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Larry King Live

Will John McCain Help George Bush Become President?

Aired May 9, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

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

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, fresh from his endorsement by rival John McCain, Republican presidential candidate Governor George W. Bush. Plus, William Bennett, co-director of Empower America, joins us from Washington. In New York, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Also in New York, former GOP vice presidential candidate and co-director of Empower America Jack Kemp. And back in the nation's capital, Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of The Washington Post. All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. In a little while, our panel will join us, but we'll open the program tonight with an exclusive interview with the governor of the state of Texas, George W. Bush. He's in Atlanta where he has attended a fund-raiser tonight. He is on, of course, the campaign hustings, and today he met with Senator McCain.

Was it at all awkward, governor?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, it was a very cordial, very warm meeting. I really appreciate John and I -- I appreciate John making time to get together, and we had a fairly good discussion, Larry, about a lot of issues that matter to John and matter to me, issues of reforming -- like reforming Social Security or reforming education. We had a good, frank discussion on campaign funding reform. And I really appreciate him. I appreciate his friendship and appreciate his endorsement today as well.

KING: Because I remember being with both of you at that South Carolina debate, and the mood was rather tense, and that's sometimes hard to get over with. We remember -- you're too young to remember -- the Rockefeller-Nixon meeting back in 1960. Did you give any today?

BUSH: No, I don't think so, and neither did John. I mean, we came together as -- as people that want me to become the president and for him to have a reform agenda that can get passed through the Congress and have a president who will work with him on a reform agenda.

And you're right. In South Carolina, of course, there were some tense moments. But after all, we were in the middle of a debate and there was a lot of people around, and second, we were in the middle of a primary.

KING: His role at the convention, do you see him speaking at the convention?

BUSH: Yes, I do, but I have no idea when and what time yet or what day, because we don't have an agenda yet. But John certainly deserves a spot at the convention. He earned a lot of delegates, he earned a lot of votes, and he's going to be a part of a team to help me get elected.

KING: What role would you like him to play in the race itself?

BUSH: Well, I think there are two really good roles for John. One is to campaign with me, and I'd appreciate that. But the other role is for John to campaign for members of the United States Congress, because I think it's important for me to have a Congress with whom -- with which I can work. And I think John's willing to do both.

KING: He says he definitely doesn't want to be considered for vice president. Can we say officially that he's not on the list?

BUSH: Well, today at the meeting, I asked for his advice on the vice president selection process, and John said right off the bat that he didn't want to be considered, and I take him for his word.

KING: How far along is Dick Cheney, who I know is heading that process for you, how far along is he in, you know, adding names, subtracting names? Where are we in the ballgame?

BUSH: Well, we're still in the adding names. I haven't even seen the list yet. But Dick and I are going to get together here and pretty soon, and go over the process and the timetable and where he is in the process. And I picked a really good man.

I think it's an indication of the kind of people that will be in my administration. Dick Cheney is a solid citizen, and I'm honored to have him on my team.

KING: Is he -- well, would he be in your administration, Dick? We miss him around Washington. Would he be in the Cabinet possibly?

BUSH: Well, you should miss because he is a fantastic person, and I think it's way too early for me to be picking Cabinets. Heck, I haven't even gone to the convention yet, and I've got to win, first and foremost.

But Dick is the kind of person that -- with whom I surround himself. He's honest, hard-working, got a lot of experience. He's got great judgment.

KING: Would John McCain have a role in a Bush administration, or would his role stay in the Senate?

BUSH: Well, again, it's too early to predict that, Larry. I've got to get elected first and foremost. But John and I do agree on a lot of issues, and I like his spunk, I like his attitude.

I told him today and I said at the press conference, this is a man who made me a better candidate. He gave me a heck of a good run for my money. He ran a campaign that -- that far exceeded expectations. And I appreciate John a lot.

KING: The essential area of disagreement still remains, though, right? I mean, you're not going to change and he's not going to change. How do you come to terms with that?

BUSH: Well, you know, for example, on campaign funding reform, there are -- there are areas of agreement. He and I both believe that we ought to get rid of corporate soft money and labor soft money. We both agree in what's called "paycheck protection." There's a good start right there of where we can -- where we can come together to help reform campaign funding reform.

KING: Are you enjoying this so far?

BUSH: I am. I...

KING: Truth. Yes, really?

BUSH: Yes, I do. I mean, I'm enjoying it. I've been here in Atlanta today going to a school, interesting school right here in the suburbs of Atlanta. About 50 percent of the students are now Hispanic students. This school is beginning to deal with what we've been dealing with in Texas for quite a period of time.

I was most impressed by the fact they're teaching the children how to read English. They understand my education -- my vision on education and support it.

And I -- it -- I enjoy my campaign experiences.

KING: A couple of other things, governor. There's a Million Mom March this weekend about guns in Washington and in other spots around the country. What are your thoughts on that?

BUSH: Well, I'm glad to see Americans expressing their right to express their opinion. Like many of the marchers, I believe we ought to have gun laws that are reasonable, such as instant background checks or trigger locks for guns. But I hope the marchers also understand that we need to send chilling signals throughout our society, if you commit a crime with a gun, there's going to be a consequence, that we've got to enforce laws on the books.

And I also help the marchers understand that we've got a lot of laws on the books, but sometimes the actions of our -- the children, for example, are matters of heart. And all of us have got to work together to teach -- teach our children and teach society to respect life and respect neighbors.

KING: Were you annoyed when one NRA official said in a speech that you were like their guy?

BUSH: Yes, I didn't particularly care for that. I know the guy. I know Kayne. He's the party chairman in Iowa. I like Kayne. He's done a good job as a party chairman. But for him to say that they're going to have a, you know, office in the White House, that prompted me to say there's only going to be one person officing in the White House, and that's George W. Bush.

KING: What role will President Bush and your lovely mother have in this campaign?

BUSH: Well, they're supportive for starters. They're both a nervous stage dad and stage mom. I...

(LAUGHTER)

My dad -- gosh, the best thing he can do for me is to do what he does, and says, I love you, son. I, of course, ask him his advice on occasion. And the more my mother gets out and campaigns for me, I think the better off it'll be, because she's still beloved by a lot people, both Republicans and Democrats and independents.

KING: At the Cardinal O'Connor funeral yesterday, did you -- did you say anything to Vice President Gore or to President Clinton?

BUSH: I did. I greeted them both, and they were very cordial in their greetings. And then we had -- there was a moment where we exchanged the peace, and I said, "Peace be with your," and they said both to me. And I appreciated that moment. It was kind of an interesting pause in the middle of what appears to be a pretty tough campaign for the presidency.

KING: I remember when you spoke to the cardinal during that Bob Jones episode, right. Was he very receptive to you?

BUSH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I -- I -- well, it's easy for me to put words in his mouth, and I don't want to do that. But he was very supportive and very understanding. And he was -- I had a great visit with him. He was most cordial to my family at the St. Patrick's Day parade. Barbara and Jen and Laura got to watch the parade sitting right behind the cardinal. He's been a family friend, and we miss him. He was a great religious leader.

KING: The vice president on this program offered to debate you here. When do -- when are those things going to start? And we hope this is one of the places that's included.

When do debates begin?

BUSH: Well, after your brilliant performance in South Carolina, of course, I've got to give you consideration. I thought you handled it...

KING: We were very fair.

BUSH: I thought you were great. I really did. You only talked about a third of the whole program. No, just teasing you. Anyway...

KING: Stop it.

(LAUGHTER)

When do -- when do -- when can we expect debates?

BUSH: Oh, I don't know the specific moment. But of course, there are going to be debates. We're both seeking the presidency, and I look forward to pointing out the differences between the vice president's attitude and mine. And I will tell you the primary difference is he trusts Washington and I trust people.

And I look forward to talking about that more as time goes on.

KING: Thanks for giving us this time. We look forward to seeing a lot of you.

BUSH: Thanks, Larry.

KING: Regards (ph) home.

BUSH: Yes, sir.

KING: The governor of the state of Texas, and he'll be the Republican candidate for the presidency of the United States, George Bush. We'll talk with a McCain adviser, and our panel will assemble right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I endorse -- I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush.

(LAUGHTER)

I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse...

BUSH: By the way, I enthusiastically accept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Before we meet our panel, let's spend a few moments with Rick Davis, who managed the McCain primary campaign. Rick's at our studios in Washington.

Are you going to be part of the Bush campaign now, Rick?

RICK DAVIS, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, I was invited a couple week ago to attend a meeting they were having on the convention, and I gave him some of the advice that I could related to that. I was involved in the '96 convention. I had a pretty good time there.

So if asked, I'll be happy to lend whatever support and aid I can to Governor Bush's campaign. Absolutely.

KING: Anything surprise you about today's meeting? DAVIS: No, I thought it was very cordial. It was a good event, because it brought together two combatants on the field of politics that created quite a stir. More enthusiasm in our campaign and Governor Bush's than anything I've seen in my career in politics, and the two of them melded their forces today. And I think that's a very positive thing for us in November.

KING: Was that melting tougher for your guy?

DAVIS: Oh, I think that today was a day of nostalgia, to some degree. It was the first time we saw 200 reporters gathered in two months, and it brought back a lot of very positive memories from the campaign trail. We had a great time, and I think John would say it's the most fun he's ever had.

So I think that sure, it was a little nostalgic.

KING: Do you think it's safe to say, Rick, that the vice presidential question is now put away?

DAVIS: Yes, I think so. I think John has always been very straightforward and honest with people when asked about it through the course of the whole campaign. And today I think it was a very productive discussion with Governor Bush. He even gave him some ideas on who he thought were some good candidates. And so I think now we're over that discussion, and we get on talking about reform and some of the things that John has talked about during the campaign while he was in the Senate.

KING: And there were some disagreements, obviously. How hard does the senator campaign?

DAVIS: Oh, I think, you know, proof is in the pudding. We've been out on the campaign trail ever since the campaign ended. We've been out campaigning for House Republicans all around the country. I think we've done almost 20 different campaigns so far.

We've been up supporting Rudy Giuliani's campaign and we'll continue to do so even over the next couple of weeks.

So John McCain is a tireless worker. You never get anybody who can put his nose to the grindstone the way John can, and it's a real advantage I think now for the Bush campaign.

KING: Do you expect him to work very hard for George Bush?

DAVIS: Sure. He said he was going to be an enthusiastic campaigner. I think when George Bush picks his running mate, John McCain and the Bush team will make a very powerful weapon out in the November campaign.

KING: Do you know -- the governor told us that he asked John McCain for his ideas on the vice presidency. Do you know what was suggested?

DAVIS: Well, I know he threw in a couple of old supporter, Chuck Hagel and Fred Thompson, and a number of others. He commented about a number of names that have already been in the press, and I think it was a very productive conversation. Of course, you know, they've got a process to go through, and you know, I'm sure they'll select the best candidate.

KING: And Rick, where does Senator McCain see his place in the party now? I mean, obviously he leads a wing of it, if it can be called that. He's no minor figure. He's not just another senator anymore.

DAVIS: Well, I think it's finding a place in the Republican Party for reform. He said that's what he wanted to do for his campaign. I think we've made that statement.

John is now going to work very hard in the Senate and with the regular party workers around to make sure they understand what reform is and why it's so important to our party. And I think that he will also tend to those people he talked to outside the party continuously through the year, who liked the reform message, and frankly, should be a part of the party.

KING: Thanks, Rick. As always we'll be seeing a lot of you.

DAVIS: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Rick Davis, he managed the McCain campaign. Did it brilliantly, if I might add.

When we come back, William Bennett, George Mitchell, Jack Kemp, and Bob Woodward joins us, and we swing into our panel discussion right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We had a good meeting. I hope that our next meeting will not attract nearly as much attention as this one did, and I look forward to further discussions with Governor Bush and being present when he is inaugurated as the next president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's meet our panel. In Washington, William Bennett, co- director of Empower America, bestselling author. In New York, George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader, mediator in the Northern Ireland peace talks. In New York, Jack Kemp, co-director of Empower America, former GOP vice presidential candidate. And in Washington, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Bob Woodward, whose latest book, "Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate," is now out -- a major bestseller in hardcover -- now out in paperback.

William Bennett, is everything milk and honey now in the Republican camp?

WILLIAM BENNETT, CO-DIRECTOR, EMPOWER AMERICA: It's pretty good. It's certainly better than a lot of people expected. The dog didn't bark. Everybody -- in fact, the cats purred.

I heard a lot of people sort of straining the soup too thin this afternoon, saying, well, McCain was reluctant to say he'd endorse him and the body language seemed this and that. Maybe so. I mean, these guys were pretty tough on each other during the primary. The fact is it was a good day for George Bush and it was a good day for John McCain.

KING: Senator Mitchell, do you agree?

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Yes, I do. As Senator McCain said today, he has said all along he would support the eventual Republican nominee. So there is absolutely no surprise in the endorsement today. It was wholly predictable. Nonetheless, I think it was a good day for Governor Bush.

KING: Jack Kemp, how do you view it?

JACK KEMP, CO-DIRECTOR, EMPOWER AMERICA: Well, I see it the way Bill and Senator Mitchell do. I would add one thing. I think what John McCain has brought to the race, this whole message of reform irrespective of what he has talked about, is a very important thing for the Republican Party here on the dawn of the 21st century to be the reform party. We don't need a third party reform party.

We need the Republican Party to reform taxation, to reform welfare and education, as my comrade in arms Bill Bennett has so eloquently talked about. And to be the reform party, this is what I believe that John McCain has brought into the Bush camp.

So I think it's great news for both McCain and George Bush.

KING: And what's the read of our eminent regular, Mr. Woodward?

BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I guess I get to say something different.

KING: I figured that.

WOODWARD: It did work, of course, but if you look behind it a little bit, quite obviously, Governor Bush can't really like John McCain or like what has happened, because McCain exposed some of Bush's weaknesses. And McCain lives on in American politics, an incredibly popular figure, somebody with an agenda that is different than Bush's, somebody who the agenda of campaign finance reform is a very passionate conviction for McCain. And that's just going to be a problem for Bush as the campaign goes on.

KING: So was today -- so was today to you theater?

WOODWARD: No, it was necessary. It's surprising it didn't happen sooner.

KING: We'll get a break, come back, and delve into this more. By the way, we're going to spend a few moments at the bottom of the hour with Bob Shrum, the senior adviser to one Al Gore and his thoughts from the other side of the aisle. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Governor Bush is the most qualified person to be president of the United States. He has the vision, he has the knowledge, and the expertise to carry out the mission of maintaining United States supremacy, both militarily and economically in the world.

I think that it's clear that Governor Bush's philosophy, ideals and his ability to articulate a vision for the future is the major reason why he should be president of the United States and not Al Gore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Bill Bennett, where do you expect the ardent McCain followers to go? Do they all go to Bush? Do some of them go to Gore? Do some stay home? What do you think?

BENNETT: Oh, I think most will go to Bush, but we'll see, and they'll be looking for a signal from John McCain. I think what John McCain does in the campaign now will be very interesting.

I think for a while for John McCain to be coming out for Bush will seem natural, but also like today a little strained. If John McCain comes out and beats on Al Gore like a drum, which is what he threatened to do if he was the candidate, I think that could make a great deal of difference, because John McCain is very credible. He's credible on campaign finance reform. He's credible on the ethics questions. And if he decides to be the point-man on Al Gore, whose got some liabilities this way, I think he'll be very effective.

But how they use his is the question. How he's willing to be used of course will determine that.

KING: Senator Mitchell, where do you think they go, the McCain followers?

MITCHELL: Well, I don't think you can just generically apply that to people who voted for Senator McCain.

KING: But they got really -- you know, he was more than just a -- a candidate people supported. He became a movement, didn't he?

MITCHELL: Oh, he did. He evoked very strong feelings, and many of them were Republicans. They're obviously likely to vote for Governor Bush. Some were Democrats. I think they're unlikely to vote for Governor Bush. Many were independents.

Those who were captivated by his personality and his background may be more influenced by his endorsement. Those who were interested in the issue of campaign finance reform and other reform issues, like Social Security, will note the continuing differences he has with Bush, and the fact that his position is actually closer to Gore's on Social Security, taxes and campaign finance reform. I think some of them will vote for Gore. So I think it's a mix.

KING: Jack Kemp, does that make it a wash or does it benefit Bush?

KEMP: No, I -- with all due respect to my friend, Senator Mitchell, I disagree with that. I don't think his position is close to Gore at all. It may be on campaign finance reform. But I believe that Governor Bush could come up with something like Senator Hagel of Nebraska has done, eliminate some of the soft money, provide for more transparency, put a limit -- in fact, raise the cap on individual campaign contributions, which Bob Woodward would tell you has not been changed since 19 -- what? -- 74.

But on Social Security, for instance, I think George Bush is going to have a tremendous leg up by saying to the young working men and women of America, we want to give you a chance to take advantage of the excitement and the potential of the United States investment and equity and bonds.

Unions all over the country, municipal and state employee unions, have their pensions invested in bonds and stock. But we don't let senior citizens or young people do it. I think that's going to be a great issue for George Bush.

KING: Bob, how do you see it playing for the McCain voters and where they go?

WOODWARD: Well, you had to say -- I hate to mention another network, but Tom Brokaw and NBC interviewed McCain tonight, and the issue of campaign finance reform came up. And McCain's whole body language changed. There's an intensity, there is a commitment to it, and it's not just about money and politics. It's about the pork barrel legislation. It's about the lobbying and so forth. And he's not going to change on that. And in a certain way, Al Gore's closer to him on that than George Bush. It's going to be a problem in the campaign quite possibly.

KING: Because it's going to come up, right?

WOODWARD: It's going to come up and McCain's going to raise it, because it's the basis on which he ran, people tune into it because they know he really believes it and is committed to it.

KING: We'll come -- I'm sorry. Bill Bennett, you want to say something quickly and then we'll take a quick break.

BENNETT: Yes, just -- not just to be provocative, but you love campaign finance reform. Bob Woodward loves campaign finance reform. But the American people don't love campaign finance reform. It may be well worth doing, but there was a mistake during the McCain campaign. They thought everybody was after McCain because of campaign finance reform. They weren't. They like John McCain. He's a hero.

I saw the documents they brought up for him to sign. It wasn't the campaign finance documents. It was his book, "Faith of Our (sic) Fathers."

This is not a huge issue out there. It's a huge issue with the media, but it's not a huge issue with the American people.

KING: We'll take a break. We'll see if the others agree on that. We're going to spend a few moments with Bob Shrum, one of the top advisers in the game. He's a senior adviser to Gore. And then back with our panel, and we'll do all that right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I will continue to pursue the issues of reform. That is the agenda. That drove me in my campaign and will drive me as long as I am in public service.

I believe we will have disagreements, but I also believe we will have a lot more agreements than disagreements, and I think our discussion and our debate will be healthy, and in the long run, helpful to the party and the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: He's one of the top political operatives in the business, and we're going to spend a few moments with him before we resume with the panel. He's Bob Shrum. He's a senior adviser to President Gore -- to Vice President Gore.

BOB SHRUM, SR. ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT GORE: No, I liked that Larry. That was great.

KING: For Vice President Gore, and he joins us from Washington.

Your candidate has been rather friendly to McCain of late, mentioning him rather frequently. What did you make of today's affect on your guy?

SHRUM: Well, I thought today was actually kind of an easy and expected meeting for George Bush. I don't want to get John McCain in trouble, but I know him, I like him, I respect him and I knew him long before this campaign, and he's a Republican, and he's going to endorse the Republican candidate for president. And I'm not going to make judgments about his enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm.

Actually what I found interesting today how relieved Bush seemed at having this meeting. I think the meeting he really fears is the meeting you invited Governor Bush to have a few minutes ago and that he ducked, which was to get on the show and debate the issues with Al Gore, which he clearly doesn't want to do.

KING: Do you expect Gore to use this affect a lot in the campaign, referring to McCain and campaign finance? Will he try to drive a wedge?

SHRUM: Well, I think they are closer, for example, on campaign finance than Bush and McCain. I think that if you look back at what Senator McCain said in the primaries, he said over and over again that the Bush tax cut was reckless, it was too big, that if you took a trillion-and-a-half to $2 trillion dollars out of the surplus, you were actually endangering Social Security, and that money ought to go into the trust fund to strengthen Social Security.

KING: Is there any rift in your party? Is there a -- any spillover of Gore-Bradley?

SHRUM: I think there is no rift at all, Larry. I mean, it's a remarkable situation: Al Gore won every single contested presidential primary. I think the party is remarkably united behind Al Gore's candidacy, and I think that people are looking forward to the time when there's real engagement on the issues with Governor Bush.

I was quite fascinated listening to him tonight. He said people share my vision -- quote, unquote -- about education, but he never talks about the substance of it, and he doesn't want to. Because his answer, for example, on failing schools is to give people private school vouchers, which I'm sure Bill Bennett will defend when he comes back, and allow them to go to other public schools, the problem with allowing them to go to other public schools is under his plan, he doesn't build any new classrooms, he doesn't hire any new teachers, and in fact, he gets rid of the 100,000 teachers the Clinton/Gore administration is hiring, so I suppose his solution is to let these kids go to school in overcrowded classrooms.

KING: Is -- you mentioned Bill Bennett. Is he, do you think, a viable vice presidential choice for Bush? And if he is that choice, would you take that as pretty tough going?

SHRUM: I never quite know how to answer these questions, because whatever answer I give I assume people interpret that I'm saying something because I want to have the opposite effect.

KING: Oh, go ahead.

SHRUM: So I'm going to say what I think. And I have to reveal a conflict of interest. His brother Bob is one of my best friends. I like Bill very, very much. I respect him. I think he's wrong on a whole host of issues, and I think he'd be a terrific Republican vice presidential candidate.

And if he can see me right now, I apologize to you, Bill.

KING: Speaking of that, who is Mr. Gore -- can you tell us the names he is leaning to?

SHRUM: I can't, and I don't, and I believe that that process is going to be a process that's going to be very much his process. He's going to be in charge of it, he is going to make the decision, and I think his decision is going to be made on two grounds: one is, who can be the best president for the country if it comes to that? And number two is, who can he best work with to advance the agenda of the Gore administration?

KING: With your long experience, how important is the vice presidential nomination to the election?

SHRUM: Well, it can be very important. I think that Dan Quayle actually jeopardized Bush's chance of winning in 1988. I think that in 1960, Lyndon Johnson helped John Kennedy win. I mean, John Kennedy carried Texas by 25,000 votes -- I'm not sure without Lyndon Johnson on the ticket he could have done that. And I think Ronald Reagan sent a very powerful signal in 1980 when instead of picking someone at very far right of the Republican Party, he picked someone who was, at that time, perceived to be very moderate, George Bush, and sent out a signal that maybe he was not to be feared as much as people had thought.

KING: Is your candidate going to go after the McCain voter?

SHRUM: Well, I think that the McCain voter -- and I thought Senator Mitchell's analysis a short while ago was absolutely correct. I think there are a lot of McCain voters who are Republicans, and most of them will vote Republican. There a number who are Democratic. Most of them will vote Democratic, but I think there's a big independent pool in the middle, And I think to the extent that they cared about the issues that John McCain was talking about, whether its education, or Social Security or campaign finance reform, they're much more likely to come to Al Gore.

KING: Thanks, Bob. Bob Shrum, always good seeing you.

SHRUM: Nice to here, Larry.

KING: Senior Gore adviser, top Democratic strategist.

We'll be back, we'll reintroduce the panel, more questions, take your phone calls as well.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: For me to look back in anger or with any rancor would be a mistake. It would harm me, it would harm Governor Bush and it would harm those who supported me in this campaign. I look forward and not back. I hold no rancor. Others will be the judge of this campaign, not me, and my job is to further our efforts to bring about institutions -- reforming the institutions of government. I can't do that effectively if I look back rather than forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's reintroduce our panel. They are in Washington, William Bennett, co-director of Empower America; in New York, former United States Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; in New York, the co-director of Empower America, Jack Kemp; and in Washington, the Pulitzer Prize-winning assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post," Bob Woodward, his book "Shadow" is now out in paperback. Before we take some calls, Jack Kemp, I know you're involved, because you're both co-directors of Empower America. Do you think Bill Bennett would be vice presidential candidate for George Bush?

KEMP: Fabulous. Fabulous. I hope this doesn't hurt his chances, but he'd be great. I think the world of Bill Bennett. He would bring a lot to the Bush campaign, not only in the campaign, but also in the White House. I think Colin Powell would make a great -- I'd like to see George Bush announce either Bennett or Powell and then put Cheney and McCain and an outstanding woman into the cabinet, and run as a team. I think it would be a fabulous way to run...

KING: A historic idea. Why don't they do that, Senator Mitchell? Why don't candidates do as Reagan did once with the vice presidential nominee in '76 -- announce who they're going to have, who's going to be the secretary of state? McCain did that on our show. He said Colin Powell would be his secretary of state?

MITCHELL: Well, two separate issue, the vice presidency and the cabinet. With respect to the vice presidency, the conventional wisdom is you wait as long as possible, see where you stand at the time of the convention, and I think it makes sense for both, and I think both would do that. They'll pursue very careful and methodical processes to establish who is or is not adding something to the ticket and wait until the last possible moment.

With respect to the cabinet, some of the same reason apply but not with the same force. And I expect, if not in this election, sometime soon, candidates will begin to do that. That's common, as you know, in the parliamentary system. It's widespread in the United Kingdom and other places. People know well ahead of time. They know throughout the opposition period who is the cabinet going to be. So I expect it will occur either this year or sometime soon on cabinet officials.

KING: What, Bill Bennett, is wrong with knowing who someone's secretary of state is going to be?

BENNETT: I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

Let me make a comment, by the way. I understand, Jack Kemp -- it's kind of like, I did it last time, now you have to do that. So I appreciate that endorsement. But all I needed now is George Mitchell's endorsement after Shrum's, and then I'm finished forever in my party.

KING: They love you, Bill.

BENNETT: It's great. I think it's perfectly appropriate.

Can I say something back on the major issue? Look, Bush, apart from this moment today, Bush is proving to be -- and I think it's surprising a lot of people, a better general election candidate than he was at primary candidate it seems to me. He's doing better. You remember when the primary was over, these guys were about even; Gore was a little bit ahead. But Bush now seems to be doing better. I think too much was made out of the McCain thing. I like John. You know, I worked with him some during the primary.

(CROSSTALK)

The McCain moment is over. John is not done. John remains and important person. But that moment is over. And I think that's an important thing to recognize.

WOODWARD: Could I, again, disagree with that. I mean, technically, the candidacy is over, but as McCain has said, the issue of reform will forever be on the table. And to a large extent, I really believe that he is right.

Bill Bennett makes a very good point, that the public is not necessarily that interested in campaign finance reform. What grabbed the public about McCain was the nature of his engagement and commitment, and he showed real conviction. And people rebel very, very much against the poll-tested candidate, who comes out and says, oh, the poll shows this, so I'm going to do that. People want somebody who really believes, and McCain projects that.

KING: Let me get a call. Venice, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Yes, good evening.

KING: Hi.

CALLER; This question and comment is directed to Bill Bennett.

Mr. Bennett, how can you say that people our here are not interested in some kind of campaign finance reform, when just about everybody I know -- and you can listen to C-SPAN, you can talk to my friends acquaintances -- everybody I know believes that politicians are bought and paid for by lobbyists, and corporations and special interests? I mean, it's a given across this country that people feel that way.

KING: Bill?

BENNETT: Well, there is certainly a lot of cynicism in American politics, and some of it is justified, given the behavior of political leaders. But I'm reporting straightforwardly on what turns out to be an issue of dominance or importance to people in every single survey I have seen.

Now to bring the reform agenda or the reform idea to American politics is something else. Reformist zeal, sincerity, integrity, I think that's right. And Bob Woodward and I might meet on that point. I think that's what John McCain is about.

But I don't think the campaign finance reform issues themselves were the things that mattered. I agree with the caller, we have to overcome the cynicism about politics. And if people want to take up the campaign finance reform issues, that's fine with me, but I think it's deeper than that. It has to do with what the caller said, a suspicion about who's in there and what they're in there for. And I don't think tinkering with our system is going to change that suspicion. This is a much deeper cynicism about American institutions at virtually all levels and elites at all levels.

KING: Fort Sill, Oklahoma, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.

This question is also for Bill Bennett.

The standard election year question, which is, "Are you better off than you were four years ago, and in this case, seven?," the Democrats lean on the economy and logically so. I'm wondering why the Republicans have not responded to this with two more questions, and those being, is America a better place to raise your children than it was seven years ago? And do you have more faith in government today than you did seven years ago?

BENNETT: Well, I imagine you'll see some of those questions raised.

The remarkable thing is that by all the criteria we've used in the past, these indices I've seen about economics, and welfare and crime and so on, Gore should be way ahead. The fact that he's not way ahead suggests that there is something wrong with what Bob Shrum was saying earlier.

I still think, and I have nothing -- you know, no personal history with the guy, still think people don't find him appealing, they don't find him attractive. He's off-putting. I said on this show a few months I think politically, unlike Clinton, he's a dud. I think he's a better human being, hard not to but I think politically, he's a dud. George Bush is coming across much better to the American people. And the more that Al Gore rants and raves about Bush and, you know, says he's going to do all these horrible things and paints him as a sort of mad slasher, the worse it gets for Al Gore. The country is in good shape economically. The country is not in good shape by the criteria that the caller mentioned.

KING: Senator Mitchell, do you buy that feeling that Mr. Bennett has about Al Gore, that he's not connecting?

MITCHELL: No, I don't. And I don't agree with him on campaign finance reform. I believe the cynicism goes deeper than reform, but I believe absolutely that reform of the campaign finance system is a prerequisite to dealing with that cynicism, not enough by itself, but the absolute essential first step, and while I don't think it's the dominant issue in the country, I think it's far more important to a lot more people than the comments here suggested tonight.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with more. This is LARRY KING LIVE.

Tomorrow night, a very eclectic panel sounding off on everything, Whoopi Goldberg, Tammy Faye Messner, John Stuart and Tucker Carlson. How'd you like to have them over for dinner? We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCCAIN: We're in agreement in a lot more issues than which we are in disagreement. I have said from the very beginning that I will support the nominee of the party. I look forward to enthusiastically campaigning for Governor Bush for the next six months between now and November. I believe that it's very important that we restore integrity and honor to the White House. I'm convinced that Governor Bush can do that more than adequately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CALLER: Let's take another call.

Clinton, Oklahoma, hello.

CALLER: Hello?

KING: Hi.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. I would like to direct this question...

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Hello?

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Hello.

KING: Go ahead!

CALLER: Hello, this is Margaret Winter in Clinton.

KING: Margaret, what's your question.

CALLER: I want to direct it to Bill Bennett.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: I want to know how John McCain can possibly endorse George Bush after all the mean things he said to him during the campaign?

KING: A lot of people probably question that -- Bill.

BENNETT: Well, you'll to ask John McCain about that, and he'll have to give you his answer, and I'm sure he will. But this is not an unusual kind of thing to happen. These guys are pretty tough on each other, but they come together under larger issues and agreement under larger issues.

KING: Why do they, Jack Kemp? And that got pretty vicious. I sat with them in South Carolina, and that was -- they didn't like each other that night. KEMP: Yes, it was tough. But I think Bill made a very good point, that there are larger issues at stake. And as old professional football quarterback, some of the best friends I ever made in my career were the guys who used to beat me up on Sunday. And I think Churchill said it best, I believe at the end of World War II. He said, "In victory, magnanimity, in defeat, courage." And I think John McCain is, as Bob Woodward said, a man of courage, and I think George Bush has shown showing magnanimity, and that's what we want in a president, both courage and magnanimity.

KING: Atlanta, hello. Is this Atlanta?

I'm sorry, I must have hit the wrong button.

Bob Woodward, would you agree with that?

WOODWARD: What part of it? Because he agreed with me.

KING: Well, the lady's question was, why do these people who seemingly not -- more than dislike each other, really go at each other, suddenly stand together and say we're all friends?

WOODWARD: Well, McCain is a party man, and he said, he gave his word that he would endorse the nominee. So that's not at all surprising. One question I think we ought to try to get Bill Bennett to answer is, if he were offered the vice presidency by George Bush, would he accept?

KING: I think that's a foregone conclusion, of course you would, right, Bill?

WOODWARD: Watch.

KING: Bill?

BENNETT: Another endorsement here. Not an endorsement.

KING: A fair hypothetic?

BENNETT: I'd want to answer it from George Bush first. But I'd have some problems, Larry, because I have the greatest respect for George W. Bush, but I'm on record publicly disagreeing with him, as with my great friend and colleague Jack Kemp, on some issues. I do not believe in free trade with China. I think if you hate Cuba, you've got to really hate China. If you don't trade with Cuba, I don't think you can trade with China. I don't think I could, you know, adjust my views to that. It would have to be -- there are new things that I'm in disagreement on, and I'm very opinionated. You probably don't know that, Larry, but I have strong views.

WOODWARD: But, Larry, one of the things that's is interesting is not only McCain said he wouldn't do it, now Bennett said he wouldn't do it, Kemp can't do it again, or I expect would not do it again. It raises the interesting question, would George Mitchell run with Al Gore?

KING: Here he goes. There goes Woodward again. George, would you?

MITCHELL: I don't think it's likely that Al Gore will ask me.

KING: That's not the question.

MITCHELL: I know that. I know that. But Bob Woodward doesn't have the power to offer anybody anything.

WOODWARD: It's a question.

MITCHELL: If the question is asked, I'll answer it at that time. That's the best way to do it.

KING: We'll take a break and come back with our remaining moments and a word or two from me about something.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: We are in agreement on more issues that we are in disagreement. And I'd like to say that I will not give up on the reform agenda. I will continue to pursue the issues of reform, and I want to assure those people that supported me in the primary that I will continue to pursue this agenda. They are not contradictory to my support of Governor Bush.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Jack Kemp, how close is this race going to get? All of you are going to be with us frequently as we forge ahead. But at this point, in the early going, how close?

KEMP: It's going to be very close, very, very, very close. Yes, these are two competitive people. It's going to be extremely close. The issues will be tendentious.

And I do want to say one thing to my buddy Bill Bennett, or about what he said. The Cold War is over, we won, and we shouldn't be out seeking new enemies to replace old enemies, and as far as I'm concerned, George Bush and John McCain are wise to be supporting bringing down the tariffs in China on U.S. automobiles and U.S. software. We should not be treating China as a new enemy.

KING: That could be another show. Mr. Bennett, will this be a close race?

BENNETT: It'll be a close race. Gore is going to have to change strategy again, because this attack dog thing is not working. He's turning people off to it. The more he attacks Bush, the better Bush seems to be doing.

Bush is surprising people how good a general election candidate he is. I think he's hit is stride and is doing very well. It'll be close, but right now, Gore has got more work to do.

KING: Senator Mitchell?

MITCHELL: Well, Bill mentioned earlier the likability of the candidates. Being likable in politics is helpful. Being able, and competent and up to the job is critical. I think that's what the American people are going to decide this election on. I think it will be very close. I think that Vice President Gore will win.

KING: Bob Woodward?

WOODWARD: Obviously, no one knows, I thought one of the really interesting things tonight was watching George Bush when you interviewed him, and it almost looks like he's taking the Ronald Reagan playbook and applying it to himself. He was congenial. He was happy. He was optimistic. Nothing seemed to bother him. He was very general. Not confrontational in any way. A Ronald Reagan Jr., not a George Bush Jr.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll be seeing lots of you in the weeks and months ahead.

Want to take a moment here first to thank Greta Van Susteren for sitting in last night. She sat in because we brought our annual Larry King Cardiac Foundation Dinner to Los Angeles. We hold it every year in Washington. Now we're going to hold it twice a year. This is the foundation that helps people who can't afford it get heart valves, and heart surgery and new hearts. And last night, Julio Iglesias, and Al Franken and Maria Osmond entertained. Over 700,000 people were on hand, and we pocketed for the Larry King Cardiac Foundation over $1 million, and the success of the whole evening was really due to the efforts of my friend George Slaughter (ph). George has been on this program. He's a famous name in production. We honored Gerald Levin, and Levin was thrilled just to meet George Slaughter. George produces -- of course, he produced "Laugh-In" and so many special. But last night, he was at the top of his game.

I know you've been to many dinners, but when you go to one produced by George Slaughter, you're in the hands of the master. So I wanted to publicly thank him for all of his efforts, giving gratis to an organization that helps others. Great people help other people. We thank George.

Tomorrow night, a very eclectic panel -- George should have produced this one -- Whoopi Goldberg, Tammy Faye Messner, John Stewart and Tucker Carlson. I'll be here. You be here, too.

Stay tuned for CNN "NEWSSTAND."

Thanks for joining us, and good night.

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