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Crossfire

Will the Convention Give Gore the Bounce He Needs?

Aired August 18, 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)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I accept your nomination for president of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Al Gore formally becomes the Democratic nominee, but will he get the bounce he needs after giving the speech of his life? And will legal developments in the Clinton-Lewinsky matter hold him down?

Live from California, CROSSFIRE.

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

In the CROSSFIRE, in Seattle, Democratic strategist Frank Greer; and in Atlanta, Bush adviser and Republican strategist Ralph Reed.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Al Gore accepted the Democratic nomination with this slogan:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I say to you tonight: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will fight for you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: OK, and George Bush emerged from his temporary seclusion to go on a riverboat ride down the Mississippi and guess what his first state was: the vice president's home state of Tennessee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want the seniors of Tennessee to hear me loud and clear. Get ready. The campaign of the past is coming your way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: OK. Every convention gives the nominee a bounce and Los Angeles seems to be no exception. The Voter.com Battleground Poll taken Wednesday and Thursday shows Bush still leading Gore by five points, but most voter interviews came before Gore's acceptance speech.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, we will ponder how well Gore did in Los Angeles and whether he has really erased George Bush's lead -- Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Yes, Bob, I'm up in San Francisco, while you're in Los Angeles -- Ralph Reed in Atlanta.

Ralph, good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

RALPH REED, BUSH ADVISER: Good evening, Bill. Good to be with you.

PRESS: Let me just say, watching the speech last night, I felt that Gore was able to forge a new agenda for this campaign. And I'm going to let Al Gore set the agenda and not in my, but in his words. Please listen to a brief clip from last night's speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: A new prescription drug benefit under Medicare for all our seniors. That's a family value. And let me tell you, I will fight for it, and the other side will not. They give into the big drug companies. Their plan tells seniors to beg the HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drug coverage. And that's the difference in this election. They are for the powerful. We are for the people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Ralph Reed, they are for the powerful, we are for the people. Why would you side with the drug companies against the people, Ralph Reed?

REED: Well, the fact is we don't, Bill. And I think that Al Gore's speech last night was really a laundry list of new promises and new attacks designed to mask seven and a half years of old failures. I think what it really demonstrated is that -- it underscored that there's a catalog of missed chances, of failures, and of squandered opportunities. This administration has seven and a half years in Washington.

And there are, after seven a half years, 33 million seniors with no prescription drug benefit, 50 million members of HMOs with no patients' bill of rights, 25 million married couples who pay higher taxes simply because they are married, and millions of other Americans who could have had progress on the issues they care about. But the reason why they don't have it is because Al Gore would rather fight and rather divide, and rather pit one group of Americans against, and pit one party against another, instead of doing what Governor Bush has done in Texas, and that is uniting across party lines to get a patients bill of rights -- which Texas has -- to cut taxes, and to eliminate the marriage penalty.

PRESS: Well, Ralph, if there's a catalogue -- and by the way, this was headlined again in the "USA Today": They are for the powerful, we are for the people -- if there's a catalog, it's the catalog of the programs that the Republicans in Congress have fought and killed, like prescription drug benefits against the drug companies. They sided with drug companies against that -- siding for the HMOs and the insurance companies.

One of the best moments, I thought, at the convention last night was when Al Gore pointed out this couple up in the balcony. This couple, an HMO said they are not going cover health care for that child. They suggested that that couple put that little baby up for adoption. And Republicans are siding for the HMOs and insurance companies against the people. Again, Ralph, the powerful and the people -- aren't you Republicans on the wrong side of this equation?

REED: No, not at all. In fact, Governor Bush is a strong supporter of a patients' bill of rights that will ensure, for example, as he passed...

PRESS: Ralph, if that came...

REED: ... in Texas that women can choose their own OBGYN, but were protected against drive-by lawsuits. But this administration had: an opportunity to work with the Republican Congress, to get progress -- squandered it; appointed a commission, Bill, to resolve and modernize Medicare; sent it off on an errand into the wilderness; and sent it into nowhere without a compass; had an opportunity to eliminate the marriage penalty, and 12 days ago vetoed it. It's been one unfortunate obstruction after another.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Ralph, you know as well as I, the Democrats have planned to let patients and doctors make the medical decisions, not for the insurance companies. The Republicans went for the insurance companies. And patients' bill of rights happened in Texas after Governor Bush fought it for two years.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Nice speech, Bill.

REED: He supported the right patients' bill of rights and it was because of his leadership that it happened.

NOVAK: Let's get Frank Greer in Seattle. Frank, you know, I think that your friend Al Gore -- my friend Al Gore -- got a little mixed up and he thought he had already been elected president, because he gave a State of the Union speech -- kind of boring -- what Ralph Reed calls a laundry list. And he went down one after another. Let's just listen. We don't have time to give all 30 of them, but let's just listen to what kind of an acceptance speech this was. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I will protect and defend a woman's right to choose. I will fight for a crime victims' bill of rights. I will keep America's defenses strong. I will never agree to raise the retirement age to 70 or threaten the promise of Social Security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Frank, Frank, I was on the floor and some of the delegates passed out from promise surfeit. They had so many promises, they couldn't even stand up.

FRANK GREER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Listen. It was a terrific speech. You may not want to admit it, but it's an agenda that the American public welcomes. And I think last night, Al Gore asked people to take a second look. And you know something, they really liked what they saw. They liked what his personal story was, and his personal life, and values, and his character. And then they liked his agenda for the country. And I know the Republicans are heading for the hills.

But the reality is, Ralph, I don't know which planet you've been living on, but basically everything you're talking about, Democrats have tried to pass -- including health care and prescription drugs -- and the Republicans and the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies have stood in the way of what the people of this country need. And I have got to tell, Al Gore last night spoke to those issues and said he's got an agenda that the American public agrees with. And I think most folks are scared to death.

And, you know, overnight, Bob, the numbers looked terrific. And we didn't even get all the numbers in. But I'm telling you, it's close enough.

NOVAK: Let's see what the numbers are. We are going to talk about that in a little bit. But, you know, on this speech, Frank, you listened to it. I hope you listened to it.

GREER: Absolutely.

NOVAK: And I listened to every word. I didn't ever understand things. And I didn't understand this passage. Let's take a listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: The presidency is more than a popularity contest. It's a day-by-day fight for people. Sometimes you have to choose to do what's difficult or unpopular. Sometimes, you have to be willing to spend your popularly in order to pick the hard right over the easy wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Tell me what the hard right is over the easy -- picking the hard right. I thought the hard right was what you didn't like.

GREER: Bob, let me explain it. Let me explain it to you.

(CROSSTALK)

GREER: You asked me to explain it. It's talking about doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing for hard-working families of this country.

NOVAK: Well, tell me what he did that's unpopular, that he is proposing that's so unpopular. Tell me, would you?

GREER: Well, what we had coming out of the Republican Convention and all the platitudes and no substance, no specifics, is, is...

NOVAK: Tell...

GREER: Wait just a minute, Bob. Let me finish. And basically, the Republicans are saying it's a popularity contest. It's who you like. But it's not who you like, Bob, it's who is the going fight for you.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Al Gore said he's proposing unpopular things. I thought he was just promising everything to the American people. Tell me what he proposed that's unpopular. Tell me.

PRESS: Well, you got it wrong, Bob.

GREER: Bob, he said you have got to use your political popularity...

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

GREER: ... which George W. Bush is not willing to do, to stand up and fight for some specific programs for the country.

PRESS: Ralph Reed.

REED: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

PRESS: All right, Ralph Reed, I'm not surprised that Bob Novak didn't understand some of the speech, because Al Gore was talking to the average American. For example, on tax cuts, Ralph Reed, he made it very, very clear that if you look at George Bush's tax cut -- across-the-board tax cut plan -- it's $10 for the wealthiest one percent of American -- for every $10 for the wealthiest, the middle- class family would get one dollar. Lower-class families, economically, would get one penny, one penny. And then, Ralph, he said, here's how it would shape out for the average American family.

Listen to Al Gore speaking plain English.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: If you add it up, the average family would get about enough money to buy one extra Diet Coke a week, about -- it's not nothing. About 62 cents in change. But let me tell you, that's not the kind of change I'm working for. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, Ralph, are you telling us we ought to vote for George Bush for 62 cents a day?

REED: No I'm not...

NOVAK: A week.

REED: ... what I'm telling you is that what you just saw is the reason why Bill Bradley said when he was running against Al Gore, how can we expect you to tell the truth as president when you won't tell the truth as a candidate?

PRESS: The numbers don't lie, Ralph.

REED: This is a candidate, unfortunately, that will say or do anything to get elected, even if it's not true...

PRESS: You mean George Bush?

REED: ... The study he's citing is a union-backed study that has largely discredited. Let me give you the facts.

The facts are that under Governor Bush's plan, the percentage of taxes paid by those making over $100,000 a year would actually increase from today's 62 percent to 64 percent. A family of four, Bill, making $35,000 a year...

PRESS: Right.

REED: ... would get not the $300 he's talking about, or the 180. They would get $1,500, a 100 percent tax cut...

GREER: You just...

PRESS: Ralph, Ralph, Ralph -- go ahead, Frank. Jump in.

REED: ... And that doesn't even count eliminating the marriage penalty or health care tax credit and eliminating the death tax.

GREER: You made the point, Ralph. Most of the money in the Republican tax cut goes to the rich.

REED: No, it doesn't.

GREER: He's talking about targeted tax cuts that help the middle class with college education, with health care. Those are the things that matter to average families.

Hey, Ralph, you know good and well most of those tax cuts and the biggest benefits goes to the wealthiest 1 percent of the people in this country.

REED: Not true. In fact, Governor Bush creates a new, lower bracket that goes from 15 to 10. He increases the child tax credit from $500 to $1,000. And what he does is he lowers...

GREER: You just had the numbers -- Ralph, you just had the number.

REED: He lowers -- no, what I...

GREER: It is mostly going to the wealthy.

REED: You didn't understand what I said, Frank. What I said was the percentage of taxes paid by those making over $100,000 a year increases, not the tax cut, the tax burden increases.

GREER: But you're not talking about who benefits -- that's right, you're not talking about who benefits...

REED: I am. And let me tell you something, Frank...

GREER: The rich benefit.

PRESS: All right, gentlemen -- gentlemen -- gentlemen, I'm going to...

REED: Let me just make -- let me point out one other fact, Bill.

PRESS: No, no, no, we're not. I'm going to interrupt both of you because we have to take a break. The clock says we've got to take a break, and we're going to.

When we come back, there is now another grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Is that what this country needs? Is that what this campaign needs? When we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE the day after the Democratic convention when all four candidates are back on the campaign trail, and Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are enjoying an overnight NBC poll showing Gore actually leading Bush 46-43, the very first poll that shows Gore ahead.

Will it last? Is it real? That's our debate tonight with our two guests. First, Ralph Reed in Atlanta. He, of course, is a Republican strategist and adviser to the Gore campaign. And in Seattle, Frank Greer, a Democratic strategist. I'm in San Francisco and Bob Novak is in Los Angeles.

NOVAK: Frank Greer, I just want to dispose of these polls very quickly in a moment, and that is that when our experts at CNN tell us you can't get an accurate reading after a convention until several days have passed, and always that there's always a momentary blip in favor of the person who had the convention. George Bush ran even with Bill Clinton in 1992 after the Houston convention. Fritz Mondale ran even with Reagan after the San Francisco convention. So you've just got to wait a little, isn't that correct?

GREER: Bob, let me explain one think about this. George Bush was ahead 18 points after the Philadelphia convention, so that this is a total collapse and reversal. And now at least in that same poll he's ahead 5 points, but it's a big turnaround.

The other big turnaround is that Al Gore's negatives have gone down significantly. People are taking a second look. And his favorables are up. So those are internal numbers that I think mean that this trend, or at least the trends, are moving very much in Al Gore's direction.

NOVAK: You didn't respond to my question whether these things are temporary, and of course you know they are temporary and the thing will reverse itself soon. But I want to...

GREER: They're still real, Bob, and the trends are moving. And whether it's temporary or not, the question is whether the issue agenda that Al Gore talked about is an agenda the American public agrees with. And they do agree with it. And I think they also like what they saw in terms of the way he comes across.

NOVAK: I want to say, Frank, that Vice President Gore did not embarrass himself or embarrass the country, as he did in his last two convention speeches, when he brought in, particularly the last speech, when he brought in the death of his sister in a very political way. So I was proud of the vice president until the very end when he said this.

And let's take a look at what he said at the end.

PRESS: We appreciate your compliment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: Sometimes in this campaign, when I visit a school and see a hard-working teacher trying to change the world one child at a time, I see the face of my father.

Sometimes, when I see a waitress working hard and thanking someone for a tip, I see the face of my mother.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, isn't that just balderdash? I knew both of Senator -- of Vice President Gore's parents. His father, I knew well, was an autocratic U.S. senator. He wasn't a humble teacher. And his mother...

GREER: His father...

NOVAK: Just a minute -- and his mother, a fine woman who was no waitress, she was a law school graduate.

GREER: Bob, let me...

NOVAK: Isn't that balderdash?

GREER: Bob, let me explain. His father started out teaching in a one-room schoolhouse. My parents were teachers. I was proud of that. And he was proud of his father.

And his mother worked her way through school, the first to graduate -- woman to graduate from Vanderbilt, waiting tables for 25 cents an hour. Those are true...

NOVAK: He sees his mother in a waitress?

GREER: His mother worked as a waitress, Bob. And you may not want to realize the kind of, you know, real roots that Bob -- that Al Gore has, but he has them. And I think it was good that he reminded people that when he's out on the campaign trail...

PRESS: Ralph?

GREER: ... he's thinking about people that work for a living.

REED: Yes, sir.

PRESS: Ralph Reed, I want to ask you. The governor -- Governor Bush was out on the campaign trail again today, and one of the things he talked about is something that he talked about in his speech in Philadelphia, which -- complaining about the fact -- or stating the fact that there's a problem with readiness in the military.

My question, Ralph, is we know that when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, the defense budget was cut $30 billion under President Bush. If there is a problem -- big if -- if there is a problem, wouldn't we blame it on Dick Cheney and not on Al Gore, Ralph Reed?

REED: No, I don't think so, Bill, the fact of the matter is.

PRESS: Thirty-billion dollars?

REED: The hollowing out of what, $300 billion, compared to the one-third deduction...

PRESS: Could cut it.

REED: ... in real spending, compared to the fact that we have a 10,000 servicemen shortage on the fleet of the Navy. We have a 6000 pilot shortage in the Air Force. We've got a reduction in Army divisions, from 18 to 10. We have got 6000 service families on food stamps. And let me remind you that Al Gore not only has presided over the hollowing out of the military as vice president, but as a United States senator, he voted against the B1 Bomber, he voted against the he A6 attack aircraft

(CROSSTALK)

REED: He has spent his entire career trying to weaken, while we were trying to rebuild the defenses

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Ralph, you're rolling out the talking points from Austin, I understand. But let me just suggest ,

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Please listen. Not even Republican strategists agree with you. Jack Spencer of the Heritage Foundation, who is a Bush supporter, said about your line of attack and George Bush's -- quote -- "What Bush says is technically incorrect." Lawrence Korb, who assistant defense secretary under President Reagan says: "What it tells me, he, Bush, is not conversant with these issues."

Don't you think this guy who served in the National Guard ought to find out a little bit more about the military before he shoots off his mouth?

REED: Let me tell you something, Bill. Let me tell you something. When the GAO does a study and 50 percent of 1000 surveyed, both enlisted and officers, say that when they next come up for reenlistment, they are going to leave because of low morale, you're telling me that that's our problem?

(CROSSTALK)

REED: And I believe that Governor Bush will bring the same kind of bipartisan unity on this issue that he wants to bring to education

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute, Bill, I want to get one thing in here. We had a preview which we never had about this grand jury investigation of the president. And I though: You know why Bill did not go into the song and dance of the Democrats talking about it,

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Can I finish my sentence, Bill?

GREER: You just don't want to know that the military criticized George Bush...

(CROSSTALK)

... at the Republican Convention because he didn't know what he was talking about.

NOVAK: I want to finish a sentence. You don't let me finish. The independent counsel was accused by Democrats -- and I am sure Bill would have accused them today -- of leaking this material, except -- just a minute -- except a Democratic appointed judge announced today that he was the one who leaked the material. It wasn't the independent counsel's office. Don't you think, Frank Greer, that an apology is owed owe to the independent counsel's office by the White House?

GREER: I don't think it was the -- I think it was the independent counsel's office who impaneled another grand jury. And I think the American public is sick and tired of it. And, you know, if anything, it probably redounds to the administration's benefit and maybe Al Gore's benefit. But secondly, these are not problems for Al Gore. Al Gore is talking about the future of the country, not the past and people are sick and tired of these grand jury investigations.

NOVAK: OK, all right, Frank, we have to -- we have to go. Thank -- out of time -- thank you, Frank Greer. Thank you, Ralph Reed.

REED: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: And Bill Press and I are this four-quadrilateral program will be back with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Bill, you know, the Democratic Convention was a left-wing convention with -- dominated by about labor unions, public unions, public employees, environmental extremists, gay rights advocates, abortion rights advocates. And now, what you're trying to do is to say that this was the voice of America That's going to be a hard road for Al Gore to pull off. And that's what he's trying to do

PRESS: No, Bob, I think it's hard for you to understand, because it's been a long time since you were an average American working family making less than $50,000 a year. Al was talking about issues that matter to real people. You're talking about taking on the drug companies to give prescription drug benefits to seniors, or taking on the HMOs to make sure that people can choose their doctor. That's stuff that rings true, Bob, and you have got to understand it. Working families understand it

NOVAK: What is you are advocating is to attack the people who really produced this prosperity, corporate America, in order to justify the left-wing of the party. But tell me, is a working family only a working family if it makes less than $50,000. Is a family making $75,000 not a working family? Is that right?

PRESS: No, it can be less than that. But let me tell you something. The pundits you see on TV are not from average working families. They don't know what they're talking about.

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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