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Republican National Convention: Will George W. Bush Get a Unified Convention?

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


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Live from the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, a special edition of CROSSFIRE. Tonight, protests in the street and boos at the Shadow Convention.

George W. Bush wants a unified convention. But will he get one?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Philadelphia, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, chairman of the Republican Platform Committee, and Democratic strategist Marla Romash, a Gore advisor.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Good evening. And welcome to a special edition of CROSSFIRE.

Philadelphia is in full-fledged convention mode on the eve of opening day as the party stars begin to join delegates and revelers. John McCain arrived from the so-called Shadow Convention, a gadfly gathering of political activists of all stripes.

Dick Cheney arrived after completing a so-called full Ginsburg, appearing on all five Sunday morning talk shows. With new national polls showing a consistent lead, George W. Bush continued his pre- convention buildup through six states that the Republicans haven't won in two election stops, with four stops in Ohio, a critical battleground state.

Meanwhile, Al Gore continued his family vacation after a brief announcement yesterday he would name his vice presidential selection August 8. Though Gore was mum, his boss was loud and clear blasting the GOP ticket for the second day in a row.

So tonight, from the City of Brotherly Love, the pre-game season ends and the political superstars his the field. Will Clinton's campaign presence make up for Gore's absence? Will Cheney's self- defense match the Democrats' offense against him? And will the Shadow Convention overshadow Bush's big mo?


PRESS: Governor Thompson, good to have you here.


PRESS: Welcome. As Mary said in the lingo of the trade, Dick Cheney pulled a full Ginsburg this morning appearing on all five of the Sunday morning talk shows. And what I thought was very interesting, he didn't accuse anybody of distorting his record.

THOMPSON: That's true.

PRESS: In fact, he defended his record. He told Bob Schieffert on "Face the Nation," quote, "I don't apologize for my record. It's there. It's my record. I'm proud of it."

I ask you, Governor, how could you be proud of or defend voting against a resolution to free Nelson Mandela from prison, for example?

THOMPSON: Well, I think you just picked one section of his record, and you as always, Bill, are going to try and jump on that particular thing. The truth of the matter is that Dick Cheney has done a tremendous job as a public servant.

He's got a record as a congressman, as a chief of staff, as secretary of defense. Every place that he has been, Dick Cheney has served this country and his state admirably.

He is a wonderful individual. And in regards to Wyoming, he was a conservative state. He was a conservative congressman. And I'm sure that as Dick Cheney has said if he had a chance to vote again on some of those issues, he might change his mind. But overall, his record is one of stellar performance for an outstanding American.

PRESS: Well, I think we all agree that he's a nice man and that he served his country well, but he also can have a terrible voting record. And I believe on this issue he does.

Let me quote you something a gentlemen who is in public service not far from the mayor, Dennis Archer, from Detroit said. Quote, he said, "George W. Bush has now said to the African American community, "I give you my person, my candidate for vice president. And my person said no to Nelson Mandela when he was in prison."" Granted, it's just one vote, and I could give you some more.

But on that one, wouldn't Dick Cheney just be better off to say, "You know what? I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done that."

THOMPSON: Well, I think you would love to have him say that, Bill. But in this case, Dick Cheney says, "My record is there. And these are the things that I did as a congressman. But since then, I've evolved. I was a chief of staff. I was secretary of defense."

And as you know, Dick Cheney did a tremendous amount for African Americans and Hispanics as secretary of defense and as chief of staff. He will continue to reach out, just as George W. Bush has all over America.

This is a party of inclusion. We're trying to bring everybody in. PRESS: So no apology for that vote?

THOMPSON: Dick Cheney has got to make that determination.

MATALIN: Marla, Marla, this I like so absurd. Of course Dick Cheney did not deny his record, the record that exists in reality, not the ones that you've distorted. About the fact that your campaign has run the first negative spot in the history of American conventions which began today, about the fact that Donna Brazille, campaign manager, called your researchers killers from the slaughterhouse, Dick Cheney had this to say.


DICK CHENEY, REPUBLICAN VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's hogwash. I mean, the fact of the matter is if there's anybody focused on the past, it's the Democrats. They've had eight years, and they haven't dealt effectively with the key problems.

They haven't fixed the Social Security problem. They haven't fixed the educational system. And now they're spending all off their time pouring over my voting record from 20 years ago.



MATALIN: Well, let me finish. Let me ask the question, Marla, because Bill Bradley said on January 26 in the primaries "a thousand promises, a thousand attacks," that's what your campaign has been. And it looks like that's what your campaign is going to be. And my question is, don't you think the voters are sick of it?

ROMASH: Well, let me quote your candidate. George Bush is the guy who has said, "Once America knows my record, I'm going to win." Well, Democrats believe that once America knows George Bush's record and once America knows Dick Cheney's record, they're not going to win.

Now I know Governor Thompson spent a lot of time in the last couple of months working on the platform. Now let's just take one issue, the issue of choice.

On the issue of choice, George Bush and Dick Cheney clearly say to millions of American woman, even the victims of rape and incest, "You're not going to decide. We think that we can make the decision and you're not going to have the right to a safe, legal abortion."

Al Gore and whoever he picked to be his running mate say to millions of American women, "You know what, we are going to preserve that right. You are going to have the right to choose."

MATALIN: There you go, there you go...


MATALIN: ... No, stop, because you're distorting already. As you know...


MATALIN: ... rape and incest, as Cheney has been saying and Bush has said, are exceptions that they agree with. Here's some more distortions. I can take all five...

ROMASH: Let's look at Dick Cheney...


MATALIN: ... lying about the Clean Water Act. You're lying about Head Start...

ROMASH: Houston has the dirtiest air in the country, Mary...

MATALIN: ... Marla, you haven't...

ROMASH: ... You can't dispute that. You can't dispute the facts.

MATALIN: And you know what the biggest oil producer in Texas is? Occidental. And you know who...

ROMASH: Let me finish...


PRESS: Could we have one at a time here?

ROMASH: The dirtiest air in the country is in Houston. George Bush invites the polluters in to write the laws. Dick Cheney's record on the environment isn't much better. We've got the big oil ticket on the Republican side.

On the Democrats' side, you've got people who are really going to protect our earth and protect the quality of our lives on choice, on guns, on health care. On health care, when they asked George Bush's staff if he'd ever given a speech on health care, their first response was no. When they thought about it, they said he gave two speeches.

So now we've got a Republican candidate, no real patients' bill of rights, no help for prescription drugs for seniors, not a penny for Medicare. And if you look at what he did in Texas, Texas is number two in the number of uninsured children, number one in the number of uninsured women.

And he even said no to 200,000 kids looking to get health care. Dick Cheney even said...

THOMPSON: Once again you're absolutely...


THOMPSON: Just like Bill Bradley said, he said, "You know, if you can't trust Al Gore now, if he lies now, what will he do as president?"

ROMASH: No, no, no...

THOMPSON: Let's take a look at the African Americans. Let's take a look at the fact that in Texas because of George W. Bush, the African American children have the highest increase in test scores ever.

And if you're going to improve the African Americans, if you're going to be able to give them the opportunity to have the quality of life, allow George Bush to give American children the same thing he's given children in Texas, the opportunity for the best education possible.

Rand just came out with a study. And Texas was number one for those students improving minorities, Hispanics, African Americans in the country. Wisconsin was number two...


ROMASH: I've got to tell you, there are a lot of these measures. Like on health care, Wisconsin does measurably better than Texas. This isn't a brush I'm stroking you with here. But the Texas record is clear.

I mean, I don't know. Mary, we agree. Let's take George Bush's record. When Dick Cheney complains about us looking at his record, I want to say to Dick Cheney, "That's what elections are about."

MATALIN: Dick Cheney complains about distorting his record.



PRESS: And he did not complain, I repeat, this morning about distorting the record. This morning he said, "I defend my record."

But I want to move on to something else in the record if I can, Governor, about his time not in Congress but as secretary of defense. During that time, he gave two exclusive briefings inside the Pentagon for Republican contributors. Do you think that was appropriate? People who gave $5,000 to the RNC. Do you think that was appropriate?

THOMPSON: I'd say it's a lot more appropriate for Dick Cheney giving briefings in the Pentagon than having Bill Clinton and Al Gore selling the White House and the Lincoln Bedroom like they have for all along.

I would say that it's much fairer, much more equitable for Dick Cheney to give briefings for individuals that contribute to the Republican Party than going to a Buddhist temple like Al Gore, take money out of the Buddhist temple...

ROMASH: No, no, no, no...

THOMPSON: ... and saying, "I didn't have anything to do with it. I didn't know it. My eyes were closed."

ROMASH: You're distorting the record. You're just distorting the record.


PRESS: That's strange because he was, Dick Cheney was asked about that this morning by Sam Donaldson on "This Week." And here in fact was his defense for that, Governor.

He said, quote, Dick Cheney, "I don't know the details involved here. I do know for a fact we never raised money in the Pentagon."

Now pardon me, but isn't that awful Clintonesque? That's exactly what Bill Clinton said about the White House coffees, exactly what Al Gore said about the Buddhist temple. John McCain today said that was inappropriate for Dick Cheney to do that. Why don't you say the same thing?

THOMPSON: Bill Press, that is not the same thing.

PRESS: What's the difference?

THOMPSON: Bill Clinton was...

PRESS: The Pentagon, the Pentagon...

THOMPSON: ... taking $50,000 for sleeping in the Lincoln bedroom, $50,000. You pay to come in and sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom.


PRESS: Why are you defending the Pentagon of all places?

THOMPSON: I am saying that we don't know. Dick Cheney says he didn't collect any money...

PRESS: We do know.

THOMPSON: ... Dick Cheney says he didn't collect any money, a lot different than the Clinton-Gore people that collected money...

PRESS: No, no, no, no...

THOMPSON: ... both at the Buddhist temple and in the White House. Big difference, 180 degrees.

PRESS: Isn't it the same? Isn't it the same because Bill Clinton says - and I believe it's true - they didn't collect money in the White House, they entertained donors. Dick Cheney is saying, "We didn't collect money in the Pentagon. We entertained donors."

What's the difference? There is no difference. Both are inappropriate, don't you think? THOMPSON: I think in this case that Dick Cheney is an outstanding American. Look at his complete record. Dick Cheney has never lied. He has always been truthful. He has always stuck by everything he has done.

He has handled every job that's ever been given to him with a great deal of diplomacy, great deal of integrity. I don't think even you, Bill, can say the same thing about Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

MATALIN: Oh, you're absolutely...

PRESS: We will continue the debate when we come back. Mary and I, by the way, tonight are going to be in CNN's chat room right after tonight's show. You know the address by now,

And when we come back, we're going to ask whether Bill Clinton is Al Gore's new daily attack dog.


PRESS: Welcome back to a special edition of CROSSFIRE live from Philadelphia's Comcast First Union Center where the Republican National Convention gets underway tomorrow but where the fun has already started.

John McCain is here trying to remember he's not the candidate. Dick Cheney is here ready to talk about anything but his congressional voting record. And thousands of delegates are here ready to party, party, party.

And far from Philadelphia, even Bill Clinton can't resist jumping in for the daily jab at George Bush. Yes, campaign 2000 is underway.

No place better than right here in the convention hall tonight with our guests Tommy Thompson, Republican governor of Wisconsin and chairman of the party platform committee. And Marla Romash, Democratic strategist and an informal advisor to the Gore campaign.


MATALIN: All right, that's right, Marla, the president, he just can't let it go. Yesterday he was calling Bush, attacking Bush for getting advice from his father. Today he was attacking Cheney about which again the secretary, who rightly did not run away from his record, had this to say about President Clinton's attacks.


CHENEY: I am generally one of those people who thinks Bill Clinton has been an enormous embarrassment to the country. And as a man, he's a tragic figure in a way. He's obviously very bright. He's got a very impressive sort of basic interpersonal political skills about a stand-up politician in good stead. But he obviously has fundamental flaws.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATALIN: OK, and here's a political question to you political ace. Clinton's omnipresence presents two problems. First and foremost, as the secretary just pointed out, he's a constant reminder of the dignity deficit which this VP is being tagged with.

Yes, and particularly in contrast with this dignified Republican ticket. Don't you want this president to just go away?

ROMASH: Listen, Mary, I appreciate Dick Cheney's point of view. But I don't think most of America agrees with him. I think most of America realizes that the country is in the best economic shape it's been in in a long time. We've got everything from family medical leave, which was the first bill this president signed into law, to better health care...

MATALIN: OK, I'm not going to let you go through the litany again because here's the reality in the polls right now...


MATALIN: ... Now why does the vice president, of whom they know nothing more, the most they know about him is he served with this president, why does he consistently score lower than George Bush on values, shares values (INAUDIBLE)? And the second promise, the leadership issue, Marla. You've got a 20-point deficit with Bush on leadership.


ROMASH: The four of us could sit here and talk about polls until the cows come home. I mean, you know the poll that matters, Mary, is the one that happens on election day.

And what we're seeing in the numbers is what we're seeing when Americans learn more about the Bush record, when they learn more about the differences between Al Gore and George Bush, they say, "We want Al Gore to be our next president."

So I think people understand what the Clinton-Gore administration has meant for America in terms of better jobs, a stronger economy, better schools, better health care. And they understand that that's what Al Gore is going to mean as president.

So I'll worry about the poll in November...


MATALIN: We're not asking you which polls to substantiate my point of view. Let me just simply ask you this. So you want President Clinton out there every day bashing Bush and Cheney. Is that how you want to run this campaign?

ROMASH: My choice, no, I think you're going to see Al Gore out there every day going, talking to America about...

MATALIN: Bashing. ROMASH: ... no, no, no, talking to America about what he cares about...


ROMASH: ... about what he's going to do as president. And I think it's good to see him campaigning with Bill Clinton. I mean, that's something we welcome.

But let's be clear about what this election is about. It's a choice between George Bush and Dick Cheney - who are going to take away a woman's right to choose, who don't offer anything to protect Medicare...

THOMPSON: That is absolutely not true.

ROMASH: ... who aren't going to protect Social Security, who aren't going to do anything to clean up our environment...

PRESS: Let me...


THOMPSON: That is absolutely incorrect. And I would enlighten you.

PRESS: You want to make a quick response, I'll give you the opportunity right now.

THOMPSON: That is absolutely incorrect. This whole, George Bush has reached out to more people than anybody else...

ROMASH: Governor, you couldn't even answer the...


PRESS: Let him finish, please.

THOMPSON: ... George Bush has reached out to Hispanics, African Americans, pro-choice women, pro-life people. And just because the Republican Party is pro-life and the Democrat Party is pro-choice, you want to make a big issue of that. That's fine.

The truth of the...

ROMASH: Is it a big issue, Governor.

THOMPSON: ... The truth of the matter is that George Bush is more inclusive than any other candidate. And he's reached out to more people than anybody else that's ever run on either side of the aisle.

ROMASH: It's a sham. I mean...

PRESS: OK, let me follow up then. I want to talk about this platform. You're the chairman of the Platform Committee.


PRESS: I congratulate you for surviving. You got out alive.

THOMPSON: So am I. It's a tough job.

PRESS: I've been through Platform Committee hearings. But the spin is that this is a revolutionary document because it moves the party back to the middle.


PRESS: I mean, I looked at it, Governor, with all due respect. I know you tried to change it. You tried to change it more than you were able to. But on the key issues like choice, like guns, like gays, like sex education in the schools, on those key social issues, this document is the same extreme document it's always been, isn't it?

THOMPSON: It absolutely is not. This document...

PRESS: No changes on those issues, you agree. On those issues, no changes.

THOMPSON: There is no change on the pro-life plank. That is true.

PRESS: Or guns.

THOMPSON: There is changes in the guns, and there's changes in several other areas, the way it was positioned, the way the word was put out, the way the message was. The truth of the matter is, Bill, that we came into this thing. I put more time into this effort to make sure that this platform was going to be inclusive.

There is sea changes in education and health and Social Security and national defense and agriculture, in conservation, in the environment. And a lot more visionary...

PRESS: Well, well...

THOMPSON: ... a lot more positive than any platform ever before.

PRESS: ... Well, I want to ask you about this inclusion. When I was walking out of the convention center last night, I was handed this flyer by Republicans for Choice to point out that...


PRESS: ... you as a committee passed a committee welcoming people on all sides of this complex issue, namely choice. Ten minutes later, you reversed yourself and defeated that same amendment. Ann Stone (ph) here says she was welcome for 10 minutes. Is that what you mean by inclusion on this important issue?

THOMPSON: No, I am talking about the fact that we sat down with everybody. Anybody that wanted to have a chance to be heard had a chance. And we heard from them. And we have a platform I believe that's very positive, very upbeat. And the vast majority of the people that come to the Republican Convention are strong pro-life...


PRESS: Will you allow floor debate on the choice issue?

THOMPSON: If they get the votes, they certainly will have that opportunity.

MATALIN: Before we run out of time here, Marla, let me ask you about your convention because you adopted your platform today. I simply want to know this. Is your Senate leader, Daschle, your House leader, Gephardt, going to be able to speak at your convention about their opposition to partial birth abortion?

Is Moynihan, whom Hillary hopes to succeed, going to be able to say what he said on the stage in public, "It's infanticide." Are the 60 pro-life Democrats going to be highlighted at your convention?

ROMASH: Mary, Mary, Mary, come on. The question here, there are two issues here. If you want to talk about process, you know what? I give the governor a lot of credit because a platform is a difficult thing to put together. And I think you deserve a lot of credit for the kind of process you've put together.

But results matter. And the bottom line is that for millions of American women who have to go into the voting booth in November and say, "Who is going to protect my right to choose?" Republicans won't, and the Democrats will, and that's the bottom line.

THOMPSON: Marla...

ROMASH: But the Republican platform says women don't have a right to choose. The Democratic platform says they do. And for people like me, that's important. That is an important difference.

THOMPSON: Pro-choice women at the hearing had a chance to be heard. And they debated. The Democrat Party...

ROMASH: But the platform says no choice.

THOMPSON: ... will not even allow the pro-life people to be heard...


MATALIN: You know what? And yours says choice up until the ninth month...

THOMPSON: We're heard here. We're heard here.

MATALIN: ... We're almost not going to be heard because we're being shut off by it looks like rehearsals on the stage.

Thank you, Marla Romash. Thank you, Governor Thompson.

PRESS: Rock 'n' roll.


MATALIN: Bill and I might be back with our closing comments. We might be dancing when you come back...


MATALIN: ... Stay tuned to find out.


PRESS: You can jump into the CROSSFIRE online with Mary and me right after the show. We'll be there to take all of your questions at that famous site,

Mary, I know it's deep...

MATALIN: Like two mug shots.

PRESS: ... I know. I know it's the eve of your big convention. And I don't want to spoil the spirit for you, but I do have to tell you a true story. I was in a cab today. And the cab driver says, "So, that guy Bush, like, is he a Republican or a Democrat?"

Mary, you've got a long way to go. Not everybody is there yet. I told him he was a Green Party member. I just wanted you to know.

MATALIN: Well this is a beautiful city. We're happy to be here. They are doing it right.

And you know, I wouldn't be worrying about us if I were you. This unprecedented assault, the president attacking us, running a negative spot in the middle of our commercial. Meanwhile, your guy lags by 20 points.

PRESS: You know what...

MATALIN: Twenty points more people think Bush leads on the issues.

PRESS: Could I ask you...

MATALIN: This is about leadership.

PRESS: ... if these attacks are so bad, why are you squealing so much about them? They must be hitting home.

MATALIN: I love them. I love them. But yeah, they are hitting home where we've widened our margin since we started.

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

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us for future special editions of CROSSFIRE throughout the convention.



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