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George W. Bush: The Next President

Aired December 14, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ask you to heal our land. Unite us in a renewed commitment to patriotism more than party spirit.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: an appeal for divine guidance following the bitter divisions that marked election 2000. Office keys and millions of dollars go to the vice president-elect to set up the Bush administration...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The smart card is the key to the transition space...


BLITZER: ... as the long-delayed transition kicks into high gear.

The nation and its capital are divided, but Republicans and Democrats talk of bipartisanship. How long will the honeymoon last? All ahead on this special edition of THE WORLD TODAY: "George W. Bush: The Next President."

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting tonight from Washington.

It's the day after the concession speech from Al Gore and the victory speech from George W. Bush. Here in Washington, their supporters in Congress, by and large, were busy echoing last night's themes of reconciliation and bipartisanship. But how long this period of good feeling holds is very much up in the air.

One casualty of 36 days of political uncertainty: president-elect Bush now has only 37 days left to get his cabinet, White House staff and thousands of other political appointments in place. One tangible sign of that transition today, the secret service delivered a bulletproof limousine to the Texas governor's mansion.

As for Mr. Bush, he and his wife Laura attended a special prayer service this morning, marking his first official day as president- elect. Both the Bush and Gore teams, meanwhile, are making plans -- transition plans. One into Washington, the other out.

Joining us now with more on both camps, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley in Austin and CNN senior White House correspondent John King here in Washington.

Let's begin with you, Candy. You had some news earlier today on "INSIDE POLITICS" about Democratic senator John Breaux making a visit tomorrow to Austin to meet with president-elect Bush. What's that all about?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what that's all about, first of all, was the picture. I mean, what have we heard about for the last 24 hours: reaching out, you know, bipartisanship, and John Breaux is a Democrat.

Then to -- there's a certain comfort zone there. The governor, the president-elect has already talked to John Breaux on the phone in the latter days of the court contest. My guest is here, and they say they'll have wide-ranging discussions and, certainly, this fuels the idea that maybe there's a place in the cabinet for John Breaux.

The problem is, if John Breaux left the Senate, he'd practically hand the majority over to the Republicans, because there's a Republican governor in Louisiana. I believe this is more about Medicare reform; John Breaux has been in the front of that and it's high on George Bush's agenda.

BLITZER: John King, what are you hearing about this Breaux visit tomorrow to Austin?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think Candy is exactly right. John Breaux is a deal-maker in the Senate. Down the road a bit, even John Breaux says, don't do Medicare reform first, start with education maybe; but down the road a bit that could be a signature achievement of the first year of a Bush presidency. Obviously he wants to get off on the right foot.

About the only cabinet job John Breaux would accept, we're told, is treasury secretary. This is a Republican president who wants to sell a tax cut. That's a big position for the Republicans -- economics, the economy at stake, there. No one thinks Bush would give that job to a Democrat; and if he did, there would probably be a lot of protest among other Republicans.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, the timetable that Governor Bush, now president-elect Bush, has in place for his transition set back by about five weeks -- only five weeks or so left to go. What's on his immediate schedule right now?

CROWLEY: Well, on his immediate schedule, as you mentioned, we have the Breaux meeting. He expects some announcements, probably staff announcements, on Saturday.

But the big thing is there's this trip to Washington. He will be up on Capitol Hill, at transition offices in the White House meeting with President Clinton; up to the naval observatory to meet with Vice President Gore and holding some interviews for possible cabinet positions.

So that's a big trip and after that I think we will see some announcements fall pretty fast.

BLITZER: John, speaking about transition, Al Gore, of course, has to make a transition into the private sector after January 20, when he leaves the vice president's mansion. Already, a lot of buzz, as you know, about Al Gore's political future. What are you hearing already?

KING: Well, publicly, quite a bit of praise for the vice president; most of it focused on his exit speech last night. Democrats publicly saying, though, that he ran a fine campaign; privately, a much more scathing assessment of the overall Gore campaign. And many Democrats now wondering, will he run again?

What most expect is for the vice president to take some time to think about that. He's calling key Democrats around the country. So what most sense here is an effort to do the right things, position himself for a possible run.

But one thing that is very clear, others will not stay out of the way this time. Dick Gephardt in the House already thinking about it; Senator Joe Lieberman already thinking about it, even though most believe he would be forced out if Gore tried again.

So the vice president will take some time to think about this; a lot of criticism, especially from the big-money Democrats. And if he were to run again, he's likely find a very crowded democratic field.

BLITZER: And, Candy, as you look ahead to president-elect Bush's visit to Washington -- he's arriving Sunday night, will be meeting with President Clinton, with Vice President Gore, other Democrats in Congress -- is he going to continue this theme of bipartisanship in all of his public statements?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't know if, you know, every single one of them -- but, you know, this has to be the theme, it has to be, really, the tone of this presidency. I mean, it's there in the numbers: in the House, where the margin is so slim and a Republican majority -- it has to be there in the Senate, which is split right down the middle.

But more than that, it has to be there for the country; of some of whom didn't like the way this election came out. Not who decided it, nor who eventually got to be president. He has to govern down the middle. Bipartisanship, I think, is a theme you're going to get real tired of over the next four years.

BLITZER: John, as far as this political honeymoon, a lot of new presidents come to town, you and I have covered these transitions in the past, expecting a honeymoon. Are the Democrats ready to give George W. Bush, once he's inaugurated, a honeymoon of any sorts?

KING: Well, all presidents have a honeymoon. The question is, everybody in town has a different definition of bipartisanship. Democrats already laying some traps, they say their definition means early action on campaign finance reform, and on a specific proposal that we know Governor Bush objects to. They believe their definition of bipartisanship includes early action on the question of electoral reform -- changing the messy system we saw in Florida and in other parts of the country in this election.

Governor Bush is committed to addressing that, we're told; but he wants to wait and do some other things first. If Governor Bush starts with a big tax cut, the one he ran on in the campaign, Democrats -- most Democrats -- would revolt against that. So everybody here in town has a very different definition of bipartisanship.

Right now, though, among the Democrats, some of them don't like this, but they give Governor Bush very high marks for reaching out to the members of their party and saying that he wants to work in a very cooperative way.

BLITZER: John King in Washington, Candy Crowley in Austin; thanks to both of you for joining us.

And in another sign the presidential stalemate is over, the Bush team was, today, handed the keys to the official transition office in Washington. Vice president-elect Dick Cheney received the smart-card key and more than $5 million in transition funds that were withheld while the election remained unresolved.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: We're delighted to have this opportunity to begin to receive official support from the government for the Bush-Cheney transition. This has been, as many folks have said, a unique time in American political history. The transition is well underway. We've been able to do that, in part, through the foresight of the Congress that had authorized the use of private funds as well as public funds for the transition.


BLITZER: The Bush team has a lot of work to do before Inauguration Day. Staffers are pouring over 21,000 resumes to fill more than 6,000 jobs now available.

George W. Bush may have to rely heavily on his ability to work both sides of the ideological divide if he has any hopes of pushing his legislative agenda through the 107th Congress. Republicans have a slim five-seat majority in the House, while the Senate is split 50-50.

CNN congressional correspondent Chris Black reports from Capitol Hill.



CHRIS BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The talk is of bipartisanship.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Bipartisanship isn't an option any more. It is a requirement.

BLACK: But making it work is another matter. An emerging consensus says the way to keep it together is to make nice with the other party, try to score right away, and take an incremental approach to things like tax cuts.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: You need to start out with a few good simple things to get done: trust, build trust, build bipartisanship, feeling that you can work across the aisle and people can get things done together.

BLACK: Yet President-elect Bush faces obstacles, the unremitting liberals and partisans in the Democratic Party, still seething over this election, and the conservatives in his own.

GEPHARDT: President-elect Bush says he will bring a new spirit to Washington. There are still some Republicans in Washington who have not yet heard this message.

BLACK: A conservative ally from Texas says the right will have to defer to the Republican president.

SEN. PHIL GRAMM (R), TEXAS: We may have our own agendas, but it's the Bush agenda that carried our candidate to the presidency.

BLACK: And the House speaker has a message for unhappy partisans in both parties.

HASTERT: If you want to be effective in this town, you need to get over it and get things done.

BLACK (on camera): Another problem, independent-minded lawmakers like Senator John McCain, who is insisting on moving on campaign finance reform right away, possibly derailing the bipartisan train at the start of the new administration.

Chris Black, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BLITZER: After the break, a conversation with two Texas lawmakers on the challenges facing Congress and the next administration -- Dick Armey and Martin Frost. You're watching a special edition of THE WORLD TODAY.



SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: We must govern from the middle or we will not be able to govern at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Welcome back. The buzzword of the day has been bipartisanship. Wishful thinking, or can Democrats and Republicans work together? I'm joined now by two distinguished guests, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, a Republican from Texas, and Representative Martin Frost, a Democrat from Texas and chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

Both of our guests, of course, know fellow Texan George W. Bush quite well.

And I want to begin with you, Mr. Majority Leader. Within the past few hours, we've heard from some conservative Republicans -- Dan Burton of Indiana, Chris Cox of California -- suggest high on top of George W. Bush's agenda has to be elimination of the late-term abortion procedure called the partial-birth abortion procedure. Is that one of the first items that's going to be on your agenda?

REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, it'll be done. It's a big priority of the Congress. It's always passed the House and Senate with very large margins, with votes on both sides of the aisle.

I think George Bush -- he's focused so much on education in Texas and on the campaign. George Bush is going to come in and say, let's get going on education, let's make these schools work for the children by being more accountable to the parents. And that's something, by the way, that both candidates talked about on the campaign.

BLITZER: Congressman -- yes, I was going to say to Congressman Frost, though, if the late-term abortion procedure is that high on the agenda right away, is that going to set the tone of a bipartisanship that President-elect Bush sounded last night?

REP. MARTIN FROST (D), TEXAS: Well, I would hope that he would find issues where there's a lot of agreement, not only the education issue but prescription drugs for seniors. That was talked about a lot during the campaign.

There are clearly issues where we can work together. I would hope that he talks about those kinds of issues, and those are the ones that most of the people in the public care about the greatest.

BLITZER: Congressman Armey, the entire issue of tax cuts has got to be high on the agenda. It was certainly a focus of Governor Bush's campaign, $1.3 trillion tax cut over 10 years. Last night, Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, a Republican, was on our program and suggested that that probably is not going to go very far, the 1.3 trillion. It's going to have to be scaled back dramatically in this very closely held Senate and House of Representatives. Do you agree with her?

ARMEY: Well, you know, Wolf, when I listen to and talk to my fellow economists, they're predicting almost with a uniform voice that this new president may inherit a recession. If in fact all of these economic indicators continue to turn down, as they have been doing for the last month or so, I think the need for a tax cut will be more urgent, more apparent to the American people, and more in line with what we need to do. And the fact of the matter is last year we were able to pass taxes to the House and the Senate -- with large bipartisan votes, again -- on the earnings limitation, the marriage penalty, some across-the-board tax reliefs, some encouragement to savings and investment, which also passed by a big margin in the House.

I think there's a lot we can do that would help keep this economy going, and you wouldn't expect any new president, in having inherited a recession, to do anything other than the best he can to turn it right back around and get this economy back up on its feet the way we're accustomed to. And George Bush will of course be very assertive on that.

BLITZER: Congressman Frost, this notion that there's a recession that President-elect Bush is about to inherit, which is going to require some of these big tax cuts to spur the economy, is that something that you accept?

FROST: Let's don't talk our way into a recession. Let's see what really happens. The economy in this country is very strong, the underlining economy. I do think that President-elect Bush will be well-served to take individual pieces of the tax cut, particularly things like the marriage penalty, where there is quite a bit in agreement, and to try and move individual pieces rather than moving a big tax cut right away.

And let's let the jury be out a little bit on the economy. I know my colleague Dick Armey is an economics professor, but I'm not ready to declare a recession at this point, and I hope that doesn't happen to the country, quite frankly.

BLITZER: Congressman Armey, on this notion of a recession, you are an economist. Do you really believe that the country is entering a recession right now?

ARMEY: Well, let me just say again, we watched some of the major predictors -- such things as machine sales out, machine purchases by the machining industry -- very big, important leading indicator. One has to be alert to these things. And again, we wouldn't want to talk ourselves into a recession either, but we wouldn't want to ignore critical economic variables that tell us it's time to react, it's time to do what we can for the economy. And I think George Bush is going to be very sensitive to this.

This is a man who understands the importance of growth. We've certainly seen it in Texas. It helps our schools get better, builds our tax base, makes it possible for us to provide better services to the community, keeps the unemployment rate down, helps fight even such things as the crime rate.

So a strong, vibrant economy is a very big part of the American culture, something we want, something we expect, and something we certainly have a right to accomplish.

FROST: We've had a very good economy during the last eight years through a Democratic administration. Let's work together to keep it strong. I do want to go back...

ARMEY: I think that's just my point, Martin.

FROST: I do want to go back to one thing you asked at the beginning, Wolf. It is very important that Republicans, particularly those Republicans on the far right, cool down their rhetoric if we're really going to work together on a bipartisan basis. My colleague Dick Armey has been talking about this for the last couple of weeks. He's -- I think he's very sincere. I think there needs to be a conversation with his whip, Tom DeLay, who's continued to have very hard-line rhetoric.

And I think that if Tom DeLay continues that for much longer, it will make bipartisan cooperation much harder for the new president.

BLITZER: Congressman Armey, you want to respond to that?

ARMEY: Well, you know, first of all, I think you said the magical word: whip. Tom DeLay is our whip. David Bonior is your whip. In both -- in both instances, whips do their job.

But the fact of the matter is, if you take a look at the overriding effort that's being made by the Republican Party, we're anxious to get to work. We've got a lot of things that we can accomplish. We want to make retirement security for all Americans. We want to complete the work tat we successfully brought through the House, again with a with good bipartisanship vote on prescription medicines for the senior citizens. We want to rehabilitate the work that Senator Breaux did on Medicare reform.

So we've got a lot of opportunities here, and I think you'll find everybody in our conference really rising to that occasion and going to work.

BLITZER: But I just wanted to interrupt for a second, Congressman Armey. I want to let Congressman Frost respond as well. One issue that you didn't mention, which John McCain has repeatedly mentioned these past few days, campaign finances reform.

Is that going to pass any time soon? First to you, Mr. Armey.

ARMEY: Well, again, I think we've had some very good efforts, and it has to be a truly bipartisan effort. I think we can do a lot of things together on that, and I think we have to also understand, in this modern electronic age, with great emphasis on user-friendliness of the technology, security and completeness, we ought to look at how we can make it more easy for every American to vote every place in America and use this technology that's available.

FROST: But to answer your question, Wolf, we passed a good campaign finance bill in the House. It died in the Senate. I think you could bring up the same bill that we passed in the last -- in this Congress and bring it up as one of the first items that would pass in the House again. There are some people in the Republican Party who don't support the McCain-Feingold bill, but we did pass it in the House and we could pass that again right away if the leadership wants to.

ARMEY: Oh, but the good news is, Martin, we can pass an even better one and one that covers all the people that are contributing funds and resources to campaigns. And I...

FROST: Let's do...

BLITZER: Unfortunately...

FROST: Let's do some good here.

ARMEY: Let's start by protecting the rights of every union- paying member in America to know what his money's being used for. That's a good place to begin.

BLITZER: Congressmen, unfortunately, we are all out of time for this segment. But thanks to both of you...

FROST: Thank you.

BLITZER: Martin Frost and Dick Armey for joining us.

And up next, a few minutes with our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I promised millions of Americans, Larry, that I would do everything in my power to implement campaign finance reform and give them back their government, which was taken by the big money and special interests, and I don't intend to give up that agenda.


BLITZER: President-elect bush and the divided Congress will face many challenges in the coming administration. Joining us now with some insight, CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider.

Bill, John McCain on one side of George W. Bush, Dick Armey perhaps on another side. He's facing enormous challenges as he's about to come to Washington.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. Let's see, we've got McCain, who has a reform agenda, which is very popular with voters. We have Congressman Armey, arguing for a conservative agenda, and their argument is that the Republicans for the first time in almost 50 years control the White House and both houses of Congress, so the conservatives want a payoff. And then you have Marty Frost, you just heard; he's got the Democrats who say, this election was so close they ought to share power.

How in the world do you govern with that? BLITZER: Well, about John McCain, he is such a powerful figure here in Washington. What does he have to offer George W. Bush in the immediate period ahead?

SCHNEIDER: Wolf, ask yourself, which candidate in this entire campaign did the best job of capturing the voters' imagination. I'd argue that that was not Bush and it wasn't Gore. I think it was John McCain. He just couldn't get his party's nomination.

But he's seen as the least partisan figure in American politics, and I'd further argue that what Americans voted for with this very close party split was to give no party a mandate. In a sense, they voted for the John McCain nonpartisan approach. And I think Bush should take that as a cue for what kind of administration Americans want.

BLITZER: We began this program talking about John Breaux going to Austin, Texas tomorrow, the Louisiana Democratic senator. Your thoughts on this, how significant a development, if at all?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we don't know if he's going to be offered anything or will take anything in a Bush administration, but I'll tell you something, John Breaux and John McCain would both be key players in the Senate for Bush's president, because John Breaux is an ideal moderate Democrat who reaches across the aisle to Republicans. John McCain has a lot of credibility with Democrats.

If Bush wants to put together a cross-party coalition to change the tone of Washington and to reach across party lines, he's going to need those two strategic allies, Breaux and McCain, to help him do it, and they could become key players in the new Congress.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks once again for joining us on THE WORLD TODAY.


BLITZER: And we'll be right back.


BLITZER: In tonight's "MONEYLINE Update," corporate profit warnings sent stock prices tumbling today. The Dow industrials dropped 119 points to 10,674. Much of the decline followed poor earnings forecasts from financial giants J.P. Morgan and merger partner Chase Manhattan. The Nasdaq composite slid 94 points to end at 2,728.

The Federal Trade Commission today approved the megamerger of America Online and Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. Antitrust regulators voted unanimously in favor of the move, after months of negotiations.

The deal, valued at $111 billion, is the largest media merger in history. It still needs to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. Shares of both AOL and Time Warner closed up today about 3 percent.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Stay with CNN throughout the night for continuing coverage of George W. Bush, the next president. At the top of the hour, Larry King has an exclusive guest, Joe Lieberman. Jeff Greenfield follows with a special report at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. And "THE SPIN ROOM" opens at 11:00.

For now, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Greta Van Susteren picks up our coverage with special report, which begins right now.



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