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Will Cheney Help or Hurt Bush Campaign?

Aired July 25, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe you're looking at the next vice president of the United States.


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, George W. Bush picks a running mate, but is Dick Cheney too conservative, and is his health a cause for concern?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois , Democratic platform committee co-chair; and in Oklahoma City, Governor Frank Keating, Oklahoma chairman of the Bush campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It's official. Governor George W. Bush named Dick Cheney as running mate today in an Austin rally, emphasizing his government experience and qualifications.


BUSH: I have to admit something. I didn't pick Dick Cheney because of Wyoming's three electoral votes.


BUSH: Although, we are going to work hard to earn them. I picked him because he is without a doubt, fully capable of being the president of the United States, and I picked him because he will be a valuable partner in a Bush administration.


MATALIN: The announcement followed Bush's calls to other potential vice presidential selections, including Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist, and Governors Tom Ridge, Frank Keating -- our guest tonight -- and George Pataki, all of whom gave hearty endorsements. Democrats assailed Cheney's congressional record and health background, while Al Gore himself attacked Bush's selection process. Gore confirmed his process is well under way, but remained coy about vice presidential names or an announcement timetable.

So tonight, will Cheney's past haunt Bush's future? Will Bush's focus on governing thwart his campaign effort? And how will Gore try to trump the Bush selection? -- William.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Governor Keating, welcome back to CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: I want to start with a personal question, if I may. This whole selection process was set up with Dick Cheney in charge, he put -- for weeks and weeks, he put people like you through all the paces and he ends up getting picked himself. Be honest, Governor. Don't you feel snookered?

KEATING: Well, I know Dick Cheney very well, I know George Bush very well, and both of them are great people. Truthfully, what George Bush wanted to do, Bill, is to find the best person he could, and there are really only two people in public life in America, at least on our team, that certainly are stratospheric characters, and that's Colin Powell and Dick Cheney. The rest of us are down with the cumulus clouds. And when Dick Cheney was selected by George, I was enthusiastic about it.

This guy has a distinguished record in the Congress, in the administration, he led the country, he certainly led the Department of Defense, was Colin Powell's boss in the Persian Gulf War, did a great job -- a matter of pride for all of us as Americans -- he's been an extraordinarily successful business guy. I was thrilled. I wasn't disappointed at all, because I never thought I would get it.

PRESS: Well, Governor, I want to thank you, by the way, for that note of humility, which is rare on this and any other political show.

KEATING: In my case, it's deserved.

PRESS: But I want to ask you about one of those other people who may have been in the lower cumulus clouds, however you expressed it, and that's Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania. Even -- Governor Bush himself gave the impression that Ridge was under consideration all the way to the end because Bush is an independent man and he could go outside of the box and he might even dare to appoint somebody who was pro-choice.

Governor, that was all phony baloney wasn't it? He had no intention of ever appointing Tom Ridge?

KEATING: No, I don't think so. A matter of fact, I was an early on supporter of John Engler and Tom Ridge -- those are two guys that I encouraged the Bush campaign to consider because they were governors of large states, both of them are wonderful people and great leaders, and no one ever said no to me.

I know Tom Ridge well and I know John Engler well, both of them obviously were under consideration. I think, like me, like a lot of people, there was a winnowing process and for a variety of reasons, people fell in and fell out, but I think Tom Ridge was seriously considered and he deserved serious consideration, because he's done a great job in Pennsylvania.

MATALIN: All right, my favorite senator from the wrong side, let's talk about this selection, as deep and about as wonderful as the selection -- the selectees were.

Let's hear from Dick Cheney, listen to what he had to say today at the announcement.


DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I look forward to working with you, Governor, to change the tone in Washington, to restore a spirit of civility and respect and cooperation. It's time for America's leaders to stop pointing the finger of blame and to begin sharing the credit for success.


MATALIN: Obviously, we are focusing on the selection of Dick Cheney, but isn't this more about the presidential nominee, George W. Bush? He promised -- one of his campaign promises is to change the tone in Washington and doesn't Dick Cheney, as we just saw him and as we know of his record, epitomize civility and bipartisan cooperation?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I like him. In the time that I've dealt with him when he was secretary of defense, even when we were colleagues in the House, he's a very personable -- a friendly person. And if he's going to bring a tone of civility to this process, it's good for both parties. I agree with that. The interesting thing, Mary, is that we have heard from George Bush that he's going to show us a new face of conservatism, this so-called "compassionate conservative," and it really means that Dick Cheney's voting record will have to be considered, because in the days that he served in the House of Representatives he just wasn't in the majority.

He was in a very elite group within the right wing of the minority that voted against the creation of the Department of Education; denied women the right to abortions, even when they were victims of rape and incest; voted against the elimination of cop killer bullets, a position the National Rifle Association espoused, but the police organizations did not. So I think we want to hear more from Dick Cheney in terms of what he believes conservatism means today.

MATALIN: OK, let's talk about his record, because his time did overlap with Al Gore's. Al Gore and Dick Cheney served in the House together, and you keep bringing up Cheney's abortion record. And during the time they served together, the National Right to Life Committee scored 17 key votes and, of course, on those 17 key votes, Dick Cheney got 100 percent rating. You know what Al Gore's rating was? Ninety-four percent.

DURBIN: You're going to tell me. MATALIN: So Gore voted with Cheney when he was in the House of Representatives. On a key piece of environmental legislation, a petroleum reserve piece of legislation, Al Gore voted with Dick Cheney. These are 20-year-old votes. Isn't this about Bush and Gore's proposals for the future?

DURBIN: Well, definitely, but I think it is fair game for all of us in this business, whether we're in opposite political parties, or in your job with the press, to ask the hard questions of these candidates -- where are you today, what do you believe in, what is the future? And what I'm suggesting to you is that Dick Cheney's voting record -- for example, voting against the Safe Water -- Safe Drinking Water Act, those are things which you need to find out where he stands today.

MATALIN: OK, but if that rationale were valid, then if Al Gore voted at 94 percent, where Dick Cheney was 100 percent, then you would say today that Al Gore's record 20 years ago is relevant to what he's proposing tomorrow.

DURBIN: Have you not asked Al Gore, or others in your profession, why he changed a vote, or what his position is today? I'm suggesting the same test has to be applied to Dick Cheney, a good person, a likable person, but one who has to answer the hard questions about what he sees for the future of this country.

MATALIN: All right.

PRESS: Governor, let's continue, if I may, with that voting record. Certainly one of the key constituencies for any candidate is the women's vote in this country, Clinton carried the women's vote by 17 percent over Bob Dole in '96, both candidates going after it today.

Let me show you what one leading Democratic woman had to say today, a senator, about Dick Cheney, this is Senator Barbara Boxer.


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: This is probably the most anti-choice ticket we've ever had. We've had a governor who signed 18 anti-choice measures into law in Texas, and now we have Dick Cheney, who even votes against family planning and votes for the strictest, toughest bans on abortion, including one vote there that was rape, incest, and even one that was life of the mother. It's pretty extreme.


PRESS: How does that help with the women's vote, Governor?

KEATING: Well, remember, Barbara Boxer now, Bill, is the queen of fraging (ph). She is way, way to the left and is in -- now the center of picking up every stone and every rock to throw at Dick Cheney.

What Mary said is very true, the National Right to Life voting record, the NRA voting record of Al Gore and Dick Cheney were very similar when both of them were in the Congress. When Dick Cheney was selected to be secretary of defense, he won unanimously, 92-0, not only did he win unanimously in the Senate Armed Services Committee but also on the floor of the Senate. His Democrat and his Republican allies, left, right and center felt that he was a tremendously gifted and principled person who could handle the responsibilities of the office, and would behave in a fair-minded fashion.

PRESS: Well, Governor...

KEATING: So, you know, obviously on the life issue, there are those of us who think that a human life is precious; there are those of them who don't think human life is precious, especially when it's in the womb. There will always be a natural debate there, and the debate is healthy.

PRESS: No, but there is a series of votes -- and, you know, on the Gore thing -- I mean, Gore has changed his position, there is no doubt. There is zero evidence that Dick Cheney believes any different today than he did then. Governor, it was not just one vote, it was 26 out of 27 times that he faced choices on women's reproductive issues, he voted anti-choice, he voted against all federal funding for abortion, he voted against the Equal Rights Amendment and, as defense secretary, he spoke out and supported the policy against women serving in combat.

I ask you again, I mean, how does this possibly help this ticket reach out to women in this country? It's an anti-woman message, isn't it?

KEATING: Well, I don't think women serving in combat, or having reasonable restrictions on abortion is an anti-women message. There are a lot of women I know, and I think I can speak for my daughters and my wife, who think that women have an appropriate place in the military services and do extremely well in the military, but combat -- a combat role, per se, sludging through the mud, you know, throwing grenades and fighting hand to hand is quite something else.

But I think this campaign is going to be a campaign to middle America on the economy, Medicare, Social Security, prescription drugs, the issues that I think both parties have different positions, but good debate positions for and against, and I think that's what the issue is going to be and not some perceived hostility to women. I think it's silly.

PRESS: Another key constituency, of course, are racial minorities. In -- back just a couple years ago here on "CAPITAL GANG" on CNN, Dick Cheney told our gang -- quote -- "We've reached the point where affirmative action has been taken so far that, in fact, it's become an abuse." In 1986, Dick Cheney voted against -- in the House against the resolution asking the South African government to release Nelson Mandela from prison.

Is this going to help Governor Bush in his outreach to minorities? If so, how? I don't get it.

KEATING: Well, Bill, first off, you know George Bush's record, he is a solid supporter...

PRESS: Talking about Dick Cheney's record, Governor.

KEATING: Well, I know, but I mean, he's a solid supporter of the rights of all Americans without regard to race, color, or sex. Dick Cheney's record as secretary of defense was similarly situated, Dick Cheney is a decent, honorable person. A lot of these things -- and you know, on the left, and obviously Mary knows on the right, that items like this can be taken out of context.

For me to say, for example, that I don't think my daughter should compete against a recent Haitian immigrant, or a recent Mexican immigrant, they all ought to be equal before the law -- I think that's a valid statement. Is that viewed by some as an anti-affirmative action statement? Well, perhaps so, but I think it's a fair statement.

Historic prejudice and discrimination is one thing. Someone who just stepped off a boat from another country who happens to have a different color of skin than my daughter or son it's a -- quite something else. So it depends on the context and, in fairness, I think Dick Cheney should be given the opportunity to respond.

PRESS: All right, Governor, Senator, viewers, we are going to take a break. When we come back, the only question that really matters, is this election more -- make to -- likely to make people more likely to vote for George W. Bush?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Under the microscope, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, tapped today by George W. Bush as his vice presidential running mate. Even though those Republicans whom Cheney beat out for the job, like Frank Keating, were quick to praise the choice, but Democrats were also quick to point to Cheney's conservative voting record in Congress.

So will he help, or hurt the ticket?

Two men considered for vice president themselves chime in, Republican Frank Keating, governor of Oklahoma, and Democrat Dick Durbin, U.S. senator from Illinois -- Mary.

MATALIN: Senator, in addition to nit picking that 20-year-old congressional record, there's also been a tearing apart of his health record, but here's what Norman Schwarzkopf, with whom Secretary Cheney -- well, whom he commanded during the Gulf conflict -- had to say about him today on the "Today Show" -- quote -- "I saw him fly nonstop from Washington to Riyadh -- go right into very, very complicated briefings that would last sometimes four or five hours -- go pay a call on the Saudis -- visit the troops, and I never saw any sign of fatigue or any signs of illness whatsoever."

He hasn't had a heart problem for 12 years and he did serve ably there and in his current stressful CEO job. Don't you think this is kind of manufacturing a negative?

DURBIN: Well, I've not heard any political figures raise questions about his health. There have been a number of questions raised by the press, because of the three episodes he had with heart problems years and years ago. I don't have any question about whether he's fit for the job. Maybe some medical expert does, but I don't think that's an issue.

MATALIN: Great, and neither do the American people, 70 percent of whom have said, according to our latest poll, they're not concerned about the medical issue. So you are in tune with Americans. Now let's to go to...

DURBIN: We all knew that.


MATALIN: We have the finger on the pulse. We hope you're on the other V.P. side.

DURBIN: Let's see how I do on the second question.

MATALIN: All right.


MATALIN: Here's the bigger, better question, which is -- again, this is not really about Dick Cheney. It's about George W. Bush, how does he make decisions and this is the first presidential decision. And in our same poll that we took yesterday, respondents said that they thought this reflected on Bush's ability to make decisions favorably by 64 percent.

So isn't that -- whatever else we are talking about, isn't that the key question needed to be answered?

DURBIN: I think that's the first question that George Bush's campaign would ask. But of course, most of the people who answered it couldn't tell you too much about Dick Cheney. They will learn more about him during the course of the campaign. What was interesting is -- I get back to my first point here. If this is the new face of conservatism, is Dick Cheney the symbol of that new face of conservatism?

I looked at a person like Tom Ridge, a fellow I served with in the House, the governor of Pennsylvania, I thought he would have been an exceptional choice. For George Bush to say, here's a state that I can put in play, here's a man who is a Vietnam veteran, a person served as governor of a major state, served in the House of Representatives -- he can add something to the ticket and show that we are a big tent, and bring in people with different views on abortion. He didn't do it. He chose Dick Cheney instead.

MATALIN: But he -- but that says -- by that rationale, the whole election is about abortion, and Bill said earlier, we don't dare to put a pro-choice person on the ticket. Do you dare to put a pro -- you don't dare to put a pro-choice person who is against partial-birth election (ph), Evan Bayh of Indiana.

DURBIN: Well, that's not my position on -- in terms of Evan Bayh. I think he's an excellent choice, even if he disagrees with one or two votes on that side of the aisle.

MATALIN: But a key constituency, NARAL said no way.

PRESS: All right, Governor, let me -- NARAL is not making the decision for Al Gore, please.

Governor, the key question again, will it help...

KEATING: I wouldn't be so sure about that, Bill. I think they may be making the decision for Al Gore.

MATALIN: Thank you, thank you.

PRESS: Well, the key question: Will Dick Cheney help or hurt the ticket? We did an overnight poll at CNN, Mary just showed you part of it, I'd like to show you some of the responses. People were asked, for example, are you excited by the choice of Dick Cheney? Yes, 23 percent, no, 65 percent. And maybe the even more telling question, does this choice make you more likely to vote for George Bush or not? More likely, 14 percent, only. Governor, with Al Gore in 1992, the figure was 33 percent, with Jack Kemp in 1996 it was 26 percent. Dick Cheney only comes up with 14 percent.

I mean, George Bush didn't exactly set the country on fire with Dick Cheney, did he?

KEATING: Well, remember, this decision process of George Bush's, I think, suggests a very mature, a very responsible thought process: I'm going to find myself the very best people I can. I'm going to surround myself with the most capable people, even people who have a knowledge base perhaps in some areas that I don't have, because I'm very comfortable in my skin. I'm not afraid to have people around me who may know more about certain things than I.

Dick Cheney brings the national security, foreign policy, national defense perspective. And quite truthfully today, I'm not sure people are excited about having somebody like that anywhere, but it's essential for a successful president to have a strong right arm focusing on those things that will matter a lot in the next four years -- next eight years -- and that is relations with North Korea, relations with China, the Taiwan situation, Middle East peace, what's going on in Russia -- these are very serious challenges to America and Dick Cheney is extraordinarily gifted and experienced to handle them.

PRESS: Yes, but the -- Governor, the polls show the American people don't seem to put a lot of credence in that. Look, number one, most of them don't know him. Secondly, you know, they're not excited about him. Thirdly, they have -- already have Wyoming and Texas, he doesn't bring that. You know, he's -- Bush is already conservative. He doesn't need Dick Cheney to get the conservatives.

So, I mean, Dick Cheney may not hurt the ticket, but how does he help George Bush at all?

KEATING: I think he helps George Bush because he brings a perspective and he brings a wisdom that shows an excellent balance.

PRESS: That Bush doesn't have?

KEATING: Remember, Bush is someone who has been a successful businessman and a very successful governor of a country. Texas is the second largest state. It's an extraordinarily large place. You can fit the entire population of Arkansas in a Dallas suburb. I mean, this is a big place and he's managed it extremely well.

Dick Cheney has been the leader of the free world, if you will, in the Persian Gulf War, he's been a successful chief of staff to a president, and Halliburton has 100,000 employees worldwide in construction and in oil services, it's a big company. Dick Cheney is a very gifted guy and I think the American people will see that as a very smart choice and a very competent, highly qualified, very good person.

PRESS: Final word, Senator, go first.

DURBIN: Well, I think Governor Keating raised a good point here, we have two men associated with an oil industry waging battle in the Midwest, that has just been ravaged by high gasoline prices. Legitimate question here, would this administration treat these oil companies fairly, would they have an FTC investigation if we had these two men in the White House?

MATALIN: You're asking the question, I'm answering it. Yes.


MATALIN: Governor Keating, conservatives hope that you'll be able to help Bush in his cabinet. And if excitement were the key element, Senator Durbin, for picking a vice president, Gore will pick you.

Thank you both for an excellent show.

KEATING: OK, thanks so much.

DURBIN: I have a full-time job.

MATALIN: Bill and I will be right back with our closing comments. Stay with us and look for Governor Keating after CNN in our chat room on cnn -- let me read that for you,


PRESS: And now from Bush's short list to our chat room, Governor Keating standing by to take your questions right after the show at

Mary, I have to tell you, except for maybe Jesse Helms or Strom Thurmond, I couldn't be happier with this choice. I mean, when you look at Dick Cheney's voting record, he is a Neanderthal the way he votes. Mary, I think you should have checked him out a little more carefully.

MATALIN: You know, making you happy was what this decision was all about. No, here's what this is. You know what this election is about? It's about leadership, stupid. I have four words for you: leadership, integrity, judgment, experience, that's what George Bush will bring to the White House and that's what's reflected in this election.

PRESS: I thought it was about the economy, stupid. Didn't somebody say that?

MATALIN: It's about leadership, stupid. That was retro -- retro.

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

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin, join us again tomorrow night for more CROSSFIRE. And after the show, Governor Keating.



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