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Special Event

Campaign 2000: Dick Cheney, Dick Gephardt, John McCain Discuss the Presidential Debate

Aired October 17, 2000 - 10:47 p.m. ET

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

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Texas Governor George W. Bush's running mate Dick Cheney of Wyoming joins us right now from Tallahassee, Florida.

What struck you -- if you can hear me -- hi, there -- what struck you about tonight's debate?

RICHARD B. CHENEY (R), VICE PRESDIENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I thought that Governor Bush did a superb job tonight. It looked to me like he's gotten stronger in each one of these sessions that we've been through now. He focused very much on the broad philosophical policy differences between the two campaigns. And I thought he was tremendously effective tonight.

SHAW: Anything said on that stage tonight flat out wrong, untrue or unfair?

CHENEY: I think that Al Gore's comments about the U.S. military are flat-out wrong. I think the evidence is overwhelming that in fact we are in trouble in the military today. We had a report just yesterday in the Washington Post, Bernie, the enormous difficulties the Army is having retaining captains, a key rank in terms of building that organization.

The evidence is everywhere and he chooses either not to know what's going on in the U.S. military or not to tell the truth about it. But it is a very serious problem. It's not just a difference of opinion. He makes these statements as though there's absolutely nothing wrong in the U.S. military. And then says, "Oh, by the way, we're going to spend $100 billion to fix it." You can't have it both ways.

SHAW: My next question goes to the heart of questions about Governor Bush's foreign policy awareness. I don't know whether you're aware, but today on the op-ed page of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman had a piece about the question of Lebanon which came up in the second presidential debate, in which the governor said that he would support U.S. policy in Lebanon. And Mr. Friedman says that the governor's position and answer was a mistake because, as you know, more than 240 U.S. Marines were killed in Lebanon, and President Reagan had to pull out U.S. forces there.

CHENEY: I haven't seen the Friedman piece, Bernie. I don't know what you're talking about.

SHAW: OK, well, then I cancel the question because it's unfair to ask you a question whose background you haven't looked at -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask -- hello, Mr. Cheney, it's Judy Woodruff. I want to ask you...

CHENEY: Hello, Judy.

WOODRUFF: I want to ask you about two points that -- at one point, the vice president said, "If you want somebody who's for a patients' bill of rights written by the big drug companies, he's your man," pointing to Governor Bush. At another point he said, "If you want somebody who's for tax cuts for the rich" -- on two occasions making very distinct differences between himself and Governor Bush when it comes to being affiliated with big drug companies and tax cuts for the rich.

What's the response there?

CHENEY: Well, I think the fact of the matter is that that's a typical, sort of, Al Gore approach to life; beat up on the opposition, blame big whatevers, but don't get anything done.

He's still talking about a patient bill of rights at the federal level. There's already been one enacted and signed into law in Texas, one of the very first patient bill of rights in the country. It was put into place by Governor Bush.

And I thought Governor Bush was very effective at countering this notion that the tax plan is, in fact, skewed to the rich. The fact of the matter is the tax system will be more progressive after our bill is enacted than it is before. We drop 6 million people out at the bottom who won't pay any more federal income tax. The folks at the top will pay a larger percentage of the total tax than they do today.

So the charges or the allegations that are made by Al Gore simply aren't true.

SHAW: I've got a question to you, Dick Cheney, from David Norwood (ph), one of the voters who put a question to Governor Bush. He asked, "What would make you the best candidate in office during a Middle East crisis?" During his response, Governor Bush said, quote, "I've got a strategy for the Middle East." Do you know what it is?

CHENEY: Well, I think what he's talking about is the importance of establishing a set of relationships out there over time so that everybody in the area knows they can count on the United States, that we'll keep our word. Whether they're our friends and allies relying on us for support should they be threatened, or whether they are adversaries who wish us ill. They have to know that we will, in fact, keep our words.

And what we think is especially important is to rebuild that element of trust and the quality of leadership that we had 10 years ago when we put together the coalition that defeated Saddam Hussein in the Gulf. That coalition's come apart. The diplomatic initiatives now seem to be favoring Saddam Hussein in some respects. We see people talking increasingly about breaking down the embargo. The UN inspectors have been driven out and not returned to Baghdad. We think we need to rebuild a lot of those relationships in the Middle East, if we're going to be successful at safeguarding American interests in the region.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Mr. Secretary, it's Jeff Greenfield. I want to take you back to a domestic policy...

CHENEY: Hello, Jeff.

GREENFIELD: Hi. If it's true that administration's get the credit or the blame for what happens on their watch, which does seem to be the case, and you look at an eight-year record that went from a quarter-trillion dollar deficit to massive surpluses, to the lowest unemployment in 30 years, to record productivity, to a drop in the crime rate and the abortion rate and youth violence rate, on the most basic fundamental question, why doesn't it make sense for people to say, "You know, we ought not to change horses in midstream in terms of which way the horses are going"?

It's the argument that George Bush's father used in 1988. Why doesn't it apply to Al Gore in the year 2000?

CHENEY: Well, because I think it's just simply not accurate to give Al Gore and Bill Clinton all of the credit for a successful economy. I think you've got to go back about 20 years to the election of Ronald Reagan and the significant modifications in tax rates that we undertook then; the appointment of Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan to the Federal Reserve; to our success at winning the Cold War, which allowed there to be a reduction in defense spending after the Cold War was over with and helped reduce the deficit; to the fact that we elected a Republican Congress six years ago, and they've really held the administration's feet to the fire in terms of welfare reform, which Bill Clinton vetoed twice, but we finally got through in terms of balancing the budget.

So, I think there are a lot of people who contributed to all of this, Jeff, in terms of our overall prosperity. The main thing I think was the engine that is the American economy: 270 million Americans who get up every day and go to work out there are the ones who really have generated this enormous wealth and the great economic success that we've enjoyed.

SYDNEY: Dick Cheney we want to thank you very much for being with us. Thank you. Good to see you again.

And we have joining us now from St. Louis Dick Gephardt, who's the House Democratic leader, and from Boston John McCain, the Arizona senator who, of course, ran for president on the Republican side this year.

Dick Gephardt, we're going to speak with you in just a moment.

I want to begin with you, though, Senator McCain. Your name came up tonight, and it came up on the lips of Al Gore. He pointed out once again that he supports the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation. How does it make you feel to know that the Democratic candidate for president agrees with you, while the Republican candidate doesn't?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I'm always flattered whoever supports it. I believe that Governor Bush supports major portions of our reform effort. And whether -- no matter who is president, we will take up and dispose of the issue. There's just to much corruption as a result of this unlimited money that's pouring into political campaigns.

And the second point is that the vice president does not have a lot of credibility on this issue because he and the president debased the institutions of government in 1996. They rented out the Lincoln Bedroom. They sold seats on official trade missions. And they have a huge credibility problem because they continue to debase the institutions of government and they violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law.

WOODRUFF: One of the major points that Governor Bush makes in this campaign again and again is he says that the vice president wants a bigger, more -- bigger spending government in Washington. Vice President Gore said tonight that the federal government lost 300,000 jobs -- 300,000 jobs in the last eight years -- that the size of the federal employee force is now the smallest that it's been since the John Kennedy administration. Does this in any way undercut Governor Bush's argument?

MCCAIN: Well, I don't think so, because I think when you look at the overwhelming majority of those reductions, they are out of the defense, because of cutbacks that have been made in the Defense Department reduction of our military, and also the Department of Energy.

Overall, many of the branches and bureaucracies in government have increased in size. And I will give credit to the vice president for making government more efficient. But I think when you look at many of the things that have taken place in the conduct of this government, including those under the oversight of the committee that I chair, we've got a long, long way to go. And I think those efficiencies can be implemented by Governor Bush.

WOODRUFF: Senator, there is an article in the newspaper yesterday -- I believe it was "The New York Times," I'm not sure, so I'll be prepared to be corrected if I'm wrong -- pointing out that you have not campaigned as much as many people expected for Governor Bush. You've been out there campaigning primarily for candidates for Congress, for the Senate, around the country. You've been out on the road a lot, but not very much for Governor Bush. Why is that?

MCCAIN: Well, there were some scheduling conflicts. I was with him three days in California and now we have committed I think six or seven days between him and the vice -- and Dick Cheney between now and election and open days on the last week. So I think we'll be together quite a bit. Also, I think it's important to make sure that there's a Republican House and a Republican Senate for Governor Bush to work with when he's president of the United States.

But we'll be together quite a bit. There were some scheduling conflicts, but we'll be together. In fact, on Friday, we'll be together again.

GREENFIELD: Senator, it's Jeff Greenfield, here in St. Louis. Back in the snowy days of New Hampshire, you turned to George Bush in a debate and said, you know, if I'm on that stage with Al Gore and campaign finance reform comes up, I'll beat him like a drum because of my support for reform, and you'll have nothing to say.

When you heard the campaign reform finance discussion tonight, did it in any way remind you of that debate? And did George Bush have enough to say about it?

MCCAIN: Well, obviously, I wish that Governor Bush were more supportive. There's no doubt about that. We had other differences. That's why we have primaries because if we'd agreed on everything, I wouldn't have run for the nomination of my party.

But we're in overwhelming agreement on the vast majority of issues. And I am in strong disagreement with the vice president on most of the issues as well.

So I feel very comfortable not only in supporting Governor Bush, but in the fact we're in agreement on a vast majority of issues: reforming Social Security, reforming the military, a robust foreign policy.

What the vice president said tonight about Haiti being a success to me is ludicrous. We spent $2 billion and spend 20,000 -- sent 20,000 troops there and America is -- Haiti is arguably worse off for the experience.

Readiness is suffering. There was big articles in the papers today. The captains in the Army are getting out. Yes, we're the most powerful nation in the world, but the trends are all in the wrong direction. And I believe that this administration has conducted a feckless photo-op foreign policy for which Governor Bush may have to clean up the mess.

SHAW: Senator John McCain, Arizona, thanks very much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

SHAW: You're quite welcome.

Senator McCain alluded to hoping to have Republicans in the majority in Congress, both the Senate and the House. One man who doesn't want to see the Republicans controlling the U.S. House of Representatives is a member, a Democrat.

The leader of the House Democrats, Dick Gephardt of Missouri, joins us.

Your reaction to the debate tonight? And also your reaction to what Senator McCain had to say?

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MS), MINORITY LEADER: Well, first of all, I think Al Gore dominated this debate tonight. He was enthusiastic. He was like he was at the Los Angeles convention speech. He talked with great optimism and positive thoughts about what he wanted to do as president on Medicare prescription drugs and on patients' bill of rights and on their varying tax cut plans. So I thought he was really convincing tonight. And I think he's really set up these last three weeks for a good sprint to the finish.

As far as what John is saying, you know, I think there are some real differences that were brought out here tonight, and one of them was on campaign reform. Al Gore is for the McCain-Feingold bill. In fact, he said it will be the first bill that he sends to the new Congress if he's president. George Bush is really not very enthusiastic about it at all. I'm not sure it would be his tenth bill sent to Congress.

SHAW: Dick Gephardt, I want to phrase this next question with as much sensitivity as I can. The people of Missouri and the people in the area surrounding your state are mourning the death of a very fine public servant, Mel Carnahan, the governor of Missouri.

And this is a political question. The late governor's name will be on the ballot Election Day. And Democrats had hoped that they could win the Senate seat occupied by Republican John Ashcroft and help in their battle to take over control of the U.S. Senate. How will the governor's name being on the ballot affect the outcome of the race there in the state?

GEPHARDT: Well, Bernie, nobody knows the answer to that tonight. We're mourning the death and the loss of a great public servant. Our hearts and prayers go out to Jean Carnahan and his family.

He was a model of what you want in a public servant. He was decent and honest, and he never said a harsh word against anybody. I'm just sorry that he wasn't here tonight because he loved discussion and debate, and he loved politics, and he loved public life. He loved this country. He loved this state.

I don't know how the race is going to come out. I have no idea. It's just a tragedy that he could not live to see this race through. He's worked hard as governor and done a great job. He would have been a great United States senator.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Gephardt, I want to get back, if I may, to a political question. I just asked Senator McCain about the charge -- or the defense, rather, on the part of the vice president to the charge that he's for a big-spending federal government. He talked about the loss of federal jobs under his -- under the Clinton-Gore administration.

Senator McCain's response was, "Well, most of those jobs came out of the Defense Department and the Energy Department," suggesting that this really was not due in any part to any effort on the part of President Clinton, Vice President Gore to shrink the federal government, that their intentions are exactly the opposite. Where do you come down on this?

GEPHARDT: Well, I think the senator is not exactly correct on this, from my viewpoint. Yes, some of the jobs were in defense and energy, but there were jobs all through the federal government.

There were a number of down-sizings that were accomplished in the Clinton-Gore administration. And the fact is that the number of employees is as low as it was in the John Kennedy administration. So the government has been down-sized; there's no two ways about it.

And I think when George Bush talks about government, he's not being clear. Because what he means, I guess, is that he's not for a prescription medicine program in Medicare. Medicare is run by the government. It's a popular program. And I think Al Gore's stand on that is very popular.

He's also not talking about giving, you know, picking up the interest on loans or bonds so that local school districts can have expanded school rooms and have more teachers.

So when Al Gore is talking about doing things to solve problems for people, George Bush calls it government. But you got to know the specifics that Al Gore's talking about that are pretty darn popular with the American people.

SHAW: Dick Gephardt, in responding to one of Judy Woodruff's questions, Senator McCain made a very serious charge against Vice President Gore and President Clinton when he said, they, referring to Gore and Clinton, sold seats on official trade missions and violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Did you hear him say that?

GEPHARDT: I did hear that, and I don't know where the evidence is for that. There was some criticism early on in the administration, I guess, of Ron Brown's work on trade missions. But after the criticism was lodged, they went to a very different procedure.

And when Bill Daley, who's now the head of the Gore campaign, was the head of the Commerce Department, it was done in a completely objective way. So I don't know where this information comes from. And even when Ron Brown was there, I don't -- I don't believe that there was a selling, which was the term he used, of places on planes on trade missions. I just don't think that ever happened.

WOODRUFF: Representative Richard Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, we thank you very much for joining us.

GEPHARDT: Thank you.

WOODRUFF: And we are going to take a break. We'll be right back with the voters in Michigan with own Wolf Blitzer. Bill Schneider with the instant poll.

We'll be back.

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