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Crossfire

Will Dick Cheney Be a Good Running Mate for George W. Bush?

Aired July 24, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, it looks like Dick Cheney is George W. Bush's choice for vice president. Will a member of his father's Cabinet help Bush win?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, former Democratic Congressman Vic Fazio, a supporter of Al Gore, and in Philadelphia, former Republican Congressman Bill Paxon, an adviser do the Bush campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Republican sources have confirmed to CNN that George W. Bush has settled on Dick Cheney as his running mate. The official offer will be made tonight and the announcement tomorrow.

Cheney headed up the governor's vice presidential selection process. His previous government service included Secretary of Defense for President Bush and chief of staff for President Ford. His legislative experience spans six terms as a Wyoming congressman and GOP House leader.

Private sector accomplishments include his current job as a CEO of an energy company.

Last but not least, his wife, among many endeavors, is a former host of CROSSFIRE, which should bring the election home for Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

Tonight the countdown to the conventions quicken. Is Dick Cheney Bush's best bet for victory, for governing, and how will Al Gore respond? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Bill Paxon, I must admit I'm surprised by this choice of Dick Cheney. George Bush said he wanted a "forward- looking administration." How can he make that claim when he goes back to his father's administration to get a grownup to run with him on the ticket? This is retro, isn't it, Bill?

BILL PAXON (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I know it's tough, because not too long ago you were quoted on this very show as saying he would be a strong and good choice, and I'm proud to second your endorsement there. Listen, I'm in Philadelphia, Bill. This is the city of our founding fathers. Our founding fathers would be thrilled to see a guy like Dick Cheney on this ticket. He has strength, he has experience in government and in the private sector. He's a man of bipartisanship. He's a man of , relatively little ego for somebody who's reached the levels he has in American politics. And I contrast that with the selection process of Al Gore.

I can just see him down there in his city of Nashville that he's seldom lived in, surrounded by his advisers du jour, wearing clothes picked by Naomi Wolf, and studying polling and focus groups to choose his candidate. This is George Bush not saying, I'm worried about a state or region. I'm worried about governing this country and doing the right thing.

I couldn't be prouder, and if this is the choice, this is a grand-slam home run.

PRESS: It's strange that you ran out of things, nice things to say about Dick Cheney so quickly that you had to attack Al Gore. But Bill...

PAXON: Oh, I could go on all...

PRESS: ... I did say...

PAXON: ... day. Dick Cheney is one of the great quality men, and Democrats have been lauding him for months now.

PRESS: I did say, by the way, that Dick Cheney was a strong -- proud and strong choice for Democrats to run against. You didn't give the rest of the quote.

But quickly, just a quick follow-up, so here George W. Bush has to make a decision. This is a guy that his father considered as his running mate in '92, his father has been pushing for the last few weeks -- everybody knew that -- his father calls a doctor to say, is his heart strong enough? When it comes to a tough decision, governor lets his daddy make the decision.

PAXON: You know, it's interesting, Bill: this is two -- a year and a half, two years ago when Governor Bush picked a team of people surrounding him that were all newcomers. None of them worked for his father: his top campaign team, his campaign chairman, down the list of people (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Everybody said, oh, you know, he's distancing himself. That showed strength that he picked his team regardless of who they were.

Today, he picked somebody who happened to have been in his father's administration as well as in the Congress as well as in the Ford administration, who has been in many different times of crises, tested under fire. And now, you say, oh, he's running to his father.

I think it shows strength of character that you're able to pick the best regardless of where they come from. And that's the kind of person I want to see as president, and frankly, with the track record of Dick Cheney of being there: whether it was in the Congress on the Abscam committee, time of crisis for Congress; in the Ford White House, time of crisis for this country, constitutional crisis, helping put the government back together; or certainly...

PRESS: OK. OK.

PAXON: ... under President Bush in time of crisis, international crisis. Strength, experience, competence -- that's what you want there.

MATALIN: OK.

PRESS: Mary.

MATALIN: OK. Mr. Chairman, Bill Press, stands alone in the politics of personal destruction.

(LAUGHTER)

Let me read...

PRESS: Destruction!

MATALIN: ... the outgoing...

PRESS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sensitive you'd be.

PAXON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) master.

MATALIN: ... the former -- excuse me. The former, whom we were talking about before the show, former campaign chairman Tony Coelho had this to say about the almost selection. "He would be an excellent partner, and I gather that's what Bush is looking for more than anything else."

This is echoed by your liberal colleague, or former liberal colleagues. Congressman Obey, for instance, who said things like "international leadership," "impeccable character," "dignity."

I can't find, other than these practitioners of the politics of personal destruction, anybody -- Democrats included -- who think that Cheney isn't a superb choice.

VIC FAZIO (D), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I certainly share the views that Dave Obey and Tony Coelho have of Dick Cheney. I certainly have them myself, having served with him in his first years in Congress before he moved on to the Defense Department.

He is clearly experienced and competent. I don't think there's much doubt about the fact that this is confirmation of what Clinton and Gore did in terms of selecting someone who is a peer, someone who can really be a co-president to some degree. And I really believe that George W. Bush needed that perhaps more than anyone of recent memory, because if there is a wrap about him, it may go to the gravitas issue. It may go to whether or not George W. is really ready to take on the mantle of the White House. Dick Cheney is clearly somebody who could take it on. In fact, he's not the kind of person who would run for the job, but the kind of person that some would like to see in the Oval Office.

MATALIN: So you're agreeing that this a good governing choice? Rather than be doing a big -- a great big political choice...

FAZIO: I think there is a...

MATALIN: ... he's saying from day one this team can (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

FAZIO: It has some real questions in my mind as to whether it really augments the campaign. And after all, over the next several months the Washington insiders can talk about the pluses and minuses of the individuals. But the voters are going to have to decide based on two campaigns that are going to be run. Dick Cheney brings him Wyoming, which he already had, and maybe Texas, which he certainly has.

He does bring him the difficulty of having to defend someone who's inextricably tied to the oil industry in a period in which, you know, oil prices, heating oil prices in the Northeast may well be an issue.

MATALIN: I'm going get to those issues...

FAZIO: So there are some issues that I think...

MATALIN: Let's...

FAZIO: ... obviously he overlooked when went with his senior...

MATALIN: Mr. Chairman, here's the lamest issue. Let's cover the one that Bill just referred to, and that's that it's somehow a negative to be associated with President Bush, whom people remember as the last time there was dignity and class, and duty, honor, country in this White House.

His February 2000 -- that would be this year -- favorability ratings, George Bush, President Bush approval ratings are 74 percent, higher than the ever-popular Bill Clinton in this election year. Is this really a negative, or isn't the opposite true, that it's a positive to have a member who is associated with the best of the Bush administration?

FAZIO: I think recent years have told us that all our former presidents are rehabilitated by time. Certainly, Jimmy Carter is probably our greatest former president.

But I would say people are looking to the future. This is an election not about what went wrong there the '80s. It's really an election about what happens in the next century that we've just embarked on. And I do think a futuristic choice is much more likely to be the selection of Al Gore, someone who could be co-president again with Al Gore, who could share the burden of this incredibly difficult job, but who has also a view about where we're going as a country and not where we've been.

PRESS: OK. Bill Paxon, we...

PAXON: If I could just interject to just make one comment. The co-president was going to be Mrs. Clinton, but certainly after health care that went off-track.

PRESS: Bill, Dick Cheney served six terms as a member of Congress. Mary can call it "the politics of personal destruction." I think in politics you look at someone's record and you just talk about their record. And clearly, when you look at Dick Cheney's record, if George Bush was looking for a conservative, he got one.

Let me just mention a couple of issues: Dick Cheney voted against all federal funding for abortion, no exceptions, not even the three exceptions George Bush supports. He voted against funding for Head Start. He voted against creating the Department of Education, which George Bush says he wants to expand. He voted against a ban on armor- piercing bullets, which police department chiefs around the country supported. And he voted against a ban on plastic guns that can get through airport detectors even though the NRA didn't even oppose the bill.

I mean, don't you think, I mean seriously, on his voting record he denies any pretense that George Bush is going to move to the middle?

PAXON: Bill, I know it's a shock to you: Most Americans like conservatives. They've elected them to run many -- most of the states, and they're going to elect a conservative ticket this fall in this country, a compassionate conservative ticket.

He also voted, Dick Cheney in the Congress, for lower taxes, a strong national defense, balancing our nation's budget, and by the way, worked with no other Democrat than Mo Udall himself to protect the wilderness areas of Wyoming.

So he's proven himself to be a leader on important issues. He's also been able to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats. And you've got a Democrat as partisan as David Obey, who's on TV all day today saying this is a great guy who is bipartisan. I think it says a lot.

You know what else I think, Bill: I think that his reputation as someone who has been able to step in at times under fire, whether it was in the White House, in the Department of Defense, in the Congress, perform (UNINTELLIGIBLE), a guy who in his freshman year was elected to the leadership of the Republican Party in the Congress -- the first time, I believe if not in this century, in history that that ever happened -- says this is a guy who's going to be a great part of this team.

PRESS: But Bill, the point I'm making is that I think the selection says more -- and it will about Al Gore, too -- says more about, in this case, George Bush than it does Dick Cheney, and the point is that Dick -- George Bush talks about being a different kind of Republican. He talks about being a moderate. He talks about being to the middle. Yet every time he acts, like in the choice of Dick Cheney, he chooses someone who's much further to the right than he is.

PAXON: No, Dick Cheney is the ultimate man of moderation. He's a man who isn't rhetorically full of invective. He's someone who brings people together. When he was secretary of defense, I remember, when he used to come up to the Hill to brief members and talk with members and work with members, it was in a bipartisan fashion.

You know, my wife wrote today in her (UNINTELLIGIBLE) column that Dick Cheney is the political Marcus Welby. He has the ability to make us all feel everything will be all right because he's standing there, and he is. And I think that's the kind of person, when you look at a governing choice that Governor Bush has made, that is going to resonate with people.

Everything you're talking about, and my dear friend Vic Fazio -- I love him -- but again, it talks about the politics in this campaign. Governor Bush has done something again our founding fathers here in Philadelphia would love. He's made a governing choice.

PRESS: Oh, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Please.

PAXON: A governing choice. A governing choice.

PRESS: I'm sorry, I don't think Ben Franklin has anything to do with this.

PAXON: He'd be thrilled.

PRESS: We're going to take...

PAXON: Ben Franklin is endorsing this ticket.

PRESS: On that point -- on that point, we're going to take a break. We've got to take a break. Meanwhile, if you want to know more about Dick Cheney, you can go to cnn.com/crossfire to find out where he stands on the issues and how he's voted.

In the meantime, when we come back, Dick Cheney has had three heart attacks. Is he strong enough for this campaign? And now that Cheney's the GOP veep choice, who do you think Al Gore is going to pick? Lots to talk about when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's a Bush-Cheney ticket. Yes, in the end, the man picked to pick the best ending up getting picked himself, according to GOP sources: Governor Bush taps former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. And now, it's Al Gore's turn. So who among Democratic front-runners emerge as the best counter to Dick Cheney. That's our veep debate tonight with Republican, former Congressman Bill Paxon, already up in Philadelphia, getting all the best seats lined up in all the best restaurants, and Democrat, former Congressman Vic Fazio of California -- Mary. MATALIN: Can I just follow up, Mr. Chairman, on your previous opinion -- previously cited opinion that somehow this is a retro, a backward-looking selection? Well, does that -- would you put then one of the top of Al Gore's list George Mitchell, Senator George Mitchell, as a backward-looking selection as the vice president?

FAZIO: Well, I think if you think of the George Mitchell who has been brokering the average peace deal, who's extremely current, I think you think of somebody who has a real positive role to play in the White House should he be on the list of those that Gore is considering. And who knows, but...

MATALIN: He's older than Secretary Cheney. He was on Clinton's short list. He's everything you said about Cheney, but he's not retro. OK. Let me ask you a follow-up to that.

So now, if we have experience, and not to mention the breadth of experience of a public servant like Dick Cheney, that's a negative? We don't want those kinds of guys in public service, we just want fresh MTV faces, right? So...

FAZIO: Well, I personally, like most of the rest of the Washington insider group, think very highly of Dick. But if I were thinking about where I'd take my campaign, if I were not sitting on my oars perhaps being a little bit too confident of victory, I would be looking for John McCain, who let it be known last week that he would consider accepting if offered. I would be looking at a Tom Ridge. But Tom apparently, as a pro-choice governor of a very important swing electoral state, doesn't qualify.

I think those were the kinds of people that we had been looking for as some evidence of the compassionate side of the conservative equation being evidenced by this pick, and it hasn't happened.

Dick is a wonderful guy, but he is, as Bill said, a down-the-line Wyoming conservative that really is not current even where George W. Bush says he would want to be on the issues.

MATALIN: You Democrats cannot -- just love to insert the Tom Ridge abortion thing. That's what you're implying. That another No. 1 choice of Al Gore's is wiped off the selection process because he happens to be against partial birth abortion, and that's Senator Bayh of Indiana, a great choice.

FAZIO: I've not seen any evidence that anybody like Senator Bayh is wiped off the list. I certainly think he's in the running along with a lot of others.

MATALIN: So you would put a pro-life person on your ticket?

FAZIO: I think the vice president should be the best person for the job, one that does reflect the politics of the president and could serve as his co-equal.

PRESS: Now, Bill Paxon...

MATALIN: That's Dick Cheney.

PRESS: Bill Paxon, far be it for me -- I'm sorry I'm not just sitting here gushing all over Dick Cheney, the way you seem to expect me to -- but I do have to ask you this question. Are you telling me that the Republican Party looked all over this nation for two people on their national ticket and the best you could come up with are two oil men from Texas?

PAXON: Oh, I know it's difficult for you to understand that you look for competence and governance ability rather than who spikes in the polls.

Bottom line is this is a choice that Democrats are having a hard time coming to grips with.

PRESS: I don't think so.

PAXON: He is so strong and so good -- oh, you said it a couple of weeks ago that he would be a strong and good candidate. You didn't say...

PRESS: For Democrats to run against.

PAXON: That's what you said.

PRESS: That Democrats could run against.

PAXON: Bill, the bottom line is people know this is a man that has the ability and the expertise to do the job.

Now look, the other piece -- the other piece...

PRESS: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! I'm going to interrupt...

PAXON: The other piece is...

PRESS: No, I'm going to interrupt you...

PAXON: No, no. I want to complete my thought.

PRESS: ... because it's limited time.

PAXON: William!

PRESS: I want you to answer my question. We're talking about the environment. So let me just show you why this is an important question -- I asked you about oil men, which you totally ignored -- is important, because if you look at Dick Cheney's voting record again on the environment, he voted against refunding of the Clean Water Act. He voted -- and here's his record with the League of Conservation Voters. His lifetime...

PAXON: Oh, that's a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party.

PRESS: No, it's not.

PAXON: Of course it is.

PRESS: It's 11 percent lifetime, Bill. In 1988, he got a zero. Do you know how bad you have to be to get a zero record on the environment?

PAXON: No, wait a minute. Bill -- Bill, I know there's a question -- I know there's a question in there somewhere, Bill, so I'll just go ahead and assume it. The first thing is that League of Conservation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, No. 1. No. 2, Dick Cheney's career has been one of success. It's been success in the government, in the Congress, and in the private sector.

You know, it's interesting: I'll be interested to see if at the end of the day Al Gore has the ability to choose anybody who's got one iota, one moment of private-sector experience. They don't believe in it. The only kind of experience...

PRESS: Why don't you defend his anti-environmental voting record...

PAXON: No, no, wait. Let me -- I want...

PRESS: ... which is what I asked you about?

PAXON: Would you let me complete the thought?

PRESS: You haven't gotten close to the question.

PAXON: Bill? Bill...

PRESS: Bill? Bill? Bill?

PAXON: It is -- it is their ability, for example, on the issue of the energy policy of this country to develop one and implement one that this administration has ignored for eight years. On environment, I said to you before, he worked with no other than Mo Udall, one of the great icons of the liberal environmental movement, to create a wilderness area in the state of Wyoming.

If he was so anti-wilderness, would he do that? No, I don't think so. This is an outdoorsman, someone who appreciates the great American outdoors, who has had a good track record, and yes, in the energy area, has competence which this administration's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

The only energy relationship that Al Gore has is the Armand Hammer. Let's talk about that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MATALIN: OK. You know what, Bill thinks if he waves around this green flag and flops his whales on the table that Republicans are going...

PRESS: Zero voting record. Zero. MATALIN: OK. I am -- OK. Did you notice the source on that, Sierra Club, who endorsed the vice president today? Congressman Paxon...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... League of Conservation voters.

MATALIN: But it was the source of that, that was the Sierra Club. Let's talk about the connections to the oil industry. Governor Bush was -- was in small independent oil and gas, and Dick Cheney is in high-tech energy...

FAZIO: Well, it's the energy services industry.

MATALIN: He's not an oil guy, OK?

FAZIO: They serve the oil drillers. That's what Halliburton does.

MATALIN: This is a vital industry in our country.

FAZIO: Yes, it is.

MATALIN: This administration, by the admission of its own secretary of energy, said, oh, we were asleep at the switch, we don't have an energy policy, we've not encouraged domestic production.

FAZIO: Well, I think that's fraudulent. There's no question there was every effort to implement one and it was frustrated at every turn by the last six years of Republican opposition in the House. An energy policy is more than going to ANWAR and drilling for new sources of oil or gas. That is all the Republicans can ever talk about when the subject comes up.

MATALIN: So why does the secretary of energy...

FAZIO: I think people are focused on higher prices for...

MATALIN: ... say we were asleep at the switch?

FAZIO: ... gas and oil.

MATALIN: Why did the secretary of energy say they...

FAZIO: Well, I'm not sure what he said that about. All I know is that the energy policy issue has been a political football and nothing we have really been able to come together on as a two-party system, certainly during the last several years.

MATALIN: He said...

PAXON: Oh, Al Gore has the answer -- if I could, Mary. Al Gore has the answer: ban the internal combustion engine. That'll solve the energy problem in this country.

FAZIO: Well, you know, taking one quote out of Al Gore's book has become a kind of a typical Republican tactic.

PAXON: Central thesis of his book.

FAZIO: Maybe you all ought to read it.

PAXON: The central thesis of his book.

MATALIN: We unfortunately did.

PRESS: Quickly, Bill Paxon, Dick Cheney did not run for president because of health problems, having had three heart attacks. If he can't run for president, do you seriously think the man is vigorous enough for a strong campaign and for a vigorous job in the White House?

PAXON: That wasn't why he didn't run for president in '96 at all. That wasn't the case. He's been great, his health, since he's had his open-heart surgery.

You know, in every family in this country there is someone in it or knows someone who's had open-heart surgery, and the verdict is always you're better off, we know what the problem was and we fixed it. I'd rather have him than some ticking time bomb where we don't know how their health is.

I know that this guy got approved by...

FAZIO: Well, I know the press spent such inordinate amounts time on Bill Bradley's problems. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

PAXON: This guy has been approved by people like (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He's had his physical as recently as this weekend, apparently, according to the press, come out stellar.

MATALIN: OK. Well, Bill, you're -- we're looking for you in Philly. We'll be there in the not-too-distant future. Mr. Chairman, we thank you for joining us. Bill and I will be back with our closing comments after this very quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: It's a great night to talk politics, and I'll take all your campaign 2000 questions at cnn.com/crossfire right after the show, which I can't wait for.

Dick Cheney, Bill Paxon is right, you were advocating, not for Democrats to run against, as a strong choice for the soon-to-be President Bush. You guys don't have anybody with the breadth and depth of experience legislatively, in the executive branch. He was a chief of staff when he was 34 years old -- not to mention private sector.

Get it! People go out there and make money and fuel this economy.

He is a perfect choice, not to mention he has a great wife. PRESS: Well, let me just say -- first of all, congratulations to Lynn and -- as a member of our CROSSFIRE family. I think it is great news for her.

You know, I was surprised at this. Dick Cheney is a good man, he is a solid man, clearly, no questions about that. But you know, he's not going to change one vote. His presence on the ticket will not change one vote. What he does bring, he brings the gravitas, he brings the foreign policy experience that George Bush totally lacks.

George Bush needed a grown-up. That's what's so sad about this choice.

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

MATALIN: They just can't stop attacking. From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.

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