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What Do Gore and Bush Need to Say in Tonight's Debate?

Aired October 11, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, George Bush and Al Gore face off for a second time in just 90 minutes. Who will come out on top? The candidate who prepped by focusing on foreign policy or the one who prepped by watching "Saturday Night Live"?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, in Winston- Salem, North Carolina, Senator John Edwards, North Carolina co-chair of the Gore campaign, and Governor Tom Ridge from Pennsylvania, a Bush supporter.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE and round two. Yes, in just an hour and a half, Al Gore and George Bush step back into the ring with the same moderator, Jim Lehrer, but in a different location, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and with a different format: no podiums this time, just sitting around a table.

Trying to avoid any pitfalls, both candidates spent the last three days boning up, George Bush huddling with foreign policy advisers so he's up to speed on Serbia and the Middle East, Al Gore watching reruns of "Saturday Night Live" so he doesn't groan and sigh as much as he did the last time.

Well, while they warm up, we gear up with our predebate debate tonight on the issues. Bob Novak is at the debate site down in Winston-Salem -- Bob.


Senator Edwards, I just heard something this week from your candidate, Al Gore, Vice President Gore, that I have never in my over 40 years of covering national politics heard. And let's just listen to what he said about the debate out in Boston eight days ago.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll do my best to get the details right, and I'll also be sighing a little bit less in this debate.


NOVAK: Your candidate just admitted, senator, that he messed up on the details and he looked like a jerk by sighing. How can an experienced politician with all the high-priced help go into that first debate that way?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), NORTH CAROLINA CO-CHAIR OF THE GORE CAMPAIGN: Oh, Bob, you know as well as I do this election is not going to be decided based on how many sighs Al Gore had or George Bush had in the debate. It's going to be decided based on the issues that really matter in people's lives. You know, who's going to balance the budget, make sure we keep a balanced budget? Who's going to have targeted tax cuts? Who's going to help, invest in education, pass a real prescription drug benefit to our senior citizens? That's what's going to decide this election. It's what ought to decide the election.

NOVAK: Well, senator, you may say that it doesn't matter. It matters to a lot of people that Vice President Gore had -- made a lot of misstatements. He talked about a visit to Texas that didn't happen. He talked about an uncle in the Balkans who was never in -- getting gassed in the Balkans in World War I, never happened. He talked about a girl who didn't have a seat in a class. She didn't have a seat for one day.

And let's listen again to what Al Gore said about all those mistakes.


GORE: I take responsibility for getting some of the details wrong.


NOVAK: He admits he gets it wrong. Why can't you, senator?

EDWARDS: Oh, I think he's doing the responsible thing, Bob. I mean, he's saying he got a few details wrong. You know, he went -- he went to Texas to visit the fires with the deputy director of FEMA instead of the director of FEMA.

By the way, Governor Bush said Al Gore spent more on the campaign than he had spent. That's, of course, not true. Dick Cheney said that Halliburton, the company that he was CEO of, didn't benefit from any relationship with the government. That's not true.

You know, in the heat of battle, sometimes people get details wrong, but ultimately what's going to really matter is who has a vision for this country, a vision that's in-line with what the majority of Americans want, which is focussing on education and health care, Social Security.

NOVAK: Well, isn't -- you're on -- you're on the inside of the Gore campaign, senator. Isn't it true -- you say it really doesn't matter. But isn't it true that they have really prepped him for this debate tonight not to exaggerate, not to tell falsehoods, and not to interrupt and sigh? That's the truth, isn't it?

EDWARDS: I think the truth is, is that what Al Gore has done is stepped and been a man about this. I mean, he said, yes, I said a few things that weren't exactly right. He's corrected them. He's taken full responsibility for that. That's exactly what he ought to do.

By the way, I've not heard Governor Bush do that about his misstatements and I've not heard Dick Cheney do that about his misstatements.

PRESS: Governor Ridge, I -- good evening.

GOV. TOM RIDGE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Bill, I knew you'd get to me sooner or later.

PRESS: Here we are, governor. You know, I knew that Bob Novak was going to start picking on these little details that Al Gore might have gotten wrong, senator -- governor. And I'm sure you saw on the front page of "The Wall Street Journal" today a good article that pointed out that what they called embroidery is nothing new in presidential politics.

For example, governor, when Ronald Reagan was president, he told Yitzhak Shamir that he was one of the first photographers to rush into the liberated Nazi concentration camps and take photographs when, in fact, we all know Ronald Reagan never even left Hollywood. My question is...

RIDGE: Right.

PRESS: ... why is it so wrong for Al Gore to exaggerate but it's OK for Republicans to tell outright lies?

RIDGE: Well, Bill, I think it's more than just exaggeration, it's not just about matters that are personal. It's about matters that are public. It's a pattern of conduct that goes back 10 to 12 years.

You know, when I watched the vice presidential debate and Joe Lieberman said that he had a friend who had been the victim of racial profiling, I concluded -- I knew in my own mind, knowing a little bit about Senator Lieberman, that he clearly was telling the truth. I'm sure he did. But after the presidential debate, I happened to be talking to a national journalist, and I said I think over the next couple of days we will discover that there were two or three either complete falsehoods or gross distortions.

And the fact of the matter is it didn't begin in the first presidential debate. His own campaign advisers back in 1998 -- in 1988, when he first ran for president, said, senator, Al, you've got to get yourself and your personality under control. I mean, you don't need to exaggerate, you don't need to make up these things, you've got a public record. But whenever he gets the heat on him and the lights are on -- and there's a record Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the union lullaby, the income tax credit -- I mean, the list goes on and on.

People are beginning to wonder about credibility here.

PRESS: Well, but, governor, I mean, whether or not he was there, as Senator Edwards pointed out, with the deputy director of FEMA or the director of FEMA is really of no consequence. I mean, the Republicans...

RIDGE: Well...

PRESS: Wait, let me ask my question please.

RIDGE: Sure. I'm sorry.

PRESS: Are lying on substantial issues. You talked about the vice presidential debate. I want to give you an example of Dick Cheney telling a big whopper at vice presidential debate.

Please listen to this. You'll remember it.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm pleased to say -- see, Dick, from the newspapers that you're better off than you were eight years ago, too.

And most of it...


DICK CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I can tell you, Joe, that the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.


PRESS: Now, governor, that's a nice line, but the fact is Cheney got his job because he was secretary of defense. He no sooner gets to Halliburton, he goes back to the Pentagon, he gets $2 billion in contracts from federal agencies. And last year, Halliburton got an $85 million tax break from the federal government.

I mean, he was feeding at the trough of the federal government all that time.

RIDGE: Bill, look, let me just make two comments here. First of all, you know and I know, because you're in Washington more than I am, that those who leave the House and the Senate more often that not end up either downtown or placed elsewhere in the private sector as Republicans and Democrats because of their experience in the House and the Senate. That is not unique to Secretary Cheney.

I happen to know a lot of friends of Al Gore's who served with me in the House that are well-connected downtown as well.

I think the point that -- I think the point that Dick Cheney was trying to make...

PRESS: How about the $2 billion in contracts, governor? The $2 billion in contracts?

RIDGE: I think the point that the vice president -- well, I've already got him elected; we still have some more work to do. But the point Secretary Cheney was making is that this Clinton-Gore team has been running around taking enormous credit for this extraordinary prosperity we've enjoyed when in fact there's a lot of credit to be shared, but very little has to go with what this administration has done over the past seven years.

EDWARDS: Bob, can I...

NOVAK: Senator -- senator, it's been...

EDWARDS: Bob, can I just respond to what the governor said?

PRESS: Go ahead, senator.

EDWARDS: I'm sorry. I didn't to interrupt you.

PRESS: Go ahead, senator. I just have to say, I know Al Gore, I know his family. This is a good man. He's a good father, a good family man, a good husband, a good grandfather, and he's an honest man, he's a man of integrity. He has extraordinary -- almost a quarter century of public service. And for him to be demeaned based upon, as I say, whether he went to Texas with the director of FEMA or the deputy director, that's not what this election is about. And I tell you, Bob, that's not the basis on which real voters...


NOVAK: Senator, I think you made that point a couple times. You know, it's been widely reported that Vice President Gore prepped for this second debate by watching some of the takes from "Saturday Night Live," and for some of the CROSSFIRE viewers who don't regularly watch "Saturday Night Live," I'd like to have them take a look at the impersonation -- a little bit of the impersonation of Vice President Gore.

Let's watch it.


ACTOR PLAYING GORE: Etta's prescription drug bills are staggering!


They run to nearly $113 million a day.


And she tells me that some weeks she has to choose between eating or treating her lyme disease.


Now, under my plan Etta's prescription drugs would be covered. Under my opponent's plan, her house would be burned to the ground.



NOVAK: Senator, honest and truly, you can't really tell the difference between that guy and Al Gore, can you?

EDWARDS: Oh, Bob, you know, Al Gore would tell you himself that he has trouble relaxing, but there's a real fundamental question that has to be decided in this election. When -- who are we going to have in the White House making decisions and judgments about what needs to be done with the process in the Middle East? Who is going to decide what we need to be doing about the situation in Yugoslavia? Do we want somebody who has a deep understanding and a deep commitment to public service, who understands what needs to be done under very difficult circumstances, or do we want someone who there's at least a serious question about his capacity to be president?

NOVAK: I thought -- I thought I asked you, senator, whether that guy reminded you of Al Gore and you didn't quite give me an answer.

EDWARDS: Oh, no. Well, unfortunately, I can't see it, and I haven't seen the clip. My suspicion is he probably does look and sound a little like Al Gore, and I think Al Gore would say that himself. I at least read somewhere today that he laughed about it, too.

NOVAK: We're going to have to take a break, and when we come back we'll have more of this pre-debate debate between John Edwards and Tom Ridge.


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University where in less than an hour and a half from now it's Gore versus Bush, Act 2. Previewing that debate for us are Republican -- are Democratic Senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Republican Governor Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania -- Bill Press.

PRESS: OK. Governor Ridge, unlike Bob Novak, I do stay up on Saturday nights to watch "Saturday Night Live," and I don't want Novak to get ahead of me by showing a clip of Al Gore's imitation. I'd like to show you what "Saturday Night Live" showed about -- I know you'll just be able to listen to it, but you'll get the point.

This is -- this is their take on George W. Bush in the last debate. "Saturday Night Live," here we go.


ACTOR PLAYING LEHRER: Governor Bush, this question is for you and it concerns foreign policy.


Last week in Serbian elections, we saw the apparent defeat of President Slobodan Milosevic by challenger Vojislav Kostunica, yet Milosevic refused to step aside. As president, would you apply pressure on Milosevic and openly aid Kostunica and his Noviat Serbskaya (ph) Party, or by working with neighbors...


... such as Karadon Ragonjavic (ph) of Croatia, Istivan Kajnoinsy (ph) of Hungary or Antos Paslagaros (ph) of Greece?


PRESS: Governor, you had to see the expression on George Bush, who couldn't follow any of it to appreciate the humor there. But...

RIDGE: I can imagine the expression on your face.

PRESS: Doesn't -- I loved it. Doesn't that touch a sore point, that when it comes to foreign policy, this guy is just unequipped, governor?

RIDGE: Bill, I'm glad that you chose that clip from "Saturday Night Live," because if you recall the exchange during the debate on that very issue, Governor Bush suggested, given the uncertainty with regard to Milosevic's retirement, that perhaps we engage the Russians for a little quiet diplomacy because of their interest, and that whole idea was rejected rather summarily by the vice president. And as we find out a day or two later that Governor Bush's instincts and his counts were correct. This administration itself engaged the Russians to intervene.

So I think you score one for Governor Bush and zero for "Saturday Night Live" and zero for Al Gore.

PRESS: No, not so -- not so fast there, governor. I mean, Al Gore made the important distinction that we should engage the Russians -- I mean, of course, we engage the Russians. Duh! We've been doing that since the Kosovo war. But we only engaged the Russians once they agreed that Kostunica was the elected president.

But governor, you avoided my question. You're -- listen, I'll give you credit. You're a governor of Pennsylvania, you're a good governor. But you've got to admit, as a governor, you don't have any experience in foreign policy and neither does George Bush.

RIDGE: Well, I've got to tell you one of the greatest presidents we've had in recent political history that had an extraordinary record dealing with foreign policy, surrounded himself with great, great talent, and...

PRESS: Bill Clinton.

RIDGE: No. It happens to be Ronald Reagan. So this whole notion that governors, because they themselves haven't studied every detail about every foreign leader, as long as they understand the situation, they surround themselves with good talent, their instincts are good about these things, and their judgment is sound -- and I think you saw -- you got just a glimpse of Governor Bush's judgment. His first response to that question, you've got an interest there, but the Soviet Union has some leverage as well, let's engage them. It's a pretty good answer.

You know, I've got to give credit where credit's due.

NOVAK: Senator Edwards, I'd like to have you respond to that, because Governor Ridge is quite correct. There's no question that the vice president really took Governor Bush to task for saying we should bring the Russians in at the same time -- at the same that the secretary of state was placing eight different calls to Foreign Minister Ivanov to bring in the Russians.

Isn't that the kind of double-dealing that kind of upsets a lot of voters with the vice president?

EDWARDS: No. In fact, I think what Bill Press said -- just said is exactly right, Bob. Bob, there can't be a serious question about which of these two men, Governor George Bush or Vice President Al Gore, is better prepared to deal with issues of foreign policy. I mean, if you ask the American people today who they want negotiating with foreign leaders, whether they want George Bush or Al Gore negotiating with foreign leaders on difficult, often very delicate negotiations, I bet the response would be overwhelming. It's an obvious choice.

NOVAK: You know, what Republicans respond to that, senator, is that the secretary of state almost surely in a Bush administration would be General Colin Powell, the national security director would be Condoleezza Rice, and you also have a very experienced foreign policy operator in Dick Cheney as vice president.

Can you -- can you put up -- who would you put up on the Democratic side against those people? Al Gore?

EDWARDS: Oh, I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- Al Gore will choose very good people. But more importantly, Bob, the American people don't want the presidency subcontracted. We need somebody in the Oval Office who's prepared and has the experience to make difficult judgments about foreign policy. We don't want to elect somebody who can subcontract that job to somebody the American people know very little about and they're not voting on.

NOVAK: Senator Edwards, you're one of the richest men in politics, one of the richest men in politics, one of the multimillionaires.


EDWARDS: That is unfair. That is unfair.

PRESS: Personal attack.

NOVAK: How do you feel -- how do you feel about your candidate playing class warfare out of the book of Karl Marx, talking about class tax cuts for the rich, denouncing the business interests of the country. Does that bother you at all?

EDWARDS: No, I'll tell what Al Gore is doing. It has nothing to do with class warfare. What he's doing, Bob, is saying what all of us who spend any time in Washington know. The governor knows it from his time in Congress. You know it from all your years there. Bill certainly knows it, which is, that in Washington, there are some very powerful interests.

They're on our doorstep all the time. They make huge campaign contributions. And their voices are loud and clear. What Al Gore is saying is he's going to make sure that the regular people of this country have a voice in the White House. It's just that simple.

PRESS: Governor Ridge...


PRESS: Governor Ridge, we are just about out of time. But I just want to ask you one final question here. You know, I -- whatever happens, I think the American people will survive this election. I'm not sure the English language will survive this election. I'd like to play a bite of George Bush the other day attacking Al Gore's -- his policies on tax cuts.

Now, this is not from "Saturday Night Live," Governor. This is George Bush himself. Listen up, please.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a man who's campaigning on what's called targeted tax relief. It's so targeted that 50 million Americans will never see any tax relief. But it's so prescriptive, it's going to require numerous IR agents -- A agents -- to even try to figure out what he means.


PRESS: IRA agents, Governor. I mean, I hope they leave their AK-47s behind. I mean, how do you know -- isn't this getting to be a problem any time this guy opens his mouth?

RIDGE: Well, one of these days, Bill, when we go back to talk more than just personalities, but I will tell you this -- and the senator and I want to come back and do that -- but I would just as soon have a man who may, like most Americans -- perhaps such as yourself and Bob -- who occasionally may mispronounce a word or two, rather than one who intentionally misstates critical facts that deal with public policy issues.

There's a huge difference. It's human to misstate a word, to get your syntax out of line. That's perfectly normal. And I think we ought to just move on and talk about which is the leader we can trust. And at the end of the day, you come down to credibility. And you don't worry about misstatements -- you worry -- about syntax, you worry about misstatements of fact.

PRESS: OK, Governor. Governor, we have got lots of more questions, but we have no more time. So we have to say good night.

RIDGE: I'm sorry about that.

PRESS: Senator Edwards, thank you very, very much. Good to see you back down there in your home state. Thanks for joining us on CROSSFIRE.

Governor Ridge, always good to have you with us on CROSSFIRE.

RIDGE: Thank you.

PRESS: Thanks very much, Governor.

Bob Novak and I will get in our closing comments, coming up right after this break.


PRESS: Stay tuned to CNN for tonight's presidential debate, which officially begins at 9:00 Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. And then, once the debate ends, the spinning begins tonight at midnight Eastern. Tucker Carlson and I will take your best spin via the Internet, faxes or on the phone -- Bob.

NOVAK: Bill, all through his long career, Al Gore's problem has been embellishment, or if you want to call it lying, not telling the truth. It all caught up with him eight nights ago. And he comes into this debate, Bill, in a very tense situation. He's got to watch every word to make sure he doesn't exaggerate. That's a lot of pressure on a presidential candidate.

PRESS: Let me tell you something, Bob. George Bush lied when he said Al Gore outspent him. George Bush lied when he said his Social Security plan won't cut benefits. George Bush's lies are worse than Al Gore's exaggerations.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Have fun down there, Bob.

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



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