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Crossfire

Is the Race for the White House Turning Nasty?

Aired September 1, 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: George Bush unleashes a new attack against Al Gore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

NARRATOR: Really, Al Gore claiming credit for things he didn't even do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Gore unleashes harsh words against Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's kind of put- up-or-shut-up time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Is the race for the White House turning nasty?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, democracy strategist Peter Fenn, a Gore adviser, and Cliff May, communications director for the Republican National Committee.

MATALIN: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The president contenders are racing to kick off the general election. Al Gore plans to campaign around the clock Labor Day while George W. Bush will hit three battleground states that day. While the candidates are on the ground, their air war rages on. Going on the offense, the Republican National Committee put up a new ad in 17 key states mocking the vice president's credibility, which Democrats trashed as an act of desperation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

NARRATOR: Reinventing himself on television again, like I'm not going notice. Who is he going to be today: the Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple or the one who now promises campaign finance reform? Really, Al Gore claiming credit for things he didn't even do.

GORE: I took the initiative in creating the Internet.

NARRATOR: Yeah, and I invented the remote control, too. Another round of this and I'll sell my television.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: As a footnote, CNN has launched a protest with the Republican National Committee over the unauthorized use of CNN material within the ad. It is CNN policy that its video not be used for political purposes.

On the vice presidential front, Joe Lieberman pulled back on his religious talk, and Dick Cheney put out the controversy over his retirement package by forfeiting millions of dollars in stock options.

So in the CROSSFIRE tonight: campaign 2000. Is Labor Day the kickoff to start butt-kicking? And are the Bush-ies over-attacking or the Gore-ites overreacting? And are the Labor Day polls as predictive as pundits portray -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Cliff May, let's just pass over the point that you stole CNN's video without asking us. I will not raise that point.

CLIFF MAY, RNC COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: No, let's discuss fair use.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: At least we know it's an accurate portrayal. It's Al Gore in his own words.

PRESS: I do want to ask you about this ad. So George Bush says: I'm a different kind of Republican. For months, he's been promising: We're going to run a positive campaign. Yesterday, he told some school kids politics doesn't have to be nasty and mean. Today, he puts out the first attack ad of this campaign.

Why so early? Why so nasty? Why break your word?

MAY: Bill, you haven't been watching the ads, evidently.

PRESS: Oh, yes, I have.

MAY: Since July 31, the Democrats have run nothing but attack ads, one after another, slandering Cheney, slandering Bush, slandering Texas, by the way. At a certain point, you want to respond. And the response is this: Consider the source when you hear these facts that are being put out by the Gore campaign over and over again.

In fact, of the 10 ads put out since July 31, not one of them has been positive. We are running a positive campaign. Gosh knows that Governor Bush is running a positive campaign. All we are doing here is Al Gore in his own words making a claim that he can talk about, and his major issue right now: campaign finance reform. We are asking him you to consider, if he is -- as he says he, is a champion of campaign finance reform, should he not explain about the Buddhist temple fund- raiser, where his fund-raiser, the person doing it, has been convicted of five felony count?

PRESS: Nice try.

MAY: Thank you.

PRESS: Nice spin -- baloney.

Let me tell you something.

MAY: Why?

PRESS: If this is about campaign finance reform, why doesn't it say, for example, that Al Gore wants to do away with all soft money? George Bush does not. Maybe you could argue that point. It doesn't talk about the issue at all.

MAY: No.

PRESS: Let me finish.

MAY: OK.

PRESS: It is an attack. Even the Bush campaign people today said: It goes to the integrity and the character of Al Gore. In other words, it the politics of personal destruction. It is a personal attack, and you started it.

MAY: No we didn't start it. But let me just -- let me respond to some of that. We have right now the vice president saying he's going to be in favor of a tax cut for the middle class. He said that in 1992. He didn't deliver.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Let's talk about this ad, Cliff. Let's talk this ad.

MAY: It is important when you hear the promises being made by the vice president on the campaign trail that you understand the context of that. And the context is: Can you trust this guy? If he tells you he is going to do something, will he actually do in when in office, or will he not?

PRESS: Let me suggest it's also important for everybody to understand the context of these ads. And I want to show you what came out today. You know very well in "Newsweek," they looked at this presidential race. Looking with four candidates -- with two independents: Buchanan and Nader -- it comes out as Gore 49, Bush 39. Buchanan and Nader are both getting 1 percent.

But if you take it just a head-to-head, Gore and Bush: Gore 53, Bush 41: 12-point lead. It's -- as the "New York Times" said this morning, you are acting out of pure desperation. You know you are behind. And so you do what every campaign does: When you get behind, you get nasty. MAY: It's so amusing to see Democrats now, who, for months and months, said the polls don't mean anything. Look at all the polls. You take this one poll, which is less than a 1000 -- and it's not just likely voters -- we can look at. It's a very close race.

(CROSSTALK)

But look, it's a very close race. But look, we are not going to have have happen what happened to poor Bill Bradley, when you had Al Gore just bashing him over and over for months. And finally, he did say: Look, if we can't trust you on the campaign trail, how can we trust you as president? We have to point out that there are questions about his credibility, going way back into the past. And that's what this ad does on two things.

He makes a claim. He can defend it. You can defend it, Peter.

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: And also on campaign finance fund raising: Is he a credible source on that? After all, he's never answered questions about his fund-raiser at that event, who was convicted of five felony counts.

MATALIN: OK, Peter, before you start spinning.

PETER FENN, GORE ADVISER: I know, I'm ready to roll.

MATALIN: All right. We've all a good run here, but I know you're ready to spin. I can see those little spin wheels going. But please, you've seen the ad. You've read the ads.

FENN: I have read the ad.

MATALIN: I want you to listen to what Karen Hughes, that fabulous communications director...

FENN: Spinner.

MATALIN: ... in the Bush campaign had to say about your reaction to it.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... source

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: It's a clever and tongue-in-cheek, good-natured way of making a very important point: and that is that there's a gaping credibility gap between what Vice President Gore says and what Vice President Gore does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Can I just ask you simply -- let me ask a question before you start spinning.

FENN: I'm ready to go.

MATALIN: I think of the campaigns you've been on. I think of the ones you've been against. You think this is a nasty attack ad? My five-year-old could beat you if you think this is nasty. This is the wimpiest reaction to an ad I've ever seen.

FENN: Listen, I won't give you a wimpy reaction to that ad. I will tell you I think that ad is the biggest mistake that the Republicans -- I hate to give you advice, Cliff -- but this is going to backfire. I wish you are were running it in all 50 states, to be honest. You know why? I started printing out here. I mean, this is exactly opposite of what George Bush said he would do.

You know, I don't know how you spelled hypocritical, but I think it's B-U-S-H here. I mean: A leader sets the tone, will into the engage in the petty politics of personal destruction. This is all about personality.

MATALIN: How...

FENN: Let me just make this point. This campaign tried the last couple of weeks -- the Bush campaign -- to try to talk about prescription drugs. But then: Oops, we didn't have a plan for it. So they had to pull that ad. They tried to make this education week. They won't talk about education. Health care is going down the tubes for them. Prescription they have -- I mean, this has gotten to the point where the only thing they have left to do is to attack personally.

MATALIN: I want to -- oh please...

FENN: And the American people -- no, no, no.

MATALIN: How is it attacking Gore personally? Just calm down.

FENN: Oh, it's a total personal attack.

MATALIN: It's Gore's own footage from the event. It's Gore's own words. This is not a personal attack. But I want to go to their point about the hypocrisy.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Excuse me. Excuse me. We are not filibustering here. Here's what Gore said this week -- that's he's doing so well -- here's what Mr. Tough Guy had to say on his plane.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: The time for generalities without specifics, I think, is just about over. And so it's kind of -- you know, where specifics are concerned, it's kind of put-up-or-shut-up time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATALIN: Oh, tough guy: put up or shut up.

FENN: I...

MATALIN: Lieberman says -- calls Bush Barney Rubble. You ran $30 million against Bush during the summer. And you had you own attack ad in the can, which you pulled down today.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Well. listen -- we don't have to put anything up against these guys. We are running positive ads now according to -- you know, contrary to what you are saying. Here's what the Bush campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Here's what the Bush campaign has in their arsenal: nothing about issues, no comparatives about issues, no discussion about issues...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: When it comes to put up or shut up, what he was referring to was your five-million-dollar buy on prescription drugs when there was no plan. And I guess we are going to see something Tuesday there saying now -- maybe. But what we've got is -- what we've got here is clear differences on issues between these two candidates and these two parties.

The trouble is, the Republicans know that if -- if this election is based on education and the differences -- prescription drugs and the differences -- health care -- they are going lose. So it's their only choice: Go negative, go personal, go vicious.

MAY: On all these issues you are talking about, there have been eight years when Clinton and Gore could have done a great deal: on education, which has stagnated. Minorities have fallen back. Health care, they...

MATALIN: There's the facts.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: They're saying a surplus is a deficit by a -- and another thing that has to be corrected: the politicization of the judiciary, where you have judges saying things like that.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Not time for the campaign speeches. But it is time to debate issues.

And speaking of debates, let's talk about the presidential debates, and one person trying to duck them. There is a Presidential Commission that both parties have recognized. They have -- they set up three debates. They've issued the invitation. Al Gore has accepted, and George Bush is out there shopping around the networks trying to find a friendlier format that one network, not all the other networks, would carry. What's he afraid of, Cliff?

MAY: This is his -- oh, that's such an artificial spin and such a...

PRESS: That's exactly what's going on.

MAY: There will be a record number of debates. We have agreed to a record number of debates. There will be three -- that's more than Clinton had -- on the presidential level, two on the vice presidential level, and they'll be in prime time. But there's been 53 different invitations, including by the World Wrestling Federation, which I do think we want to look at seriously.

FENN: Cliff, you have the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, your good friend, Frank Fahrenkoff (ph), the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Paul Kirk (ph). They have agreed on these three presidential debates that all the networks will cover. And why won't you agree? Why won't you agree?

PRESS: Here's...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Well, let me ask you something, Peter.

FENN: Why won't you agree? Why won't you agree?

PRESS: I want to tell you.

MATALIN: Why -- let me ask you this as we go to break. Why is "Mr. Stiff Boy" resisting these integrated, these more informal...

FENN: He's accepted -- we'll debate every week. We've said that from the very beginning.

Here's the key issue here. We'll go on "Oprah." We'll do any kind of debate you want to, but do these three substantive national debates, which are tradition...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Oh, at the Kennedy library, that's a nice...

FENN: Then have it at the Nixon library for all I care.

MATALIN: How about the Reagan library?

FENN: Sure.

PRESS: Cliff, you asked -- pardon me. You asked what the issue is. I just -- before we go to break, I just want to show you maybe what the issue is, because George Bush has not had a great couple of weeks. I mean, he stumbled his arithmetic over his own tax plan. He didn't have a plan on prescription drugs. Here's just a couple of clips from George Bush in one speech last week in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a free trader. I will work to end terrorists -- tariffs and barriers everywhere across the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: And we cannot let terrorists and rogue nations hold this nation hostile or hold our allies hostile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: When we carry Iowa in November, it'll mean the end of four years of Clinton-Gore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Needless to say Gore and Clinton have been there for eight years. But I mean, isn't that the problem? That you know your guy's not ready for prime time.

MAY: You know, you talk about unfair attacks and personal attacks. Anybody, including you, Bill, on occasion can stumble in his words. That has nothing to do...

PRESS: Huh! In one speech (UNINTELLIGIBLE) times.

MAY: ... with character or integrity. What does say something is last time that we were on a show I mentioned this, you didn't believe me...

FENN: This is getting a little...

MAY: This is a cover -- this is a cover story about Jim Fowles (ph). You'll know he was a Carter speechwriter, a good journalist. Here's what he says in his own words: "Gore is manifestly willing to lie for political convenience."

That's something that people should take into consideration when they hear these attacks.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Well, why won't he debate? Why won't he debate that?

MAY: He will debate.

(CROSSTALK)

Bet me a $1,000 there will be debates. FENN: Three...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: I'll take you bet. We're going to go to a break. We're going to go to a break.

When we come back, you know, it's not just Gore and Bush. It's also Cheney and Lieberman: How are those two guys doing, and are they helping or hurting the ticket? We'll get into that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Again it's not just Al Gore and George Bush. It's Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, both men coming under fire this week, Lieberman for talking too much religion, Cheney for multimillion dollar stock options which he finally today said he would forfeit if elected. So are they hurting or helping the top of the ticket?

We continue our Labor Day weekend wrap-up of politics 2000 now with Cliff May, communications director of the Republican National Committee, and Peter Fenn, Democratic strategist and adviser to the Gore campaign -- Mary.

MATALIN: Let me just talk about the esteemed secretary, Dick Cheney. When Bill says finally, what he was trying to do was figure out a way to give these options to charity, but because Democrats have thwarted tax reform for so long, he was unable to.

(LAUGHTER)

Now, here's the politics -- here's the politics of personal destruction.

(CROSSTALK)

Peter.

FENN: Yes.

MATALIN: When you impugn the integrity of a man with not just impeccable integrity, but a selfless record of public service and you do what you did to a man like that. That's the politics of personal destruction, not these wry little ads.

FENN: I thought it was interesting -- I shouldn't mention this -- but on another network, with a show called "Meet the Press," there was duck and bob and weave. It wasn't the Democrats so much; it was Tim Russert who asked, you know, will you get rid of these stock options? You've already in $40 million in five years.

MATALIN: Oh, now we're going to attack people for their success.

FENN: Is that not enough?

MATALIN: He was trying to figure out a way to give it to charity.

FENN: Well, listen, other people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: The tax code, the Democratic tax code.

FENN: Other people did this. They would not set...

MATALIN: So you're going to continue to impugn his integrity.

FENN: Look -- no, no, no. And as for charitable giving...

PRESS: Who's impugning his integrity?

FENN: ... your lovely inheritance tax program would cost $5-6 billion a year in money to charities.

MATALIN: Oh...

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: That's why 65 Democrats were for it.

FENN: And let me tell you -- well, this is why it's going to go down in flames, because people are going to find out that it's for the top 2 percent, and even then for 3,000 people.

MAY: You've got 65 Democrats...

FENN: Look, my point is if you're talking tax policy, if you're talking helping the wealthy or helping middle-class families...

MATALIN: No, that's not what I'm talking about.

FENN: ... then -- then, finally, Dick Cheney...

MATALIN: You want to run on vetoing the death tax and vetoing the marriage penalty.

FENN: Dick Cheney made the right call finally, and I congratulate him for doing that, because $40 million really is enough.

MATALIN: Republicans did not attack Joe Lieberman, said good guy, wrong issues. And you continue to attack a man with a public service record...

FENN: I -- I have not -- I'm just saying...

MATALIN: ... and the integrity that Dick Cheney has.

FENN: This was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: That's -- this is the negative tone. FENN: Other -- other leaders have put their money either in blind truest and Monday any blind trusts as Packard did when they came up for...

MATALIN: It's done.

FENN: Why not?

PRESS: Cliff, I'd like to ask you, you know, as late as yesterday Dick Cheney was saying, I'm trying to work it out and it's my money and I've got a right to. But I want to ask you, can you name me one Democrat who's attacked Dick Cheney on this issue?

MAY: Oh, I think -- well, I think -- you said it -- by saying "finally" I think you've made an attack.

PRESS: No, no, no. Can you name one Democrat who's attacked dick Cheney on this issue? I haven't hear anybody.

MAY: Well, you're a Democratic and I think you have. And I think I've heard it from Peter just now.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... him on the issue. I think he made the right decision. I think it took him too long to get there.

But I want to ask you about the conflict that bothers me. Dick Cheney is in the news all over the place saying we ought to think about getting our troops out of Bosnia and Kosovo. Now I guess that means let the ethnic cleansing resume. But the fact is that when he was chairman of Halliburton during the time he was chairman, Halliburton was putting supplies into our military all around the world, including Kosovo and Bosnia, made over $2 billion from those military operations.

So when he's CEO, he's exploiting the presence of troops. Now that he's candidate he's attacking their presence there. Isn't that the ultimate hypocrisy in this campaign?

MAY: Surely that's not a serious argument. Let me...

PRESS: It sure is.

MAY: Let me tell you unequivocally, wherever we send our soldiers, even if we send them to places I disagree with, let them have bullets, let them have guns, let them have uniforms and equipment, even if I disagree, as I may, in Haiti or Bosnia or any of the million of places that Clinton and Gore have sent our soldiers while cutting the military and cutting their ability to do the job. We have a military that is overcommitted and underfunded.

But let me tell you there is nothing wrong with sending military supplies to military people.

PRESS: Nothing wrong with fleecing the troops and then attacking them. OK.

MATALIN: Oh! Geez, that's what I mean about the politics of personal destruction.

MAY: I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) heard a Democrat slander Dick Cheney.

FENN: Only 25 percent of those...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... running for office.

FENN: Only 25 percent troops are ours. And you know, what I -- what I object to here is, first of all, we do have the strongest fighting force in the world. You have to acknowledge that.

Unfortunately, your boss...

(CROSSTALK)

... George W. Bush, put out in his convention speech an absolutely false statement. Two regiments not ready for active duty, sir. Wrong. It was dead wrong, and Cheney had to come in and explain to him it was based on two weeks in November with a quirk. And that's No. 1.

MAY: Our military is down in some places 80 percent.

FENN: Point No. 2 -- let me just finish this. Let me just finish this.

MAY: Finish this.

FENN: Who put in place the 25 percent cut in the military? Dick Cheney and George Bush's father. So don't come trying to us about the military.

MAY: You can't say that either.

FENN: Don't come crying to us.

MAY: At the end of the Cold War, of course you're going to have a peace dividend, but it doesn't go on for ever until you get to nothing.

Look, if I...

FENN: We're going to nothing.

MAY: Well, no, we're saying...

(CROSSTALK)

As a percentage of GDP, our military spending has gone down, down, down, and commitments have gone up, up, up.

Can we talk about the other candidate for a few minutes? No, he says.

PRESS: I'd like to talk about why...

MAY: Mr. Lieberman.

PRESS: ... you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) more money into defense and you say it's going down. But last week, you mentioned that Dick Cheney...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: ... Dick Cheney was on "Meet the Press" last weekend. He was also on "This Week." And he was asked about prescription drugs and all these other policies. And his answer was very simple. He said -- quote -- "I'm not writing policy; I'm busy out campaigning."

Isn't that a horrible admission?

MAY: If President Clinton were a candidate, you would say the same thing.

PRESS: He has nothing to do with policy?

MAY: He has spend eight years campaigning, and that is why there is no prescription drug policy, no reform of Medicare, and there's been no education policy or energy policy.

MATALIN: Those are the facts.

MAY: These are the squandered opportunities of eight years of Clinton-Gore.

MATALIN: If this is your response, to laugh, I mean, those are the facts.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: And a Republican Congress had nothing to do with any of this, did they?

MATALIN: What the Republican Congress did is balance the budget that...

(CROSSTALK)

Stop it! Stop. Stop!

(CROSSTALK)

The politics of personal destruction. Thank you, Cliff May, and thank you, Peter Fenn.

Bill and I will be back to continue the pre-Labor Day battle that's kicking off.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PRESS: All right, Mary, more bad news. Pennsylvania: Gore 50, Bush 37. Iowa: Gore 45, Bush 37. Guess what, Mary: It's bad now but it's only going to get worse.

MATALIN: Bush is -- do you want to talk about the holes? Bush is still leading by a hundred electoral votes.

(CROSSTALK)

You're never going to get over your credibility gap. This is a man who was a key member of an administration that promised in 1992 to cut taxes, improve -- reform Medicare and Social Security, and has done nothing that they promised and nothing with the prosperity. They just raised taxes.

PRESS: Nothing with prosperity? We just finished nine years of the longest period of economic growth in this country's history, and you say he's done nothing to help the prosperity? Mary, that is ludicrous.

MATALIN: He did not reform Medicare or Social Security, rejecting his own bipartisan commissions, because he wanted an issue, not a solution. Now you've got the issue, and Bush will win on his reform for Medicare and Social Security.

PRESS: Double digit for Gore.

From the left, happy Labor Day weekend. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And if you believe those polls, we have a bridge to sell you. From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Enjoy your holiday. See you next week for more CROSSFIRE.

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