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Will New Campaign Chairman Give Gore New Momentum?

Aired June 15, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, shake-up in the Gore campaign. Chairman Tony Coelho steps aside and Commerce Secretary Bill Daley steps in. Will a new campaign chairman give Gore new momentum?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, a Gore supporter; and Republican David Dreier, California co-chair of the Bush campaign.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

And another shake-up in the Gore campaign. In as new chairman is Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, a savvy veteran of Chicago's political wars, gone from the president's cabinet before Bill Clinton even knew what happened.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The direct answer is I took his commerce secretary away before I told him. And -- but I called him right afterwards.


PRESS: Out is former congressman Tony Coelho who was brought in to rescue the Gore campaign last spring, but resigned today citing "doctor's orders." Coelho's also under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged fiscal improprieties as head of the U.S. mission to the '98 World Expo.

Campaign chairmen come and go, but the Bush campaign was quick to see deeper meaning. "I wonder whether naming a new chairman involves yet another reinvention of the Gore campaign," said Bush Spokeswoman Karen Hughes.

Will a new chief bring new momentum to the Gore campaign? That's our CROSSFIRE tonight with two veteran campaigners -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Congressman Wexler, a week ago today on "INSIDE POLITICS," I said that our very prominent Democratic politicians who are insisting -- insisting that Bill Daley replace Tony Coelho. They didn't talk anything about Tony Coelho's health. They said that he had too much baggage, that you can't go into a presidential campaign with a chairman who can't go on television because he can't answer questions about the scandals. That's the truth, isn't it?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D-FL), GORE SUPPORTER: Well, the truth is that Bill Daley is a great pick to head Al Gore into the general election. But the other side of the truth is that Tony Coelho brought Al Gore back from being down what, 15 or 20 points to dead even. We're now talking about prosperity. We're talking about the economy. We're talking about schools.

Al Gore's in just the right position for winning the election in November. It's an October strategy, where he wins in those debates. He's in good financial shape, and the issues are going to move to Gore's rescue.

NOVAK: Congressman, we'll say you got your talking points out. And we're going to go to talk about the economy...

WEXLER: Well...

NOVAK: Just a minute.


NOVAK: We're going to talk the economy later, but please humor me. I want to talk about Tony Coelho. Just -- we'll never talk about him again. And I like Tony. I think he deserves a moment in the sun. Let's -- surprise me with your candor. He had too much baggage to carry, and they had to get rid of him. I wish politicians would say the truth. Isn't that the fact?

WEXLER: Well, he didn't have any more baggage this week than he did several months ago when Al Gore picked him. Tony Coelho, like a lot of politicians, has pros and cons. Tony Coelho brought that campaign back to Tennessee. He brought Al Gore back to his roots. He got Al Gore talking to people. He got him talking the way that they felt that he really cared about average Americans, like Al Gore really does. I think Tony Coelho was a big success.

NOVAK: Well, Tony was, of course, is not exactly an average American. He's got about four mansions. He's a multi-millionaire. But have you ever heard of Charles...

WEXLER: Just the kind of people you guys want to help with the estate tax.

NOVAK: No, we want to help the poor people with estate tax so they can get to be rich.

WEXLER: OK. I see.

NOVAK: Have you ever heard of Charles Lewis of the Center for Public Utility -- of Integrity. You know who that is?


NOVAK: That's bad that he doesn't know him. He is an expert on campaign finance, and he is -- I think Bill will agree -- he's totally non-partisan. He's not a Democrat, not a Republican. And let's see what he said about Tony Coelho in April.


CHARLES LEWIS, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: If I was the vice president and I was worried by my image, particularly after the Buddhist monastery and other incidents from the '96 campaign, there are two or three people that would be the last people on the planet earth that I would pick. And one of them would be Tony Coelho.


NOVAK: Now, isn't that the truth, that the vice president's not doing very well right now? He's in a lot of trouble, and the difference between now and last April was that he's got -- the baggage got to be too heavy for Al Gore to carry? Isn't that the truth?

WEXLER: No. No. Al Gore is doing well. Al Gore is even in the polls, essentially.

NOVAK: No, he's not even in the polls.

WEXLER: You take Texas out. He's even in the polls. He's within striking distance.

NOVAK: Who told you that?

WEXLER: Who's got -- you did on one of the shows. You said something like that.

NOVAK: I never said that -- I never -- I never said...

WEXLER: Who said..

NOVAK: That's a spin from..

WEXLER: President Bush used to talk about momentum. Who's numbers are moving in the right directions? Gore. Gore's moving...

NOVAK: All right. I'll tell you -- I'll tell you whose numbers are moving the right direction after -- I want to give Bill a chance, but I want to come back and tell you. And you can think about that while Bill talks to Congressman Dreier.

PRESS: And Congressman, I'm glad that Bob likes Tony Coelho, otherwise he really would have been mean to him.

Congressman David Dreier, good evening.


PRESS: Let me ask you also for a moment of candor here at -- David Dreier. I mean, you've got to admit, right, that other than certifiable political maniacs like the four of us -- nobody really cares who's the campaign chairman? DREIER: You are absolutely right, Bill Press. It's amazing. This is an inside baseball issue, and -- but the fact of the matter is whether we're looking at the "navy-blue Al" or the "olive-green Al" or the "nice Al" or the "mean Al" or the "Tony-Coelho Al" or the "Bill- Daley Al." It's very clear that Al Gore is not connecting with voters.

Bob Novak was right. We're in a position right now where we are seeing a steadiness in the Gore campaign, and it's steadily downward. He is not able to successfully connect, and we see this attempt to constantly remake the campaign.

I'm not going to be nearly as harsh as Bob was because I served -- and the reason I say that -- and the reason I say that, Bill, is that as we look at the situation today, I'm going to take the Gore campaign at its word. Even though we've got the extraordinarily pressiant (ph) Bob Novak on IP predicting that Bill Daley was going to take over and there was no mention of Tony's health problems. I'm going to take the Gore campaign at its word, and wish my former colleague well, and say that I hope very much that he has a speedy recovery.

PRESS: There's Congressional courtesy at work.

Well Congressman, you mentioned, and I knew you'd go there, Al Gore...

DREIER: I'm glad you were never a colleague, Press, because I couldn't have been nice to you.

PRESS: You mentioned Al Gore reinventing himself. Speaking of reinventing, David Corn, our colleague, writes in this week's -- the next issue of "The Nation" about: back in 1978 when George W. was a candidate for Congress, he was interviewed by the Lubbock, Texas "Avalanche-Journal," asked his position on abortion. Here's what he said, David Dreier, at the time: -- quote -- this is from the article. "Bush said he opposes the pro-life amendment favored by" Congressman "Reese" his opponent "and favors leaving up to a woman and her doctor the abortion question.

David Dreier, that's my position on abortion. Is that your position on abortion, and hasn't George W. Bush flip-flopped 180 degrees?

DREIER: Well, the fact of the matter is: you're going to 22 years ago. I mean, this is when I first met George Bush. In fact, he and I were seatmates back here at candidate training school in the 1978 campaign. We both lost that year, by the way, just like you did in 1990 when you ran.

PRESS: Thanks for the reminder.

DREIER: Yes, I wanted to remind you of that again since we were reminiscing earlier.

But the fact is, clearly, we see George Bush, I believe, stating what is clearly the best position on this. He said: can't we all agree that we want to reduce the number of abortions? And I think that's the best way to put it out. And George Bush, Bill, has very effectively...

PRESS: Yes, but -- I'm sorry.


DREIER: He has very effectively been able to unite both Republicans, and I think...

PRESS: Congressman...

DREIER: ... and I think he's going to do the same thing with the American people.

PRESS: You are ignoring the question.

DREIER: No, I talked about abortion.

PRESS: George Bush -- pardon me.

DREIER: I talked about abortion.


PRESS: George Bush won. He ran as pro-choice once and he lost. Like his father, he reinvented himself to be pro-life, just in order to win an election, right? Admit it.

DREIER: Wait. Wait a...

PRESS: He reinvented himself.

DREIER: He reinvented himself in order to win an election? I don't believe that to be the case. George Bush has lived 22 years of life and has come to the conclusion that he wants to ensure that he recognizes the sanctity of life.

PRESS: Right. Why would you want (ph) to say something...

DREIER: I don't consider that a political flip-flop. And he's been in lots of elections, Bill.

PRESS: All right.

WEXLER: The truth is that George W. Bush has -- isn't talking about abortion. He's not talking about guns, and he's not talking about the environment because those are three big losers for him.

DREIER: Yes, he's talking about education. He's talking about social security.

WEXLER: Big, big, big losers.

DREIER: He's talking about rebuilding our defense capability. NOVAK: Congressmen Wexler, you know, these are debates, and you can have a difference of opinion.


NOVAK: But the polls are the polls. I think it's very early to head for these polls to be definitive.

WEXLER: Of course.

NOVAK: Let's be honest of what they say. On Tuesday, the John Zogby poll -- this is interviews taken this, not last week -- shows an eight point lead. Bush 47 percent, Gore 39 percent. I can tell you something else. There's going to be polls coming out tomorrow and the next day -- which I'm forbidden to say which polls they are -- that are going to show a double-digit Bush lead.

Now, these figures are available to the Gore campaign, if they're not available to you. They don't like those double-digit polls and that's why they made this switch. Isn't that the truth?

WEXLER: No, I don't think so. First of all, the poll numbers I saw this week showed a tightening of the race.

NOVAK: Oh, here we go again. What poll? What poll?

WEXLER: And it was -- It think it was at --

NOVAK: It's at two.

WEXLER: I believe it was in all the newspapers.

NOVAK: No, it was all -- the only poll out so far this week is...

DREIER: Bush has been consistent...

NOVAK: Wait a minute.

WEXLER: It had literally every poll.

NOVAK: The only poll out this week so far is the Zogby poll which shows a lengthening lead, and you're going to see some polls tomorrow that are even wider.

WEXLER: Lets not waste people's time talking about the specific polls.

NOVAK: OK, all right.

DREIER: Let's do, because that's what we've got.

PRESS: One at a time.

WEXLER: The important thing is schools and health care.


WEXLER: Let me talk about Florida. People care about prescription drugs, Al Gore is there, George W. is not. George W. wants a Medicare age of 67.

DREIER: That's just not true, that's just not true.

NOVAK: OK, well...

WEXLER: He's going to burn in Florida.

NOVAK: The man -- that's...

PRESS: David Dreier, go ahead.

DREIER: That is a gross misrepresentation of George Bush's position. The fact of the matter is, he has come forward with a bold plan for Social Security which is going to ensure that every Floridian and every American who is either on retirement or looking to retirement is able to stay in the system, he's talking about those who are younger having an option to invest a small part -- a small part so that they can have a comfortable retirement and see a better return on it.

If you look at the issue of education, we all know that George Bush is committed to making sure that every single American child has the best quality education. And if you look at the overall issue of national security, which has really come to the forefront with this breach of national security thing.


PRESS: OK, OK, OK, right, campaign...

WEXLER: Actually, let's just -- why don't we just talk about actual facts, facts being that this week George W. Bush endorsed the House Republicans plan for an estate tax elimination which benefits...

DREIER: To help the poor people, just like Bob Novak said, to help the poor.

WEXLER: ... only the top 2 percent of people, about 500 families in America.

DREIER: That's just wrong. That is wrong.

NOVAK: Robert, how many Democrats voted for that?

WEXLER: I think about some 60 some odd Democrats.

DREIER: About 63, 63 Democrats voted with it, we have a veto- proof majority on that vote here.


NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break, as much fun as we are having, and when we come back we are going to give you excitement, Al Gore on his progress and prosperity tour of America.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Even before he named a new campaign manager today, Al Gore had changed his line -- again, no more Mr. Nasty, switching instead to Mr. Nice Guy, who has been making a progress and prosperity tour. But the vice president is now running further behind George W. Bush. What to do now?

We're asking two enthusiastic Gore and Bush partisans from the halls of Congress: Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, and David Dreier, Republican of California -- Bill.

PRESS: Congressman Dreier, let's see if you can be equally candid and -- on the progress and prosperity tour. We are just experiencing nine years of the longest period of economic growth in American history, eight of those nine years under Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

Even you would have to admit that Bill Clinton and Al Gore deserve at least some of the credit for this great economy, right?

DREIER: Bill -- once again, Bill Press, I'm going to agree with you.

PRESS: I can't stand it.

DREIER: When Bill Clinton -- I -- you know, I often sit with you on this program and I know I get frustrated with it, but when you're coming to my side, you're welcome any time. You know what? Bill Clinton gets credit for embracing Republican themes of balancing the budget, reforming welfare, global trade; issues that he did not support when he was a candidate, especially on the trade issue, and once he became president he joined.

And you know what? We've won the war of ideas. The George W. Bush campaign, which many argue have -- has actually embraced the DLC agenda -- actually, that's the Republican agenda, it's the Republican agenda which is going to continue with fiscal responsibility and at the same time provide what Al Gore, the American People know is not providing, and that's strong leadership -- strong leadership.

PRESS: So, building on what you just said, when Al Gore asks the American people that important Ronald Reagan question, are you better off than you were eight years ago, the answer is a resounding yes, thank you, Al Gore?

DREIER: The answer is the Republican United States Congress, Alan Greenspan's policies and Bill Clinton's embrace of Republican issues has created a stronger economy. You're right, that's the way it should be answered.

PRESS: Better off today, right.

DREIER: Better off today, because of Republican leadership.

PRESS: All right, elect Al Gore. Thank you, David Dreier, big endorsement.

NOVAK: Congressman Wexler, I want to ask you to take off your congressman's hat, put on a critic's hat, and we are going to give you a sound bite from Al Gore right today on the progress and prosperity tour and I want you to judge him on style points and substance points. Let's listen to him first.


GORE: One side says let's take that entire surplus and spend a trillion dollars to privatize Social Security and almost $2 trillion on a huge tax plan that mainly goes to the upper brackets. One big problem with that choice would be that if we immediately stop paying down the debt and instead go back into deficits, that could ensure that the prosperity and progress ends.


NOVAK: You've heard of slow dancing. That's called slow talking. On style points, he flunks, doesn't he?

WEXLER: No, he doesn't, Bob. I've been with the vice president when he's campaigning in south Florida...

NOVAK: What did you think of that?

WEXLER: ... and he's been excellent. I'm not going to respond to clips, who knows what you do with those things.

NOVAK: That's his speech.

WEXLER: But, no, let me tell what you he really did when I saw him in Deerfield Beach, Florida, when he talked about the family history of his mother and his father, and he talked about prescription drugs, and he talked with school kids at a public school. That was a warm Al Gore. He is in fact connecting with people.

NOVAK: Substance points on that, what he's saying is that you are spending the surplus if you give people tax cuts across the board. Is that American?

WEXLER: Bob, do the semantics all you want, the American people understand. On the one hand, you have Al Gore wants to pay down the debt with targeted tax relief. On the other, you have George W. Bush who wants a $2 trillion tax cut that benefits the most wealthy. Can't we at least agree on that?

DREIER: He wants to provide tax relief for working families all the way across the board.

NOVAK: Well, then why doesn't he want tax relief for everybody? But don't forget, rich people pay more taxes than poor people, so they should get more tax relief. WEXLER: Well, that's what you say. What we argue is, is we need some help in the public schools and why don't we help people with the regressive tax?


NOVAK: All right, I can't let you go, Congressman, on this business of paying down the debt. Just this week on his progress and prosperity tour, he established a new -- an idea for new trusts, a trust on education, a trust on health, a trust on environment. He's going to spend the entire surplus, isn't he?

WEXLER: No, he isn't. He's going to actually pay down the debt. He's going to balance the books forever. He's going to keep...

DREIER: Balance the books forever, that's an interesting promise.

WEXLER: He's going to keep interest rates low. On the other hand, your guy is going to create surpluses that never exist again.

DREIER: That's just baloney.

PRESS: Congressman Dreier, you've mentioned education a couple of times. George W. Bush says it's his number one domestic priority. Yesterday, New York billionaire Ted Forceman (ph) offered a million bucks -- $500,000 to Al Gore, $500,000 to George Bush to go their favorite charity, if they'll have a debate on education alone, 90 minutes on television. Al Gore right away said you bet, count me in. What's the matter with George W. Bush?

DREIER: There's nothing the matter with George W. Bush.

PRESS: Well, why won't he say yes?

DREIER: You know what, George Bush is going to have a debate on the issue of education, and he knows when the American people are going to begin focusing on this thing, Bill. The fact of the matter is, I'll tell you the most interesting debate on education, and that was the one that took place in our home state of California, and I remember in that Los Angeles debate George Bush stepped up, and he talked about his passionate commitment to making sure that every single American child is able to have a first-quality education, and that is a priority if we're going to maintain our global competitiveness.

PRESS: Let's tell the truth. George W. Bush's handlers just won't let him do the debate right now because they know he's not yet ready for primetime, right? He's stalling.

DREIER: What did you say at the outset of this program, Bill Press? What you said is...

PRESS: What I said is I want you to be candid and admit that George W. Bush isn't ready. DREIER: And you know I've been candid on every one of these things. And I'll tell you what I'm going to be candid on again, and that is the fact that you said this is all inside-baseball stuff. We know very much -- very well that as we head into this summer, there are a lot of other priorities that people have. We are going to have our party conventions, and we're going to have ample time for debate when the campaign season begins.

My constituents say they are sick and tired of constant campaigns, and a lot of them tune out CROSSFIRE.


NOVAK: CROSSFIRE, oh, you lost me there.

Congressman Wexler, you had brought up the cut in the estate tax. Why is it -- I know the answer to this. I want to see if you know the answer. Why is it that a vast majority of the American people favor the repeal of the estate tax, even though it personally affects only 3 percent of the voters. Why is that?

WEXLER: Because America is a great country, and we all think we're going to be rich one day.

NOVAK: Exactly. Exactly.

WEXLER: And that doesn't make it an equitable...

NOVAK: Exactly. You've got the right answer.

WEXLER: That's right. It doesn't make it an equitable thing to do.


PRESS: And also they don't understand it.

Thank you.

DREIER: So he's giving up the class warfare argument. I appreciate Bob giving up the credit for it.

PRESS: Thank you both. Thank you, Congressman Robert Wexler.

WEXLER: Thank you.

PRESS: Congressman David Dreier, thank you also for joining us.

And that's not the last word. Bob Novak and I will get the last word: closing comments coming up.


PRESS: Bob, I think Tony Coelho is a good guy. He's done a good job. I think Bill Daley is a good guy, and he'll do a good job for Al Gore, too. But you've got to admit, Bob, I mean, nobody votes for the campaign manager.

NOVAK: No, but I'll tell you what. They brought some adult supervision in, a guy like Bill Daley who doesn't have all that baggage that Tony had, had to carry. It's a good move. But when you get a slow-talking vice president, soundbites like that is what you're going to get from now to November. Will the Republican -- will the American people vote him into office? May be, but it may be difficult, Bill.

PRESS: But I've seen him when he's really animated, and I've seen him, Bob, when he's really slow. Today, he was really slow.

NOVAK: All right, then you can imagine.

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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