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Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields

George W. Bush Discusses the State of His Campaign

Aired September 16, 2000 - 5:30 p.m. ET

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak. Rowland Evans and I will question the Republican presidential candidate. He is Texas Governor George W. Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLAND EVANS, CO-HOST (voice-over): Fresh from a major retooling of his campaign, forced on him by falling poll numbers and Vice President Al Gore's month-long ascendancy, Governor Bush will concentrate now more on issues than Gore's character and fund-raising problems in the final weeks before the election.

The past month has proved highly distractive to Bush. After several weeks wasted by Bush's fruitless debate about the debates and charges of a subliminal Republican political ad.

AL GORE, VICE PRTESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've seen clips of it in pictures. I find it a very disappointing development. I've never seen anything quite like it, and I think it speaks for itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

EVANS: Governor Bush joins us from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Governor, let's go right to the nitty-gritty. Take a look at a poll here. The latest tracking poll of CNN and "U.S. News."

NOVAK: "USA Today."

EVANS: "USA Today" showing 48 percent for Mr. Gore, 42 percent for Governor Bush, and Ralph Nader and Buchanan are way, way behind.

But that is -- that's been the way it's gone the last several weeks, Governor. What has happened to your campaign, sir?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, let me say there's a couple of other national polls that show me in the lead. I think what this means is it's a close race. I never thought it would be anything but a close race. I'm running against a formidable opponent. He is the incumbent; I am the challenger. But I'm going to win because I'm right on the issues.

Now I had a good convention, he had a good convention, and we've got a tough race coming. And I look forward to the contest, I look forward to the debates, I look forward to continuing to draw differences between my vision of tax relief and his, my vision of education and his, and my vision of strengthening the military and his vision.

EVANS: Yes, sir, but there are so many I'd call them distractions that seems to be upsetting your campaign. You were slowed down this week by the allegation that we just had in the intro of subliminal political advertising by the Democratic National Committee. That was this -- Republican National Committee -- that was this week's distraction.

Who's fault was that, Governor?

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 speak are not distracted.

We just came in from New Mexico and California and the state of Washington where the crowds were huge and enthusiastic.

Rowland, let me tell you what I see. I see a group of people, Republicans and independents, conservative-minded people, that want to win. And all this business about ads and debates and stuff is just background noise for the American people.

The American people are going to make their decision on who can be the president and who has got the best ideas for their future.

My opponent trusts government, trusts bureaucrats, trusts, you know, decision-makers and planners in Washington, and my plans show that I trust the people of America to make the right decisions for their families and their health care needs.

NOVAK: Governor, as I travel around the country, there are many conservative Republicans -- many Republicans who want you to win very badly and they're very concerned about what they think is your campaign's problems. And they have criticisms and questions, and I'd like to pass on a couple of them to you.

One of them is: So many people ask me, "Why doesn't Governor Bush talk more about tax reduction? Has he abandoned that issue because he's reading the polls?"

BUSH: Well, let me -- see, that's the problem with -- sometimes with the news filter. I talk about tax relief every single speech I give. I do so -- and I've got a consistent message, and it's not only are we going to cut the top rate from 39.6 to 33 percent to encourage entrepreneurial growth, we're going to drop the bottom rate from 15 to 10, increase the child credit to make it easier for people to access the middle class.

BUSH: I love the tax relief debate. My opponents plan excludes 50 million Americans. My plan says that everybody who pays income taxes is going to get relief.

Every stop, every stop, Bob, I have somebody, some real American and his family, or her family, that's going to get substantial tax relief to show that real people get real gains. If you're a family of four making $50,000 a year, you get a 50 percent cut in your income taxes.

Secondly, every speech, I talk about eliminating the death tax and doing something on the marriage penalty.

NOVAK: Governor, another question that I am asked is that why does -- is the governor tired? Al Gore seems to campaign from dawn to dusk, as they see it on the television, while they hear from the television reporters that Governor Bush has but one big event a day.

BUSH: Well, that...

NOVAK: How do you respond that?

BUSH: Well, that's just -- I would call that pure malarkey. You campaigned with me. If the press is saying I've got one event a day then their not the ones traveling with me. Yesterday I started off early in California, ended up late in New Mexico.

I absolutely want to win. I'm going to win. I've got a -- I've got a strong schedule to get my message out in front of people.

And, you know, my supporters have got to know something: They're working hard and I'm working hard right along with them.

EVANS: Governor, I want you to take a look at this ad by the Democratic National Committee. I'll just give you one word on it. "Texas ranks 49th out of 50 in providing health coverage to children."

Now, Joe Lieberman, the vice presidential candidate of the Democratic Party has been in and out of your state just knocking the -- knocking the stuffings out of you on this kind of -- on this kind of statistic. What do you -- what do you say to Joe Lieberman? What do you say to the people of Texas on that kind of a ranking?

BUSH: Well, listen, first of all, the people of Texas know full well that we've got an aggressive program to sign up uninsured children to health care -- we're going to sign up over 400,000 children -- that we spend over $4 billion a year for the uninsured, that we're aggressively helping people who need help.

Let me just say -- and they've attacked the education record, which, by the way, is one of the best in the country. They've attacked every single aspect of Texas society. But the proof is in the results.

I'm the first governor ever elected to back-to-back four year terms. I did so with a huge majority. And a lot of Democrats support me.

There's a lot of Democrats in Texas who are supporting me in the presidential race because they know that not only have we had a good record as governor, but I've brought people, both Republicans and Democrats, together. I look forward to debating -- the debate on the uninsured with Vice President Gore. There's 44 -- well, let me finish for a second -- there's 44 million folks uninsured in America, eight million more since these folks came into office.

No, let's talk about the record of uninsured relative to the -- what we've done in the state of Texas.

EVANS: All right, Governor, I get your point.

Let me ask you one more question on the -- do you think that the health issue is the number one Democratic issue in this campaign? Is that clear to you or are you uncertain?

BUSH: I tell you what the No. 1 issue is, I think -- at least what I hear from most people -- is education. And I'm glad it is education because our public schools in Texas have done a really good job of setting high standards with strong accountability systems. Our record in educating minority students, for example, is one of the best in the country.

Health care's very important, particularly important amongst those poor and middle-income seniors who have got no prescription drugs. They've been waiting ever since the Gore and Clinton folks have gotten up to Washington, D.C., for the promises that they were told in 1992.

These folks have not delivered on the promises. I will. I laid out a very aggressive plan to make sure that poor seniors had their drugs paid for. That is an important issue because we can't allow our seniors to go without in our society today.

NOVAK: Governor, there's no question that everybody says that Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, has been a surprisingly successful choice. He campaigns it seems like almost every day with Al Gore, while your choice, Dick Cheney, has been under criticism. He campaigns -- he disappears from sight sometimes. Do you think perhaps you've made a mistake in that choice?

BUSH: No, listen, I made a great choice. Dick Cheney is a fabulous candidate. He's going to be a wonderful vice president.

You know, this business about Dick Cheney disappearing sometimes is just simply not true. Our strategy is to focus on key electoral states, and so while I was on the West Coast, he was in the East. And when I'm heading to the Midwest, he's going to the West Coast. Dick Cheney is -- and he's drawing good crowds and people are enthused about my selection.

But I want to remind both of you all -- and you know this better than anybody -- it's the presidential nominee who's going to up end being the president. The vice presidential selection speaks how I'm going to be the president. And people should say, "Well, gosh, this man takes it very seriously and he's picked a really good partner."

BUSH: But ultimately it's going to me or Al Gore who gets sworn in as president, and the difference of opinion between me and Vice President Gore is night and day. And it can be summarized by Vice President Gore trusts Washington, the planners, the thinkers, and I trust people to make decisions for their lives. And I hope people listen to the policies that are reflected in this philosophy.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break, and when we come back, we'll ask the governor of Texas whether Al Gore's character is no longer an issue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

EVANS: Governor, on the character issue, which was so important up until the last two or three weeks, now your campaign seems to be off the character issue and letting Al Gore go free on that question about money-raising, about Buddhist temples, et cetera; is that correct?

BUSH: No, it's not correct. What matters are issues and philosophy.

But let me tell you what I see a lot. People walk up to me with pictures of their children, Rowland, when I'm working those rope lines after a speech and at the rally, they say, "Don't let me down. I want you to look at the picture of my son or daughter and I'm counting on you not to let me down."

This is an issue -- character is an issue in this campaign. It is an issue because people want somebody to bring some honor and dignity to the White House. People want an administration that can unite this country, not one that points fingers and politicizes every issue so that something doesn't get done.

EVANS: Well, let me just follow that up with this, Governor. Would you say that Al Gore has now completely and successfully separated himself from Bill Clinton?

BUSH: No, I don't, I don't say that at all. I think that Al Gore was a loyal vice president to President Clinton. I think a lot of people -- when I say, for example, we can't have four more years of the Clinton-Gore attitude, they know exactly what I'm talking about.

This election's going to be won based upon ideas and philosophy, but it's also going to be won based upon who the people of this country will trust to hold the highest office of the land.

And the vice president's a good family man, no question about that, but he has been a part of an administration that violated financing laws. He did go to the Buddhist temple. He made phone calls from the White House and then uttered the famous phrase "no controlling legal authority."

But I am not going to -- you know, I don't spend a lot of time attacking people. I spend time talking about what I am going to do, and every speech I end by saying, "If given the chance to be the president, I'll bring honor and dignity to the White House." And a lot of folks want to hear that pledge. It's unfortunate I have to make it, but it's a pledge I make and a pledge I will keep.

NOVAK: Governor, we had as our guest on this program two weeks ago an eminent Republican who I think you have a high opinion of, Congressman John Kasich of Ohio, chairman of the House Budget Committee. We asked him how he was going to try -- how he would avoid a train wreck, a possible government closing in the end of this session of Congress. And this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REPRESENTATIVE JOHN KASICH (R-OH): So I would call on Trent Lott and Denny Hastert to have a summit with George Bush and let's get it on. With George Bush involved, we'll be able to get our message out and we'll be able to stop Bill Clinton from getting what he wants, along with Al Gore, the big government types.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Sir, are you ready to take a plane down to Washington and preside over that summit and prevent a train wreck?

BUSH: Well, I appreciate John, he's a good man, he's a good friend of mine. I think Trent and Denny can work it out on what to do here at the end of the legislative session.

If I were president, of course I would sit down with Trent Lott and Speaker Hastert and come up with a fiscally sound plan that would meet priorities. That's exactly what I'm talking about in the campaign, Robert.

BUSH: I am saying, here are my priorities, rebuilding the...

NOVAK: But you don't want -- you don't want to do it as a candidate?

BUSH: No, I don't think -- I don't think in the middle of a campaign that I will come down to Washington, D.C., and get involved in negotiations. The negotiations ought to be between the White House and the current leadership in the House and the Senate.

I appreciate John's confidence in me.

But one of the things that we do in elections is we set priorities. My priority will be to save half the surplus for Social Security and debt repayment, some of the surplus for rebuilding the military and education and Medicare.

But this tax issue -- tax reform and tax relief is an important priority, and by sending money back to the people, it not only serves to stimulate growth, it not only make the code more fair, it'll also bring some fiscal discipline to Washington, D.C.

NOVAK: But does it bother you, sir, that the Republicans in Congress for this session, for the balance of this session, seem to have abandoned tax reduction in favor of debt reduction? BUSH: Well, no, I hear what they're saying. They understand full well that the president -- you've got a president who's absolutely resisting every single tax reduction plan they pass.

Remember that the president vetoed the elimination of the death tax with Al Gore's consent, he vetoed the elimination of the marriage penalty, with Al Gore's consent.

No, the Republican leadership has done their job in Washington, D.C., passing major pieces of tax reform legislation. The president is simply not going to accept it.

As I understand, their strategy now is, for a one-year period of time, they're going to focus on debt relief to keep the baselines of the budget from exploding.

EVANS: Governor, your campaign, for about two to three weeks, kept the issue over the debate over the debates on page one of most newspapers and on the evening television news. It was the big issue.

Then suddenly, there was a total capitulation. You bought the standard five debates, three and two, and you gave in on every point. And you did not, as far as I'm concerned, make Al Gore out to be a villain. Do you regret that now?

BUSH: Well, wait a minute -- well, first of all -- first of all, the debate on the debates was because I took the man for his word. He got on the Tim Russert show and said if Bush'll show up, I'll debate him. So I said, fine, I'll show up. And he -- and he changed his mind.

Look, I want to debate the man. Now, I understand he's a great debater, but I've got something to say, Rowland. I've got something I want to talk about.

EVANS: I...

BUSH: Wait a minute, forget capitulation and the debate on the debates. What matters is getting on national TV and debating. And I don't know what the spin is coming out of Washington, D.C., but I told our negotiators, let's just get this over with and get the debates on. I look forward to him.

EVANS: All right. Just one more. Do you think you're getting a fair shake from the media?

BUSH: I need to ask you two veterans, observers.

EVANS: No, no, you're the one who reads...

BUSH: If you think I'm foolish enough to criticize the national press corps with 56 days to go, you don't understand me.

Listen, I don't complain about my press. I do the best I can do. And you know what, I've got great faith in the American people. I think when it's all said and done they're going to support me because I stand by their side. And my issues and what I'm proposing are going to help American families and Americans from all walks of life.

NOVAK: Governor, I'd like you to hear something that your opponent in the presidency has said and said many times.

Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: Let me make it clear. I will not go along with any plan to take the entire surplus and squander it on a big tax cut for the very wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: You use the entire surplus for tax reduction. Is that true?

BUSH: Well, the man has been -- the man has been known to use political hyperbole.

BUSH: Of course I don't use the entire surplus for tax relief. I use about the quarter of the surplus. There's $4.5 trillion available over 10 years. We spend $1.3 trillion. That's typical Washington, D.C. politics, trying to scare people into the voting booth.

Not only that, my plan benefits people from all walks of life. It removes 7 million people from the tax rolls. It says if you're a family of four making $50,000 a year, you get a 50 percent cut.

And I want the people to remember two things about my opponent: One, in '92 they promised the so-called "targeted tax cuts" for the middle class. The middle class got a tax raise the year after. In the year 2000 they've got the same mantra because they cannot deliver.

Secondly, 50 million Americans get no tax relief. They pick winners and losers out of Washington, D.C. That is not my vision of tax relief.

NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll have the "Big Question" for George W. Bush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: The "Big Question" for George W. Bush.

Governor, the Americans who go to the polls on November 7th and vote for you, will they have a fair expectation that if you win, Colin Powell will be your secretary of State?

BUSH: Well, that is a big question. Let me just put it to you this way, Robert. One, I respect the man a lot. Secondly, he stood by my side in Dayton, Ohio, and said as plainly as he could, George W. Bush needs to be the next president of the United States. That's a very good start for a, you know, a potential partnership.

I would hope I can convince Colin to think seriously about joining an administration. He's a man of enormous prestige. He carries a lot of clout around the world. I trust his judgment and consider him to be a friend.

EVANS: Governor, that sounds like a yes to me.

BUSH: Well, you know -- as you know, Rowland, we're not going to be passing out jobs in the middle of a presidential campaign, but Colin Powell is one of the best of the best.

EVANS: We've come to the end, Governor, I'm sorry to say. I applaud your willingness to go on the show with us. We had a great time.

And my partner and I will be back in a moment with a -- with a message.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

EVANS: Bob, the governor is on message. Taxes, that's the new message, and he's going to say there. He is going to press on the tax issue. And I'd say it's about time.

NOVAK: Rowlie, I was not a bit surprised when Governor Bush says he wasn't going to take his charter jet and come down to Washington and run a budget summit down there. It would be the worst thing, I think, he could do.

But I was really impressed how disconnected he is from the congressional majority in Congress who are not even doing tax cuts. He says, no use with Clinton ready to veto them anyway.

EVANS: He was good on prescription drugs, though, Bob, the fact that they're having all these problems on seniors getting drugs. But he said, what did the administration, Clinton and Gore, do in eight years with this issue. Not a single thing.

NOVAK: Well, a lot of the nervous Nellies in the Republican Party who I talk to say that the governor is tired, he's off message, he's dispirited -- didn't look tired to me, didn't look dispirited. When I was with him in Florida this week, he didn't look that way either.

There's a -- Republicans tend to get nervous when the polls get close, don't they?

I'm Robert Novak.

EVANS: I'm Roland Evans.

NOVAK: Coming up on one half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES," three financial journalists discuss the media's effect on the stock market and turn the tables on host Howard Kurtz.

And at 7 p.m. on "CAPITAL GANG," the state of the Bush campaign and the end of the debate on presidential debates with Democratic Party Chairman Ed Rendell. EVANS: And that's all for now. Thanks for watching.

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