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Crossfire

What Does Joe Lieberman Bring to the Democratic Ticket?

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

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the state AFL-CIO Convention today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, the call has gone out. Al Gore named Senator Joe Lieberman to be his running mate and the first Jew on the national ticket. Will it help or hurt a campaign now lagging in the polls?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire: Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson, a Bush adviser; and in New York, Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, an adviser to the Gore campaign.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

For Democrats it's the Gore-Lieberman ticket. Al Gore made the call this afternoon and Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut senator said, you bet. Gore is counting on Lieberman to help overcome the big lead George Bush took out of Philadelphia, now 56-40 points. So far, only a terse no comment from Bush about Gore's running mate, maybe because Lieberman has voted with Republicans on so many key issues, like school vouchers, and maybe because he was the first Democrat to condemn President Clinton's personal behavior in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: Such behavior is not just inappropriate, it is immoral. And it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Lieberman also becomes the first Jew to run for national office, prompting an "oy vey" from the "New York Post." But he says his religion should make no difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: I want to be judged based on my experience, on my qualifications and on my ideas and values for America's future, and I tell you, I'm confident I will be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So tonight, what does Joe Lieberman bring to the Democratic ticket? -- Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Senator Lautenberg, I'd like to have us all listen just to another little bit of that gripping speech that Senator Lieberman made in the Senate last year -- or rather, 1998. Let's take a listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: These feelings have gone beyond my personal dismay to a larger, graver sense of loss for our country, a reckoning of the damage that the president's conduct has done to the proud legacy of his presidency, and ultimately, an accounting of the impact of his actions on our democracy and its moral foundations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: With Vice President Gore reaching out to Senator Lieberman, sir, isn't that a tacit recognition that he was right about the president and the rest of you Democrats who never said a word were wrong?

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D-NJ), GORE ADVISER: Well, the rest of us Democrats did not include me. I don't know quite, Bob, who you're talking about because I condemned President Clinton's behavior. But the one thing that you notice that when it came to the impeachment vote, Joe Lieberman voted against impeachment, so that spoke to me volumes about how he felt. He was deploring a single act, which I agreed with. His speech was eloquent, his speech was articulate. It would -- had all of the elements that it should have to become almost an epic speech, but that doesn't change the loyalty that he had to this man as president, and we see the results of this tenure.

NOVAK: But didn't Vice President Gore in reaching out to Senator Lieberman try to separate himself from the dark side of Bill Clinton, the part -- he's -- Bill Clinton's personal affection is at the lowest point he's been. Isn't this a clear separation between Gore and Clinton by picking Lieberman?

LAUTENBERG: Well, by sheer coincidence, Gore picked someone who was very friendly with the Clintons, even going back to Joe Lieberman's initial excursions into political life, when the Clintons worked with and for him and they maintained a relationship that is without question, criticism absolutely. But I don't think Gore needs to hide behind his relationship with Clinton. I think the record is a very good one. Look at the economy, employment, peace in the world, et cetera. I think it's quite an illustrious record. NOVAK: Senator, let me try one more thing, and that is what Senator Lieberman said in March of 1998 about the Clinton campaign scandals, he was the only person -- Democrat on the Thompson Committee who seemed to do -- think that the White House did anything wrong. He said -- quote -- "As part of the overall breakdown of the system, the White House was used more systematically and broadly than ever before to raise millions of dollars in large soft-money contributions with seemingly little consideration given to the troubling signal this would send to the broader public or the consequences it could have for our government" -- end quote.

Isn't this a clear -- picking somebody of this -- a clear attempt by Al Gore to disengage himself from his own part in the campaign scandals?

LAUTENBERG: Well, I -- once again, I think that the reason Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman to run with him is because they have a match in the agenda that they want to put forward to the American people. And have there been times when there's been disagreement? Absolutely, but I think Gore's boldness in choosing someone like Joe Lieberman, who has spoken out on occasion to some discomfort in the White House, credits him with being a man of integrity and honor and willing to speak his peace, and I think the American people are going to love this guy, I must tell you, when he gets out and delivers his message.

PRESS: Mr. Chairman, good evening, good to have you on CROSSFIRE.

There were four senators that looked like that got -- not looked like, that were the finalists in this Gore sweepstakes: John Kerry, John Edwards Evan Bayh and Joe Lieberman. Honestly, Mr. Chairman, of the four, isn't Joe Lieberman the toughest one for you to run against?

JIM NICHOLSON, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Well, Joe Lieberman is a good guy and respected, but it's a very curious choice for Gore, because Gore said he wanted somebody to run with him that he liked, that could become president and that agreed with him on the issues. Well, contrary to what the senator just said, Lieberman does not agree with Gore on the issues.

I mean, take a look at school choice. Lieberman agrees with us, with Governor Bush on school choice. Take a look at missile defense. Take a look at Social Security reform. He has given speeches about the importance of privatizing Social Security. Take a look at parental notification on abortions, tort reform. This is not a guy that agrees with Gore. So I think Bob Novak nailed it. What he was looking for was something to fill the veritas void, the integrity void that his campaign is obviously suffering and he thought that Lieberman would do that, and he didn't tend to the issues at all.

PRESS: As we discussed over and over again in Philadelphia last week, there are several issues on which Dick Cheney is far more to the right than George W. Bush, so the two don't have to agree on every issue.

But I find it curious that over the years, Republicans have been falling over themselves with praise for Joe Lieberman. I mean, back in 1988 when he first ran for office, William F. Buckley Jr. endorsed him over Republican Lowell Weicker. In 1994, Republican Governor John Rowland of Connecticut said, "Joe Lieberman ought to be the choice, the standard bearer for both parties in the Senate race."

And just today, here is what one of the Republican colleagues of Senator Lieberman had to say, Senator Arlen Specter said today -- quote -- "I think when it comes to pure competency or integrity that Joe Lieberman is tops."

Now, Jim Nicholson, are you going to turn around now and dump on this guy you've been praising all these years?

NICHOLSON: I just said that he's a very respected guy. You know...

PRESS: I'm waiting for the but.

NICHOLSON: Some people, you know, they think that he ought to become a Republican, join the 487 other elected Democrats that have switched parties and become Republican, including two U.S. Senators.

But what is he going to do when they take him into the slaughter house, which is what they call the -- you know, the research center for the Gore campaign, and the people working there are called the killers? What is he going to do when they start talking about Social Security reform, when they start talking about missile defense, when they start talking about school choice? I mean, are they going to come on CROSSFIRE together and debate these issues with each other?

PRESS: He'll be very loyal, Mr. Chairman. But doesn't the fact that Al Gore would reach out to someone who disagrees with him on so many issues, who has taken such an independent stance from this administration, and put him on the ticket say something pretty strong about Al Gore's independence and courage?

NICHOLSON: Says something very strong about Al Gore, which is the need for him to once again reinvent himself, a new iteration of Al Gore with somebody that he disagrees on the major issues of this campaign. It also says that he's willing to put a stick in the eye of the base of his party, the trial lawyers in Hollywood, with a guy like Lieberman.

NOVAK: Senator Lautenberg, I think we have an answer to Chairman Nicholson on what's going to happen on Social Security. On April 19, 1998, an interview with the "San Diego Union Tribune," Senator Lieberman talking about Social Security said -- quote -- "I think in the end that individual control of part of the retirement Social Security funds has got to happen." Individual control.

LAUTENBERG: Yes, but...

NOVAK: Now, let's -- just one second, Senator.

LAUTENBERG: I'll listen. NOVAK: Let's look what he said this morning -- this morning in his first appearance as a putative vice presidential nominee in an appearance before the Connecticut convention of the AFL-CIO. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: And look at what Governor Bush is proposing. Instead of saving Social Security, he's on a course to savage it with a privatization scheme that would take $1 trillion out of the nest that belongs to every worker in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Senator, Joe Lieberman's reinventing himself before our eyes, isn't he?

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, I don't think so. I think what he said is that we could consider some privatization there, but the man is entitled to reflect on decisions and to look at where we are. I know that he was upset substantially by the Bush proposal to give something, about $800 billion worth of tax cuts.

To make speeches in the Republican convention about how they're going to save Social Security and how they're going to provide programs for education to fix crumbling schools, and at the same time give a tax the size of which could wipe out our surplus.

So frankly, I think -- I think it's OK, and I think that if we want to look at what Joe Lieberman last said about savaging Social Security, I think that tells the story.

NOVAK: Well, senator -- senator, you've been around politics. You're one of the great vote-getters in New Jersey history. You know what's going on. This is one of the great somersaults I've ever seen.

I mean, here is a guy who's on record as saying we've got to privatize, and the minute he goes on the ticket he's -- he's singing the Gore line. Is that integrity?

LAUTENBERG: Well, I -- one thing I've not heard before this very moment, Bob, is anybody questioning Joe Lieberman's integrity.

NOVAK: You heard it here first.

(LAUGHTER)

LAUTENBERG: Change of position maybe.

But well -- but it's too bad, because I think what you're doing is taking a man who is known for his character, known for his concern about what we see on television -- and I'm not talking about this kind of an interpretation; I'm talking about prurient kinds of things -- and standing up and being willing to say, hey, listen, we have to look at free speech but we also have to look at content. And he doesn't want to do it. Joe Lieberman is known for his character. NOVAK: We're -- we're going to have to take a break, senator. Conservative, centrist or liberal? Check out how everyone from the American Conservative Union to NARAL rates Senator Lieberman's voting record. Just go to cnn.com/crossfire. And while you're online, stick around and continue with CROSSFIRE, continue the crossfire with tonight's guests right after the show. But right now, we're going to take a break and we're going to talk about whether Joe Lieberman is going to bring a kinder, gentler style to the politics of America.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's a Gore-Lieberman ticket.

Now, not everybody in Washington likes Al Gore, not by a long shot, but believe it or not Joe Lieberman has no enemies in this den of vipers that is our capital city. Just about everybody here loves Senator Lieberman. Is that because he wobbles to-and-fro, left, right or center, or will he bring a new civility to American politics?

We're asking Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Republican National Chairman Jim Nicholson -- Bill.

PRESS: Den of vipers?

(LAUGHTER)

Mr. Chairman, Joe Lieberman is the first Jew, the first Orthodox Jew to serve on a national ticket. Do you think that will make any difference, or should, in this election?

NICHOLSON: It shouldn't and I sure hope it doesn't.

PRESS: We agree. Let's move on.

One of the themes in Philadelphia, certainly it seems, was that the Republicans want to run, you want to run this year on civility. We're going to bring back niceness to -- the same niceness, god forbid, we saw in Philadelphia we're going see in Washington.

Here's how Dick Cheney put it in his acceptance speech. I'm sure you remember.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the last eight years that city has often become a scene of bitterness and ill will and partisan strife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: He might have said den of vipers, too, but if you want a model of civility, if you want somebody who can reach across party lines and work together with the other side, a guy that everybody likes, it's Joe Lieberman, isn't it? Another reason why he's a great pick. NICHOLSON: Well, as we said, Joe Lieberman seems to be a well- respected guy in Washington and throughout the country. You know, Governor Bush proved in Texas that by reaching across the aisle he could get things done, bring the Democrats in to work with him to reform the schools and cut taxes and cut crime in Texas. And what he's saying is we need to do that now in Washington. And he picked a guy like Dick Cheney to run with him, who has that same disposition, that same track record. He was a leader in the Congress. He was a chief of staff at the White House. He was the secretary of defense. He had to work both sides of the aisle.

PRESS: But I know that. But Mr. Chairman, you're the chairman of the Republican National Committee. All that you've said tonight about Joe Lieberman is that it's a strange choice and that he disagrees with Al Gore on some issues. I mean, is that the most negative thing you've got to say about Joe Lieberman?

NICHOLSON: Well, he disagrees with Al Gore on some very, very important issues. You know, look, about Al Gore...

PRESS: What's wrong with that? My question is what's wrong with that.

NICHOLSON: Well, Al Gore, you know, will say anything, do anything, wear anything to get elected. Let's hope...

PRESS: Mr. Chairman...

NICHOLSON: Let's hope...

PRESS: Mr. Chairman, I'm asking about Joe Lieberman. What's wrong with Joe Lieberman?

NICHOLSON: Let's hope that Joe Lieberman doesn't compromise, you know, his integrity and his good name, because we know that Joe Lieberman is for school choice. He knows where schools are failing children that the parents and those kids ought to have a chance to go out and go to another school and be given the opportunity to do that.

NOVAK: Senator...

NICHOLSON: He knows that workers ought to be able to have a chance to invest some of the work. Now, I hope he doesn't compromise himself, because Al Gore doesn't agree with that.

NOVAK: Senator Lautenberg, our able staff this afternoon looked at some of your votes and some of Senator Lieberman's votes on important issues.

Private school choice: Lieberman yes; Lautenberg no. Capital gains tax cut: Lieberman yes, Lautenberg no. Gulf War: Lieberman yes; Lautenberg no. Accelerating a national missile defense: Lieberman yes, Lautenberg no. Product liability reform: Lieberman yes; Lautenberg no.

Are you guys in the same party, sir? LAUTENBERG: Not only are we in the same party, but we stick together on lots of things. Where we differ we talk about things. But the fact of the matter is...

NOVAK: But those are important things.

LAUTENBERG: Well, they are, but there are other things many of which upon which we agree. And when I just heard Mr. Nicholson talking about civility and then starting off by saying, well, Al Gore will say anything and do anything, I mean, that's a nice way to get a civil action going.

The fact of the matter is Joe Lieberman is someone who people respect, and he does vote on occasion, just like almost everybody else, that differs with my view of things. My view...

NOVAK: Senator...

LAUTENBERG: My view is perhaps a more traditional view, but Al Gore in making this choice I think issued a bold stroke and the Republicans are choking on it, because they don't know what to say. You see them scratching their heads: Yes, he does get along with our people; yes, he does vote occasionally with us; yes, he does that, and yes, he did this. But they're unwilling to say, yes, up front Joe Lieberman is a darned good choice and we're sorry to see him there.

NOVAK: Let me...

LAUTENBERG: I think we have a better choice than Dick Cheney, and I like Dick Cheney.

NOVAK: Let me ask you a question that just puzzles me. The money bags for your party, one of the big money bags has been the trial lawyers. Here's a guy who voted against the trial lawyers on product liability, one of the very few Democratic senators. Are you going to have to get -- bring Joe Lieberman into line and say, hey, that's where our bred is buttered, you can't do that and be the vice president to Al Gore, who's the creature of the trial lawyers? Are you going to do that?

LAUTENBERG: I wish that you were looking at my old candidate donors in my campaigns. You'll see that I didn't get a lot of money from the trial lawyers, but I do think the public is entitled to representation. I think they're entitled to be defended when they're wronged. And I do think that the court is the place to resolve that.

PRESS: All right, senator, just almost running out of time. One last question for Mr. Nicholson. The contrast between Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman. I mean, Joe Lieberman, new, fresh face in the Senate, new ideas. Dick Cheney, going back two administrations ago. I mean, old guard versus new guard. That's what this campaign has become?

NICHOLSON: Well, this pick is about a lot more than that, Bill. What you have here is a choice that Governor Bush made about governing. He didn't make a political pick. He made a governing pick. What Gore did is he made a political pick. He picked a guy that's on its face incompatible with him on these important issues. So he picked a guy for 95 days. Governor Bush picked a guy for 95 months. And that's a big difference.

PRESS: All right. Those 95 days we'll be back to you to get you on CROSSFIRE, Mr. Chairman. Thank you very much for joining us. Senator Lautenberg, thanks for being with us again tonight...

LAUTENBERG: Thanks.

PRESS: ... up in New York.

As usual, Bob Novak and I will be back with our closing comments, and here's an important programming note for tomorrow night. In the CROSSFIRE, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader will be here reacting to the Lieberman announcement. Back soon with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Now you can find out what's coming up in the CROSSFIRE. Sign up for a daily e-mail sent free of charge telling you what we are planning for that night. Log onto CNN.com/crossfire to sign up for your daily CROSSFIRE e-mail.

NOVAK: You want the inside scoop on Gore's running mate? Ask tonight's guests right after the show at CNN.com/crossfire. Then tune into a special edition of "NEWSSTAND" tonight at 10:00 p.m. when Bill and I join Judy Woodruff for a fresh look at Al Gore's new running mate.

Bill, let me tell you this: that both Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, who I know well, are both excellent men. I have a great deal of faith in them. The Republicans admit that. The Democrats are too mean to admit it. But there is a problem with Joe Lieberman and Al Gore: They disagree on so many things that I predict that Joe Lieberman will change his positions on many issues. He started already with Social Security.

PRESS: I think Joe Lieberman will be who he is, and that's why it's a good choice. You know, Bob, look, for me, as liberal as I am, I mean, he's much too -- much too much of a moderate. You know me? I want Maxine Waters or Charlie Rangels, but I'll never get them.

NOVAK: I thought Fidel Castro.

PRESS: But the fact -- but the fact that Jim Nicholson couldn't lay a finger on this guy, the Republicans don't know how to approach Joe Lieberman because they like him too much and he is too nice a guy. That's why it's a bold and a brilliant move for Al Gore, Bob.

NOVAK: Isn't that an interesting contrast, the way the dirt and the nastiness of the Democrats on Dick Cheney, who is a first-class citizen, and the Republicans just treated Joe Lieberman like the gentleman he is? PRESS: No, no, no. It just proves that Lieberman's a superior choice.

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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