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Special Event

Gov. Bush: Sen. McCain is 'a Man Who Wants to Point Fingers'

Aired February 28, 2000 - 1:38 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to cover the presidential candidates' campaign stops. Right now, George W. Bush is taking questions after a rally in Bellevue, Washington. And he was just talking about his opponent, John McCain. Let's listen in as the questions for him continue.


QUESTION: Do you consider salmon to be pork?


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great question. No, I don't. I talked to Senator Slade Gorton about the program. It's an important program.

No, I don't consider salmon recovery pork. I think it's an important program.

Yes, Dulce (ph).

QUESTION: Governor, you know, the gist of what Senator McCain is saying is that your are a captive of the Christian right. Can you just tell us what you think your relationship is with the Christian right? I mean, this obviously all stems out of South Carolina.

BUSH: This is a man who wants to point fingers. You can't lead America to a better tomorrow by calling names and pointing fingers. He is a person who obviously wants to divide people into camps. The Republican Party needs as a nominee someone who is a uniter, somebody who cannot only unite our party and lead us to victory, but unite the country and lead us to a better tomorrow. He invokes the name of Ronald Reagan and yet, at the same time, plays upon people's religious fears, and that's not the politics of Ronald Reagan I remember.

QUESTION: But how would you describe your relationship with what we term the religious right or Christian conservative?

BUSH: Well, there's a lot of people in our party who happen to be Christians and are conservative people. In my relationship with one, I'm earning -- you need to ask them, but I believe that they recognize I'm the one person who can lead our country. You know, I'd much rather be debating education with Senator McCain, who has, evidentially, limited vision on the subject. He's been in the Congress for years, and I know of no reform plan. I've got a record on education. People from all walks of life understand my record on education. People understand, no matter what label you may attach to them, that I know how to lead, and I can bring people together to lead. It's important to have somebody head our party who can unite our party, not someone who wants to play divisive politics and someone who plays on religious fears -- yes.

QUESTION: Governor, you are not a captive of the religious right as Senator McCain seems to allege. Could you tell us two issues on which you disagree with Pat Robertson? For example, do you share his views on homosexuality?

BUSH: I -- you know, this is a political game that Senator McCain is trying to play by pitting one group of people against another. I'm going to tell the people of this country what I'm for and where I intend to lead the country. I'm going to continue making the case that I'm a reformer whose gotten positive results, a leader who can get something done, a leader who has laid down an education plan that is positive and hopeful, a leader who sets high standards, trusts local people to make the right decisions for the schools, understand accountability and have an accountability system in schools. And I can point to results. The Republican Party who needs to have a candidate who can say, as a result of my leadership. test scores amongst African-Americans and Hispanics are up. I'm going to talk about what I'm for. Evidentially, he wants to run a campaign talking about what he is against. Republicans and America are looking for somebody who can lift our spirit, somebody who's a uniter, not a divider.

Yes, Jill.

QUESTION: You said earlier that you can judge a man by the company he keeps, and you were referring to your wife.

BUSH: I am referring to my wife.

QUESTION: And is it -- but is it fair to use that to look at Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as well.

BUSH: They're supporters of mine, but I've got all kinds of supporters.

And what the Republican Party needs to do is have somebody who can unite our party, somebody who can bring people together, somebody who can lead us to victory. And, more importantly, somebody who can get something done, somebody who can walk in to the Republican senators and say, I'm going to lead us, follow. This is a man who's made the reputation of, you know, alleging that Republican senators somehow are not on the up and up. I asked a question, how can he walk in and say, follow me. The job of a leader is to lead, and I've got the capacity to unite, and I have. Bring people together to articulate a compassionate conservative philosophy that will make America a better place. That's what I want to debate and that's what I want to continue talking about -- Mike.

QUESTION: Governor, any reaction from Cardinal O'Connor or Catholic leaders to you letter?

BUSH: Well, Jack Donahue (ph) this morning, evidentially, on one of the shows was -- I haven't seen it, so I need to make sure I've seen the script on NBC this morning -- who was a person who watches -- who is very much involved in the Catholic issues. Jack Donahue, I believe his name is, was very strong. But I need -- we can get some transcripts for you.

Yes, people are coming -- people know my heart. People know what my record -- people know I've been an inclusive governor. And people are beginning to condemn the kind of politics that Mr. McCain has been engaged in. He's the person who stands and says, I will be honest and I'll run a positive campaign, yet looked at the national media right in the eye and denied being involved with the calls going into the state of Michigan, looked you right in the eye and said. I don't know anything about it, and then yesterday in "The New York Times" admitted that he knew something about it and approved the scripts. It's important to have people who, you know, say one thing and do the same thing in political office. And a lot of people -- a lot of people are coming to my defense because they don't like this kind of politics, politics of personal destruction, politics -- the use of religion, shamelessly using religion to get ahead, and evidentially it's happening here in the state of Washington again -- Yes.

QUESTION: Do you believe that anonymous phone calls are a legitimate campaign tactic...

BUSH: Anonymous...

QUESTION: ... And if not, will you pledge that your campaign won't make any?

BUSH: Sure. But you know, you talk about anonymous phone calls, these are phone calls made under the guise of some bogus group, and they were made so that people such as yourself couldn't track the source, and then when after the Michigan polls closed the campaign admitted making those anonymous phone calls. Senator McCain said on TV, I had nothing to do with that, I don't know what you're talking about, and then admitted he knew the script and approved the script? That kind of -- that kind of campaigning is just, you know, it's -- it shows a man is willing to say one thing and he does another, and people are going to react to that -- Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) apology to civil rights groups (OFF-MIKE) Bob Jones after offering an apology to Catholics.

BUSH: No, I missed an opportunity to speak out, that's what I regret. I regret that opportunity to speak out, to speak my heart. I talked about bringing people together, I talked about leading for a better tomorrow in that speech, I talked about how hopeful and optimistic I am for the future, but I missed an opportunity to speak out against anti-Catholic bias. I did speak out right after the speech about their views on interracial dating; I thought they were wrong.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) civil rights groups approach you? BUSH: No, I will say the same thing that I just said. I regret missing an opportunity.

Hold on for a second. Don't tell me he's accepted the debate.


ALLEN: Candidate George W. Bush who again expressed regret for his appearance at Bob Jones University in South Carolina, which has received much criticism, saying that he should have spoken out about racial tolerance after appearing at Bob Jones University. He also criticized his opponent, John McCain, attacking him, saying he's been playing on religious fears as McCain has gone on to talk about Bush's Bob Jones appearance.

Bush also says that McCain hasn't been honest with the American public about phone calls made to voters in Michigan.

And when asked many questions about his views on the religious right, George Bush didn't want to take them today. He wouldn't directly answer a question about his relationship with the religious right, and he would not take a question on what views he holds differently from Pat Robertson.

He continued to talk up his record, his stance on education, and says he has been an inclusive governor.


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