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Capital Gang

GOP National Co-Chair Pat Harrison Discusses Polls, Bush's Gaffe and the Firestone Recall

Aired September 9, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson.

Our guests is Republican National Co-Chairman Pat Harrison.

Thank you for coming in, Pat.


SHIELDS: Good to have you here.

In the presidential campaign, Republican George W. Bush unveiled his prescription drug plan and Medicare reform.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My position is clear. There will be no age increase, no tax increase. And this is my commitment to the American people.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The biggest problem is there's no money to pay for it if you give away all of the surplus in the form of a giant tax cut to the wealthy.


SHIELDS: Governor Bush accused democratic nominee Al Gore of reneging on previously accepted debates.


BUSH: It's time to elect people who say what they mean and mean what they say when they tell the American people something.

BOB SHRUM, GORE SENIOR ADVISER: We ought to begin with the standard Governor Bush himself set about a week and a half ago, when he said we should have debates with the biggest possible audience.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Meanwhile, Republican politicians express concern about the Bush campaign.


BUSH: That's Washington. That's the place where you find people getting ready to jump out of the foxhole before the first shell is fired.


SHIELDS: The latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll -- tracking poll shows a one-point Bush lead.

Al, if this campaign is dead even, why are Republicans sniping at this perfect -- at this candidate?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mark, I'm still trying to get this metaphor of jumping out of the foxhole before the shelling begins.

But look, the Republican establishment thought they had an easy winner. And then, I'll tell you, the absolute, full-fledged panic fell in after Robert D. Novak wrote a column on Thursday about how nervous some Republicans were. That really did. Bob once again set the whole thing off.

Bush has made some very dumb mistakes. He tried to play games with the debate, and he got caught and had to back down. He's ducked some issues, he finally put out something on prescription drugs, which at least pleases the insurance industry.

But, you know, he's had two or three lousy weeks, and he's running dead even in the polls. That really ain't bad at this stage. So I think either one of these guys can win this race. There's 59 more days to go. No one's going to have it handed to them. It's much too early to panic for the Republicans, and so the conservative establishment can get right back in that foxhole.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, four weeks ago, the pundit class was varying toward post mortems on Al Gore...


SHIELDS: ... He was dead, it was over. Now they're getting ready to -- for a concession speech from Bush. Which is right, or neither?

NOVAK: The interesting thing was at the beginning of this week, when word came out that one of the pollsters had a double-digit Gore lead, that's when, in the words of a very important Republican, the Republicans were heading for the "tall grass" -- I use that quote in the column. Democrats circle the wagons when they're in trouble, Republicans head for the tall grass.

Let me tell you something. If the polls on Thursday had not come out showing even, you would have an absolute hysterical reaction by the Republicans.


NOVAK: Because they really don't have that much faith in George W. Bush. He's better than they think he is. He really is. And they're -- and I think they're -- no, he is. He is.

SHIELDS: How bad do they think he is?

NOVAK: They just don't have much confidence in him. And what we're going in now, I think he made a mistake and I think -- they know they made a mistake on these debates. They're getting down to negotiations on the debates, which they should have done a week ago. But what this is going to be is a campaign on the issues to see whether the American people want freedom or a free lunch. And it's going to be an interesting campaign.

SHIELDS: Freedom or a free lunch. I've got to say, Pat Harrison, I mean, I heard the Republican conservative candidate for president come up with a new entitlement this week about prescription drugs. I mean, I thought we had a conservative running here. Now, I mean, what's going on?

HARRISON: We have a conservative. And I just have to say, you know, as much as I respect Bob and everyone reads his column, I forgot to get the panic memo.

I mean, I've been in the states, and I come back here, and my good friends sitting around the Palm and drinking the cabernet all saying, oh, worry, worry. In the states, we're seeing a phenomenon we've never seen before.

SHIELDS: Which is?

HARRISON: Which is turnout for training programs. They weren't there coming out for Dole, even eight years ago -- standing room only. Just got back from Florida, I go to Michigan on Monday. It is amazing. The enthusiasm is there. The intensity is there.

SHIELDS: So it's all -- it's the enlisted personnel. It's all the officers back here 10,00 yards offshore, they're the ones panicking?

HARRISON: They're excited about Governor Bush. We had that enormous lead. From the beginning, we were saying it was going to shrink. But you know what? You have that euphoria. And when it starts, then some of the people...

SHIELDS: A little nervousness.

HARRISON: ... get a little nervous Nellie. Herman Caine (ph) -- not Herman Caine, in terms of secretary of state -- Ken Blackwell said, it was a boxer. The people in the corner, the corner people, you know?

SHIELDS: Well, I've got say, Margaret that nervous Nellies are bed-wetting or whatever. There's been a lot of it on the Republican side, hasn't there?

CARLSON: Bob's causing this all over the country.

NOVAK: It's all my fault, all my fault.

CARLSON: No drinks of water before you go to bed for Republicans.

Well it's time, you know, for the conventional wisdom to switch because we buried Gore and now are waiting for a comeback. What was obviously the last couple weeks and what the problem is is that things have come easy to George W. Bush, and now it looks hard. And this not only shocks him, it shocks his supporters, who thought if all the money men got together and everybody agreed and they anointed him, that he could just east into the presidency. Now he's finding it's not that easy.

And we're showing -- we're finding out that he's a little bit stubborn and petulant when things don't go his way. And he stuck with that debate thing for a much longer time. No one was ever going to believe that George W. Bush really wanted to debate, but he just wasn't going to do it the commission's way because it wasn't the best way.

SHIELDS: I have to say on the point of debates, I thought it was mishandled. There's no question about it. And thanks to -- we did have in the set up piece the charge that Al Gore had been dishonest and that they had this TV spot and so forth -- thanks to Jeff Leeds (ph) and Elizabeth Jensen (ph) of "The Los Angeles Times," we learned that spot was -- that Bush campaign told was going to be running in 21 states ran in none of those 21 states.

And it was all -- so the credibility was not about Al Gore, the credibility was about the Bush campaign lying to the press about the spot.

HUNT: I want to pick on something -- I want to not pick "on," I want to pick up something that my good friend Robert said...

SHIELDS: Sure -- pick on it.

HUNT: ... If this is a campaign about issues, Bob, then I think Bush is in some trouble, because I think if you look at those internals of the polls -- I agree, it's a dead even race. You can't -- entirely too much can be drawn from any of that. But you look at those internals...

SHIELDS: But you think...

HUNT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) if you look at the internals, how people feel about the two candidates on things like issues, Gore does a lot better than Bush. If this is about leadership persona, Bush may well win. If it's about issues...

NOVAK: I'm not surprised you feel that way, Al, because you believe in the welfare state. You believe in a socialized America, basically, so I'm not surprised. But there are things -- the polls are not that simple. For example, on Social Security, you find that the young people really like Bush's program better.

See, the problem with a lot of the Republican strategists is they thought they could tie Gore to Clinton. He detached himself from Clinton at the convention, and they still wanted to make it a morals instead of an issues question. I think the issues are very good for the Republican Party. And if the American people want to have a Gore program and have that kind of...

HUNT: The hell with them.

NOVAK: The hell with them.

SHIELDS: That gets the last word. The hell with the American people. You heard it from Bob Novak.

Pat Harrison and THE GANG will be back with dissing Adam Clymer.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

On Labor Day, George W. Bush spotted a reporter and made a comment picked up by and open microphone.


BUSH: There's Adam Clymer, a major-league (EXPLETIVE DELETED)



SHIELDS: Did the governor apologize?


BUSH: I regret that it made it to the public airwaves. I was making a comment to Vice President Cheney. I didn't, obviously, realize the mikes were going to pick it up.

ADAM CLYMER, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think probably using bad language while promising to restore dignity to the White House is a contradiction that he -- you know, that will hurt him in a tiny, modest way. And I don't think -- I mean, you know, picking on reporters is either going to help him or hurt him.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is this a damning gaffe by George W. Bush?

NOVAK: Well right afterwards, on the Tuesday after Labor Day, I got a lot of stuff from these loyal Republicans, Pat, saying it didn't look presidential. And I didn't think it did either, but, you know, it might even be a plus. It's -- he's very aggravated with Adam Clymer, who wrote this excoriating editorial on page one of "The New York Times" about the health care program in Texas.


NOVAK: See, the whole thing is -- excuse me, Margaret, you'll get your chance.

CARLSON: Sorry, I'm just astonished.

NOVAK: All these reporters, my colleagues who I like -- I like Adam -- they all think they are objective, but of course they're liberals. And I knew very well that once we got into the real season after the conventions, they'd all turn against Bush, which they have.

SHIELDS: Margaret, if I'm not mistaken, Adam Clymer voted for Bob Dole in 1996.

CARLSON: I think so.

NOVAK: He's a liberal.

CARLSON: What's amazing is how -- what little it took to get George W. Bush upset.

HARRISON: Oh, he was hardly upset.

CARLSON: That piece -- he's written two pieces. He's not a smart aleck on TV like Bob Novak, he's just a straight reporter. The two health care pieces that alarmed Bush, one was about the abysmal record in Texas, quoting experts and quoting people in Texas and quoting Republicans, and the other was saying that the credibility of an ad was zero because the ad that the Bush people had put up was about a prescription drug plan. And guess what? There was no prescription drug plan. And so I would say that was right.

But the -- you know, Adam made a point, and it's this, which is if you set yourself as the anti-Clinton, the end of trash-talk politics, I'm going to raise the tone, I'm going to restore civility, this kind of thing rings a little bit louder.

HARRISON: I think the real, the real outrageous statement that has been made this year by a candidate running for president, I'll give you two, and they vie. One is, no controlling legal authority, and the other is, I didn't know it was a Buddhist temple.

The fact of the matter is, I love the way that -- I almost said President Bush. It should only be from my mouth to God's ears -- handled this. I regret it was overheard. If Al Gore had done this, then you would have had all the weasel words. We would have needed a thesaurus to figure out what the man was saying. And the fact is, he's brought dignity, Bush has, to the governorship in Texas, as opposed to Al Gore, what he's done in this White House for eight years.

SHIELDS: What Al Gore has done in the White House eight years? Well, OK...

CARLSON: He didn't get a pizza from the intern.

HUNT: Let me get...

SHIELDS: Al, Al, he's -- George W. Bush has been billed by his handlers and by himself as a nice guy. He's unpretentious, doesn't personalize things, doesn't let things get under his skin. Was this an example of something getting under his skin?

HUNT: It appears so, Mark, but first of all I want to give Dick Cheney the Ed McMahon award for that yes, boss, whatever you say is right was...

SHIELDS: Giant sucking sound.

HUNT: Yes, exactly -- was terrific.

Look, I was in Michigan for a couple days this week, and I must tell you, I was quite surprised how many people were talking about this. The late-night comedians have had a field day with it. For Adam Clymer, it's a badge of honor, although I must say, whatever Bush said about him is mild compared to what Bush's father said about Bob Novak. I don't know, maybe Bob Novak is a liberal, too, and we just didn't know.

Adam is -- I've known and competed against Adam for more than 25 years. He's a very good and a very tough reporter. That health care piece that Margaret alluded to was a very, very good piece.

For George W. Bush, other than maybe forcing him to get rid of this phony, I'm the only one that can restore dignity and civility to the White House routine, which really is phony, I don't think it will have much effect long run. It will still be a field day for Jay Leno and David Letterman.

NOVAK: I think a lot of people thought it was a natural thing to say. He was aggravated by that -- particularly that Clymer health care -- that Clymer health care story.

HARRISON: Exactly.

HUNT: It ran in April, Bob.

NOVAK: I know. When I read it, I -- you know, on page one of "The New York Times," I thought that it had been something done by the research department of the Democratic National Committee.


NOVAK: It was an absolutely biased piece. And, you know, Adam -- Adam wrote a biography about Senator Kennedy. He said he was the greatest senator of all time -- all time. So I think that shows where he;'s coming from...

HUNT: Bob, we've... NOVAK: ... and that's where most of you people come from.

HUNT: We've read your books, Bob, and we know what you say in your books, but that certainly doesn't detract from your ability to analyze politics.

NOVAK: Who ever called me objective?

HUNT: Bob, I think you're very straightforward when you tell us what's going on in politics, and that Adam Clymer piece was a terrific piece. It was very fair.

CARLSON: Yes, there was a poll...

NOVAK: You love it because it was anti-Bush.


CARLSON: There was a poll taken saying that 7 percent of people actually raised their opinion of Bush as a result of that statement, and Bob is among those people.

HARRISON: A lot of people called me thought it was straight talk and...

CARLSON: Oh, they love it.

SHIELDS: Did anybody criticize it, Pat?


CARLSON: How about the religious right? Did they like it?

HARRISON: No, I haven't heard from the religious right, and they haven't called.

SHIELDS: OK, last word Pat Harrison. Next on CAPITAL GANG, the great tire blow-up.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Congress held hearings on 88 deaths caused by Firestone tires on Ford vehicles.


MASATOSHI ONO, CEO, BRIDGESTONE/FIRESTONE: I apologize to you and the American peoples, especially for the families that have lost loved ones -- terrible.

JACQUES NASSER, CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: Ford did not know that there was a defect with the recalled tires until we virtually pried the data from Firestone's hands and analyzed it ourselves.


SHIELDS: That did not satisfy Congress or the Justice Department.


REP. BILLY TAUZIN (R), NEW ORLEANS: I have a theory that the old testing standards left us all unprotected.

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We're reviewing everything to see what would be appropriate, and that would include civil or criminal processes.


SHIELDS: But where were the regulators?


REP. THOMAS BLILEY (R-VA), COMMERCE CHAIRMAN: The federal government's highway safety watchdog, that dog apparently was asleep.


SUE BAILEY, NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATOR: There were 46 complaints over 10 years for 47 million tires that were produced. That's not enough to warrant an investigation.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, who is to blame for these tragic deaths?

CARLSON: Well, it's great to see these corporations -- you did it, no you did it, no you did it.

You know, it's not that the regulators were asleep, it's that the legs were cut out from the regulators. We went through that whole period, get government off our backs. Remember the competitive council? Let the corporations voluntarily regulate themselves and come up with safety standards, so that the Carter administration could come up with new standards for tires, the Reagan administration came in and cut them out, abolished them and cut the budget of that very agency that the Republicans are now criticizing by 50 percent. And it's never come back. It's never come back.

The standards aren't there, they don't have the enforcement personnel. So you're relying on Firestone and Ford to voluntarily, first of all, improve the safety and then report the defects. And they haven't done it, and 88 people are dead. Somebody should be charged with criminal negligence.

HARRISON: Well part of the problem, though, is that NHTSA did get a call from State Farm Insurance.

NOVAK: Is that the safety... HARRISON: I'm sorry, the safety...

SHIELDS: National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, yes.

HARRISON: ... had a call from State Farm telling them there was a problem with these tires. It was ignored. And the problem is -- and you're absolutely right, as fingers are pointed -- but this one person at State Farm got no redress whatsoever. NHTSA was asleep at the switch. They couldn't even get the secretary of transportation to come to Congressman Tauzin's hearings. And so, while everyone's pointing fingers, we've got to see how really viable NHTSA is.

SHIELDS: Well, I have to say, though, Bob, this proves once again that there is a need foreign energetic government.

NOVAK: No question about it.

CARLSON: Yes, sure.

NOVAK: You're protecting -- I agree with you. You're protecting the people. Now, the administration...

CARLSON: Wait a minute, I don't believe my ears.

NOVAK: The administration people said that more money wouldn't have done the trick. And Rodney Slater, secretary of transportation, not showing up is an outrage. I think you'll agree with that.

SHIELDS: He should have been there.

NOVAK: The head of the agency, Miss Bailey, Sue Bailey, had been there three weeks. She had never heard of Sam Boyden's name. He's the guy...


NOVAK: ... from Bloomington, Illinois, who sent this information. And she is -- her professional training was as an osteopath. I mean, I don't know exactly what her qualifications are, except being a good Democrat and a good Clinton administration person, but maybe it's not more money, Margaret, but the kind of people they have.

SHIELDS: And what did Ronald Reagan do before he became governor? I mean, you talk about previous occupations.

HUNT: I don't know if the National Safety Transportation Board is is to blame for this or not. Margaret's right, though, their budget has been cut. I think that when your budget's cut, it usually means you don't do your job as well as you should.

I don't know if Ford's to blame. They clearly were laggardly in notifying people, but I think there's a pretty strong case that Firestone didn't tell them the truth. But I think, Mark, you're absolutely right, and I'm delighted that Bob Novak agrees with us that this just reinforces the need for tough government regulation in safety matters.

And I tell you something else this does. I hope those politicians who rant and rave about personal injury lawsuits and personal injury lawyers and all that, I hope they'll tell that to the family of people like Kelly Gilmore and people like Kathy Jackson who lost their lives or lost their legs because of this corporate misconduct.

NOVAK: That's no excuse for the trial lawyers becoming billionaires. But can I ask you a question, just reverse the process?


NOVAK: Can you tell me why it is that the presidential campaigns, both presidential campaigns, have ignored this question?

SHIELDS: I, you know, this is beyond me. It's beyond my comprehension. I was talking to the Gore campaign, and they just -- they didn't have an answer for it. This strikes me as an example of draw the difference. On both sides, you make the case. It's on people's minds. People are talking about it. It's big news.

CARLSON: Ralph Nader, my old boss, is talking about it.

NOVAK: Or the Bush people can say it was incompetence by the Clinton people.

HARRISON: What about Bliley and Tauzin? I mean, they're out there.

SHIELDS: Well, no, what's interesting -- what's fascinating me is that the two politicians, the legislators...


SHIELDS: ... who have been most visible and vocal on it, Dick Shelby of Alabama, the senator, and Billy Tauzin of Louisiana, both former Democrats, I mean, who kind of have that...

HARRISON: Well we have Bliley and you have Specter. They're out there on it.

CARLSON: But Republican howling...

HUNT: Don't you think, Mark, that Al Gore is petrified of it because it's the Clinton administration...

SHIELDS: It's the administration.

HARRISON: Of course.

HUNT: ... and George Bush is petrified of it...


HUNT: ... because it demands more regulation. NOVAK: Good answer.

HUNT: Thanks, Bob.

CARLSON: But the Republicans howling over this when they've refused to act for two decades and the budget is 30 percent below what it was in 1980. You know, how can you make regulations when it's like that?

NOVAK: It's only money.

CARLSON: And you know, they shouldn't have to rely -- you know...

HARRISON: From the someone who is telling you there's a problem.

CARLSON: ... they need a standard. They don't need some insurance agent calling up and saying, you've got a problem.

HARRISON: He knew what was going on, and here's where the data is coming from.

SHIELDS: Last word, Margaret.

Pat Harrison, thank you for being with us.

HARRISON: Thank you.

SHIELDS: THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week."

It's true that I once suggested that Bob Novak and Bob Knight should open a charm school together, and the past charges against the Indiana University basketball coach are and have been serious. But this latest allegation really angers me. The rush to judgment against coach Knight is truly outrageous. Whatever happened to American fair play, and why is Bob Knight alone presumed guilt? What happened to the presumption of innocence?

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The House sustained President Clinton's veto of the death tax repeal because 13 Democrats who voted for the bill in June switched. Then Nydia Velazquez of New York City, who had declared that the archaic estate tax hurts Puerto Rican-owned businesses in her district. The president straightened her out with a phone call. But the real outrage is the only Republican to uphold the veto, Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, who's remarks preached class warfare against Steve Forbes and what he called billionaires and mega-millionaires. And Bereuter wants to be a Republican committee chairman?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson. CARLSON: This week we learned that citizen Dick Cheney didn't vote in 14 of the last 16 state elections in Texas. His excuse? He was, quote, "focused on global concerns." Was part of his concern Haliburton's policy abroad of segregating bathrooms for Americans only? Haliburton's excuse was they were providing for, quote, "cultural needs." Didn't they say something like that in Mississippi in defense of whites-only toilets? Cheney's such a liability that the Republican congressman hosting a rally for him in Connecticut this week is running an ad that pictures him with the vice president, Congressman -- the vice presidential candidate, Congress -- uh -- Senator Joe Lieberman.


HUNT: Mark, there are the predictable howls of protest over President Clinton actually shaking hands with Fidel Castro when they accidentally ran into each other at the United Nations. Get over it. Instead, Congress should enact a proposal by Mark Sanford, a sensible young South Carolina conservative, to end the foolish prohibition on U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba without special permission. As Rep. Sanford notes, we've had the same policy toward Cuba for 40 years, and it has failed.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night from THE CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the No. 1 Nebraska against the upset-minded Notre Dame Fighting Irish.



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