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Republican National Convention: Jim Nicholson Calls Delegates to Order

Aired July 31, 2000 - 9:56 a.m. ET


BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: The hall is filling up here in Philadelphia, as the delegates file in, the program for day one is varied and full.

Today, Monday, July 31, the opening day of the Republican National Convention. At 10:00 a.m. Philadelphia time, the gavel comes down and the curtain goes up. Eric Winemayer (ph), is the first of many unfamiliar faces all with stories embodying GOP ideals. Winemayer has conquered some of the world's tallest mountains despite being blind since he was 13. He'll deliver the Pledge of Allegiance.

Procedural matters, such as committee reports, dominate the early session, which wraps up around 2:00. At 7:30 p.m., House Speaker Dennis Hastert calls to order the first evening session under the banner "Opportunity with a Purpose, Leave No Child Behind."

Then, Paul Clinton Harris delivers his life story, focusing on that theme. Born in poverty, he now occupies the Virginia General Assembly seat once held by Thomas Jefferson.

In the 10:00 hour, we'll hear from a teacher who founded an innovative and intensive school program for students deemed at risk.

Laura Bush, the wife of the presidential candidate and a former teacher herself, speaks a few moments later on the importance of literacy issues.

Towards the bottom of the hour, retired General Colin Powell speaks on the role community and volunteerism, bringing down the curtain on the first night of this four-day convention.

Only moments to go.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, you know, the hall is filling up, Bernie, but they're not in their seats. They're not being good little boys and girls. They're still milling around and talking to each other like political people do.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: It used to be said that a political convention that starts on time, if you see that, look to the east, you'll see a star rising, because it'll be a miracle.

I also remember there were times when the opening business of the convention was really critical, when the adoption of the rules told you who got to vote, or what the procedures were. And on those issues, nominations were actually, believe it or not, decided. It's a tad different today.

WOODRUFF: Now it's very perfunctory.

SHAW: Wolf Blitzer has a wide view.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN PODIUM CORRESPONDENT: Bernie, there's one little bit of unfinished business that they're still working on in the rules committee as we speak right now. That involves what they call the "superdelegates." Right now there are 2,066 delegates, another 2,066 alternates at this Republican convention.

But what the Republican National Committee wants to do is add 155 additional delegates the next time this convention convenes in four years. Three from each state and territory, an RNC man, an RNC woman, as well as the state RNC party chairman. And as a result of all of that, there would be 155.

But right now, there's some challenge, they're trying to work it out. We should know soon whether that's resolved or there's some sort of voice vote required here on the floor. But that's the only source of controversy right now. Back to the booth.

WOODRUFF: The music, I think everyone recognizes, "Fanfare for the Common Man," Aaron Copeland. And I guess you could say, Bernie and Jeff, that that is what the Republicans want this convention to be about, the common man, and woman.

GREENFIELD: This was actually a theme the Democrats used to play a great deal, stressing their link to the common man. That's just another sign, even musically, there are cues throughout this convention.

Here's the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Jim Nicholson, to open the proceedings.

JIM NICHOLSON, RNC CHAIRMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, by the authority contained in the rules adopted by the 1996 Republicans National Convention, the Republican National Committee has directed that the 2000 Republican National Convention being held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Starting -- starting at 10:00 a.m. on the 31st day of July of the year 2000. We are here in the appointed place and we are here at the appointed time. So it is my privilege to proclaim the 2000 Republican National Convention in session and to call it to order.

We shall now proceed in the order of business prepared and printed by the Republican National Committee. Would everyone please rise for the presentation of the colors?

The color (audio difficulties) extension located in West Philadelphia. The children posting the colors are from three Four-H clubs in the Philadelphia area. Let's give them a warm welcome.

ANNOUNCER: Please remain standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, and the Invocation.

NICHOLSON: Leading us this morning in the Pledge of Allegiance is Eric Winemeyer. Eric has been honored as Connecticut's most courageous athlete. He is the best known and most versatile blind athlete in the world. He excels at many sports, including mountaineering and rock climbing. Eric inspires us to not let obstacles steer us away from the dreams of our lives. Let's give Eric a warm welcome.

WOODRUFF: Winemeyer 31 years old. Blind since the age of 13 is making his way there next to Jim Nicholson to the podium. He has climbed four of the world's highest mountains, and will try Mount Everest next year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

NICHOLSON: Thank you, Eric.

If the delegates would please remain standing for the National Anthem. I have the pleasure of introducing you to Gloria Eckels (ph).

As executive director of community housing services for Montgomery County, right here in Philadelphia, Gloria is a well-known and forceful advocate for the homeless. For the past three years she has been the featured soloist for an annual fund-raising concerto benefit homeless people and victims of domestic violence.

Now, to honor America, please join Gloria in singing our National Anthem.


SHAW: Well it feels good to be underway.

GREENFIELD: Do you remember in 1988, when the Pledge of Allegiance was a political issue, because George Bush said Mike Dukakis didn't want teachers to be required to lead it -- lead the kids in prayer. So at least in the year 2000 I think the Pledge has become non-political.

SHAW: Over the weekend, Republicans finished work on their party platform. Wolf Blitzer alluded to it just a little while ago. Bush aides were able to fight off a conservative challenge to the governor's education plan. And the GOP took a decidedly softer stance on other issues.

Now let's compare the platform four years ago to the new version here in Philadelphia. In '96, a harder line on education, that language said, "We will abolish the Department of Education, end federal meddling in our schools, and promote family choice at all levels of learning." Today's version, "The role of the federal government must be progressively limited as we return control to parents, teachers and local school boards." On reforming government: the '96 version, "We support the elimination of the Departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Education and Energy; examples of agencies we seek to defund or to privatize are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Legal Services Corporation." The platform today: "There are too many departments and agencies with competing programs that waste resources and fail to develop the goods. If public services can be delivered more efficiently and less expensively through the private sector then we -- they will be privatized."

On the issue of English only, the platform four years ago supports the official recognition of English as the nation's common language. Today, a subtle change. The party supports the recognition of English as the nation's common language. Note the absence of "official."

But, on abortion, no shift at all on the party stand. The platforms for both conventions state the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life, which cannot be infringed.

WOOFRUFF: All right, now that we've had that summary let's -- let's go down on the floor to CNN's John King. He is, I believe, in the Arizona delegation.

John, you've been doing some thinking about these platform changes.

JOHN KING, CNN FLOOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy in talking to the delegates here, as they flow in on the floor, standing with two of them who have key role in two of the subplots at this convention, Malcolm Barrett and Donna Flanigan. Not only were they McCain delegates here at this convention, they're also on the platform committee.

Let's ask them. First, I'll start with you Donna, striking to some people, this is a conservative party, yet the platform was changed to embrace a more active federal role in education. Did that trouble you at all?

DONNA FLANIGAN, ARIZONA DELEGATION: A more active role in federal education? I don't believe that it did. I think that it probably lessened the federal role in education to some degree. But, overall, I'm just really proud and pleased with the platform.

KING: And the fact that the governor wants national tests that doesn't bother you as a Republican.

FLANIGAN: I don't know that he wants national tests.

KING: OK. Malcolm over to you, you were a county chairman for Senator McCain, you are now a country chairman for Governor Bush.


KING: Quite emotional last night, as the senator released his delegates. What were your thoughts at that moment?

BARRETT: Well, at the moment he made his announcement to release the delegation, it was -- it was emotional for all of us. After all, we'd had a lot of blood, sweat and tears in it. But we all love Senator McCain. We support him. And I can tell you that the McCain people are solidly behind George Bush.

KING: We see a lot of vests on the floor here, members of the Republicans for Life. One of the debates among some of the delegates is that while Governor Bush has said he would support the platform, he has a slightly different position on abortion. He favors exemptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother. And he's also said that he would not view abortion as a litmus test in appointing judges. Is that something that bothers you personally? And was it something that troubled any of the others during the platform deliberations?

BARRETT: No, that doesn't bother me personally because those are his personal views and this party welcomes individual views. We are generally -- the party has generally taken a position against abortion, but they have not specified all abortion or made any positive rules about it. And that's our position. We're an open party.

KING: And lastly to you Donna, what was Senator McCain's message to you as to your role here at the convention? Are you here to fight for his issues now or are you here to support Governor Bush?

FLANIGAN: I'm here to support Governor Bush. I've been -- I've been -- I've known McCain since before he first ran for Congress, I've been a strong supporter of his, was very emotional last night as was stated, and I'm very proud of him. And he released all the Arizona delegates and we will do exactly that: support Governor Bush.

KING: All right, as the delegates flow in here on the floor we go back to you up in the booth.

SHAW: Thank you, John.

And there are lots of veteran Republican strategists in this hall. Frank Sesno is down there with one -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Bernie. And we're here with Charlie Black.

Now, Charlie is a senior adviser to the Bush campaign, and here at the convention you were a senior adviser to President Bush in his time too, so you've got some comparison.


SESNO: We were just talking about the platform and this party, and education, immigration some of the language. Is it style, tone, or is it substance that's changing?

BLACK: Well, I think, obviously, it's tone. We're under George W. Bush's leadership. We're doing a more effective job of demonstrating that the Republican Party is inclusive of all Americans. But most important, it's substance. It's -- we're showing that our compassionate conservative philosophy can serve the needs of all Americans, including the disadvantaged, and that based on Governor Bush's record in Texas on education and what he wants to do at the federal level, that we can have a better education system and leave no child behind.

SESNO: What's policy, though? What particular thing has this party shifted on?

BLACK: Well, I think we just shifted by taking the good record that George Bush has in Texas and some of the other republican governors have in improving education and trying to apply that at the federal level, basically sending the money down to the states and local school boards, insisting that they have accountability and standards, but leveraging the federal money for better schools. And if necessary, if a school's still failing after three years, Governor Bush will give the money to the parents and let them have school choice.

SESNO: So it's not merely not calling for the abolition of the Education Department, but now supporting it and enhancing its role?

BLACK: Governor Bush thinks there is a federal role for education. He'd even spend more money but let the states and local school boards manage how the money is spent. If they fail, then we give the money to the parents. We'll have true competition in education which might be the answer to making sure every child is in a good school.

SESNO: Charlie Black, you bridge the Bushes. The senior Bush called for a kinder, gentler America, this Bush compassionate conservatism. Difference?

BLACK: Well, I think the only difference is the times have changed, the issues have changed. We now face an issue of surpluses and opportunity for tax cuts and still be able to leverage federal dollars for things like education. Governor Bush has a very specific visionary plan and we want to make sure that everybody in America knows they're welcome in the Republican Party to share in that compassionate conservative philosophy.

SESNO: OK, Charlie Black, thanks very much. We'll be hearing a lot about that.

And, of course, we'll be back here on the floor throughout the day, but now back to the booth.

WOODRUFF: Frank Sesno with Charlie Black.

You can just feel that tent just getting stretched bigger and bigger. It's got people who believe that the Department of Education should be done away with, it's got people who think there should be federal standards for education.

GREENFIELD: It's not the first time. In fact, I think it's probably a fairly commonplace event that when a party's been out of power for a while, somebody comes along and either in tone or substance, and sometimes both, says, look, folks. Here's where we've been missing the target. Here's where we've got to alter our direction.

And I've used the line before from "State of the Union" when the Republican operative's asked, what's the difference between the two parties? and he says, all the difference in the world: They're in and we're out. And I'm not suggesting ideas are irrelevant. I don't believe that. But I do think that the will to win is a powerful incentive for a party that hasn't tasted it for awhile.

SHAW: And I also think that Lee Atwater, the late Lee Atwater, is smiling right now, wouldn't you think?


WOODRUFF: The whole tent -- the whole -- but when you hear this McCain delegate, the woman from Arizona who said she'd known John McCain since before he was a congressman, clearly she's been with John McCain, it was emotional last night, but today she's for George W. Bush all the way.

SHAW: Yes.

WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to take a break. And when we come back we're going to talk a little bit more about just how diverse this Republican tent is. With us, one of the co-chairs of the platform committee, Senator Bill Frist. We'll be right back.



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