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Special Event

Gov. Bush Speaks Challenges Gore, Reaches Out to McCain Supporters

Aired March 9, 2000 - 12:57 p.m. ET

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

FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: Want to take you now to event we told you about, George W. Bush holding a news conference, reacting to John McCain's withdrawal from the race, saying he's looking forward to working with him.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... confident we can work together.

I will be glad to answer some questions.

QUESTION: Governor, if there was a campaign-finance-reform bill and if it contained an (OFF-MIKE) that had a ban on individual soft money, would you veto it?

BUSH: We'd just have to see at the time, Carl (ph). I think the area where we can agree is, and a major reform, will be paycheck protection.

QUESTION: But you're not going to close the door on (OFF-MIKE).

BUSH: You're asking me a hypothetical question. What I'm telling you is that we can find good areas of agreement, and that's where John and I can work together. There's an area of agreement, is making sure Al Gore is not elected president.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, I -- it -- you know, I intend to talk to him as soon as possible and thank him for his comments and thank him for his campaign.

QUESTION: Governor, have you asked Senator McCain for his endorsement, will you ask for it, and how important would that be in your efforts to (OFF-MIKE) his voters to your own side?

BUSH: Well, I haven't had a chance to talk to John yet, and I intend to talk to him at his convenience. And what's going to win his supporters over is when they realize that Al Gore is no reformer and Al Gore is no John McCain.

QUESTION: Governor... BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: The people are talking about potential running mates, as you know. Can you in vision any scenario where Bill Bradley would hook up with Vice President Gore?

BUSH: Well, if I were vice president, I'd be asking three questions: could he be the president, do they agree and do they like each other. But I don't know. I don't have any idea what the vice president's going to do on that.

I do know I was amazed, as I said in my talk, that here's a man that stood up in front of America yesterday and talked about bringing (ph) the system of soft money while evidentially there was plans to go out and raise soft money, $35 million. I can't imagine what he's thinking. He must be thinking we're not paying attention. He must be -- must believe that only words that matter in life, and yet today in the newspapers there he is planning a full-scale assault to raise $35 million. It's a perplexing way to lead.

QUESTION: Governor, what's your take (OFF-MIKE) the McCain voters (OFF-MIKE) support you?

BUSH: Well, I think McCain voters will be looking for somebody who will bring honor and integrity to the White House, McCain voters want to hear somebody who has got a positive vision to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart, McCain voters want somebody who knows what they're talking about when it comes to education, McCain want somebody -- I hope they want somebody who will fight for tax relief. I oftentimes said, get asked all the time, well, it seems like the polls don't speak loudly for tax relief. I hope the McCain supporters appreciate my position. I don't care what the polls say. I think it's -- I think it's necessary. I think tax relief is important. I think it's important not only as an insurance policy against an economic downturn. I know tax relief and inform is important to make the code more fair.

Sorry, Glen (ph).

QUESTION: Obviously, they have supported him to date.

BUSH: Yes, they have, and...

QUESTION: .. they have heard your agenda (OFF-MIKE) already (OFF-MIKE).

BUSH: Well, they -- I know, but that may not necessarily mean that they're not going to support my agenda at some point in time. The field is narrowing down.

And you know, I think if people are satisfied with the status quo out of Washington, the tone, the attitude, if Al Gore's message is, you know, vote for me, I'm going to -- I'm going to extend the Clinton-Gore era for another four years, if that's what people want, that's what reform -- people who think they want reform want, then it's going to -- you know, it's a tough vote for me to get. I think people want something differently out of Washington, though. I do believe there are some who want tax relief, and I think when I make my case that tax relief is not a zero-some game that we meet basic needs as well as have tax relief, people will respond. The moral in our military is low. It's important to rebuild the military power of the United States. The status quo is unacceptable when it comes to the military. The status quo is unacceptable when it comes to educating children. As far as I'm concerned, a lot of people hear that, and I look forward to the education debate. It's going to be results versus process. You watch. You're going to think about process all the time out of the vice president's campaign, and I'm going to be talking about whether or not our children are learning. I'm going to challenge the status quo when we find that children aren't learning, and when they are we'll praise them.

QUESTION: Governor, in your phone call with Senator McCain on Tuesday night, was there any talk of the two of you getting together or (OFF-MIKE).

BUSH: I hope we can at some point, but, listen, we just -- both of us have just come off a tough campaign and a tough travel schedule. And there needs to be some time to settle out. John need some time to think; I need some time, and I got my 24 hours and now I'm in to campaigning again. But I am -- I believe that when its all said and done that we can have a good dialogue.

QUESTION: So what was your discussion Tuesday night about?

BUSH: No, there was no timetable of any discussion or anything.

QUESTION: No timetable, but did you discuss in general...

BUSH: Well, no it was a very short conversation. He was, I think -- no, I was getting ready to leave to go give a rally, and he was just congratulating me and my family. I thought his comments today were very warm and generous, and I appreciated them, I do.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Well, I think ask for it, for starters, with an agenda that speaks about making sure every child gets educated. Talk about the need to expand the economic opportunities for all by making sure the economy continues to grow. Make sure people understand the inequities in the current tax code. I often times talk about entrepreneurial growth, but I also understand there are voices of people I call voices on the outskirts of poverty. And nearly every speech I give I talk about the fact that if you're like, for example, a single mom with two children and you're making $22,000 a year, under the current tax code, for every dollar you earn you pay a higher marginal rate on that dollar than someone who's prosperous.

In other words, by the time this campaign is over, people will hear -- I hear all kinds of voices as the president, will hear all kinds of voices as the president. My tax-relief package really does address inequities, inequities that oftentimes affect women.

I'm going to talk about -- a lot about health care over the course of the campaign, health care when it comes to the uninsured, health care when it comes to reforming Medicare. Ours is a state where, in terms of HMO reforms, we're the first state in the union as a -- I think we're the first state in the union -- that allows a patient to take a dispute to an independent review organization, allows a patient who wants to resolve a dispute with an insurance company with what's called an IRO. And if the IRO rules in favor of the patient and the insurance company ignores that finding, then it becomes a cause of action in a court of law.

Most of all, though, I think -- I think also they want somebody to bring honor to the White House, and I'm going to do that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) town hall meetings with (OFF-MIKE) voters. Do you plan on (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: I have - I have asked one-on-ones with George Bush; I've been doing that all across the country. That's the same speech he said he was going to work to ban soft money, the same -- but the day before he went out and said he was going to raise $35 million in soft money.

The way to win independent voters is to speak about ideas that are going to make America a better place for everybody, to talk about the great American dream and how to make it accessible for every willing heart, to talk about entrepreneurship, small business and economic growth. So, I come from the school of thought that says it's important to share some of the surplus with the taxpayers to make sure the economy continues to grow. Independent voters want to know how -- whether or not the economy's going to continue to grow under me. I'm going to talk about keeping the peace, and we can't keep the peace if our military's over-deployed, under-trained and have low morale. These are issues that matter to people whether you're Republican or Democrat or independent.

QUESTION: Governor, is it difficult campaigning a primary campaign you really, for all kinds (ph) of purposes, don't have a (OFF-MIKE).

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: His question was, is it hard to campaign in a primary campaign where you don't have an opponent.

No. I enjoy going out there and giving a speech. After all, we're beginning to lay the groundwork for our successful general- election campaign. Colorado's an important state. I believe I've got a good chance to carry this state, but it's important for me to come and talk about what I intend to do and wave the flag.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: Yes, Dosay (ph). Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: You know this campaign-finance reform was very important to Senator McCain.

BUSH: Yes, it is.

QUESTION: We are led to believe that he would like to have you, you know, come in some direction toward him. Do you see any deal between the way he would have like to reform campaign-finance reform. I understand about paycheck protection, but anything else between his proposal and yours?

BUSH: Well, that's a huge issue, paycheck protection, and that's very important for us to work together on that issue. That would break a -- that would break a major logjam in the Senate, for example. If I'm the president and John's there carrying a reform package, the fact that he has a president helping on paycheck protection would enable him to advance agenda that he thinks important and I think is important banning corporate an agenda that he thinks is important and I think is important, and that's banning corporate and labor union soft money from politics. That would be a major reform. And so there's areas where we can work together and should.

Last question.

QUESTION: Governor, you're attacking Vice President Gore for calling for a ban on soft money then raising it at the same time. Do you (OFF-MIKE) on soft money (OFF-MIKE)

BUSH: No. This is a man who stood up the day he won the nomination and said, this is important, banning soft money. This is a man who, you know, was making the claim; he's saying, you're going to have to vote for me because I want to ban soft money and at the same time laying the groundwork to do so. He's the man who said, I want to ban soft money and the week before President Clinton is out raising soft money. This is a man who -- who -- who went to a Buddhist temple to raise money. And my only point is. Mr. Gore, I'm not going to let you get away with it. I'm going to remind people of how you've conducted business your business in the past and how you're conducting it today and how you're -- what you're doing today.

Listen, thank you all for coming. I'll see you in Provo, Utah.

SESNO: George W. Bush in a press availability saying that he is looking forward to working with John McCain, who announced his suspension of his campaign today, saying that he is trying to plot out some common ground and will get together at some point with John McCain, certainly reaching out to his followers. Also laying down a marker as to exactly how he's going to challenge Al Gore on the subject of money. Al Gore has been calling for an end to soft money, and yet -- and calling for more debates, and yet Bush says this is a guy who's been doing nothing but raising money all this time.

Jeff Greenfield, Bill Schneider join us now.

Jeff, you've been listening to these speeches, this parade of speeches all day long. You know, what we've heard from the McCain people, from McCain himself and others, is that George Bush has to jump on the campaign-reform bandwagon. Did you hear it just now?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Yes. I think I heard something else, if I may, Frank. George W. Bush is already doing what he was trying to do a year ago and may got a lot sidetracked on in the primary battle: reaching out to the center, talking about inequities that affect women, talking about the tax code as it affects single parents making small amounts of money. This is the centrist message that he began with.

One point that I think that is actually a benefit to him from this primary is that you remember months ago when we were talking about whether George W. Bush could satisfy conservatives against the Steve Forbes challenge that he was conservative enough? Well, thanks to McCain's challenge to the right, George Bush has became something of a conservative hero, and leaves him a lot of running room to move to the center. And I think that's one of the things we've started -- we've heard already from Bush today. Whether that affects McCain voters yet, I don't think so. That's down the road.

SESNO: Well, effectively, what you're laying out there, Jeff, is that he is moving past the McCain voters and to the broader swathe of voters. Though McCain today is essentially stamping his foot and saying, I want to hear this, Bush is saying, OK, that's fine, but I'm going to tell you that.

GREENFIELD: That's right, that while McCain is saying I want to hear about campaign-finance reform, George W. Bush is using the reform label around his education policies, around his tax policies. It's exactly the right way to put it because, remember, John McCain ended his campaign trying to convince conservatives and core Republicans he was one of them. Bush, thanks to McCain's challenge -- McCain, in an odd way that none of us would have predicted, I think, months ago -- the hero of the right by fending off McCain's challenge.

And now I think Bush is saying, I'm going to be a reformer, but Senator McCain, it may not be what your reform notion is. It's what my reform notion is, and it's a way for me to contrast this reform with Vice President Gore, who I plan to label the candidate of the status quo.

SESNO: Jeff, the olive branches are falling rather rapidly now in certain quarters, reaching out to hold hands and move forward in some degree of unity here. Lindsey Graham, who backed John McCain very vigorously, had a comment just a moment ago, calling for all sides to work together. Here's a bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would expect that this would progress over time, that the McCain camp and the Bush camp will try to unite not just in a political sense, but try to create the momentum that John brought and the leadership that Governor Bush brought to energize our party and to keep these Independent voters and crossover Democrats with us. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SESNO: To Bill Schneider now: Bill, where's the common ground here?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there was one piece of common ground that George Bush opened up today. When he talked about the issue of paycheck protection. Now that's important because John McCain, the McCain-Feingold Bill, was a campaign reform bill that did not include a provision that would ban labor unions from using their members dues for political purposes without their explicit consent.

Now, George Bush has always said he supports campaign-finance reform, but it must include paycheck protection, as Republicans call it. What he said today was that he thinks there's the makings of a deal with John McCain on that issue if McCain -- because, you know, McCain doesn't oppose paycheck protection, he just says they had to drop it out of the bill because it was a poison pill that met with the -- so much opposition from Democrats they could never get it through Congress.

But they can, in principle, agree on campaign-finance reform, including paycheck protection. And Bush said if he becomes president and supports paycheck protection, he believes he could get that bill through Congress. So there is some common ground there even on campaign finance.

SESNO: Bill Schneider, thanks to you.

Jeff Greenfield, to you as well.

As our special coverage today revolving around these speeches from these candidates and former candidates has brought you the very latest in campaign 2000, stay with us throughout the day.

I'm Frank Sesno in Washington.

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