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Capital Gang

Campaign 2000: Politics of Oil, Bush Bounces Back, School Vouchers Come to a Vote

Aired September 23, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET




I'm Mark Shields with the full CAPITAL GANG: Al Hunt, Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

President Clinton yesterday took action on the problem of high oil prices and short oil supplies.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What we decided to do after debating this for weeks and looking at all of our options was to have a release from the petroleum reserve.


SHIELDS: The Democratic presidential candidate had urged the oil release, and his Republican opponent had cried foul.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have the ability in our country to take steps that will make us more independent of both big oil and foreign oil. And if they don't like it, that's no reason to say, do nothing, sit on our hands and follow an agenda of, by and for big oil.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ten months ago, the president and the vice president thought it was a bad idea to release oil out of the strategic petroleum reserve. Now that we're 45 days away from the election, they changed their mind.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, was this a politically coordinated move by the president and the vice president, or did it just happen?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, sure, Mark. Of course it was coordinated. Gore and Clinton talked on Tuesday, and the vice president wasn't about to make a proposal to tap into the strategic reserve if the president was going to undercut him. I'll tell you what else was coordinated, the response of Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who vehemently opposed this before Gore came out for it, then burned up the phone lines with the Gore campaign and suddenly found wisdom in it after Gore did it.

Substantively, Mark, I think the Clinton position is dicey. The strategic reserve is not intended to be used like an intervention and currency exchange. It's for only real emergencies, though there are some experts who say that there's a -- we need to do something to protect against a shock if Saddam Hussein does something.

But politically, the Republican spin that this is going to hurt the Democrats because Al Gore looks like an opportunist, in their dreams. I mean, in their dreams. I mean, I'm sorry, Mark. People want something done. Heating oil may be scarce. They're not going to worry about whether SPRO is the right thing to do or not.

And Dick Cheney and George Bush are from the oil industry, and they don't want that to be the answer to this. They's better switch subjects, Republicans better.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, better switch subjects?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": Well that's the kind of cheap politics that appeals to Al, and it may appeal to a lot of Americans, I'm not sure.

It is really abysmal and horrendous to see this kind of thing. This oil reserves, everybody knows, was not meant to tamper with markets, to try to influence markets. The teeny little bit they're putting out won't have any effect on the markets anyway. It was meant for emergencies, when we had, God forbid, some terrible shortage of oil. And the idea of having just this little amount of oil saving the American people is the cheap Clinton-Gore politics.

And when -- and in the Gore statement, he talks about big oil being responsible for this. This is an OPEC production, and the oil companies were the passive beneficiaries of it. But it was done by OPEC, and the administration didn't do anything about it.

SHIELDS: But just a point of clarification, I've never seen many oil companies condemn or criticize OPEC, have they?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": And by the way...

NOVAK: That has nothing to do with it.


CARLSON: Mark, I'm so glad Bob brought up OPEC, because Dick Cheney congratulated OPEC for finally getting their act together, collaborating to limit production so prices would go up. So talk about big oil.

Now, your right about another thing. It is too little. You know, it's a test of the system to see if some effects can happen before you get into the winter heating months. There are people who can make adjustments if it's about gas for your car, maybe you can give up your SUV...

HUNT: Take the bus.

CARLSON: ... take the bus, public transportation. But heating oil is a different matter. It's down 20 percent. And the way this is set up...

HUNT: That's a lot.

CARLSON: ... the way this is set up, the companies have to put the oil back in and add more to it so that the reserves end up at the same place they were.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, who's right?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Larry Summers, and Al Gore was right earlier this year. Earlier this year, Al Gore said, well, that would be a really bad idea because there would be no net change in the amount of oil available if just cut back modestly to allow for the fuel being taken out of the strategic oil reserves. And he was right.

Now he says circumstances have changed. What circumstances? Well, he's sort of falling in the polls, and he is very vulnerable -- I disagree with Al. He's very vulnerable on the cost of fuel. As long as people aren't much concerned the fact that he has stood his entire career for higher fuel costs and higher fuel taxes, the fact that he thinks our use of fuel is a sign of how dysfunctional we are as a civilization, that the automobile poses a mortal threat, all of that didn't much matter if people aren't concerned about the price of fuel. But if they are this November, then all of that does matter.

So apparently, Al Gore dropping in the polls is a matter of a national emergency that warrants tapping into the strategic reserves.

SHIELDS: Two quick points: I think the Democrats on this one are Br'er Rabbits. They want to be thrown into this briar patch. I mean, I just -- I really think George W. Bush and Dick Cheney politically are disabled on addressing the issue.

But secondly, and I think this is the crucial point to me, George Bush sounded a false note. What George Bush should have done was cast this in terms of national security instead of saying this is a cheap political move. He should have said this is a failure of national policy and turned it into a national security argument. But he sounded whiny on that.

NOVAK: But it is a...

HUNT: Another point I would make is that, Kate, there are some experts, like Daniel Yergin, who say circumstances have changed. These are free marketeers, this is not just, you know, a Democrat saying that.

The other point I make is if you're in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and you face a real problem of heating oil scarcity this winter, and the answer that George Bush and Dick Cheney give you is, well, we're going to open up the, you know, the Alaska Arctic for exploration, let big oil take care of it, that's not going to cut it.

NOVAK: But this is the cheap politics that you get, that you've gotten from the Democratic Party since the time of Andrew Jackson. When something goes wrong, what they do is they blame the corporate interests when it doesn't have anything to do with it. And, Al, the one thing I will agree with you on is, and you've been so wrong on this is disappoints me...

HUNT: I'm sorry.

NOVAK: ... was Larry Summers was the funniest inning in the world, because he desperately -- if Al Gore's elected, he wants to stay as secretary of the Treasury, he said, oh, my goodness, I'm on the wrong side.

HUNT: He blew.

CARLSON: The thing that's changed, too, Bob, is it may be cheap politics, but OPEC has kept, has insisted, on not producing more. There's a new spike in prices, and something should have been done.

O'BEIRNE: The administration should have concentrated, the Clinton administration, on breaking up OPEC, not Microsoft. That's where we ought to be coming from.

SHIELDS: Last Work -- Kate O'Beirne, antitrust.

The gang of five will be back with George W. Bush wooing Oprah and fighting Hollywood.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

George W. Bush seeking to trim Al Gore's big lead among women voters visited where? Oprah Winfrey.

She asked what he had done in his life that requires forgiveness.


BUSH: When my heart turns dark, when I am jealous or when I am spiteful.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: I'm looking for specifics.

BUSH: I know you are, but I'm running for president.


SHIELDS: The Republican candidate also assailed his Democratic opponent for going to the entertainment industry to raise money. A week earlier, Vice President Gore had said this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 11, 2000)

GORE: Joe and I are going to establish a six-month period to hold the industry accountable. If at the end of that 6-month period there is not yet an acceptable industry response, then we're prepared to go to step three, and that is to evaluate whether additional legislation is needed.

BUSH: The beginning of the week, he sounded awfully tough on Hollywood. He talked about six months and sanctions and tough language. After a couple of fund raisers, he's changing his tune.


SHIELDS: Current Gallup poll tracking poll for CNN shows a three-point Gore lead.

Kate O'Beirne, are we seeing now a George W. Bush comeback?

O'BEIRNE: Well, these recent polls do have welcome news for George Bush. The "Newsweek" poll has Al Gore ahead by only two points. The bipartisan Battleground poll has George Bush up by five. So it's been a good week in the polls for George Bush.

I guess the rats thing just worked. People don't like rats, so I think that's paying off finally.

SHIELDS: I think that's it.


O'BEIRNE: And frankly, these polls started looking good even before he went to Oprah and Regis, but he started talking about what he'll do for the middle class, what the Bush agenda means for the middle class, which was overdue. And even when he was on "Oprah," and a single working woman said, What can I look forward to in your program, and he explained, you get a tax cut. You get a paycheck, you get a tax cut. Under Al Gore, of course, you have to perform like a trained seal in order to qualify for a tax cut.

And then on Regis, another working woman, Susan, likes his privatization plan on Social Security. She wants to take a small piece of it and invest it herself. So I think he's finding out himself that women like the Bush economic plan. Women this week did.

CARLSON: Susan from "Survivor."

SHIELDS: Susan from "Survivor." I mean, we're going to start...

O'BEIRNE: She pays taxes.

SHIELDS: Hey, she's no Eleanor Roosevelt, let me tell you.

CARLSON: That's the kind...

O'BEIRNE: She's a taxpayer. CARLSON: That's the kind of endorsement the Bush people are after. The Bush people were so excited about Bush's performance on "Oprah" that they called around saying, you know, we're swamped with favorable calls from viewers around the country. The problem was Oprah hadn't aired around the country. It had only been taped in Chicago. So we're going to have, like, a little Nielsen date here.

Listen, if emoting on "Oprah"...

NOVAK: Oh, goodness.

CARLSON: If emoting on "Oprah" is a qualification, then 90 percent of us should be president. You know, the fact that he did well on there and then milked it and got the tear in his eye, which is even better than Clinton biting his lip, and that's something to crow about in the campaign, you know, what are we doing? What kind of campaign are we having?

SHIELDS: Just a question. I thought George W. Bush did well on Oprah...

NOVAK: I did, too.

SHIELDS: ... and on Regis, I mean, even though he did dress like Regis, which I thought was a little bit pandering.

CARLSON: Costumes.

SHIELDS: But I have to say, this is probably his best format. It's an easy one. He's engaging, he's natural and he's better than Gore at it.

NOVAK: Well, you've got to do things like that. I mean, I get a bang out of some of my colleagues in journalism, in fact some at this table, who said, gee, he can't do anything right. And then when he does something right, they belittle him because he's playing the politics of 2000, which not exactly a very uplifting kind of politics.

I think eventually it's going to come down to the polls, but the idea -- some of the Gore people have told me that it's still a seven- point lead, it's still an eight-point lead, and that they're going to have to really -- that Bush is really going to have to do terribly well in the debates. But I don't think that's the case at all. I think it's a -- I don't know who's ahead in the popular vote. I think it's very close in the electoral vote, and John Zogby is a pollster I respect, says...

SHIELDS: And have quoted sometimes.

NOVAK: I have. He says there is a lag in the state polls, some of the state polls coming in from polling that was done over a week ago, and they really haven't caught up with the national polls. I think it's very close in the key battleground states as well as nationally.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt. HUNT: Well first of all, I don't think Bush really is gaining much in the polls. What he did this week was he stopped the Gore momentum. And he stopped it through, I think, a very attractive appearance on "Oprah." I agree with Bob. That's the way politics is played this year. They all play it. And I thought he did quite well on Regis, too, that fabled son of Notre Dame...


HUNT: ... so, you know, you give him credit for that.

Bob, I've looked at a number of these surveys around the country, including some that were done in the last three or four days. And I think if you look at them and you try to extrapolate rationally, you say Gore has a lead, maybe three or four points. But that's not insurmountable. It's still soft enough so that could change next week.

Let me say one thing about the Hollywood connection, Mark.


HUNT: I want to know if Gore and Lieberman taking Hollywood money is any different than Bush and Cheney taking money from Rupert Murdoch or from Disney.

And the second point I would make is that as obnoxious as the Hollywood people can be, when Gore takes money from unions or when Bush takes money from big tobacco, you know what the people are getting for it. I'm not quite sure what the Hollywood people get for it. I'm not quite sure what special favors they come back and -- I'm not sure what fleecing of the taxpayers takes place afterwards. I think it may be just an ego trip.

NOVAK: The hypocrisy was pointed out in the piece written by Bill Bennett in "The Wall Street Journal" where you have...

HUNT: A Republican functionary..

NOVAK: Yes, he is, but he's a friend of Lieberman. And he is a genuine friend of his. And he pointed out that Lieberman didn't bat an eye when there were these denigrating comments about religion by one of these Hollywood types. That's what's obnoxious.

But if you're saying that hypocrisy is part of politics, I would agree with you.

SHIELDS: I would just say in closing that when George Bush Sr. quit the NRA after the jackbooted line that they used, his son didn't.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, focus 2000 looks at the school voucher battle.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Focus on 2000: school vouchers. For the second time in a decade, California voters will decide whether to use public funds for private schooling. Democratic Governor Gray Davis leads the fight against the proposal.


NARRATOR: It's only fair that every California child has the chance to achieve their fullest potential.

Prop. 38 will give parents school vouchers, so everyone can choose smaller, safer classrooms with no tax increase.



GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Prop. 38, the voucher initiative, is a giant step backwards. It will take money from public schools and spend billions on voucher schools with no standards for students, no credentials for teachers and no accountability to taxpayers.

Let's fix our public schools, not abandon them.


SHIELDS: A similar voucher fight is being waged in Michigan.


NARRATOR: Proposal 1 will initiate regular teacher testing, protect our current school funding and provide school vouchers for parents with children in failing districts.


SHIELDS: The opponents have responded that the voucher plan, quote, "will drain hundreds of millions of needed dollars from the local neighborhood schools that teach our kids," end quote.

Bob Novak, what are the prospects this year for vouchers?

NOVAK: You know, these voucher fights always have -- look, they've never passed a referendum on vouchers.

SHIELDS: Yes, I know that.

NOVAK: It always has the same thing. People take a look at it, say, that is a really good idea. And then the teachers unions and the labor unions put in all that money, and the politicians who are dependent upon those unions support it and it loses.

My guess is the California referendum, which doesn't have total support from the voucher community anyway, is probably going to go down. But it just might pass in Michigan. And the hypocrisy of people who send their kids to private schools, private schools, Al, and then deny the right of African-Americans to get a little help in getting a better education for their kids, that hypocrisy will be exposed.

SHIELDS: The only other hypocrisy I'd like to address just immediately is the hypocrisy of conservative politicians who talk a good game and then in the middle of the fight kind of walk away and don't take a position.

HUNT: Mark, Mark, let me just -- first of all, I think both will probably lose, because Bob's right. They always lose.

California ought to lose. It's a dreadful proposal. It was intended to destroy public education. The Silicon Valley billionaire in Atherton and the Hollywood mogul shouldn't get taxpayer money...

SHIELDS: Four thousand dollars.

HUNT: ... to send their kids to posh private schools, I'm sorry.

The Michigan proposal, on the other hand, I think is quite meritorious...

SHIELDS: I agree with you.

HUNT: ... and I think it's got a lot to recommend itself.

But, Bob, I disappointed you earlier, so let me try to inform you tonight. You know who's going to Michigan to campaign for school vouchers in a few weeks? John McCain. You know who's opposed to school vouchers out there, this referendum?

NOVAK: John Engler.

HUNT: Governor John Engler and Senator Spence Abraham, two of your favorite conservatives. Let me tell you something...

NOVAK: You know, Bob, I've always had a soft spot for John McCain. You know that.

HUNT: ... I think it raises the question that maybe, Mark, that maybe school vouchers for poor kids doesn't resonate with some conservatives as much as tax cuts for rich adults.

O'BEIRNE: No, I don't -- the opposition of Governor Engler -- and it has not been helped by Senator Abraham -- has nothing do with the merits of the proposal, because it is -- I think it's a well-drawn initiative,,,

HUNT: It is.

O'BEIRNE: ... focusing only on the most disadvantaged children.

HUNT: Right.

O'BEIRNE: It's a political calculation. They're afraid with these important...

HUNT: They don't want to bring African-Americans...

O'BEIRNE: ... with these important statewide races going on that I was going to draw all sorts of money from the unions...

NOVAK: Which is silly, which is silly.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly -- and fuel turnout by people, minorities and even some Democratic voters...

HUNT: They're trying to help minorities.

O'BEIRNE: Exactly -- to vote for the voucher plan, and then they might turn around and not support Republican candidates.

NOVAK: It's a dark mark for John Engler.

HUNT: And does John McCain get credit for this kind of thing?

CARLSON: Yes, and he should get credit.

No, Prop 38 has all the money in the world this time, Bob. And one of the reasons it's going to hurt vouchers is that...

SHIELDS: In California.

CARLSON: ... is that it's going down with all this money. It is out there with a lot of support, but it's a bad plan.

And here's the collateral damage: Prop 39, which is very good -- it's being supported by John Dohr (ph), who is a wealthy Californian -- which would make it take only a simple majority to get a bond issue passed in California instead of two-thirds. So democracy...

NOVAK: That's putting more...

CARLSON: ... would work.

NOVAK: That's putting more money down the rat hole.

CARLSON: But you know the way...

O'BEIRNE: Speaking of hypocrisy, it's becoming harder and harder on this issue to oppose school choice for poor kids. Al Gore recently said, if I were a parent who had a child in a failing inner-city school, I might support vouchers, too. Well, excuse me. Just because he's not a parent, just because his kids do go to private schools...

SHIELDS: It's becoming harder and harder to oppose it. I don't know why John Engler and Spence Abraham plan to.

CARLSON: Yes, no one...

NOVAK: It's stupid. It's stupid on their part. SHIELDS: I have to say one thing, and that is the most important Republican in California said to me, Republicans don't care about this issue. They think it's a good issue because it embarrasses Democrats. They said their kids are all in good schools. And I've got to say...

O'BEIRNE: I don't think that's true.

SHIELDS: I've got to say this, Kate, John Engler and Spence Abraham's lack of leadership on this, their mutinous, their cowardice stands as a beacon of really political opportunism.

NOVAK: Wait a minute, wait a minute, just...

O'BEIRNE: Mark, Mark...

NOVAK: You can't do that, Mark.

HUNT: He just did.

NOVAK: Just a minute. Just a minute. I mean, that is really outrageous when you find a labor -- the school teachers unions who don't care about the schools as long as they get their pay increases. They're the ones...

SHIELDS: I'm talking about people who are afraid African- American turnout is going to be up in an election, and that's the only reason.

NOVAK: Well they're both -- they're both bad.

CARLSON: That is exactly right, yes.

O'BEIRNE: Supporters around the country are raising money for private programs. The commitment is really there to try to help these kids in low-income schools.

SHIELDS: I'd like to see it from some of the conservative political leaders, too.

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

Thank you for being with us, Bob.


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

At the invitation of Ohio Representative Sherrod Brown, a Hindu priest last week delivered the prayer that opens every House session. That was on the very same day the prime minister of India addressed a joint session of Congress. But this led to the family research council's fulminating, quote, "Our founding fathers would have found incredible the idea that all religions" that is, other than Christianity, "including paganism be treated with equal deference," end quote. Memo to the Family Research Council, unfortunately no longer led by the respected Gary Bauer, bigotry is not a family value. Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, the Republican Ideas Political Committee is running an ad in Missouri which features a white woman complaining that she had to take her son out of a public school that had a, quote, "bit more diversity than he could handle," close quote. It shows a white kid sitting next to a black one. The purpose of the ad, says its creator, is to elect Republicans. We know what the meaning of being against diversity is. There's nothing subliminable about it -- subliminal. Bush has shown he can take ads off the air when he wants to. This one should go.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: According to "The Philadelphia Inquirer," Al Gore and fellow Democrats continue to profit from over half a million dollars in contributions from John Huang and James Riady because the DNC and some other state committees have failed to return the money. More accountable individual politicians, like Senator Daschle and Dick Gephardt, have sent checks back given the evidence of foreign sources and illegal reimbursements. Shouldn't Vice President Gore be accountable for spending the same funny money?


HUNT: Mark, polls this week show that Hillary Clinton got the better of that first debate with Rick Lazio, as some of us noted. But Mrs. Clinton indefensibly is stiffing Lazio's proposed ban on using soft money, claiming it's all right if outside groups financially support her but not her opponent. The Clintons brought shame to the White House by using the Lincoln Bedroom like a Holiday Inn for fat- cat contributors. If Mrs. Clinton continues this inexcusable soft money posture, she may well blow her lead in that New York Senate race.

SHIELDS: And finally...

NOVAK: Al is right about soft money, but the outrage of White House sleepovers continues. The list of Hillary contributors who have stayed overnight includes Rockland County, New York, Democratic leader Paul Adler, who was charged with fraud, extortion and bribery to the tune of $375,000. Also sleeping over was Tom McDonald, an upstate New York realtor who owes more than a million dollars in state and federal income taxes and had a state warrant served against him last year. So as long as you pay up in political contributions, your OK with the Clintons.

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the track and field events at the Olympics and more American gold.



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