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Inside Politics

Catholic Hospital Cancels Gore Appearance; Congressional Leaders Slam Energy Secretary for Security Lapses

Aired June 14, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Behind the high-fives and his health care message, we'll look at the chink in Al Gore's day and bring you our interview with him. Plus, the Bush campaign's antidote for the bad vibes of the '92 GOP convention. We'll tell you about the strategizing behind the scenes. And...


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: All it takes to play the game is to be mentioned. If you are mentioned a lot, you are a player.


MESERVE: Howard Kurtz on the whirl of VP speculation and the media angst behind it.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.

MESERVE: Thanks for joining us. I'm Jeanne Meserve, sitting in for Bernie and Judy.

We begin with something of a trip-up in the rechoreographed Al Gore campaign. The chosen backdrop for Gore's main appearance in Pennsylvania today prompted a complaint and a change of scenery.

CNN's Chris Black explains what happened and how Gore tried to stay on message anyway.


CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice President Al Gore got a rousing airport reception in Pennsylvania, the second stop of a swing he calls "The Prosperity and Progress Tour."

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those who want to go back to the old ways, we're not going to do it.

BLACK: But behind the scenes, his advance staff scrambled to switch locations for Wednesday's health care forum. The objections of a local bishop caused Mercy Hospital in Scranton, a Catholic facility, to cancel Gore's appearance because of Gore's support for abortion rights. The abortion flap marred the start of Gore's visit to a critical swing state, where there is strong opposition to abortion. While Gore was in Pennsylvania, the state's Republican governor happened to be in Washington. Governor Tom Ridge, a potential running mate to Governor George W. Bush, despite his support for abortion rights, challenged the heart of Gore's message, saying the Clinton/Gore administration did not deserve credit for prosperity in his state.

GOV. TOM RIDGE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: It has everything to do with the people of Pennsylvania, and frankly, very little to do with the people on Pennsylvania Avenue.

BLACK: Gore said money from his proposed health care trust fund would go to health care providers shortchanged in the 1997 budget act, and he announced growing surpluses would speed up introduction of his proposed prescription drug benefit for Medicare by four years to 2002.

GORE: Now is the time to update Medicare and give our seniors a prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program.

BLACK: He highlighted the drug issue with a visit to a family pharmacy in Scranton and later slammed the drug benefit proposal of House Republicans as a subsidy to drug companies.

GORE: Their plan is not a prescription drug plan; it's a placebo. It doesn't work.

BLACK (on camera): Gore says Americans are better off than they were eight years ago. The purpose of this tour is to convince voters his election will make things even better in the next four.

Chris Black, CNN, Scranton, Pennsylvania.


MESERVE: Less than an hour ago, I interviewed Gore and I asked him if it was a major gaffe for his staff to schedule an event at a Catholic hospital knowing the differences he has with the church on the abortion issue.


GORE: We've done a number of events at similar institutions, and yet, I certainly didn't want anyone to experience any discomfort. So we smoothly shifted gears and did the event here at this location, and it went wonderfully well.

I came here to talk about the need to move Medicare off-budget and to propose the creation of a national trust for health. And we had a very good session here today.

MESERVE (on camera): Wasn't it the last thing you needed, to highlight differences with the church on the issue of abortion when Catholic voters are considered so swing in this election?

GORE: Well, that's not my purpose here. MESERVE: But certainly, it can't help your campaign to have this issue highlighted in a state and in an election where the Catholic vote is key?

GORE: Well, I'm here talking about the need for improvements in the access to health care, the affordability of health care, and the quality of health care, and to give seniors a prescription drug benefit. Now, I do support a woman's right to choose, and I make no apologies for that. In fact I feel very strongly about it.


MESERVE: And we'll have more of our interview with the vice president later on INSIDE POLITICS. Meanwhile, the Bush campaign seemed hesitant today about a proposed education debate with Gore, despite a billionaire's attempt to make the offer attractive and the fact that the vice president said yes immediately.


TED FORSTMANN, CO-FOUNDER, CHILDREN'S SCHOLARSHIPS FUND: In any event, what's really important here is the views of the candidates?

MESERVE: New York billionaire financier Ted Forstmann is offering George Bush and Al Gore a half-million dollars each for their favorite children's charities if they agree to a single debate on a single issue: education.

FORSTMANN: Political candidates seem to me to spend an awful lot of their time raising money for themselves, so I'm giving these two an opportunity in just 90 minutes to raise money for others, to engage in a debate on the most important challenge facing our country today, and to do a good turn for disadvantaged children as well.

MESERVE: Joining Forstmann at the New York press conference, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and informal Bush adviser Vin Weber. Despite Weber's support, the Bush campaign did not immediately accept the Forstmann offer.

In a carefully worded statement, a spokesman would only say that the governor "looks forward to debating Al Gore in the fall, especially on education," a top Bush priority.

Those fall debates are unlikely to be confined to a single issue, as Forstmann wants, but still, the Bush campaign said it had not ruled out Forstmann's offer.

Gore, who has challenged Bush to two debates a week, accepted without reservation.

GORE: Nobody has to give money to get me to debate. I'm ready to debate.

MESERVE: The Gore campaign has a standing offer to give up all TV ads in exchange for twice-weekly debates with Bush. Bush has rejected that idea, calling it a political stunt. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: There is one final condition to Forstmann's million- dollar offer: If only one candidate accepts, the deal is off.

And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS. the energy secretary and questions about nuclear security: a look at the finger-pointing and the politics. Will the issue knock Bill Richardson out of the running for the VP slot?


MESERVE: The White House says the recent loss of nuclear secrets at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has raised legitimate questions about security. But the administration says pointing the finger at Energy Secretary Bill Richardson is not the answer.

Members of Congress questioned Richardson's performance and his political ambitions today during a congressional probe of the Los Alamos incident.

Our John King reports.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The empty chair didn't stop Senate Republicans from laying the blame for the latest security lapse at the country's nuclear weapons labs.

SEN. FRANK MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: The secretary must bear the responsibility. It isn't a case, this time, of something that happened on somebody else's watch. This happened on Secretary Richardson's watch.

KING: Richardson says he, too, is outraged that computer hard- drives containing some of the nation's most sensitive nuclear secrets are missing, and he'll testify before Congress next week.

BILL RICHARDSON, ENERGY SECRETARY: It isn't one of my best days.

KING: But Republican critics say the secretary is too focused on politics and not focused enough on the problems in his department.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I personally believe if he had been doing his job as secretary of energy in all aspects, and not out running for vice president of the United States or trying to get on the ticket, that we might not be here today.

KING: The president didn't answer directly when asked if he still had full confidence in Richardson, saying Congress should let the investigation under way run its course. But Mr. Clinton's spokesman suggested Republicans were in a partisan rush.

JOE JOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that those who want to point the finger of blame should take a deep breath. KING: Richardson allies called the accusations raised at Wednesday's hearing overly partisan, and they suggest Republicans are out to hurt the secretary's chances of being tapped as Vice President Al Gore's running-mate.

The secretary met last month with the man leading Gore's search, former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, and Richardson has made no secret he's interested, appearing at Gore's side during the Democratic primaries and frequently on television as a Gore surrogate.

RICHARDSON: He is one of the economic stewards that have created 26 million jobs in the country.

KING: Richardson wins high marks from the Gore team for his energetic campaigning and his help with Hispanic outreach.


KING: Now Richardson loyalists predict he'll emerge unscathed from this latest controversy and that it won't hurt his chances of being tapped as the vice president's running-mate. But it certainly doesn't help. And most top Gore advisers say the odds of Richardson being picked are fairly slim to begin with -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: John King at the White House, thank you.

Bill Richardson is just one of many on the long list of potential running-mates. From Cabinet secretaries to senators and governors, dozens of names are circulating as possibilities to round out the presidential tickets of both parties.

As Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" reports, the media may be to blame for all the speculation.



BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Could this be the night that reshapes the race?


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tuesday, March 7th -- Super Tuesday, some call it. Al Gore clinches his party's nomination. George W. Bush does the same. Thousands of journalists unhappy. Presidential campaign evaporates before their eyes.

Three months later, still no race in sight. Gore campaigns. Bush campaigns. Public -- not paying much attention. Ratings -- down. Media need new storyline. Getting desperate. Searching for suspense. Press immerses itself in "the veepstakes." Who will Bush and Gore pick as their running mates? Problem: No one knows. Solution: No one can prove any story wrong.

All it takes to play the game is to be mentioned. If you're mentioned a lot, you're a player. Like Tom Ridge, governor of Pennsylvania, constantly mentioned as a good choice for Bush. Appeared with Bush last week. But supports abortion rights. Bush doesn't. Others mention this. Now Ridge mentioned less often.

What about Chuck Hagel? Nebraska senator. Not well-known.

Fred Thompson? Tennessee senator. Bonus points for being movie star.

John McCain? Doesn't want to be mentioned.

Elizabeth Dole? Famous last name. Not mentioned much lately.

Who does the mentioning? Political insiders, the politicians' friends, the politicians themselves. Though only some will admit it on camera.


JUAN WILLIAMS, FOX COMMENTATOR: In fact, would you be willing to be the vice president?

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Well, I don't think that's something most people say no to, Juan. It'd be an honor, and if he feels that I could help serve him and the country, of course I'd be willing to.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If Vice President Gore asked you to be his running-mate, would you accept?

RICHARDSON: I'm going to duck your question.


KURTZ: And the most important handicappers: journalists.


JOHN MILLER, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Connie Mack of Florida, the senator from Florida, I think would be a very pleasing choice to a lot of conservatives. Frank Keating, the governor of Oklahoma, I think would be another good choice.



BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: It may be telling that George Bush says he may select as his running-mate an abortion rights supporter.



BILL PRESS, CO-HOST, CNN CROSSFIRE: Bush-Ridge, has a nice ring to it, don't you think?


KURTZ: The vice president's choice for vice president? Some say Evan Bayh, senator from Indiana. Others say: boring -- Gore won't win Indiana, anyway.

Some say Gray Davis, governor of California. Others say: Gore wins California without him.

Some say Robert Rubin, former treasury secretary, campaigned with Gore this week. Others say: never ran for office.

Some say Bob Graham, Florida senator. Others say, remember Elian. Gore embarrassed by pandering on Elian Gonzalez case. Big in Florida. Graham off radar screen. Peaked too soon.

Others say...


PRESS: Bill Richardson is an excellent choice, would be an excellent choice.



KING: Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bob Graham of Florida, Richard Durbin of Illinois, and Evan Bayh of Indiana.


KURTZ: Media track record in past campaigns, poor. '88: Vice President Bush picks Dan Quayle. Dan who? Journalists surprised. Big brouhaha. '92: press says Clinton won't pick another Southerner. Clinton ignores press, picks Gore. '96: Bob Dole picks Jack Kemp. Not exactly the best of friends. Didn't matter. Press surprised again.

(on camera): This year there's an official tally, done by the political hotline. Most Republican mentions in media: Tom Ridge, John McCain, Elizabeth Dole tied with Christie Whitman.

Most Democratic mentions: Evan Bayh, Bob Graham, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein.

Value of such scorecards: zero. Likelihood of continued media speculation: 100 percent. Tune in tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that.


MESERVE: And joining us now with his "Reporter's Notebook," Bob Novak of "The Chicago Sun-Times."

Bob, we just can't help ourselves. We have to do more speculation about this. We're going to prove Howie Kurtz right.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": At the risk of evoking Howie's ire, there is a new name in the Republican line: House congressional sources tell me that Chris Cox of California will meet with Governor Bush. I don't know when or where, and that he is definitely on the short list.

Now Chris Cox wouldn't talk to me. He says that part of the conditions of running for vice president is privacy, which kind of indicates to me he's running, and no confirmation from the Bush people.

But this is California. It might put California in play. He would spend all his time traveling in California. He's a guy who's very good on national security. He's an expert on this Los Alamos security problem. He's a Roman Catholic, a youngish image, a young family, a possibility.

MESERVE: What about John McCain? Still a possibility, or not?

NOVAK: Well, I got Senator McCain mad again because I reported that last month he had told a bunch of House Republicans that if the Bush people came to him and said we absolutely need you, then he would do it.

I don't think the Bush people are going to come to it, particularly with John Zogby poll yesterday showing Bush 10 points ahead of Vice President Gore.

But I think that still stands. If they really want to go for a home run and go for McCain, I still believe McCain, if Bush told him he needed him, would say yes. But I don't think Bush is going to ask him.

MESERVE: Why not?

NOVAK: I don't think he likes him. I don't think he needs him. He doesn't think he needs him.

MESERVE: Let's switch gears now. New budget surplus figures: What's this going to mean for congressional Democrats, let's say?

NOVAK: They think they have a no-lose proposition. They're going to push, they're going to justify these big surplus numbers as saying you can have all of President Clinton's additional social spending programs, not going to have a tax cut anyway. And the danger is this has really slowed down the appropriations process.

Speaker Hastert was brought in to make the Republican money bills run on time -- trains run on time. They're not on time. They're way behind schedule. And the nightmare scenario, Jeanne, another time they go into a train wreck possibility in the autumn just as the election's coming up with all this money and the big social programs that the president wants.

A lot of Republicans in the House say let's just capitulate and worry about the presidential election.

MESERVE: And I understand you have a copy of a new Bush fund- raising letter?

NOVAK: New fund-raising letter by Governor Bush, saying that they're spending that soft -- that terrible soft money to smear me. So all the Republicans around the country are getting this letter from Bush, and things are very sophisticated.

They got a copy of a story by Ron Fournier of the Associated Press saying that Gore is going to launch a multimillion-dollar ad campaign to the Democratic National Committee. And they have on each letter, a little sticky put in George Bush's handwriting. I don't know how they do it. It's actually stuck on each letter.

MESERVE: Wonders of technology.

NOVAK: It says: "This is what we're up against." And so one thing that George W. Bush can really do well -- he's doing a lot things well -- but he can really raise money and they have imaginative and innovative ways of separating the Republican faithful from the greenbacks.

MESERVE: Bob Novak, thanks so much.

NOVAK: Thank you.

MESERVE: And there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS still to come. The Green Party's presidential hopeful.


RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're not losing any sleep over this campaign, to which I reply: slumber on Al Gore, slumber on.


MESERVE: Ralph Nader on the trail and on the attack.

Plus, Al Gore talks about campaigning, the economy, and the vice presidential speculation. Our interview with the vice president just ahead.

And later, the Republican fund-raising push hits Capitol Hill. Will members ante up?


MESERVE: We'll have more of the day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.

A retired U.S. Army Reserve colonel has been arrested for espionage. George Trofimoff is accused with spying for the now- defunct Soviet Union over his 35-year career. Trofimoff was taken into custody today in Tampa. FBI agents say he was paid more than $250,000 over the years since 1969 for U.S. secrets.


FRANK GALLAGHER, FBI: We're aware of the fact that he received money. We're also aware of the fact that he received an award from the KGB, where he received this red banner award, which is one of their highest awards that they give out. So they did pay him in ways other than strictly money.


MESERVE: Officials did not disclose how much damage his alleged spying caused national security.

One-hundred and twenty people, including members of New York's major Mafia families, are under arrest in the nation's largest securities fraud sting. The scheme cost investors more than $50 million. And it involves, among others, licensed stockbrokers, officers and directors of companies, financial advisers and a hedge fund manager.


MARY JO WHITE, U.S. ATTORNEY SPOKESWOMAN: The greed and reach of this racketeering enterprise knew no bounds. No kind of market professional, or kind of offering or company or type of victim was excluded. The enterprises, crimes targeted and victimized investors in publicly traded securities, investors in private placements and pension fund beneficiaries.


MESERVE: White singled out DMN Capital Investments as "fraud central for the racketeering enterprise. "

Two ravenous wildfires in Colorado have consumed dozens of homes and thousands of acres of forest. Officials say two more homes in the Loveland area went up in flames since yesterday. At least 49 houses have been destroyed in the fires. In the blaze in central Colorado, an additional 100,000 gallons of fire retardant were flown in last night. Firefighters have battled the blazes around the clock over the last three days.

Another wildfire is causing huge problems in California's Napa Valley area. Fire officials say sparks from a motor vehicle caused the blaze. In less than 24 hours, the fire has raced across 2,800 acres and forced residents out of some 40 homes. A 10-mile stretch of Highway 128 has been shut down because of the smoke and flames.

The Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Orlando, Florida has decided women should no longer be pastors. The head of the drafting committee says "while men and women are gifted, the office of pastor is limited to men by scripture." Women lead nearly 100 of the convention's 41,000 congregations.

The White House is praising North and South Korea for reaching a historic agreement, but says the real test is whether they can implement it. Leaders of North and South Korea signed a deal today, promising to work toward eventual reunification. They also agreed to allow reunions between family members who have been separated by the border between the countries, and they say they will promote South Korean investment in the North's failing economy.

When INSIDE POLITICS returns, presidential hopeful Ralph Nader and his new endorsement. Are they giving Al Gore more of a reason to worry?


MESERVE: Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho is in a Washington- area hospital today being treated for an inflammation of the colon. Coelho checked himself in yesterday, the same day Gore was launching a critical new phase of his campaign. Gore's campaign spokesman says Coelho is being treated with antibiotics and should be back on his feet soon. He notes this condition is common for people over age 50.

While Al Gore went before cameras and crowds today, George W. Bush was holed up in Maine for the fifth day of a working vacation.

Our Candy Crowley is camped out there, too, and she got an inside view of the political business Bush has been taking care of behind closed doors.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the relative obscurity of the family home in Kennebunkport, Governor George W. Bush and top aides have sketched out plans for what they hope will be the convention without contention.

As described by spokeswoman Karen Hughes, preliminary plans point to a campaign that wants to showcase the moderate face of the GOP; translation: Philadelphia will not be Houston, the 1992 GOP convention where conservatives were given center stage and seemed to have hurt President Bush's reelection chances with rhetoric that didn't sit well with moderate voters.

The Bush camp wants to both reveal and bolster the candidate they say is a different kind of Republican. In its selection of primetime policy pop and people to speak, the Bush campaign seeks the middle of the road, where elections are lost and won.

John McCain, popular with Independents and Democrats, if not always his own party, and Colin Powell, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a prominent African-American who supports abortion rights, are both expected to receive high-profile speaking times. While the themes will be overarching to include a variety of topics, expect highlighted discussions of Bush's Social Security proposal, proving popular across a broad spectrum of voters, and education, where Bush has made inroads on a topic Democrats have tried to claim as their own.

Hughes says there is talk of contrasting Bush's proposals with those of Vice President Al Gore. Still, Bush wants a kinder, gentler convention, absent the traditional night of bashing Democrats.

(on camera): In another sign of optimism, this will be an upbeat, harmonious, and moderate convention. Bush aides say the subject of how to deal with the abortion issue hasn't even come up in the past several days. Whether based on the reality of what they're hearing, or simple denial, Bush aides do not believe that this persistently contentious issue will be a problem this time around.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Kennebunkport, Maine.


MESERVE: And a top aide to John McCain tells CNN McCain has been asked to make a primetime appearance on Tuesday night, the second night of the convention.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, some Republicans are gearing up for election day with dollar signs and quotas on their minds -- I'm sorry, Green Party Presidential Candidate Ralph Nader scored a political coup today, which may further help him make Al Gore's campaign more complicated.

Our Beth Fouhy reports on Nader's new endorsement, and the threat he may pose for the vice president.


BETH FOUHY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Call him one part "Absent-minded Professor," one part "Little Engine that Could," but Ralph Nader is putting Al Gore on notice.

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Gore campaign, in response to press inquiries about our campaign, have responded by saying they're not losing any sleep over this campaign, to which I reply, slumber on, Al Gore, slumber on.

FOUHY: Nader called this news conference to announce a plum endorsement, the 31,000-member California Nurses Association. Its leaders were on hand to praise his commitment to health care and HMO reform.

KAY MCVAY, PRESIDENT, CALIFORNIA NURSES ASSOCIATION: And the only person who is running for the presidency of these United States that has taken a stand, that is principled, is Ralph Nader.

FOUHY: Nader says he supports universal health care, but he has yet to lay out any details. Still, he says this endorsement will help him make the case to other unions to give his candidacy a chance. NADER: The union's main reason for being is to expand democratic trade unions and lift their standard of effort -- of living, the Democratic party and the Republican party are not their parties.

FOUHY: All of which is just the latest sign that Nader's Green Party presidential bid may be more than just a minor distraction for Gore; the latest CNN/USA Today Gallup poll gives Nader six percent of the vote nationwide, triple that of Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan.

And along the Pacific Coast, a must-win region for Gore, Nader is pulling as much as nine percent. Unlike his largely symbolic 1996 effort, Nader says this time his campaign is serious. He's recruiting volunteers and raising part of his $5 million budget through a campaign Web site.

LAURA JONES, GREEN PARTY VOLUNTEER: Hi, Muriel, this is Laura Jones, calling for the Nader 2000 campaign.

FOUHY: And at his headquarters, volunteers and staff work to place his name on the ballot in all 50 states.

TODD MAIN, NADER NATIONAL FIELD DIRECTOR: We've completed and will complete the requirements to be on the ballot in about 35 states by the end of June and anticipate in the mid-40s by the end of July.

FOUHY: And while Nader swears his candidacy is fueled by dissatisfaction with both major parties, he acknowledges a disappointment with Gore that sometimes borders on personal antipathy.

NADER: He's basically become a very plastic person who doesn't know who he is anymore and panders a lot. I think a lot of people in this country have sensed that.

FOUHY (on camera): But with polling numbers still in single digits, Ralph Nader has a long way to go to prove that he's more than just a spoiler. He says he plans to make his case in the presidential debates, and will file a lawsuit, if necessary, to be included.

Beth Fouhy, CNN, Washington.


MESERVE: And now to Capitol Hill, where some Republicans are gearing up for election day with dollar signs and quotas on the minds. It's all part of the GOP battle to maintain control of the House.

CNN's Jonathan Karl joins us from the Hill -- Jonathan, tell us about it.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, in a sign of just how intense that battle for the control of the House is here, House Republican leaders have issued an ultimatum to Republican rank- and-file members. The ultimatum is that they must help the party raise money, or they face -- pay a stiff political price. Speaking to Republican House members earlier today, Tom Davis, who is coordinating the Republican effort in the House congressional races this fall, told members that if they don't help the party raise money -- and they were each given a specific dollar amount -- if they don't help the party make that -- raise that money, that they will face the possibility of losing their committee posts in the next Congress.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: For the top five leaders in the House, we're all each anteing up $700,000. For other leaders, it will be $250,000, $150,000, $100,000, but it will be big dollars. The rank-and-file members will probably be $25,000 a piece. Obviously, those who are in tough races and need the money, we're not going to ask that kind of contribution from them. But there are a lot of members sitting out there who don't have competitive races, who have the ability to raise the money for the team, who I think because they want to stay in the majority, are going to come through for us.

KARL: Davis also assured members that all of this money would go to a very specific purpose. It would go to the 30 or 35 House races that are considered truly competitive this year, and that it wouldn't be done as a part of a big national advertising campaign, but the money would be targeted to the specific needs of those districts, with advertising targeted to those races, and also money going to get-out- the-vote efforts, and other grass roots effort.

Now, there's a reason for this urgency on the money front for the Republicans. In fact, what's happened here is the Republicans have cash on hand in their Congressional Campaign Committee of only $15.5 million. That's about half of what the Democrats have, with $28.6 million cash on hand, that if the last FEC filings, which go through the first quarter of this year.

Now, there has been some grumbling among rank-and-file Republicans here, but leaders are very unapologetic. They're saying if there's any complaining about this, it's either because members are selfish and don't want to raise money for others in the party, or that they simply don't care whether the Republicans control the House; this effort seen as very much a critical component of the Republican effort to control the House -- Jeanne, back to you.

MESERVE: Jonathan Karl on Capitol Hill, thank you.

And just ahead, the vice president answer his critics in his own words; an in-depth interview with Al Gore is next.


MESERVE: And now the rest of our interview with Vice President Al Gore. We begin with his response to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge'S comments that Gore is unfairly claiming all the credit for the economic boom.


GORE: The American people deserve the credit for the good economy, because they've been working very hard. But you know, that's not the entire explanation, because they were working hard back in 1991 when we had that deep recession. And what the difference is, is that in this administration we've given the American people a new economic policy, new tools to unlock the potential of America's economy. And instead of a triple-dip recession we've seen a tripling of the stock market. Instead of the worst deficits in history we have the biggest surpluses in history. Instead of high unemployment, we've got 22 million new jobs and literally the strongest economy in the history of the United States. I cast a tie-breaking vote to put those new policies into effect.

But the American people deserve the credit for all the work that's produced this prosperity and they deserve to have policies in the future that will continue to reward their hard work and continue to unlock more progress and prosperity in the years to come.

MESERVE (on camera): Claiming credit for boom times would seem to be a political no-brainer. Why haven't you done it sooner? Was it an attempt to distance yourself from the president, and if so, why have you reversed course now?

GORE: I haven't.

MESERVE: But you're underlining it in a way that you have not before.

GORE: Well, in almost every speech that I have made for a year and a half, Jeanne, I have talked about the tremendous economic success of this administration. I think that now is the time to build on that foundation and move forward, because in a very short period of time, a few weeks, we are going to see a dramatic change in the economic picture.

With all the good news we've had, we've got some more good news, because the new estimates that come out of the mid-year, mid-session review are going to show that the budget surplus apparently is going to be much bigger than expected. And so we have some big decisions to make.

And some people think decisions about the surplus are somehow less important than decisions about the deficit. In fact, they're just as important in determining whether we have prosperity and progress in the future.

And I've laid out a comprehensive plan for what I think we should do: eliminate the debt entirely, take Medicare off-budget and protect it. Give Americans an incentive to save and invest on top of Social Security, Social Security plus. Don't do it at the expense of Social Security.

And then let's give Americans a new national trust to take on the challenges of health care and education and the environment.

MESERVE: Doesn't this surplus give an additional rationale to George W. Bush's tax cut proposal? GORE: It doesn't, because even with the largest estimates you can come up with my opponent has already spent all of it and more. The $1.6 to $1.9 trillion tax plan and his $1 trillion Social Security privatization plan by themselves eat up more than all the surplus, not to mention the so-called "Star Wars" proposal and the other big spending initiatives. And that's why this choice is so important.

We should not go right back into deficit spending, because that could guarantee that these predicted surpluses never actually arrive. We should instead follow a course of fiscal discipline to make sure that we don't go back into deficit and to make sure that we continue paying down the debt every year.

MESERVE: I want to switch gears on your here and talk for a minute about the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where there has been another possible security breach, a couple of hard-drives missing. This is one of a series of security problems at the lab. Does this effectively take Energy Secretary Bill Richardson off your list of possible vice presidential picks.

GORE: I'm not speculating about anyone as a running-mate at this point, and I haven't completed a list of potential running-mates. And so I'm just not going to engage in any -- any speculation of that kind.

MESERVE: Does the buck stop with him this instance?

GORE: Well, this is under investigation both by the Department of Energy and the FBI, and I have full confidence in their ability to handle this investigation well.

MESERVE: Switching gears once again, members of your staff have said they're not losing any sleep over the candidacy of Ralph Nader, and Mr. Nader said today, "Slumber on, Al, slumber on."

Are you dozing, are you underestimating the threat his candidacy may pose to you?

GORE: No, no, I'm not taking a single vote for granted anywhere in this country, and that's why I'm out here campaigning full-time and talking to people about the issues. This series of speeches on prosperity and progress is really intended to focus on the big questions that we have to face and the big decisions we have to make in order to have a very bright economic future and give us the chance to take on these challenges of expanding the quality and the coverage for health care, bringing about revolutionary improvements for our schools, and protecting the environment and promoting clean energy.

MESERVE: Vice President Al Gore, thanks so much for joining us.

GORE: Thank you.


MESERVE: And when we return, Tucker Carlson and Margaret Carlson on Al Gore's comments, plus their thoughts on what impact Ralph Nader could have on the presidential race.


MESERVE: And joining us now, Margaret Carlson of "TIME" magazine and Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard." Thanks a lot for coming in.

Well, the progress and prosperity campaign is under way. Is this going to work for Al Gore?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Well, he consulted the alliteration consultant and came up...

MESERVE: Who has been very busy.

M. CARLSON: Very, very busy. Reformer with results, prosperity with a purpose, and now we have...

MESERVE: Compassionate conservatism.

M. CARLSON: Yes. Now, we have progress and whatever.

Gore's problem is nobody wants to give him credit for anything right now, and if all our 401(k)s had hit the roof, we still wouldn't want to give him credit for the economy. He could have cured the common cold. And because he invented the Internet, I think that whole way of talking is suspect for him. Because he took too much credit for some things we don't want to give him credit for the things he should get credit for.

MESERVE: Can he overcome this?

TUCKER CARLSON, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": He was careful to give credit to the American people and their hard work.



T. CARLSON: But -- and in fact, if you listen to the average Gore stump speech, his line has been it didn't happen by accident. In other words, we did i, we're responsible for the economy. We won't know for years how much truth there is to that, but I must say, I'm struck, and have been for the past year, by how little people seem to care. People are happy about the economy, but you don't see, at least in polls, voters breaking into bouts of heavy gratitude over this.

M. CARLSON: Well, people blame the bad economy on the president and the vice president, but they don't necessarily give credit where actually some credit is probably due. Alan Greenspan, not a bad choice. You know, we are having this moment of high prosperity.

But you know, you asked that very bold question about sleeping, not his causing us to sleep, but Al Gore has invented a new thing called sleep talking, which is he talks as if he's talking in his sleep, with all those pauses, and you were very patient with him. And it is a maddening thing, and if he gets over that, I think we might give him a little credit for the economy.

MESERVE: He was talking about sleeping in regard to Ralph Nader, at least I posed the question that way. Is he underestimated the threat that Nader poses to him?

T. CARLSON: I hope so. I mean, depending on the integrity of organized labor, I mean, this is less -- you know, this is a couple weeks after Gore sort of sold labor down the river on the China vote. They have a right to be, I think, really mad at him and at this administration. Today, a California nurses union came out an endorsed Ralph Nader, and I think if labor unions had more integrity, they'd all endorse Ralph Nader. He's the candidate -- and Pat Buchanan actually. They are the two candidates who mostly represent the stated aims of labor, and hopefully, more unions will do that.

MESERVE: Do you think he could really tip the race in some key states?

M. CARLSON: Washington, possibly California, that WTO, Seattle we saw, wherever they live in their normal lives. You know, full disclosure, I was a Nader Raider.

MESERVE: And proud of it.

M. CARLSON: And proud of it, so I hope he's, you know, a factor because he's so smart, and he's got an interesting message, an he hasn't had a platform. Those people don't have a place to go because Buchanan has used up his -- you know, he's no longer the populist candidate.

MESERVE: You know, a Democratic pollster said to me the other day Ralph Nader doesn't have a chance because people under the age of 30 or 35 don't know who he is.

M. CARLSON: Oh, you hurt me, Jeanne.

MESERVE: So sorry.

M. CARLSON: It was so long ago I was a Nader Raider. You just reminded me.

Well, but he can -- everybody, I mean, even the kids, you know, voting for the first time remember "unsafe at any speed," and seatbelts, and they know -- don't they, Tucker.

T. CARLSON: I don't know if they do. But I will say that Nader, you know, he's not campaigning in retirement homes. I mean, he's going to college campuses, and he's going to every state by car, and I think by the end of this month he will have been to all 50, and he's speaking to young audiences. I'm not quite sure what young audiences see in Ralph Nader, but he's a good speaker, and apparently they see something.

M. CARLSON: Very interesting speaker, and he will get -- he's the Buchanan this time.

MESERVE: We touched on the issue of Bill Richardson in that interview. Is he just out of it now?

T. CARLSON: Well, Gore didn't even mention his name. It was like, you know (UNINTELLIGIBLE). It was, like, verboten to mention the name, so he just kind of like laughed and not come back. And you know, he had an opportunity to say Bill Richardson, great guy, good friend of mine, we'll find out what happened, but he didn't; he just sort of let it hang, and it's very sad. I mean, Richardson is the one guy whose personality is strong and appealing enough to maybe help Gore to pass the personality gap.

M. CARLSON: You would have never thought the Department of Energy would be a career killer as it has been, and he left the U.N. because he wanted to get back into domestic politics to...

MESERVE: Increase his profile, right?

M. CARLSON: Visibility. And if the first commandment of a vice president is to do no harm, I think Richardson has...

T. CARLSON: He's broken it.

MESERVE: You can take that one off the list.

T. CARLSON: Yes, I think so.

MESERVE: OK, switching gears to Dennis Hastert and his appeal to raise $16 million dollars from House members. What is this a reflection of?

M. CARLSON: Tom DeLay. Tom DeLay is now taking the hammer to his own members and calling for a quota, and they're not going to like it all that much, I mean, they want to win the house, but they don't want to turn their fund-raising abilities over to have the money spent on ads that might not work in their district as happened last time when the ads -- what were those ads? The Gingrich ads that ran about impeachment. A huge sum of money went into them, and they didn't work. In fact, they hurt.

MESERVE: Dennis Hastert. Did I say Dennis Hastert?

M. CARLSON: You did say Dennis Hastert.

MESERVE: OK, I want to make sure I said that.

M. CARLSON: But I switched to Tom DeLay because it doesn't sound like Dennis Hastert to me.

MESERVE: he's going to face committee assignments and the like on what people give. Is that appropriate?

T. CARLSON: Yes, sure, totally.


T. CARLSON: He's scary, mean, Tom DeLay the exterminator. Oh, please. I mean, if there wasn't a Tom DeLay in real life, he would be invented. You know, every party needs one. I don't think there's anything wrong with this, I don't know. Running a political party is largely about raising money, you know, and a lot of members, a surprising number of people, you know, just don't have opponents. They have free time, and I'm sure they want to get out and raise a little money for the party.

MESERVE: Do you think they're going to be able to reach this goal? That's a pretty high number.

M. CARLSON: I like the idea of the United Way or the blood bank with the blood coming up; the thing's going to be hanging out of all the leadership offices to see where you are, and keeping your quotas.

T. CARLSON: Keep in mind, this is all to inform the American people in what's happening in the process that what they ultimately control. This is a blow for Democracy? This is a good thing. Amen. Exactly. This is not money going to crack dealers or given to General Noriega. This is for free expression, come on.

MESERVE: And with that, we leave you.

M. CARLSON: Bravo.

T. CARLSON: Bravo. Amen.

MESERVE: Margaret, Tucker, thank you both.

And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We'll see you tomorrow when our Candy Crowley will be on the campaign trail with George W. Bush in Portland, Maine, and of course you can go online all the time at CNN's

I'm Jeanne Meserve. "WORLDVIEW" is up next.



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