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Crossfire

Will Bush's New Emphasis on Issues Put Him Back On Top?

Aired September 18, 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's Bush's blueprint for the middle class: Is it the right plan to take him to the White House?

And another Gore exaggeration? Will it put the vice president in the doghouse?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE, Paul Begala, former adviser to President Clinton; and Haley Barbour, former Republican National Committee chairman and a Bush adviser.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

With 50 days to go before D-day and trying to recapture the lead from Al Gore, George Bush changed gears today, went from stressing character to talking about issues, launching what he called a "blueprint for the middle class" in Little Rock, day one of a week his campaign says is going to focus on issues from the cradle to the grave.

But it wasn't all policy talk. The Bush campaign also accused Al Gore today of mangling the facts when he claimed his mother-in-law paid three times as much for the same arthritis medicine that he used on his dog. Doggone wrong, says the Gore campaign.

Gore kicked off his week by pushing the patient's bill of right. As we speak, he is picking up the endorsement of the Teamsters union -- there you see the live video from Las Vegas, Nevada. And Gore is also enjoying his showing in our latest CNN tracking poll, 48 for Gore to 43 percent for Bush.

And so tonight, will Bush's new emphasis on the issues put him back on top, or are the issues already owned by Al Gore?

Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Paul Begala, Governor Bush may no longer be stressing the character issue, but you are still stressing character attacks, along with your compadre James Carville, and...

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Oh? Oh, contraire, it's all issues.

NOVAK: No, no, I'll -- you know, I'll say something. You usually -- I've known you for a while -- usually call something by its right name. You were quoted as saying that this book, "Is Our Children Learning?" is not a hatchet job. This is one protracted hatchet job. Please admit that.

BEGALA: No, no, well first of all, it's called "The Case Against George W. Bush." It's the case against him.

NOVAK: It's a hatchet job.

BEGALA: No, no. First off, it does not go into a lot of things, frankly, that the media went into against Bush that I thought were unfair. And I defended him publicly when people raise these kinds of rumors. This is about issues. It's about whether he did a good job as governor, which he didn't; whether he was a failure as a businessman, which he was; whether he'd be a disaster as a president, which he will be.

NOVAK: Oh, you're not giving...

BEGALA: Those are issues.

NOVAK: You're not giving the proper flavor for this little book, which I read in one -- I wouldn't say one sitting, I was lying down.

BEGALA: Riveting, it's a real page-turner.

NOVAK: Yes. Just -- just...

BEGALA: He's a nice man, he's a good man...

NOVAK: ... let me give the flavor of this, can I? Just a little quote, "Even by my standards, George W. Bush is nuts. No, he's worse than nuts. He's a suck-up, a toady, a butler, a servant, a lackey, a butt-boy for the NRA."

Now, you know, not too many days ago, you and I were in Carlsbad, California. You said, gee, wouldn't it be nice if we talked about issues and didn't go into personal attacks?

BEGALA: I think being a lackey...

NOVAK: Physician, heal thyself.

BEGALA: Let me tell you what he did. This is what prompted that. It made me angry. I'm from Texas. I don't own a gun, I own three guns, OK? I believe in the right to keep and bear arms. I hunt every year. But Bush did something I do think is nuts. At the behest of the NRA, he signed a law that said you can carry a gun in church, in an amusement park and in a nursing home, a specific bill about those places. I think that's nuts.

NOVAK: What about that language...

BEGALA: I think that's nuts.

NOVAK: What about that language you use? I mean...

BEGALA: It should be tougher. There should be a stronger word for lackey or nuts for a guy who said you could carry...

NOVAK: Butt-boy? Suck-up?

BEGALA: Carrying guns in church, Bob? Even you, are you for carrying guns in church?

HALEY BARBOUR, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Let's talk about what the truth is here. You're right. You know, Paul and President Clinton and Vice President Gore decry the politics of personal destruction, and this is a book that's full of snotty personal insults. That's not the worst. But, look, I'm going to tell you what. Keep it up. It reminds -- it may make the left happy, but it reminds the average American of what they hate about Washington.

BEGALA: Did he or did he not sign an NRA bill that said carry guns in church?

BARBOUR: I'll tell you exactly what he did. Texas, like 37 other states...

BEGALA: In 1997...

BARBOUR: No, let me just tell you -- let me tell you exactly what he did. Texas, like 37 other states, passed a law that you could have a concealed weapon with a license to carry. It said you could not carry -- you could -- this didn't apply to any church property. A bunch of ministers who live on church property...

BEGALA: And nursing homes?

BARBOUR: Ministers who live on church property...

BEGALA: Nursing home and football games?

BARBOUR: ... came to the legislature.

BEGALA: Oh, sure.

BARBOUR: They came to the legislature and said, look, this means that...

BEGALA: Not the NRA?

BARBOUR: ... we cannot keep arms in our homes. And there are a lot of ministers...

BEGALA: You know what?

NOVAK: One last -- Paul, one last...

BARBOUR: ... in your state of Texas who think that it's bologna to say that I can't have a gun to protect my family in my home because I live in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on church property..

BEGALA: This is what we say in Texas: Don't pee on my boots and tell me it's raining. That was an NRA suck-up bill to put guns in churches and amusement parks and nursing homes. It's crazy.

NOVAK: All right, you've made that point. Paul, one thing, just one last thing on the book. I could -- we could spend a whole evening on...

BEGALA: I would love to spend all evening on it.

NOVAK: I know you would, but I won't.

PRESS: (OFF-MIKE)

NOVAK: But you -- you say that Governor Bush is really from Connecticut. He was born and he was...

BEGALA: Actually, I don't mention that.

NOVAK: Oh, do, do, do, do. Did you write the book?

BEGALA: Of course I did. Maybe I mentioned it in passing, but...

NOVAK: You did, you did say it.

BARBOUR: He didn't mention it meanly, so it doesn't really count.

NOVAK: You -- you did say. You said -- you said he is really -- it says -- he is really from Connecticut. Now his grandfather was from Connecticut, and -- where the hell is it?

BEGALA: We can check that after, because I don't remember saying that.

PRESS: All right, let's not...

NOVAK: But just a minute. But he -- But his grandfather was from Connecticut. And since your grandfather was from, I believe, Czechoslovakia, can we say that Paul Begala is really from Czechoslovakia?

BEGALA: I'm actually from New Jersey...

NOVAK: Hungary, Hungary...

BEGALA: My grandmother emigrated to this country from Hungary...

NOVAK: Yes...

BEGALA: ... and she is...

NOVAK: Well, should we say you...

BEGALA: She is living the American dream...

NOVAK: Should we say you...

BEGALA: ... and her grandson is adviser to a president. That's the American dream.

NOVAK: But, but...

BEGALA: Bush's grandfather was a senator.

NOVAK: Just a minute...

It's about as accurate to say, isn't it, that you're really from Hungary, as it is to say George W. Bush is really from Connecticut?

BEGALA: I have no problem with Bush being from Connecticut. I have a problem with Bush being...

NOVAK: Here it is. He's really from Connecticut, right there.

PRESS: All right, all right, let's...

BEGALA: It also said we Texans generally like people moving to our state, we do.

PRESS: Haley, by the way, I have to say, I think the reason -- the only reason that some of the polls show that the race is tied right now is because not all Americans have yet read Paul Begala's book. Once that happens...

BARBOUR: You know, Bill...

PRESS: ... it'll be all over.

BARBOUR: I really hope all Americans do read it...

PRESS: So do I.

BARBOUR: ... It does remind them what they hate about Washington.

PRESS: I want to ask you about George Bush reinventing himself today, Haley, and I want to go to not one of these liberal papers, I want to go to the House organ. This is the "The Washington Times," which you know every day puts, they -- whatever the Bush campaign says, they print it. I mean they've got the direct line from Austin to New York Avenue out here.

First of all, here's a headline: "Bush Determined to Bounce Back from a Rough Streak." I just want to -- then I want to you the first sentence.

"Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush today will begin focusing on issues to convince voters that he has a coherent vision for his presidency." Now, Haley, there are 50 days left. He's going to begin talking about issues? That's embarrassing. It sounds like a guy who doesn't know what the hell he's doing.

BARBOUR: You know, Bill, you say that like you actually believe it. But you know, I bought a little book myself. This is a book called "Renewing America's Purpose." The first edition was published in 1999, last year. It's a book about Bush's policy proposals that he's made since this campaign started. It had to be re-published in a second edition in July of this year.

Now the fact is, for the last few weeks it's been bad for Bush's campaign that all the news coverage has been on process. It's been about debates, it's been about advertising, it's been about polls. But the fact of the matter is, from day one Bush has put forward substantive proposals. And what this campaign will be decided on -- I think Paul may even agree with me on this -- people are going to see: Bush has a plan for Medicare, Gore has a plan Medicare; Bush has a plan for Social Security, Gore has a plan for Social Security.

And they're going to choose, whether it's education, taxes, spending, national security. Here's Bush's plan, here's Gore's plan. And as long as the news coverage doesn't talk about what Bush is for versus what Gore's for, it's bad for Bush. But when the news coverage is about what each of them is for, it's great for Bush.

PRESS: Well, Haley, I want to point out that it's not -- I'm not the one who's saying that he's starting to talk about issues. The Bush campaign is putting that out. They put it out all over the weekend. They said we've got a new focus. This is going to be, quote, "cradle to the grave." Quote: "This is a blueprint for the middle-class." They're the ones admitting that they're taking this new tack.

And I just want to quote you another Republican, who's not quite as convinced that George Bush has explained himself as well as you are. Here's Senator Arlen Specter quoted in this issue of "George" magazine. Quote, Arlen Spector, Republican, quote: "I've read all the stuff about him, but I don't know who he is. He's a man who was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth. He didn't have to make phi beta kappa to succeed the way I did."

So, Haley, No, 1, they don't know who he is. No. 2, when he talks about middle-class families, he doesn't know what he's talking about, does he?

BARBOUR: Oh, Bill, you know, you say that like you actually believe it.

PRESS: No, I'm quoting your guy.

BARBOUR: Give me a break. You know, I've been on your show last year when the big rap you had was, here's what's wrong with Bush's Social Security plan, here's what's wrong with Bush's Medicare plan, here's what's wrong with Bush's tax plan. The fact...

PRESS: Why didn't he talk about it?

BARBOUR: He talks about it all time, but then you would rather talk about TV spots and the horse race. And that's fine, Bill. But look, I'll tell you what this election's going to be about. It's going to be about whose Medicare plan does more for senior citizens.

PRESS: Oh, we'll take that debate.

BARBOUR: Let's take it tonight.

NOVAK: Paul Begala, we had -- Rowland Evans and I had Mr. -- Governor Bush on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS"...

BEGALA: I saw it, "EVANS & NOVAK" this week.

NOVAK: ... and we played a little sound bite by Al Gore, and we asked him to respond.

Let's look at the sound bite and his response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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)

BUSH: Of course I don't use the entire surplus for tax relief. I use about a quarter of the surplus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: OK, divvy it up.

NOVAK: Well, that's true. I don't think it's funny. I don't know why you're laughing.

BARBOUR: It's mathematically accurate.

NOVAK: It's accurate, but why would...

BEGALA: (OFF-MIKE)

NOVAK: Why does he say something that is totally untrue. Even Bill will admit that he doesn't take the entire surplus for a tax cut. And the tax cut, of course, is for everybody, not just the rich people like you, Paul, but it's for every -- all kinds of people. But why does Vice President Gore tell untruths like that?

BEGALA: I hate to break your heart, but what Vice President Gore says is absolutely true, what George Bush says is absolutely false, and let me explain. The Congressional Budget Office, run by Republicans, says that the non-Social Security, non-Medicare surplus, the real surplus that comes from the federal income tax, is for the next 10 years $1.8 trillion. The Bush tax cut is $1.9 trillion.

NOVAK: No, but that is not true.

BEGALA: That's absolutely true. The Congressional Budget Office...

NOVAK: That's wrong. Those numbers are absolutely wrong.

BEGALA: The Congressional Budget Office says that's the non- Social Security, non-Medicare surplus, the available surplus...

NOVAK: The surplus is much...

BEGALA: ... and we know the size of Bush's tax cut, so Gore actually understated it. He doesn't squander the whole surplus, he squanders more than the whole surplus...

NOVAK: It's more...

BEGALA: ... And almost half of the Bush tax cut goes to the top 1 percent of the people in this country, people like Bob Novak.

NOVAK: That's just -- that's just absolutely untrue.

BEGALA: That's from the Congressional Budget Office, Bob.

BARBOUR: It is not.

NOVAK: Do you know...

BEGALA: Yes, it is.

BARBOUR: Look, let's get the record straight. The Congressional Budget Office doesn't say that. They say the non-Social Security on- budget surplus is about $2.2-plus trillion...

BEGALA: Non-Social Security and non-Medicare, which has another dedicated source of revenue.

BARBOUR: ... and $2.2-plus trillion, and that the Bush tax cut is $1.3 trillion.

NOVAK: Absolutely.

BARBOUR: Now those are the accurate numbers.

BEGALA: The tax cut is $1.3, but that doesn't count the interest costs that he loses by cutting taxes so much.

NOVAK: Paul, that's ridiculous.

BEGALA: It's $1.9 trillion in tax cut, $1.8 trillion surplus. Gore is right.

NOVAK: We have to take a break. The debate continues online, God help us, with Paul Begala and Haley Barbour at CNN.com/CROSSFIRE right after the show. But we're going to take a break.

And when we come back, we're going to talk about Hollywood versus -- or the politicians versus Hollywood.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

So it's back to issues for the campaign, real issues, like how Hollywood is ruining America. But don't both presidential candidates seem to agree on this issue? Well, maybe not. We'll ask two political insiders, Paul Begala, a former Clinton campaign and White House aide and author of a new campaign book, "Is Our Children Learning?: The Case Against George W. Bush; and Haley Barbour, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and now a campaign adviser to Governor Bush -- Bill.

PRESS: Haley Barbour, I know Republicans are making a big deal about Al Gore's connections with Hollywood, but it turns out Gore is not the only one to have a Hollywood problem. The Associated Press reported on Friday that for 10 years Governor Bush was director -- sat on the board of directors of an outfit called the Silver Screen Management. During that time, they made 20 -- over two dozen R-rated films, including a great film called "The Hitcher," described as a massacre every 15 minutes, gizzard-slitting depravity, where a hitchhiker rips a woman's body in two. This is George Bush's film company, Haley. Is this what we call family values in Texas?

BARBOUR: Well, it's true.

PRESS: Maybe we should ask Paul, but...

BARBOUR: I'm sure Paul would like to take a whack at it, but there's no question about this, that Washington decries Hollywood violence and bad lyrics and everything every four years.

I can remember when Mrs. Gore did it before 1998, and here we have it again right before election time. You've got Vice President Gore out saying how terrible what Hollywood is doing and we've really got to do something about it, and then we don't hear about it for four more years.

And you know what? I suspect if Albert Gore is elected president, we won't hear about it for four more years again. It's just like one of the guys who's the CEO of one of the entertainment companies that's been so criticized, you know, hosted a fund raiser for Gore this week in New York.

PRESS: Haley, I could swear you never came close to answering my question, which is about...

BARBOUR: You're asking me a...

PRESS: ... George Bush...

BARBOUR: You're asking me a question, Bill, I don't know a single thing about.

PRESS: But I'm telling you the facts, that George Bush -- here's George Bush -- if I may just finish, please -- as a merchant of depravity, and he's one of the guys who complains about it. He's on the board of directors. Isn't he at least partly responsible for the trash his film company was putting out? And isn't he the hypocrite for decrying violence in Hollywood when he's putting it on the screen?

BARBOUR: You know, Bill, I have been on your show enough not to take your version of the facts at face value, so I will -- but I will tell you this...

PRESS: You can't apologize for your guy.

BARBOUR: ... there's no question in my mind that Hollywood gets criticized before the election, and then nobody peeps, and particularly the sitting administration, this Democratic administration, which has raised tens and tens of millions of dollars between elections, but then criticizes then in September before the election.

NOVAK: Bill, just to make sure...

PRESS: Check the facts on that, Haley.

NOVAK: Just to make sure the viewers don't get the wrong idea, that was not pornographic films that we're talking about.

PRESS: I didn't say pornographic.

NOVAK: No, I know you didn't, but I just wanted to make sure they didn't get the wrong idea.

PRESS: I never indicated that they were pornographic, Bob. I know the difference.

BARBOUR: I was just going to say, I know this is what you would like to talk about, and you think it's bad that Bush wants to talk about the issues that are facing the country, where there are great differences, as Paul and I know, between...

PRESS: I want to talk about hypocrisy, Haley, wherever it rears its ugly head.

NOVAK: I want to talk at least a little bit myself. Now...

PRESS: Be my guest.

NOVAK: Now, I want to ask one more Hollywood question, if you'll pardon me, and that was something that was said by somebody who really has been very, very consistent on this issue. And, in fact, she is a person who could be on a national ticket herself, and that is the wife of the Republican vice presidential candidate.

Let's take a look at what she said yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNNE CHENEY, WIFE OF RICHARD B. CHENEY: It's quite amazing to me that they would go to such an event, a real X-rated event, on the very day that they are condemning people for marketing X-rated materials to our kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Bill talked about hypocrisy with Gore going to an X-rated event, to X-rated filmmakers and at the same time he's decrying it. Isn't that hypocritical?

BEGALA: First, Bob, Dr. Cheney is a formidable person, but it's foolish for her to say it was an X-rated event. My goodness, it was singers like Sheryl Crow. It was a very mainstream event, It was nothing X-rated about it.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: No, that's unfair and it's untrue for Dr. Cheney to say that. Now, let me talk about this, though. The Republicans seem to believe that if the Democratic Party is supported by the creative community in Hollywood -- and we are -- and then we have principled disagreements with them, that that's hypocrisy. It is not. It's called courage. It's called political courage.

And I wonder if Chairman Barbour, former chairman of the Republican Party, can tell me if there's a time in George W. Bush's life he has ever stood up to one of his corporate contributors? Is there?

BARBOUR: Well, of course, and it's been in the newspapers over and over again.

BEGALA: When? He's not -- he...

BARBOUR: I remember when the -- when the Texas legislature was considering legislation to allow localities to more strictly regulate tobacco than the state, George Bush says: I think the legislature is right. I think we ought to let the cities, if they want to, to have more strict regulation of tobacco. And that became law with George Bush's support.

NOVAK: We only have -- we only have a minute left. And I don't want to let the sleeping dog lie, because...

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Because you don't -- does the name Walter Robinson mean anything to you?

BEGALA: He's the "Boston Globe" reporter who reported that George W. Bush was AWOL from the National Guard for an entire year. He's a good reporter.

NOVAK: Walter -- Walter Robinson has been on... (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He has been on Al Gore's case all year. And on this, this ridiculous contention by the vice president that he -- that he pays less for the same drug for his dog than his mother-in-law is getting, this is what Walter Robinson wrote in the "Boston Globe" -- not exactly a anti-Democratic paper:

"Gore, the master of many policy details mangled the facts. And late last week, his aides could not say with certainly that Shiloh, or Margaret Ann Aitcheson actually" -- his mother-in-law -- "actually takes the brand-name drug, Lodine, that Gore said they do."

BEGALA: That's -- that's...

NOVAK: He's just making up things.

BEGALA: No, they said late last week they couldn't. Since then, they have checked. And as of today -- the Gore campaign told us earlier today that, yes, in fact, Gore's mother-in-law takes this so- named Lodine, an arthritis drug.

NOVAK: But he misrepresented how much she paid for it.

BEGALA: No, it -- and that, in fact -- and Shiloh, the dog, takes the dog version of it. And in fact, it costs three or four times more for a human than for a dog. That's all true, because Bush is

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'm glad you're out

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: And we are out of time. And...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: And Haley, thank you very much. We are out of time.

BARBOUR: Well, out of time without talking about any issues.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: We talked about a lot of issues.

And Paul Begala, thank you for being here.

BEGALA: Thank you.

PRESS: Bob Novak and I will wrap things up with our closing comments coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOVAK: Now, it's your turn to talk to tonight's guests. Paul Begala and Haley Barbour will be in the CROSSFIRE chat room right after the show at cnn.com/crossfire.

Bill, it's very simple what is going on with the Democrats. They want to have personal invective, personal attack on George Bush. The Democratic National Committee puts all these negative ads out because they are afraid of the message of George Bush getting over, which is less government and more tax cuts. Maybe the American people will buy it.

PRESS: Let me tell you, Bob, I want to give George Bush credit tonight. I think it takes a lot of courage to admit, with six weeks left, that your whole campaign is going the wrong way, that you were making nothing but mistakes and saying: Well, I'm going to try a new tack, and I'm going to start talking about the issues.

NOVAK: That's nonsense.

PRESS: The problem is, you have to be able to understand the issues and explain them. And he can't.

NOVAK: He understands them better than you can, I know that.

PRESS: He can't. Baloney.

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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