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Election 2000: Senator Joseph Lieberman Agrees to be Gore's Running Mate

Aired August 7, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Senator Joseph Lieberman agreed this afternoon to be Al Gore's running mate. Within the past hour, Gore placed the call to formalize a choice that's creating quite a buzz. In Lieberman, Gore has selected one of the first ranking Democrats to question the conduct of President Clinton. And as an Orthodox Jew, he would be the first of his faith to serve as vice president. Today, he was out campaigning even before Gore called.

CNN's John King has more on the senator from Connecticut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First, a trademark dose of humor.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRES. CANDIDATE: You know, a funny thing happened to me on the way to the state AFL-CIO convention today.

KING: Then, even before the official announcement, Senator Joseph Lieberman seemed to be relishing his new role.

LIEBERMAN: When the working people of America look for a helping hand from the other party and the other ticket, they too often will receive the back of their hand.

KING: The 58-year-old second-term senator will be the first Jew on a national political ticket. Lieberman is moderate to conservative on military and fiscal issues, a man best known nationally as the first Senate Democrat to publicly condemn President Clinton for his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 1998)

LIEBERMAN: Such behavior is not just inappropriate, it is immoral and it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family, particularly to our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Democratic sources say the vice president realized a bold choice was his best hope of blunting the post-convention momentum of Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: More than anything else, it helps Al Gore establish his own set of values. And by picking Joe Lieberman, he says, I'm choosing somebody who is willing to stand up and be counted on moral issues. That's what Al Gore needs. He needs to separate himself and establish his own values and not be caught in the back trap of Bill Clinton's values.

KING: The Texas governor said he would wait for the official announcement before commenting. But other Republicans called Lieberman a solid choice.

His resume includes service in the Connecticut state Senate and as the state's attorney general. He is a leader of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, the moderate group that was Bill Clinton's springboard into national politics.

Lieberman has angered some Hollywood liberals by teaming up with conservative activist Bill Bennett to condemn what he views as too much gratuitous sex and violence in the television and music industries. As an Orthodox Jew, Lieberman says he can conduct important official business on the Sabbath, but he will refrain from campaigning from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

(on camera): The choice of Lieberman was well-received in Democratic circles, but it also served as a reminder of the vice president's delicate political challenge: convincing voters he deserves a share of the credit for the strong economy and other Clinton administration successes, but not the blame for the president's personal failings.

John King, CNN, Nashville, Tennessee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: And as we've been hearing, Lieberman was an early critic of President Clinton's behavior in the Monica Lewinsky matter. But Mr. Clinton had nothing but praise today for the man who took him to task.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The important thing now is -- I know you have a lot of other questions you want to ask me and everybody else, but I'd rather not say anything else today. Let's let the vice president make his announcement tomorrow and then I'll be glad to answer any other questions that you have. But I think, right now, you just need to know that I think he's wonderful, he's been a wonderful friend to me, and he's been great for America these last eight years in what he's done in the Senate, and he's been great for our party with what he's done for the Democratic Leadership Council.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: Also today, we're hearing that Mr. Clinton may use his speech to the Democratic National Convention to make the case that his indiscretions are his alone and are not a reflection of Vice President Gore. It's a suggestion being made by unnamed Democrats.

Joining us now from New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, what about this what we're hearing about President Clinton in his speech may absolve Al Gore of any responsibility for his impeachment problems?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, as a practical matter, I don't think too many people thought that Al Gore was directly involved in the president's misbehavior. I think the issue had more to do with whether or not Al Gore distanced himself from the president the way Senator Lieberman did. I think if you're asking, Would it be smart for the president to make such a statement that first night of the convention? sure.

WATERS: Moral and value issues are replayed today in the analysis of Joseph Lieberman on the ticket. Is this not a trump card for the Republicans claim of restoring honor and integrity to the White House?

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, you raise an interesting question. It's clear that we -- when we watched last week in Philadelphia, some people said, Why are the Republicans so anxious to wrap Bill Clinton around Al Gore's neck given the fact that President Clinton enjoys the highest job approval ratings, I think, of any two-term president? -- higher than Reagan's certainly; I think even higher than Eisenhower's. The answer was, they believe that the leftover feeling of what happened with the president and Monica Lewinsky is persuading people, particularly in a time of prosperity, that they should turn away from economic issues, where the Democrats might claim credit, and look toward broader issues. And that's what this choice of Joe Lieberman seems to suggest, that Al Gore is worried about that, too.

The question down the road is whether or not, when you look at the speech Joe Lieberman gave in September of 1998, it is so tough that, in a way, I could see the Republicans taking that speech, running it as an ad and saying, How come when we say these things the Democrats call it a vicious personal attack when their own vice presidential candidate said the same thing? So it is a two-edged sword, I think.

WATERS: The issue of Lieberman's Jewishness -- Senator Schumer said earlier today that this will become less relevant than most people are making it out to be as we go along here. Would you agree with that?

GREENFIELD: I think we're going to find that out. And I think there's good reason for Senator Schumer to say that. One of the things that has happened, I think, in this country over the last half century is a whole bunch of one-timed ingrained prejudices have been really rendered much less potent. We saw that 40 years ago with John F. Kennedy's choice. It did cost the Democrats some votes back then. I think today a Catholic on the ticket would be a mere blink of an eye. I think -- and I want to be blunt about this -- that in a country where more than 90 percent of the people are Christian -- well over 90 percent -- believe that Jesus Christ is their Lord and savior, that there might be a question not of anti-Semitism among some people but of, I don't under -- I don't quite get what his faith is. But if you look at states that have elected Jews to the United States Senate -- not the ones you might expect, like New York and California -- Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan -- four of the six senators from those -- from that region are Jewish-Americans, you can understand what Schumer's getting at.

I will say one thing. The fact that Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew, an observant Jew who doesn't work on Saturdays, you know, if you grew up Jewish, every American Jewish kid heard the story about Sandy Kofax who would not pitch on Yom Kippur, the highest of holy days, even though it was the World Series. So I think we're going to be hearing a lot about the fact that this is a fellow whose faith is strong enough to keep him off the campaign trail. That, I think, is a big asset in the idea that Joe Lieberman is somebody who actually practices what he believes.

WATERS: We're hearing little if any criticism of Joseph Lieberman, even from the Bush camp. Their opposition has revealed that, according to one spokesman, that Lieberman agrees with Bush on many more issues than he agrees with Gore.

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, that's an interesting thing. Both Al Gore and Joe Lieberman were centrist Democrats in the '80s. They both were members of what's called the Democratic Leadership Council, as that piece by John King indicated -- a group that was formed in the late '80s to bring the Democrats toward the middle from the left. So if there's any griping about this, it might come from the more liberal left wings of the party.

But the point you make is an interesting one. And if Al Gore means to really go after George Bush about the idea of vouchers or, you know, alternatives to public schools, Joe Lieberman has supported that. And the fact that Joe Lieberman has stood with Bill Bennett, the conservative Republican former education secretary in going after, by name, specific big entertainment conglomerates -- maybe including Time Warner, I honestly can't remember -- for the peddling of gratuitous sex and violence, I suppose the people who are most going to be angry are some in the Hollywood community who have raised tons of money for the Democrats. But that's why this pick kind of throws everybody off a little bit.

WATERS: We have the Bush team up, I think, 16, 17 points in the latest polls. What does Gore-Lieberman and the Democrats -- what do they all have to do in Los Angeles starting a week from today?

GREENFIELD: Well, first they have to show up and not fall off the stage because those numbers I think are just -- are inflated. They may wind up in November being true, but we've had basically two weeks where the Republicans not only have been the only ones in front of the public, but had a harmonious and generally well-received convention. So those numbers are not what I think they have to worry. They have to, I think, look much more at the question -- given what the Republicans have put on the table and given the fact that George W. Bush looks more plausible as a leader than, say, he did six months ago, what are they going to do to combat the argument?

And one of the encouraging things for me is that I think we may have much more issue-centric -- if I can use that horrible phrase -- campaign because the way you're going to have to engage George Bush if you're Gore and Lieberman is to say, look, when you look at what they want to do, it's not what they told you they're going to do. It's not in your interest. And so we're going to have to have an argument about their education policy, about what they want to do about health care and Social Security, in addition to the normal, you know, banging of drums and clashing of symbols that happens in a campaign.

So they're going to have to say, look -- you know, the other thing I think they're going to have to do where I believe the Republicans have given them an opening is to say, what do they talking -- what are they talking about that we've coasted through prosperity? Look where the country was when we took over and look where the country is now. Come on! You know, we've got to get some credit for this issue because you know the Republicans would be blaming us if we had high inflation and high unemployment. We're going to have, I think, actually, a more substantive campaign than I would have guessed.

WATERS: Interesting issue-centric days ahead, Jeff Greenfield.

GREENFIELD: I think so, yes.

WATERS: Senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, we'll see you in Los Angeles.

Later this hour, we'll hear more about Senator Lieberman from fellow Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. Plus, we'll hear what Israelis and Arabs are saying about Gore's choice of a Jewish running mate.

And CNN will have, of course, live coverage of the official Gore- Lieberman announcement tomorrow. That's planned for 1:00 p.m. Eastern in Nashville, Tennessee.

And tomorrow night, a CNN exclusive. Larry King will have the first interview with the Democratic vice presidential pick. Joseph Lieberman will be Larry King's guest tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

You can find a full profile of Senator Lieberman at our Web site, plus a transcript and video of his Senate speech about President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky. That and much more at CNN.com/election 2000.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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