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Crossfire

Is There Room in the GOP for Moderates?

Aired August 2, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As we countdown to tonight's convention coverage, let's now go to the CROSSFIRE: On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Bob Novak -- Gentlemen.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: All right. Thank you, Wolf.

Indeed here at the Republican National Convention, Bob Novak and I, a special edition of CROSSFIRE. And our special guest tonight is New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman.

Governor, good to have you here.

GOV. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), NEW JERSEY: It's a pleasure.

PRESS: Neighboring state.

WHITMAN: Glad to be here.

PRESS: Right across the river.

WHITMAN: Right across the river. Actually, a co-host of this great event.

PRESS: Co-host of the convention. Congratulations so far.

I'm intrigued by a statement that you made earlier this week to the staff of "U.S. News," as reported in "U.S. News." You said, talking about when Governor Bush called you to announce to you that you were not his nominee, but Dick Cheney was, you said -- quote -- according to "U.S. News": "When Governor Bush called me and told me it was Cheney, I mentioned his legislative record, and Bush said, 'You know, I really wasn't looking that closely at it.'"

Two questions: Did he say that, and don't you think he was being a little careless if he hadn't looked at his record?

WHITMAN: I think he was being a little flip when he was saying it. That was more, I didn't go into all the details. He said: I know it's a very conservative record. I know he is a man of principle. I know how he voted. But at -- at that point in time, there had been a couple of votes that had, you know, pieces of votes that had been pulled out. And what he was basically saying is he personally hadn't gone through every particular thing in some of them. You know how it is when you have omnibus bills that you voted on in the Congress: You can find all sorts of bits and pieces to pull out.

But he knew exactly who he was getting and he was very pleased that Dick Cheney had told him that he was going to be his running mate.

PRESS: Congressman J.C. Watts is quoted in "The Hotline" this morning as saying that he has spent 70 percent of his time over the last 48 hours defending the party's vice presidential nominee. Why is that good for the party? Why is that good for the ticket, for everybody having to be defending Dick Cheney from now to November the 7th?

WHITMAN: It won't be from now to November the 7th. I think that's the point. It's going to be until we get out of this convention, until people actually -- probably until tonight, when people across the nation get to hear and see Dick Cheney through no filter. Hear him directly.

This is a very well-rounded, grounded, bright guy who reaches out across -- he was part of the Wednesday group in Congress, and you all know what that is. That's a, you know, moderate group.

He is not an extremist. He is not hard-edged.

He represented a very conservative state, and he bowed to that, I think, in some instances, and he has deeply held beliefs that he doesn't change based on polls.

But he brings a wealth of experience, background and knowledge that is going to be very powerful when he gets an opportunity to be heard.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Governor Whitman, I've had so many people tell me this is a new Republican Party, and I look at the platform: It's anti-abortion, it's anti-gay rights, it's anti-sex education. And I roam the floor down there, and I see the same old conservatives that I've seen for years.

Am I wrong?

WHITMAN: You mean you keep seeing people like me there, that have been to one convention after another?

(LAUGHTER)

I really think you are. Not in what you see on the convention floor, because don't forget: Conventions and delegates are the people who have been getting out the vote in the parties for year after year after year. It's reward: There's no questions about that.

But if you look at the face of the Republican Party in the states, look at the 31 governors, including Governor Bush, look at what we have done in our states, the appointments that we've made, the people that have come to the Republican Party. George Bush got better than 50 percent of the Hispanic vote. That's not been a traditional Republican constituency, although I would argue it should be.

He has been able to bring people into the party and a diverse group of people, and that's the reality of what's happening with the Republican Party out in the country. And that's really what's important.

NOVAK: Governor, you made a very good statement on Governor Bush. I won't -- I won't argue with you. But the platform of this party and the views of the delegates are unchanged, aren't they? Can we agree...

WHITMAN: The platform...

NOVAK: ... there's a discontinuity there?

WHITMAN: I will tell you that there is one change in the platform, and that is the inclusion that -- one of the things Tommy Thompson did is he included in the beginning part of the platform all the resolutions that were offered and discussed, and either voted up or down. So everybody knows...

NOVAK: I think it's in the appendix, not the beginning.

WHITMAN: Well, maybe the appendix.

NOVAK: The end rather than the beginning.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITMAN: But he's got everything in there, even some resolutions that made it through the first stages of the platform committee on the choice issue.

We at least have a discussion. Democrats won't even have a discussion on these issue, and you can't tell me they're monolithic in their views.

PRESS: One of the speakers at last night's session was Congressman Jim Kolbe, Republican Arizona, spoke about trade.

WHITMAN: Right.

PRESS: But because he's a gay man, openly gay man, the Texas delegation, George Bush's delegation, sitting right down there in front, right in front of the podium, many of them took their hats off, bowed their heads in prayer in a deliberate kind of rebuke or protest to his presence there.

Do you think that was appropriate and is that what the party of inclusion is all about?

WHITMAN: Bill, let me say obviously I disagree with people that have a problem with someone because of their sexual orientation. That isn't defining of the character. But they didn't get up and walk out. They didn't boo. They didn't try to override him. They didn't try to stop him from being heard. I mean, the shadow convention, when John McCain went over there and tried to talk about George Bush, they wouldn't even let him talk.

They were respectful. They happen to disagree with his lifestyle. The fact that they chose to pray, god bless them, that's the way they did it. But at least they weren't in any way in your face about it.

PRESS: But let me pick up on Bob's point, though, about the platform. If you look at the platform on the issue of gay rights, the platform is still anti gays in the military, anti gay unions -- whatever you want to call them. It's anti -- opposed to a ban on discrimination based on sexual preference, I know you disagree...

WHITMAN: I do. There are parts of the platform...

PRESS: You don't agree with those views, but that is the party platform. So with that platform, isn't putting Jim Kolbe on the podium just pure window dressing?

WHITMAN: No. That's actually what the party is about. When was the last time that you saw any elected official base their governance on their party platform, Republican or Democrat? It has a lot of meaning in the run-up to the convention. I think it would be far better if we left it to the preamble, because that's a very good statement of principle in this platform, the preamble to the platform.

It really is not going to affect how George Bush conducts his presidency. What he says is going to determine how he conducts his presidency, because all you have to do is look at the record in Texas.

NOVAK: Governor Whitman, when you were re-elected in 1997 as governor, you said there is no litmus test on abortion in this party. But it's common knowledge that you weren't seriously considered for vice president because you vetoed the partial-birth abortion bill.

WHITMAN: Yes.

NOVAK: It's known that Governor Ridge of Pennsylvania, a very close friend of Governor Bush, was put off the ticket even though he's a very moderate pro-choice person. There is a litmus test on abortion, isn't there?

WHITMAN: Bob, I would argue -- I would disagree with you, in all due respect. And I know you have a lot of knowledge of the inside working of things. But I don't think that Tom Ridge was kept off the ticket because of his position on abortion. I think Dick Cheney was chosen for the ticket because of his record in foreign policy, his record as a chief of staff in the White House, and his record as a congressman. He knows how to get programs through in Washington. He knows how the White House works, and he understands foreign policy.

NOVAK: Governor, in May of 1996 you had a rather famous interview with The New York Times in which you said: "I think I am reflective of the true nature of the Republican Party. There's always something a little strange, to put it kindly, when politicians preach morality. I'm not so sure we or anyone else for that matter has the standing to be the arbiter of values for everyone."

That was taken, I think correctly, as a slap at the Christian Coalition. We know now that Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition are revving up for another big effort this fall. Can you live in a Republican Party with the Christian Coalition? Or do you say to make yourself comfortable you have to get rid of them?

WHITMAN: No, in fact. I think that is perhaps the defining issue between those of us who are moderate and some of the more extreme elements. I can live with them in my party. My party has a room for them. I'm just not sure that their definition of party has a room for me. And that's where we -- we differ at times.

NOVAK: So there's room for both.

WHITMAN: I think there's room for both. I was brought up umbrella party.

NOVAK: Governor Whitman, thank you very much.

WHITMAN: Pleasure.

NOVAK: Bill Press and I...

PRESS: Thanks, governor.

WHITMAN: Good to see you again.

NOVAK: Bill Press and I will be back with closing comments in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Bill, you and the rest of your left-wing crowd have been pounding on Dick Cheney for the better part of a week. But let me tell you, I know a little bit about politics, and let me tell you what's going to happen. He's going to make a very good speech tonight: not going to be a Pat Buchanan right-wing speech. He is going to get a good reception. And in two weeks -- mark it -- two weeks he will not be an issue in this campaign, and you'll have to think of something else, which with your limited capacity, I know that will be hard.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: I think we'll think of something else, Bob, but I'll take that bet. I think Dick Cheney is going to be a liability all the way through. He'll give a good speech tonight. He'll that prove he's a grown-up that George Bush isn't.

But you know, who should have been on that ticket next to John McCain. Christine Todd Whitman? Would have been a great candidate for vice president.

And let the Christian Coalition whine. Where are they going to go?

NOVAK: I thought you would want Dianne Feinstein. No?

PRESS: Not on the Republican ticket. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Thanks for watching a special edition of CROSSFIRE. And now to Wolf Blitzer on the podium!

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