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Capital Gang

William Kristol Discusses Missile Defense, Potential VPs and the Turning Tide of the New York Senate Race

Aired July 8, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.


I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is William Kristol, the editor and publisher of "The Weekly Standard."

It's good to have you back, Bill.


SHIELDS: Thank you.

The last test of the proposed national missile defense system before President Clinton decides whether to give the go-ahead was a bitter disappointment.


LT. GEN. RONALD KADISH, BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE ORG.: We did not intercept the warhead that we expected to have tonight.

What it tells me is we have more engineering work to do.

JACQUES GANSLER, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I would say we didn't get the data we had hoped to have. The question of whether it's an absolute need or not is the one that the secretary and the president will be deciding.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, does this mean President Clinton will leave missile defense to his successor?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Well, as the general said, it's back to the drawing board, and Clinton is off the hook here. Why would you approve something and go ahead with a $30 billion system when you -- under the most ideal conditions, laboratory conditions, they set this thing off and it couldn't work? It's not going to work under real conditions. They don't know whether they want it land-based or sea-based. There's nothing about the thing now that allows you to really put a lot of money in it and move ahead. And I don't mean to suggest that the technology won't someday be there. I mean, part of it is the thing that tells us in the car where we are when we don't know where we are, make a U-turn. And it may someday work, but not now.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, two out of three test failures.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": First place, this was not a failure of the whole equipment, it was a failure of one stage that they were going to get additional data out of. Now any kind of scientific development has setbacks. You remember how many -- when we were trying to put a man on the moon, all the first shots were failures? The early ICBM technology they had failures.

But the interesting thing to me is people who were against us in the Vietnam War but wanted to bomb Beirut and Belgrade back to the stone age, somehow they get a great deal of joy out of this failure. I don't understand why they don't want to protect America. But of course President Clinton doesn't want to have this decision made. And this is a far cry from the space-based system of President Reagan anyway. So let the next president make this decision.

SHIELDS: Next president, Bill Kristol?

KRISTOL: Yes, I mean, Bill Clinton killed some of the most promising missile defense system when he took over that he would have inherited from the Reagan and Bush administrations, he's cut back on fundings of others, and he's tried to make it all to fit within the ABM treaty, which has very much hindered the kinds of technology we can use. So where we are is not where we should be eight years or at the end of this decade. I mean, we wasted eight years in defending -- in developing good missile defenses. The next president's going to have to do it.

SHIELDS: But, Al, India, Pakistan and Israel all have nuclear capabilities, as we all know, and none of them is a possible threat. So we're down to North Korea, Iraq and Iran. Is that basically what we're talking about?

HUNT: Well, Mark, I think the strategic case is a debatable case. I mean, does it make for a less or more stable world? And is a defense system intrinsically linked to our nuclear arsenal, and should we share it with others like Taiwan?

But it seems to me that the case made by a whole lot of scientists, maybe the majority of scientists who know something about this, that it just doesn't work from what we know so far, because you can't differentiate missiles from well-concealed decoys is more persuasive.

And Bob's right that this was not -- this isn't what happened this time, it was a more elemental failure. And you can overcome that for sure, but the logic, basically, is that a North Korea or an Iran will be sophisticated enough to develop a missile that can hit U.S. targets, but not sophisticated enough to have well-concealed decoys with them. I think that's hard to overcome.

NOVAK: Yes, Mark -- I mean Al -- I know you're Al...

HUNT: I was for bombing Belgrade, too.

NOVAK: Yes, I know you were. And those scientists are the same bearded, bespectacled scientists...

SHIELDS: You're going to describe them, Bob?

NOVAK: Yes, I'm going to describe them -- who wanted a unilateral nuclear disarmament with the Soviet Union. They wanted to give in to the Soviets. So I take no word from those people. Those people are left-wing ideologues, they are not real scientists. I believe the generals who think it can work. I respect their view a little bit more.

SHIELDS: I think we're talking about 50 Nobel prize winners, but go ahead.

CARLSON: Mark, the clean-shave general before the Senate Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago said a thousand things could go wrong. We're not there yet. And, in fact, nearly a thousand things did go wrong. Why would you put $30 billion into something that's basically still on the drawing board?

NOVAK: To save the country. That's why, to save the country.


SHIELDS: Who do we save the country from? From?


NOVAK: Who knows what?

KRISTOL: No, it's not -- look, it's not just to save the country. You cannot have U.S. leadership in the world unless you have the ability to defend your troops and defend your homeland. If Saddam had nuclear weapons with missiles, which he could well have in two or three years, are we going to intervene in Kuwait next time?

SHIELDS: Iran, Iraq and North Korea, Bill, but, I mean, is there anybody that doesn't think massive retaliation to any attack upon the United States would follow?

NOVAK: Well that was the theory of mutual self-destruction.

SHIELDS: You think that's the case, Bob?

Well, all right. That's the last word, Bob Novak. You got bearded scientists and all.

Bill Kristol and THE GANG will be back with the running mate free-for-all.

And later, what Rick Lazio says about Hillary Clinton, he ought to be ashamed.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

One month before the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush conferred about choosing a vice president.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The main tests are: Can the person be the president? And will the person be loyal to the administration? And can the person bring, you know, the added value in a Bush administration?


SHIELDS: The most frequently mentioned possibility is Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who is pro-choice.


GOV. TOM RIDGE (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I don't believe that the decision on a running mate will be predicated upon that issue alone.

ED RENDELL, DNC GENERAL CHAIRMAN: In the end, they're going to pull the rug out and pull -- pick a pro-life candidate. And that shows who controls the Republican Party.


SHIELDS: Other contenders include Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Fred Thompson and Bill Frist of Tennessee.

On the Democratic side, would House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt rather be vice president than speaker of the House?


REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (R-MO), MINORITY LEADER: Harry Truman once said once, I don't answer iffy questions.


SHIELDS: Other prospects include Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Bob Graham of Florida and John Kerry of Massachusetts, former Senator George Mitchell of Maine and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.

Boy, that's a long list, Bob. Who is ahead, Bob Novak? Help us out.

NOVAK: Probably somebody who's not on that list.

SHIELDS: That's right. NOVAK: I would think that Governor Ridge, although Governor Bush likes him and he's very popular in the party, is out. I believe that it is a "risky," to use a Gore word, a risky decision to put a pro- choice person on the ticket or make the abortion debate go on and on and on in the Republican Party, so I think Ridge is out.

I would think that Frank Keating of Oklahoma, who is Catholic, has a very good shot. And I believe, I hear from very good sources, that Governor Bush is interested in Bill Frist of Tennessee, who...

SHIELDS: What's moved him up?

NOVAK: The fact that he is from Tennessee, he's a doctor, he's very good on the health care issue, Bush likes him, and he would make Gore defend his home state of Tennessee.

On the Democratic side, I haven't any idea. I get the feeling from our interview on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" today with Ed Rendell, that they don't want to take somebody just for electoral votes, like Dick Durbin of Illinois. I think he's kind of fading. I hear a lot of talk about John Kerry of Massachusetts, a very smart guy, attractive politician, a good debater and very simpatico with Gore.

SHIELDS: I really agree with Bob Novak, but I will say about John Kerry, he went toe to tow against Bill Weld in that tumultuous Senate race up there in 1996 and bested him in the debates.

Bill Kristol, what -- amend, expunge, ignore, qualify, agree with Mr. Novak.

KRISTOL: That's a lot of -- there's a lot of all those things except the last one, no agreeing with.

Look, John McCain is the obvious pick for vice president. Governor Ridge said last week that Bush-McCain would be the strongest ticket. I was talking with a typical swing voter one hour ago, not entirely political, a very nice woman who said, soccer mom, said, I'm a little nervous about Bush. If you put McCain on the ticket, it would sure reassure me. It's the strongest ticket.

Governor Bush is probably to insecure to take Senator McCain. He wants somebody he's comfortable with, someone who won't challenge him, in which case I think he will take Governor Ridge. He likes him, he's from Pennsylvania. And Bob says he won't take him because he's pro- choice, Governor Bush has said that abortion is not a litmus test. Isn't he telling the truth, Bob?

NOVAK: Maybe not.

KRISTOL: I'm shocked, I'm shocked. How can that be the case?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, a native of Pennsylvania. Here's Tom Ridge, grew up in a public housing project, blue collar, Harvard, goes as an enlisted man, sergeant, combat, bronze star in Vietnam, I mean, that doesn't fit with the usual image of the Republican polo player. CARLSON: Right, and I'm proud to call him my governor. But the fact that he's a Catholic works against him. Bush can choose a...

NOVAK: Because he's pro-choice.

CARLSON: ... pro-choice person, but not if that person is Catholic. It really works against him if that person's a Catholic. So that's why I think that Ridge is out. It wouldn't offend the GOP right, it would offend the Catholics.

On Tennessee, if Bush is going to choose a senator from Tennessee, he would choose Fred Thompson, the senior senator from Tennessee. He's a McCain tracking stock, for one thing. He's -- you know, you can get a little bit of the McCain vote with him. He brings a little excitement. He's a movie star with gravitas, and Bush gets along with him.

McCain is the strongest. It will never happen, and not because McCain doesn't want it but because Bush won't have the gumption to do it.

And I would introduce a new name on the Democratic side, Joe Lieberman. Brings rectitude to the ticket to spare...

SHIELDS: Connecticut senator...

CARLSON: Connecticut senator, Orthodox Jew...

SHIELDS: First to criticize President Clinton.

CARLSON: ... first to criticize. He's a new, new Democrat, very independent. He would provide the honesty and the anti-campaign stuff that...

NOVAK: Morality?

CARLSON: But that's your word. But I wouldn't say it's an immoral vice president, but it would balance the ticket in that way.

Also, he has a great sense of humor, which I think is something that we need.


HUNT: Mark, we're all tossing darts in the dark here. The good news for me is that I spoke personally Tuesday night to Dick Cheney, who is Bush's point man on the VP.

SHIELDS: And he told you?

HUNT: The bad news is we talked about his grandchildren, who I'm afraid are not candidates. That's all we talked about.

I agree with most of the analysis here. I think Bush's prime -- I think Bush thinks he's going to win this election, and so, therefore, what he's mainly interested in is do no harm. Don't upset any constituency. I think Bill Kristol's right. He doesn't have the security to pick John McCain. He won't pick Fred Thompson. There's a stature gap. Fred's cavorted with liberals, and so you know he's not going to pick him.

Mark, I don't think Dick Cheney is going to recommend a pedestrian person, though, and I think, if had to bet right now, I'd go back to the person you suggested six months ago, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

And if the Republicans go Nebraska, why don't the Democrats go New England? And I think it's George Mitchell or John Kerry, and Bill Cohen is the dark horse.

SHIELDS: Well, it's interesting...

NOVAK: Well, it won't be Bill Cohen. That one is -- he's not even on the list.

SHIELDS: Well. Ed Rendell, the party chairman, today said on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" that George Mitchell, he thought, would break to it that gravitas, that seriousness that he thought was important.

Let me say, the worst single idea I've heard is Dick Gephardt. Dick Gephardt has kept the Democrats in contention in the House. He's prevented guys who want to retire from retiring, he's talked them out of it. Any chance the Democrats have of winning back the House is absolutely gone if Gephardt gets on that ticket. That would be a serious, serious mistake.

NOVAK: Mark?

SHIELDS: Go ahead, Bob.

NOVAK: The most fascinating thing is the McCain business, because there -- that is -- if you want to make a cold-blooded decision, like JFK picking LBJ, that's who you pick. And then you can ignore him for four years if you'd care to. But that is the cold- blooded decision. And maybe if this is a dead heat when they go into Philadelphia or he's behind, he might do it. You know McCain better than I do, but I think if Bush goes to McCain and says, John, I need you, for your country, I think he'd say yes.

KRISTOL: I think he'll say yes. And I think Bush will slide in the polls over the next two, three weeks, and I don't think it's impossible.

HUNT: Bush has said for months that it's very important that the person like him. So I think that kind of leaves John McCain out.

And, Bob, there's one thing you said that's wrong. There is no Gore list. There is no Gore short list right now because they're waiting to go see what the Republicans do. And, therefore, it's a mistake to rule out...

NOVAK: Cohen has said on the record he has not been approached. HUNT: I think that's true.

SHIELDS: I will say this about John McCain. I think that George Bush is going to slip, because I think Al Gore for the first time in this campaign has a sure-footed message and he's delivering it well...

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

SHIELDS: And I think that he's got Bush -- I know you don't like it, Bob, because it's...

KRISTOL: Populism, drugs -- populism...

SHIELDS: Populism...

KRISTOL: Populism and it's drugs and it's prescription drugs, and it's directed at the seniors.

NOVAK: It's class warfare.

KRISTOL: He's going to take Bob Graham -- if I could just tell you who Gore's going to take just and put it on the record, he's going to take Senator Bob Graham of Florida, make a play for Florida, which has a lot of senior citizens.

SHIELDS: You heard it right here with Bill Kristol.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Rick trashes Hillary.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

New York Senate candidate Rick Lazio's fund-raising letter declared, quote:

"Hillary Clinton and her husband have embarrassed our country and disgraced their powerful posts. Hillary Clinton is in politics for all the wrong reasons, because she covets power and control and thinks she should be dictating how other people run their lives," end quote.


REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Frankly, these letters are written, you know, not by me. I'm not disowning it, but they're not written by me.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Last week, he was telling New Yorkers that he wasn't responsible for his voting record, and this week he's telling us that he's not responsible for his fund-raising letters. And I think he ought to rename his bus. You know, instead of the Mainstream Express, he ought to call it the Doubletalk Express.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHIELDS: Al Hunt, is Lazio going too far in this latest attack on the first lady?

HUNT: Mark, it's pretty hard to go too far in a fund-raising solicitation. They are by nature, they appeal to raw emotions, and their demagogic, as this one is. It says, for instance, that Hillary Clinton thinks that criminals are victims -- I'd love to see the citation for that.

But I think what's troubling for Republicans is not that letter that went out but Lazio's reaction to it. Who? What, me? I just play the piano, I don't know what goes on upstairs. That's neither senatorial nor is it effective. That's why Rick Lazio had a bad week.

SHIELDS: Absolutely right. I mean, it wasn't written by me, somebody else wrote it. I mean, honest to god, that didn't that look like Henry Clay, Bob.

NOVAK: It was stupid, absolutely stupid. And it shows a guy who has never run in anything bigger than a Long Island district, his first time, even with somebody as smart as Mike Murphy, who must have had a brain hemorrhage when he heard that...

SHIELDS: His principal adviser.

NOVAK: His principal adviser.

But on the other hand, I thought the response by Mrs. Clinton was exactly the wrong thing for her to do. I mean, she is supposed to be on a high level and let these anonymous people do the dirty work. But she likes to get down there and be mean. And that is the kind of Hillary Clinton, the threatening person, that worries people, that you don't want to see on television. So she almost negated Lazio's stupidity.

SHIELDS: Come to Lazio's defense.

KRISTOL: It's a good letter. I have it right here. It came to our house, actually, earlier this week, and my wife promptly sent a check off to Rick Lazio. So I resent those comments about how it appeals to raw emotions and demagoguery. It's a perfectly sensible letter. If you're...

HUNT: (OFF-MIKE) emotions like we all do.

KRISTOL: If you're like most Republicans, you believe that Hillary Clinton and her husband have embarrassed our country and disgraced their powerful posts. That's a straightforward, empirical statement. What's the problem?

Anyway, but I agree that Lazio's response was weak and timid. He needs a little more seasonings. On the other hand, he's run a good campaign so far. And here's what's happening in the campaign. Mrs. Clinton and the Democrats have put up a big soft money add attacking him on health care. And the question, which is the issue, I think right now, both at the presidential level and the Senate level. He's going to come back next week, I think, with an ad coming back on health care, saying he voted for patients' bill of rights. And the thing to watch for is his secret weapon, which is his wife, a very attractive woman who is a registered nurse, who I think you'll see more of over the next few weeks, defending her husband and helping her husband defend himself on the health care issue.

CARLSON: She boasted that she cleaned her own house after he was accuses of benefiting from an insider trading deal. Whether that's true -- whether he did or not, I don't know that he did...

NOVAK: Eleven thousand dollars worth, $11,000.

CARLSON: Eleven thousand dollars. Something she won't be able to bring up because of cattle futures.

But Suzie Kristol's going to be very upset to find out that you put her in the same camp as Bob Novak.

But, you know, there's something -- I just spent a week in New York, and women in New York agree with that letter. They have this almost apoplectic distaste for Hillary Clinton. And it just -- I mean, it astonishes me...

SHIELDS: Across political lines.

CARLSON: ... how deep it goes, particularly among some of, you know, her more ardent supporters last time around.

But Lazio's biggest drawback is that he looks like a lightweight, and he, you know, one of his advisers said, does he shave yet, is his problem. And he had a chance to stand up and be counted and to take responsibility, and he didn't.

On the other hand, one of the huge mistakes candidates make is that the easiest way for a candidate to neutralize their character flaws is for an opponent to point them out. And in that way, it would be a mistake for Lazio to start harping on Hillary's drawbacks. They're well, well known. He doesn't have to do it.

NOVAK: Listen, I don't want Bill to misunderstand me. I don't think there's anything wrong with the letter, I think what's wrong was Lazio disowning the letter. But the fact of the matter is that those letters are always very harsh. That's what fund raising is.

SHIELDS: Let me jump in here, let me jump in here just to make the point that one of the failures that we do in covering these campaigns is that we don't insist that every piece of direct mail be right out there like TV ads are. I mean, we've gone through the 527s, where phony groups put up TV ads. We ought to insist that every direct mail piece -- that is a piece of drek. I'm sorry, Mrs. Kristol's a wonderful woman. I'm sure she -- you know, but that is a piece of drek.

Hillary Clinton's husband embarrassed the country. She did not embarrass the country. And there's no evidence that she -- that these charges that we just listed here are in any way true. HUNT: Let me just point out one thing that Bill...

NOVAK: Can I just respond?

HUNT: Go ahead, Bob.

NOVAK: I just want to say that I -- that's one person's opinion, and a lot of people feel exactly what the point was made in that letter. I mean, not everybody is as fond of Mrs. Clinton as you are, Bob.

HUNT: Can I go to Bill -- Bill -- I think Bill Kristol made a very interesting substantive point about health care's going to be a big issue up there. And we interviewed Rick Lazio on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" a few weeks ago, and he said, I voted for the patients' bill of rights, and it was Harvard professors that were (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

I called his office, his congressional office, and, you know, they told me they were too busy to find that citation. So I think he may have trouble on that issue, Bill.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

Bill Kristol, thanks for being with us. THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: And now for the "Outrage of the Week."

A recurring complaint from the older generation about the youngest generation: They watch too much bad TV, they listen to too much bad music, never pick up a book to read. So J.K. Rowling, a single mom who was once on welfare, writes her incredibly popular Harry Potter books and kids everywhere immediately begin reading, 30 million books reading. No, no, no, gripes the nay sayers, the books are about wizards and magic and the occult. Does anyone remember Hansel and Gretel? Lighten up, reading is good.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The independent counsel decided not to prosecute Hillary Rodham Clinton, though she lied under oath, nor has the Justice Department brought any Clinton aide to trial. But it was revealed this week that Ken Starr's former spokesman, Charles Bakaly, is being tried for criminal contempt, accused of misleading investigators about a leak that the courts rule did not violate grand jury rules. I share "The New York Times"' assessment this morning that this is an ill- considered prosecution, unduly vindictive and extreme, an after-the- fact witch hunt.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, I'm just back from a noisy vacation, and I want to urge passage of the Silence Protection Act. First, Congress should ban any cell phone on the beach. Secondly, anybody carrying a cell phone onto a kayak, canoe or sailboat can be thrown overboard without fear of penalty. Once I got home, I found that the D-4 bus now talks, reminding me to take my personal belongings 27 times before I get to the office. This makes it impossible to concentrate on "The New York Times" crossword puzzle. The silence czar should be authorized to erase all recorded messages. On second though, let's make that a federal offense.

SHIELDS: Al hunt.

HUNT: I agree with Bob Novak's "Outrage," Mark.

Gambling is a vice that addicts too many Americans, often with the active concurrence of government. But awaiting House action is a misdirected measure to ban Internet gambling. Because of political pressure, this legislation would allow betting on horse racing, dog racing and highlie (ph), but would prohibit states selling lottery tickets over the Internet. Whatever the merits, at least much of the lottery money goes to education. This bill has it exactly backwards and it ought to be soundly rejected.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on Venus at Wimbledon.



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