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Mike McCurry Discusses the President's Address to the Convention

Aired August 14, 2000 - 6:41 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Since our prime-time coverage of this Democratic National Convention preempts the usual time slot for CROSSFIRE, we've moved it up an hour.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak -- gentleman.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Thanks very much, Wolf.

Welcome to a special edition of CROSSFIRE from the convention hall.

In the CROSSFIRE, is Mike McCurry, the former press secretary of President Clinton.

Mr. McCurry, when you were the press secretary, you were asked once...

MIKE MCCURRY, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It was a long time ago. Let's stipulate that.

NOVAK: You were asked once whether the president was ever going to tell the truth. And you said he would tell the truth slowly. Now he has the featured speech tonight. Is he going to, do you think, finally let the American people in on some of these secrets and tell the truth?

MCCURRY: There is not a secret left that he has not told, apologized for and dealt with in due course. What he's going to do tonight is exactly what he ought to do, is talk about what the last eight years of his presidency have really been about, correct the record, from the Republican convention, and set the stage for Al Gore. That's what he ought to do. He should not dwell on the past.

Remember, the brilliance of Bill Clinton as a politician is that he's always given us a road map to the future, and I don't think you're going to hear him dwell on the past tonight.

NOVAK: Mr. McCyrry, I'd like talk about the last few days of the Clinton presidency. And he found himself with thousands of ministers of the gospel.

And let's listen to something he told them the other day. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm now in the second year of a process of trying to totally rebuild my life from a terrible mistake I made.


NOVAK: Now, Mr. McCurry, your successors over at the White House say it was just coincidence that he went into this mea culpa before he is passing the torch to Al Gore, making his farewell. But you're not a spokesman anymore. You're a free agent. That's part of the careful Clinton plotting, isn't it?

MCCURRY: No, look, the redemptive power of the spirit as it moves to cleanse sin is something we ought to just acknowledge and be thankful to God for. And, you know, I remember reading...

NOVAK: That was on the level?

MCCURRY: Seriously -- about a year ago, I remember reading in "The Washington Post" something that one of his pastors, I think at the Foundry Methodist Church, Phil Wageman said. He described exactly the process that the president laid out in front of the preachers the other night, and said that they had been and working with the president, spiritually counseling him. And, you know, he's candid enough to say that he needed that spiritual counseling. I don't think that's a bad thing for a politician to say that, and I'm glad he did it before we all got here to Los Angeles.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Mr. McCurry, I've looked at this platform that's going to be adopted here. This platform is pro-death penalty, it is pro-a missile defense system, it is pro-more money for the Pentagon, even though the "evil empire" has gone, and it says the No. 1 national priority is eliminating the national deficit. Is this a Republican Party platform or a Democratic Party platform?

MCCURRY: The question is, will there be more bitten lips here in Los Angeles than there were in Philadelphia? Both of these parties have not catered to the hall. They catered to the delegates who are here, or in the case of the Democrats, considerably more liberal than the American public. In the case of the Republican conventions in Philadelphia, way more conservative than the American public. They have tried to defend the high ground in American politics, the center of the political spectrum, building on the record in the last eight years, setting a foundation for Vice President Gore to take the argument further.

It's no surprise that these party platforms state the broadest centrist case that a party can make. What we do here at a convention is begin to reach out beyond the base to try to win 50 percent-plus of the electorate.

PRESS: But like Philadelphia, this may look like...

MCCURRY: And, of course, not every liberal in the party is going to be happy with it.

PRESS: That's just where I was going to go. I mean, like Philadelphia, this may look like peace and unity, but there is an undertow on this convention floor, which I get all the time, which is what's left for the liberals? I mean, they've taken everything away. And you know what the answer is? Well, consider the alternative. I mean, is that the best you can offer to the liberal wing of the Republican Party?

MCCURRY: You know, you heard the same thing, by the way, in Philadelphia, the Christian conservatives, the others who were the foot soldiers of the Republican Party saying there's no red meat here for us. We have a speech by Colin Powell that could have well been given right here in Los Angeles at the Democratic convention.

I think that in the interest of winning, marshalling forces, certainly people set aside some of their more strongly held beliefs. But more importantly, remember that this is about building a platform you can govern on if you're elected. And that is, I think, one of the things that you see these parties do in a convention.

NOVAK: Mike, I don't think General Powell's endorsement of George Bush would have gone over so well here. But, I mean, look, aside from that, I have a question for you...

MCCURRY: You take that out and maybe take out the reference to vouchers, and that speech would have been given to better applause here than it got in Philadelphia.

NOVAK: That's a big if.

Mr. McCurry, in the excerpts of remarks that were passed out about the president's speech, he gets into this thing about saying that he's very, very offended the Republicans have called it an accident, just an accident, that they had this good economy while he was in office. You know, now that you're making millions of dollars, that you're out, you probably talk to businessmen as well as I do. I have never found a businessman who seriously thinks Bill Clinton has a thing to do with today's economy.

MCCURRY: Novak wants me to endorse a capital gains tax cut right now. I just feel it coming. Look, so many -- the argument, one of the arguments he will make tonight, Bob, is that much could have gone wrong beginning 1993. And remember, one thing that he can argue credibly is that not a single Republican voted for the economic plan the president put in place...

NOVAK: Good for them.

MCCURRY: ... in 1993, which I think arguably has led to the 22 million jobs, the unprecedented period of growth that we had. And that didn't happen by happenstance. Now Bill Clinton does not get all of the credit, but he at least, won't you say. gets a little bit of it.

NOVAK: We don't have much time left, but the president's wife, who is running for the Senate in New York, has been schmoozing with the Hollywood crowd all over la-la land for a week now...

MCCURRY: I am appalled.

PRESS: Gosh, shocking.

NOVAK: ... and her Republican opponent, Rick Lazio, said he would rather be with New Yorkers. Now you ran some...

MCCURRY: None of those Hollywood stars would recognize Rick Lazio if he walked into the room.

NOVAK: You ran some unsuccessful campaigns in your day, but you know enough about politics. Wouldn't she be better off in the Bronx than in Hollywood if she wants to get elected from New York?

MCCURRY: I'll say this. I saw Wolf Blitzer interview her in upstate New York on a CNN forum. And she was masterful in knowing the details of upstate, some of the issues that affected the state. I thought she did a wonderful, wonderful job. And out here, she's raising money for a difficult campaign...

PRESS: Can I...

MCCURRY: ... Why? Because of so much, nationally, Republican money going in to defeat her in that race.

PRESS: Can I ask you a quick final question? We've got about 10 seconds. Is there going to be a debate between Al Gore and Joe Lieberman in front of this convention to see who carries on the issues?

MCCURRY: No, but Dave Barry wrote a wonderful column today saying, look, if we really wanted to take it to the extreme, Lieberman announced that he stood up and said, I can't possibly bring myself to vote for this ticket.

PRESS: Anything can happen.

Mike McCurry, thanks for joining us on CROSSFIRE.

We're not finished yet. Bob Novak and I will be back with closing comments, coming up.


NOVAK: Bill, Al Gore went to Independence, Missouri, like all good liberals, to pay homage to Harry Truman. He's going to copy Harry Truman's give 'em hell populism, attacking business. But I'll tell you something, in 1948 the Democrats were the majority party of this country. They're not anymore. There is no majority party. As a former politician, can't you agree with me that is a bad strategy to try to imitate Harry Truman?

PRESS: No, no, no, I think Harry Truman is great. I think imitating Harry Truman, if Gore can pull it off and have a real populist campaign is a way to win this election, Bob. But let me tell you something, nine years of economic prosperity, seven of them under Bill Clinton, he deserves part of the credit, Bob, and you should give it to him, if nothing else for keeping Alan Greenspan there.

NOVAK: And you know, this is -- the Democrats are not the majority party. Remember that.

PRESS: Well, Bob, we'll still win.

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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