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Crossfire

Has George Bush's Campaign Lost Its Momentum?

Aired August 25, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

MARY MATALIN: CO-HOST: Tonight, Al Gore's on a roll. Can he keep it going until November? And what about George W. Bush? Where did the big mo go?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, a Gore supporter, and in Los Angeles, Congressman David Dreier, California co-chairman of the Bush campaign.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The traditional campaign kickoff isn't until after Labor Day, over a week away. But campaign 2000 is anything but traditional. The two candidates crisscrossed the country and traversed the issue terrain as if Election Day were only a week a way. George W. Bush capped off his week in Miami, pledging to breathe new life into stalled free trade negotiations with Latin America. Al Gore closed off his week with two mega-million dollar-plus-fund raisers in Washington, D.C..

Both candidates met with Mexico's President-elect Vicente Fox, both wary of Fox's controversial open borders proposals.

All week long, the candidates conducted long-distance debates on debates, as well as their respective tax cuts. Millions of dollars of political ads are going up, and polls are being scrutinized for each and every voter. To which, in short, campaign 2000 is officially off and running -- finally.

So where are we? Has Gore's convention bounce broken his multi- month slump? Is Bush's year-long big mo no more? Or is the race exactly where each camp expected it would be at the kickoff?

Professor Robert Reich is sitting in for Bill Press this week.

Thank you, professor. You've been wonderful, by the way.

ROBERT REICH, GUEST HOST: Well, thank you. And I am very interested in finding out from Congressman David Dreier what is going on with George W. Bush this week. We have him forced on the defensive in terms of a tax plan, campaign pulls an attack ad at the last minute. There are gaps, there are bloopers. Cheney still hasn't disclosed what he's going to do about that conflict of interest with his old oil firm. They're fussing about the debates.

Now listen, Congressman, this was a well-oiled, beautifully running machine, this campaign, before this week. How did it get so badly off-track?

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: Robert Reich, I don't know what campaign you're talking about. You described something to me that is nonexistent. The fact of the matter is George Bush has remained focused on his message of inclusion, reaching out to women, Hispanics, Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans, and other minorities. He's appealing to Democrats and independents, and at the convention that was here in Los Angeles last week we had a very impressive group of Democrats from Texas, led by the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Hill, who has been very, very enthusiastic in his support of George Bush. Why? Because he knows that he can get things done.

And the thing that's really come out here, Bob, is that -- out of this whole thing is that we have found that Governor George Bush is a consensus builder while Al Gore is one who has stoked conflict. And this divisiveness -- you know, George...

REICH: Congressman -- Congressman -- Congressman, now which campaign do you think right now has the big mo, momentum? Which of the two campaigns? And I want -- I'm just asking you for an unbiased, objective, just absolute, just look at the facts.

DREIER: OK, Bob -- Bob, I will give you an unbiased, objective opinion. Neither candidate has the big mo at this point. The fact is this is a close race. We realize that as we head into next week's very important Labor Day, there will be polls that show George Bush ahead, there will be polls that show Al Gore ahead.

I think that when it comes down to it, the American people are going to have to make a choice. And that choice is, I believe, going to be a very, very clear one. And that is, who is going to provide the leadership? Who is going to focus on the future?

You mentioned -- Mary mentioned the issue of trade and the Americas, and you, Bob, understand this very well, because we worked together on the North American Free Trade Agreement. George Bush feels very passionately about finding new markets for U.S. goods and services. He wants to expand the free trade agreement of the Americas. Who the heck knows where Al Gore stands on this?

I mean, we've had the navy-blue Al, the olive-green Al, the nice Al, the mean Al, the Tony Coelho Al, the Bill Daley Al, the I want to be Harry Truman Al, when he tried to claim that we were a doing a do- nothing Congress when we've had tremendous accomplishments. And we have the temporarily embraced Joe Lieberman values Al, and then Joe Lieberman has shifted to Al Gore's position.

And then at a speech in New York...

MATALIN: OK...

DREIER: ... what did he do? He said all of a sudden that the Gore ticket would be pro-business.

MATALIN: Congressman -- Congressman, I love you, baby, I love you. But let's get your colleague in here, because you were campaigning with the team, your team. He's got the mojo going, he's the big mo, best Gore has ever been, right?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: Yes.

MATALIN: Now...

WEXLER: Electric, they were electric.

MATALIN: They were electric, but let's talk about the electoral map...

WEXLER: Yes.

MATALIN: ... because that's where this thing is fought out. And as you know, even Mondale was in the same position in the polls after his convention, one of the biggest electoral landslides in history the other way.

Today's "Hotline," which is the political bible, has, including the post-convention bounce for Gore, Bush leading in 23 states with 246 electoral votes, and Gore, with his bounce, only leading in eight states with 170 electoral votes. That means he has to find a hundred electoral votes. That's how this thing is won.

Don't you think the campaign's arrogance -- excuse me -- confidence is a little premature?

WEXLER: Listen, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman were in Florida on Wednesday. They were extraordinary. The reception they got I have never seen before in my political experience.

But let's talk about specific states. Gore and Lieberman are up in California. They're up in New York. They're up in New Jersey. They're up in Michigan. They're up in Minnesota...

MATALIN: Democratic states.

WEXLER: They're going to win Florida. Florida, with Jeb Bush as governor, and now all of a sudden it's a toss-up. And I bet you the next poll in Florida's got Gore and Lieberman up. You guys are hurting.

MATALIN: They're up in Democratic states. And can I point out that George Bush is leading in other Democratic states? Washington, Oregon, West Virginia. But let me say...

DREIER: Thirty-seven states. He's leading in 37 states.

MATALIN: Thank you, congressman.

DREIER: Those are not states -- you're probably counting Florida in there, and there hasn't been a poll since the convention. MATALIN: All right. Well, let's just give you Florida, which you're not going to get.

WEXLER: Well, you give us Florida, and you've given us the White House.

MATALIN: But since you're making such a big hurrah about these polls, including the candidate, who said he's now rethinking his -- whether or not polls are important...

WEXLER: He was joking.

MATALIN: ... of course, he was joking. Isn't he a joker?

WEXLER: He's a funny guy.

MATALIN: Not to mention a kisser?

WEXLER: Yes.

MATALIN: Anyway, what he still is losing on is leadership, and I think Congressman Dreier pointed out the reason why. This is Al Gore No. 8. George Bush has had the same plan, the same message, has never wavered from day one, and Al Gore changes with every poll.

WEXLER: No, it's funny. If he's had the same plan, the same message since day one, you think he would be able to explain his tax plan, but even now he can't after all these months. Al Gore's made a comeback because the American people saw Al Gore for the man he is at the convention. He's winning on prescription drugs. He's winning on public schools. He's winning on the environment. He's winning on him saying, you know what? I'm for middle-class values, I'm for middle- class tax cuts, and not the tax cuts that benefit only the very few.

REICH: Congressman...

WEXLER: Congressman Dreier...

REICH: ... I couldn't -- I couldn't agree more. David Dreier, I want to ask you something, I've been meaning to ask you. Rick Lazio seeking the Senate in New York, he offers a tax package 40 percent smaller than the head of the ticket, George W. Bush. Are Republicans getting a little bit nervous about the public's reaction to this huge, humongous tax cut?

DREIER: The fact of the matter -- Bob, the fact of the matter is we know that the American people deserve to keep some of their own hard-earned money. George Bush has looked at this: 25 percent of the surplus is focused on providing tax relief for working families.

The tragedy is that if you take the past eight years -- and look at the fact that a single mother with two kids earning $22,000 a year pays higher marginal tax -- a higher marginal tax rate than a trial lawyer earning $220,000 a year. That is wrong. That is not the way it should be. The Bush plan is focused on making sure that we improve at all levels, because we recognize that we shouldn't penalize success. But at the same time, we want to help those at the lower and middle...

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: ... you're a master...

DREIER: Let me just say...

REICH: You are a master...

DREIER: They keep talking -- Bob, they keep talking about this targeted tax cut. The problem is that the target is away for most Americans. If you don't have young children or children in college, the target that the Democrats are offering, that Al Gore is offering is away from you.

REICH: David, you are wonderful at spinning. One of your colleagues, however, in the House is not as good as you as spinning. Republican Congressman Ray LaHood, rather, said after introducing George W. Bush at a rally that explaining the tax cut to the public could be problematic. George W. Bush says he's having trouble explaining it.

Why such difficulty explaining something that you seem to think is so obvious?

DREIER: This is a very important part of our message of inclusion, Bob. We want to include people who maybe don't agree on every single issue. But in our general thrust toward a free economy, limited government, a strong defense, and personal freedom it's very easily explained.

We want to make sure that as we look at this surplus that about 25 percent of it goes toward tax relief. We need to have a growth- oriented tax cut.

We recognize that over the past few years we've seen strong economic growth. It's not because of -- I mean, of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. I mean, the Bill and Al who get credit for this are Bill Gates and Al Greenspan. I mean, those are the ones who are responsible for what we've enjoyed.

But we need to have tax relief so that we can continue to expand in the 21st century.

MATALIN: OK. Congressman, let me say about this tax plan before you go into your spin, what -- here's something that's very essential about it...

WEXLER: There's no spin, Mary.

What -- the Republican Congress delivered Bill Clinton, President Clinton, an estate tax cut plan just this week. Who does that benefit? About the top 2 percent of income-earning Americans. George Bush's tax plan, the top 1 percent get about 40 percent of the benefits.

Those are the facts, and the fact of the matter is...

MATALIN: The top 1 percent pays 75 percent plus of the taxes. Listen...

WEXLER: OK. So at least we're being honest. What you're saying is the most wealth people pay the most taxes so they should get the tax break.

MATALIN: The greatest percentage of tax relief goes to the lowest-income group under Bush's plan. What you're doing is making people jump through hoops: if you don't have two kids, if you don't go to day care. Let us control your life.

DREIER: And Mary, we've got a very important thing.

WEXLER: What we're saying -- what we're saying...

DREIER: We've got job creators out there. The...

WEXLER: ... is, if you really need help, you'll get it. If you're making $400,000 a year, you shouldn't be the primary beneficiary.

MATALIN: Here's what it is, Congressman. Here's -- and even your president registered concern about this. This is the old Democratic loser party with class envy. President Clinton said -- this would be your president, said he was concerned about...

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER: It isn't class envy when we Democrats that seniors on Medicare deserve to afford prescription drugs.

DREIER: And we very much We want to make that happen. George Bush has done it effectively. He's worked a patient's bill of rights in Texas, and he wants to bring that model to the White House.

REICH: David Dreier, I want you to say with a straight face, we only have seconds left -- I want you to say George W. Bush's tax plan is better for the poor and middle class than it is for the rich. Say that.

DREIER: George Bush's tax plan is better for the poor than it is for the rich.

REICH: Wow. Wow.

DREIER: OK.

REICH: Boy, I'll tell you.

DREIER: Because benefiting -- job creators are important to help the poor. We want people to get a first run of the...

REICH: Supply-side economics, I remember that.

DREIER: You bet, it's supply-side economics with...

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: Trickle down, supply side.

DREIER: It's not trickle down.

MATALIN: And as we go to break, let's remind our Democratic friends out there that he who first started this was John F. Kennedy, who knew that cutting taxes raised...

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: You got it, Mary, you got it.

MATALIN: We'll be right back on CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REICH: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Robert Reich, filling in this week for Bill Press.

And we have been talking about whatever happened to the old, carefully scripted Bush campaign, which seemed this week to come a part, off track, off message, off stride, with Republican Congressman David Dreier and Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler -- Mary.

MATALIN: Well, at least strident, I would say, for a campaign that went through month, absolutely months, with no message. Now it's on a message that I don't even think even is anywhere particularly difficult to understand. This is a classic contest...

(AUDIO GAP)

REICH: ... that he is in control of the ad. And therefore, isn't this whole business of soft money sort of a laugh, kind of a farce?

DREIER: Bob Reich, as a veteran of the Clinton administration, it's interesting that you bring up this whole issue of campaign finance. So let's put that aside and say all that happened was Governor Bush heard about the ad that was going to be run, and it was simply taking a quote of Al Gore's, in which he said -- talked about the president, President Clinton, being less than truthful. It was record several years ago, before all the most recent developments of the last three or four years, and so the fact is he heard about that, and all he did was he said, I think that it would be in the best interests of all of us not to run it. He didn't pull the ad.

REICH: So just presto, automatically, out of just thin, just a miraculous -- the ad disappeared.

DREIER: He probably heard about the ad on CROSSFIRE or someplace else. You know, these things obviously come out through the media, with the 24-hour news cycle that we have now, and he heard about it, and he thought that it would be best for it not to be carried, and he simply made that statement, and they made a decision not to run it. So actually, you ought to be glad that it's not being run, Bob.

MATALIN: And you know what? I pray that you guys try to run on campaign finance corruption. I just pray you try to go there.

WEXLER: No, but we can run on how to clean up the system, because we're from McCain/Feingold. We want to get rid of soft money.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: I want to ask you a final question before we run out of time.

WEXLER: Yes.

MATALIN: Because I've heard you misstate a fact, that we don't have prescription drugs, we don't have HMO reform. We don't have this. We don't have that. You misstated the Texas record. If the real facts are so bad, why don't you just state the facts? Here's the...

WEXLER: Well, we are.

MATALIN: Here's the reality. You have a plan. We have a plan.

WEXLER: Yes.

MATALIN: Why don't we talk about our respective plans...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: ... instead of distorting Bush's plans and records?

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Because this is what Gore did to Bradley in the primaries.

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER: I represent a wonderful area in Florida. And what disturbs me most about that prescription drug plan that you talked about that you have, there's not a single person in my whole group of condominiums that would actually get a benefit. Under our plan, there would be a guarantee. That's what a surplus is for, not a handout.

MATALIN: But even your

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: You know, what happened to your party?

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Thank you.

WEXLER: How do I know that our people would get a benefit? DREIER: How do you know that

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER: Because there isn't a policy they could buy today, and because they know what happens to them every November when they get their notice from their HMO. And they're canceling them every year now. And they're taking away their drug benefits. And what we are saying is that it's time to get drug benefits.

DREIER: And we're going to focus on that.

WEXLER: And you, your plan won't do it?

DREIER: We want to make sure that that doesn't happen? How can you conclude that?

WEXLER: I can conclude it because I see it ever year when HMOs are taking away every benefit that they're now giving. And what your plan says is: Let's have the HMOs take a crack at this. We will throw some money, and hope that they'll offer a plan

(CROSSTALK)

REICH: David, wait a minute. Excuse me. Excuse me, once again.

David, patients' bill of rights, prescription drugs, minimum wage, you name it, the Republicans have been opposing it and the Democrats have been advancing it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: That is totally wrong.

DREIER: That's just wrong. We've put together compromises on all three of those things and we're trying to move ahead with them.

MATALIN: We...

DREIER: But I'll tell you, we are doing it in the spirit of bipartisanship.

MATALIN: Thank you.

DREIER: George Bush wants to would work with Democrats to make it happen. All you all want to do is criticize us.

MATALIN: And that's right.

And David Dreier, unfortunately, we are out of time. Thank you so much.

DREIER: Great to be with you all.

MATALIN: As always, you are wonderful.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Congressman Wexler, you're a joy -- sort of.

And when we come back, Robert Reich and I will close out with our closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: You know what I have really enjoyed the most about you, Secretary Reich -- Professor? You're an honest liberal, as opposed to your ticket that's running that's hiding the fact that this is just a classic contest. All of his proposals are government-based, government-controlled. That's a legitimate point of view.

All of Bush's proposals -- which are on the same issues: on education, health care, on Social Security, on Medicare -- are market- based.

REICH: All right.

MATALIN: OK? But you at least admit what you are. This team is -- this is the masquerade, the true masquerade.

REICH: What I so appreciate about you Mary -- and it's our last night together -- what I have so appreciated, you are an honest conservative...

MATALIN: Wow.

REICH: ... as opposed to so many of those conservatives we hear who are saying they are really not in the riches corner. They're not doing it simply for people who are at the top. They are doing it for everybody. But it's supply-side economics all over again, Mary. We have seen that trickle-down stuff. And I want you to know that I have had...

MATALIN: Wealthy people stimulate the economy. See, I aspire to be wealthy.

REICH: We went through supply-side economics before.

MATALIN: OK.

REICH: But I have enjoyed this week. Thank you. Not quite what Tipper got...

MATALIN: Thank you.

REICH: Not quite what Tipper got, but that's the best I can do.

From the left, sitting in for Bill Press, I'm Robert Reich.

Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: Robert Reich, the redistributionist, and proud of it.

And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin, Ms. Market Force.

Good night from CROSSFIRE.

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