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George W. Bush Facing Questions About Capital Punishment; High Fuel Prices Threaten to Be Liability for Gore; Senate Skewers RichardsonAired June 21, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The death penalty is not an easy subject for a lot of folks. I'm going to uphold the laws of the land. And if it costs me politically, it costs me politically.
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BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: A day before another inmate's scheduled execution in Texas, George W. Bush suggests he won't be swayed by protests or politics.
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AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to be one who continues to speak out on behalf of American motorists and American families, who want some relief.
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JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Al Gore gets pumped up over high gas prices, again, even though it sidetracks him from his main message.
SHAW: Plus, fireworks in that New York Senate race and poll numbers that may explain Hillary Clinton's burst of negativity.
ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us.
We begin with the political trials for George W. Bush as convicted killer Gary Graham faces death by lethal injection in Texas tomorrow. If there is no reprieve, it would be the 135th execution in Bush's state during his tenure as governor, and 14 more are scheduled before election day, suggesting the controversy for Bush is likely to linger on.
Our Candy Crowley reports from California on Bush, still on the defensive over the death penalty.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The crux of the matter is the life of Texas inmate Gary Graham. The politics of the matter is the measure of George Bush.
BUSH: The death penalty is not an easy subject for a lot of folks. I'm going to uphold the laws of the land, and if it costs me politically, it costs me politically.
CROWLEY: In fact, Bush maintains his ability to affect the fate of Gary Graham is limited to agreeing or disagreeing with whatever the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles decides. Former Governor Ann Richards granted Graham a 30-day stay in 1993, and the way the Bush office reads the law, an inmate may receive only one stay.
But the Graham decision remains politically significant, both for its visibility and the window it opens into the depth of Bush's thinking on the issue. Politically, it's not about what Bush can or can't do, or what he does or doesn't decide, but how he is seen handling the issue.
BUSH: I'm going to take my time and look at the case like I do every other case. I'm going to treat this no differently than any other case that has come across may desk. In making the decision -- it's a tough decision. They're not easy. I also keep in mind the victims.
CROWLEY: The Wednesday morning news conference was unusually somber, deliberate and dominated by questions about the Graham case.
BUSH: The death penalty is a subject that needs to be debated in America, and cases come along that cause -- that spark the debate. And this is one. And however, that doesn't change my job.
CROWLEY: Though the numbers are slipping, almost two-thirds of Americans still favor the death penalty. In 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton returned to Arkansas to highlight his decision to allow an execution.
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GOV. WILLIAM J. CLINTON (D-AR), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support capital punishment.
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CROWLEY: Beyond the legalities of the case, politically, it was viewed as a plus for Clinton, who was trying to shake the soft-on- crime liberal image of his party. Bush is on a somewhat parallel, perhaps more personal course. Not given to public self-analysis or reflection, Bush battles a perception that he's not serious enough, and few issues call for more seriousness than the death penalty.
Candy Crowley, CNN, Los Angeles. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SHAW: Meanwhile in Texas, prison officials are preparing for Gary Graham's execution even as the case goes through the last phases of the appeals process.
CNN's Charles Zewe is at the Huntsville prison -- Charles.
CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, Gary Graham spent this day with family and friends inside of the death row chamber, the units (UNINTELLIGIBLE) unit, which is in Livingtson, very close to Huntsville. Some time later today or early in the morning, he's expected to be moved to a holding cell right off the death chamber itself.
Graham, now 36, claims he's innocent and was wrongly convicted 19 years ago of murdering an Arizona man outside a Houston supermarket. He's asking the state Board of Pardons and Paroles for either a 120- day reprieve to try to further prove his innocence or a commutation of his death sentence.
The state's pardons board chairman, Gerald Garrett, said today it looks to him like the facts of the case support the conviction and death sentence.
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GERALD GARRETT, CHAIRMAN, TEXAS BOARD OF PARDONS AND PAROLES: The facts do lend to support the conviction and the findings of the jury, but there is still information that I want to review and be sure that I have, in fact, taken all of that into consideration.
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ZEWE: The pardon board expected to announce its decision at midday Central Time tomorrow. That is less than six hours before Graham is scheduled to die by lethal injection here at the Walls (ph) unit in Huntsville.
Meanwhile, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Amnesty International's Bianca Jagger in Houston today again called for a reprieve in the case to allow further appeals or further examination of the evidence. No indication yet that the pardon board members, who will vote by fax in this case -- who will not meet, but vote by fax -- will consider doing that.
Charles Zewe, CNN live, Huntsville, Texas.
WOODRUFF: Thank you, Charles.
While most capital punishments are carried out at the state level, there is a federal death penalty as well.
Our Bruce Morton looks at that and whether it is an issue for Vice President Gore.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... innocent man! Don't kill an innocent man.
BUSH: the great thing about America is people are able to express themselves.
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BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dealing with death penalty protests is all in a day's work for governors. But what about Vice President Gore?
GORE: I do support the death penalty. I have not changed my position on that and will not.
MORTON: He's for it, too. Does that matter?
The federal government hasn't executed anyone since 1963, but there is a federal death penalty.
(on camera): In 1988, Congress authorized the death penalty for murder in the course of what it called "drug-kingpin conspiracies." Then, in 1994, as part of an omnibus crime bill, Congress expanded the federal death penalty to include some 60 other offenses.
(voice-over): Federal inmates await their execution at this facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. One of the residents here is Timothy McVeigh, who was sentenced to death for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people. Along with McVeigh, the Bureau of Prisons has 19 other inmates that now live on federal death row.
The Death Row Information Center says the racial breakdown is 14 blacks, four whites, one Hispanic, and one Asian.
One inmate, sentenced to death in 1993, is due to be executed August 5th.
Gore supports the moratorium on executions in Illinois, but...
GORE: I fully support the use of DNA testing in circumstances where it can improve the administration of justice. And if there were the kind of record they found in Illinois in some other criminal justice system, then it would, in my view, justify a moratorium, just as in Illinois.
I do not think in the federal -- in the federal courts that the evidence justifies a moratorium, and I have not been supportive of it.
MORTON: As governor, George W. Bush cannot commute a death sentence unless a majority of the 18-member Board of Pardons and Paroles votes to commute. As vice president, Gore can't commute a federal death sentence either. Only the president can pardon a federal death row inmate.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
SHAW: And still ahead on INSIDE POLITICS, high gas prices and the campaign trail: a look at how the cost of fuel is shaping debate for the presidential hopefuls.
WOODRUFF: The ministers of the oil-producing countries today agreed to increase crude oil production by 3 percent. But it remains to be seen whether that will ease the high prices at U.S. gas pumps.
On Capitol Hill this afternoon, lawmakers from the Midwest met with Environmental Protection Agency officials to discuss the situation, but participants are divided over whom is to blame for the high cost, the administration or the oil companies.
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REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: If we don't have an energy policy in this country, and we rely too much on foreign energy and we let OPEC start to dictate what the prices of oil in this country, our consumers suffer. So I would think that we need to have a better and stronger energy policy in this country.
CAROL BROWNER, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: You know what I think? I there is some very poor management going on, and I think that there is some unfair treatments of consumers, and what we need to see now is the prices for the consumers at the pumps to drop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Out on the campaign trail, George W. Bush once again criticized the administration and Vice President Gore for failing to persuade overseas producers to increase production. With prices holding at more than $2 a gallon in some parts of the country, Gore may be forced to deal with this issue often in the coming months.
Our John King reports.
JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some days the shots just won't falling. Even the photo-ops stray from the careful campaign script.
The vice president came to Iowa to talk about retirement savings, but felt the need to first make clear where he stands on the issue of sticker shock at the gas pump across the Midwest.
GORE: I think it's time to put our feet on the brakes of what may well be Big Oil's price gouging.
KING: Then it was on to the main event. This was a carpenter's hall, so the vice president tried to draw a contrast using the local lingo.
GORE: What is the old saying, measure twice before you cut once.
KING: The charts were designed to make Gore's case that his retirement savings plan was a better deal for families and for the Social Security system.
GORE: Now this is the choice in this election: Are you for working people? Are you for people who would benefit from this kind of an approach or not? That's the difference.
KING: Governor Bush told reporters in California that his was the better plan and that he looked forward to the debate. If the vice president has to fight for Iowa's seven electoral votes come fall, it will be a sign of trouble. Bill Clinton comfortably carried the state in 1992 and 1996, and Iowa was one of just 10 states that supported Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988.
GORE: I have gotten to know this state extremely well, and I know what prosperity has meant for so many of you.
KING (on camera): The vice president used his stop in Des Moines to unveil a plan to reduce estate taxes for small businesses and family farmers. It would cost about $7 billion over 10 years. It was the latest example of a recent Gore pattern: Take an issue being aggressively pushed by Bush and other Republicans, like retirement savings and tax cuts, and claim it as his own, but with a smaller price tag, so the vice president can make the case he's the candidate of fiscal responsibility.
John King, CNN, Des Moines, Iowa..
SHAW: Joining us now, Tucker Carlson of "The Weekly Standard" and Jay Carney of "Time" magazine.
To both of you, this question about retirement savings account: Is either man getting the better part of this issue -- Jay?
JAMES CARNEY, "CNN & TIME" CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bernie, I think there are two audiences here, and right now, the most important audience is probably the elites, the media, the people who are actually paying attention to the campaign right now. The general public, as the campaigns will tell you, is not really paying attention.
And in terms of appeals to the elites, to the opinion maker, George W. Bush's campaign has been very effective. He's won very high marks and a lot of praise from not just Republicans and conservatives, but op-ed writers and some Democrats for being bold on Social Security. Now winning elite opinion doesn't in the end always mean that you're going to win public opinion, and Gore's campaign knows that, and they feel that they've got a real advantage on this because of the fact that the secret of Bush's plan is that he will have to cut benefits in order to make it happen. The original Social Security plan will shrink in order to pay for the private investment account.
TUCKER CARLSON, "WEEKLY STANDARD": The key audience I think that Gore was aiming toward was of course the elderly, and he was trying to make the case, and did, that the Bush plan was scary, and risky and was going to pull the safety net out from beneath them. That didn't seem to work, and so now you have Gore proposing a plan that in some ways is very much like the Bush plan. And the Bush campaign has a talking point -- it's just a talking point, but it is clever, and I think there is probably some truth in it.
They say, look, here Gore has been saying that it's dangerous to put Social Security funds into the market. Why is it all of a sudden OK to put any government money that has to with Social Security into the market? And I must say, I haven't heard the Gore campaign come up with a good answer to that.
CARNEY: Well, Gore is definitely a finger-in-the-wind candidate on some of these issues, and he's doing it on his tax cut as well. Suddenly $500 billion is enough, but a trillion is too much, which is the Bush -- $1.3 trillion is the Bush tax cut. But Gore does have the advantage of being the one who's protecting the status quo on Social Security. He's pandering a lot, because he wants to say, I can give you Social Security and I can give another few hundred billion dollars.
SHAW: Who has the advantage on the issue of rising gas prices? Who can be hurt most?
CARLSON: Well, Gore, of course can be hurt most. And you see that, you know, the Gore campaign is frantically trying to make this a question of price gouging by evil oil companies, and the Bush campaign is trying to make it a matter of foreign policy. You know, why hasn't the administration done more?
It's interesting, this is the exact kind of issue that Clinton would have used masterfully, that Dick Morris, and Penn and Schoen (ph), and all the people who've worked for Clinton over the years would have been able to pinpoint as an issue that upsets suburban voters. You know, when it costs 500 bucks to drive to Disney World, voters get mad, and he would have leveraged that.
And I think Bush has been surprisingly standoffish about it, hasn't really pressed it as much as he could have.
I don't know if it's a reflection of his lack of meanness or what.
CARNEY: I was going to say it's a reflection of Bush coming -- you know, his years of Midland, Texas. If you talk to his oil buddies down in Midland, they're ecstatic about the price of gasoline. I mean, this has been good news in West Texas, and Bush is in touch with a lot of the folks. And they make the point in real dollars, it might seem like a high price, but it's actually not that high compared to what we were paying 10 years ago.
SHAW: Well, on the point of how Clinton would have exploited the situation, why do you suppose that Clinton is not whispering in Gore's ear, saying do it this way, play it that way?
CARLSON: Well, I mean, doubtless he is. How do you spend this exactly?
I mean, the Clinton-Gore administration been around for almost eight years and gas prices have risen. And Jay may be absolutely right they may just reflect inflation or whatever, but the point it's very hard to come up with an easy sort of rhetorical comeback to the question, why is gas $2 a gallon?
SHAW: Texas. the governor, George W. Bush, has to walk on eggshells when it comes to this question of the death penalty?
CARNEY: He does, and it's interesting that the Bush campaign seems to believe that this is not a potentially damaging issue. Simply because the American public still, by a majority, supports the death penalty. There are a lot of subissues that are dangerous here for Bush, in terms of seeming overly certain about the process in Texas, which has been exposed to be not a very good one. If you were on death row, you wouldn't want to be represented by some of the lawyers who represent inmates here.
SHAW: Mistake for him to say categorically that every person who has been executed...
CARNEY: Well, I think to keep repeating it...
SHAW: ... no innocent person has been killed.
CARNEY: I think it's a mistake. I think a better stance would be to be reflective about the awful possibility that something went wrong.
CARLSON: But if you do think of the options for a minute, he doesn't really have an option. If he said, well, you know, we might have killed innocent people, I'm not that troubled by it. There is not much more he can say. It will be much more difficult for Gore to hit him on it. There are principled opponents of the death penalty who have, I think, compelling arguments about why government shouldn't kill its own citizens, but there aren't many of them speaking in public, and it's going to be very hard for Gore to hit on this. Gore is pro-death penalty. He is, you know, Gore is in favor of post- viability abortions. It will be hard for him to come out as some sort of, you know, great life candidate.
SHAW: And also there's the stereotype of the Democrats being soft on crime.
CARLSON: But that's so different now. I mean, Democrats are the most avid -- many of the most avid supporters of it.
CARNEY: It's different, but I agree with Bernie that this is still -- I mean, the public could easily fall back to thinking that liberals are soft on crime, and that's why Gore is so silent.
I think the death penalty is for Gore like oil is for Bush, that Bush can lay back and let Gore pay the price for high oil prices. And Gore will keep silent and see if there's any negative effect on Bush for the death penalty.
SHAW: Jay Carney, "Time" magazine. Tucker Carlson, the "Weekly Standard," thank you.
WOODRUFF: And much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.
SHAW: Still to come, the New York Senate race.
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FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question is: Whose vision of the Republican candidate will voters be considering?
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SHAW: Frank Buckley on the fight to shape Rick Lazio's image in the Empire State. Plus:
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SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: We are holding you accountable. These incidents happened on your watch.
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WOODRUFF: Questions and blame as the energy secretary goes to Capitol Hill.
WOODRUFF: We'll have more of this day's political news coming up, but now a look at some other top stories.
Two former classmates say Michael Skakel confessed to them that he had killed his next door neighbor in 1975. Skakel is the nephew of Ethel and Robert Kennedy.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick has details on today's testimony in the probable cause hearing.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On cross- examination, a former schoolmate of Michael Skakel said he was sure without a doubt that Skakel confessed to him about the murder of Martha Moxley. Gregory Coleman said he was not 99 percent sure, he was 100 percent sure that Skakel had made the incriminating statement.
(on camera): Now, the defense attorney said that the only reason the schoolmate was here today testifying was in the hopes of either getting his sentence reduced or getting money to help him start a life once he got out of prison. Coleman is now serving several months for a criminal trespassing misdemeanor,
Now, Coleman said that the reason he came forward is because he saw Mrs. Moxley on television and that prompted him to speak out. Coleman also testified about the Elan School. The two boys both attended that in the late '70s and some of the horrors of what happened there came out on this witness stand.
Coleman said that kids were put into what's called a ring. They were beaten until they were no longer standing or until they said something that the people who were beating them wanted to hear.
One girl apparently was beaten so badly that she had to be airlifted out of that school.
Also on the stand, Andrew Pugh, a friend of Michael Skakel's. He said that the two men met up about 15 years after the murder, and when Skakel tried to rekindle the friendship, Pugh said he couldn't do that, because he thought Michael had somehow been involved with the murder of Martha Moxley. That's when he says Skakel told him that he was in a tree that night fondling himself, but he said Skakel told him he had nothing to do with the murder.
Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Stamford, Connecticut.
SHAW: Big problems for beach-goers in a part of Miami. A massive sewage spill into Miami's Biscayne Bay means some fifteen miles of beaches will be closed for several days. Officials have banned fishing, swimming, and bathing. Construction workers accidentally punctured an underground waste main yesterday.
A huge crowd turned out to give the Lakers a hero's welcome in Los Angeles. An estimated 200,000 people packed city streets today to cheer the team's first NBA championship in 12 years.
WOODRUFF: Twenty-two Asian-American war veterans received the Medal of Honor for valor in combat during World War II. Recipients laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns earlier today. Among those accepting the nation's highest honor for combat, Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye.
When INSIDE POLITICS returns, the Senate tongue-lashing of Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.
WOODRUFF: On Capitol Hill today, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson faced angry senators and the political fallout from the disappearance of nuclear secrets which finally turned up at the Los Alamos weapons lab five days ago.
Details on the confrontation from CNN's Pierre Thomas.
PIERRE THOMAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A federal grand jury is now investigating whether there was a cover-up in the disappearance of hard drives at Los Alamos National Laboratory. But Energy Secretary Bill Richardson assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that there's still no evidence of espionage.
Still, some senators were angry Richardson was only now addressing congressional questions about a scandal that broke last week.
Critics included the Senate's senior Democrat.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: And you've shown a contempt of Congress that borders on a supreme arrogance. You would never again receive the support of the Senate of the United States for any office to which you might be appointed.
It's gone. You've squandered your treasure, and I'm sorry.
BILL RICHARDSON, ENERGY SECRETARY: I hope to earn Senator Byrd's trust again. Maybe not. I disagree with what you've said senator.
THOMAS: Republicans say Richardson has not fully upgraded security, as he promised to do in the wake of espionage allegations at the lab last year, and they were furious there were not more inventory controls over computer hard-drives containing classified information about dismantling nuclear weapons.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I believe you've lost what credibility you have left on Capitol Hill, and I think it's time for you to go.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: We are holding you accountable. These incidents happened on your watch. Like the captain of the ship, you must bear full accountability. The buck stops right there on your desk.
THOMAS: But Richardson defended his tenure, pointing to 21 improvements, including budget and personnel increases aimed at stopping espionage.
RICHARDSON: And in two years, I've done more on security and counterintelligence than in the past 20 years. We've changed policies.
THOMAS (on camera): But some disturbing questions remain. Who moved the hard-drives? Who might have had access? And why? Why didn't anyone bother to immediately report they were missing?
Pierre Thomas, CNN, Washington.
SHAW: Now, we turn to the U.S. Senate race in New York, where some sharp words also have been exchanged in recent days. CNN's Frank Buckley has an update on Clinton versus Lazio, the polls and the potshots.
BUCKLEY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton has campaigned for a year. Her Republican opponent, Congressman Rick Lazio, has been a candidate for a month. But the most recent polling in the race confirms Lazio has already pulled even: The Marist Institute showing the two are tied, but the type of support each candidate is receiving.
Among Clinton supporters, 85 percent say they are for Hillary Clinton as opposed to against Rick Lazio. But among Lazio's supporters, only 43 percent say they are for Rick Lazio while more than half, 53 percent, say they support Lazio because they are against Hillary Clinton.
LEE MIRINGOFF, MARIST INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC OPINION: The race is all about Hillary. When we ask people who like her why they're voting, they say, well, we're voting for her because they're positive about her. We ask people why they're voting for Lazio, they say, well, because we don't like Hillary.
So in a sense, she's defining it both positively and negatively, and he is largely unknown .
BUCKLEY: Despite the massive media attention on Lazio following Rudy Giuliani's decision to pull out of the race, Lazio remains a question mark to many voters. While his favorable numbers is at a respectable 50 percent, 38 percent of registered voters are either unsure of their impression or have never heard of the Long Island Republican.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN AD)
ED KOCH, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I like Rick Lazio, but I'm not voting for him. He's wrong on too many issues. He opposes licensing and registration of handguns, which I support and Hillary supports. He's not...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BUCKLEY: Clinton TV ads now airing in New York are largely targeted at those voters as are the increasingly pointed comments from Mrs. Clinton directed at Lazio.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, I think you'll find, as you look at my opponent's record, he has a pattern of changing positions, trying to figure out which way the political winds are blowing.
BUCKLEY: The Clinton campaign still sees an opportunity to define Rick Lazio to voters as too conservative.
BILL DE BLASSIO, CLINTON CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I do believe there's a soft element to the Lazio support. Folks who may have been appealed to by the initial information they had, but particularly as they got that more substantive information they're going to be turned off and they're going to be looking at Hillary again.
BUCKLEY: Lazio is also beginning to experience the intense scrutiny of this particular Senate campaign. Clinton supporter and New York state comptroller Carl McCall calling this week for an investigation into a Lazio stock option trade that resulted in a nearly 600 percent profit, the company he invested in run by political supporters who had given money to previous Lazio campaigns.
McCall, writing in a letter to the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission: "The public has a right to know if any violations occurred or if there's nothing more here than an appearance problem."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, LAZIO CAMPAIGN AD)
REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), SENATE CANDIDATE: Hillary Clinton has already started running attack ads designed to fool you about me. Her ads are simply untrue.
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BUCKLEY: But Lazio is returning fire in the race with TV ads of his own as he attempts to define himself before the Clinton campaign does.
(on camera): For the moment, however, polling suggests this race is still about Hillary Clinton: many voters deciding whether or not to support Lazio based upon how they feel about the first lady. But the dynamic will likely shift by November when voters will have a clearer picture of Lazio: The question is, who's vision of the Republican candidate will voters be considering?
Frank Buckley, CNN, New York.
WOODRUFF: Up next, election 2000 and control of the Senate. More on New York and other key races with senators Robert Torricelli and Mitch McConnell.
SHAW: That New York Senate race that Frank Buckley reported on just before the commercial is just one piece of the larger picture, the fight for control of the United States Senate.
Currently, the Republicans hold 55 seats; the Democrats, 45. For Democrats, four states are on CNN political analyst Stu Rothenberg's list of most endangered seats, including New York and New Jersey.
Republicans have eight seats in the vulnerable or toss-up columns, including Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida.
Overall, Rothenberg is predicting Democrats could see a net gain of two to four seats in November: not enough to take control. Well, joining us now from the Senate Gallery, the chairman of the parties' Senate campaign committees: Democrat Robert Torricelli and Republican Mitch McConnell.
Mr. McConnell, your assessment of your party's chances look in the Senate?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: Well, we certainly have a lot of tough races. I think we can hold a majority. But I think Stu Rothenberg is about right. Staying even would be a good day for us, because we do have a number of people in tough races and a lot fewer opportunities, Bernie, to pick up seats currently held by the Democrats.
SHAW: Senator Torricelli, are you hoping to make the Republicans have a bad day?
SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI (D-NJ), CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC SENATORIAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE: I'm going to do my best. The calendar favors Democrats. As Senator McConnell suggested, they simply have more seats to defend and many more vulnerable seats. Mr. McConnell is a very competitor and I do not underestimate that in any way.
But the issues favor us overwhelmingly. The national debate is focused on health care and environmental issues, reasonable gun control. That makes this election, many of these states, a home game for us.
SHAW: Well, are there any races where you're really biting your fingernails, very candidly, one or two?
TORRICELLI: Oh, eight or 10. There are...
MCCONNELL: Yes, quite a few.
TORRICELLI: Many of these races are in the margin of error. Michigan, with Debbie Stabenow against Spence Abraham is a couple of point race. Missouri, Senator Ashcroft against Governor Carnahan, could -- either could be in the lead at the moment. And obviously, New York is very close. I don't agree that New Jersey is that close, but that could be my....
SHAW: What about Chuck Robb in Virginia?
TORRICELLI: Chuck Robb in Virginia, again, was 10 or 12 points back a year ago, now the race appears to be even. Any of those races could go either way.
SHAW: Do you agree with that, Mr. McConnell?
MCCONNELL: Yes, Bernie. Yes, you left out one place where we have an opportunity for a pick up, that is in Nevada, where our candidate has a 20-point lead after the other guy being on the air for quite a while. We also, as you indicated, have a good opportunity for a pick up in Virginia; we think in New York, as well; and Nebraska, a state now where you don't have an incumbent running, and even though the Democrats recruited their best candidate in Nebraska, we think we have a real shot at Nebraska.
SHAW: OK, let's parachute in on two races.
Senator Torricelli, is Hillary Clinton going negative in the New York Senate race?
TORRICELLI: I think Hillary Clinton is following the right strategy, and she is a very well-known figure and very well defined on issues and as a personality. She is running against a clean slate. What she needs to do is make clear that the Rick Lazio that looks like such a pleasant fellow is also against the registration of guns, and voted for $270 billion in Medicare cuts, is against hiring new teachers, and has a bad environmental record.
If you fill that in, he becomes identifiable. Now, is that a negative campaign? I don't think identifying issues and distinguishing between candidates on issues is negative. That is about having people make choices.
SHAW: Mr. McConnell?
MCCONNELL: Bernie, yes, you get the drift. The approach here is going to be to demonize Rick Lazio and try to paint him as some kind of right-wing extremist. He's about as much a right-wing extremist as Hillary Clinton is a Yankees fan. In fact, you know, Rick is a classic moderate, Northeastern Republican, the kind who have typically had a good chance to succeed in that section our country. I don't think Hillary Clinton becoming the attack dog or, as I said the other day, as sort of James Carville in a skirt, is going to work very well.
SHAW: Mr. McConnell, Jon Corzine in New Jersey showed that he has intensely deep pockets. The man spent millions. He is going against your Republican Bob Franks. Is the national party going to match Corzine dollar for dollar to help...
MCCONNELL: Gosh, no, I don't think we have enough money to match Corzine. But it's interesting to note that Corzine, after spending $30 million, in excess of $30 million to beat a very flawed candidate, has poll numbers after wining the primary that ranked about like John Rocker's.
I mean, this guy didn't come out of it looking very good, and the first thing he did after the primary was to lay off 51 employees and take off for a vacation in the Caicos. I mean, this is a guy who sort of lives like Gordon Gekko, while he campaigns like Hubert Humphrey. I think New Jersey is very much in play.
SHAW: OK, entertain me while I skip to two other topics. We're fast running out of time.
Do you think the death penalty is going to become a national issue, given the situation with Texas Governor George W. Bush and the scheduled execution for tomorrow?
TORRICELLI: Well, I think the death penalty is a national issue. I personally favor the death penalty, and have felt a confidence in the new standards that the Supreme Court has had about counsel and a second jury decision. But I will concede that since Governor Ryan of Illinois announced his moratorium, I believe the issue has to be revisited again...
SHAW: Mr. McConnell.
TORRICELLI: ... on the admissibility of DNA and rising standards.
MCCONNELL: Yes, both Gore and Bush favor the death penalty. But everybody wants to make certain that you use whatever new technology is available to make sure that the verdict is correct. I don't think there will be any argument about that.
SHAW: OK, who is to blame for these high gas prices, especially in the Middle West, especially in Michigan, especially in Illinois, Mr. Torricelli?
TORRICELLI: A confluence of factors. In some respects, all of us. This nation has been on notice for 30 years that we cannot continue this dependence on foreign oil. But energy research programs for alternatives have been slashed year after year. Gas mileage is no longer improving.
I hope this is a wake-up call for the country to get serious about it. In the short term, it means investigating there is not price gouging, I hope releasing this strategic petroleum reserve. But long term, it means getting serious about technology.
SHAW: Mr. McConnell, you can button it up.
MCCONNELL: Yes, well, the administration doesn't want to explore or develop any kind of oil production in the United States. We are now 55 percent depend on foreign sources. They control the price of gas in the United States. The absence of an energy policy over the last eight years is beginning to show.
SHAW: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS, pleasure to have you.
TORRICELLI: Thank you, Bernie.
MCCONNELL: Thank you.
SHAW: And still ahead, the debate: Should third-party candidates be heard?
Plus, the debates commission takes a page from the primaries. That's next.
WOODRUFF: In Connecticut, a new poll shows George W. Bush has moved into a near dead heat with Al Gore in that state. The Quinnipiac University Poll of registered voters shows Gore at 43 percent, Bush at 42 percent. Two months ago, Gore led Bush by 9 points in Connecticut.
The Non-Partisan Commission on Presidential Debates today published its terms for the fall candidate face-offs. Under the plan, which the candidates have not yet agreed to, there would be four debates: three presidential and one vice presidential. Each of them, 90 minutes long. Each on a range of topics. That much is familiar from years past. But there will also be some new features designed to make the debates more free willing.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): For the first time in the history of televised fall presidential debates, the nominees would be allowed to question each other directly under new rules being proposed by the Presidential Debates Commission. It is a format that lit fireworks during the primaries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY BAUER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And four times in a row, Governor, you won't answer the question.
BUSH: Well, let's make it five.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORE: If you want to know my position, I favor a woman's right to choose regardless of the woman's income.
BILL BRADLEY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you still didn't answer the question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: In year's past, direct exchanges between candidates were restricted to carefully timed response and rebuttals.
Also new for 2000, the debates will be available on the Internet, both as live stream video and as video on demand over the commission's Web site. Citizens can also use the Web to suggest questions before the debates and discuss them afterwards.
The formats may have changed, but the rules for who can participate have not. A week before the first debate, the commission will take an average of five national opinion polls, including CNN's. Any candidate with 15 percent or more is invited. The rest sit out. The commission will repeat the process for the last two debates.
If the debates were held next week, neither Ralph Nader, who drew 5 percent in the latest CNN/"Time" poll, nor Pat Buchanan, who drew 4 percent in the same survey, would make the cut.
PAT BUCHANAN, REFORM PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's like Coke and Pepsi saying no other soft drink can enter the market unless they meet a certain criteria. That's preposterous.
RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the American people are going to fall asleep watching the drab debate the dreary.
WOODRUFF: Both Nader and Buchanan are challenging the Debates Commission in court. Just a short while ago, I spoke with Debates Commission co-chairs, Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk. And I began by asking whether Nader is right when he says a debate confines to the two major candidates will be dull?
PAUL KIRK, CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: Well, there's no assumption that can be made, Judy, that only the two major party candidates will be in that. That will be determined in September.
But the truth is that whoever's in it, sometimes democracy can be dreary business. But it's serious business. This is about voter education and the opportunity for the American people to assess the leading candidates in a free exchange and to make a decision about who will be the next president of the United States.
WOODRUFF (on camera): And yet, Frank Fahrenkopf, it's pretty clear going in that the two main political parties have an enormous advantage going in here. Pat Buchanan's point has been that the two parties, in fact, have a strangle hold on these debates?
FRANK FAHRENKOPF, CO-CHAIRMAN, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: But that's really not the case if you look historically. If you go back to 1968, George Wallace, throughout the primary season and into the general election season, was up around 20 points and would have been therefore qualified.
John Anderson in 1980 qualified and actually participated in the first debate. And, as you know, Ross Perot was up to 29 percent -- 39 percent, excuse me, during the primaries. So, you know, if they go out and do their word and appeal to the American people, 15 percent is reachable. There's no attempt here to lock anyone out. They've just got to do their work.
KIRK: And Mr. Buchanan himself said so.
WOODRUFF: Paul Kirk, what about the other point Ralph Nader is making here this week -- in fact he's filing suit -- over the sponsorship of the debates by corporations, saying they're highlighting the exclusive nature of them, saying that they're really a commercial for the two parties -- the two main parties? KIRK: That's not the case. We're a nonprofit, 501(c)3, Judy. And these are corporations, foundations, and others who believe in civic education, civic engagement, and see the debates as a way to educate the American people. They come to it with a healthy spirit. And, you know, it's just -- it's an attack that can be made by one who may or may not be in the debates, but sees it to his advantage to attack the commission.
FAHRENKOPF: And it's clearly within the rules, Judy, of the Federal Election Commission. There's a specific rule, a regulation that allows corporate sponsorship of presidential debates. So I mean, it's within the rules that have been there and have been in existence for past debates.
WOODRUFF: Paul Kirk. do you have agreement at this point? Do you know for a fact that Governor Bush and Vice President Gore are going to participate?
KIRK: No, Judy, because we haven't invited them to participate nor we have -- have we invited anyone. And we will not until it the criteria is applied in September, after all the nominations have been preclude -- have been locked up, and also when the state ballot access threshold has been passed. And at that time, we will extend an invitation to whoever -- whatever candidates have exceeded the 15 percent -- have attained the 15 percent threshold.
WOODRUFF: Frank Fahrenkopf, these rules that you all have laid out, both in January and then today, are these set in stone? Is there any give on the part of the commission here?
FAHRENKOPF: They're not set in stone. They're the results, however, of really 12 years we have been doing the debates, of looking at what is the best way to bring to the American people the leading candidates for president of the United States, so that they can get the most out of -- out of the nature of the debates.
Now, clearly, if one of the candidates feels strongly about something, we are certainly going to listen. There is no way you can require any presidential candidate to debate. They can choose not to debate or they can go elsewhere and debate. But we think that what we've put forth here as a result of experience is the best way to bring the message home to the American people.
WOODRUFF: But for example, Paul Kirk, if the candidates say I don't want this many debates, or I don't want them on these dates, are you saying you might talk to them about that?
KIRK: Yes. But I think that even in the past, Judy, the candidates understand that the very constricted window of opportunity for these debates in the fall is -- these four will take place within two weeks. There are all kinds -- there's the summer Olympics, national football, there's Major League Baseball. And the opportunity to try to maximize the audience, we think we've got the dates will allow us to do that. And the sites that we've selected, they're already in preparation and doing what they need to do to prepare those sites. So I think the candidates will be fair about that. There are some details they may have some issues with. But we want to be fair to the candidates, but most of all we want to be fair to the American electorate. And it's really their input and feedback that -- by which and through which, we have decided that the 90 minute debate, that this certain format, is the way that they get their best information. And we're trying to be responsive to them.
WOODRUFF: All right. Gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Paul Kirk, joining us from Boston, Frank Fahrenkopf here in Washington, thank you both.
FAHRENKOPF: Thank you, Judy.
KIRK: Thank you.
WOODRUFF: That's the "opening bell," you might say.
SHAW: Indeed. When the debates come off they look so well organized and easy, but it's very complex.
WOODRUFF: There's a lot that goes in.
WOODRUFF: And that's it for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS. We will see you again tomorrow. And we'll have a report on whether the Teamsters Union will be endorsing Ralph Nader instead of Al Gore.
Plus, our John King will cover Gore's appearance with Governor Jesse Ventura in Minneapolis.
SHAW: And of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com. I'm Bernard Shaw.
WOODRUFF: And I'm Judy Woodruff. "WORLDVIEW" is next.
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