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CNN Today

President Clinton Pitches Economic 'Continuity' in First-Ever Realtime Internet Interview

Aired February 14, 2000 - 2:18 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: If the Internet's the wave of the future, then we've witnessed a bit of history here this afternoon. In case you weren't along for it, President Clinton sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer in the Oval Office for an interview, disseminated over the Worldwide Web featuring realtime questions from those of you folks out there in cyberspace. Among the questions which the president responded, Mr. Clinton took this one about Internet security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, let's take another question from an e-mail that we received.

"Do you think, Mr. President, the federal government could do more for Internet security?"

I know you have a big conference, a big meeting coming up here at the White House tomorrow to deal with this sensitive issue, especially given the hacker problem that we saw in the last few weeks.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the short answer to that is we probably can. And I'm bringing in the group of people to meet with me tomorrow, a lot of people from the high-tech community and from all our government agencies. These "denial of service" attacks are obviously very disturbing and I think there is a way that we can clearly promote security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: The president said we should not overreact, however. Among the other topics today, Mr. Clinton took questions on the election 2000, the U.S. economy and a number of queries pertaining to international policy.

Joining us now, our CNN Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno. Frank covered the White House.

And, Frank, this is vastly different from back in the old days when you covered the White House, with many possibilities not only for future presidents, but President Clinton was mentioning to Wolf in the Oval Office after the interview that maybe the candidates running for president might take advantage of this kind of technology having people out there in cyberspace ask the realtime questions. FRANK SESNO, CNN WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, the candidates certainly have taken advantage of it, Lou. They've all done online chats; several of them have done online chats with CNN. They've also taken the most remarkable use of the Internet to try to rally money and volunteers. We've seen that both among Bill Bradley, John McCain and the other major candidates, although perhaps not to extent that McCain and Bradley have rallied dollars and volunteers.

It was very interesting and not terribly unpredictable that many of those questions coming from those viewers, those online users today, revolved around the Internet and around the connectivity that we now are talking about so much in society, both Internet security -- we heard that a moment ago in that piece of tape we saw -- also the Internet commerce tax. This is a very big deal. The president was asked about that. Says he doesn't want a discriminatory tax, but the problem is what happens when tax dollars start coming away from the so-called bricks-and-mortar kind of establishments, shopping malls and the like, because people are shopping on the Internet.

I thought it was very interesting, too, the president said he wasn't an avid Web shopper but he used it a lot, and shopped for books and did some auction on eBay and that sort of thing.

WATERS: The campaign 2000, the president says, should not get in the middle of this presidential race, but he made no bones about that he was, in fact, going to vote for Al Gore and that he was the man for the job. Anything about the president's position as far as campaign 2000 surprise you?

SESNO: No, not really. I mean, the president was asked right off the bat, and I see my colleague, Major Garrett, standing over there at the White House, it would be interesting to hear his thoughts in just a moment, but the president was asked right off the bat about John McCain and George W. Bush, and he decided, as he has in the past, to stay out of that. He said, I'm not going to get into that.

Lou, what the president is trying very hard to do used, and he used this forum again today, is to wrap himself and, by definition, Al Gore in the economy, not just the sort of job statistics, inflation and that sort of thing, but in fact in the technology that this event was all about, and to say the United States of America is in a very strong economic and technological position right now. His pitch, the president's pitch, is about continuity. That's also Al Gore's pitch.

WATERS: Major Garrett, let's talk to you a bit. The president was in a magnanimous mood today, giving credit, as he has in the past, to Alan Greenspan but also to Republicans in the Congress for the success of the U.S. economy, calling it an American achievement.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, an American achievement. I think he would say that the credit Republicans deserves starts in the year 1997 when they joined with him in a bipartisan budget agreement then.

But he went out of his way, as he usually does, to remind Americans in 1993, when the president put his deficit reduction package on the table, one, as you might recall, included some spending cuts and some higher taxes, but not a single Republican in the House or the Senate supported him. He said he wished he'd -- they'd been with him then, glad they were with him in '97, but he does believes, as Frank pointed out, that he and Vice President Gore deserve, if not the lion's share, the better part of it, for, as he said, creating a different approach to economic -- the economy, society and the world. That's really what he considers his legacy. That's the first time I heard the president mention it in such a short sort of definition of what he really thinks he brought to his seven-going-on-eight years to the White House -- Lou.

WATERS: All right, Major Garrett at the White House. Frank Sesno, Washington bureau chief, in our Washington bureau. Of course, this afternoon, Wolf Blitzer was in the Oval Office with the president.

There's more to talk about, not the least of which is the Social Security legislation now moving removing the earnings caps on folks over 65 years of age who are collecting Social Security benefits. We'll talk to Wolf about that and other subjects a bit later in this hour of CNN TODAY.

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