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Are the Presidential Running Mates Running Into Too Many Problems?

Aired September 26, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Joe Lieberman: under fire for running for both vice president and U.S. Senate.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is of course legal, and it has been done at least twice before in recent times.


PRESS: Dick Cheney: under fire for not telling the Bush campaign everything about himself.


DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was thoroughly vetted. And the governor is convinced I was thoroughly vetted.


PRESS: Tonight: Are the running mates running into too many problems?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Senator John Edwards, North Carolina co-chair of the Gore campaign, and Senator Bill Frist from Tennessee, Senate liaison to the Bush campaign.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

It used to be vice presidential candidates were named and seldom heard from again. Not anymore. This time around, both Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman are grabbing their own share of headlines and getting into their own brand of trouble.

Lieberman is under fire for running for two offices at the same time -- vice president and U.S. Senate -- even though many top Democrats want him to give up his Senate seat so Connecticut's GOP governor can't appoint a Republican to replace him. But Lieberman says no way. He's still running for both.

Cheney is under fire for not giving himself the same advance scrubbing he gave other vice -- potential vice presidential candidates, which resulted, some say, in a couple of unpleasant surprises, like: What will I do with all those stock options?

And both men have been sent into battle in key states. So tonight, we look at number two. Who is doing the best job for his party, Dick Cheney or Joe Lieberman? And just how important is it that second man on the ticket anyway?


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Senator Edwards, the problem with the Lieberman double-run is, of course, that if he's elected vice president of the United States, the Republican governor of Connecticut will name a Republican to that seat. He will serve for two years. He takes away a chance you might have to gain control of the Senate.

Why do you think Joe Lieberman is resisting it? Is it because he thinks: Hey, I'm not really going to get elected vice president? Or does he refuse to take a bullet for the Democratic Party and control of the Senate?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, Bob, you know Joe -- Joe -- you know Joe the same way do. He's a very good man. He's been an extraordinary senator for a long time now. He is a great leader in the Senate. And I think this is a decision he ought to make in consultation with the people of Connecticut. And I think he think -- feels like, at this point, he's doing the right thing.

I mean, he's been involved in this Senate for a long time, long before he got involved in the vice presidential selection process, and in fact was picked as Gore's running mate. And I think, ultimately, he -- this is his judgment. And it's a judgment that he ought to be allowed to make.

NOVAK: Senator, a lot of the Democratic senators I know want him to step aside, because they want to have control. They want to be committee chair. And Senator Dorgan of North Dakota, Senator Reid of Nevada, both in the leadership, went to the minority leader -- according to the "New York Times" -- Senator Tom Daschle, asked him to go to Lieberman and to step aside, in time by -- for October 26.

And this is what Daschle said. I like Tom Daschle. But he said that it would be up to Joe Lieberman -- quote -- "to throw away something that is a sure thing, another term in the Senate, for the possibility of a new position of vice president" -- end quote.

That sounds like a professional politician weighing the odds. What's sure? What job? How can I make sure I don't get kicked off the payroll?

EDWARDS: No. In fact, I left Tom Daschle about 30 minutes ago, Bob. And we talked about this subject when only the two of us were in the room. And he said basically the same thing to me. He thinks this is Joe Lieberman's call. Joe Lieberman is a man who has invested himself in a long term of public service. And he wants to be either vice president or United States senator. And I think he's been an extraordinary leader in the United States Senate. I think -- I really think, ultimately, this is a call that all of us believe that Joe should make.

NOVAK: Senator -- well, not all -- of course, Senator Dorgan and Senator Reid think he should get out. And so does Senator Torricelli, the chairman of the Campaign Committee. But, you know, you said something that -- you know, usually senators, with their six-year terms don't think of their constituents very often -- but you said maybe he ought to think of what the people of Connecticut want.

According to the Quinnipiac University poll: "Do you approve of Lieberman running for Senate and V.P.?" Now, don't forget, this is the most popular man in the state of Connecticut. Opposed: 46 percent. Support: 45 percent.

Isn't that a message from the folks back home saying, "Joe, you've got to go, one office at a time is enough?"

EDWARDS: No, I think what it means is, this is a man who doesn't make decisions based on polls. He makes his own independent judgment about these things. It's the reason...

NOVAK: Even when the constituency...

EDWARDS: It's the reason, Bob, that he has, what, an 80 percent approval rating in the state of Connecticut. He is respected, and...

NOVAK: Watch it go down.

EDWARDS: He ought to be respected.

PRESS: Senator Frist, I am just curious, before we move on to Dick Cheney. You were considered as a candidate for potential vice presidential running mate with -- for George W. Bush. Had you been chosen, Senator -- you're up for reelection this year in Tennessee -- would you have given up your Senate seat?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: I never got quite that far.

PRESS: No, but...

FRIST: I would have considered giving it up. I had not committed to one way or another, because it never really got that far in the discussion. I think you could go either way with it. I am glad Joe Lieberman is not going to give up his position, because I think, ultimately, that he's going to be back in the United States Senate. And hopefully, he will transform back to the old Joe Lieberman.


EDWARDS: Wishful thinking


FRIST: The old Joe Lieberman.

PRESS: Self-interest prevails, as always, politics and so many other things.

Now, I want to ask you about Dick Cheney, because, you know, Dick Cheney's first job, of course, was vetting people like you who were being considered as vice presidential running mates. In fact, you said at the time, the senator, that -- if I may quote you -- "Dick Cheney knows more about me than my mother, father and wife."

Now, are you kind of annoyed right now that it looks like Dick Cheney didn't give himself as big a scrubbing as he gave you and others?

FRIST: You know, I think what's important to the American people is that you are given a scrubbing, a scrubbing which he has had. He has had -- in terms of three in-the-field investigations by the FBI in the past. He had a nomination and a confirmation procedure, which is a good descrubbing before the United States as secretary of defense.

He served in the United States Congress for 10 -- or over 10 years, where, clearly, he is held accountable for many votes and for himself. So I think the American people are very comfortable with Dick Cheney and what he stood for.

PRESS: Yes, but that running for Congress is not the same as this questionnaire -- which is a very, very lengthy questionnaire -- that was given to all the potential vice presidential candidates, as you know.


FRIST: Let me just tell you why that's done. That is done so, in the event, is this individual -- not is he going to be a good campaigner or could even win the election -- it's, if the president -- if something happens to the president, is that individual qualified? Should he have the confidence of the American people to run the United States of America?

And Dick Cheney has been through all those eyes of the needle.


PRESS: But Senator, let's be frank. It's also done because the candidate wants to know where there are some -- any problems or any little things that he ought to know about that could come up in the campaign -- he ought to know ahead of time.

It's been reported by Republican sources that a couple of the key questions like voting in local elections, like the stock options, were questions that Dick Cheney didn't answer on that questionnaire. Here's what Dick Cheney said when he was asked whether or not he filled out the entire questionnaire by Cokie Roberts Sunday morning on "This Week."

Just take a listen, please. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK")

CHENEY: He's comfortable with the vetting process. I'm comfortable with the vetting process.

COKIE ROBERTS, HOST: But did you fill out the actual questionnaire?

CHENEY: I did in many, many parts of it.


PRESS: Many, many parts means not all of it, Senator.

FRIST: Let me just go back once again. The responsibility -- the reason we fill out these questionnaires, line after line, is: Who is qualified? Can the American people have the confidence in this man? This is a man who ran the Oval Office, a man who ran the largest war in the last 40 years of the United States, a man who has served in Congress, a man who has gone through FBI checks.

PRESS: That's not the point.

FRIST: This man is qualified to be -- in the event there's some tragedy -- president of the United States.

NOVAK: Senator Edwards, your friend, Bill Prest -- Frist, I'm sorry, not Prest.



NOVAK: Your friend, Bill Frist, said -- talked about the old Lieberman. I want to quote you -- and you can read it from the screen -- what Joe Lieberman -- the old Joe Lieberman -- said on May 4, 1999: "If the entertainment continues to market death and degradation to our children and continues to pay no heed to the real bloodshed staining our communities, then the government will act."

Now, the new Joe Lieberman, fast forward to September 18 -- just a few days ago -- after he had taken a ton of money from the entertainment industry, he said to them in Radio City in New York: "I promise you this: We will never, never put the government in the position of telling you, by law, through law, what to make. We will nudge you, but we will never become censors."

NOVAK: Money talks, doesn't it?

EDWARDS: Oh, those two statements are completely consistent.


EDWARDS: What he said -- listen, Bob. Listen to what he said in the first instance. What he said was you shouldn't market garbage to our children. That's what he's continued to talk about. I might add, this a man along -- along with the vice president -- who has been willing to look in the eye people who have supported them for a long time, and say: You're wrong and I'll stand against you.

I've never seen Governor Bush do that on any level. But in the second instance, what he's saying is: We won't try to control content. Those are two completely different things.

The First Amendment protects content, but the First Amendment does not protect the entertainment industry marketing garbage to kids who are underage.

NOVAK: Let me tell you somebody who doesn't think those statements are consistent. That's William Bennett, a very close friend, genuinely...


NOVAK: Former maybe -- close friend -- Joe says he's still a good friend -- of Joe Lieberman. And they fought the battle together. He wrote a piece in "The Wall Street Journal" September 22nd, which is one of the roughest pieces I've ever read. And one of the things he said was this. He said: "What we are seeing is not courage but incoherence -- or what would be even worse, cravenness and cynicism."

Now, this is a guy, Bill Bennett, who praised the Joe Lieberman appointment, said he's a wonderful guy. He is heartsick because of this. Don't you think -- don't you think he is justified in being that?

EDWARDS: No, I don't. I think he's a very strong Republican who at this point is being a partisan. I absolutely believe that what Joe Lieberman has said in the two instances you identified are completely consistent. He knows as well as everyone around this table knows there's nothing that Congress can do consistent with the First Amendment to control the content of what the entertainment industry does, unless it's pornographic.

But there is something we can do about their marketing techniques, and that's what Joe Lieberman has been talking about consistently through this. And I have to tell you, I think it's a very good thing that he and Al Gore are willing to look people in the eye who've supported them and say, you're wrong. When has Governor Bush ever done that, Bob?

NOVAK: John Edwards, you're -- you've got a reputation as a great plaintiffs lawyer, but you're a great defendants lawyer, too.

PRESS: Take it as a compliment.


NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break. Should Joseph Lieberman run for both his Senate seat and the vice presidency? Log on to and tell us what you think. We'll show you the results at the end of the show.

We're going take a break, and when we come back, we'll talk about the oil man versus the professional politician.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The vice presidential candidates, Senator Joseph Lieberman, the professional career politician, versus former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, the big oil executive. Who's better qualified?

Debating that subject are two U.S. senators, Democrat John Edwards of North Carolina and Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Bill Press.

PRESS: Senator, over the weekend Dick Cheney -- I couldn't believe it -- accused Al Gore of having a conflict of interest when it came to talking about oil prices. Now, this is the same Dick Cheney who got in five years $12 1/2 million in salary from big oil, Halliburton, the same Dick Cheney who got a $20 million little bonus when he quit Halliburton, just a little shy of his fifth anniversary, and who also got $39 million in stock options from Halliburton when he left, and he's accusing Al Gore of having a conflict.

I mean, doesn't this even out chutzpah Joe Lieberman, senator?

FRIST: Well, Bill, it is unusual, let me say, for somebody to give up and sacrifice and put all of that away in order to serve their country once again, and I think we all admire Dick Cheney for putting all that aside.

Is there going to be a conflict of interest? He's said no. He said he will forfeit every option once he's vice president of the United States of America.

What he brings to the table is what really I think very scarcely has ever been done in the history of this country, is that executive experience, CEO. He increased value in that company from $4 billion to $14 billion. He has managed entities in 120 different companies, global experience he brings to that office -- 120,000 different employees.

That CEO, that executive experience, is something Joe Lieberman does not have and something that Al Gore does not have, two career politicians.

PRESS: Well, senator, I'm a consumer out there looking at this -- this big oil ticket, all right, and I see -- here's George Bush, who ran an oil company, Dick Cheney ran an oil company, made immense profits doing so, and an issue is going to come up affecting oil companies. Do you think they're going to be on my side or the oil companies' side? There's no doubt whose side they're going to be on.

FRIST: Bill, you mean to tell me you think that Dick Cheney, a man who has committed his entire adult life, with the exception of these five years in the private sector, to service in the Oval Office, to running the Gulf War 10 years, that he is going to put politics or political ambition or economic ambition above the American people? Do you really think that?

PRESS: No. I think he will do what he did in the Congress, which is always stand up for the oil companies. And so -- and I ask you, don't you think that Dick Cheney ought to say, if elected, when it comes to any policy regarding oil companies, I will recuse myself from that decision-making?

FRIST: You know, I'd say absolutely not. I don't think that John Edwards should stay out of all of reform of tort reform and I don't think that Bill Frist...


Well, maybe.


I don't think -- I don't think Bill Frist as the only physician in the United States Senate today should walk away from Medicare and prescription drugs and patients' bill of rights. When you have expertise, you should use it. You should be held accountable. There should be full transparency. You should eliminate any appearance of conflict of interest, and that's what Dick Cheney has done.

NOVAK: Senator Edwards, does the name Larry David mean anything to you?

EDWARDS: It does not, no.

NOVAK: Larry David was...

PRESS: Watch out.


EDWARDS: Uh-oh, here it comes.

NOVAK: ... was the executive producer of the Seinfeld show. You've heard of the Seinfeld show.

EDWARDS: I have, yes.

NOVAK: And he was -- he's a big deal, big Democrat in Hollywood. And at this fund-raiser that the new Joe Lieberman attended, Larry David said this. Quote: "Like Bush, I, too, found Christ in my 40s. He came into my room one night, and I said: 'What? No call? You just pop in?'" And everybody roared laughing.

Some people might think that's sacrilegious. Joe Lieberman is supposed to be a very religious man: not a Christian, but a very religious man. Didn't say a word. Would you have a said a word if one of these Hollywood sleazes who has given so much money to the Democratic Party would say that to you?

EDWARDS: Well, the first thing is I am a Christian, and that is the difference between me and Joseph Lieberman. But anybody who would question Joe Lieberman's faith doesn't know Joe Lieberman. I know Joe Lieberman very well. So does Bill. Both of us have served in the Senate with him. We know him at this level, too, I might add, both of us. And there's just no -- it can't be any serious question about it.

NOVAK: What would you say -- what would you -- he didn't say a word. What would you say if somebody said that?

EDWARDS: Well, without knowing what the context was and what the circumstances were I don't know what he should have said. I mean, I would never say anything like that and I think it's inappropriate. But whether he should have commented, it depends on the circumstances.

NOVAK: There is a theory, which I don't buy, that the real Joe Lieberman is a prisoner in a sanitarium in upstate New York somewhere, and that...

EDWARDS: That sounds like your theory, Bob.


NOVAK: ... and that this is a clone...

PRESS: It is. It is. You got it.

NOVAK: ... because the old Joe Lieberman was for school vouchers. He was for partial privatization of Social Security. He was interested in doing away with racial quotas, and he's abandoned all that.

Hasn't he, seriously speaking, hasn't the new Joe Lieberman completely repudiated the old Joe Lieberman? Is that integrity?

EDWARDS: No. I think Joe has extraordinary integrity. There's no doubt about that, and what he is, is what he's always been, which is a mainstream moderate Democrat. Joe and I are part of the moderate Democrats in the Senate. We're part of the centrist coalition.

NOVAK: He used to be. He used to be.

EDWARDS: He still is. He still is, Bob. If you listen to what he's saying, it's perfectly consistent with the mainstream views he's had in the past.

NOVAK: Now everybody in the news media is just having a fit on how wonderful Joe Lieberman is. Isn't that right, senator?


And that how...

EDWARDS: Bill thinks he's great, too.


(CROSSTALK) FRIST: Let me just say what bothers me -- and it is disappointing in a way -- the Joe Lieberman that I know is exactly the same. But if you go down the list of issues -- whether it's education, where he said he was for choice and now he's not for choice; where for Medicare, Medicare reform, he used to be for the Breaux-Frist, the bipartisan commission, against adding a prescription drug benefit. Now, he says, let's add a prescription drug benefit. Tort reform is another issue, another example. The Hollywood example on each and every one of these. Privatization of Social Security. He is a different Joseph Lieberman than what I knew three months ago. Totally different.

NOVAK: Senator Edwards...

EDWARDS: Bill, can I say one thing? But Bill, the thing is Joe Lieberman is not running for president. He's running for vice president of the United States, and it is his job, as vice president, as you well know, to advise and counsel the president or the presidential candidate, tell him what his views are. But his job ultimately is to support the views of the administration. And I don't think he has changed.

NOVAK: Let me get one thing: After all this wonderful publicity for Joe Lieberman, the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, "Who is more qualified to be vice president?" Cheney 41 percent, Lieberman 32 percent. Does that stun you?

EDWARDS: Well, I'm a little surprised by that, and I don't know if it's valid, I don't know if it's accurate. What I would say is the people that I talk to around North Carolina and around the country have had an extraordinarily positive response to Joseph Lieberman.

NOVAK: And that will have to be the...

PRESS: And what I would say is don't believe the polls.

Senators, thank you very much for coming in. Sorry we're out of time. Senator Frist, great to have you back. Senator Edwards, good to have you here. You're a good team. We want you to come back.

And Bob Novak and I will be back in just a couple of minutes with our closing comments about Cheney and Joseph Lieberman.


PRESS: And earlier we asked you to tell us whether or not Joe Lieberman should run for both his Senate and the vice presidency at the same time, and the results are in: 71 percent said no while only 29 percent said yes. There's the message, Bob.

You know, I think the other message is that the biggest test of leadership we've seen so far in this presidential campaign is the choice of vice presidential running mate. I think Al Gore aced it with Joe Lieberman and George Bush flunked it with Dick Cheney.

I mean, Cheney makes Dan Quayle look like a ball of fire. NOVAK: You know, the polls don't quite agree with that as far as who's going to be a good vice president. You know, I have known Dick Cheney for 32 years. He is one of the finest public servants I've ever known. He's a man of high integrity. He hasn't changed one view. And I am so disappointed in Joe Lieberman that just because he's on a ticket, he has become a Bill Press liberal, somebody you could love.

That's a disappoint to me.

PRESS: If Joe Lieberman were a liberal, Bob, I would admit. He's not. He still believes in school vouchers. He just says that Al Gore has got to make the decision...


And Al Gore will be the president, not Joe Lieberman.

NOVAK: How about George W. Bush?

PRESS: Never. 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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