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Inside Politics

Bush Campaign Defends New Republican Party Ad as 'Tongue in Cheek'; Democrats Disagree

Aired August 31, 2000 - 5:00 p.m. ET

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

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: The Bush team defends a new Republican Party ad attacking Al Gore, calling it "tongue in cheek." The Democrats see it differently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, I'm sorry to say, that Governor Bush's promise to change the tone of American politics has run into the reality of a troubled Bush-Cheney campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHAW: We will focus on the GOP's commercial swipe at Al Gore and whether campaign 2000 has now officially gone negative.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, this is INSIDE POLITICS with Judy Woodruff and Bernard Shaw.

SHAW: Thanks for joining us. Judy is off today.

Just a few hours ago, George W. Bush told Kentucky voters that, quote, "politics doesn't have to be ugly and mean." At about the same time, the Republican National Committee was unveiling its new ad attacking Al Gore and his credibility.

Our Brooks Jackson has more on the spot due to begin airing tomorrow, including its tone and whether it's truthful.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George W. Bush is allowing the Republican National Committee to release a negative, personal blast at Al Gore. Here it is, all of it:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

ANNOUNCER: There's Al Gore, reinventing himself on television again, like I'm not going to notice. Who's he going to be today?

The Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple? or the one who now promises campaign finance reform? Really, Al Gore, claiming credit for things he didn't even do. VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I took the initiative in creating the Internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON: The Republicans say the ad will air in 17 battleground states. It's obviously negative, but is it factual? Let's see.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

ANNOUNCER: The Al Gore who raises campaign money at a Buddhist temple?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON: Well, to be perfectly accurate, Gore himself never asked for money at the Hsi Lai Temple during that 1996 event. But Gore's friend, Maria Hsia, was later convicted of campaign finance violations relating to $60,000 in illegal donations to the Democratic National Committee. And Gore does split hairs by insisting that it was a finance-related event and not a fund-raiser. Altogether embarrassing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

ANNOUNCER: Al Gore, claiming credit for things he didn't even do.

GORE: I took the initiative in creating the Internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON: Wait, play that again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

GORE: I took the initiative in creating the Internet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON: Gore never said he invented the Internet, as he's widely misquoted, and, in fact, he did push government support for computer networking as far back as 1986, and he's widely crediting with coining the term "information superhighway." But he's still taken a ribbing for saying he took "the initiative," when his contribution was one of many.

(on camera): This is by no means the first negative ad. But candidates have been attacking mainly each other's policies on taxes, Social Security, Medicare. This ad attacks Gore's personal character, and that's a whole different thing.

Brooks Jackson, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: Now to the Bush campaign and its defense of that RNC ad. Here is our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the Bush campaign, the issue is credibility, "the gap," said one aide, "between what Al Gore says and what he does."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

ANNOUNCER: There's Al Gore, reinventing himself on television again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Democrats call it a negative, personal attack. George Bush viewed the ad over the Internet and approved. His staff calls it a tongue-in-cheek way to make an important point.

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: We are responding to $30 million worth of distortions and misrepresentations that the Democrats ran about Governor Bush's record in Texas, and this is our way of saying, "consider the source." The source of those negative attacks and distortions on Governor Bush's record is just not very credible.

CROWLEY: As the vice president's credibility is questioned over the airwaves, Bush drives it home on the ground. In suburban Toledo, celebrating the 100th school visit of his campaign, Bush was more aggressive, more pointed, as he challenged the word of his opponent.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: After seven- and-a-half years of empty rhetoric, I can understand why the young of America become disillusioned. No, it is time to put somebody in office who will do in office exactly what he tells the American people he intends to do, and that is what I am going to do should I become the president of the United States.

CROWLEY: Bush strategists call it Jujitsu, taking your opponent's attack and using it against him.

Al Gore criticizes the size of Bush's tax cut. Bush responds with questions about whether Gore would even deliver on his.

BUSH: In 1992, they campaign on a tax cut for the middle class. I remember the rhetoric very well. Nothing happened. Nothing happened in seven years. They have had time to provide relief for the middle class. They have had their chance. They have not led, and I will today.

CROWLEY: For Bush, the train of thought goes like this: Credibility is about leadership and leadership is what voters vote on, no matter what the issue.

BUSH: And I'm going to keep reminding American people, that it's one thing to give flowery speeches and to talk big about issues, but they've had a chance to lead, they've had a chance to get something done on prescription drugs and the Medicare program, for example, and they haven't performed. They have not performed, and it's time for new leadership.

And that's what the whole campaign is going to be about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Call it negative or call it aggressive, either way, the Bush campaign is showing all the signs of a campaign locked in a struggle for both the dialogue and the dynamic of this campaign -- Bernie.

SHAW: Candy, how much of the governor's diminution in the polls is a reason for airing this ad now?

CROWLEY: It's hard to ignore that this ad came out as the polls closed. Certainly, in the wake of the Democratic and Republican conventions, you're not going to get them to admit that.

They believe that the $30 million ad campaign that you heard them talk about that the DNC ran around the time of the Republican Convention was distorted. They believe it was misleading, they say that's their response to this. But, certainly, this is the kind of ad that one does run when the race gets close.

SHAW: Voters have indicated time and again they don't like negative advertising, and the governor is on record time and again as saying that he will not run a negative campaign.

Are the Bush people at all concerned about a possible voter backlash?

CROWLEY: Well, I think they've got to be concerned, Bernie. But I think that they believe that the nature of the ad, you know, you heard them describe it as, you know, sort of tongue-in-cheek, a little bit humorous, that that will draw some of the sting of it.

And they also think, on the personal side, that this is not a personal ad. That when you talk about somebody's credibility, that that does go to their leadership. So, they think that they have a defense for it, but you've got to be worried at any point that something's going to backfire, particularly when it's as controversial as this one.

SHAW: More such ads in the works?

CROWLEY: If this one works, sure. But, you know, Bernie, as we get closer to the November election, you're going to see increasingly more aggressive ads on both sides. So, sure, there's more in the works.

SHAW: Candy Crowley, with the latest from Louisville, thanks very much.

Well, the Democrats are trying to turn the tables on their opponents, charging that that new RNC ad actually calls Bush's credibility into question.

CNN's Pat Neal is traveling with the Gore campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAT NEAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Vice President Al Gore stayed on his health care message in Seattle and left running mate Joe Lieberman to take on Republicans for launching a personal attack.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, I'm sorry to say that Governor Bush's promise to change the tone of American politics has run into the reality of a troubled Bush-Cheney campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

Because these new attack ads break his promise not to launch personal attacks in this campaign, and they drag us back to the worst politics of the past. It seems to me today that Governor Bush has, sadly, changed his tune about changing the tone.

NEAL: The Gore camp says Bush is reprising his GOP primary tactics, pointing out that Bush went negative on John McCain after McCain's upset victory in New Hampshire. Gore aides say Bush is feeling the pressure of Gore's improved poll numbers.

And to keep the pressure on, Gore focused on issues he thinks wins with voters. In the last stop of a four-day concentration on health care, Gore detailed his call to let Americans have more say in their medical coverage.

GORE: We need a meaningful, real, enforceable patients' bill of rights in this country.

NEAL: Lieberman challenged Bush to support the same.

LIEBERMAN: Their plan leaves out more than 135 million Americans, and that's just plain wrong.

NEAL: The Gore campaign began airing ads on the issue in 16 key states.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, GORE CAMPAIGN AD)

GORE: I'm telling you, we need a patients' bill of rights to take the medical decisions away from the HMOs and insurance companies and give them back to the doctors and the nurses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEAL: Health care is a top issue with voters, especially swing voters, who may decide the election. Nearly one-third of Washington state voters say they're independents.

(on camera): The Gore campaign is enthused. Their numbers are up across the country, including here in Washington, where the race had been tight. Gore leads Bush here by seven percentage points. Washington has voted Democratic the last three elections and Gore wants to keep it that way.

Pat Neal, CNN, Seattle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And we're joined now by Bush campaign press secretary Mindy Tucker and Gore adviser Ron Klain.

Mindy Tucker, are the vice president's rising poll numbers one of the reasons for airing this RNC ad?

MINDY TUCKER, BUSH CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: No. Actually the vice president's credibility problem. The fact he says a lot and does not much is the reason this ad is run. We have a problem with the fact that the vice president keeps promising things like tax cuts, prescription drugs, health care, and he doesn't follow through on any of it, and that is a very important issue to the American people. They need to know that once again they'll be electing somebody, if they elect Al Gore, they'll be electing someone who says one thing and never follows up on it. It's a very important issue to the American people. They need to be able to trust the people they're electing into office.

SHAW: Ron Klain, has your man failed to deliver on promises?

RON KLAIN, GORE ADVISER: Well, no, and of course the Bush ad doesn't talk about the issue. Look, this is an ad that CNN and the Associated Press today called a personal negative attack, and it's a sign of desperation on the part of the Bush campaign.

The credibility issue here is Governor Bush's credibility. Just yesterday, for the 12th time in over a month, Governor Bush said there would be no personal attacks in this campaign. And 24 hours later, I guess because of failing poll numbers, he broke that promise and launched this personal negative attack.

TUCKER: What Ron forgets to point out...

KLAIN: Mindy, let me finish. I let you finish.

TUCKER: Go ahead.

KLAIN: Look, the bottom line is this, last week, Governor Bush admitted he couldn't explain his tax cut plan. This week, the Medicaid system in Texas is found to be illegal. The SAT scores are falling in Texas. The job training system in Texas is under attack. And so what does Governor Bush do, breaks his promise and launches a personal negative attack like this.

SHAW: OK, let's get a response from Mindy, and then I have a question.

TUCKER: What you just heard is the reason that that is run. The DNC has spent millions of dollars running negative attack ads that nobody seemed important to report against Governor Bush. They've distorted his record here in the state of Texas, and it's not fair. Those ads -- and Governor Bush always said, he said, I do not want to run a negative campaign, but I will respond. He is responding, the RNC is responding, to millions of dollars of 10 negative attack ads from the DNC.

Ron Klain launched a plethora of negative attacks just now in this piece misstating the governor's record on things, and that is what we're responding to. It's very hard to have a substantive debate on issues when the other side does nothing but distort the facts, so here we are. We're bringing up this credibility. It's a very important issue. People need to know that Al Gore is not always saying what's actually the truth.

SHAW: Ron Klain, do you contend that the DNC ads ought not be answered?

KLAIN: Oh, well the DNC's ads Should be answered. We've talked about Governor Bush's record in Texas. I invite Governor Bush to defend why Texas is 49th out of 50 in children's health care, has the worst air quality in the nation. I welcome them to defend it. They want to attack our record in the past seven and a half years, what we've done to turn this country around. That's fine, too. But this is a different sort of attack, as I think Brooks Jackson noted.

SHAW: Well, let me ask you this...

KLAIN: It's a personal, negative attack. And no matter how many ways Mindy slices it, that's the truth, and it violates Bush's promise yesterday that there would be no personal attacks.

SHAW: OK, Ron Klain, both you and your opponent made two points twice, maybe three times, so I want to cover some more territory.

KLAIN: Sure.

SHAW: But my question to you is, what are you going to do about it?

KLAIN: Well, I think what we're going to do about it is what we did today, which is continue to talk about the issues that people care about. A patients' bill of rights -- Al Gore is for it -- an enforceable patients' bill of rights for all Americans; George Bush wants to sign one that leaves over hundred million Americans out.

TUCKER: Not true. Not true.

KLAIN: Those are the real issues in this campaign.

I wish Governor Bush would agree to debate us in primetime on those issues and take those issues to the American people.

SHAW: Mindy Tucker?

TUCKER: I can't wait to. What we will be able to do is tell people that Governor Bush signed into law one of the toughest patient protection laws in the country here in Texas, he said he wants to do the same thing on the federal level, as long as it doesn't supersede what good states have already done, like we've done here in Texas.

You've just heard a very good example of why we shouldn't trust Al Gore, his campaign staff and himself. He distorts Governor Bush's record at every turn. He wants to -- he says he wants to fight on the issues, but when it comes down to it, he knows that he can't win on the truth.

SHAW: Mindy Tucker, is the vice president's character a prime target?

TUCKER: It's his credibility, Bernie. It's the fact that this man will stand up and say, I want to give tax cuts to every American. Yet when his plan comes out, or after they get into office, he and Clinton both raised taxes on the middle class. He says, I want to pass prescription drugs, yet they've had seven years to do it, and they haven't. It's just -- it's credibility; it's the fact that you need to be able to believe what people are telling you on the campaign trail.

SHAW: Mr. Klain?

KLAIN: Well, I think, again, I don't know how many misleading statements there are on that one. The fact of the matter is we did cut taxes, we're fighting for prescription drug relief, against the big drug companies, which Governor Bush has lined up with.

TUCKER: Which Joe Lieberman is taking campaign donations from.

KLAIN: Mindy, the bottom line is this...

TUCKER: You can't have it both ways, Ron.

KLAIN: The person who's trying to have it both ways is George Bush, who's lined up with the drug companies, lined up with the HMOs, fighting against change that Al Gore wants to bring to America.

TUCKER: That's why he passed the...

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER: ... all over the country? That's why he did that?

(CROSSTALK)

KLAIN: ... wants to launch these personal, negative attacks. That's all your campaign is about.

SHAW: Can I ask you two a very innocent question?

KLAIN: Please.

SHAW: Will your candidates debate as vigorously as you two? If so, when? TUCKER: Absolutely, we've already said we're happy to do three presidential debates, two vice presidential debates, and we look forward to finalizing those and letting the American people hear a real thoughtful discussion of the issues.

SHAW: Wait a minute, let me get in here and ask Mindy this: What about the site in Boston which the governor apparently does not like?

TUCKER: I don't know about any of the discussion on sites. We have people that are in Washington this week meeting with the various people. We've received 53 different various invitations, and we're happy to look at each one of them and find the best possible venues for the American people to hear a thoughtful debate on the issues.

SHAW: Ron Klain?

KLAIN: Al Gore's accepted the proposal of the bipartisan debate commission for three nationally televised primetime debates on all the broadcast networks. George Bush is not willing to accept that proposal for some reason I can't understand, unless he's unwilling to defend his tax cut plan, his prescription drug lack of a plan, his plans on HMOs. I don't why he won't pursue what his father did, what Bob Dole did, and accept the proposal of the Bipartisan Debate Commission.

TUCKER: It's much like policy, Ron. You guys think status quo. You think automatically, we should just accept the three commission debates. You can't think outside the box. You do that on policy issues. We're willing to look at all the different options. We have new technology. We have lots of options. We're willing to look at all 53 invitations and say, what's the best thing for the American people? What three debates will give them the best venue?

KLAIN: The best thing for the American people is to have debates seen by everyone on all the networks, and Governor Bush is running from that for some reason that...

TUCKER: I agree, you want primetime debates, you want people to see them.

SHAW: Hold on, hold on, wait a minute, hold it. We're fast running out of time. Now you just accused the governor of running from something. His spokesperson has just said he's willing to do three primetime debates.

TUCKER: We want primetime debates.

KLAIN: What he has not accepted is primetime debates broadcast on all the networks under the proposal of the Nonpartisan Debate Commission. We would like to see what Governor Bush wants to propose. The fact of the matter is, there is...

SHAW: OK, let her respond to that, because we're fast out of time. TUCKER: What we have said is we're going to do three debates. We look forward to the opportunity to debate in primetime. We want everybody in America to be able to see these debates. We think the more they hear about Governor Bush and his ideas, the more they're going to like him. We welcome the opportunity.

KLAIN: Well, you have a chance to accept the opportunity. That would be the first step, Mindy.

TUCKER: We have 53 chances, we have 53 chances, and we'd like to be able to choose the best three venues for the American people.

KLAIN: One would be a good start. One would be a good start.

SHAW: Well, folks, I'm going to leave you as you discuss this off the air. We've run out of time. But thanks very much to Mindy Tucker of the Bush campaign and Ron Klain of the Gore campaign. We'll see you again on the trail.

KLAIN: Thanks very much.

SHAW: You're quite welcome.

And still ahead on here INSIDE POLITICS, ads, rhetoric, and issues. David Broder and Bob Novak on these latest skirmishes in the battle for the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Joining us now, David Broder of the "Washington Post" and Bob Novak of the "Chicago Sun Times."

Gentlemen, you just heard the debate between the two spokespersons for the campaigns. The Brits would say: Things are starting to hot up in this American presidential campaign.

Dave Broder, first to you, and your assessment of where we are right now with this campaign.

DAVID BRODER, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think what we heard in the last few minutes is classic campaign issues that don't really reach the voters very much. You got people arguing about whether or not an ad is a personal negative ad. You got people arguing about who does or does not want to debate.

I think the voters are way beyond both of those kinds of issues. And they're interested in what those folks have to say about substantive policy. And they started out pretty well on that. I thought both Gore and Bush delivered pretty well on the substance in the past ten days or two weeks. But now it has turned into a typical cat fight, and I don't think it helps either one of them.

SHAW: Bob Novak?

ROBERT NOVAK, CNN "CROSSFIRE": You have to remember, Bernie, that most people have made up their mind about this election pretty firmly. So we're talking about a very small number of Americans who can't figure out whether they want to vote for Al Gore or George W. Bush. And what are they going to decide it on? Are they really going to decide it on who has the better drug-prescription plan? I got a feeling that most of the people worried about that issue are going to vote for Al Gore.

Are they really going to do it on the basis of whether they think the tax cut is good? I think people who think they need a tax cut are going to vote for George W. Bush. I think they're going to end up deciding which of these people looks more like a president, looks more like the kind of person they want to lead the country.

And I tend to agree with David in that respect that I don't think these kinds of fights -- as much as they pay attention to them -- really do either side very much good. But they are going to go negative, because that's the way political campaigns are.

SHAW: Your assessment of the prime issues being pushed by Governor Bush this week after a week last week which he was off balance by the Gore attacks? The governor has been talking about education. His running mate, Dick Cheney, has been talking about the United States alleged military unpreparedness -- the level of preparedness.

And the vice president has been talking about prescription drugs -- as you alluded to -- and health care. Where are they going with these issues? Are these the kinds of issues that you, David, say the American voters want to hear discussed, and that you, Bob Novak, say they have already been ingested by voters, and voters have virtually made up their minds?

BRODER: Well, Bernie, there is no question that the prescription-drug issue is a real concern. I've been talking to probably 20 different congressional campaigns in the last three days on the phone. And it strikes me that in every one of them, Republicans and Democrats are telling me that they are being asked about prescription drugs by the voters that they are seeing face-to- face. That is a real issue.

I am a little skeptical -- and I'm interested in what Bob thinks --about whether the defense preparedness issue has the kind of salience in this international environment that it had when we were in the Cold War. I think Republicans in the past were able to make very effective use of that issue, because people really were worried when they woke up in the morning about whether we could match up against the Soviet Union or not.

I'm not sure that people are too worried about who we match up against now with the Cold War over.

SHAW: How about that, Bob?

NOVAK: I agree 100 percent with David. I don't think it's a very good issue. I don't think people are worried about our enemies. I think a better issue would be what in the world are we doing in Bosnia and Kosovo? But since Governor Bush approved those interventions, it is very hard for him to criticize them in any great extent now. I don't think that's an issue. The drug-prescription issue is a defensive question for Governor Bush.

The staffers on the Gore campaign say: Boy, talk about -- please, make my day, talk about Medicare. That's our issue. And they have a certain point. I think there are arguments about -- that can be made against the Gore plan. But that is a Democratic issue. I know it's not popular right now. And I don't think it's really taken seed with the Bush people, but I do believe that tax cuts is an issue he ought to be stressing.

And I have talked to some very senior Republican senators who are very upset that Governor Bush is not talking more about using the surplus for tax cuts for everybody. And I don't think he has handled that issue very well at all so far. And a lot of other people in the Republican Party don't think so either.

SHAW: Before we are chased by the clock, one quick question: Who's carrying his weight better on the ticket: Dick Cheney or Joe Lieberman?

David?

BRODER: Well, I think at this point you have to say that Lieberman is much more comfortable and much more effective on the stump than Dick Cheney has been. The reports that I've been hearing about Cheney's campaigning have not been out with him since the convention. But what I'm hearing is: He is being almost perfunctory in his speeches -- they are very brief -- and reticent about getting in and mixing into crowds.

Lieberman is a natural-born politician, and he's showing up to good effect at this point.

NOVAK: I think David is essentially correct. I thought that Senator -- Mr. Cheney was not very good on the Sunday talk shows last Sunday. But the good news for the Republicans is these -- this race is not going to have any impact of any serious effect on who's elected president. It's not Lieberman versus Cheney; it's Gore versus Bush. And that's a very close race as far as I can see, with hardly any advantage for either side at the moment.

SHAW: Bob Novak, David Broder, thanks very much.

And there is much more ahead on this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

Still to come:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Republicans defend the ad by saying it's meant to be humorous, tongue-in-cheek. Yes, but it's also venom-in-tongue.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHAW: Our Bill Schneider on the latest maneuver in the presidential ad war. Plus: Will voters soon see a Bush-Gore debate? We are going to ask Janet Brown of the Debates Commission about the negotiations. And later: Is the Big Apple ready for Geraldo Rivera, the candidate?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: And we will have more of this day's political news coming up. But now, a look at some other top stories.

Quite a rescue a little more than an hour ago off the coast of New Jersey. A pilot of a military F-16 fighter jet safely ejected before the aircraft crashed into the ocean about a mile and a half off Atlantic City, New Jersey. The single-seat aircraft known as the Fighter Falcon was on a training mission. The cause of the crash not known.

A French report on last month's deadly crash of the Concorde does not say exactly what caused the landing accident, however it does say the plane's second engine did not fail. France's Accident Investigation Bureau confirms the chain of events was triggered when one of the plane's tires blew out.

A college student is charged with concocting a phony press release that caused big headaches for the high-tech company Emulex. Agents arrested 23-year-old Mark Jakob today at his home in El Segundo, California. Jakob is a former employee of Internet Wire, which distributed the false news about turmoil at Emulex. Jakob is charged with securities fraud.

More bad news for Bridgestone/Firestone and the Ford Motor Company. Venezuela's Consumer Protection Agency wants criminal charges filed against both. Union workers are threatening to strike, meantime, at nine Firestone plants if a contract is not reached by midnight tomorrow. And the government says 88 deaths are now associated with the faulty tires, along with some 250 injuries. Today Jacques Nasser, CEO of the Ford Motor Company, changed his mind and said he will testify at next week's congressional hearings before the House Commerce Committee.

President Clinton took out his veto pen today, rejecting a Republican bill that would have phased out taxes on large estates at the time of death. Already, the president's move is making political waves.

CNN's Kate Snow reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A few moments ago, this bill suffered the inevitable fate of a snowball in August.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Clinton said the Republican estate-tax bill was part of a snowball of tax cuts; as it rolls along, Mr. Clinton said, the overall package keeps getting bigger and bigger, and eventually would lead to an avalanche that would bury the country in a mountain of debt.

CLINTON: This bill is wrong. It is wrong on grounds of fairness. It is wrong on grounds of fiscal responsibility.

SNOW: But Republicans had been just as fierce in arguing to get rid of the estate tax, insisting that tax is putting family farms out of business. They even delivered the bill to the White House on the back of a tractor.

The Republican-sponsored bill would have phased out estate taxes over the next 10 years at a cost of $105 billion. The White House says it would cost hundreds of billions more in the long run and would benefit only the wealthiest Americans. On the campaign trail, that argument was rejected by George W. Bush.

BUSH: That's the same rhetoric -- it's the same rhetoric as my opponent. Our plans only help the wealthy, they claim. It's class warfare.

SNOW: Bush says he would have signed the bill. Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman took the White House position.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When you've got a surplus, doesn't it make sense to give most to those who have least and least to those who have most?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: President Clinton says he would favor an estate tax bill that would be more of a compromise, one that would be targeted toward small family farms and businesses. He says he plans to work with Congress on that. Meantime, though, Republicans on Capitol Hill planning a vote next week to try to override the presidential veto.

Kate Snow, CNN live, the White House.

SHAW: Thank you, Kate.

And when INSIDE POLITICS return, an update on the money angle of the TV ad wars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: As we reported at the top of this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, the presidential campaign ad war appears to have entered a new, and negative, phase.

Our Bill Schneider is here to mark the milestone -- mark.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: OK. Well, we knew it had to happen; we just didn't know it had to happen now, before Labor Day, but it's happening. The first personal attack ad of the 2000 presidential campaign is all set to run as early as tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The candidates promised it wouldn't happen.

GORE: I am not going to say a single, negative personal thing about my opponents. You will not hear that from me in this entire campaign.

SCHNEIDER: Well, as it happens, the Democratic Party is planning to run an ad attacking Bush's policy in Texas toward low-income children on Medicaid. Negative, yes. But the ad is not really personal. It attacks Bush's record.

Governor Bush made a broader promise just this week in Pennsylvania, one that's central to his campaign.

BUSH: I am going to work to change the tone in Washington, D.C.

SCHNEIDER: But today, the Republican Party unveiled an ad that doesn't exactly elevate the tone of politics. It's negative and it's intensely personal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, RNC AD)

ANNOUNCER: There's Al Gore, reinventing himself on television again, like I'm not going to notice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: This week, when an on-line questioner asked Bush whether his campaign would run negative ads, his answer was a little, well, Clintonian.

BUSH: I guess it all depends on the definition of negative ads. I think comparative ads are fair.

SCHNEIDER: Nothing comparative about that ad.

BUSH: I think you can win a campaign without tearing someone -- personally attacking an opponent.

SCHNEIDER: Sounds pretty personal to scoff at Al Gore for "reinventing himself again" and "claiming credit for things he didn't even do."

Republicans defend the ad by saying it's meant to be humorous, tongue in cheek. Yes, but it's also venom in tongue. By allowing the ad to run, Bush risks being called a hypocrite.

Voters hate negative ads. By three to one, they say they have no place in a campaign.

So why is Bush doing this? Because Gore has caught up with him and because Gore is most vulnerable, not on issues, but on character and trustworthiness. When Gore separated himself from President Clinton at the Democratic convention, his personal liabilities diminished. That's why Bush has to run negative ads. He's got to get Gore's negatives back up again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In 1988, another vice president, who just happened to be Bush's father, ran a tough negative campaign against another governor, Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts. Dukakis didn't fight back. Bush is fighting back preemptively. He doesn't want to be another Dukakis.

SHAW: Thank you, Bill Schneider.

And joining us now to talk more about ads and the strategy in this presidential race, David Peeler, of Competitive Media Reporting.

David, what does this RNC ad gain?

DAVID PEELER, PRESIDENT & CEO, COMPETITIVE MEDIA REPORTING: Well Bernie, you know, we have been waiting all year for the Buddhist temple ad to run. And here it is before Labor Day and they have got the ad on air.

And I think that it's, from a tactical standpoint, not a bad tactic. You know, what is going to happen is, you are going to go into a long Labor Day weekend. This add is going to be picked up on all the news show. It's going to be run over and over and over. And so people are going to see this ad and it's going to be talked about. It's not just going to be an advertising message. So, from a tactical standpoint, it's probably a good time to get this message and get that ad released.

SHAW: Traditionally, Labor Day marks the unofficial start of a presidential campaign. Is that the case with the ad campaigns as well?

PEELER: Well, not any more, Bernie.

You know, we saw the Bush campaign in the week after the Democratic Convention -- which was August 20th through the 28th -- spend over four million dollars in 20 states. Those are obviously the swing states, where the battleground is going to be fought. And we also saw the RNC heavy-up some spending in nine of those states.

They spent another half-a-million dollars. That is before today's ad that went up on air. So, you know, the ad wars in this political environment -- it's a very, very aggressive tactic and it's an early tactic. You know...

SHAW: David Peeler -- Go ahead. Sorry for the interruption.

PEELER: Well, it wouldn't be fair to just talk about the Republican side, unless we talked about the Democratic side too. And look at what Al Gore has done. Al Gore has spent about $2.6 million in 16 states -- a lot of the same states, obviously. He didn't have to spend as much coming out of the campaign, because he could bask in the convention glow and the free media coverage that he got around the boat trip.

But, you know, here is the issue, Bernie. Today alone we saw, nationwide, 85 new political commercials break. Between now and November, that's going to be the pace of advertising that you're going to see all political campaigns -- particularly the national candidates -- involved in.

SHAW: Sounds historic to me.

David Peeler, Competitive Media Reporting, thanks very much.

PEELER: Thanks, Bernie.

SHAW: And just ahead: finding the right format for a televised debate -- a look at the issues for the Bush campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: Texas Governor George W. Bush has not formally committed to any scheduled campaign debates, including the three offered by the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

Tomorrow, Janet Brown, the executive director of the commission, will meet with representatives of the Bush campaign. She joins us now.

Will there be three debates between the presidential candidates?

JANET BROWN, EXEC. DIRECTOR, COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES: I believe there will, Bernie. That is the proposal we put on the table last January, and it's the proposal that the governor offered about two weeks ago, saying he wanted to debate three time at the presidential candidate level and two at the vice presidential.

As you are probably aware, the Gore campaign has sent the commission a letter accepting our proposal, and expressing interest in debating five times total.

So we are looking forward to implementing the plan that we have that has been in the works, as you know, for upwards of a year now.

SHAW: You say that you are looking forward to implementing your plan. But indications are that the governor does not like the Boston location, that it's too close to the Harvard University. What are you hearing about that?

BROWN: Well, you know, yesterday, in one of the news reports, I forget which one it was, there was a statement from the Bush campaign that they had no problem with any of the venues. As you know, we are nonpartisan. That kind of nonpartisanship extends to our site selection. All of the campuses that were selected in January have been working with us now for upwards of a year now on their debate. I don't see any problem with the sites. I hope neither campaign does. We have never had any problem with the sites on the merits in the past.

SHAW: Were a problem with one site to arise, would you change a location. For example, if indeed Boston is a problem for the governor of Texas, would you change that location to accommodate him?

BROWN: As I said, we have never had a problem with candidates and the sites. And I look forward to talking to the Bush campaign about this. And talking about it in some detail.

But I'm not going to say right now what we would do if we had to look at different sites.

SHAW: Right I understand that you would not negotiate on this program because you want to meet face-to-face with the representatives of both campaigns. However, there is one sticking point that George W. Bush does not like. He does not like a formal format with a podium, and the candidates behind a podium, the moderator asking gotcha questions. He prefers an informal setting. He has let it be known that he especially likes the "LARRY KING LIVE" format, where you sit around a round table. What about that? do you have any wiggle room in formats?

BROWN: Bernie, you know because you have watched the commission since our start in 1987 that this is the first organization that has sponsored debates that has tried to find out what the public likes and what they don't like. We've watched our format evolve a lot over the years and we have gone, as you know, from a panel of questioners to a single moderator, precisely to avoid the temptation of anyone trying to go into the gotcha mode. We agree that that is not helpful to the public and that is precisely what we don't try to do.

We have used single moderator exclusively in '96, half the time in '92. Our proposal for this fall is single moderator for all the debates; town meeting, where citizens are asking the questions in one; and specifically, we did call for one of these debate to be held where the candidate are seated with the moderator because we do think that will loosen up the conversation.

SHAW: And what about the, you mentioned two formats: one a town meeting, where registered voters ask questions of the candidates; the other, where the candidates are seated around the table with a moderator in an informal setting; what's the third?

BROWN: I should think one with traditional podiums would be a good idea, with a single moderator asking the questions.

The American public says that they would like very much in debates to see more time devoted to fewer issues, with minimal participation by anyone other than the candidates.

SHAW: Speaking of candidates: Ralph Nader, the Green Party; Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party. Will they have a place in your sponsored debates with Bush and Gore? BROWN: Federal Election Commission requires that debates sponsors have guidelines by which they determine who to invite to the debates. We have guidelines. We have had every year. Ours, for this cycle, were announced in January. They will be applied in late September.

As you know, in any given cycle, there are upwards of a hundred people running. And they will be applied to anyone whose name appears on least one state ballot or who is registered with the FEC as a candidate. So we won't -- we won't be in a position to comment on that until later next month.

SHAW: And of course, 15 percent of polling status in a collection of five various polls?

BROWN: That is exactly right.

SHAW: One quicky before you leave us, Janet Brown. Tell our audience, very candidly, why this debate over debates right now? Are these guys jockeying for position?

BROWN: Bernie, the debates are properly a source of a great deal of attention by the media, by the public, by the campaigns. As I mentioned earlier today, we are getting 400 calls a day in our office from a variety of different groups that are very interested in this. I am glad there is that interest. And I am glad that -- I anticipate a big audience watching these this fall.

And we look forward to talking to the campaigns about the details.

SHAW: Janet Brown, executive director the Commission, thank you.

And when we return: Could City Hall be the next stop for this man: Geraldo Rivera?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHAW: You know, that New York Senate race is perhaps the most watched in the country. But the next mayoral race in the Big Apple could attract a great deal of attention as well, especially, if the high-profile, sometimes-controversial talk show host and journalist Geraldo Rivera throws his hat into the ring.

Brian Palmer has our story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN PALMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No stranger to the limelight, Geraldo Rivera sparred with neo-Nazis on his talk show in 1988, then continued taping with a broken nose. He exposed mistreatment in a mental health facility. He's reported from war zones. He has even filled in as a CNN host.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

GERALDO RIVERA, TALK SHOW HOST: Welcome back -- Geraldo Rivera for Larry King.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PALMER: Would experiences like these qualified Geraldo to be mayor of New York City? The award-winning reporter, consumer-rights advocate, Latino activist and licensed lawyer says he might run as a third-party candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "TODAY")

RIVERA: I think that the city needs someone from the outside. I'd be an independent. I would not be a Republican or a Democrat. I would finance the campaign myself, if I chose -- choose to do this. And my whole campaign would be to bring the city back together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PALMER: From average New Yorkers: a mixed bag of opinions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's a great talk show host, but I think he would make as good of a mayor as I would make. I mean, I would do it just for the publicity and the fame. I think that is why he is doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I would have to hear what he has to say. I am open-minded.

PALMER: Professional politicians, however, are not exactly welcoming the famous newcomer.

MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: I am not going to comment on the mayoral race of next year.

PALMER: The city's current mayor questions Geraldo's seriousness.

GIULIANI: I think this is probably more of the let's-see-if-we- can-get-publicity season, rather than a serious candidate.

PALMER: Ralph Nader, a third-party presidential candidate, like Geraldo, fought for consumer rights. But Nader is not exactly endorsing Geraldo either.

RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, Geraldo has been a good journalist, but I think Mark Green will be the best mayor of New York.

PALMER: Mark Green thinks so too and offers his potential opponent some cautionary words.

MARK GREEN, NEW YORK PUBLIC ADVOCATE: He may find though that he has a hard time climbing the wall of skepticism that voters have about people in entertainment or journalism crossing the isle and going into politics.

PALMER: But Geraldo, who was uncharacteristically unavailable to the media for further comment, obviously thinks he can make the transition from journalist to politician.

Brian Palmer, CNN. New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHAW: And that's all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS.

And, of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's allpolitics.com.

And this programming note: The Bush and Gore education plans: Does either one merit a passing grade? And that's the topic tonight on "CROSSFIRE," with guests Congressmen Harold Ford and Ken Blackwell. That's starting at 7:30 Eastern time.

I'm Bernard Shaw.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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