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Crossfire

Lazio Versus Clinton: Who Won the Debate?

Aired September 14, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight: shocks and volleys in the New York Senate race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: He stands here and tells us that he's a moderate mainstream independent member of Congress. Well, in fact, he was a deputy whip to Newt Gingrich.

REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Mrs. Clinton, you of all people, shouldn't try to make guilt by association.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: And who was the winner?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE: Democrat Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, a Hillary Clinton supporter, and New York Republican Congressman Vito Fossella, a Rick Lazio supporter.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Timid is not the word to describe either one of them. Last night's New York Senate debate between Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio was fireworks from the get-go: Hillary accusing Lazio of being a Newt Gingrich clone, Lazio accusing her of being a Bill Clinton clone. And they were just some of the nicest things they said about each other.

"In Your Face," screamed the "New York Daily News." "Hillary Ducks," clucked the "New York Post." Neither scored a knockout punch. But an overnight "Daily News"/WCBS poll gave the nod to Mrs. Clinton; 49 percent of New Yorkers said she did a better job last night; 36 percent said Rick Lazio did.

But last night's toughest debate may have been down at the White House, where the military, at first, refused to surrender one of their satellite lines so husband Bill could watch his wife debate live. For hours, it was a stand-off. But in the end, Bill won. And by the way, he thought Hillary won too: surprise, surprise.

So did anybody win and what impact will the debate have on the nation's most-watched Senate race? We will ask two New Yorkers in just a moment. But first: this update about debates. George Bush and Al Gore late today agreed to the exact four debates -- three presidential and one vice presidential -- proposed by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Their first debate will be held in Boston on October 3.

Now back to New York -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Congresswoman, great debate last night -- could only be held in New York. And it was about New York. The very opening issue was the fundamental issue of this campaign, which is that this candidate, Mrs. Clinton, went state-shopping for a Senate seat. About her ill-fated health care plan -- which she did in 1993 right out of the box, which would have crushed teaching hospitals in New York -- Rick Lazio had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAZIO: You know, a New Yorker would never have made that proposal. The bottom line is, it would have been terrible for New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: The things that she proposed before she found a state that she thought she could win in would have been terrible for New York.

REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: Mary, I thought Hillary Clinton did an outstanding job. She was articulate. She gave a clear vision of what Senator Hillary Clinton would do. She made it absolutely clear that she would support a real prescription-drug plan, that she would support education, modernization of our schools, after-school programs, small class sizes, a real patient bill of rights.

And what Rick Lazio did that I think was unfortunate is really mess up the image that he was trying to send everyone that we was a nice guy. He was so aggressive. And then when he went over to her and handed her that piece of paper and said: Take it, take it, take it, when he knew this was just great theater, I think it was a real mistake.

MATALIN: Can I ask you woman to woman...

LOWEY: Woman to woman, absolutely.

MATALIN: The thing I most like about this debate -- beside being an adopted New Yorker, having gone to law school there -- that was the first debate I've seen where the man did not patronize the woman. She's a woman who likes to say: I'm not Tammy Wynette, but the first, you know, normal kind of interaction with the man in the arena: Oh he was so mean. Oh, I'm a victim.

Is she tough or what? Is she a New Yorker or what?

LOWEY: Oh, Mary, come on. The difference for me was she offered her vision for New York: prescription drugs, education, a patient bill of rights. And Rick Lazio's record on those issues, I have to say, is kind of: sometimes yes, sometimes no. He didn't vote for a real prescription bill of rights -- prescription bill of rights -- prescription-drug benefit.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: We are going ti get to Rick Lazio's record -- which he really has a record in New York -- but let -- she kept pointing to her 30 years of experience and particularly her eight years. In her eight years in the White House -- Senator Moynihan pointed this out first -- New York gives $15 billion more back to Washington than it gets out.

Everything she did in her past 30 years, and particularly her past eight years, would have been bad for New York. She's not a New Yorker.

LOWEY: Oh, Mary. We welcome everyone to New York. And Hillary Clinton showed New York families that she would be a fighter for them on prescription drug benefits, on a patient bill of rights, on educating our children. She has a clear record on that. She's been fighting for children and families her whole career.

And unfortunately, on these issues, my friend, Rick Lazio, has kind of waffled and doesn't have a clear record.

PRESS: Congressman Fossella, first, I've to say, I graduated from the University of Niagara. I have spent three good years up in -- on the frontier. I heard about the upstate New York economy last night than I hope I ever hear in the rest of my life -- for starters.

But beyond that, I thought the most dramatic moment of the debate was the one that Congressman Lowey referred to, when Rick Lazio whipped a piece of paper out of his pocket -- even though they had agreed ahead of time: no props -- so it broke the rules -- whips this piece of paper out of his pocket, marches over and tries to get her to sign it.

Just because not everybody watched the debate last night, let's take a look at it again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: That was a wonderful performance.

LAZIO: Well, why don't you sign it?

CLINTON: And I -- and you did it very well.

LAZIO: I want you to sign it. I'm not asking to you to admire it. I'm asking you to sign it.

CLINTON: Well, I would be happy to, when you give me the signed letter...

LAZIO: Well, right here, right here.

CLINTON: When you give me...

LAZIO: Right here. Sign it right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, Congressman, I remember Bill Bradley did the same thing to Al Gore in the primaries. And back in 1974, I was working for Jerry Brown, running for governor against Houston Flournoy in the state of California. And Jerry Brown did the same stupid, phony stunt. Isn't that one of the oldest gimmicks in debate politics?

REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R), NEW YORK: Well, first let me observe, you've been all over this country.

PRESS: I have, yeah. I get around.

(CROSSTALK)

FOSSELLA: Maybe you should run for Senate from New York.

But let me just -- before I say -- let me just disagree respectfully with my good friend, Nita Lowey, here -- and that is that Rick Lazio has a proven record on a lot of things that are important to New Yorkers. He's voted to create a prescription-drug plan in the House. He's voted for a patients' bill of rights. He has voted to cut taxes. He's voted to eliminate the marriage tax penalty and abolish the death tax.

These are important issues that are important to the people of New York. And he should be proud of that record, because that is what he will do as a senator. With respect to the image you just showed, I think -- aside from the style -- I think I'm more concerned with the substance of it. Whether you disagree or disagree with the notion that soft money shouldn't be used in this ad, if I recall, it was Mrs. Clinton who made the original offer to ban soft money.

And now, all I believe Rick Lazio was asking her to do is: Do you believe what you're staying? Which goes the very credibility of her candidacy -- and evidently, she refused to signed it.

PRESS: Well...

FOSSELLA: If she truly believed that there should be no soft money used in this race, I believe she should have signed it.

PRESS: Well, wait a minute, she made that -- she did make that offer to him on May the 21st, actually. She said: Let's both ban soft money at this time. He rejected it at the time, Congressman. He called it a political gimmick. Since then, the Conservative Leadership Pack has said they're going to send nine million dollars in soft money for him.

The Republican Leadership Council has already spent one million dollars -- the New York Conservatives Party pumping in soft money in this. So he's trying to have it both ways. He's saying: I'm not going to spend any, but all these other about groups are just pouring it in by the tons.

FOSSELLA: Again, I'm not saying that the substantive -- I'm not saying that the policy itself is right or wrong. But if Mrs. Clinton believed what she said a few months ago -- obviously, the last three months hasn't given her a change of heart -- as least, I don't -- I haven't heard a change of rhetoric. And if she believed it, she would have signed it.

PRESS: Can I ask you a serious question?

FOSSELLA: Yes, sure.

PRESS: A serious question, OK?

FOSSELLA: I hope they're all serious.

PRESS: Would you ever sign anything that you had not read and not seen on national television? Do you think anybody is ever that stupid?

FOSSELLA: Well, I -- I would sign things that I believed to be -- but I -- true.

PRESS: That's not my question.

FOSSELLA: And I think it was a very simple question that he was asking her: Would you encourage the ban of soft money? But again, let's not get off the main point. And the main point was: Who is the best person to be your senator?

Of those who watched that debate, I believe what they saw in Rick Lazio is a guy who has a proven record, who has worked closely with people like Nita Lowey in the last several years, fighting for his district in Long Island, and now ready to fight for all of New York. That's something that I think he's committed to doing and demonstrated last night.

MATALIN: Congresswoman, before you respond to this campaign finance reform phony ploy, I want to lay out some more facts.

LOWEY: Well, I'm glad you agree it's phony.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: No, he's saying it's a phony ploy. I'm saying that "New York Daily News" -- queen of dirty money -- calling -- Hillary is a phony on this. Because since that pledge -- or since that phony pledge that she threw out in May -- he -- Lazio has not opened any soft-money joint-accounts, which she has with the Democratic Party, who spent three million dollars.

LOWEY: But all the other Republican accounts are being opened for him.

MATALIN: He's not raised a dime of soft money. Today, -- just today -- OK, today (CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Today, he has sent a letter to every single potential outside vendor or potential contributing group and said: If she will sign this, you will cease and desist. We will go public. I will go public and tell you to cease and desist. Do not spend any money on behalf of me: no ads, no activity. She still won't sign.

She now knows what's in this thing. It's one sentence. And she won't sign what she started out to ask for in the first place. Who is the phony?

LOWEY: Mary, she made it very clear -- and her campaign has made it very clear -- that these 14 independent groups who are going to spend mega-millions of dollars have to cease and desist. Now, if he has agreed to that, then I'm sure Hillary Clinton would agree not to use the soft money.

And in fact, I find it amazing that at the same time our friend Rick has asked her to cease and desist he ran this phony ad showing Rick walking down the hall with Senator Moynihan walking next to him, which is clearly pieced together.

Now, he didn't do it, but he didn't tell that group who did ti.

MATALIN: I want to go back to what you just said: You just said, if he told them to cease and desist, these independent groups, which he's written letters to each and every one of them today, that she would sign the pledge.

LOWEY: Did they agree to cease and desist? First of all, I'm Nita Lowey; she's Hillary Clinton. She said if all these 14 groups that are planning to sped megamillions and have been raising megamillions...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: ... would never have as much to spend as the Democratic joint committees...

LOWEY: Oh...

(CROSSTALK)

Come on, Mary. Come on. Look, the real -- the real -- the real issue here as far as I'm concerned, who has a vision for the families of New York? Hillary Clinton has that vision. You talked, Vito, about a prescription drug benefit. You and I know that the insurance companies don't even want to go along. The HMOs, which you would need for your prescription drug benefit, don't even want to go along. They all left Westchester County. They're leaving the city, because they don't want to pay for prescription drugs.

We are talking about a plan that comes from Medicare. Everyone will have it. It makes sense because we can deliver it.

PRESS: Congressman, before we break, go ahead.

FOSSELLA: In fairness, Nita, I mean, the bottom line is I think a lot of people, both Democrats and Republicans, acknowledge that there's going to be a prescription drug plan, but we also should acknowledge that Medicare is going broke and that we owe it to the seniors today and those yet to come that we offer them a choice, something the other side does not want to do, that we give them real choices, not -- when you get the age of 64 1/2, you choose a plan, then, if you're 70, you want to switch, you can.

So we can debate the merits of that prescription drug plan up and down. But if we get back to the debate, I will tell you, the people I talked to in Staten Island and Brooklyn, who I'm proud to represent, say we want somebody who is going to be there for us, not just for a few years, but is committed to the people of New York.

And not to suggest that this plan about the signature is relevant in terms of substance, but I think it goes to the very heart of Mrs. Clinton's credibility or her campaigning credibility.

Does she truly believe what she's saying or doesn't she? If she believes it, she should have signed it.

FOSSELLA: Vito...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: OK. OK. Wait, wait. Look, the Big Apple, the big debate continues here with other New Yorkers. We'll be talking about those New Yorkers who are running for a Senate seat when we come back on CROSSFIRE. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. They both took a licking and kept on ticking. The first New York Senate debate certainly upheld the New York "in your face" political tradition. But did the big show move any big numbers in the race? Supporters and New York congresspersons keep score: Democratic Nita Lowey and Republican Vito Fossella -- Bill.

PRESS: Congressman, I've said from the beginning of this Senate race -- you probably heard me say it, because you there for Rudy Giuliani -- I always thought Rick Lazio would have been a better candidate for Rudy because he had a record and he would run on the issues. Instead, he's just running a pure-out personal attack campaign against Hillary Clinton. All of his ads are attack ads. He's not talking about the issues.

Why isn't he running an issues campaign?

FOSSELLA: Well, I disagree. I think he is. I think he's running, one, on his record, a record for New York, a record of cutting taxes, a record of strengthening Social Security and Medicare, improving education, strengthening our national defense. I've been with him campaigning in New York, and I've heard him talk to people about these issues and what he wants to do on the Senate.

So I don't buy into the argument that he's running a negative campaign at all. I think what he's doing is comparing and contrasting his record and vision for New York as opposed to Mrs. Clinton, which to this very day I truly don't know.

PRESS: Well, congressman, let me reach into my pocket here for a second, if I can. Do I remember you of Rick Lazio? This is a letter that I received yesterday here at CNN from Rick Lazio...

(CROSSTALK)

FOSSELLA: ... not going to have sign anything.

PRESS: No. And we're going to put it on the screen, and I want to read it very carefully to you. First of all, the letter is addressed to Bill Bress, with a "B," not a "P." I can't tell you how that pisses me off. First of all, he doesn't get my name right.

But then he says -- there's a whole letter. "I'm Rick Lazio. It won't take me six pages to convince you to send me an urgently needed contribution for my United States Senate campaign in New York. It will only take six words: 'I'm running against Hillary Rodham Clinton." End of letter. That's an issues letter. That is simply a hate Hillary Clinton letter, no issues.

His campaign, his campaign address, send the money back. You tell me he's running an issues campaign. Proof he's not.

FOSSELLA: But you're opening up somebody else's mail, Bill, first of all.

(LAUGHTER)

It's not addressed to you.

Listen, the bottom line here is whether those pundits believe it or not, a lot of people don't believe in Hillary Clinton's philosophy and what she wants to do as senator. So clearly Rick has done a good thing on running on his record, but there are those who I think -- for example, the -- when Mrs. Clinton tried to socialize our health care system several years ago, a lot of people, including myself, didn't like that, because we didn't want to destroy New York teaching hospitals.

PRESS: But, congressman, he says -- compare the issues. That's fine. I love that kind of stuff. Say why she's good, he's bad on the issues. He says nothing. All he says is, I'm running against Hillary. Send money.

That's a hate Hillary Clinton letter.

FOSSELLA: He's telling the truth. He's telling the truth. I'd be curious if you had any literature or mailings from Mrs. Clinton.

PRESS: I have none. I have none. MATALIN: Just a second, see, they think...

FOSSELLA: But let's be honest here...

MATALIN: Excuse me, congressman. They think like they think. They think that just saying her name is a hateful thing, because that's what she kept doing last night...

PRESS: Why did he send the letter?

MATALIN: ... Newt Gingrich, Newt Gingrich...

(CROSSTALK)

Because running against Hillary Clinton signified, as the congressman just said, failed health care, failed education in Arkansas.

LOWEY: Mary...

MATALIN: Just a minute. Newt Gingrich, Newt Gingrich. The politics of personal destruction, demonization...

LOWEY: No.

MATALIN: She falsified at least five points of his record last night.

LOWEY: No, a couple of points, because I think the Newt Gingrich connection is valid. Rick Lazio did vote for the cuts that Newt Gingrich put forward in the Contract With America. He did vote to get rid of the department of education. He did vote to cut health care. And you can't run away from that...

FOSSELLA: Hillary Clinton...

LOWEY: But more important -- but more important, Vito, when you were talking about philosophies, what we're interested in is what the senator is going to do for New York, and Hillary Clinton gave as a clear idea that she's for prescription drug benefits.

MATALIN: She lies about -- if she lies about Lazio's record, how can we trust what she says about what she's proposing?

LOWEY: She's not -- she's not lying about Lazio's record...

MATALIN: Let me take one example...

LOWEY: ... his record is clear.

MATALIN: She keeps saying in her ads and last night, he cut, voted to cut Medicare.

LOWEY: He did.

MATALIN: No, he cut -- voted to cut the rate of growth, which she agrees with. The rate of growth should be tied to inflation.

LOWEY: Mary, I was on the floor...

MATALIN: That is her proposal.

LOWEY: Mary, I was on the floor. Newt Gingrich is no longer the speaker. I was there. Rick is a nice guy. He's done some good things. He did vote for the Newt Gingrich "Contract on America"...

(CROSSTALK)

... to get rid of the Education Department.

FOSSELLA: Did not Bill Clinton sign most of those things that passed Congress, the contract, and didn't he sign those things into law?

LOWEY: Well, there are some good things there.

FOSSELLA: Well, he signed most of them. Most of the things that passed the Congress from the Contract With America, Bill Clinton signed into law. So, obviously, it wasn't that much of a problem.

LOWEY: But we're talking about cutting out the Department of Education. That's what he voted for.

PRESS: I want to ask you because we're just about out of time, but there was one moment last night where I think Rick Lazio had a chance to stand up and be a gentleman, and that was when Tim Russert asked Mrs. Clinton whether she was sorry that she misled the nation when she went on television right after early in the Monica days and said: You know, don't believe this, there's nothing to it, it's more smoke than fire.

Her response was basically, look, I was lied to. My husband has admitted he had lied to me like he lied to everybody else, and then Rick Lazio was asked for his response. Can I remind you what Rick Lazio -- a chance to stand up at the plate. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAZIO: Frankly, what's so troubling here with respect to what my opponent just said is somehow that it only matters what you say when you get caught, and character and trust is about well more than that. And blaming others every time you have responsibility, unfortunately that's become a pattern, I think, for my opponent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, congressman, she didn't get caught at anything. She didn't blame anybody else. Her husband lied to her. Why should he pile on to her one more time because her husband lied to her about cheating on her?

FOSSELLA: Well, I'm not going to go there. but what I will say is that...

PRESS: Don't you think he missed an opportunity there just to say...

FOSSELLA: Well, I think the thrust of what he was saying is that character matters in people who are running for office. Again, getting back...

PRESS: Well, because her husband lied to her, what does that say about her character? It says about his, but what does it say about hers?

FOSSELLA: Well, what does it say when she says she's for campaign finance reform and ending soft money, and then says, OK, sign on the dotted line and she says no? What does it she say when she stands up and says I'm for socializing health care, and then the entire Congress and the American people say, we don't want that, and then she says, well, I really didn't mean it then?

I mean, these are things that go to the very heart of a person's...

PRESS: Well, congressman, you're ducking, with all due respect. You're ducking, but we're out of time. Can't continue.

Congressman Vito Fossella, great to have you here.

FOSSELLA: Thank you very much.

PRESS: Nita Lowey, great -- couldn't have a better team for the New Yorkers to talk about the New York debate.

And the rest of the debate continues. Mary Matalin and I, closing comments, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Vito wasn't ducking; you weren't listening. Lazio was not attacking Mrs. Clinton for a dysfunctional marriage or her husband. He was commenting on her constant refusal to take responsibility for her own actions. In this case, calling all the truth tellers right-wing nuts.

You know, that these kind of feminists want to be treated equal until they are and that's what we was doing.

And you can you change the frame of debate, but she's got to take responsibility for her actions.

PRESS: He's saying she's got to take responsibility for her husband's actions, and all I've got to say is Rick Lazio, keep talking about Monica, keep sending hate Hillary letters. You know, there are a lot of hate Hillary Clinton people out there, Mary, but there are not enough to elect him senator.

That's his problem. That's why he's going to lose. From the left...

MATALIN: They don't hate her, they hate the policy.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.

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