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Capital Gang

Sen. Pete Domenici Discusses Bush's Choice for VP, Gore's Invasion of Texas and Hillary's Alleged Ethnic Slur

Aired July 22, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson.

Senator Pete Domenici will join us later.

Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney appears to have emerged as the front-runner to be George W. Bush's running mate on the Republican ticket. Cheney flew from Texas to Wyoming yesterday to register as a voter there. This was to eliminate obstacles against electing a president and vice president from the same state, Texas.

Cheney has been responsible for changes Cheney has been responsible for checking out vice presidential prospects for Governor Bush.


RICHARD CHENEY, BUSH ADVISER: I'm not prepared to say anything at this point about what we found on any one particular individual.


SHIELDS: Cheney's change of registration came amid speculation that Senator John McCain might be back in the V.P. picture.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I have not been vetted nor asked for my tax returns or anything like that. So I don't believe that it's -- that I'm in the mix.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I knew that there would be a lot of interesting speculation and talk and rumors, and it doesn't catch me off guard in the least. If it wasn't him, it would be somebody else.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is Dick Cheney for vice president on the level, or is it just a very shrewd move to kill the McCain speculation?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": For Bush's sake, it better be on the level or he's made a huge mistake, because anyone else selected, other than Colin Powell would be compared to a Cheney or a John McCain and would come up short.

Dick Cheney's a good choice, Mark. He's a tough partisan, but he's respected by all sides. He's acceptable to every faction within the Republican Party. He is a man who meets all of George W. Bush's weaknesses -- lack of foreign policy experience, lack of gravitas -- this a guy, former White House chief of staff, former defense secretary, he's done everything. So it's a good pick in that sense.

The to be sure, of course, is that he has had three heart attacks and bypass surgery. And it's far more serious than Bill Bradley, who had some problems with an irregular heartbeat. But if they can surmount that, if that's not a problem, then I think George Bush deserves praise and Republicans ought to be rejoicing.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, Dick Cheney is widely respected. He is seen more stylistically moderate, but he's got the soul of a true conservative. But George Bush this week promised that his choice would light up the eyes of his audience. Does Dick Cheney provide that eyes lighting quality?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Do my eyes look like they're lit up? No, I mean Senator Fred Thompson maybe, Senator Hagel, some of the others on the list, but not Dick Cheney. But he's a nice, solid no- surprise choice.

The problem with Dick Cheney is that the only thing that the vice president needs is to be healthy and stay alive, mostly just be alive. If you're going to be a buck of warm spit, you have to be warm. And if you're going to be a heartbeat away, you don't want to have a faulty heartbeat. And I can see for the next few days all the charts we're going to have of the aorta and the ventricles and all this showing us how his heart might be.

SHIELDS: I think he's got a totally clean bill of health, though, if I'm not mistaken -- Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It's ridiculous. The last trouble he had was 1988. It was 12 years ago, hasn't had any trouble since then. He made a run, a trial run, exploratory run for president...

SHIELDS: In 1996.

NOVAK: ... in 1996. Didn't get out because of health, he didn't get out -- he got out because he wasn't a very good campaigner. That was really the reason. He couldn't turn out an audience. But he's a very good candidate.

The interesting think about it is out of all the people, including John McCain, Al, who would be the president who would be most widely accepted as somebody who could really succeed in the office? And it is Dick Cheney. That's what he does. That's what I think, Margaret, he meant -- Governor Bush meant by lighting up the eyes, if that's what he meant, but this is going to be the guy because he is somebody qualified to be president.

But I agree with Al. If they just pushed him up to take him -- flew him all the way up to Wyoming to go into the courthouse and re- register in order to stamp down the McCain voting, that would be a disaster.

CARLSON: It looks like a frat boy prank if they went that far to keep it a secret and to move McCain off the front page.

SHIELDS: OK, I just -- let me raise two sort of dissident notes here. One is he's been CEO of Haliburton, a major multinational with heavy oil interests. In a summer when gasoline prices are on everybody's mind, do you really want an oil-oil, Texas-Texas ticket? Is that a -- Bob...

NOVAK: Do you want me to answer that?

SHIELDS: I do want you to answer, but the second thing is it obviously takes abortion off as an issue. I mean, Tom Ridge would have raised abortion or Frank Keating would have raise abortion.

NOVAK: Why would Frank Keating?

SHIELDS: I mean, it would have elevated it, because that would have been one of the reasons for choosing Frank Keating.

HUNT: This is not an issue with this guy, Mark.

NOVAK: But he is pro...

SHIELDS: This is not an issue. He's pro-life, but he's not identified.

CARLSON: He's moderate pro-life.

HUNT: I think basically the most important thing is that people say it's a good pick. And that's where I think Bob Novak is absolutely right. There has not been a more qualified vice presidential nominee in this century to be president...

CARLSON: You will...

HUNT: ... than Dick Cheney. And...

CARLSON: You will...

HUNT: ... I think it brings pressure on Gore, because Gore was flirting with someone like John Edwards. I think now, when Gore is trying to make the case of lack of gravitas against George W., he's got to pick someone like George Mitchell, who really is a heavyweight.

NOVAK: You know, in response to what Mark said...

HUNT: Go ahead.

NOVAK: ... I've begun to feel that without an act of Congress we have made tobacco an illegal industry and gun manufacturing an illegal industry and pharmaceutical drugs an illegal industry. And now oil is an illegal industry.

Just tell me, what -- is there any business that you kind of people won't like if a guy is associated with? Where was he supposed to go, work for the Salvation Army after he left the U.S. Defense Department?


SHIELDS: You don't think what somebody did in a previous life matters, Bob? You didn't have anything to say about Michael Dukakis?

NOVAK: There's nothing wrong with working for oil.

CARLSON: We will see Democrats wrapping themselves around gas pumps this summer and in the fall because it's going to work as an issue.

NOVAK: But the environmental regulators are the ones that caused the higher gas prices.

CARLSON: You're happy to make it an issue when you can tie it to the White House.

NOVAK: Let me just say one other thing.

SHIELDS: Quickly.

NOVAK: The reporting I had done before this came out, the people -- the Bush people were very anxious to say that McCain was not going to be the person. I think McCain would have been a very good choice, as you know, but I can't believe they went so far in that campaign as to pull off this stunt.

SHIELDS: What does this selection, if it is a selection -- and we don't know at this point if it is -- what does the selection of Dick Cheney tell us about George W. Bush? Al Hunt?

HUNT: Well, I think it tells us George W. is a little more secure than I perhaps thought he was. And it certainly -- I'll tell you, this is what it does. It tells us he picks vice presidents a lot better than his father did.

SHIELDS: Margaret.

CARLSON: It will look a little bit like daddy's choice, actually, because it's that -- it's the Bush era, the restoration of the Bush presidency.


NOVAK: Well, I think it shows he's a serious person. Not only a secure person but a serious person, because he didn't pick Dick for fun and games and to horse around with.

SHIELDS: I would say this, that he's picking somebody to govern. I mean, because I don't see Dick Cheney as being a great help in the campaign itself and especially for those 60 House Republicans who wrote to George Bush asking for John McCain on the ticket.

CARLSON: He's the opposite...

HUNT: McCain would have been much better politically...


HUNT: ... but Dick Cheney would probably be better for George W. Bush as vice president.

CARLSON: He;'s the opposite of McCain in that way. McCain for politics, Cheney for government.

NOVAK: And John McCain as vice president would have been a big problem, and I think that's something that worried George Bush.

SHIELDS: Last word, Bob Novak, sadly.

Senator Pete Domenici joins us next to look at Al Gore in Texas.

And later, the president defending the first lady.


SHIELDS: Welcome back, and welcome to Republican Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.

In 1988, Vice President George Bush went to Boston Harbor, there to call Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis a polluter.

This week, Vice President Al Gore played the same political card in Texas.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Texas surplus has been all but eliminated and would seem also to leave families without health insurance. Texas now racks No. 1 in industrial pollution. It's No. 2 for child poverty. It's No. 3 for deaths from asthma.

BUSH: Our Texas budget is balanced and our Texas budget is in the black. We have a surplus of $1.4 billion in the bank. For Vice President Gore to claim otherwise for his own political purposes is a travesty. He should be ashamed.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, will a tactic that worked so well for Bush Sr. in 1988 work against Bush Jr. in 2000? NOVAK: Mark, it was silly for the elder Bush -- I thought that Boston Harbor thing was silly. I don't think it had anything do with Mike Dukakis losing. And I think it's a silly tactic. They're sitting around in Nashville -- boy, why don't we go down -- we just got this newspaper story showing there's some over spending in one of the departments. There is a surplus, there isn't a deficit down there. He's a popular governor. The state -- more people are coming into the state all the time because they don't have an income tax and it's a nice place to live.

It's a silly procedure, and I just think it's part of a bigger problem for Al Gore. I was watching him on Friday morning at the transportation workers convention, and every word he has is an attack on Bush.

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: I wanted to say, you invited me on this show and then you sit me by Novak, and he talks all the time.

HUNT: That's a problem.

DOMENICI: If he doesn't, you do.

SHIELDS: What do you want to say?

DOMENICI: And then I look this way, and you do. So I have to have a couple minutes.

SHIELDS: Go ahead.

DOMENICI: First, I want to say for Al Gore to go to Texas and talk about budget matters and talk about supplementals that you have to -- because programs run out of money -- he and the president have asked for 37 supplemental requests, which means they ran out of money in a program -- and that was on a yearly basis, not two years -- 37 times they asked for them, and we had to give them to them because we were in trouble. And most of them, many of them, were when we were in the red. We were broke, and they were asking for supplementals on programs that ran out of money.

It's absolutely ordinary in budgeting that you underestimate and sometimes you over estimate. What happened, they underestimated two programs, important programs, so they let them money. They said, we've got to go in and find the money for them, Medicaid and prisons. And to make an underestimating error is normal and conventional. And then what happened? The taxes came in higher. So it was not spending money in the red. They had a big surplus. So you...

SHIELDS: OK, so these tactics are not going to work, Pete Domenici?

DOMENICI: You got to find a new issue.

SHIELDS: Margaret, will the tactic work?

CARLSON: Yes, it's going to work. This is why -- not necessarily on the budget, because that's about process and people don't -- supplementals and whatever. But on the record, finally Gore has something to go on, because how do you judge a person on the record in Texas? And there, there are a lot of things.

If Gore can take off the cowboy boots and package it in a slightly cheerful way, he can go after housing, over which Bush has broad authority and even Bush-backers say the housing agency is filled with cronies, 400,000 people live without proper sewage...


CARLSON: ... without proper sewage. On health care, way at the bottom. Pollution -- Houston the dirtiest city in the country. And on and on. And this gets Gore away from the Buddhist temple and the coffees and Clinton, and on to ground where he's actually going out and criticizing a record.

DOMENICI: Why don't we ask which state attracts more people in terms of moving there for good jobs and prosperity? If they're not No. 1, they're No. 2.

NOVAK: It's the second highest population in the country.

SHIELDS: I guess Gray Davis ought to be president of the United States then, governor of California.

HUNT: Well, you know, I think Pete's right about people don't care about the supplemental, but I disagree strongly with Bob that it's a silly issue. Massachusetts did matter in 1988. It wasn't the Boston Harbor, but it was Willie Horton, it was the criminal justice system. Whether you think that was right or wrong, that clearly mattered and affected people's views of Michael Dukakis.

This is a very legitimate issue. Texas is one of the lowest taxing and lowest service states in the country. So, therefore, if you're well off -- as Bob calls them, the "productive" elements -- you're going to get taxed less in Texas than you do in California, Michigan or Pennsylvania.

NOVAK: That's good.

HUNT: That's great. But if you're not well off, your kid is not likely to have health insurance -- second worst in the country for health insurance -- now wait a minute, Bob, let me finish.

That's a debate that people ought to have. If you're in the oil or utility "bidness," as they call it down there, you do very well. It's very "bidness" friendly.

NOVAK: Why...

HUNT: But I tell you something, there are scores of schools in Houston, Mark, who have smog meters that determine every day whether the kids can go out to play or not.

NOVAK: All right, Al, there's... HUNT: Now that's a debate you ought to have.


HUNT: Do you want services or taxes?

NOVAK: Al, there's a -- I know of a lot of friends and a lot of relatives in Texas who are not in the oil "bidness." They like it very much down there.

Let's just put this what it is. Texas is a state that maybe isn't too compatible with the liberals. It isn't big government, it isn't high taxes...

DOMENICI: You got it.

HUNT: ... Why don't you love Vermont? You even like Albania better, but that's the kind of person you are.

HUNT: I love Vermont.

SHIELDS: This thing has just gone absolutely Loony Tunes. I mean, you just took it around the end.

Did you have something you wanted to say, Pete, to get out of this?

DOMENICI: Yes, I wanted to say Dukakis did not fight back whether the attack was effective or not, but you can count on it George W. Bush will fight back...

SHIELDS: He will.

DOMENICI: ... and most of these issues will be junk issues that you're talking about. But they won't amount to anything in the scheme of Texas success.

SHIELDS: Let me just stay in closing, and that is that Texas is out of the mainstream on the right as Massachusetts is on the left. And it's an absolutely legitimate issue. If he's running as governor of a successful state, it was the "Massachusetts Miracle" in 1988, it's the Texas Miracle, big growth in 2000, that's going to be an issue. Al Hunt's right, Margaret's right. Pete, you're welcome.


NOVAK: What about me?

SHIELDS: ... Hillary Clinton denying attacking...


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Accusations that 26 years ago Hillary Clinton called a campaign aid a "Jew bastard" took on new life when her Senate opponent commented.


REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: I don't know who to believe, quite frankly. And I think one of the things that's disappointing about this is that New Yorkers don't know who to believe.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: It did not happen. I've never said anything like that in my entire life.

You just have to look at, you know, my opponents fund-raising letters and the chairman of the Republican Party's letters and the head of the Conservative Party's charges to know that apparently, you know, they have a whole warehouse of insults.


SHIELDS: President Clinton denied the allegation, adding, quote, "This is part of a pattern. They couldn't defeat me politically and they can't defeat her politically, so they go after us personally," end quote.


PAUL FRAY, FORMER CLINTON AIDE: It's going to be obvious that the statement was made, because it was made to me. My wife heard it.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, how much does this hurt Mrs. Clinton's campaign?

CARLSON: It may actually help her campaign, because here's a self-righteous person who finally gets to be legitimately self righteous about something that is...

SHIELDS: Mrs. Clinton?

CARLSON: Mrs. Clinton -- palpably false. You know, the tabloid reporter putting a bunch of slop in a book, and then it gets talked about as if it has some legitimacy, but it simply doesn't. Not the least of the reasons it's not is that the guy is not even Jewish.

SHIELDS: That she allegedly slurred.

CARLSON: But, you know, one of the worst things that happened this week is when your leader, Senator Trent Lott, kind of laundered this by saying on the Fox Sunday news show, talking about it as if Mrs. Clinton had done this yesterday instead of 26 years ago, so that, you know, she's about 34 percent of the Jewish vote in New York and she needs to get closer to Senator Schumer's 75 percent...

HUNT: She's at 54.

CARLSON: Fifty-four percent. And so he said about the Jewish vote and Mrs. Clinton, I think that's one of the reasons why Hillary is uttering these anti-Semitic comments, if in fact she is. The "if in fact" construction being one of the cheapest in the book and making it sound as if she's doing this right now. It's just hideous.

SHIELDS: Is it going to help...

DOMENICI: Is Senator Lott the only one who talks that way?

CARLSON: Yes, about this, indeed.

SHIELDS: Is it going to help Mrs. Clinton?

NOVAK: No, I don't think it helps her. I don't know how much it hurts her.

The interesting thing is the little game that's been played by everybody in politics is, do you believe she said it or not? And my little informal poll is about 50/50. But she has lied so much, she's lied consistently. Bill Safire called her a congenital liar. Nobody knows whether she's telling the truth or not. My feeling is this race between Lazio and Mrs. Clinton is stuck, and they're just about even with 10 percent undecided. And whether -- there's going to be a lot of these little things.

What I like about this whole business was Mrs. Clinton and her husband with this depravation and this whining how everybody is trying to do them in, a right-wing conspiracy.



DOMENICI: I think we're just seeing part of a swirl that is there with this administration. If it isn't this, something else comes up. But I believe New Yorkers are going to end up not electing her because they're going to determine that she really wants to use New Yorkers to become a national figure. And they're going to be deciding, do we want to elect somebody that's really to serve New York or somebody seeking a higher national...

SHIELDS: Elect a non-national figure, right?

DOMENICI: No, I'm saying one that represents them.

SHIELDS: I know, a non-national figure. Rick Lazio...

DOMENICI: He'll become one. He'll become one.

SHIELDS: Elect Rick Lazio to Senate, he's going nowhere.

DOMENICI: He'll become one.


CARLSON: They don't know him. HUNT: That -- Pete raised a very legitimate issue. This charge is absolutely fraudulent. And if 50 percent of the people that Bob talks to think it may be true, that just shows you how many nut cases he talks to. Because they really are crazy.

NOVAK: You'd be surprised.

HUNT: Let me just tell you this, as Margaret said...

SHIELDS: How many you talk to?

HUNT: Exactly.

CARLSON: Right, yes.

HUNT: As Margaret said, this guy's a Baptist. So to utter anti- Semitic comments, you know. But let me give you the most compelling of all. This -- the author of this book is a guy from "The National Enquirer" -- this says something about the press that we take seriously anybody from "The National Enquirer" -- David Maraniss, who is the highly acclaimed biographer of the Clintons and a great reporter, as Bob Novak and other say, talked to the Frays, these people, years ago, extensively, says they never mentioned this, and said on other issues he wouldn't believe any -- he didn't find them credible.

This is an absolutely, incredibly nonsensical story. And Trent Lott ought to be ashamed of himself. And Little Ricky just came out and delivered the script.

NOVAK: Well Lazio -- Lazio said what I think was very valid, the fact that there's so many people saying, hey, it might be true indicates how -- what her credibility is.

SHIELDS: I think Rick Lazio would have been better keeping his mouth shut this time...

NOVAK: He would have been.

SHIELDS: ... and so do most Republicans in New York who have any sense at all.

Pete Domenici, thanks for being with us.

THE GANG will be back with "The Outrage of the Week."


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

An American worker who earns the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour, working 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, would earn in 12 months what a member of the U.S. Congress is paid every three weeks. The House voted to raise its own pay to $145,100 a year. Both Texas House Republican leaders, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, voted to raise their own pay. That may be defensible, but what's indefensible is that Armey and DeLay this year both voted against any increase in the minimum wage for the poorest-paid working Americans. That's an outrage.

NOVAK: As tax cuts roared through Congress this week, there was an amazing vote in the House of Representatives, a bill to increase tax-free contributions to retirement accounts was passed with only 24 Democratic votes outs of 208 against it. Among the 24 was House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, who told the House the bill didn't do enough for poor peel. Dick Gephardt is too smart to keep pouring out this Marxist dogma. He's wrong. His own about House Democrats know it, and so do American voters.

CARLSON: O.J. Simpson, who is about to launch a Web site, is entering celebrity rehab, thanks to NBC's Matt Lauer and ABC's Barbara Walters, both scheduled to interview him next week. He will also appear on CBS, Fox and perhaps CNN. Explaining its craven behavior, ABC said, quote, "O.J. sitting in the center of women who believe he's a murderer is too powerful an image to resist." Once-respectable networks are giving a man most people think escaped punishment for murder the kind of promotion money can't by. This is a repugnant display of ratings mongering. The networks should be ashamed of themselves.


HUNT: I'm a Yankee-hater, and like my good friend Mark Shields, a Boston native, would love to see the Red Sox break the 80-year-old Curse of the Bambino and win the World Series. But this week, Red Sox center fielder Carl Everett couldn't control his rage and head-butted an umpire. Major League Baseball gave Everett only a 10-game suspension, a mere slap on the wrist for an incredibly offensive action.

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on Tiger Woods from the British Open.



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