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Florida Senator Bob Graham Discusses Democratic National Convention

Aired August 16, 2000 - 6:43 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And as I prepare for coverage tonight from the podium here at the Democratic National Convention, let's go back up to the booth for CROSSFIRE.

Bill Press is on the left. Bob Novak is on the right.

BOB NOVAK, CO-HOST: Thank you very much, Wolf.

Our guest is Senator Bob Graham of Florida, one of the unsuccessful possibilities for vice president. They could have done worse and maybe they did.

But anyway, Senator Graham, Senator Lieberman has been advertised as a new Democrat. You are the head of the Senate new Democrats. But we learned from this morning's "Wall Street Journal" that Senator Lieberman, upon being told that he was going to get the vice presidential nomination, called ahead the American Federation of Teachers and said that this ticket was anti-voucher when he had voted four times in the Senate for voucher, two in the last two years. Is that what a new Democrat is, who just changes his opinion when he gets a new career opportunity?

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D), FLORIDA: No and I don't think Joe Lieberman has changed his opinion. Joe is an unusually capable person. He is smart. He is thoughtful about the issues. And he is a bridge builder. He's the kind of person who doesn't try to divide people in the Congress, but to bring people together. I don't know the specifics of the four votes that you alluded to. But I would imagine they were in the nature of some form of a large education bill that had this as one of its components, and that this was probably in some form of a demonstration project.

NOVAK: There were demonstration projects, but they were specific, But, Senator, he has backed away from partial privatization of Social Security, writing an op-ed piece at the suggestion of the Gore campaign. He has now said he really didn't support the anti- racial quota referendum in California. He wasn't aware of it. It looks to me -- and tell me if I'm wrong -- Joe Lieberman is an old Democrat who will say anything to get elected or get to support from his constituency?

GRAHAM: No, I think -- I believe that Joe Lieberman very definitely deserves the title of a new Democrat. He looks for new solutions, new relationships between government and the private sector, new relationships between levels of government, rather than just assume that for every problem there's a federal government solution.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Senator, my problem is not that he's -- my worry is not that he's an old Democrat, but he may be too new of a new Democrat. The "National Review..."

GRAHAM: Why don't you and Bob debate each other and I will watch.

PRESS: The "National Review" reports this morning that Bush administration lobbyists, back in the days, were told by Senator Lieberman that they could count on him for a yes vote for Clarence Thomas confirmation to the Supreme Court if they needed it. Of course, they ended up not needing it. Isn't that the ultimate test of a Democrat, and he flunked it?

GRAHAM: Well, again, I'm not going to ascribe definite authenticity to the source that you have just given. But I think you have to look at a person's total career and the way in which they approach political issues. Joe's approach is one of trying to diagnose what is the problem that we're attempting to solve, what are the range of prescriptions that might solve that problem, which of those prescriptions makes the most sense, and then how can I build a coalition behind that particular approach? That is the essence what I think a new Democrat is.

PRESS: But wouldn't you admit that it would be tough for Al Gore to campaign around the country saying, as he has said, that the Supreme Court is the big issue and who's going to make those appointments to the Supreme Court, and you don't want Bush appointing a Scalia-like or Thomas-like person there, when his running mate said he would vote for Thomas? That makes it kind of tough to make that argument, doesn't it?

GRAHAM: Well, I haven't heard Senator Lieberman make the statement. And who did -- how did Senator Lieberman actually vote on the Clarence Thomas nomination. That's what counts.

NOVAK: Senator Graham, when I first met you, you were governor of Florida. You were very courageous in executing people who had been condemned to death, the death penalty, when it was not that popular in the Democratic Party. In the last platform of Democratic Party, 1996, for the first time, it came -- went on record against the death penalty. Let's look at what it says this year -- quote -- "We believe that in death-penalty cases, DNA testing should be used in all appropriate circumstances, and defendants should have effective assistance of counsel" -- nothing whatsoever about supporting the death penalty.

Nothing in the -- did you know it was not in the platform this year?

GRAHAM: Well, I mean, those are statements that say those of us who believe in the death penalty, as do I, don't want...

NOVAK: But there's no -- it doesn't affirm a support for it.

GRAHAM: There is nothing that will be more the death knell of the death penalty than if there is a pattern of executing innocent people. So those of us who support the death penalty have a particular interest in assuring that it is conducted in a fair manner. Florida, for instance, provides counsel to persons both at the trial level and the appellate level in the death penalty cases.

NOVAK: But the platform doesn't endorse it. Senator Graham, last night was liberal night at this convention. We had gay rights. We had abortion rights. We have 1000 labor union members out there. We have the green shirts of the government workers of AFSCME. Is this the new Democratic Party? It looks to me like the old Democratic Party.

GRAHAM: The Democratic Party is always a big tent party. That is one of the things that has distinguished the Democratic Party from the Republican Party. Lyndon Johnson used to say that the Republican Party was the party of old oil, that was trying to protect the people who had already made it. The Democratic Party was the party of new oil of the people who wanted to make it. And those are the folks that are out there on the floor this afternoon.

PRESS: Senator, it's very seldom I get a chance to one-up Bob Novak. but I have known you since you were a state senator in the state of Florida. But I just have to ask you: One of your colleagues, Bob Kerrey, saying about Bill Clinton -- now that he's made his speech and he's left here -- Bob Kerrey said: "This is Al Gore's race. Be as silent as possible until the 7th of November."

Do you agree with that? Do you think Bill Clinton ought to go into hiding between now and November?

GRAHAM: Absolutely not. I think Bill Clinton is a person who -- as he did Monday night -- can energize, galvanize, and can articulate what he and Al Gore have accomplished over the last eight years better than any other person. I believe that this is going to be a race that will be determined by whether it's a popularity contest -- which I don't think Al Gore is going to be the winner -- or whether it's a contest of issues and ideas.

If Al Gore can differentiate what his position will mean to the American people as distinct from George W. Bush, he'll be the next president.

PRESS: And that's going to be the last word. Senator Graham, thank you so much for joining us.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

PRESS: Enjoy the rest of the convention. Bob Novak and I will wrap it up with closing comments coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOVAK: Tonight, Joe Lieberman makes his acceptance speech down there, Bill. And I predict, he's going to be in full retreat on all the issues -- vouchers, privatization of Social Security -- that made him so attractive to many of us who are conservatives. You can't be a New Democrat and run on the national ticket in this party.

PRESS: What do you mean? Bill Clinton won twice as a New Democrat. Al Gore won twice with Bill Clinton. And Joe Lieberman will win with Al Gore this time. Bob, you also need the participation of enthusiasm of the people down on this floor. He'll make him happy tonight -- watch.

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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