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Larry King Live

What Should the Public Know About the Presidential Candidates?

Aired August 21, 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: campaign perspective from Democrat Mario Cuomo, former governor of New York; on the other side of a partisan fence, in Washington, Republican Howard Baker, former Senate majority leader and Reagan chief of staff; also in Washington, Gore campaign senior adviser Bob Shrum; and in Austin, Texas, Boston campaign -- Bush campaign senior adviser Ari Fleischer -- plus an update on the submarine tragedy at the bottom of the sea: Vice Admiral Patrick Hannifin, U.S. Navy, retired, joins us from San Diego. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Before we get into politics, let's go down to San Diego and join Vice Admiral Patrick Hannifin, United States Navy, retired nearly 35 years of submarine service -- has been with us almost nightly reporting and analyzing all the events that took place in the Barents Sea -- and still taking place. Apparently, it is history now. We can say, Vice Admiral, can we not, that there are no survivors?

RET. VICE ADM. PATRICK HANNIFIN, U.S. NAVY: That is fairly certainly now. We are off with rescue and on with any kind of salvage operations that they may want to undertake.

KING: Now, when they went down, they found that the hatch was able to be opened. There were reports that it wasn't. Since it was able to be opened, why couldn't people get out?

HANNIFIN: Well, they can't get out unless there is something to get into. And they were unable to get the rescue bell, or rescue pod, in place and a good seal. They would have to -- that is quite an operation -- and they really weren't able to accomplish it. Only they divers were down to get the hatch open when they discovered there was still no air in there.

KING: With hindsight, of course, as our benefit, had this occurred earlier -- the British, the Norwegians -- had they been called immediately, might there have been a possibility of rescue?

HANNIFIN: I doubt it. I...

KING: Because?

HANNIFIN: No. I think that the explosion -- the second explosion especially, was very, very massive, and probably blew clear through the submarine and ruptured at least most of the bulkheads and probably enough to force water clear back into all of the compartments.

KING: United States...

HANNIFIN: There was an outside chance, but that is about all.

KING: United States hasn't lost a sub, I think, in 30 years. Could this have happened to the American fleet?

HANNIFIN: Well it could have, although in 350 feet of water, I would think that we would be able to get there in ample time. And of course, we have the PSRVs, rescue vessels, that can fit and mate with our submarines readily. We could have accomplished it.

KING: The Russians are asking the Norwegians for continued help in finding bodies.

HANNIFIN: Yes.

KING: Don't many men who die at sea stay that way? Isn't there some kind of code in the Navy where it stays a burial at sea?

HANNIFIN: Well, to certain extent. But as you recall, when we raised that Gulf submarine in the Pacific, there were Russian bodies. And we gave them a burial ashore, a proper one.

KING: Is there danger in this rescue? Might they not be a able to do it?

HANNIFIN: Well, there is there is always danger when you are working underwater and particularly in a ship that has been so badly damaged as this one is. But most of these divers are pretty experienced. And I'm sure that they will be able to put -- I hope they will be able to put some sort of robots down inside to see what the condition is before they send the divers down themselves, because over 350 feet is pretty severe diving.

KING: Now, the Kursk, the name of the ship, is relatively accessible. We understand it's upright on the flat bottom of a continental shelf. Can that ship be raised?

HANNIFIN: Can it do what?

KING: Be raised?

HANNIFIN: Be raised? Oh, yes, it can. But, you are looking at 24,000 tons. And it's an enormous task, particularly in those waters where the weather is never very pleasant. It's a great undertaking and it would an enormous amount of money.

KING: It has never been confirmed, but it has been reported that the Russians did salvage a nuclear sub in the '70s. Is that -- do you do know if that was true?

HANNIFIN: I don't know that that is true. It is a possibility. But most of their losses were in deep water.

KING: Any danger in having that wreckage on the bottom of the sea?

HANNIFIN: I don't think so. They are concerned that this is shallower than the others that have been lost but, with regard to Thresher -- our ship, which was the first of our nuclear subs that was lost in about 8,000 feet -- we have gone back periodically and checked and found no radiation hazard. Just a couple years ago, it was out last check, I believe.

KING: Is this the corrosion of a once mighty military machine, or is this the sign that maybe that machine was overrated?

HANNIFIN: Well, I don't think their submarines were overrated, but I think they have been neglected badly, as most of their military has: no parts, no proper parts. And it is a pretty bad situation there as far as military is concerned. The amount of money that they put into it is far less than is necessary to keep those ships properly and safely running.

KING: Criticism of the government -- Putin stayed on vacation -- is it is warranted?

HANNIFIN: Well, I'm not sure what else he could do. But, that -- I was not surprised at the initial Soviet response that is -- sort of hearkens back to the Cold War days when they tried to deny at first that it happened and then try to cover it up.

KING: When something like this happens because of the uniqueness of a submarine, is there a kind of a mourning all over the submarine community?

HANNIFIN: Oh, certainly, there is. There is a bond among submariners from one country to another that probably doesn't exist anyplace else because of our -- the kind of work that we do, where we share these kinds of experiences, and the danger, and the fact that we work and live in a completely different world under a sea that is not very forgiving.

KING: You think there is a chance -- if there is a chance of getting bodies, they will get them?

HANNIFIN: I think they will. They want to. And I think it is appropriate to do that if that is that is the way the Soviets feel -- the Russians feel -- and I think it is a dangerous operation, they will do what they can, I'm sure.

KING: Thank you, Admiral, you have been of immeasurable help every night. We appreciate it.

HANNIFIN: Thank you.

KING: Vice Admiral Patrick Hannifin, United States Navy, retired nearly 35 years -- been reporting to us every night since we learned of this tragedy.

Two top senior advisers to the Bush and Gore campaigns will join us, and then two veterans of the political scene after that. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In a little while, we will spend the balance of the program with Mario Cuomo and Howard Baker. But we want to get off a little inside politics -- if we could borrow name of the CNN show -- and meet Bob Shrum in our Washington bureau. The famed Mr. Shrum is Gore campaign senior adviser. And the equally famed Ari Fletcher in Austin, Texas. And Ari is the senior adviser in the Bush campaign.

Bob, explain something, you're 16 points behind. You are even. It is now called a dead heat. Is the public fickle? Are these polls ridiculously too early? What do you make of this? How could it shift that much?

BOB SHRUM, GORE CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, Larry, first of all, I thought the CNN poll before the Democratic Convention gave too big a lead to Governor Bush. I think people like Karl Rove thought that as well. And I have heard him say -- and it's something I believe -- this is going to be a close, hard-fought race all the way. But I think there is no question that Al Gore had a very good convention. The country got to know him much better. Substantive -- real and substantive issues were discussed.

I mean, he said he was going to do that in the acceptance speech. He did it. He got a tremendous response from people on issues like prescription-drug coverage for all seniors under Medicare. And I think that, in a sense, people tuned into the campaign, tuned into the issues, and we are now going to see a real race that I think we are going to win.

KING: Ari, what do you make of this shifting?

ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, Larry, it's interesting, immediately after our convention, we were -- our poll in aftermath of all the attention and the governor's speech -- which focused on his leadership and his ability to bring people together to get things done -- we showed an 18-point lead, which we told people: That lead won't sustain. These leads have settled down. And let's see where it settles to.

And then we said the same thing when the vice president went into his convention: He was going to get a bounce What's important is to wait about a week or so, closer to Labor Day, and see where it all settles. The likelihood is it will settle in between our peak lead of 18, somewhere in between the vice president's peak lead of about four or five, somewhere in between. We are expecting a close race. We are expecting a good race this fall, Larry.

KING: Does that mean, Bob in your -- and then for you too, Ari -- are people changing their minds? Do we have a lot of undecideds?

SHRUM: Well, I think, first of all, that people are tuning in on the issues and are very focused on the issues. Governor Bush, ran, I think pretty successfully for a while, a campaign that was focused on saying what he wasn't. He wasn't the old Republican Party that excluded people. But he didn't say very much about what he wanted to do. For example, we still don't know when he takes a trillion dollars out of the Social Security trust fund over the next 10 years to finance the privatization of Social Security, how he is going to replace that money if he's going to replace it.

And if he doesn't, you have to cut Social...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I'm sorry.

KING: Are you saying the public -- the question though was -- are you saying public is now listening to that and asking about it?

SHRUM: I think the public is now -- I think people want to know and judge for themselves where the candidates stand. That is why I think the debates are going to be important.

KING: Ari, Ari, do you think it is a shifting tide?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think what you have seen are a couple things. And, by the way, that was an interesting little window into how the campaign might go this fall. Instead of answering what was good about Al Gore, Bob tried to immediately get into what he thinks is wrong with Governor Bush. But what's happened in the conventions is we had our Republican base very well sewed up.

We were at about 90 percent of the base going in. The high watermark was Ronald Reagan with 94 percent in 1984. The vice president was in the 70s among Democrats' support. So he had far more room to bounce, as he did get his Democrats to come home. And very often, that is what kind of class-warfare language -- that's what Michael Dukakis was able to do at the very end of the 1988 race -- that kind of language brings home the base. It also sends a signal to the center, to the key ticket-splitters who do go back and forth later that he's more a divider than uniter. And that's going to be a little problem for him down the road.

The key to this election in our opinion is going to be who best can get prescription drugs to seniors and save Social Security by letting younger workers have a piece of their own Social Security taxes to invest as they see fit by bringing the parties together. One of the big problems in Washington has been too much finger-pointing, not enough problem-solving. And a lot of the governors in the states have a different focus. They're much more bipartisan. Certainly Governor Bush is.

KING: Where are we in the debate question? The Bush team proposed three presidential, two vice presidential debates. Bob, has the Gore team accepted that?

SHRUM: Well, we think the debates should be held under the auspices of the nonpartisan Commission the way they have been held for more than 20 years. I think I -- if you just listen to Ari, you could tell why he doesn't want to do that. It was one buzzword after another. He said we need bipartisan cooperation to get prescription drugs to seniors. Governor Bush doesn't even have any money in his budget for a prescription drug benefits for seniors.

And the one Republicans are sponsoring says you ought to beg the HMOs and insurance companies for coverage. We would like to be debate that.

KING: Have you accepted three-debate, two-debate concept?

SHRUM: Oh, I think we have -- Al Gore has challenged George Bush to far more than three debates. And Joe Lieberman would be happy to do far more than two debates.

KING Why not more, Ari? Why only three and two? Why not six and five?

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Well, the governor has proposed a record-breaking amount of debates. He has said he will accept five, Larry, which is three presidential debates, two vice presidential debates. That is a modern-day record. We have received 42 invitation from networks, from shows, from dot.coms, from civic organizations -- including the Commission -- we're looking at them all. I know the vice president has accepted all 42. Now, I know he likes taxes, but I didn't think wanted to tax people's patience.

That is an awful lot of debates for the American people, Larry.

KING: All right, let me get a break. We'll spend some more moments with Bob Shrum and Ari Fleischer, and then go at it with Mario Cuomo and Howard Baker on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are big choices ahead and our whole future is at stake. And I do have strong beliefs about it. If you entrust me with the presidency, I know I won't always be the most exciting politician. But I pledge to you tonight I will work for you everyday and I will never let you down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE. W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our current president embodied the potential of a generation: so many talents, so much charm, such great skill. But in the end, to what end? So much promise to no great purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ari Fleischer, from that indication, are you running against Clinton or Gore? FLEISCHER: Well, Larry, we're running against the records over the last eight years, which has been an interesting part of the reflection when you look at what happens in Washington, what doesn't happen in Washington: for example, a patient bill of rights, where people can take their complaints with HMOs and have them adjudicated in a lawsuit if necessary, where women can have the right to go see their OBGYN. That should have been done in Washington. Governor Bush in Texas, with a Democrat legislature signed a patient bill of rights into law.

So when we look at the last eight years, we see several squandered opportunities. So much of it stems from the divisiveness in Washington, which is due to both parties. But too much fighting, not enough work getting done, not enough problem-solving. And the buck does stop, though, at the White House. That's what we see for the last eight years.

KING: Bob, isn't that a fair issue, to run against the past eight years? And if they are right, throw him out. And if they are wrong, keep him in.

SHRUM: Well, I thought what was interesting about that clip from Governor Bush was, it was a totally negative attack from someone who says he doesn't want any negative attacks. And in fact, in the last few days, Governor Bush has talked primarily about the past. Now, you look at the past eight years, not just the economy, welfare reform, the lowest crime rate in 30 years.

And since Ari mentioned taxes, let me say that in 1992, the last time a Bush was president, taxes -- federal taxes were 16.5 percent of the gross national product. And today in the year 2000 they are 15.1 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: No, federal taxes, Ari, the taxes you -- that you can't hold Al Gore and Bill Clinton responsible for whatever taxes you imposed in Texas and the states impose.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Except for the largest tax increase in history in 1993.

SHRUM: Ari, you are simply repeating your talking points. And I don't think you know what you are talking about.

FLEISCHER: My

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: ... history is true.

SHRUM: ... which Governor Bush will find out if he examines the issue is the only tax burden he can have any effect on has dropped from 16.5 percent to 15.1 percent. (CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: But that's factually incorrect, Ari, and I'll bet you any sum of money you want on the federal tax burden as a percent of GDP. You're wrong.

FLEISCHER: Bob, you're on.

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: What do you want to bet, Ari?

FLEISCHER: You name it.

SHRUM: Well, fine, I'll you bet dinner and you don't have to have it with me. And I don't have to have it with you, although I would be happy to have it with you.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Come on to Austin, Bob, we'll get you some good barbecue.

SHRUM: It's gone down from 16.5 percent to 15.1 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Can we safely say. Ari, that this race will be run on issues?

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: I certainly hope so.

FLEISCHER: It will be -- it will be run on issues. And I think this underscores one of the biggest differences between the two candidates on the question of taxes. It just strikes me as odd that the Democrats continue to think the taxes are too low on the American people when most people paying their tax bills think their taxes too high and -- for example, the marriage penalty.

Right now, across the country, there are 25 million couples who are penalized, pay higher taxes just because they're married. And President Clinton and Al Gore have vetoed marriage penalty relief. We need to stop those type penalties in the tax code. And certainly, Larry, the more money that is sent to Washington is the more money for Washington to waste on bigger government.

KING: Bob I have got to wind up. Bob, Bob, when will we have our first debate?

SHRUM: Listen, any time that Governor Bush would show up, we could have our first debate. They ought to agree to the Commission debates, and then we could correct misstatements of fact like the one we just heard. We don't think taxes are too high. It is Bill Clinton and Al Gore who have lowered the federal tax burden. And in fact, a family who earns $60,000 a year would be $1,500 dollars better off under the Gore tax cut than under the Bush tax cut, which gives over half its benefits to people who make over $250,000 a year.

FLEISCHER: Larry, we heard it here tonight on LARRY KING LIVE. Bob Shrum just said: We don't think taxes are too high. That is exactly right.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: We think taxes, we think taxes ought to come down. Al Gore wants to cut taxes for working families in the middle class.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Well -- but you just said you don't think they are too high. The American people think they are.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I will attend...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM: Ari, I might have misspoken myself there, but that is typical.

FLEISCHER: OK.

SHRUM: You don't want to debate the substance of the tax plan. You want to give all the benefits to those at the top. A family of four earning $60,000 a year is $1,500 dollars better off under the Gore tax cut than under the Bush tax cut. Let's have a debate about it.

FLEISCHER: Larry.

KING: Ari, when will the debate -- when will the first debate take place?

FLEISCHER: Well, we don't know. It could be any time this fall, Larry. The governor is open to debates. As we talked earlier, it will be a record-breaking number of debates.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But do you think it will be September?

FLEISCHER: It could be September. It could be October. Of course, the vice president and President Clinton did not begin any debates until of October of 1996. And it is interesting to reflect the vice president today said it was unprecedented for any major party candidate to, in his words, stiff the Commission. Of course, in 1996, Clinton and Gore stiffed the Commission. The Commission proposed three debates in 1996. And the vice president and President Clinton agreed to only two. So it is interesting, despite him saying today it was unprecedented for anybody to do that, he forget that he himself did it four years ago.

KING: All right, guys, we will be doing a lot of this. We thank you both very much. We'll be seeing lots of both of you. And I will be at the dinner. And I will pay my portion of the check, whoever buys the other one. Bob Shrum and Ari Fleischer, senior campaign advisers. It is just starting.

When we come back, two distinguished American public servants, Mario Cuomo and Howard Baker go at it. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask you, let's remember the standard our Republican friends used to have for whether a party should continue in office. My fellow Americans, are we better off today than we were eight years ago? You bet we are. You bet we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Andy Williams tomorrow night.

We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the former Democratic governor of New York, Mario Cuomo -- he with us at our studios in New York -- and in Washington, Howard Baker,the former Senate majority leader and former chief of staff in the Ronald Reagan administration.

Governor Cuomo, from what we heard if the past 10 minutes, is that indicative of what the next two months are going be like?

MARIO CUOMO (D), FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK: I hope not. It sounded just a little bit silly. The -- I think what should happen now is that we should be discussing the issues. That is what was obvious about that exchange. Ari says that Bob is wrong about the numbers. And Bob says Ari is wrong. And how can the American people can be expected to understand why you both are not eager to have as many debates as possible?

Look at all the money you could save on 28-second commercials if the networks would give you time to debate. And I'm sure they would give much more than just three debates if you asked for it.

KING: Senator Baker, Barry Goldwater told me that he and John Kennedy had arranged to debate like weekly in 1964 had Senator Kennedy -- had President Kennedy lived. Why not more debates?

HOWARD BAKER (R), FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, I think it is perfectly fine to do that. It is entirely up to the candidates. You know, in a way, Larry, the campaign itself is a debate. And I very much hope, as Governor Cuomo just said, that throughout the campaign, the two candidates will speak about issues. And we will have an opportunity in that campaign, over the entire period of the campaign, to compare their position on important issues, and to see them surface issues that have not yet been discussed.

That is what campaigns ought to be about. You asked was this a sample what we are going to see?

KING: Yes.

BAKER: It doesn't have to be that way. I don't have any criticism of either participant. But the last thing on earth, in my view, that the American people want, is to have a contentious, controversial exchange between these candidates that's long on rhetoric and short on substance.

KING: What -- let's get to some of those -- first on your -- both of you -- the vast experience you have -- and I ask this earlier of them -- we've got to go to break in two minutes. So I would like as short an answer as possible, Governor Cuomo, why do polls change so drastically?

CUOMO: Well, first of all, I think they're premature when they are taken months before anybody's heard any of the discussion of the issues. I mean, you asked people in the beginning of this campaign before you knew who George Bush was, before you knew anything about his record, before you knew what positions Al Gore was going to take. He had been virtually invisible as a vice president for a long time. He hadn't had a chance to speak for himself.

And yet you took polls and assumed that maybe 80 or 90 percent of the people had already made up their minds. So someone used the word premature. I think they were premature. And I think they will continue to change as people learn more about the issues.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: We are not saying -- we are not saying then, Senator Baker, that people are flexible or not up with the times if they can change this much in a day?

BAKER: No, I think they changed this much in a day. I think polls are merely a snapshot of what people think at that moment. And I think you will see it bounce all over the place. And I predict that, come Labor Day, one party or other will be a little ahead, one candidate or the other. In about a week, the press will breathlessly declare it's too close to call. And then somebody is going to move ahead. That's sort of the way it goes.

But polls are important only for the instant they're taken. And it will vary all over the lot.

KING: And so how do we react to them, Governor Cuomo? What do we, the press, the media, the public do when they read: He is ahead, they are in a tie?

CUOMO: Well, you know, I think I know, Larry, more clearly than in any campaign I can recall what the media ought to be doing today. KING: Which is?

CUOMO: Now, the issue has now become -- because there is no single big issue here -- there are a lot of very significant issues: the tax cut, its size, Social Security, Medicare, Prescription -- et cetera, et cetera. It is obvious that Governor Bush does not intend to debate except the fewest number of times can get away with because that serves his political strategy. I'm not saying I wouldn't recommend that to him. I might. It does serve his political strategy to stay away from the facts. But that, by itself, is going become an issue.

What you should do, what media should do, is to put the pressure on both candidates as much as you can with all the scrutiny, with all the intensive you can do, keep raising the issue. If you think you have a better plan for America, governor, vice president, why don't you come and give the details to the American people? Just keep asking them. Make that the issue. Sooner or later the politicians will have to respond.

KING: We'll have Senator Baker respond as well. We'll be right back with Howard Baker and Mario Cuomo. They'll be with us for the rest of the program. We'll be including your calls.

This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: As governor, I've made difficult decisions and stood by them under pressure. I've been where the buck stops in business and in government. I've been a chief executive who sets an agenda, sets big goals, and rallies people to believe and achieve them.

I am proud of this record, and I am prepared for the work ahead.

If you give me your trust, I will honor it. Grant me a mandate, I will use it. Give me the opportunity to lead this nation, and I will lead.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I know one thing about the job of the president: It is the only job in the Constitution that is charged with the responsibility of fighting for all the people, not just the people of one state or one district, not just the wealthy or the powerful, all the people: especially those who need a voice, those who need a champion, those who need to be lifted up so they are never left behind. So I say to you tonight, if you entrust me with the presidency, I will fight for you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York -- he's at our studios in New York -- and Howard Baker, the former Senate majority leader and the Reagan chief of staff as well. And he's in our studios in Washington.

All right, Senator Baker, what -- what should the media do? What do we make of all of this? Is the governor right? Should we press them to get more into issues? It is our responsibility?

BAKER: As much as I respect Mario Cuomo I would not presume to try to tell the press what it needs do, and by the same token, I don't have any doubt that you're going to examine intensively every issue, every aspect of this campaign, and ventilate it thoroughly. And that's the way it ought to be and that's the way it will be.

But I also think, though, is this: I'm not running for president. I tried that once, not very successfully. And I'm not in a position to say what the American people want right now except they want to judge not only the issues but the person who's running for president.

And it may sound strange to say, but I am convinced over the years that people do listen to the issues, they make a judgment, but they also listen to the person. And there's a nonverbal communication between the American people and candidates for president and for other offices as well, and that is weighed in the balance as well. And they'll decide who can best take care of us in national security affairs, foreign policy, and domestic policy, the economy and the rest.

But it is not a neat little package of talking about just seven issues. It's the totality of the entire presentation.

KING: And Mario, does personality count?

CUOMO: Of course it counts. Incidentally, the senator is one of the best public servants we ever had. He would have made a great president. He would have made a pretty good Democrat, too, actually.

But the -- the -- I don't see any inconsistency between debating the issues, all of them -- look, you could have three debates on just the Social Security question. You could have two debates on the abortion issue. There are tremendously significant issues, and this doesn't prescind from making a judgment on people's personalities. How do they react? Are they affable, are they gentlemen? Can they -- now, here's Governor Bush saying that he's going to bring everybody together. That means he knows how to conduct a debate intelligently. Fine, let him demonstrate it. Let him come before the cameras.

This notion of personality, what he's really saying is look, if we can run against Clinton by saying honesty and integrity over and over, if I can be a nice guy in a generic sense without ever having to defend my record in Texas, tell them I brought people together -- well, Texas is a very conservative state. He brought a lot of conservatives together. I've never heard the governor make this statement. Remember this, ladies and gentlemen of America, when you vote for me, George W. Bush, you're going to get a Republican conservative president, and he's going to be there with Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert, two other Republican conservatives, and we're going to run this without any Democratic opposition, three Republican conservatives, and give you a Supreme Court to match. Let him tell us that and see what reaction he gets from the United States.

KING: Senator Baker, I think on that you may be allowed a response.

BAKER: Well, I must say I have an extraordinary respect for my friend Mario Cuomo, and we've done radio shows together and known each other a long time, but that is most lavishly and extravagantly stated position of -- of -- of a candidate, either candidate that I've heard in a long time.

We can't define what those issues are. The American people will make a judgment on the totality of those issues. And I cannot say what seven issues or 10 issues the American people want to hear most about or what they want to hear debated. What I can hear is we've got two good men -- and by the way, they're both good men. I watched Al Gore grow up, I served with his father in the Senate. But we've got two good men who are going to say what they would do as president: not just those issues, but the totality of how they will lead this country and indeed the entire free world.

KING: We're going to take a break, come back, ask the gentlemen about the role of the president in all of this, include your phone calls. We hope to be seeing lots of both of these terrific Americans on many shows in the races ahead. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Senator Baker, is President Clinton's character an issue in a race against Gore?

BAKER: Well, you know, from an intellectual viewpoint it probably shouldn't be, but it is. And in a way, the race between Bush and Gore in addition to being on the issues is going to be whether you change, whether you want to have a different crowd in charge in Washington.

Now, Mario Cuomo mentioned the speaker of the House and the majority leader of the Senate. I'm not prepared to say that they would not be a team that would carry out Governor Bush's or President Bush's program. I don't think you can judge on the basis of just what's happened so far. I think George Bush can lead the way Ronald Reagan led and the way he's capable of doing.

KING: But you think Bill Clinton is an issue?

BAKER: Well, I think he is, and I think -- I think it's inevitable. I don't think there's -- there's no more way that Al Gore can detach himself from the -- from the Clinton administration than a man can detach himself from his shadow. It's just there and it's just a fact. Now that will not be...

KING: Mario, does he -- I'm sorry.

BAKER: That will not be the dominant feature of the campaign, but that's going to be in people's minds as well. Do you want to change the way things are and the way they have been? And I think they will, and I think Bush is going to win.

KING: Mario, is -- is that the nature of it? He's attached to Lewinsky and all the rest, no matter what?

CUOMO: The -- well, the senator said it correctly, I think, or least I would agree. He said intellectually you shouldn't. But then why should we settle for something that's anti-intellectual? Why should we settle for something that's stupid? If intellectually, if it's a matter of intelligence, you should not hold Al Gore responsible for Monica Lewinsky. He didn't stand by the door and serve as a watch while the president was having a little hanky-panky. He had nothing of to do with it. And we all know that.

And so the senator's correct: Intellectually, that shouldn't be relevant. But then to say, but we think it is, you know, I think that's one of the reasons we have to have debates. Let's face that issue. Let's ask George Bush in a debate and Al Gore. How do you feel about your responsibility for the president's misconduct? We know you take credit -- and you should -- for his record, because you participated in it. Did you participate in his misconduct? Let's surface that issue instead of suffering something that we both concede would be anti-intellectual.

BAKER: Well, I didn't say it's going to be anti-intellectual and I certainly don't say it's stupid. I think it's going to be considered in the totality of all of the things that the people of this country consider when they make a judgment.

I think their judgment will be, we've had that long enough, let's try something else. And that's certainly the way I think the election will finally turn out.

CUOMO: But how is it relevant? How is it relevant that he had this problem with Lewinsky when you're trying to judge Al Gore, who I'm sure you would concede had nothing to do with it?

BAKER: Al Gore was vice president of the United States. He presumably, I assume, had no involvement whatever. But the fact remains that he is the legate of the Clinton administration.

And I'm not in a position -- in all candor, Mario, you're not in a position -- to say what the American people ought to consider. But I'm simply saying, I predict for you they will take that into account as they to the polls.

CUOMO: Well, they shouldn't.

KING: Sutton, Massachusetts. Let me get a call. Hello.

CALLER: Hi. Yes, I was wondering, my question is for Mr. Cuomo. At the -- at the convention, I heard Al Gore say that he wants to make changes and that there needs to be changes in the White House. And I was wondering, since he and President Clinton have been in office for the last eight years, what you think he met by that?

CUOMO: Al Gore said that there have to be changes?

CALLER: Yes.

CUOMO: Is that the question?

Well, there have to be a lot of changes. I think the position that the vice president is taking is, look, we had a great eight years. Everybody concedes that. And we did a lot of good things. We only recently produced this huge surplus, and there's a great deal more to do.

We have more wealthy people than ever before in our history, but we still have a lot of struggling middle-class people. The average wage is -- what? -- about $40,000? And we're importing 200,000 computer engineers at about $90,000 apiece for their jobs. Well, somebody has to correct that. We have to lift our working class.

Only one out of five are high skilled. We have a prescription drug problem. We have a Medicare problem. We have a Social Security problem.

And so what he's saying is, yes, we've done a lot of wonderful work but there's a lot more work to be done. And as President Bush pointed out when he ran, if you're going to change horses in midstream make sure you get one that's going in the same way, the right way. And that was, I think, the vice president's point.

KING: Is the difficulty here, Senator Baker, the fact that this country is in pretty good shape, and that certainly Governor Bush would not say, "Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?" as Reagan said about Carter? That would not be said.

BAKER: No...

KING: So how do you overcome that when you have a contented public?

BAKER: Well, I think that...

KING: Assuming they're contented.

BAKER: I think you do have a contented public from an economic standpoint. I think you also have a concerned public about the size and growth of the federal government. And I think that gets you back to the tax issue.

I don't think you'll find many people really who will say that they're over -- that they're undertaxed. This -- you know, the idea of the government deciding what to do with surplus is not what the people are thinking these days. They'd like a piece of that. But they still want to go forward with these programs, the existing programs, such as the ones they approve of and new ones as they may occur.

Let me say one thing, Larry, that I'd like to pitch into this debate. So far, just about the only things we've talked about are the issues du jour. That is the issues that are identified largely with the press and with the candidates, too, whether it's Social Security, whether it's Medicare, whether it's prescription drugs and the like. But they are going to be issues out there that ought to be serviced.

I have not heard -- serviced -- I have not heard a word spoken so far about foreign policy, that the most important thing to this country right now is its survival in a nuclear age. We and the Russians invented the nuclear age, and what we're really deciding now is whether we can live with it. And we've got to have some leadership in how that happens not only from our standpoint, but with a Russia that is...

KING: Well said.

BAKER: ... disarray.

KING: Now, Mario, I guess the stats would say...

CUOMO: I could not agree...

KING: You would agree with this, but the public appears not to...

CUOMO: Oh, I couldn't agree more with the senator. He's absolutely correct about foreign policy. He's absolutely correct about the whole missile problem. He's absolutely correct about what we ought to do about the southern half of the whole planet, you know, how we can help continents like Africa and those underdeveloped countries. That by itself is worth three or four debates, is it not? A subject as complicated as that.

KING: Let me get a break, and we'll be back with more, include some more phone calls as well for Howard Baker and Mario Cuomo. Andy Williams, you know, had quite a scare with his throat. He has not discussed it publicly. He will tomorrow night, right here. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: We could squander this moment, but our country would be the poorer for it. Instead, let's lift our eyes and see how wide the American horizon has become.

We're entering a new time. We're electing a new president. And I stand here tonight as my own man. And I want you to know me for who I truly am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: Our generation had the chance to reclaim some essential values, to show we have grown up before we grow old. But when the moment for leadership came, this administration did not teach our children. It disillusioned them.

They had their chance. They have not led. We will!

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back. We go to a call. Old Forge, Pennsylvania, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry.

KING: Hi.

CALLER: I'd like to ask both gentlemen what reason would they offer the American public for what amounts to a saturation series of debates when we're just about campaign weary since this started just about two years ago with New Hampshire, the Iowa caucuses, the whole process up to the convention. What purpose would a saturation series of debates serve at this point?

KING: Mario, you want to take that since you're the one -- or Howard, either one? Do you want to start?

BAKER: Let me say a word...

KING: OK. Let Howard go first, then Mario.

BAKER: Mario is exactly right, and it's relevant to this question when he says that the press must focus on the issues, new and old issues, and examine them carefully and publish them to the country so that people can make a judgment.

I agree with this lady. I must say, I am campaign weary, and the campaign season really hasn't begun yet. I don't guess that has much to do with whether you have two debates or five debates. But what I do say is that that the campaign itself, day in and day out, is going to illuminate the character and the issues on both candidates. And people finally will make a composite judgment on who ought to be president.

KING: Mario?

CUOMO: Well, there's all the difference in the world. I mean, obviously, you don't have to be a lawyer or even ever been in a courtroom to know it makes a big difference if you're up there alone describing what you say the truth is or if you're faced with an opponent who can cross-examine you and who can point out when you lapse or when you exaggerate. And that is the purpose of debate. So debates are different.

And madam, you used the word "saturation." If -- if you get weary of it, if the American people are willing to say, we don't want to hear about the tax cut, we don't want to know the details of what this will mean to our children, we're not interested in foreign policy, if you really believe that the American people would rather hear these guys tell the story on their own without being cross- examined, knowing that they're apt to leave important parts out and tell you only what's good for them, if you really think that's what we as a jury are willing to settle for we're not going to have a very good trial here.

KING: Let me get a break and come back with our remaining moments, get another call in, too. We'll be hearing lots from both of these distinguished gentlemen in the days and months ahead. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: St. Louis, Missouri, hello.

CALLER: Hello. With the recent news of the investigation of President Clinton going to a grand jury again, should at any point in the campaign Al Gore be required to state whether he would pardon the president under any circumstances for any offense?

KING: Should both candidates be asked that about a pardon? Governor Cuomo?

CUOMO: I think it's a relevant question. I think it's academic, but I think it's a relevant question, yes.

KING: Senator Baker?

BAKER: It is relevant. I don't know that it ought to be a central issue, but it's an inevitable issue that will be asked no doubt.

KING: It'll be asked.

Duluth, Georgia, hello...

CUOMO: I think -- didn't the president -- Howard, am I mistaken, didn't the president say -- or Larry -- didn't the president say he would never ask for a pardon?

KING: I asked that, and he said he wouldn't accept one.

CUOMO: Pardon me.

KING: Said he wouldn't accept one.

CUOMO: He wouldn't accept one.

KING: Duluth, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: This is for both gentlemen, especially Governor Cuomo. Governor Bush proposes a tax cut plan that would benefit those who pay most of the income taxes. CUOMO: Correct.

CALLER: What problem does he have with those people who pay most of the taxes getting to keep at least some of their tax money? Thank you and I will listen.

CUOMO: Yes. Well, when you say some of their tax money, you know, this line that I listen to with amusement that I hear constantly from the Republicans is "It's not the government's money; it's the people's money," and everybody cheers. That of course is true of the first dollar of taxes you pay. And if the theory is it's my money, you give nothing to the government.

The idea here is that we have, if you agree, great needs in this nation. The education system now, 54 million students in public schools, and those schools in many places are failing. That's a need that has to be met. Prescription drugs, Medicare, Social Security, the environment, infrastructure. And we have needs, and so we need money for those things.

If you give one 1.3 or 1.6, depending upon your accounting, trillion dollars back to taxpayers and give a large part of it to the people who don't need more money for health care, for education, for retirement, that doesn't make a lot of sense. We will give money back to the neediest people if we accept the Democratic plan, and we ask the wealthiest people, who are wealthier than they've ever been thanks to this good economy, to share.

Of course, we know that they gave most of the money, but if you gave most -- listen, if you gave the states like New York state back the money they gave to the federal treasury dollar for dollar, then a lot of Southern states would be punished. We share. We give much more to the federal government than we get back in New York state. That's the idea of democracy.

KING: Senator, how would you respond to the rich getting a break?

BAKER: It's an old issue, and the rich pay more taxes. But I don't know that I've ever really grasped the idea -- and I don't think we should grasp the idea -- that reduction in taxes ought to be based on need. It ought to be based on practical considerations of what best preserves the vitality of the economy, what is fairest to everyone.

But that brings me to another issue I'd like to add at this point.

KING: All right. We have a minute.

BAKER: All right. One of the things we really need to do in this campaign -- and I urge both candidates to do it -- is to talk about how we encourage small business, how we encourage entrepreneurial activity, how we create wealth instead of redistributing wealth.

KING: Do you agree with that, Mario?

CUOMO: I agree with the senator almost always, and it would make a great question for a debate.

KING: Another debate. I thank you both very much. Governor Mario Cuomo, the former Democratic Governor of New York, and Senator Howard Baker, the former Senate majority leader from Tennessee and chief of staff in the Ronald Reagan administration. We hope to be seeing them on this program often in the months ahead leading up to election. You won't get better election coverage or campaign coverage than you will right here at CNN.

Andy Williams tomorrow night is our special guest. Thanks for joining us. From Los Angeles, I'm Larry King. Good night.

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