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Capital Gang

Ed Rendell Discusses the Presidential Race, Hillary Versus Rick Lazio and the Release of Wen Ho Lee

Aired September 16, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Edward Rendell, the general chairman of the Democratic Party.

It's great to have you back, Ed.


SHIELDS: George W. Bush fell 6 points behind Al Gore in the latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll after Governor Bush's message was obscured by this Republican TV ad.


NARRATOR: The Gore prescription plan: Bureaucrats decide.


SHIELDS: One frame left the word "rats." A subliminal message?


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES: I am convinced that is not intentional. But we don't need to play cute politics.

ALBERT A. GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find it a very disappointing development. I've never seen anything quite like it.


SHIELDS: Does this mean Governor George W. Bush is distracted?


BUSH: Let me say something about distractions. The echo chamber may be distracted, but I'm not distracted. And I can assure you the crowds of people with whom I spoke are not distracted.


SHIELDS: Bush accepted the Presidential Debate Commission's three debates that he had previously had refused. Has the bleeding in the Bush campaign finally stopped?

I turn to surgeon Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I think you have to wait a little bit and see, because we have -- he's getting very bad press. We have the press corps showing its true colors and just hammering him in the national press day after day. One "New York Times" there were six negative stories the same day on the national campaign.

And then you have Republicans showing their true colors, nervous Nellies wringing their hands, "oh, my goodness, all is lost," when the polls go down.

As a matter of fact, I covered him in Florida in the beginning of the week. I was in California to the end the week when he was there. He is campaigning on the basic Republican issues of tax cuts. I think if he begins to get his message out, he's got a shot.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, they have agreed on the debates. There will be Jim Lehrer, of PBS, will be the moderator. There will be a podium, then a table, then a town meeting of the three. But it looks, Al, like the Bush debate strategy was organized by either Firestone or Bridgestone.

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": It was a total capitulation. And Bob talking about the press beating up on George Bush, the first seminal piece of the trouble that George Bush was in was written by Robert D. Novak. So, Bob, I guess you're part of that pack.

Look, if you -- this race isn't over yet, but a couple more weeks and George W. will be toast. Hamilton Jordan, who ran Jimmy Carter's campaign in '76, said, this is the most inauspicious start since a candidate foolishly gave an interview to "Playboy" magazine to start the '76 campaign, his candidate.

SHIELDS: Lust in your heart.

HUNT: Right.

SHIELDS: And one thing, if you look at the Gore campaign, Mark, it was 30 days ago today he was nominated. It has been a continuum. It has been totally consistent. You may not like it, you may like it, but he preaches the same message to the base and to the independents. George W. is flailing all about. What is his message? What is the rationale? It seems to change almost daily. And unless he can get that act together, and if he puts out ads like that that are misleading to begin with, and then he can't handle a thing like what was a silly story about the so-called "rats" thing, then, you know, he's not going to get his act together.

SHIELDS: Ed Rendell, is it over?

RENDELL: No, it's not over by a longshot, Mark.

I agree with Bob. I think it can be turned around, but I think he's in the horns of a dilemma. No. 1, the negative attacks haven't worked. And they've also undercut what I thought was one of his great appeals, when he told the American people, I'm going to change the tone of politics in government. Well the rats ad is just the latest in vicious campaign speeches at the convention, horribly negative ads, and now the rats thing, which is the phenomenal. So he's on the horns of a dilemma.

Negative hasn't worked, so now they're sort of going back towards issues. But on the issues, the polls show the American people agree with us on every seminal issues. So they're on the horns of a dilemma.

Ironically, I think his best chance to turn it around are the debates, which he wanted to limit because he was afraid of debating Al Gore, as any of us would be. But he wanted to limit those debates. Now I think they're his best chance.

SHIELDS: I stand second to nobody in my respect for the former mayor of Philadelphia, but the rats thing is a little bit of a reach. I mean, subliminable, subliminal, I don't care what you call it, I mean this was -- wasn't it a little arcane, a little esoteric, Kate?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": It was a completely silly story that the Bush -- the Gore campaign aides are now chortling that they were able to get "The New York Times" to buy this old story, it having been reported two weeks before. But as Al said, it just contributed to what the Bush campaign has been fighting for the past 30 days. They've been wrongfooted. There's no doubt about it, and I'm hoping that Bob Novak has written the first story signalling the Bush comeback, because the troops are ready for it.

There was one poll this week that did have good news for the Bush campaign.

SHIELDS: What was that?

O'BEIRNE: Well, the Battleground poll of the most likely voters gives George Bush a 6 point lead. It does strike me that people who don't like Al Gore and are going to support George Bush feel more strongly about it than do people who now think that Al Gore might be OK.

NOVAK: While you were on vacation, Kate, I did write a column from Florida that said he was campaigning well.

I disagree with Al on a couple of points. I think that -- No. 1, I think that he has been his own personal campaigning. I think Governor Bush has been saying the same thing. He's been -- he has been calling for tax cuts. The only way you can ever sell tax cuts is call for it. You can't by intimidated by the Washington media saying nobody cares about tax cuts, because that's what the Democrats want. And secondly, as far as Al Gore being so consistent and attractive, he's been out of sight largely because all the attention has been on Bush. The one thing, we saw him he saying how piously the rats thing was the worst thing he ever heard. It was just -- he gets that...

RENDELL: He said it was disappointing, Bob. He didn't make a big deal out of it.

NOVAK: No, no, no, no, he said I have never seen anything like it in my life.

SHIELDS: But, you know, none of us have.

NOVAK: Al Gore could sink himself.

HUNT: Well, Bob, you may talk about talk about tax cuts all you want being a media phenomenon. I would challenge you -- you're a good reporter -- you go talk to any Republican who's in a tight race this year, talk to those Senate candidates, talk to House candidate and see what they say about George W.'s tax cuts. You know what they say? They say, it's too big. We don't want it.

RENDELL: They're running away from it everywhere, Bob.

HUNT: They are running away.

NOVAK: That's the left-wing line.

HUNT: No, it's just that's reporting, Bob.

NOVAK: Please, that's the left-wing line. I will tell you that the mail I get, not from ordinary readers but from Democratic -- from Republican politicians saying why doesn't he talk more about tax cuts...

HUNT: Which Republican in tight races wants tax cuts, Bob?

NOVAK: They want them.

RENDELL: All the Republicans out there in tough races are disavowing the tax cuts.

O'BEIRNE: George Bush can win on every one of these issues: tax cuts, Al Gore's prescription drug plan that will bankrupt Medicare and have the government prescribing drugs. He can win on all of these issues, but he's got to fight an issues race.

RENDELL: I would disagree.

NOVAK: He is fighting an issues race.

SHIELDS: I'll simply say this. On the U.N. -- CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, George Bush trails Al Gore on which one could better handle the economy by 15 points, 20 points on prescription drugs, 20 points on health care and 6 points on taxes, for goodness sakes. But I've got to come back to one thing. I disagree with you so wholeheartedly on Gore's -- I mean, whatever Gore is, Gore's had a schedule that has been remarkable in its stamina.

RENDELL: Brutal.

NOVAK: It may be brutal, but he's not -- he is not in the media...

RENDELL: But that's the media's fault.

NOVAK: He is not in the media spotlight right now.

RENDELL: That's the media's fault, not ours.

We're out there talking about positive issues, and the American people likes what Al Gore is saying and they like Al Gore. Al Gore on Letterman hit a home run, a home run.

NOVAK: Let me say something about tax cuts.

SHIELDS: Please.

NOVAK: Tax cuts to people like you is like a crucifix for a vampire. It really is. It's something that scares you because -- exactly -- that is something that the American people really want, and you're trying to fight and intimidate the Republicans.

O'BEIRNE: There was a story this week...

HUNT: Can you tell me, Bob, one Republican in a tight race who has embraced George W.'s tax cut?

NOVAK: Almost all...

O'BEIRNE: Speaking...

HUNT: Can you name just one?

NOVAK: Almost all of them are talking tax cuts.

RENDELL: Not his tax cut, Bob, not his tax cut.

HUNT: You're ignoring my question -- exactly.

NOVAK: Of course they're talking his tax cuts.

RENDELL: No, they're not talking his kind of tax cuts.

SHIELDS: This week, the Congress of the United States...

HUNT: Go out and report, Bob.

SHIELDS: ... the Republican Congress, took 90 percent of the surplus to put it into a lock box...

NOVAK: Do you know why?

O'BEIRNE: Their first choice was tax cuts. That's their second. They vetoed -- Bill Clinton vetoed their tax cuts.

NOVAK: They vetoed -- Clinton vetoes the tax cuts.

SHIELDS: Has anybody introduced George W. Bush's tax cut plan?

NOVAK: Oh, that's such a...

RENDELL: Nobody.

SHIELDS: Have they?

NOVAK: That's such a silly idea -- wait a minute.

O'BEIRNE: Has anybody introduced Al Gore's?

NOVAK: They divided up all the tax cuts into small bites, and he vetoes all of them.

O'BEIRNE: So their second choice is debt reduction.

NOVAK: Exactly.

O'BEIRNE: There was a related story this week, speaking of rats, on trial lawyers that was pure Al Gore, a story that indicated they were hitting up trial lawyers for money in exchange for a veto of a common-sense tort reform bill that Lieberman even supported. So much for being on the side of the people versus the powerful, Al Gore's speech.

HUNT: How about the money insurance companies gave the Republicans on the other side of that?

RENDELL: Forget all that. Forget all that. The most important issue is who's going to get rid of soft money? Kate complains about it. We're going to...

O'BEIRNE: Not Hillary Clinton. That's our next segment.

RENDELL: ... get rid of it, we're going to get rid of it, we're going to get rid of it. They aren't.

SHIELDS: Last word.

RENDELL: George Bush says he's for retaining the soft money system.

SHIELDS: His father wants to get rid of it, to his credit. Last word -- Mark Shields.

Ed Rendell and THE GANG will be back with focus on 2000: Hillary versus Rick.


Focus on 2000: New York Senate. Hillary Clinton and Rick Lazio debated.


REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Mrs. Clinton has had two opportunities, two opportunities, to make policy. On health care, it was an unmitigated disaster.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Listening to the congressman's response reminds me of a word I've heard a lot of this past year: chutzpah. 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.

LAZIO: Mrs. Clinton, you of all people shouldn't try to make guilt by association.

CLINTON: I think the people of New York want to know not who can write nasty fund-raising letters or clever commercials that, you know, Senator Moynihan says are fakery, but where we stand on the issues.

LAZIO: Let's just get this deal done right now, right here. Here it is. Let's sign it. It's the New York Freedom From Soft Money Pact. I signed it. I want your signature, because I think that everybody wants to see you signing something that you said you were for.


SHIELDS: Moderator Tim Russert asked whether Mrs. Clinton regretted denying her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky.


CLINTON: I didn't mislead anyone. I didn't know the truth, and there's a great deal of pain associated with that.


SHIELDS: Kate, did either candidate get a political boost out of this week's debate?

O'BEIRNE: I think Rick Lazio won the debate, and so I think he should get a political boost. We haven't seen yet. I thought it was terrific that a man in politics was willing to go after a female competitor like he was willing to. Plenty of guys won't do that. I, of course, spend time with the guys who are willing to do it. You are all rare men.

SHIELDS: Thank you so much, Kate. Now, shut up!


SHIELDS: Are you finished, Kate?

O'BEIRNE: No, I'm not finished, Ed.

RENDELL: Bob told me to interrupt.

O'BEIRNE: Don't take me that seriously about men going after. The small number of undecided in this race are going to decide it. They clearly have reservations about Hillary Clinton, about whom they know plenty. So what did they see the other evening? They saw her being her controlled, stiff self, who clearly was sort of offended that one of her subjects dared speak to her this way. And she couldn't even defend her record, you know, Miss Issues, on either health care or education. And I think Rick Lazio did what he had to do. He was completely conversant on the issues, he looked young and aggressive without looking kiddish. So I'm not surprised that in polls he's winning likability and he's winning trustworthiness, and now he's tied on stature.

SHIELDS: Does Kate make a good case here, Ed Rendell?

RENDELL: No, Kate couldn't be more wrong. I think Rick Lazio blew it. He blew it with the going over with the piece of paper, he blew it by a very harsh, aggressive attack. I think he could have done the same things -- and the polls on the debates have shown that, that people who watched the debate give Hillary Clinton the edge. And I think he went too far, and I think Hillary made a very good point on the issues.

Rick Lazio is trying to -- talk about Al Gore reinventing himself -- Rick Lazio is trying to reinvent himself and just wipe away all those Gingrich years, when he was for getting rid of the Department of Education and things like that.

If you stick to the issues, you've got a chance. But Rick Lazio's gone so negative that I think it's backfired.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, let me just tell you, Republicans and Democrats I talked to, Democrats felt that Mrs. Clinton showed no humor and little warmth. Republicans said exactly what Ed Rendell said about going into her face. They winced when he went over. It was just too aggressive.

NOVAK: I disagree. Ed is originally from New York, but he's been in Philadelphia so long he's forgotten it.

RENDELL: Put on the gloves.

NOVAK: Yes, you're from New York. I think New Yorkers like tough people. And all this stuff about the feminists and the feminist men -- there's such a thing as feminist men -- talking about going into her -- invading her space is a lot of garbage.

The argument that the Democrats in New York have been telling me is that he's callow. He's just a youth. He's a boy. He didn't look callow, and he didn't look like a boy in that debate.


NOVAK: I thought it was terrific.

RENDELL: (OFF-MIKE) thought it was terrific?

NOVAK: For an average person.

And I will say this, that she came over, I thought, as very wooden, not very appealing. And I think it's a close race, and he probably did himself some good.

SHIELDS: Al, two things. Bob Novak is above average, I think we can agree to that.

RENDELL: No question.

HUNT: Let's just say he's not average.

SHIELDS: Secondly, Al Gore has opened up a big lead in New York. Now, what effect, if any, will that have?

HUNT: Mark, I don't think coattails are going to matter much in this race. I really don't. You know, the polls do show that Hillary Clinton won the race, and focus groups -- or won the debate, rather...

NOVAK: Not all the polls.

HUNT: ... and the focus groups said the same thing.

I agree with Kate. I think Rick Lazio was appropriately aggressive, but he made two huge mistakes. When Tim Russert asked that very legitimate and very tough question about her complicity in her husband's lying to the American people, Rick Lazio came back. What he should have said was, you know, Mrs. Clinton, you and I profoundly disagree on issues, and I can't stand the ethical misconduct of this administration. But on this one, you were a victim like the rest of us. He would have soared if he had done that. But instead, you know what he was...

NOVAK: Oh, come on. That's horrible.

HUNT: Bob, Bob, Bob, I let you finish. How about you letting me finish?

NOVAK: I'm sorry. I didn't finish anyway.

HUNT: Instead he was a cheap, Long Island politician. That's what he was. He was just cheap.

And the second thing he did was, when it came to the upstate economy, he ceded the issue to her. Most people upstate think that economy has been left behind. He let her take that issue and he said, you're really doing just fine. They don't think that.

NOVAK: I've got to say one thing. Trying to wrap Newt Gingrich around his neck is -- I'm very disappointed in you, Ed, to do that, because that's talking points out of the Hillary campaign, and it's just silly.

RENDELL: Bob, Bob, Bob...

NOVAK: He was not a Hillary ally.

SHIELDS: You mean a Newt ally.

NOVAK: I mean he was not a Newt ally.

RENDELL: He was a Hillary ally, you're right.

NOVAK: He's a mugwump. He voted 50 percent either way.

SHIELDS: Deputy whip, wasn't he to Gingrich?

NOVAK: Oh, come on, you know more about it.

SHIELDS: What's a deputy whip?

HUNT: Polls show she won. I think the people know that.

O'BEIRNE: Mark, Tim Russert's question did not go to her victim status because she's been misled by her husband, it went to accusations she made that she ought to be accounrtable for. What if she had ever said, I'm sorry I did that. Thankfully for Rick Lazio and the Republican, she's incapable of doing that.

SHIELDS: I always thought the majority whip was a leather bar in the Bay Area. But I was wrong.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Wen Ho Lee set free.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee ended nine months of solitary confinement on espionage charges with a plea bargain. Judge James Parker scolded the prosecution.

Quote, "Government officials caused embarrassment not just for me but also have caused the nation embarrassment. I sincerely apologize for the unfair manner in which you were held," end quote.

The attorney general refused to apologize, but the president did.


JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think Dr. Lee had the opportunity from the beginning to resolve this matter, and he chose not to. And I think he must look to himself.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think that you can justify, in retrospect, keeping a person in jail without bail when you're prepared to make that kind of agreement? So I, too, am quite troubled by it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Al, who's right, the president or the attorney general?

HUNT: If the president means what he says, he ought to demand either immediate accountability or the resignation of Janet Reno, Louis Freeh, the FBI director and Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

Mark, as "The L.A.Times" said this week, what those three did is they kept this man in solitary confinement for nine months under shackles, denied him bail in order to pressure him to confess to a crime that he didn't commit. That is Constitutionally impermissible, and it is an absolute outrage.

I also think it's quite clearly this was a case of racial profiling. If his was name was Lee H. Winston, he never would have been, you know, picked on like this.

And, Mark, you may -- he illicitly downloaded classified material. So did John Deutsche, the former CIA director. He hasn't been put in shackles yet. This is a shameful episode. Clinton ought to act on what he said.

O'BEIRNE: I totally agree with Al on this one, except I -- well, except look what Bill Clinton's doing here. He acts as if the Justice Department is an independent fourth branch of government. They all work for him.

And, of course, it's the legacy of having an incompetent attorney general. This is not the first time she's in over her head because she was so detached. But look, why didn't Bill Clinton interfere sooner? Well, the explanation because he always felt uneasy about the fact that this man was being held in solitary for nine months. Well Joe Lockhart tells us, well, he didn't want the bad press, You would have been all over him. He didn't mind bad press when he was protecting his own disordered, predatory behavior, but he didn't want to risk bad press to protect the civil rights of this poor man.

SHIELDS: You've been an officer of the court, Ed Rendell -- your reaction?

RENDELL: As a district attorney, obviously the result is very strange. It doesn't in any way justify being held without bail, clearly. But I think -- I don't know if the president had all the facts. I think before I would totally commend this case, I'd want to know what the facts were. If Al's correct, and that was the sole reason he was being held in jail, that is inappropriate conduct. I just don't think we know all the facts.

NOVAK: Oh, Ed, the president was exactly right -- I don't often say that -- when he says...

SHIELDS: I'll say.

NOVAK: ... that if you have a plea bargain for one count out of 59, you shouldn't have had him in solitary confinement for nine months. It doesn't matter what the facts are.

Now I would say this...

RENDELL: But, Al, I can tell you...

NOVAK: ... I think that the president has got a confusion. I think he has already begun his new career as a commentator, because he's kind of acting, well, I don't have anything to do with that. It's not my responsibility. I'm not going to do anything in the future.

But I will say one thing. I've been saying at this table for a long time...

SHIELDS: You have not at this table.

NOVAK: The old table -- that Janet Reno is a disaster.

O'BEIRNE: Correct.

NOVAK: She was a poor appointment, she is a pathetic old woman. I feel sorry for her because she's ill, but she gets these terrible cases all the way from Waco to this and she says, well, we've acted on the basis of the law and the evidence. She never says anything, and she gets a soft press outs of it. She's a disgrace.

HUNT: And I disagree with you, but on this one you're right. An FBI agent named Robert Messner (ph) lied under oath. Why hasn't he been fired?

SHIELDS: Last word -- Al Hunt. Ed Rendell, thank you for being with us.

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


SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

Ronald Reagan was a popular two-term president who many Republicans and most conservatives continue to revere. The National Airport has been renamed for Mr. Reagan, and so, too, has an enormous new federal office building in Washington. Now, on direct contradiction of U.S. law which bars memorials to anyone American until at least 25 years after his or her death, Republicans on a House committee want to build a Republican memorial to join Abraham Lincoln and George Washington on the national Mall. Let's obey the law and wait the required 25 years, for goodness sakes.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The teachers in Buffalo, New York, are something else. Not only have they defied state law by going on strike but ignored a judge's back-to-order -- back-to-work order until temporarily complying yesterday. The only people who suffer are the children. But the Buffalo Teachers Federation doesn't care. Like other teachers unions, it is arrogant, entrenched power in the Democratic Party and intimidating the Republicans. They block school reforms, then hit the streets for contract demands. Clearly, decline in public schools has accompanied rising union power by teachers.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: It's wrong to profit from messages that poison our culture and teach our children that killing is cool. That was Senator Lieberman in the past, criticizing the music industry, This week, he joined the vice president for a $6 million fund raiser with their friends in the music industry, where his campaign directly profited from the sex and violence Hollywood peddles to our kids.


HUNT: Mark, Senators Mitch McConnell and Judd Gregg tried to sneak through a provision to let federal judges rake in honoraria from any manner of special interests. Incredibly, this had the blessing of Chief Justice Rehnquist. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott may have let the cat out of the bag by declaring that this could pave the way to lift the honoraria ban on senators, too. If judges or senators need more money, do it through the front door of pay increases, not the back door of legalized bribery.

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the game of the year in the Southeastern Conference, the Volunteers of Tennessee against the Florida Gators.



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