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Republican National Convention: Sen. Fred Thompson Discusses Cheney Nomination; Laura Bush and Colin Powell Prepare For Speeches

Aired July 31, 2000 - 2:05 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: This Republican convention is now in recess until 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time tonight. The two-hour session this morning completed all of the arrangements, the platform report, the rules report, the official nomination of George W. Bush as the Republican nominee.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're now joined by a very special guest, the Republican senator -- one of the Republican senators from Tennessee, Senator Fred Thompson.

Thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Dick Cheney, someone you know, you were interviewed by him at one point as a potential vice presidential running mate. What do you think about this nomination of Dick Cheney?

THOMPSON: I think it's a great one. I think it says an awful lot about George W. Bush. I think it shows that he's got self- confidence. I think it shows that he's thinking about governing.

A lot of people point out that Dick may not help all that much on the campaign trail. I don't know if that's true or not. He'll probably surprise some people. But it's definitely true that he's ready to govern from day one, and I think that's what the governor was looking at.

BLITZER: And Senator Thompson, we're taking a look at this picture, if you'll take a look at the monitor. Dick Cheney, his wife, Lynne, are now in their limousine. They're getting ready to leave this convention. They caused a stir on the floor. They arrived. They went to the Wyoming delegation -- a lot of excitement here. There's no doubt that among these Republicans he is highly, highly regarded.

THOMPSON: People like Dick Cheney. So many of the people around here have known him for many years and they just like him personally because he's a guy of superb character. He's never had a blemish on his record. But you know the remarkable thing about it is when Dick was first announced, he was widely applauded by Democrats also who have known him over the years. I think that was before they got their talking points. But...

BLITZER: Are you surprised...

THOMPSON: ... he's widely respected on both sides of the aisle.

BLITZER: Are you surprised by the level of the criticism from the Democrats?

THOMPSON: No. I've been watching that pretty close-up for a few years now. Politics unfortunately -- the tenor of politics -- have changed over the last few years. And you combine that with the necessity I think that the Gore team finds to tear down Bush or anything connected with Bush because they're having trouble elevating their own numbers, then I must say that I'm not terribly surprised by it.

BLITZER: Now you were a supporter of John McCain during the primaries, and of course immediately after he lost, you went and supported Governor Bush.

Can these two wings of the Republican Party -- the Bush majority, obviously, but the McCain supporters, the independents -- can they get together and forge a coalition that will really be united?

THOMPSON: I don't think there's any question about it. And first of all, John McCain has started that process himself. I mean, he's here in full support of the ticket and really their support comes from a common ground. I think in both cases there's a concern about what's going on in Washington. There's concern about the tenor of politics, there's concern about what's been going on the last several years both substantively and in terms of behavior in the White House and all that, and all that kind of melds together in peoples' minds.

John thinks in terms more of legislative solutions such as campaign finance reform, which I think is a good one. I think George W. is concentrated more in saying, let's turn over a whole new leaf. Let's change the atmosphere. Let's change the tenor of what's going on in this country.

But I think they both come from a common source and that is a dissatisfaction with what's been going on in Washington.

BLITZER: Campaign finance reform -- the signature issue of John McCain. You were one of the few Republicans that joined him. You supported him on that. There are a few more now that are coming aboard. Is there momentum moving toward McCain's position among Republicans?

THOMPSON: I think there's more than there has been. I think it's an idea whose time is in the process of coming. I don't think that our current system can last. But it's going to have to be equalized. Both parties are going to have to conclude that it's in the interest of the American people and that the American people are going to demand it, probably before they'll act. One side can't do it without the other.

But I think it'll happen. Unfortunately, it's a scandal waiting to happen at any time regardless of party. We've seen probably more abuses in the last presidential election from the Clinton-Gore campaign probably in the history of politics in this country. So we've got to observe the laws on the books and enforce those, which hasn't been done.

But then we need to move past that and change some of the rules that we've got now so that the average person feels like they've got a stake again. If you're going to have to have $100,000 for an entrance fee in the system, you don't feel like you've got much of a stake in that, and that's what it's going toward, I think, with regard to politics in general. We need to get together and say, parties aside, what's good for the country, this can't last, and do something about it, and I think that'll happen. These things take time.

BLITZER: OK, Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, thanks for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to you as you continue your convention this week.

THOMPSON: I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you.

We're going to take a look now -- a look -- now that this convention is in recess, we're going to go to all of our floor correspondents, get an assessment of what's going on.

Let's begin with John King, he's down there on the floor -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these very scripted events -- we went through the proceedings this morning. But the one surprise -- the vice presidential nominee, Dick Cheney, coming into the hall for his first time. Wildly applauded as he came in, sat down in a VIP section.

In an interview with us just a few moments ago, shrugging off the Democratic attacks on him. He says it's proof the Democrats are worried about the Bush-Cheney ticket this fall.

Secretary Cheney due back here again this evening, spent some time with the Wyoming delegation this morning as the convention opens its official session, the first session here this morning, the vice presidential nominee being quite warmly welcomed.

Now down on the floor, our chief political correspondent Candy Crowley with more on this morning's developments.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Actually, want to sort of take -- turn the corner here and talk a little bit about the opening speaker tonight, the one who will open the convention -- that's Laura Bush in this, again, as John said, very scripted convention. Nothing is by chance. Governor Bush wanted his wife to open the convention and he will close it to provide a sort of symmetry to the whole thing.

She of course is a former librarian, a former schoolteacher. Her remarks, we are told, will focus of course on education. We're told she's a little bit nervous about it, but she said, you know, funnily enough, reading school books to young children has been good practice for this.

We do expect her to come in the hall, or her aides to, in the next couple of hours to practice on the teleprompter to give what clearly is a speech to the largest audience of her life, but she is no stranger to presidential campaigns. Her father-in-law, of course, George Bush ran both as vice president twice and as president once. She -- this is really her fifth national campaign, as her aides like to point out, so she is a very practiced lady at this point.

And now I believe maybe we are going to Frank Sesno.

FRANK SESNO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You believe correctly, Candy.

Laura Bush will be one highlight this evening. Clearly the other will be General Colin Powell. I've spoken to someone who has seen his remarks and they will be not untypical for General Powell, very forthcoming, straightforward and to the point.

He is going to say that the children and the future are the key to this party; that it must leave no child behind, regardless of race; that the party of Lincoln must earn the mantle of Lincoln and it must be a party of inclusiveness.

And in something of a point to those who might say that this convention is so much window dressing for a party that has not been a party of inclusiveness in the past, I'm told the general will say that the party needs to reach out and be inclusive every year, not just in an election year or at convention time.

Of course, a strong endorsement of George W. Bush, and in particular, I'm told, reference to what Bush has done in the state of Texas on the subject of education. So it should be a very prominent speech and one that certainly will get an enthusiastic round of applause and support from these delegates, because Colin Powell quite frankly is one of the party's favorites; a part of that new face they're trying to put forward.

Over to my colleague now, Jeanne Meserve, also here -- Jeanne.


We've been talking a lot about the cosmetics of this convention, and the makeover will continue tonight. As you mentioned, a lot of talk about inclusion, about compassionate conservatism.

I'm here in the state of Florida, where they think they know a lot about it. The other Bush -- Jeb Bush -- is the governor. And he has followed this compassionate conservative game plan, particularly in the area of education. And Floridians believe it has worked. He has an approval rating of over 60 percent. So they say you should buy into compassionate conservatism if you're a Republican, both politically and also because it has practical results.

One little footnote: John has talked about the enthusiastic reception on his side of the floor to Dick Cheney. Over here, I have to tell you, it was very quiet. Most delegates didn't even put down their newspaper. The chants of Cheney, Cheney only went up when the floor whip started walking around. He's the guy who's down here specifically to orchestrate this event.

But I must add this caveat, it may be because we're on the other side of the floor. Maybe people here -- the few who were here at that point -- weren't really aware of what was going on.

Back to Wolf in the booth.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve, thank you so much.

Two hours of formal session now concluded here at the Republican National Convention. The session is now in recess. They will reconvene at 7:30 p.m. Eastern tonight.

We're going to continue our coverage from Philadelphia and the Republican National Convention, but we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, there's news elsewhere around the world going on. We'll have a check on the top stories when we come back.



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