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Special Event

Republican National Convention: Sen. Frist Discusses 'Shift' in Language on Education

Aired July 31, 2000 - 10:19 a.m. ET

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

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Now about 19 minutes into the Republican National Convention in the year 2000 on the floor behind us. We're about 50 feet or so above the floor, but there at the podium they are entertaining a motion to appoint the Committee on Credentials, one of a number of rules and other items of business that have to be done here at this convention. It is not just a political gathering, it is a gathering where the party conducts business that it has to conduct.

Down on that floor, CNN's Candy Crowley with some information about one of the main speakers tonight -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, Laura Bush and Colin Powell are the two marquee players tonight, and I talked to someone just a little bit ago about Colin Powell's speech. He said that, in that speech, Powell, who is, of course, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most prominent African- American in the Republican Party, along with J.C. Watts -- Powell will say tonight much the same thing that George Bush said in his speech to the NAACP weeks ago. He will, in fact, say that the party of Lincoln has got to earn the mantle of Lincoln. All of this will be around the core of children and the promise of children. Colin Powell will say, regardless of their background, regardless of their birth, all children must have equal opportunity.

So, it will be, again, a very inclusive sort of speech and a speech that tells the Republican Party what they need to do. So in that Colin Powell will also be introduced by George Bush, you can rest assured that the Bush campaign is quite approving of this speech. In fact, over the many months we have seen Colin Powell and George Bush together, George Bush has hinted broadly, of course, that there is a place for Colin Powell in the Bush administration. And Colin Powell has always indicated that, in fact, this is an administration that he might just work in. So they are bringing out a very important player in the moderating image of the Republican Party -- Bernie.

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Candy.

The co-chairman of the Platform Committee joins us now, Senator Bill Frist.

Senator, on this whole matter of education, what did you tell the members of the committee they simply had to do to moderate that language?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R), TENNESSEE: Told the story. And it is a shift. And I think that's one of the great things about the Republican Party, is to shift to capture the ideas based on the needs that we see today. And it was four years ago where we had proposed to eliminate the Department of Education. And I basically said, as somebody who is out in town meetings day in and day out for the last six years, when you say eliminate Department of Education, people drop "Department of" and "eliminate education" becomes "eliminate education," you don't care about kids, and that's just the opposite of what we're all about.

I made the case very strongly, and for the first time in the history of the Republican Party, education is probably the major issue in this platform, which shows looking ahead, not leaving any child behind, the theme for today. So I am very encouraged. It shows a definite shift. It doesn't mean federal role. It basically means local control, accountability, empowering teachers, empowering schools.

WOODRUFF: How does that fit with the call for vouchers in this language?

FRIST: We didn't really address vouchers in the platform per se. What we did say was terribly important is to empower parents. If there is a school that's in a violent area with a lot of crime, a parent should be empowered, should have that right to take that child from that school to a safer school. This idea of choice, of competition based on accountability and achievement is what we're stressing in the platform itself.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: We heard throughout already this morning the idea that we are not against spending more money, we want it spent wisely, we want it directed toward local and state officials. In Texas under Governor Bush, Texas is 47th in the country in per-head spending in primary and secondary education. And it's an Education Department that Governor Bush, by definition, controls. How does the actual walk square with the platform talk?

FRIST: What's important are the principles themselves. And spelled out as part of the Bush vision and agenda, which is in this platform itself, it's taking the heavy bureaucracy out of Washington, the 65 different programs -- some people count as many as 230 -- in education, bringing them down and condensing them down to five programs to streamline, to make them more efficient, to accomplish that goal of educating children from above. It's those principles.

The United States Congress right now is spending more money than the president of the United States ever asked, ever asked for education, public education K-12. The American people don't realize it. That agenda is out there as long as we can achieve flexibility, local control and accountability. Those are the principles that we're operating under as a Republican congress. Now, for the first time, we can match it with the vision of George W. Bush.

SHAW: And politically, do you think that this will be the charm that entices those swing voters, those Reagan Democrats...?

FRIST: You know...

SHAW: ... because there are a lot of people on this floor who like the language of four years ago.

FRIST: Well, there are. And that was the great thing as co- chair of the Platform Committee, the debate was beautiful. And it was heated. If you have to look at one topic, this was the one area that there was the most debate. Why? Because it is a shift. But people do understand if you're for kids, if you're for the future, if you're for jobs, for the productivity of this country, you got to be for education. The best question is how you get there? We say local control, flexibility, accountability, so we might as well put it in the platform, which is what we've done, but less federal control.

And that's what -- the Department of Education to a lot of people says the federal government, Washington, D.C. 760 programs, this inflexible bureaucracy. We're not for that. But the language to use is not eliminate the Department of Education, progressively limit -- which is the word we use -- the federal role but empower local communities. And that captures the American people. It's the spirit out there. That's why George Bush, that idea, that spirit's captured the hearts and spirits and minds and now the guts, which you see here today, the enthusiasm that's out on this floor.

WOODRUFF: Tennessee Senator Bill Frist, co-chair of the Platform Committee...

SHAW: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: ... at this convention, thank you very much for being with us.

FRIST: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Down on the floor now are Frank Sesno with someone who's been a leading figure in this party for many years -- Frank.

SESNO: For many years. Former Secretary of State George Schultz joins us now.

Good to see you here. A little bit like Old Home Week, connecting the dots?

GEORGE SCHULTZ, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Right.

SESNO: What is the message from this party on the subject of international policy, which is something that you're most concerned about, and, frankly, where some of the deepest questions about George W. Bush have been raised?

SCHULTZ: Well, he will start by being sure that America is strong. And then he will use that tried and true combination. Strength and diplomacy go together, so he will emphasize that. He has laid it down very strongly that he is in favor of free trade. We will get a free trade area for all the Americas, for example. But he's in favor of openness.

I think you'll see a very vigorous foreign policy based on American interests around the world.

SESNO: There had been in previous years some within this Republican Party who wanted to turn their back on parts of the world. And there was a protectionist sentiment, in fact. What's left of that?

SCHULTZ: Well, not very much. There are always protectionists around, not only in the Republican Party but throughout the country. And whenever it's put to a test when voters come up against it, the American people know that we're in a global environment and our economy is much the better for the fact that we have lot's of trade.

SESNO: You were talking a moment ago about your enthusiastic support for Dick Cheney as the vice presidential nominee here. And you're well aware of some of the pounding that he's come under from Democrats who are targeting his voting record. How does it wash out in your view?

SCHULTZ: Well, as far as the Democrats' criticisms are concerned, my answer to them is, eat your heart out. They just wish they had a guy as competent and capable as Cheney. And he meets wonderfully that fundamental test. If the moment came when he had to take over as president, would you have confidence that he would be a great president? And the answer, everybody says, is yes. That's the first thing.

And the second thing is he has a very good, easy relationship with Governor Bush. So he'll be a good counsel, a good counterpoint, and his office is only 20 steps down the aisle in the White House, as you know. So I think he's a very good choice.

SESNO: OK, since you've turned the job down, it'll have to fall to him.

(LAUGHTER)

Former Secretary of State George Schultz, like just about everybody else we're running to on the floor here, very much on point, on message. Those things you hear him talking about, Bernie, is what we hear again and again.

SHAW: Indeed. Four days here and four days out in California with the Democrats, George Schultz talking consistently and very broadly on foreign policy matters to Governor Bush in the run-up to this convention.

WOODRUFF: And you heard him say to the Democrats, eat your heart out.

GREENFIELD: Very undiplomatic language, but it is a political convention.

WOODRUFF: I bet he didn't say that to many world leaders. GREENFIELD: To Gorbachev. I do think it's, though, useful to point out that George Schultz is one of those icons that Governor Bush has been at pains to make sure is at his side when he has talked about foreign policy, along with Powell, Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft. There's a kind of message that's been going out saying, maybe I haven't had a lot of experience, but look at the people that I can draw on. And George Schultz is one of those symbols, however active he will or won't be in a Bush administration.

WOODRUFF: And if I'm not mistaken, he's been a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, who has been another key figure in that international policy circle around...

GREENFIELD: Who is his top foreign policy adviser.

WOODRUFF: ... and who now is the governor's top foreign policy adviser.

SHAW: We'll return to Philadelphia in just a moment.

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