you only will put in a proviso to protect the health of the mother, they would vote for the ban on that procedure. Will you go in the Senate -- would you consider that change?

LAZIO: I mean, if -- you have to define what the health means. Does that mean mental health? Does that mean physical health?

I think that the ban that was passed is an appropriate ban; unfortunately the president vetoed. I think the idea of this procedure, you know, in the last few days of the ninth month, which is a gruesome procedure, also according to all the experts, there is an absolute alternative to it.

You don't have to go down that road. I think what we have done is absolutely appropriate and I would continue to vote that way.

HUNT: Congressman Lazio, let's stay on issues for a moment. Mrs. Clinton says that she opposes the George Bush plan to partially privatize Social Security by investing some of it in inequities. She says it would be too risky.

You were on "Meet The Press" a couple of weeks ago right after you announced. You ducked the question when they asked you. You hadn't had time to study it. But you now have had time. You've been in Congress for eight years. Do you specifically favor the Bush plan on Social Security?

LAZIO: You know, I don't know that Governor Bush actually has legal language. I think he's talking about making sure that Americans have some ability to control some of their Social Security retirement dollars.

I think that's perfectly fine. I think Americans should have an option. I think the government-knows-best-model, where Washington determine every dollar and every move that you can make, is wrong. I think most Americans reject that.

I do believe though that Americans ought to have an option, and if they want to keep traditional Social Security, they should have the right to maintain Social -- or traditional Social Security.

If they would like to take part of that money and invest it and get a higher yield -- I mean, our young people now Al, are only going to receive a 1 or 2 percent return on their investment. What would you do to your broker if they told you for the next 20 years you can expect a 1 or 2 return, a 1 or 2 percent return on your investment? You'd fire them.

So, you know, there's no reason why we should have low expectations for our retirement years. People want to have that sense of peace of mind, and security, and I want to make sure they get that.

NOVAK: Congressman, one question before we take a break. The national -- you have a record of voting for many gun control measures, including the Brady bill -- but the National Rifle Association, is so opposed to Mrs. Clinton getting elected, would you accept money from the National Rifle Association in this campaign?

LAZIO: No, I will not. I have not in the past and I will not in the future. I -- listen, I'm not opposed to the legitimate rights of sportsmen. I mean, I grew up in an environment where dad and I shot trap (ph) and things like that. There's nothing wrong with that.

I do believe it's a constitutional right to be able to bear arms. But I also believe as a former prosecutor, as somebody who believes in law enforcement, that we can do rational things to ensure that people who don't have criminal records or don't have problems of mental balance, they should not be owning guns.

And I think that most Americans believe that. I think most New Yorkers believe that. And I think frankly in Washington, people think gee, how can you be for lower taxes and a balanced budget and for an assault weapons ban or for the Brady bill. But in New York, I don't think they think that's an anomaly at all. I think they think that's mainstream. NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take a break. And that last answer by Mr. Lazio leads into what we're going to talk about after the break -- is Rick Lazio a conservative?


HUNT: Congressman Lazio, you were endorsed this weekend by the Conservative Party of New York. I looked up the Conservative Party's Web site the other day and they're top four issues were to: abolish the Department of Education number one, end gun control, make abortion illegal, and a 12-year term limit for United States senators.

Do you agree with any of those?

LAZIO: I believe in the term limits. Again, I believe in respecting legitimate rights of sportsmen.

HUNT: You do agree with 12-year term limits for senators?

LAZIO: Yes, I think that's -- I believe in term limits. I believe it's absolutely fine for somebody to come in and serve for a significant period of time, and for there to be turnover so that you have other citizens come in and serve.

I don't think we ought to have a sort of professional group of legislators that are there -- elected there for life.

HUNT: OK, there are number of New York analysts who say that the Clinton campaign is just dead wrong in trying to paint you as a right- wing Ginrichite. But they say instead -- and this is some critics -- is that there is more of a side of political chameleon. When Gingrich was riding high you were, you were with Newt. Now it's Newt who?

When you announced for the Senate, there's been a mad dash to the center, that you put your political finger to the wind. And as Timothy Berger (ph) in "The New York Daily News" wrote a week or so ago, quote, "You make yourself oddly unavailable during politically sensitive periods," end quote. How do you respond to that?

LAZIO: Well, first of all I think it's complete nonsense. I mean I would like to see my opponent do what I have done. In the first day after we got elected, I was on six different national television shows. She's been campaigning for a year and hasn't appeared on one to answer hard questions.

Everywhere I've gone -- I did 20 different locations in the first 72 hours of the campaign. After everyone of them, we made -- we had press availability. And it wasn't scripted. We didn't ask for questions beforehand. We took whatever questions were asked and I answered them.

And that's the way this campaign is going to be run. It's going to be run as an open campaign, available to both the media and to the public, to answer their questions.

And -- I'm trying to think what your other question was on this having to deal with...

NOVAK: That you're not available when things get hot.

LAZIO: Oh, mainstream, sort of mainstream issues. Listen, I mean I am a fiscal conservative, but I'm not a conservative on every issue, nor am I to the left on a lot of issues. I am right in the center where New York is.

I believe in a balanced budget. I helped write the first one on the Budget Committee. I believe in lower taxes and have always supported lower taxes, especially for working families. I do a lot of work on housing, on affordable housing. I believe in home ownership. I also believe in responsibility. So, I don't believe in people getting something for nothing.

I believed in welfare reform. I believe in job creation. I'm a strong environmentalist and I have a record to prove it. The League of Conservation Voters gave me their highest rating last year. I wrote the bill and was the prime sponsor of the bill to extend health care coverage to the disabled so they could go back to work without losing their health care coverage.

So, I think that's a centrist approach. I think that's what reflects New York. I'm proud of it.

NOVAK: Congressman, you have said that you would serve -- you would take the nomination of the Independence Party even if Pat Buchanan were its presidential nominee. We all know of course that you're strongly supporting George W. Bush for president, but what is your opinion of Pat Buchanan?

LAZIO: I think Pat Buchanan has strayed and he's become more of a divisive figure than I would like, to tell you the truth. I'm a strong supporter of Governor Bush. I'm a Bush delegate. I will be at the convention pledging my support for Governor Bush. I will be campaigning for him. I think he will make a very, very fine president. I'm looking forward to that presidency. And I'm looking forward to working with him.

I think the people of New York need to have a Senator in the majority. They don't need two Senators in the minority on the left who won't have the ability to get the job done. They need a Senator who is in the majority party, who is a centrist, who can get the job done for New York, who can worry about the roads, and the bridges, and the schools, and at the same time the national issues like the environment, lower taxes, a balanced budget, job creation, making sure our schools hit levels of excellence.

HUNT: Congressman Lazio, you will also have to deal with foreign policy of you're in the Senate. Many, many international experts think the most dangerous place on the globe is the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is increasingly -- it's politically isolated, economically distressed. That could be the dangerous place.

Access the Clinton administration's handling of Korea. What you like to see done differently? LAZIO: Well, a lot of starts and stops. I think what's been symptomatic of this Clinton policy, foreign policy, has been its episodic nature. There is no cohesive policy and so neither our allies nor our adversaries really understand nor can they predict exactly where we're going to be.

Obviously the Korean Peninsula is an area of American strategic interest for a lot of different reasons -- it's proximity to Japan, and to China frankly, and even to the former Soviet Republic, and to Russia.

Our relationship with South Korea, which is important both as a military and economic partner. And so, you know, it is, it is a problem up in North Korea because its economy has disintegrated. The people are living very poorly. The government is able to only maintain control through oppression and that creates a good deal of instability which we need to be vigilant about.

NOVAK: We have just a short time before we take another break sir, but there's been a lot of speculation and interest to a lot of your constituents on the question of whether the convicted Israeli spy and traitor, Jonathan Pollard, should be released from prison. There's a possibility that President Clinton may release him before the end of his term. Do you think that's a good idea for the president to do that?

LAZIO: You know I haven't gotten a secured briefing on that. You need to have a secured briefing before you can make an assessment on that. I will say this, I think that wherever we have espionage against our nation, it is a serious question. In this case, Pollard spying on behalf of Israel. He has been incarcerated. He has been in jail for sometime now. I think the next president, and I would be calling on the next president, if not this president, to make sure that he makes a determination about clemency. And if the answer is no, I think he should disclose to the American public why it is not.

NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take another break and when we come back, we will have the "Big Question" for Congressman Rick Lazio.


NOVAK: The "Big Question" for Rick Lazio: George W. Bush has said he does not want any change in the Republican national platform's anti-abortion plant which calls for a constitutional amendment. Mr. Lazio, do you think that's a mistake?

LAZIO: I think it needs to come out. I think we need to stay sound on the issue. It's a divisive issue. I think our main thrust ought to be on changing the culture as opposed to criminalizing abortion.

HUNT: Mr. Lazio, if George W. Bush were to pick a staunchly pro- life running mate, would that concern you in the sense it would send the signal to people about where the party is on that issue? LAZIO: I think whether you're on the right or the left, there ought to be a litmus test. I ought to be a sense of who has got the capacity to serve our nation as president, who can defend our country, who has got the best capacity to be the commander-in-chief. And who can have a real vision for a stronger America.

HUNT: So you wouldn't be upset by a staunchly pro-life running mate?

LAZIO: No, I mean, Governor Bush is pro-life. Former President Bush was pro-life. Ronald Reagan was pro-life. I mean these were great leaders for our nation.

HUNT: Congressman, I want to thank you for being with us today. And Bob Novak and I will be back in a moment with some comments.


HUNT: Bob, Rick Lazio is a very attractive young guy, got off to a very good start. Starting to fumble a little bit now. It's a big leap running statewide in New York versus a congressional race, and we've got to still see if he's up to it.

NOVAK: Well, I thought he did very well. You know he is a moderate, Al, and so moderates take kind of 50-50 positions. Rudy Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton agreed -- disagreed on very little. At least he has some disagreements with her.

HUNT: Also has some with George W. Bush on abortion and probably on tax cuts and Social Security.

NOVAK: One of the big differences he has with Mrs. Clinton is that he goes on a lot of shows -- he went on all kinds of shows the Sunday after he announced, he goes on with us -- we're still waiting for Mrs. Clinton to go on any of these interview shows, Al. I know you and I would just love her to come down and submit to these harsh -- these hard questions, don't you think?

NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

Coming up in one half-hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," the media's of coverage of Rep. Rick Lazio in the New York Senate race.

And at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, "THE CAPITAL GANG" discusses the death penalty, the new Al Gore, and the latest in the Elian Gonzalez case with Virginia Senator Charles Robb.

NOVAK: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.



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