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Gore and Bush Prepare to Face Off in First Presidential Debate

Aired October 2, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Live from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., a special edition of CROSSFIRE.

Tonight, as Al Gore and George W. Bush prepare to face off in their first debate, we put a Gore supporter and a Bush supporter in the CROSSFIRE to face off with a live studio audience.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

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

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler from Florida, a Gore supporter, and Republican Congressman John Kasich of Ohio, a Bush supporter.

NOVAK: Good evening, welcome to a special edition of CROSSFIRE from Listner auditorium on the George Washington University campus.

Tomorrow night, George W. Bush and Al Gore confront each other in Boston in the first presidential debate. Tonight, we're in Washington with a pre-debate between two members of Congress.

But first, for a report on Governor Bush's campaign, CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley in Boston -- Candy.


George Bush is en route to Boston via West Virginia, where he spent most of the day, and is spending tonight. His message there, delivered from a barge in the Ohio River, was about his $2 billion plan to help fund clean coal technologies, part of a $7 billion plan that Bush says will help make America less dependent on foreign oil.

But basically, the message here was more in the geography than in the words. West Virginia is one of five states the Bush camp refers to as the "Dukakis Five." It also includes Wisconsin, Iowa, Washington and Oregon. They are all states that have not voted Republican since 1984. The Dukakis Five is the Bush camp counter to Democratic boasts that Bush should have locked up Florida, a Republican-leaning state by now, but he instead finds himself locked in a tight race in Florida. The Republicans point out that all five of the Dukakis Five should have been locked up now by Al Gore.

Tomorrow morning, Bush heads here for Boston, maybe a couple of last pepper questions, as they call them, from his aides, a little rest, perhaps some exercise, and then, of course, tomorrow night the debate. His aides say that Bush is eager to show off his agenda to the American people -- Bob.

NOVAK: Thank you, Candy.

And now for a word on Vice President Gore's campaign, CNN correspondent Jonathan Karl on Longboat Key, Florida.

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bob, the Gore campaign has made much of these special advisers, or as aides call them, real people, that Gore has brought along from the campaign trail down to Florida to help him prepare for the debates. But for most of the time here, the vice president has been sequestered behind closed doors, not with political amateurs but with his team of highly paid political professionals, preparing for the debates in marathon practice sessions, a debate, especially the first debate, that his aides say could well be the decisive factor in this campaign.

Now what those aides are telling the vice president is to keep it positive, to view this debate not as a chance to rip down George W. Bush, but a chance to present Gore's vision before the audience that most strategists say will be the largest audience that Gore will see at any time during the course of the campaign, an audience expected to be as much as three times the size that tuned in for his convention speech in Los Angeles.

That said, just a short while ago I spoke with Secretary Bill Daley, the chairman of the Gore campaign, and he said, quote, this is not a love fest. Gore is fully prepared to go on offense, to go on attack, especially if Bush attacks first -- Bill, Bob.

NOVAK: Thank you, Jonathan -- bill press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congressman Kasich, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The Supreme Court today began its new term. "The Wall Street Journal" pointed out this morning the next president will make two, maybe three appointees of new jurists to the Supreme Court, could very well shift the balance of the court. I'm not Jim Lehrer and you're not George W. Bush. But if this were tomorrow night, and I were Jim Lehrer and you were Bush, the first question I would ask you, Congressman, is this: that if I want to support a women's right to choose and if I want to preserve Roe v. Wade, it's very clear that I vote for Al Gore and not George Bush, correct?

REP. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Well, Bill, George Bush is pro-life, there's no question. But one thing that George Bush has made clear is he's not into the litmus-test business. I think when it comes to selecting a judge, he's going to look at the total character of the individual that's involved.

As you know from his appointments in Texas, they have not been appointments that have been narrow in terms of the scope or the type of individual that Governor Bush has selected. And I think that's a pretty good determination for what he's going to do. I think he's going to look for somebody who is a strict constructionist. I don't think George Bush thinks that judges ought to make law. He thinks that legislators ought to make law, and judges ought to interpret the law according to the Constitution.

PRESS: As a matter of fact, Congressman, he has put down a litmus test. He has said that his models on the Supreme Court are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. There are not two people who are more anti-choice than those two judges. The balance is now five to four for Roe v. Wade. Again, I'm just asking, and that's a yes-or-no answer...

KASICH: Well, Bill, I....

PRESS: If you want to save Roe v. Wade, you vote for Al Gore, because one more Scalia or Thomas vote will kill Roe v. Wade, correct?

KASICH: Look, I believe it's in all likelihood George Bush will pick a pro-life judge, but there is no guarantee of it because he says he's not going to sit down and take a look at one issue. What he is going to do, Bill, is to say judges should not be making law. And the courts have been very active. They've tried to make laws that really are not their responsibility. So in all likelihood, he picks somebody pro-choice. But in all fairness, the governor said that he is not going to use that as the only qualifying issue when he makes a judicial selections.

NOVAK: Congressman Wexler, just in all due respect, I hope you're on your good behavior, because I understand they let you out of G.W. Law School years ago with kind of fuzzy grades.


All right...

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: But I think they might have...

NOVAK: That wasn't the question, Congressman.

WEXLER: OK, well, fuzzy grades but I think might have been a little better than your nominee's grades.

NOVAK: Oh, Congressman Wexler off to that bad start.

WEXLER: Right.

NOVAK: I don't know if you were listening to Jonathan Karl, our reporter with the Gore campaign. He brings these 13 people, he flies their way all the way to the debate in Boston, he calls them his "advisers," because they're ordinary people. Then, when he's really getting advice, they are sent outside to bide their time. They're political props is what they are, and he's talking with his high- priced consultants. That's phony as a $3 bill, isn't it, Congressman?

WEXLER: No, it isn't. Al Gore has said that part of his preparation for the debate will be to meet with people that aren't ordinarily consulted. He has sat with them, my understanding is. He has talked with them, he's talked about their concerns. And that will be very much reflected, I suppose, in the way that Al Gore presents his plan tomorrow night.

But the important thing, is what is Al Gore talking about? On the one hand -- now let's forget the numbers tonight. Let's put it in real terms where Americans can understand. George Bush offers a tax plan which provides to the top 1 percent of Americans the same amount of money, actually a little bit more, than everything he provides for schools, health care, prescription drugs, national defense and the environment. That's what Al Gore is going to be talking about.

NOVAK: He provides to the top 1 percent of Americans what they pay in taxes. I don't know if you know how much that is. It's about 40 percent of all the taxes.

But, Congressman, I want to ask you this. Bill Press, who used to be a failed professional politician, had a -- had a harangue that I've heard a million times from him on the Supreme Court. Do you think that your candidate Vice President Gore, is going to be that ham-handed when he gets on stage in Boston to start giving all this bologna about the abortion issue? Do you think so?

WEXLER: No, I don't think he's going to be anything but truthful. Al Gore is going to say he supports Roe v. Wade and that with Al Gore as president a woman's right to choose will be protected. I hope that the Republican position and the Republican nominee is as direct and that he'll be honest with women across America and say, you know what? Because of my position, when I'm president, a women's right to choose...

NOVAK: You're pro-abortion?

WEXLER: I'm pro-choice. I'm pro-choice. I support...

NOVAK: Oh, I thought you were pro-abortion.

WEXLER: You know what? I respect the fact that women can make choices to protect their constitutional rights.

NOVAK: I call that pro-abortion.

PRESS: He's pro-choice, and so is Al Gore, and George Bush is not.

We're going to take a break, and when we come back, we're going to have questions from this outrageous studio audience here. They're ready to go. They're going to be here.

We're also going to give you a poll question to talk about in just a couple minutes, and we invite you, of course, as always, to join our CROSSFIRE chat room. Go to

We'll be right back with more CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PRESS: We are live from the George Washington University.

And coming up: questions from our live studio audience. In the meantime, here is a question for you in tonight's online poll: Do you plan to watch the big debate tomorrow night? Log on to Let us know. And we will tell you the results at the end of show.

Be right back.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE for this: the busiest and the biggest week of the campaign so far. We're coming to you live from the George Washington University in your nation's capital. And if you think Bob Novak and I are tough on the guests, wait until you hear questions from our studio audience.

They're loaded and ready for tonight's guests: Congressman John Kasich -- Republican from Ohio, a Bush supporter -- and Congressman Robert Wexler -- Democrat from Florida, an Al Gore supporter.

Bob first question.

NOVAK: Our first question is for Congressman Wexler from Troy of Chatham, New Jersey.

TROY: Congressman, in what ways has the mass media helped Al Gore's campaign throughout the past few months?

WEXLER: I wouldn't conclude, necessarily, that the mass media has helped Al Gore in his campaign. I think what has happened is, the media at times, seems to build Gore up, to bring him down. And in fairness, they build up Bush and then sometimes they bring him down. I think the best thing about the debates tomorrow is that most Americans who get to watch it will see both Gore and Bush unfiltered. And they can make up their own minds.

NOVAK: The media is unbiased, is what you are saying.

WEXLER: Well, no. People have bias. And that is shown. But that is fair. Bob, you don't have any biases at all?

NOVAK: I've got millions of them.

PRESS: Mr. Bias.


PRESS: The next question for Congressman Kasich is Tommy from Northport, New York.

Tommy, hi.

TOMMY: Congressman, as an international -- I'm sorry -- as an international affairs major at here at GWU, a major issue in my concern is the national defense system of the United States. Governor Bush has stated he wants to fast track the program. Now, how can he ensure our alliances will be kept with China and Russia, even though he wants to do this -- in which they have stated they are aggravated with this?

KASICH: Well, let me just say to you that I think what George Bush wants to do is to make sure that America is not a policeman of the world, that, in fact, we have a focused foreign policy. You have a situation where there are three times as many deployments under Bill Clinton as there were under Ronald Reagan, which means that a baby boomer has done something that is really unthinkable, which is to say that American forces ought to be used to be policemen around the world.

So I think what George Bush will promote is a policy that is able to better define our direct national interests, our achievable goals, so that we don't just disperse the military and weaken them, but we actually use them where they can be most effective in representing our national interests.

NOVAK: Here's a question for Congressman Wexler from Jason of Pineville, Kentucky.

JASON: Hi, Congressman.


JASON: The latest CNN/"USA Today" poll has the candidates tied at, I believe, 45 percent each. And in view of this stalemate, what must Vice President Gore specifically accomplish in the debates?

WEXLER: That is great question. If I were advising Vice President Gore, I would tell him just contrast his plan with Governor Bush's plan. Talk about prescription drugs. I'll tell you what my people in Florida need. They need a Medicare prescription drug plan. And that is what Al Gore provides and George Bush doesn't.

Talk about schools, an investment in our public schools. Al Gore has got a real plan. George Bush offers us vouchers. Talk about the environment. Talk about a whole list of issues, where Al Gore is right on in terms of the majority of Americans, but George Bush offers a plan which, more often than not, distorts what average Americans


KASICH: I want to respond to this, because this is the nub of it. We talked about the choice issue. I want to talk about choice. Really, it's a matter of whether you think we should run America from the bottom up, from where people live to the top or whether we ought to have bureaucracies and elites running this country from the top down.

George Bush believes that, if schools fail, parents ought to have a right to get their kids out of those schools and give them a chance and an opportunity for success. Gore says: No way, you are locked in the monopoly. You have no choice. Social Security: George Bush says, is that you ought to take a portion of your Social Security taxes and be able to direct it the way federal employees do, so you can have a retirement. Al Gore says: No way, we will run this in Washington. Let me give you another one: tax cuts.

Al Gore says: You want to tax cut? You are going to be a trained seal with an accountant.

What does George Bush say? If you pay taxes, you get a tax cut and do with it what you want. That's real choice. That's real bottom-up, not a bureaucratic approach, the way we run this country.


WEXLER: No. Let's talk -- let's about schools for a minute, OK?


WEXLER: AL Gore says let's invest in our public schools, rebuild schools, and build new ones. Invest in teachers. Invest in little kids, so that they could have preschool programs so that four-year- olds can develop a language association before they get there. George Bush -- let's be honest: After you get done paying 40 percent of all the surplus to the 1 percent top-earners in America, you won't have barely a dime to invest.


KASICH: Wait a minute. Let me say this. I want to say -- no, I want to answer that, because let me tell you, the only schools that Al Gore believed in was St. Albans, a private school.

PRESS: Oh, oh.

KASICH: And denied children an opportunity to send their kids to the public school.


KASICH: Wait a minute. Let me go on. Let me go on.


PRESS: We're going to take another question. I'm sorry. I do forget your name.


PRESS: I know she is from Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Your name, please.

KAREN: Karen.

PRESS: Karen's question for Congressman Kasich. KAREN: Congressman Kasich, do you support or oppose legislation to increase the federal government's role in preventing, investigating and prosecuting hate crimes? If not, why is that?

KASICH: Well, what we are trying to do is to make sure that anybody who commits a crime is going to be punished aggressively. That is exactly what George Bush has done in Texas. But he has done one other thing: He has also invited people of religion into the prisons to try to change people's hearts.

But the bottom line on this is: If you commit a crime, you should be treated equally. And really, that is the bottom line in this.


NOVAK: Is choking a left-wing anchor a hate crime?

WEXLER: Wait. Wait. You know, with all due respect, the question deserves a yes or no answer. Yes, hate crimes legislation ought to be passed. And in the year 2000 in America, people shouldn't be discriminated against because of their color, because of their religion, because of their ethnicity, and, yes, because of their sexual orientation.


NOVAK: Is a murder based on that motive worse than a murder for some other motive?

WEXLER: No, it's not any worse. But the difference is, a hate crime attacks an entire community, as well as the individual victim.

KASICH: We want to treat everybody equal. We don't want to discriminate against anybody. And the fact is, you commit the crime, you do the time. And that's what Republicans have been promoting all along.


NOVAK: I don't want to -- I don't to discriminate against


KASICH: But, but...

PRESS: Next question.

NOVAK: But Greg from Washington, D.C. has a question for Congressman Wexler.

GREG: Actually, I would like to ask why both of the candidates are afraid to debate Ralph Nader.


NOVAK: All right.

PRESS: Ralph Nader in the debates -- you first.

WEXLER: That is fair -- I know John and I would debate him, I'm sure. But...

NOVAK: That wasn't the question.

WEXLER: No, that is right. In fairness, the bipartisan commission for debates sets up the rules. And they set up the rules and said, if you don't have 15 percent of...

NOVAK: So your answer is no.

WEXLER: Well, that is the rules.


WEXLER: You just can't have every candidate everywhere.

KASICH: This is just another matter of the elite trying to set their own rules. Of course, Ralph Nader ought to be in this debate, and so should Pat Buchanan. And let me say one other final thing, though.

PRESS: Why didn't George Bush ask that they be in the debate? George Bush didn't want them in the debate.


PRESS: Why not? What's he afraid of?

KASICH: Bill, I believe that George Bush has said that we should have all these people given an opportunity. The Debate Commission set the rules. I completely disagree with them. But I want to -- I don't want this show to go off the air without my saying one thing.

You talk about the -- Bush's tax cut plan. The single greatest threat to the stability and growth in this country is nothing but tax and spend, which is Gore's plan. What Bush wants to do is he wants to reduce taxes and keep this economy growing. We need a growing economy in this country.


PRESS: We have another question here from Dan in -- from Windwood, Pennsylvania, right, Dan?

DAN: Yes.

PRESS: Your question for Congressman Kasich, Mr. Tax Guy here. That's all he wants to talk about. Go ahead.

DAN: I would like to know how Governor Bush can be so avidly opposed to state-sponsored killing, and abortion issue, but at the same time propose it in a capital-punishment issue. KASICH: Well, look, I mean, abortion is an issue where Governor Bush has been pretty clear. He would like to change people's hearts. He recognizes the fact, until people in this country change their view on abortion, abortion is not going to be illegal. But he stands very much for pro-life. In terms of capital punishment, when you study these cases -- and now with the application of DNA, when somebody commits a violent act and kills a family, a policeman whatever, I believe that capital punishment is an appropriate remedy.

WEXLER: And it's worth repeating the point: If Bush becomes president, the law will change on abortion and Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, because he will appoint one, two, or three judges that will overturn a woman's right to choose.

NOVAK: I think you have made that point three times.

Congressman Wexler, thank you very much.

WEXLER: Thank you.

KASICH: Thank you.

NOVAK: Congressman Kasich.

And Professor Press and I will be back for closing comments in a minute.


NOVAK: We asked you earlier to go online and tell us whether you would watch the presidential debate tomorrow night. And the answer was an overwhelming 86 percent yes, 14 -- only 14 percent said no.

PRESS: What are that 14 percent going to be doing?

NOVAK: Who are they? Watching the baseball game.

Bill, you notice how much John Kasich talked about tax cuts tonight? George W. Bush, on the campaign trail, is talking about tax cuts. You see, your people, people of your ilk, try to scare the Republicans out of talking about tax cuts. They couldn't do it. People think they are overtaxed. And when you put -- when you talk about tax cuts to a liberal, it's like putting a crucifix in the face of a vampire. They melt.

PRESS: Let me just -- let me tell you something, Bob. It is not Democrats who are talking Republicans out of tax cuts. Of the eight big U.S. Senate seats in this country, not one of those eight Republican candidates support George Bush's tax cut. You know why?

Because they know that rich cats like you do not deserve a tax cut. And let me tell you something.

NOVAK: All right...

PRESS: In that debate tomorrow night -- in that debate tomorrow night, when the people see that Al Gore is pro-choice and Bush is not, that Al Gore is pro-environment and Bush is not...


NOVAK: ... a filibuster?

PRESS: ... that Al Gore is for targeted tax cuts and Bush is not, Gore is going to win on the issues.

NOVAK: I want to tell you, that was incorrect. Every one of those eight senators are for tax cuts.

PRESS: But not Bush's tax cuts.

NOVAK: Some -- just a minute -- some of them are better than Bush's tax cuts. And watch it tomorrow night. You're going to be wiped out.

PRESS: I bet.

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

NOVAK: From the right -- join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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