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A Look Back at the Serious and Not-So-Serious Week in Politics

Aired September 15, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET



AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Number nine: Remember America, I gave you the Internet and I can take it away. Think about it.


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: If he loses, could Al Gore make it as a comedian?




MATALIN: Could his running mate be a singer?

Tonight: a look back at the serious and not-so-serious week in politics.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE: Gore national spokesman, Doug Hattaway, and Bush Adviser and Republican National Committee co-chairman, Pat Harrison.


The campaign is tracking with cultural icons: late night for Gore and Lieberman, Oprah coming up for Bush. While the candidates are letting loose, however, their staffs are tightening up the debates. Negotiations over format terminated today after seven hours without resolution and will resume tomorrow.

On a debate-related matters, both campaigns remain mystified over how the now-authenticated Bush debate-briefing materials, which -- how they mysteriously appeared at the office of Gore debate prep-mate Tom Downey. The candidates are pulling some traditional campaign duty today. Gore capped a week highlighting his education initiatives at Howard University in the District of Columbia, while Bush read to kids and rallied with veterans pledging to devote more resources to MIAs. The latest CNN/"Usa Today" Gallup poll has Gore outside the margin: 49 to 42. Tonight, we look back at an action-packed political week for predictions of what's ahead -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Pat, good to have you back CROSSFIRE. Good evening.


PRESS: So let's look at this debate story. Two weeks ago, Governor Bush rejected the four debates proposed by the commission. He accused Al Gore of reneging on his word. And yesterday, he folded and accepted the entire commission schedule.

Thomas Holinan (ph), who is the associate dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at USC in Los Angeles said -- quote -- in the "Los Angeles Times" this morning: "It's hard to see this as anything other than a cave-in."

HARRISON: Well, you know what, I'll match my Annenberg school credentials. I'm a fellow at the Annenberg School University of Pennsylvania.

PRESS: You have got to agree with you dean.

HARRISON: No, I don't agree with my dean, because, first of all, it's not a cave-in. What Governor Bush wanted to do -- and still wants to do -- is get these debates to the most number of people. So he said to Al Gore: Let's do the Presidential Commission Debates, but also let's get outside of the box.

I can understand really Al Gore doesn't want to go on Tim Russert's show. He had a pretty rough time the last time he was on there. But now they're going to do the commission debates. And the other thing Governor Bush wanted to do was at least have one debate before the Olympics, at least get American people focused on the issues.

PRESS: Well, that's the perfect spin. And that's the same spin that's been coming out of Austin. But, you know, it just doesn't add up. Number one, Governor Bush did not say: Let's do Russert and "LARRY KING" in addition to the...

HARRISON: Yes he did.

PRESS: No, no, no, no, he did not, Pat. He did not. He said, instead, he said: I'll take one commission debate.


PRESS: And instead of the others, let's do "LARRY KING" and Tim Russert. But I ask you -- and that's what -- Ari Fleischer said the exact same words you did.

HARRISON: Well, the truth is the truth. PRESS: And -- and -- let's -- but let's go -- let me ask me ask my question. If he wanted it in front of a largest possible audience, why did he, for example, suggest "LARRY KING," which would only be seen on CNN?

HARRISON: Well, here's the deal.

PRESS: It doesn't add up.

HARRISON: It does add up. The question would be -- you could reverse it -- why is Al Gore not agreeing to do anything but the Presidential Commission debases? The fact of the matter is...


PRESS: Hey, Doug, hold on just one sec, please.


PRESS: Let her finish.

HARRISON: The fact of the matter is what is going on here has gone on since time immemorial when it comes to debates.


HARRISON: The American people are going to see these two people debate. They are going to hear Governor Bush on the issues. And he is going to be president.

PRESS: But, this is the -- but can't you be honest? Isn't what really happened is that down in Austin, they said: We have been -- we have got to stop the bleeding. We can't drag this on any longer. We lost this round. Let's just surrender and move on?

HARRISON: I don't agree with the word surrender, but they did want to move on -- definitely move on. He always wanted to do these debates. But he realized, at a certain point, Al Gore was just going to dig his feet in. He wasn't going to agree to anything outside the box. So we're going to have the debates.

HATTAWAY: OK, let's get real now about what the situation...


MATALIN: Doug, please! Doug, I'm the host. You're the guest.

HATTAWAY: I'm sorry. I know you don't want to hear the truth. But go ahead.

MATALIN: No. I want to ask you a question, OK?


HARRISON: This is such a happy night.

MATALIN: Yeah, this was supposed to be the happy night. Let me...

PRESS: I'm happy.

MATALIN: Since we're all saying what the Bush campaign is saying, let's just look to and listen to what they literally have said. Here's your counterpart, Karen Hughes, from the Bush campaign on this debate -- where this debate negotiation is.


NARRATOR: Before you look at George W. Bush's plans, look at his record. When the national minimum wage was raised to $5.15 an hour, Bush kept the Texas...


MATALIN: OK. That's not what she said. What she said was essentially what Pat has been saying, which is simply this: We were always trying to get the Gore -- the Bush campaign was always trying to get a format that was more interactive, because he needs and wants to explain his positions, which are new, which are innovative.

Your man's m.o. is thrust and parry: 60 seconds of this, 30 seconds of that. And when he gets beyond the platitudes of -- be it "power for the people," or "fighting for you..."


MATALIN: You see what happens in the primaries. He goes on attack. Or he flounders, as he did on "Meet the Press." So if you will go any time, anywhere, why not anyway? Why are we negotiating over the formats?

HATTAWAY: That's a good -- that's a good reinvention of the history of this. But here is what it was. Al Gore wanted to do the three commission debates, because that would guarantee the widest possible audience. And he was very happy to do these other programs, in addition to those, once we nailed downed the commission debates.

I think there's a lot of discussion in the media about the fact that George Bush was avoiding for some reason. We think he'll be an excellent debater. But for some reason, he was avoiding having the maximum possible audience. We have always been open to negotiating the formats. That's what's going on now. We are happy with the agreement we've reached.

We think the American people will now get an opportunity -- as many of them as possible -- to see these. And we are happy to have a variety of formats. So I think this reinvention of history doesn't quite -- quite hold to the truth. And I think the issue over this whole debate over the debates is for the pundits to have fun with.

I -- this is really about the American people and giving them an opportunity to hear the candidates debate the real issues. I think Governor Bush is out there trying to muddle the differences on the issues, and that these debates will sort of bring them into sharper clarity. And that will be good for the American people. And that what this is all about.

MATALIN: Well, ironically -- though we didn't get to hear it -- that's exactly what Karen Hughes said. Because it is happy night, let me ask you a non-aggressive question.


HATTAWAY: You're happy, Mary, I can tell.

MATALIN: Do you know what happened -- I'm very happy. I'm very confident in this campaign and the ultimate outcome. But do you know -- have any more information on us about this mysterious arrival of the brief Bushy materials, which have now been authenticated by the Bush campaign as -- and there's very few of them -- and they are real -- and who might have sent them to you?

And I know you did the right thing and all that. No need to throw in the spin. But do you have any other clues about where they might have come from?

HATTAWAY: We have no idea what to make of it. They, as you said, showed up at the office of Tom Downey in Washington. He's a friend of the vice president's and had been helping out with the debate preparations. It came out of the blue. As soon as he realized they had something to do with Governor Bush's preparations, he did the right thing, turned it over to the authorities. They will determine what -- what went on. here We have no idea.

I think Tom did the right thing. It's unfortunate that he felt -- felt it necessary to pull himself out of the debate preparations. But chairman Daley agreed with that. But we really don't know what to make of it.

PRESS: I just have to say, I ran into Tom Downey at lunch today. And he had some papers in front of him. I looked. I looked. It was not -- it was not the Bush briefing book. I checked.

MATALIN: Copy them anyway.


PRESS: No, I checked it out, anyhow.

Pat, you know -- actually, let's be honest. The debate over the debates is really -- is -- doesn't really matter, because we know this election is really going to be decided on the shows that count. It's going to be decided on "Oprah Winfrey" and "Jay Leno" and "David Letterman."

HARRISON: Speaking of which, the vice president appeared with David Letterman last night. In case everybody didn't see it, let's just take a look at just a little bit of it.


GORE: Number seven: With Lieberman on the ticket, you get all kinds of fun new days off. Vote for us. We are going to work 24-six. Number...


PRESS: So they're going to work 24-six. He said earlier: I invented the Internet. I can come back and take it away.

Notice, I'm not serious. The election is not going to be decided by these appearances. And Governor Bush is going to be on David Letterman later. But you do see a candidate there who is pretty relaxed, don't you? I mean, aren't we seeing a different Al Gore than we saw during the...

HARRISON: How do I count the ways? Of course, we're seeing a different Al Gore.

PRESS: Maybe the real Al Gore?

HARRISON: I think the real Al Gore is captured in this economic plan, which is similar to a Stephen King novel.

PRESS: He would consider that a compliment, I think.

HARRISON: Stephen King? It's a horror story, basically.


HATTAWAY: It's got lots of details in it.

HARRISON: Yeah, it does. And we can talk about those. But, yes, we are seeing a different Al Gore. We saw Al Gore -- lover Gore on -- at the convention. And now we see this new, supposedly-relaxed Al Gore. But the real Al Gore you can find in the pages of this plan, where he really hits the American people, takes away our independence, taxes us to the point where we are going to be working 24 hours a day.

So great, he does "Oprah..."

HATTAWAY: I don't what plan you're reading, but...

HARRISON: He does "Dave Letterman." He's a great candidate for stand up when this election is over.

PRESS: Doug.

HATTAWAY: I don't know what plan you're reading, but Al Gore put out an economic plan with 10 very ambitious goals to build on the prosperity we have today to make it benefit everybody, not just a few. George Bush's only real plan in this campaign is a massive tax cut that primarily benefits the rich, does not benefit that many real people, and keeps us from making the kind of investments in health care, in education, in middle class tax cuts and a secure retirement... PRESS: All right...

HATTAWAY: ... so that we can go on this prosperity.

PRESS: OK, there's the statement from both campaigns. But I want to come back to these important shows, because Al Gore wasn't the only one out there last night. There's another guy on the "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" last night, sort of Frank Sinatra revisited here.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Regrets -- here's one right here. Oh, boy. Regrets...


PRESS: Now, Pat...


PRESS: ... what's there not to like about Joe Lieberman, No. 1? And No. 2, can you ever in your lifetime imagine Dick Cheney being that loose?

Well, you know what? If we're saying, who's going to be the No. 1 jokester, who can get up and do stand up, if that was the quality for running the country, I'll give him the Academy Award. But if you're saying, who's got trust and integrity, I give the Academy Award for brazen hypocrisy to Al Gore for what he did in another show business place...

PRESS: You don't think Joe...

HARRISON: ... Radio City, last night.

PRESS: You don't think Joe Lieberman has trust and integrity? Is that what you're saying?

HARRISON: He had it, he had it, and now he's backing off on all the things that made Joe Joe. Vouchers, for example, he was for getting kids out of bad schools. Now he's folded on that, little by little. You stand next to Al too long and what happens? You diminish your principles.

HATTAWAY: Oh, give me a break.

HARRISON: I would, but...

HATTAWAY: Everybody knows -- everybody knows that Joe Lieberman an Al Gore share the same fundamental values as new Democrats. They don't agree on every single issue. Al was not looking for a yes man to be his running mate, and historically the vice -- the president's agenda carries the day, and it's the same -- this is the same as it's always been on those issues where a president and vice presidential candidate disagree. I don't think I'd make too much out of that. PRESS: OK, in your corners, please, because we're going to take a break, and -- by the way, we want you to vote, too, because we want to know how interested you're going to be in watching these debases. Please right now go to our CNN CROSSFIRE chat room. You go to, and vote. Tell us how interested you're going to be in the Bush-Gore debases, and we'll give you the results before the end of the show.

And when we come back, now that we've stopped talking about debates and rats and all that other stuff, are we going to get to the real issues in this campaign?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Believe it or not, George Bush and Al Gore didn't spend the entire week talking about debates and rats. George Bush promised to improve public schools and military readiness. Al Gore also focused on education and also promised to get tough on Hollywood. Are they the right issues? And who's scoring? With 53 days left, we debate the latest campaign moves with Pat Harrison co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Doug Hattaway, national spokesman for the Gore campaign in Nashville -- Mary.

MATALIN: Doug, we left off speaking about your plan with all these details in your 191-page plan which compares to Bush's 457-page plan, but we'll let that go.

Last night, your man on a very good appearance -- we will grant him that and wish him well on more of those late night comedic appearances where he'll end up after this election -- but he has this very funny thing to say in this top 10.


GORE: Number 10: Vote for me, or I'll come to your home and explain my 191-page plan economic plan to you in excruciating detail.


MATALIN: He is funny. And, Doug, you know what? Americans need that excruciating plan, because in those 109 -- detail, rather -- there is -- there are 50 promises about price tags. There is either no cost or grossly underestimated cost for everything from preschool to retirement, from new drugs to drug control. Where are the real details? Where is the real cost of this plan?

HATTAWAY: I'd be happy to go through the excruciating detail with you. Every item of that plan fits within a balanced budget, which sets the first priority on paying down the national debt. It does it by the year 2012. George Bush cannot make that pledge because he blows the whole surplus on a tax cut that primarily benefits a few people, and he won't be able to pay down the national debt.

And that's going to hit middle class families right in the pocketbook, because it won't let us keep the interest rates down on their mortgages and their car loans and their credit cards.

I think it goes from there, from paying down the debt, to Social Security and Medicare. They're going to protect those surpluses so they can't be raided for tax cuts and other spending, and then set some real goals that we can achieve by making some smart investments in our schools, in health care, providing real benefits...

MATALIN: OK, OK, OK, we want -- we don't need...

HATTAWAY: I'm sorry, I got into an issue there. I'm sorry, Mary.

MATALIN: No, that's not -- you know, Doug, that's really not even funny on happy night, because there are 50 items -- this is not Bush talking points, this is non-partisan scoring. The tax plan is so vague it can't be scored. There are 50 promises in there that have no price tag. And even "The Washington Post" said in the 191 pages -- "The Washington Post," which is going to come and endorse you, right? -- they said in the 191 pages, not one spending cut, proving that Gore knows maybe how to expand government but not how to discipline it. Isn't the greatest threat...

HATTAWAY: The government...

MATALIN: Let me ask the question, and then you give the answer. The greatest threat to prosperity is not what you're saying about this tax cut, taxes can always be raised...

PRESS: That's not a question.

MATALIN: ... programs can never be cut. The greatest surge of prosperity, is it not, is the expansion of federal government the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Society?

HATTAWAY: Yes, let's get real.

When this administration came in after the Bush-Quayle-Cheney administration, they took the largest deficits in history, we now have the largest surpluses. The federal government is the smallest it's been in 30 years. They've cut the size of the work force and worked to make government more efficient.

Can it be more efficient? Of course it can. But what we're talking about here is how we use our prosperity now for the next four years. It's clear that George Bush is going squander it...


HATTAWAY: ... If you look at his plans, he's got a trillion dollar whole in his budget because of his Social Security privatization plan. He has not said yet...

PRESS: All right.

HATTAWAY: ... where he's going to come up with that.

PRESS: All right, Pat, let me come back to you, please, Pat.


I just read this morning in one of our national political publications this quote: "The campaign is going badly for George W. Bush." Do you agree with that?

HARRISON: No, and I'm so glad you brought this up. I'm not in Washington a lot. I'm in the states. We are seeing something that is so unprecedented. Under the radar screen -- we do these workshops, get out the vote, training programs -- no VIPs are there -- we've got standing room only, 500 in Michigan.

The intensity on the part of the people who want to support Bush -- and many of them have never been involved in a campaign before -- is palpable. It is just amazing.

PRESS: Well, that quote is actually from "The National Review." That's William F. Buckley Jr. saying that, and maybe this is why he's saying it, because let's talk about the states. In this latest poll that we used on IP this afternoon, let's look -- we all agree, I think, the rust belt states are the ones that are going to be really important. This is from Wayne State University, looking at four key states.

In Illinois, Gore up 15 points over Bush. In Pennsylvania, Gore up 18 points over Bush. In Michigan, Gore up -- what is that? -- eight points over Bush.

Now, I'll grant you in Ohio Bush is up two points. I mean, you're telling me this is good news? You're telling me this is where you want to be at this moment in the campaign? Your campaign is sinking right where you've got to do well.

HARRISON: Absolutely not, Bill, and here's the deal.

PRESS: Look at the numbers.

HARRISON: We knew from the beginning this was going tighten up. Right now, the Battleground poll,, nonpartisan, bipartisan poll, it shows Bush up six. Another poll shows Gore up six.

So what this says it's going to be one of the nose competitive races we've ever had in history, but what we do see is out there among the independent voters, when Governor Bush talks about the issues, when he points out, for example, that Al Gore has been standing in that schoolhouse door preventing kids getting a good education and now suddenly he's the education vice president...

PRESS: Well, then...

HARRISON: ... when we point out Al Gore's in the pocket of these Hollywood moguls who are just marketing disgusting stuff to our kids, once we see this and in the debates, he's going to be president.

HATTAWAY: I'd like to talk about that. I'd like to talk about that.

MATALIN: You can't. You can't. You know what, you'll have to come back, Doug. You've had plenty of time, but we appreciate you coming tonight from Nashville. Hope you'll you come back again. Hope (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out on the road. Pat Harrison, great job.

Bill and I will be back with our poll results and our closing comments right after this quick break. Stay with us.


PRESS: OK. You know, earlier we asked you to go online, tell us how interested you are in these Bush-Gore debates coming up. And while this is, remember, an unscientific survey, still we're going to tell you 43 percent of you said you were very interested, 32 percent said somewhat interested, and 25 percent said not interested at all.

Not interested at all. What's wrong with these guys?

MATALIN: Well, why are they watching us?


PRESS: Yes. Because we're...

MATALIN: We're more interesting than the presidential candidates.

PRESS: You know why? Because we're a better debater.

MATALIN: Because it's happy night.

PRESS: But Mary, I just want to tell you -- and in terms of happy night, you know, you are a friend even though I disagree with you on everything, so I'm not going to gloat tonight and I'm not going to say nya-nya-nya. I'm just going to say when you see yourself so far down in the polls, I know what it's like, Mary. I feel your pain.

MATALIN: Don't be crying for me, Argentina. I am happy. I'm genuinely happy.

PRESS: Oh, yes...

MATALIN: He who said all these polls don't matter for the 18 months that Bush is ahead. It's a three-point race. The gore people know it; the Bush people know it. There's a very different philosophy here. Gore wants the government to be your nanny, Bush wants it to be your ally.

We're going to take it to you on the issues...

PRESS: So you're -- yes, you're running the clock.

MATALIN: And you don't own it, buddy. You don't own them.

PRESS: You are right -- you -- I know. You're right where you want to be.

Next January, when Bush is in Austin, is he going to say, I'm right where I want to be?


MATALIN: Well...

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE and have a great weekend.

MATALIN: And think of us when you're coming to the Bush inaugural. From the right...


... I'm Mary Matalin. Have a wonderful weekend. Join us next week for more...

PRESS: Happy night, wow.




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