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Republican National Convention: Bob Livingston, Gov. George Ryan, Sen. McConnell, Sen. Lott Discuss Convention, Campaign

Aired July 31, 2000 - 12:01 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Max Fisher (ph), the elder statesman of the Republican Party, is addressing this convention here in Philadelphia, and Mr. Fisher from Detroit, Michigan. He's 91 years old. He's been very active in trying to enlist American Jewish voters, American Jewish support for the Republican Party. And he's been aggressive over the years in turning this Republican Party into a much more inclusive party, as far as the American Jewish community is concerned.

He's also been instrumental in moving this Republican Party towards a more pro-Israel position in terms of its platform. Even before the Democrats were supporting moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Republican Party was on board, largely because of the fund-raising, political clout of Max Fisher. He's 91 years old. He was born in Pittsburgh, played football at Ohio State University, then made a lot of money in the oil business.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of this Republican national convention. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in Philadelphia. I'm joined by Jeff Greenfield, our senior analyst. We have a lot more coverage to go.

I want to go right down to the floor, though, Frank Sesno standing by in the Louisiana delegation with a special guest.

Frank?

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm here with former congressman and almost speaker of the House Bob Livingston.

And I am struck, sir, with all due respect, that I do not hear much about the legacy you nearly inherited, that of Newt Gingrich and the accomplishments of the Gingrich Republican Congress.

BOB LIVINGSTON, LOUISIANA DELEGATION: Well, this is a kinder, gentler Republican Party. We're having fun. We've got a great message. We've got two great candidates for president and vice president. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are sending the message out that Republicans can be conservative without being strident or harsh or oppressive, that we really don't bleed for innocent victims (sic) and that we really do represent the mainstream of America.

SESNO: An individual, a party, runs on its record. What are voters to make of that record, of which you were a part, with Newt Gingrich, with the rest of the Congress, that firebrand Republican Congress?

LIVINGSTON: Frank, you know that Republicans didn't control one House of the entire Congress for some 40 years until 1994. And under Newt Gingrich's leadership, the revolution kind of just transplanted the leadership of Congress from Democrat to Republican when we came over and took both House and Senate then. In that time, since then, we have literally balanced the budget, we've cut taxes, we've reduced government, we've eliminated hundreds of programs, and we've gotten the country on such good footing that for -- after 30 years, when we were only talking about deficits, we're talking about humongous surpluses.

I think we've got a lot to run on. The problem was, until George W. came along and Dick Cheney, we couldn't really take credit for what we've done. We reformed Welfare. We...

SESNO: Why couldn't you take credit for it?

(CROSSTALK)

SESNO: There was a lot of credit taking.

LIVINGSTON: Because we were strident. We -- we thought that the best way to convince the American people was to be harsh and rhetorically mean, and we frightened some people. And we're really not that way. Nobody is. But the fact is, we were using some pretty tough rhetoric that, frankly, we've modified, put in a nicer, sweeter package. And we're appealing to African-Americans and to Hispanics and to people concerned about education and to people who literally haven't thought too much about the Republican Party in years past are all of a sudden making the shift. We're ahead in New York. Lazio's had about 7 points against Hillary Clinton. I think that says it right there.

SESNO: One other topic before we go back to the booth. We were hearing conversation just a few minutes ago from our guest analysts and our anchors about the so-called "Delaware plan," the attempt to change the way the primary system works, to get away from this front- loading. It nearly came to pass here. You and I were talking a bit ago, and you think, in the end, that's going to happen, but not yet?

LIVINGSTON: Yeah, I don't think this is the year. I don't think you can get a new president or a new effort coming in to support it. But perhaps when a president like George W. is -- has felt comfortable in office for four years, maybe then we might be able to go to something like that.

SESNO: And you think it's time to pull the plug on New Hampshire, first in the country?

LIVINGSTON: New Hampshire's a wonderful state and a lot of wonderful people, but there's no reason that every presidential candidate should go over there and shake everybody in New Hampshire's hands about 30 times before he gets elected president. I think that we do need a different system that's fair to all the rest of the states.

SESNO: Bob Livingston, thanks very much.

So Wolf, some forthcoming commentary there from someone who was almost speaker of the House.

BLITZER: Frank, Bob Livingston, never -- never too shy, always outspoken and, of course, he demonstrated that, as well, right now.

Let's go down to Jeanne Meserve. She's standing by in the Iowa delegation with the governor -- excuse me -- the Illinois delegation, the governor of Illinois, Governor Ryan, outspoken on another sensitive issue, the issue of capital punishment.

Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, and imposed a death penalty on executions there.

Governor, speaking about the death penalty, we're not going to hear anything about this at this convention, are we?

GOV. GEORGE RYAN, ILLINOIS DELEGATION CHAIRMAN: Well, I'm not sure what you want to hear. The -- the...

MESERVE: It's a big issue. People are concerned about this. When you talk to voters around the country, a number of them say this is something they really are concerned with. You've done something about it in your state, imposing a moratorium, but we're not even going to hear it discussed at this convention.

RYAN: Well, I think that's probably proper. This is George Bush's convention, and this is his platform, as it should be. He's a proponent of the death penalty, as I am, and feels that his system in Texas has worked well. I called a moratorium in Illinois because our system didn't work well, and we were about to execute some innocent people.

Now, you know, being governor is a tough job, but that's probably the toughest part, making that call. And I'm sure every governor in a state that does that wants to make sure that it works well and -- and it does. I don't know of any other state, other than myself, that had the problems that we've had.

MESERVE: We have to leave it there. Governor, thanks so much for joining us.

RYAN: Thank you.

MESERVE: And back to Wolf up in the booth.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jeanne.

Right now, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is speaking. He's chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. That's the committee that's designed to get Republicans elected to the Senate. There are several tough races. Let's listen to Senator McConnell briefly.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL REPUBLICAN SENATORIAL COMMITTEE: Betting the trifecta means you not only pick the horse that will come in first, you also pick the horses you think will come in second and third. Anyone with a little luck can pick a first-place finisher, but winning the trifecta takes real skill. You have to know something about the horses and their jockeys.

Now, I mention this to make a crucial point. This election is a trifecta election. That means the true measure of victory, in addition to George W. Bush winning the White House, is keeping a Republican Senate and a Republican House. But it's not going to be easy. In the Senate, our entire class of 1994 is facing reelection. However, it's not all bad news. We've got a lot of great candidates. Former Virginia Governor George Allen, former Nevada Congressmen John Ensign, Nebraska attorney general Don Stenburg (ph) and New Jersey Congressman Bob Franks are all going to win seats in the United States Senate. And we're going to elect a Republican to the U.S. Senate who is actually from New York.

So in this year's horse race, it's all on the line. The Democrats are betting every chip they have, every chip they can beg, borrow or -- well, every chip -- and they're betting it all on winning it all, the entire trifecta. And so should we.

Finally, it's my privilege as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee to present some of the Republicans who'll be leading us into battle in the most competitive Senate races. Good luck. Your party and your country...

BLITZER: Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee speaking, introducing some other Senate Republican Senate candidates, among them Rod Grams of Minnesota, Spencer Abraham of Michigan, Bill McCollum of Florida, Don Stenberg of -- where is...

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Nebraska.

BLITZER: ... Nebraska -- that's correct -- and Bob Franks of New Jersey. Thanks for the help.

The Senate majority leader is with us, Trent Lott of Mississippi.

This is not going to be all that easy to maintain a Republican majority. What is it, 54 to 46 right now in favor of the Republicans.

LOTT: That's correct, and fortunately, after we lost our good friend, Paul Coverdell, and he was replaced by the former governor of Georgia, we are at 54 now. But every election, presidential election year, is very important, and you do have a third of the Senate up. And we have some great opportunities to pick up seats and, of course, we have some incumbents are going to have to fight very hard because they're from big states that have some difficulties in reelection.

BLITZER: You know, conspicuously missing from this list of Republican candidates seeking a seat in the Senate is Rick Lazio, the New York Republican trying to beat, of course, the first lady, Mrs. Clinton.

LOTT: Well, of course, you noticed that Mitch McConnell made it a point of mentioning the idea that maybe New York would want a senator from New York, Rick Lazio. It's a great idea, but I presume he's in New York. He's probably in Buffalo, Wolf, your old neck of the woods...

BLITZER: My home town, that's right.

LOTT: ... campaigning, and he's making a great candidate. And I personally feel that that's one of the races where we will pick up what has been a Democratic seat. I believe Rick Lazio's going to wind up winning it.

BLITZER: Mr. Leader, Jeff Greenfield's still with us.

LOTT: Hey, Jeff.

BLITZER: Hi, Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Just a few minutes ago -- I don't even know how to describe him -- former speaker-to-be Bob Livingston...

LOTT: Yep.

GREENFIELD: ... used some very candid language to describe what had ailed the Republicans in the past. Harsh -- "We were harsh," he said. "We were strident," he said. "We were mean-sounding." Now, if it was a Democrat or a member of the media, I could understand that that could be easily dismissed, but that's a fellow from the heart of the Republican Party. Was he right?

LOTT: Well, perhaps so. I'd like to think maybe that didn't apply to the Senate or to our overall message, but there's no question sometimes the rhetoric got to be hard or harsh. I think George W. Bush has changed that. I think that he has infected this convention with unity and a positive message. I think he's determined not to have this become a campaign of trashing the opposition, but talking about where he wants to take the country, what he did as governor of Texas. Education -- for us to be emphasizing education is very important. It's not what we always emphasized -- Medicare and Social Security.

But we still have our old messages we think are very good ones -- strong national defense, returning hard-earned tax dollars to the people that earned it, not just gobbling up all the surplus there in Washington.

But how you say things or how people perceive you does make a difference, and I think that in the '80s and early '90s, sometime our rhetoric did get a little harsh.

GREENFIELD: Now, there's -- I want to follow up on that because -- forgive me for even suggesting a political calculation, as well as a substantive one, but one of the things that I think I'm hearing is all of you folks here laying down a warning about "Let's not have harsh rhetoric, and look out for those Democrats," so that if -- if and when the Gore campaign attacks, what you want viewers to hear is not...

LOTT: If and when? Have you not been listening the last week?

GREENFIELD: Well...

LOTT: They've been beating up on Dick Cheney like he was some pariah from nowhere...

GREENFIELD: But my point is...

LOTT: ... that nobody knew!

GREENFIELD: But my point is, it's also a way of saying, "Never mind the substance of the critique, listen to the fact that they're attacking." I mean, you've -- you know that politics is a contact sport, right?

LOTT: Sure. Yeah. Sure.

GREENFIELD: They don't call it "hardball" for nothin'.

LOTT: That's right.

GREENFIELD: So isn't it fair, as we get into this campaign, for you guys, Democrats and Republicans, to raise tough questions...

LOTT: Sure.

GREENFIELD: ... about the substance?

LOTT: And that'll happen. You know, there will be debates, and there will be comparisons. We will talk about issues. Sometime we'll talk about the same issue in a different way. The way we view education, for instance, is very different from the way Democrats view education. They think education should be fun from Washington by bureaucrats in the Department of Education.

And by the way, I was one of the few of the Republicans in the House that voted for a separate Department of Education. I'm the son of a school teacher, worked for the University of Mississippi. I care passionately about it. But I still believe that most of the decisions should be made there locally by the teachers and the parents and administrators and the students.

I do think we need safe schools that are drug-free. We need accountability. We need to challenge our children. We need to help those that need a little extra help. We need flexibility so that can be done. Now, that's a message that Republicans haven't always emphasized.

George W. Bush, who has really focused on this and whose wife is a teacher, has changed our emphasis, and I think that's good. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out -- you look at every poll in America, and most of them have right up at the top, if not the top, education. So -- but there will be -- you know, there'll be exchanges. We're not going to let them just beat up on a guy like Dick Cheney...

BLITZER: Well...

LOTT: ... and take it. I mean, I think Al Gore needs to debate it himself about a number of issues because, I mean, he -- he cast the same votes as Dick Cheney did. Now all of a sudden, he's saying, "Hey, Dick cast these bad votes." I don't get it.

BLITZER: But isn't that fair game, though, in politics, to take a look at...

LOTT: Sure.

BLITZER: ... a member of Congress's voting record...

LOTT: Yeah. Sure.

BLITZER: ... and go back and scrutinize it...

LOTT: Sure.

BLITZER: ... and if there are differences...

LOTT: Yeah.

BLITZER: ... highlight those differences?

LOTT: But...

BLITZER: What's wrong with that?

LOTT: Well, there are two things in this case that I think sort of is typical. First of all, the Clinton-Gore administration has become the master, the past master at how you trash your opponents or people that challenge you or people that accuse you of doing something which turns out, by the way, many times to be accurate. So that does put a little extra burden on him in terms of this -- this attacking or trashing message.

The second thing is, with regard to Dick Cheney, most people would have given it one day grace, one day. You know, it was announced at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, I guess it was, 8:00 o'clock Texas. Yeah, Trisha (ph), my wife, and I called Dick and Lynn. We're all excited. We love them. We know them quite well. And we were excited.

By the time I did a press interview at 2:00 o'clock, the attack machine was underway! Could we have had one day? And then also, you know, it's fair to attack the record, but it's a little disingenuous when, as a matter of fact, you voted the same way.

GREENFIELD: Well, OK, we'll -- we take your point that this was a case of, if I may use the phrase, premature evaluation. LOTT: Yes. I think that's accurate.

GREENFIELD: But there was a phrase that Dick Cheney used on one of the -- one of the talk shows -- he did the full Ginsburg on Sunday. You know, he did all the...

LOTT: Oh, yeah.

GREENFIELD: When he was asked about some of his voting record, he said -- and I was struck by what he said -- "This is not about the past, it's about the future."

LOTT: Absolutely!

GREENFIELD: OK. That happens to be exactly word for word what Bill Bradley said when Al Gore attacked him in the primaries -- word for word. It didn't work for Senator Bradley. Isn't there a danger here that you -- that you can't -- you at least have to confront and respond to an attack like that?

LOTT: Sure. Yeah, I think you do, but it didn't work for Bill Bradley, but it may work for George Bush and for Dick Cheney. I think it's a good message. I don't think we should be focusing on what happened in the last century. I think we should be talking about the problems of the American people today, working Americans and our children and our parents and our grandchildren. And we should be talking about how we want to change that, to make this a decade of continued prosperity and opportunity. We want to talk about the whole century. This is a new millennium. And so I -- I prefer that.

In my campaigns, actually, I've been fortunate in my state of Mississippi. My opponents were never really nasty and attacking, and therefore I never had to be. We basically -- you know, we ran aggressive campaigns, but they were honorable men and we kept it on a high plane. I think the people of my state like that. I think the people of America like that. Do negative campaigns or negative ads work? Yeah, they do, but there's got to be a better way.

And I think when you look at how George W. Bush defeated Ann Richards, the incumbent governor of Texas -- how'd he do that? I mean, she's a tough lady with an acid tongue. He did it but not being pulled down to her level. He had his message. He had his three or four points he emphasized. He stayed on message. People said, "You know, I feel good with this guy. I believe he's going to focus on the things we care about."

And when I went down to San Antonio, and I was with a Hispanic cab driver, I said, "Tell me about this election." He said, "I think the Bush guy's going to win." And he did.

BLITZER: Your friend from Mississippi yesterday, Haley Barbour...

LOTT: Yeah.

BLITZER: ... predicted this is going to be a mean and ugly campaign, and we'll have to wait and see.

Unfortunately, Senator, we're out of time for this segment, but...

LOTT: OK.

BLITZER: ... thank you so much for joining us.

LOTT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll watch this convention. We'll watch this campaign.

LOTT: OK. Great.

BLITZER: Always good to have you on CNN.

LOTT: Glad to be with you, Jeff.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more from this Republican convention. We're also going to be testing your political IQ, but we have to take a quick break.

We'll be right back from Philadelphia in just a moment.

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