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CNN Late Edition

OPEC Increases Output; Government Shutdown Looms Before Congress; Bush Changes Campaign Style

Aired September 10, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Vienna, Austria and 7:00 p.m. in Jerusalem. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this 90-minute LATE EDITION.

We'll get to our guests shortly, but first, our top story.

Here in Washington there are only four weeks remaining in the 106th Congress. Legislators are negotiating critical spending bills with the White House in order to prevent another government shut down.

CNN senior White House correspondent, John King, joins us now with details -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the budget battle, an annual ritual in Washington. Of course, the Congress sparring with the president. This one, though, all the more important. Just four weeks schedule left in this congressional session, as you mentioned. Just 57 days until the election to pick a new president and to decide which party will control the Congress heading into next year.

Still unresolved, not just how much government will spend next year, but what will it spend it on, how will the Congress and the president agree to spend the federal budget surplus. Issues like prescription drug benefits for seniors still on the table, Republican plans for tax cuts.

So much unresolved that both parties out on the Sunday shows today pointing fingers. The number three man in the House, the Whip, Tom DeLay. He says as American people watch this unfold, if they wonder why things aren't already resolved, Mr. DeLay says the president is to blame.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: The administration has already telegraphed a train wreck. Podesta, the chief of staff, Lockhart, all the administration has said they'll will go to the election if they don't get what they want. There is only one person that can shut down the government, that's the president of the United States, just like he did in 1995.


KING: Now no one seriously expects there to be a government shut down, but the Democrats out in full force today as well. The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, saying if the Republicans are looking for someone to blame, maybe you they should look in the mirror.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Republicans have been the ones who have delayed. We have 13 appropriation bills, as you know. Only two of them have been signed into law, 11 have not been signed into law, some have not even left the subcommittee. So the Republicans are themselves, their own worst enemy in terms of schedule. This schedule has been grossly mismanaged from the very beginning. We have not done a number of things we should have done a long time ago.


KING: Now these warring parties will come together here at the White House, on Tuesday. The president meeting with bipartisan congressional leadership. One of your guests, Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader among them.

The president will make clear, we're told, that he would like some bipartisan compromises. He would like to pass an increase in the minimum wage. He would like to get that prescription drug benefit for seniors. But we're also told that in a meeting with the Democrats only last week, the president made clear that he understands this is an election year. We're told he turned to Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle at one point and said, you tell me what you need me to do and I'll do it. So the election's overshadowing the annual budget fight. This the last budget battle with the president and the Republican Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John King at the White House, thanks.

And joining us now to discuss the Republican legislative agenda and the budget battle with the White House is the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION. Always good to have you on our program.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Glad to be back, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, I want to get to all of that stuff about the budget and the eventual so-called train wreck, if in fact that happens.

But some other developments in the world today. OPEC agreeing to increase oil production.

BLITZER: The price of oil is, as you know, this past week was $34 almost $35 a barrel. That's the highest in some 10 years, and it's obviously going to have a dramatic impact as weather here in the United States gets colder.

Is there anything the U.S. Senate to do to try to reduce the price of gasoline, heating fuel, other oil-related products?

LOTT: Well, this problem has just begun. I think it's going to get worse as we go into the winter. I think the price of home heating fuel is going to be very high and probably going to be some shortages. Because of the cost, they haven't been filling up their reserves.

Look, the administration said months ago that we were caught napping in this area, that OPEC has run up the price, it's created problems.

But it's bigger than the current shortage or high prices. We don't have a national energy policy. A lot of what we need could be supplied domestically. But we've allowed ourselves to get dependent on these OPEC countries that can cut down the supplies, can drive up the cost anytime they want to.

And, Wolf, the worst part of all is we're getting like 500,000 barrels a week, I guess it is, from Iraq.

So we're getting oil from Iraq, which we're refining and then using to put in our planes to fly over Iraq to try to keep them from causing all kind of havoc in the Middle East.

The insanity of not having a national energy policy, of being dependent on these foreign countries, is a real problem.

And this 800,000 barrels that they're talking about it's less than 1 percent of the world's needs. You've got strikes going on in France, and they're problems in Great Britain.

You know, this is a serious problem.

BLITZER: So you're saying the U.S. should take the initiative in preventing Iraq from exporting any oil, even if the money they get all goes for humanitarian purposes?

LOTT: I'm just saying that it shows the hypocrisy. Here we are more or less pleading with them to keep supplying us with oil while we're refining it and using it in airplanes to have over-fly to keep them from attacking the people in their own country or their neighbors.

What I'm saying is: We shouldn't be dependent on these OPEC countries. Obviously, they're wanting to make more and more profits. I think it's dangerous for us to be dependent on them the way we are.

We do have a petroleum reserve, but it's for national emergencies. What I am saying is: We should have more oil and gas usage in this own country -- our own country. Natural gas is very clean. We've got clean coal that comes out of a lot of places in this country, nuclear power.

But the president vetoed a bill that would have dealt with a place to put nuclear waste.

We have a major problem here. And one of the things I'm expecting a Bush administration is, we're going to step up and address the needs of this country's energy problem.

BLITZER: All right, let's go back to the big issue, which is on your agenda right now, and that's, namely, the next four weeks passing these appropriations bills, these spending bills, to avoid another government shutdown.

John Podesta, the White House chief of staff, was asked earlier on "Fox News Sunday" whether or not he had a message to deliver to you. And this is what he said.


JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Senators accusing of us of engineering a train wreck, as you know, as near as I can tell, the engine's still in the roundhouse and the boxcars are still on the siding. It's pretty hard to have a train wreck if the train's not moving.



PODESTA: There's a lot work that needs to be done partly because so little has happened in this Congress.


BLITZER: Obviously putting the blame on you, the Republican majority in the Senate and the House, for delaying these spending bills, setting up potentially the kind of disaster you don't want to occur.

LOTT: Well, surprise, surprise. You know, John King told the story that really sums it all up. This is all about partisanship and politics at the White House. The president says, tell me what you want, we'll do it.

In the Senate, we have faced delays, roadblocks, all kinds of efforts to stop us passing appropriation bills. We have already done nine, we'll get tenth one done this week, but they certainly haven't been helpful in that effort. We need to get work completed and we will. You're talking about funding for education, for veterans, for agriculture, defense, so these are very important issues we need to find a fair middle ground. We need to come to a conclusion, we need cooperation, we haven't been getting that from the White House by the way.

BLITZER: You're going to be meeting with president on Tuesday, ..

LOTT: Yes.

BLITZER: ...the bipartisan leadership going over to White House. What are you going to tell the president?

LOTT: Well, it's good to hear from you Mr. President, I hadn't heard anything from you two months, you know for seven and a half years, for better or worse. We did communicate on how to get our work done and that has stopped other than calling about his trade interests, there's not much communication. But what I will say as Mr. President, you know, we're for reforms, we are for finding middle ground that will allow us to do a number of these issues and we've got a long list of things that will intend ...

BLITZER: All right, we're going to get to some of those specifics.

LOTT: So, we'll work with him, we have to, I mean he's the president, and we're the Congress, but we are co-equal branches, and we'll have to see how we can come together.

BLITZER: You know that when used go with Newt Gingrich when he was Speaker, he use to leave those White House meetings and he would acknowledge that the president is a charming fellow and used to be able to run roughshod over him. Are you going to allow the president to do that to you?

LOTT: No, we're not going to do that. I'm from across the river there, I know him well and we have a very common background and I've been meeting off and on with him now directly as majority leader for four years. You know, a lot of things may happen, but I wouldn't be seduced by him.

BLITZER: The spending caps, these are the levels that people want. There's a front page story in "The New York Times," you probably saw it this morning saying that you're ready to go above that $600 billion spending cap, in fact there's a quote ...

LOTT: Not from me.

BLITZER: Well, Slade Gorton, the Republican from Washington state is up for re-election this year. He's quoted in "The New York Times" as saying, quote, "the caps are irrelevant, nobody pays any attention to them anymore," end quote. Is he right?

LOTT: The caps are not irrelevant, we may have to go above them for a number of reasons and one of them is his particular bill. He's got an important bill, the Interior bill, it's parks and lands in it. But, we've got major fires out West. It's probably going to cost us in emergency assistance, FEMA assistance.

BLITZER: That's not part of the caps, the emergency spending.

LOTT: Well, but you're either going to have to raise the caps or you're going to have to say, this is an emergency which we have to vote to designate. It'll be about a billion or a billion and a half in damages out West, fires cause in my opinion in a lot of ways, because of the bad policies of this administration. You know, the ideas of Gore as you shouldn't even have trees removed from forests that are diseased or downed, so there will be some areas where we're going to have to agree to go higher.

In fact on education, Republicans in the Congress have our education numbers $300 million above where the president is. We think that's a high priority. We think that for a variety of reasons we need to put some more money into education. We have a particular housing problem, we have section 8 housing where we've got to come up with more funds than we knew at the time we did the budget, and it's a significant amount.

So it's a matter of being realistic, but finding fair common ground, and not expected -- the president expecting us to just collapse to his positions, we will have to concede some, but I hope that we'll stand our ground too.

BLITZER: Is it fair to predict that if all the spending bills are not passed, you will support continuing resolutions, the stop gap measures that will keep the government going at last year's funding in order to prevent what most people say was a disaster for the Republican Party, the 95 government --

LOTT: And by the way, I was not a part of that, I was not majority leader at that time and didn't think that was particularly wise at the time, there's no use going back to that and pointing fingers at it. Here, I have a little different attitude than a lot of people. A lot of people are saying and the White House, the Democrats think, oh, all we got to do is threaten to keep him here, and they'll give us whatever we want. My attitude is, look let's keep working. If we reach the end of the fiscal year and we haven't got all of these bills done, let's pass short term or medium extension of the continuing resolution and let's keep working.

BLITZER: All right.

LOTT: If we need to stay here, we'll stay here. There will be no government shutdowns because we'll keep sending continuing resolutions till we get our work done.

BLITZER: And presumably the president will sign this.

LOTT: I hope he will and if he doesn't, than he's the problem, not us.

BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the specific issues, the House Speaker Dennis Hastert says he's ready to go along now with an increase in the minimum wage by a dollar two years. You ready to support the administration on that?

LOTT: As long as it is connected to small business tax relief and we don't wind up doing it in such a way that it costs people that are entry level, low income, cost them their jobs or really hurt or put small businesses out of business. I think if we put them together, we can get that done.

BLITZER: What about a patients bill of rights. As you know, the Democrats almost passed it the last time, they lost by one vote, but now there's a new Democratic Senator Zell Miller of Georgia. Could be a 50-50 tie and you know who would break that tie on a patients' bill of rights.

LOTT: Well look if they're willing to work with us ..

BLITZER: For our viewers who may not know, it would be the vice president, who's the president of the Senate. You don't want Al Gore to come in and break a tie like that.

LOTT: It won't come to that. I hope they will work with us, there's been a conference going on with the Speaker involved, conferees in the House and Senate, they've made some real progress. I think we should continue to try to come up with a reasonable program that will have reasonable requirements of HMO's, give patients the protection they need, give doctors input, but we should focus on appeals within these managed care facilities and outside, if those appeals don't work out, liability is still there.

The question once again is, do the Democrats and Vice President Gore want an issue, or do they want results? If they want results, we can get it done. I talked to one of the supporters of the patients' bill of rights this morning that's kind of on the other side and I said, you know, if we did this or that or the other could we make this go forward. He said, yeah, I think we could do that. So that's the question, do they want to continue to have roadblocks on getting work done?

LOTT: Or do they want real reforms on a whole variety of issues, including patients' rights with managed cared?

BLITZER: What about permanent, normal trade relations with China? This has been delayed, as you know, for sometime. It is supposed to come up for a vote in next couple weeks or so. Some of your Republican colleagues want to attach some amendments, what they call riders. Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee wants an amendment that would, in effect, force the bill to go back to the House, where it could be in trouble. Once again, he wants to make sure China doesn't export weapons to Pakistan and other developing nations.

LOTT: Well, first of all, Wolf, surprise, surprise. The Senate might make a little change to what the House did and have to go back for the House to have to consider --

BLITZER: But that would, in effect, delay it for a long time.

LOTT: Well, look, it was delayed so that the Senate, hopefully, would complete its appropriations bills. But because of the roadblocks that the Democrats threw up with hundreds of amendments, filibusters, just absolute delays of every kind, we didn't get them all done.

The other thing I was trying to do was to work out some agreements to consider the Thompson issue separately. It is a very important issue. China is involved in nuclear weapons proliferation. They have been involved with Pakistan, other countries, I suspect even North Korea, providing very dangerous technology and materials to these countries. We should not ignore that. Neither should we ignore their record of human rights and/or religious persecution. Having said that, the opponents of the bill have blocked every effort I've made, sometime even with the support of Senator Daschle, to try to come up with a way to handle it separately, the Thompson issue. We have not succeeded. So we're going forward. We're going to do the China trade bill this coming week. Senator Thompson will offer an amendment. I will support that, because I think it's very important. And I'm not going to be on the record saying that we shouldn't watch and monitor what China does with nuclear weapons proliferation. I don't think most senators would want to do that.

But I think when the smoke clears late this coming week, hopefully, but not later than early the next week, we'll get over the hurdles, get over the filibusters, get over the amendments. We will pass the China trade bill by a wide margin.

I have concerns about it, but what we're trying to do is to open up the Chinese markets. That is in interest of American jobs, automobile workers in America, farmers, business industry. I hope they'll trade fairly with us and that the WTO will do its job, which, by the way, they're not doing with our European allies.

BLITZER: All right, Senator Lott. We have to take a quick break. We have a lot more to talk about, including more issues.

Just ahead, Governor George W. Bush changes his campaign style to regain his lead among voters. We'll ask Senator Lott about Bush's new role as the supposed underdog when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We're continuing our conversation with the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Mr. Leader, this week the president vetoed the estate tax repeal. But what the Democrats are proposing as an alternative -- and I want to put on the screen what they're proposing -- that there would be an increase in the exemption, the general exemption, beginning $2 million, and the estate tax would be tax exempt by 2001, $4 million by 2010. And as far as family businesses, small farms: $4 million in 2001, up to $8 million, 2010.

What's wrong with that kind of alternative, then, just eliminating the entire estate tax, which would allow billionaires to leave their estate tax free?

LOTT: You know, it's their continued strategy: "Look, we are against your marriage penalty tax elimination program, we're against your death tax and elimination program, but we're for it, we've just got a different version." The fact of the matter is, they don't want to cut taxes of any kind.

But you know -- now here's a tremendous success story. Venus Williams came from a family not very wealthy. She's, you know, been very successful in tennis. What did she say yesterday when she talked to the president? She said, "Could you lower my taxes, Mr. President?"

BLITZER: She's making a lot of money.

LOTT: Well, yes. And by the way, that's the American dream for us to be able to reach up and grab that higher rung, that higher star, to pay some taxes, but to pay a fair amount.

Now here's my problem with the death tax. The fundamental principle is wrong. For the federal government to say "when you die you owe 40, 45, 50, 55 percent of what you've inherited or what you have created," that's fundamentally wrong.

Having said that, look, if we could get them to really do what they're talking about, we might could make that happen, even in the wee hours of this session. But if we said, OK, they would run for the trees because they don't want...

BLITZER: Well, why don't you call their bluff and see what they say?

LOTT: Well, I'm going to look for every opportunity to call their bluff to help people to get a lower tax burden.

You know, Governor Bush has got the real solution and that is, not pick and chose winners but have rate cuts, make sure every American gets back a little bit of the money that he or she is overpaying in taxes.

BLITZER: Speaking about Governor Bush, why is it -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- the impression out there, the Democrats seem to be in sync, the Democrats in Congress, the Al Gore campaign, they seem to be on the same page.

Republicans, on the other hand, between the Gore -- the Bush campaign and Republicans in Washington, Republicans in Congress, they seem sort of to be in disarray right now on not reading not from the same page. Is that a wrong impression that I have?

LOTT: You know, I'm not going to speculate about whether or not that is right or wrong or whether, you know, who created it. The important thing for me is, I am more excited about Governor George W. Bush's candidacy for the president of any candidate we've had since Ronald Reagan. He is a real leader, he's got a positive message, he's got some bold proposals on taxes, on Social Security, education. When he talks about education, he's animated because he cares about children. He wants no child left behind.

And by the way, I come from a public school background. If he'll get on that message, stay aggressive and stay positive, while pointing out that Vice President Gore is just a rehashed old Democrat that wants liberal programs, more spending, more government, more controls, he doesn't really want tax relief for working Americans. If Governor Bush will get on that tack and stick with it, I predict right now, he's going to be president, and it's not going to be as close as the pundits say. BLITZER: You know, a lot of Republicans, though, leaders, at least here in Washington, say they're nervous, including Tom DeLay, the House majority whip.

Listen to what he said earlier today on "Meet the Press."


DELAY: We know it's going to be a tough race. There are some Republicans that are nervous about this, and we should be nervous. We should be focused and nervous and carry this fight all the way to the election.


BLITZER: Governor Bush said this week some Republicans in Washington -- he took a snipe at the Republicans in Washington -- are trying to run away from the foxholes, in his words.

What has happened over the past month that has made these Republicans so nervous?

LOTT: Well, look, first of all, we never thought it would be a cake walk. This is going to be a good campaign. You've got a lot of arguments, you know, on both sides.

But when you look at the state of the economy, which, by the way, really Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan deserve a lot more credit for it than Bill and Al, president and vice president. But when you look at that and you look at the fact that this race, right now, is basically close, and all that's happened and all that's been said over the past two weeks. I'm not nervous. I feel good.

The important thing is for us to be on the offensive and have a committed campaign, explain what we're trying to do. And I think the American people are going to like it.

BLITZER: One final question, very, very briefly. Do you want Joe Lieberman to give up his Senate seat to run for vice president? Or should he run for both, the Senate from Connecticut and for vice president at the same time?

LOTT: Well, I don't think it makes a difference. I predict he'll be in the Senate next year. And I hope that he'll go back to where he was and work with us on choice in education, strong national defense, national missile defense. On a lot of issues in the Senate, he worked with Republicans. Now that he's the nominee, of course, he's got a lot of pressure from Gore to not continue to advocate those positions.

So when he comes back to the Senate, I'm going to go back to work with my friend, Joe Lieberman, who is a good man.

BLITZER: All right. OK. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, always good to have you on LATE EDITION.

LOTT: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

And coming up next, Vice President Al Gore and Governor George W. Bush are in a dead heat. We'll take a look at the latest CNN/"USA Today" tracking poll with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider and discuss the candidate's strategies with two veteran political leaders, Empower America's William Bennett and the former Senate majority leader, George Mitchell.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us to discuss the latest in campaign 2000, from the debate dilemma to today's new poll numbers, are three political pros. Here in Washington, Empower America's co-director, William Bennett; in New York, former Democratic Senate majority leader, George Mitchell; and also here in Washington, CNN's senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Gentlemen, welcome back to LATE EDITION.

And let me begin by showing you and showing our viewers out there the latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll that is just being released right now. The new numbers are Al Gore is at 47 percent, George W. Bush at 44 percent, Ralph Nader is at 2 percent, Pat Buchanan 1 percent.

But take a look at this. When we compare to it where these numbers were a month ago right after the Republican convention, at that time, Gore was at 37 percent, George W. Bush was at 54 percent. What a huge change has occurred in the past month. What's going on, Bill Schneider?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Two things happened. One, people started paying attention. I always thought it was a danger for Bush that he was winning the election as long as people weren't paying attention. They started paying attention, and they became engaged in the issues, and the issues that are important to people -- education, healthcare, Medicare, the economy -- all favor Gore.

The other thing that happened is, Gore, mostly by his selection of Joseph Lieberman, managed to separate himself from Bill Clinton for the first time. And that made him his own man, and people were looking at him anew.

BLITZER: What has happened, Bill Bennett, over the past month?

WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA: Well, they've obviously had three very good weeks. Al Gore had a pretty good convention. They had, I think, a $30 million buy of ads in a lot of the states. So we knew -- BLITZER: Those kinds of ads can have that kind of dramatic impact?

BENNETT: Well, that's a lot of money, particularly in the states --


BLITZER: But the Republicans have been spending money too.

BENNETT: They have, but not nearly as much. But what's interesting -- you can look at this two ways. The best three weeks they've had, obviously, a very good economy, and it's still a dead- even race. I think anybody can win this race. My only rule of politics is -- you know, this is the football season, Buffalo Bills fan -- you're either on offense or you're on defense. The last three weeks, the Bush campaign has been on defense. They need to get back on offense.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Mitchell? How cocky, if you will, should Al Gore be, given this turn around?

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: I don't think he is, or should be, cocky. I think he should be cautiously optimistic. I think the numbers that you showed on the screen reflect the fact that Bush consolidated the Republican base earlier than Gore consolidated the Democratic base. It is now really, basically, a dead-even race, going into the final two months. I think it will be decided in the key swing states, the upper Midwest, stretching from Missouri and Illinois across to Pennsylvania, New Jersey. And I think that tends to favor Gore slightly.

BLITZER: Look at these other numbers we have in this new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, showing the gender gap that is out there. Look at this, among men, there is -- 43 percent of men say they will vote for Al Gore. Look at these numbers on the screen. Fifty percent say they will vote for George W. Bush, a seven-point difference. Among women, though, 52 percent say they will vote for Al Gore, 37 percent for George W. Bush.

Fifteen points, Bill Schneider.

You have been studying polls for a long time. That's a pretty significant gender gap out there.

SCHNEIDER: Significant gender gap, and the big change at the Democratic Convention was among women. Women were supporting George Bush by reasonable numbers, and all of a sudden they shifted in huge numbers to Al Gore. Why did that happen? I think it's two words: safety net. Gore is running on securing and extending the safety net, and those are words that women respond to.

BLITZER: There are more women voters than men voters, because women live longer and older Americans tend to vote in much greater numbers than younger Americans. How concerned should George W. Bush be by fact that women seem, at least right now, to be more inclined to vote for Al Gore than George W. Bush?

BENNETT: Concerned, but obviously not defeatist. There is a lot he can do, and I think he should continue to push the education issue, which we know is a very important issue for women. He's got important ideas here. He's got bold ideas about education, early education, about school choice, helping children who need help the most. Al Gore has a very tough time breaking from the hold of the teacher's unions. This is a bold idea for a Republican to lead with education, and I think he came back in the game partly on the basis of that issue, but other issues.

So, my question, if I could ask Bill, is how loose is that undecided group? I mean, this group swung. Can it swing again? I mean, are we seeing things locking in, or is there still some substantial amount of leverage here?

BLITZER: Well, that's going to play right into our next question, and I want to bring Senator Mitchell into this as well. Look at this latest number, Senator Mitchell. And this is a CNN/"Time" magazine poll that has just been released. Among likely voters, is your mind made up? Seventy-seven percent of those who responded said yes, their mind is basically made up. Twenty-one percent said no, their mind is not made up.

Twenty-one percent, in a few states that will be the so-called battleground states.

BLITZER: They're not playing to a whole huge audience out there, either campaign, are they Senator Mitchell?

MITCHELL: That's correct. Both phenomena are not new. The gender gap has been with us for quite some time. Women have tended to be more Democratic than men. Men have tended to be more Republican over the past several presidential elections. And of course, people making up their minds late is also not a new phenomenon. Twenty-one percent is a fairly substantial number. I think it is open for both candidates. I agree with both Bill's that it's still open.

As I said, however, I think the fact that the election will be decided in a few key states -- because Bush is really going to hold the Republican base, about 20 states with 200 electoral votes. Gore is going to hold the Democratic base, slightly smaller number of states, but about the same number of electoral votes. I think it does tend to favor Gore because on those key issues, they're more helpful to him in those northern industrial states.

BLITZER: What about that, Bill Schneider? People who say they've already made up their minds, are they dead certainly in the Bush or Gore column right now?

SCHNEIDER: I don't think anything is dead certain in this race. You don't have an incumbent so people are keeping their minds open. I'm not sure anything is going to be locked in until at least after the first or second debate when they happen in October.

But the majority of those who say they have not made up their mind, 60 percent of them, in fact, are women. So women are still a critical -- women are swingers, who knew?

BLITZER: You know, there was the soccer mom, their was the waitress mom, the single mom with kids. Well, you know, does the Republican Party -- or is it just George W. Bush right now, have a problem with women voters? And was it the kiss that helped Al Gore as much as some pundits seem to suggest.

BENNETT: Well, you heard Bill Schneider say it was a safety net. The good news is it wasn't the kiss. That didn't swing 20 points. We don't have that -- we don't have that particular issue.

Look, the thing is still open, the thing is still fluid. And what George Bush has to do is come back and make his case. The case that he makes, it seems to me, is in part on the issues, where he has some ideas that I think are bold and interesting and different on Social Security, on education, on some other things.

But also remember, early on, Bush was taking a beating from the Democrats for being so far to the right. You remember the Bob Jones business. Interesting thing happened at the convention, surprised me, it might have surprised others, is that Al Gore moved to his left. He hasn't paid any price for that -- for that yet. And I think he should.

There are a large number of people, and most women, who are very much opposed to things like partial-birth abortion. Joe Lieberman is playing a very appealing note in talking about the naked public square. Naked of what? Naked of religion, naked of reference to faith. But this is something that Republicans should talk about. And should ask, why is the public square so naked. Who's judges made the square so naked?

BLITZER: Well, we're going to -- we're going to talk about Lieberman. We're going to talk about Cheney. We're going to talk a lot more, but we have...

BENNETT: I think those issues will speak to women.

BLITZER: And we have to take a quick break.

One thing, Al Gore may have moved to the left at the convention, but by picking Lieberman, some of the left side of the Democrat Party thought he was going too far to the right.

But hold your thought on that. And we'll discuss that, other issues. Just ahead also, your phone calls for Bill Bennett, George Mitchell and Bill Schneider.

LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

More now over our discussion on the presidential race with Empower America's Bill Bennett, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, and CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider. We got a lot to talk about, but let's take a quick caller from Bloomington, Indiana, please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Yes, isn't it true that the issues favor Al Gore and that the only way Governor Bush can get the swing voters to change their minds about Al Gore is to go negative and doesn't that violate his promise to change the tone of politics in Washington?

BLITZER: Let's ask Bill Bennett that question.

BENNETT: I don't think the issues do. I think -- let me connect two dots here. I think George Bush should say more about the issues, I think he should welcome the debates. I think he should get in more debates and try to show the differences on the issues. There are nuances in the Bush campaign, there are new ideas in the Bush campaign that you don't have in the Gore campaign. Gore campaign is a big government, lots more spending, very little reform. There's lot of reform in the Bush plan, but to do that to make the case, not to, you know die the death of sound bites, he needs to get out and engage in the debates. I think he'll do better than people expect.

BLITZER: All right, let's another caller from Shelbyville, Tennessee. Please go ahead with your question.

CALLER: Mr. Mitchell, do you think Al Gore's word is trustworthy because we here in Tennessee don't think he is and I think he's word comes out like a fart.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead. Senator Mitchell, I assume you're going to disagree with that woman.

MITCHELL: I am going to disagree. I served with Al Gore in the United States Senate for many years, I know him very well, his word is very good, I think he is trustworthy. I strongly disagree with Bill Bennett's characterizations of the platforms of the two parties, and I think that the best possible news for Al Gore is that women tend to favor him, a majority of the undecided's are women, and if the issues of this campaign are fought out for the next two months on those issues of concern to women, Al Gore will win.

BENNETT: Well, I think the issues obviously deserve debate, but I think the trustworthiness issue deserves debate too, not just because Al Gore is linked with Bill Clinton, but because of Al Gore's own behavior, his public character, if you will at the Justice Department. We've got four investigations in the Justice Department.

BLITZER: But on that issue Bill Schneider, I want your polling expertise. If the Republicans accept Bill Bennett's advice and make this an issue, character issue, all the investigations, stuff that a lot of people say the American public don't want to hear about that anymore, it's history.

Is that smart politics to revive all those so called negative attacks right now?

SCHNEIDER: Two different characters, Bill Clinton-Al Gore. They don't want to hear it about Bill Clinton, he's gone, he's history. But Al Gore is relatively new as a national player. I think if Bush concentrates on Gore, the man standing there as his own man and forgets about Clinton, he can score some points.

BENNETT: There is a veracity problem, I disagree here with my friend George Mitchell. There's a problem about the Buddhist temple. There's a problem about the coffees. There's a problem about the 78 phone calls, there's a problem about what it looks to be lying to the FBI.

BLITZER: Let's ask George Mitchell.

BENNETT: There's a question about whether people deserve to be the president of the United States.

BLITZER: How worried should Al Gore be if the Republicans accept Bill Bennett's advice and go back to the so-called character issue in this campaign?

MITCHELL: Well, of course, he's also previously given advice that they should concentrate on education and other issues. The reality is, I think that if they try to make this a character case, if they do that, they will be -- it will be a backfire. They will not win the election on the basis because Al Gore is not Bill Clinton and whatever is said about trying to create doubts about Al Gore they're not going to do resonate with the American people.

I think the Republicans would make a huge mistake if they did that, but of course that will be up to them.

BLITZER: You know, Bill Bennett, there was a lot of publicity given to fact that the Bush campaign this week took a mid course correction. Look at some of the headlines on our screen that did come out this week. "Bush switches to less formal style." "In a style change, Bush talks more directly to the voters." "Bush switches gears for close race."

Now, what some Democrats are saying, contrast that to what Bush himself said at the Republican convention in Philadelphia.

Listen to this.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not need to take your polls before I know my own mind. I do not reinvent myself at every turn, I am not running in borrowed clothes.


BENNETT: Well, if his positions changed, I think he'd be subject to criticism. The style, the nuance, you know, where you appear, that's another question. But I think he needs to stay on substance and by the way, one ought to be able to entertain more than one idea in one's mind at one time. One can talk about issues, we could talk about Al Gore being a liberal and one can also talk about the public character of Al Gore, it's not the so-called character issue, it's about behavior as a trusted public official and the deep corruption of this administration.

SCHNEIDER: What Al -- what George Bush has got to do is increase the market for change in this country. That's what he has to sell, he's selling change and when voters finally concentrate on the issue, last month issues, last month they said, you know, we don't want a big change of direction. It's not like after one term of Jimmy Carter in 1980, or after one term of George Bush in 1992.

SCHNEIDER: They want continuity, but they want a change of leadership. And right now, a lot of voters have concluded Al Gore is the same policy, the same direction in the country, with enough of a change of leadership. Bush has a big problem there because he's got to figure out how to sell change.

BLITZER: Senator Mitchell, a lot of people think that Joe Lieberman's inclusion on this Democratic ticket has really helped Al Gore big time. Has it?

MITCHELL: Yes, it has. Joe Lieberman's been an outstanding senator. He's independent, he's a man of integrity. He says what he thinks, and I think he's got respect in both communities. And he's a man of deep conviction.

Americans are generally more religious than most other societies, and I think they admire a person who is deeply, personally religious and who lives by what he says.

And I think Joe Lieberman has been a tremendous addition to the ticket.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, gentlemen, we have to leave it right there. We are all out of time. That's what happens.

Bill Bennett, Bill Schneider, George Mitchell, thank you so much for joining us. We'll have all of you back, of course.

Up next: Outspoken Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura says he's standing alone, apart from the political parties and away from the media. We'll talk with the independent-minded governor just ahead on LATE EDITION.



GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: Every four years, you hear the same promises, you hear the same rhethoric coming out of candidates and the parties all the time. They're not inclusive. If you look at the situation right now in debating -- you know, we're only given two choices. And I think that's terrible.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION. Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura has earned a reputation for straight talk. This morning, I had a chance to talk with him and we discussed politics, the media and his new book "Do I Stand Alone?"


BLITZER: Governor Ventura, thanks for joining us once again on LATE EDITION. Thanks for joining us this Sunday that -- I know you have a new book. We're going to talk about your new book in a second. But quick question about Minnesota.

Who's going to carry Minnesota in the presidential election? Al Gore or George W. Bush?

VENTURA: Well, Wolf, initially the governor was doing pretty well, but since the democratic convention -- according to polls -- if you want to believe polls. And always remember polls never have me given any chance to win. Right now, the vice president's out in front. And if you look at traditional Minnesota politics through the years, in the presidential race, Democrats seem to do better in Minnesota.

BLITZER: Who will you vote for in November?

VENTURA: I don't know yet. I really don't. I want to see the inclusion of the third-party candidates in some of the debates. I think the debates are pivotal and I want to watch those debates and then I'll make a decision at that point. So I may be like a lot of the independent voters. I may not decide until that very last week.

BLITZER: You know, in your new book, and I want to show our audience the cover of the book. It's entitled "Do I Stand Alone: Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals." I want to read to you and put on the screen and put on the screen a quote from the book about George W. Bush. You write this:

"I have nothing against the man personally, but as a politician he is a classic example of the modern day say anything public figure. He's trying to please everyone instead of standing tall and saying what he honestly believes."

That looks like you're taking a little hit at Governor Bush right there.

VENTURA: Well, it may be if it's determined that way, but I respect the governor. I just think that that's what our political system has evolved to. Today's candidates out there trying to please every interest group possible. I mean, it isn't just Governor Bush. He was the example at that point. But he certainly is not alone. There's hundreds upon hundreds of others. Depending on who they're talking to, they're going to tell those people what they want to hear and that's the nature of our politics today.

BLITZER: Does Al Gore fit that description as well?

VENTURA: He probably would in most cases, certainly. BLITZER: What do you think about Al Gore? You've met him, you've been on the campaign trail a little bit with him. At least in some events in Minnesota.

VENTURA: Well, I'll say this. The vice president's an extremely intelligent man. I will never ever deny that. He's extremely bright. He's of course highly motivated to do the job. He wants the job very bad and hits on an issue that's important to me. And that's special ed. He's assured me that the government, if he's elected, will pick up the tab for the really unfunded mandate that they did to all of our states. And that was mandating special ed saying they would pay 40 percent of the freight for it and they've never paid any higher than probably 11 percent.

So -- and the vice president -- the other thing about him is, I think he's a tremendous debater. And I watched him carve Ross Perot apart, so -- and I literally won my election on debates. But I stated, unequivocally, Vice President Al Gore would not be the first person I'd choose to debate against, because he's very good. And Governor Bush, if could steal from Tiger Woods, better bring his A- game, when it comes time to debate, because that could be the determining factor in this election.

BLITZER: On those debates, I know you've said in the past that you think that some of the third party, fourth party, fifth party candidates should be included. But if they're only registering 1 or 2 or 3 percent in the national polls, why dilute that debate between the two men, one of whom is going to be the next president? Why bring in Pat Buchanan or John Hagelin or some of the other third party candidates, Ralph Nader, for example?

VENTURA: Well, because they will cover issues that the two other parties won't touch with a 10-foot pole, and they are important issues to segments of our population. And not only that, but how can the third party ever rise to prominence if it's forever being shut out? Of course, when it can't get access to debating, when it can't get fair media coverage, how can they ever gain in the polls?

Take my example of Minnesota, Wolf. If they used the criteria nationally of 15 percent, which, I might add, is supposedly from this non-partisan group, when yet the head of the whole things used to be the biggest fundraiser for the Republican Party. If they used the 15 percent criteria here in Minnesota, I would not be the governor today.

BLITZER: But, governor, you were at 10 percent when those -- at that time in the polls, which is a lot better than Ralph Nader, who's, let's say, 2 or 3 percent.

VENTURA: Well, the point is that the bar is still at 15, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, if somebody were at 10 percent, I assume the pressure would be enormous to get them into those debates.

VENTURA: Well, maybe so, but the point being is, we've got concerted efforts by both of these political parties to always push out the rise of a third party. And we seem to have the media playing along with it, you know.

And getting back to my book a little bit, when I speak about the media -- the call to the media is this: The media, to me, is in the entertainment business today. They're not into the business of making us knowledgeable and making us smarter. They're into whatever works for rating points and how do we entertain people.

BLITZER: You know, one of the interesting things you write in your book, and I want to read this as well, regarding a possible Ventura-McCain coalition.

Listen to this. You write, "An Independent Ventura-McCain campaign would be virtually unstoppable. We'd get the veteran vote, the youth vote, the reform vote, and of course the vote from that all- important silent majority in the center of the political continuum."

You honestly believe that if McCain had decided to run as a third party and tapped you, let's say, as his vice presidential running mate, you guys would be the front-runners right now?

VENTURA: I think that we -- I never make predictions, because I've never been a front-runner. You know, through my entire campaign, I was never the front-runner. I was coming from the back.

But I will tell you this: Had Senator McCain quit the Republican Party and gone solely as an independent, and if he had picked me as a running mate, I think, in light of my book tour, I've been traveling around. I've had a ton of people, Wolf, saying to me -- in fact, the first New Yorker I saw when I got in New York hollered at me and said, "You should be running for president." It wasn't even "Hello." And, so, I think -- you know, the senator tapped into that mass of people nationally that I tapped into in Minnesota, and they're 60 percent of the population because I think it holds true like a Minnesota poll showed.

VENTURA: Only 40 percent of Minnesotan's identify themselves as Republicans or Democrats combined, so you have 60 percent of that populous sitting out there waiting to be tapped into and especially when less than 50 percent of the people choose to even vote in the presidential election. That means when you walk into a crowd literally half of them are potential customers for you as a third party candidate.


BLITZER: We have to take a quick break.

For our international viewers, a CNN special report is next. Arafat and Barak: The Quest For Peace.

For our North American viewers, stay tuned for another 30 minutes of LATE EDITION.

We'll check the hour's top stories. Then, more of my conversation with Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura.

Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's "Last Word."

It's all ahead when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

More of my conversation with Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura in just a moment. But first here's Gene Randall with the hour's top stories -- Gene.


BLITZER: Thanks Gene. Now, more of my interview with Governor Jesse Ventura.


BLITZER: You also write in the book that if President Clinton could run for a third term, he might be elected president for a third term. Do you honestly believe that he could win this contest, let's say, if he were the Democratic nominee against George W. Bush given the impeachment process and all that the country went through?

VENTURA: Yes, I do because if you notice, Wolf, through the whole impeachment process his approval rating did not diminish, it stayed the same. I think the American public took that, yes he made a personal mistake. Yes, he did something if you want to call it unsavory or whatever it might have been, but it really didn't affect the manner in which the president was president and did his business for the country and did his business for foreign policy and did all the other things required of the job; that it was a case that -- and certainly history seems to say, he's not the first president to do that. He's just the president who got caught.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about religion. In the book you write about religion and as you remember, you caused some controversy in that "Playboy" interview on the subject of religion. One thing you write in the book, religion is a greater factor in this election than it has been in any other that I can remember. This time the line between church and state has become really blurred, the theme in this election has become, elect the best Christian, or in the case of Joe Lieberman, elect the best Jew, I assume that's what you're suggesting as well.

VENTURA: At the point I wrote the book, the vice president hadn't taken Senator Lieberman as his candidate yet, so I, you know, I had no idea that a Jewish person would be named to the ticket.

BLITZER: The point that you made on that "Playboy" interview, and I want to quote from that, you said, "religion is a sham and a crutch for weak minded people." This emphasis on religion, therefore in this campaign, is that a mistake?

VENTURA: Well, the thing is, you know, we're supposed to separate church and state. When a persons individual spiritual beliefs are should remain with that individual and they really in many ways should not become a political issue I don't believe.

I'm a strong believer in that and it seems to me that we've got candidates out there that are trying to convince public I'm the most religious person, therefore I should be elected. My point is this, and I think it's a bit scary. I don't think, Wolf, that an atheist could get elected in our country today and that doesn't mean a person that is an atheist doesn't have values.

VENTURA: It doesn't mean that person doesn't treat his fellow man with respect and could do the job. But we seem to be basing today religion -- I mean, look at Governor Bush, he's pushing it very hard. The vice president pushes it. Both the -- both the VP candidates are pushing it. Since when has religion and one's personal spiritual belief become the focal point of a candidacy? It's never been in the past, but it seems to be in this election.

BLITZER: Governor, we only have a few seconds left. I love the title of your book, "Do I Stand Alone: Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals." Here's the question, I may be a Wolf, but am I a jackal as well?

VENTURA: Well, you'll find, Wolf, that I was very complimentary on the national media on a whole basis. That was really focused at the Minnesota media, which I battle with much more.

But if I could reiterate again, the jackalism, if you want to call it that, is the fact that the media's out now to entertain us, they're not out to inform us. And I think really their job should be to inform the public, not entertain us.

We can get all the entertainment we want at movies and television. But when it comes to news reporters and getting us the facts, although it might be boring, I would appreciate that a lot more.

BLITZER: Governor, I'll take that to mean that I am not a jackal. I am grateful to you for that.

Thank you, once again, Governor Jesse Ventura. Always great to have you on LATE EDITION.

VENTURA: Thanks, Wolf. All you got to do is look in the mirror and make your own assumption.

BLITZER: All right. I've made it and I have concluded I am not.


BLITZER: Thank you once again.

VENTURA: All right. Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: And just ahead: Disparaging remarks, debating debates and a dead heat in the polls. And it's only September. We'll go round-the-table with Roberts, Page and Carlson.

LATE EDITION will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Time now for our roundtable. Joining me: Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report," and Tucker Carlson, political writer for the "Weekly Standard."

All right, Steve, you know, everybody is saying that the Bush campaign has made major mistakes. They're in trouble, they're in trouble, but this race is still well within the margin of error, certainly a dead heat right now.

STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: We've going to go through at least one more cycle of Bush resurgence. I promise you sometime in next couple of weeks, we are going to be putting headlines up, showing that. And that is part of the cycle of a campaign.

But it is true, that he -- that some fundamentals have kicked in, Wolf. The notion that people are confident in the economy is a bedrock part of this campaign. That's helping Gore. The fact that the issue landscape, the issues people say are the most important to them, are the issues they tend to prefer Gore and the Democrats -- healthcare, education, Social Security. And, this gender gap, which the Democrats have won on in the past few elections. If only men voted, Bob Dole would be president. That is kicking in as well.

So, yes, it's still close, far too early to write Bush off. But some of these fundamentals are working in Gore's favor.

BLITZER: What do you say about that, Tucker? The women vote, especially. Why do women seem to be so much more comfortable with Al Gore than George W. Bush?

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: I don't know. It is, I mean, this has happened for the last, I don't know, four or five presidential elections, where women -- the majority of women have voted for the Democrat. It's kind of a given. This was one of Bush's selling points early on, during the primaries, was here is a Republican candidate who can appeal to women and who can appeal to minority voters. That hasn't turned out to be as true as they's hoped it would.

One of the problems, I think, that Bush has been running into, the kind of subtle campaign that he has been running is really against Clinton. Bush has been not articulating it very clearly, but the point is, look, I'm not like Bill Clinton, and Al Gore is. Gore, of course, has successfully separated himself from Clinton in the public mind. And Bush has failed to keep pressing the point, at least in an explicit way. He's done it very subtly, but I think it's gone over the heads of a lot of voters. SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: Of course, the Republicans ran against Clinton twice, and Clinton won both times. So, there might be some lesson that arguing that someone is like Bill Clinton is not, maybe, the very most effective strategy to win the White House back. I mean, you really felt, I think, over the past week that Al Gore has hit a comfortable stride on issues they think will carry them through the next eight weeks, and that George Bush does not have that same feeling that they have a clear strategy for how to get back in the game over the next eight weeks.

ROBERTS: When you talk about the women's votes, there's a basic misunderstanding about the women's vote in this country. It has almost nothing to do with abortion. Men and women basically vote the same on abortion, and if you look at any of the polls, abortion is not high on the list of issues that people care about.

BLITZER: As priorities.

ROBERTS: As priorities. Now, Bill Schneider used two good words. He used security and safety net. I would add another word that is important to understand on the women's vote, and that word is caretaker. If you look at the role women play in the families, they are the ones who worry about their mother-in-law's prescription drugs. They're the ones who worry about their kids being safe at school. And that is a key point to understand.

BLITZER: Well, one of the advantages of this roundtable is we actually have a woman on this roundtable.

CARLSON: Our resident expert.

BLITZER: Let's ask this woman...

ROBERTS: I'm married to a woman.

BLITZER: You know something about women. Tell us if he's right.

PAGE: I think you do see women care very much about issues that affect their lives and their families' lives. And that is why, for instance, in next week you are going to see both George Bush and Al Gore focused very intently on the issue of education, one that resonates a lot, especially with women who have children. You're going to see Al Gore get into a yellow school bus and drive across Ohio. That is not directed at male voters. That strategy is directed at women.

BLITZER: And, Tucker, you know, the women vote in larger numbers. First of all, there are more women voters than male voters.

CARLSON: There are more women.

BLITZER: There are more women, because they live longer, and they must be doing something right.

PAGE: Smarter.


BLITZER: The soccer moms, the waitress moms, all these moms out there, have once again, at least according to our polls, come around to Al Gore. It must be so frustrating to the Republicans.

CARLSON: I think it is, especially, again, because this was the great hope. I mean, women tend to be far less ideological, for one thing, than men. And that has been part of Bush's pitch, I'm not an ideologue, I'm much more an effective governor, someone who governs. In some ways, it's much more like the pitch that Ross Perot made in 1992. That I'm going to throw away all this silly partisanship and ideology get to running things well. Bush thought women would like that.

ROBERTS: Another phrase I think that's important to understanding the women's vote is the word "good sense." When I talk to a lot of women voters, they come back to that benchmark. They're not ideological, as ideological as men, often. And they look at something like the Bush tax plan and they say, heck, you know, in my family, when we get extra money, we pay off our bills, you know, mortgage and things. They're not terribly impressed with that kind of tax plan, and they worry about the future.

PAGE: You know, I think there's something else you can say about women as a group. Now I perceive no group is a monolith, but talking about women in general, there's a -- women do have a sense, I think, as a group that they may have a need for a safety net somewhere down the line, either for themselves or for their children or for their parents, and they're more comfortable, I think, with a role for government in providing that safety net, more so than men.

And you clearly see that when you look at the economic plans of the two candidates. Gore's plan is much more, the government's going to provide some safety nets for you. Bush's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plan, we're going to give money back to you and you're going to some degree be more on your own.

CARLSON: So, in other words, women are more susceptible to pandering?

PAGE: Well, I don't either way is pandering. I think there are different ways of looking at the world and what you want your government to do for you.

ROBERTS: And women tend to be more economically vulnerable. They still make less money than men. And even if they are comfortable themselves, they're taking care of people who are economically vulnerable -- their children, their parents or both. And I think it's more of a question of their life experience rather than pandering.

CARLSON: Well, but see, what's interesting to me is, Gore's often described as running this populist campaign, but in the traditional sense, it's not really populist. Is it aimed at solidly middle class, even maybe upper middle class suburbanites and women. That's not really popular. BLITZER: One thing we did see this week, a week ago exactly this Sunday, a week ago last Sunday, the Bush campaign came out and made their announcement about the debate schedule, what they were going to do, Larry King, "Meet the Press," one presidential commission debate, and we did hear from Don Evans, who's the Bush campaign chairman, state unequivocally, "this is it, take it or leave it." Listen to what he said a week ago this Sunday.


QUESTION: Is this your final answer? I mean, do you expect any...


QUESTION: That's it. There won't be any more...

EVANS: This is it, no. We said several weeks ago we would accept five debates, and that's what we're going to do.


BLITZER: Tucker, this is not their final answer.

CARLSON: Apparently not. I mean, this -- in a funny way, this is almost what the Bush campaign tried to do with Gore. I mean, you really get the feeling with those clips they had that this was the result of some meeting in a windowless room in Austin where somebody says, "You know, we've got the tape of Gore saying he'll do Larry King and Russert. We've got him now," you know.

And I think in theory, it was perhaps brilliant; in practice, I think it's fair to say very foolish.

BLITZER: It's been a loss -- it's been a loss for...

PAGE: It's made Bush -- I think it's made Bush look like he doesn't want to debate. Nobody doubts that Al Gore would love to have as many debates as they can.

And also, I think most voters look at this and say, "Why are you squabbling about what channel the debate's going to be on? Just debate"

ROBERTS: And not only did it make Bush look a little foolish, but he got himself off-message. You know, he got himself into a situation where he was talking about issues. People don't really care about not talking about exactly the kinds of things that people do care about, which we've just been talking about -- the health care and education.

BLITZER: It think it's clear, there will be debates, and we'll see later this week where those debates will take place, how they'll take place, and of course, all of us will watch.

We have to take a quick break. When we come back: Could a government shutdown be looming?

More of our roundtable when LATE EDITION returns.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our round table.

You know, Susan, all this talk of a government shutdown. We heard Trent Lott on this program earlier today say there's not going to be a government shutdown. The White House says, there's not going to be a government shutdown. Is it realistic to assume it's still possible there could be a government shutdown.

PAGE: Oh, yes. I think at least the threat of a government shutdown. I think Trent Lott is quite worried about that. I think you saw that in his answers to your questions where it's pretty clear he desperately wants appropriations bills or continuing resolutions without a shutdown. Because everybody remembers what happens -- happened during the shutdown in 1995 when the blame went clearly to the Republican Congress. They don't want that to happen again on the eve of an election in which the White House, the House and perhaps even the Senate are up for grabs.

BLITZER: You know -- and Chris Dodd, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, was on "Meet the Press" earlier today. Listen to what he said about this whole eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation that's looming in the U.S. Congress with the White House.

Listen to this.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: We've only had two appropriations bills end up on the president's desk. You've got about three weeks left and there are 11 other bills that have yet to even make their way down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The only thing the Republicans seemed to have been interested in doing was the estate tax bill.


BLITZER: And you know, Tucker, on our program, Trent Lott hinted very broadly that he might go along with some compromise on the estate tax, something the Democrats and the White House might be willing to accept.

CARLSON: I'd say that's likely. I mean, from my point of view, you know, a government shutdown is delightful. You know, it's always and everywhere a good thing. But I think from the point of view of the Republican leadership it's horrifying, it's scary. And that is looming over them. And I think they'll cave on virtually anything to avoid it.

BLITZER: At stake, potentially, the control of the House and the Senate even. ROBERTS: Well, you know, the Republicans have acted for years like Lucy and the football, you know. And there's Charlie Brown running down and the Republicans have said, this time, I'm going to kick the football and we're going to best Bill Clinton in this. I think finally they understand that Bill Clinton is going to pull that football out. And this time they don't want to have that kind of confrontation.

But on issues beyond the appropriations bills, Patient's Bill of Rights, taxes. Both sides want a stalemate on the issues that they think work for them. Democrats don't want a deal on prescription drugs. They want to be able to campaign on prescription drugs. They don't want to give the Republicans a chance to take credit.

In the same way, a lot of Republicans don't want a deal on taxes because they want to be able to go to the campaign and say, you want lower taxes, you got to vote on us. We don't want a Rose Garden ceremony.

But I think there's a split, because I think some Senate Republicans would like deals -- I mean, House Republicans would like deals. I don't think the Senate Republicans do.

BLITZER: You know, there's the impression that we're getting that the Democrats are in sync, they're all on the same page. The Republicans, even from the House and the Senate side, seem to be in a little bit of disarray.

PAGE: You know, you certainly get this impression when you're out on the road that every Democratic candidate, for president, for Senate, for Congress, are talking about the same issues, have the same position on issues. When you talk to the Republican candidates, you don't get any of that. You get George Bush one place. Lincoln Chaffe, running for the Senate from Rhode Island is running ads against the Republican position on the Patient's Bill of Rights.

You see a very less unified message from the Republican side. And I think that there is a -- that does have an impact when one party clearly has a united, consistent message, the other party does not.

BLITZER: And Tucker, you're going to be going out with Al Gore on the campaign trail. Last week Susan Page left for 24 hours of non- stop campaigning. What do you -- you have a little bit more leisurely schedule?

CARLSON: Well, one hopes. The vice president's doing Oprah tomorrow morning. So it's an important campaign stop.

BLITZER: In Chicago.


BLITZER: And Bush will do that show as well.

CARLSON: It just gets lower every year, doesn't it?

BLITZER: Tucker Carlson, Susan Page, Steve Roberts, excellent roundtable. Thanks for joining us.

And just ahead, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines. Plus, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So the occasional expletive isn't fatal and knocking the wicked media may actually help you.


BLITZER: Bruce takes a look at the love-hate relationship between the politicians and the press.


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word."

Governor Bush was not the first politician to use salty language to describe a reporter. Bruce takes a look back at politicians who could dish it out with the best of them.



BUSH: Good morning, Mr. Sunshine.


MORTON (voice-over): It finally happened. George W. Bush, who often jokes with reporters, took on the media, calling a colleague and friend at "The New York Times" -- no, we're not going to play the tape again -- a major league expletive-deleted. Will this hurt Bush? No, probably help him.

Press abuse goes way back. Thomas Jefferson once said, "Nothing can now be believed that is read in the newspaper." John Adams supported the Sedition Act, which put some editors in jail. John Kennedy, more moderate, canceled his subscription with a paper he didn't like.

Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon's first vice president, blasted us as "tattering nabobs of negativism," which had a nice ring and didn't have to be deleted. Nixon himself, according to William Safire who once worked for him, said, "The press is the enemy." And he and Agnew got elected twice.

President Clinton once denounced the "knee-jerk liberal press," while his wife talked of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against him, and he, or they, got elected twice, too.

Harry Truman was more philosophical, saying, "When they throw bricks at me, I'm a pretty got shot and I usually throw them back at them." And history speaks well of him. The fact is, most people don't like us much. A CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll last November asked about honest and ethical standards among various groups. Reporters finished tenth, behind teachers, policemen and funeral directors, among others. Just 19 percent thought we had high or very high standards. Of course, only 17 percent thought senators did. Both groups did finish ahead lawyers and car salesmen, who came in last.

(on camera): So if attacking the media doesn't hurt, how about that "expletive deleted?" Well, the governor's father, back when he was Ronald Reagan's vice president, said the day after his 1984 debate with Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running mate, that he'd tried to kick a little "three-letter-expletive-ending-in-'s'-deleted. And microphones caught that. Did it hurt? Well, Reagan and Bush carried 49 of the 50 states that year. What do you think?

(voice-over): So the occasional expletive isn't fatal, and knocking the wicked media may actually help you. Jesse Ventura, Minnesota's independent and outspoken governor, puts it this way: Politicians lie, the media distorts it.

Back to that poll again, those two groups finished next to one another.

So that's out of the way. Expletives safely deleted, no harm done.

Now, Governor, about those debates.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

And now look at what's on the cover of this weeks' major news magazines.

"Time" magazine has, "Dying on our own terms: Too many Americans spend their final days in a hospital or a nursing home. It doesn't have to be that way" -- on the cover.

"Newsweek" has a special report, "Redefining Race In America," on the cover.

And on the cover of "U.S. News & World Report," "Reinventing the Army: the Military Struggles to Ready Itself For the Battlefields of Tomorrow."

And that's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, September 10.

Be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'll also be back tomorrow at 8 p.m. Eastern on "THE WORLD TODAY." Coming up in one half hour on CNN, a special report: "Arafat and Barak: The Quest For Peace."

And coming up next on CNN: "CNNdotCOM," The story of a new sports Website and it's uphill challenge to turn the Olympics into goals.

For now, thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



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