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Larry King Live

Is George Bush Playing Politics With Presidential Debates?

Aired September 5, 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: neck-and-neck. Less than nine weeks, we will handicap the jockeying for advantage in the 2000 presidential race.

Joining us from Nashville, Gore deputy campaign manager for communication Mark Fabiani. From Scranton, Pennsylvania, Bush campaign communications director Karen Hughes -- and then: a political roundtable with former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell in New York, and in Washington, former Republican vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, now co-director of Empower America -- best-selling author, Pulitzer-Prize-winning, assistant managing editor of the "Washington Post" Bob Woodward -- plus CNN senior political analyst and syndicated columnist Bill Schneider.

They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We begin with our directors of communications for the campaign. We will start with Karen Hughes in Scranton.

Karen, the Commission on Debates has asked all the candidates representatives to a meeting this week to iron out this whole thing of how they are going to do them: commission debates, other kind of debates. Are you sending representatives to that meeting?

KAREN HUGHES, BUSH CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, Larry, I'm not aware that there's been a meeting scheduled at this point. But I'm glad you brought up this subject. You just told me before this that you have got a 40-year history hosting debates. I saw on your show -- I think most -- many Americans saw on your show Vice President Al Gore commit to you, Larry King, that he would come. He asked you to host a debate.

He said: Larry, I accept. I enthusiastically accept. I'll be on your show. Governor Bush has now accepted a debate on the LARRY KING LIVE show on October 3. Governor Bush intends to be right here on your show, Larry, on October 3. And I think it's a test of credibility for Vice President Gore. He said he would accept the debate when it was politically convenient for him to do so. And we -- the American people hope their next president will keep his word and will be a person of their word and will be here.

As he said, he accepts your debate. And we hope he will be here on October 3.

KING: Mark, to your knowledge, has the commission scheduled a meeting and asked the representatives to come this week?

MARK FABIANI, GORE DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: The commission has asked everyone to come to a meeting. We immediately accepted. We think that sitting down with the commission, which has run these debates in a bipartisan way since 1988, is the way to negotiate a solution. We would love to do debates.

We would love to do debates on your show, Larry, on other shows. But we need to do the commission debates, because they're the only debates that are broadcast universally across all the networks; 270 million viewers saw the debates by the commission in 1992. We need to give Americans the opportunity to see these debates. And then we will do these other debates, including on your show, Larry.

KING: Do you know, Mark -- do you know...

HUGHES: Larry, that -- what Mark...

KING: Hold it one second, Karen.

Mark, do you know when the commission has asked the representatives to meet with them?

FABIANI: They asked us Sunday night to meet with them. We accepted immediately.

KING: And when is that?

FABIANI: And I believe they are waiting for an answer from Governor Bush's campaign. As far as I know, they haven't received one. So maybe Karen can help schedule that meeting tonight.

KING: Karen, has there been an invitation?

HUGHES: Larry, what you -- I do not know about a formal invitation, Larry. I did hear from other members of the media today that the commission had asked us to come and discuss debates. And as I think you know, Larry, Governor Bush has accepted a modern-day record number of three bates, including one of the commission debates.

He would like to see -- let the American people see the candidates in a lot of different settings. The commission debates tend to be very formal, very structured, very canned. The candidate has a 60-second sound byte. We think the American people would benefit from coming on LARRY -- seeing the candidates on LARRY KING LIVE in a more unstructured and freewheeling exchange to see how they think on their feet.

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: We also have accepted a debate on "Meet the Press," where Tim Russert asks very tough questions.

KING: All right, let...

HUGHES: And so we think the American people would benefit from a series of different exchanges. It's interesting, what Mark is really saying is, what Vice President Gore didn't really mean he accepted when he said he accepted the debate. This is a fundamental question of credibility. When he thought it was politically convenient, he said: Larry, I accept. There was no fine print. There were no conditions.

It's like a lot of his plans, his tax-cut plan. When you look at the fine print, you don't get what you hear.

KING: All right, Mark...

FABIANI: Yes, Larry.

KING: Karen.

Now, Mark, you want to respond to that, that that was a commitment made and not met, is what she's saying?

FABIANI: We've been trying to schedule debates since March. Governor Bush has been avoiding them. Now on the eve of the commission debates, which will be broadcast universally, all of a sudden he wants to debate. And we do too. All we're saying is: Let's do the commission debates, which were good enough for Governor Bush's father. They're were good enough for Bob Dole. They have been good enough for every candidate since 1988.

Let's do those. And let's do the other debates: on your show and on other shows. We are more than willing to do that. We just don't know why Governor Bush doesn't want to do the debates which will be seen by the most people.

KING: At this point, is it negotiable?

Karen, are -- is somebody going to sit down? I mean, what -- where do we go from here?

HUGHES: Well, Larry, I think at this point, we will wait and see whether Vice President Gore keeps his word or no. We'll let the -- this is a great test for the American people to see whether a candidate really means what he says on the campaign trail. He said he would accept the LARRY KING debate.

KING: All right.

HUGHES: He said he would accept the "Meet the Press" debate. He said he would accept the Presidential Commission debates. And now Governor Bush has accepted all three of those debates. Governor Bush intends to be here.

KING: All right, now, Mark, if Vice President Gore has flatly said no to the two other than the commission, the question is the same for you, where do we go from here?

FABIANI: I think where we go from here, if Governor Bush is serious about this, is sitting down with the commission, haggling it out with the commission. And then, if we can haggle a solution at the commission, which I think we can, then we'll do these other debates, including your show and other shows. So I think the next step is to accept the invitation that the commission has issued. They issued it Sunday night. It's time for the Bush campaign to accept it, to sit down and work this out.

KING: Karen, what's wrong with talking to the commission? You don't have to agree to anything.

HUGHES: Larry, I imagine we will talk to the commission about that debate that Governor Bush accepted, which was one of the commission debates. He has accepted one of them, and we will be talking with them about -- I think it's interesting that Mark used the word haggle. That's what they do in Washington. They haggle all the time.

The Politicians are always fighting with each other. That's what they do in Washington. Governor Bush isn't from Washington. He's from Texas, where, when people say they will be there, they mean they will be there.

KING: Mark, do you expect everybody to get together? I mean, Karen is saying she will discuss only the debate with the commission, the debate that they have approved, meaning -- she hasn't said they aren't coming to the meetings this week, but she hasn't said they are coming. What do you do if there are no meetings this week, Mark? Where do you go?

FABIANI: You know -- we hope that the commission will convene meetings. Remember, this is the commission that was good enough for Bush's father. It was good enough for Bob Dole. We don't understand why it's not good enough for Governor Bush.

KING: But let's say they don't

(CROSSTALK)

HUGHES: But interesting, Larry, it wasn't good enough for Vice President Gore and Bill Clinton in 1996, not for all three of them, because they were invited to three commission debates. And they only accepted two. And interestingly enough, Vice President Gore is now talking about wanting a lot of people to see the debates, which we in fact do, which is one of the reasons we chose CNN. You have a lot of -- a unique audience.

You have got a Spanish-language network. You have got a vast radio network. You have a worldwide audience of 270 -- I think -- million households. We want a lot of people to see these debates as well.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Mark, that's -- the last time, the commission asked for three and only got two. So nothing is written in stone here, right, is it, Mark?

FABIANI: No, but in 1996, one of the debates was scheduled before a major speech that President Clinton had to give before the U.N. And it had to be canceled for that reason. But we just need to sit down with the commission. We don't understand why Governor Bush doesn't even want to sit down with the commission. If he's serious, let's have a meeting this week.

KING: OK.

FABIANI: And let's settle this thing out.

KING: Let me -- let me get a break. Let's -- we will keep you posted on development.

When we come back, we'll ask Mark and Karen about the current standing of the campaigns without the debates involved. And then we'll meet our panel.

This is LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't forget: The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, will be our special guest in an exclusive interview Friday night, right here.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We began with Karen the first time. Let's begin this portion with Mark.

Mark, today the governor unveiled his Medicare reform prescription drug plan, and one of the things he said was it begins immediately, helping people who need it right away, and the Gore plan is delayed a year.

What's your reaction?

FABIANI: Well, the reaction of most economists and most people who have looked at this is that Governor Bush cannot pay for this plan. "The Wall Street Journal" has decided, based on its analysis, that Governor Bush is already $400 billion in the red, and that's before he proposed this plan. So there's no way for him to pay for this without driving the country into the red.

Tomorrow, Al Gore is going to introduce his economic plan for the country. It's going to have a balanced budget. It's going to pay off the debt. It's going to be fiscally responsible.

So I think the economists have spoken on this, and they're saying that the governor's plan is going to drive us into the red.

KING: And Karen, your response? The governor -- the vice president today called it a budget buster.

HUGHES: Well, Larry, it's interesting. Maybe -- I think he's a little concerned that it actually does a better job of providing prescription drugs to seniors who need help right away. Maybe he's a little worried about that. Let's talk about the budget, because tomorrow six Nobel laureate economists are going to endorse the governor's plan as being the best for economic growth in this country, and it's certainly the best for every American taxpayer, because everyone who pays income taxes in America will get tax relief under Governor Bush's plan unlike Vice President Gore's plan, which is what he calls -- quote, unquote -- tax cuts that go to the right people.

Well, we've been traveling American for the last couple of weeks focusing on working-class families who make between $38,000 and $60,000 a year, all of whom get between $1,500 to $2,025 a year in tax relief under Governor Bush's plan, yet get virtually nothing under Vice President Gore's so-called "targeted tax cuts."

But let's talk about the surplus. The surplus is $4 trillion. Representing a trillion are each of these four dollar-bills. What Governor Bush wants to do is take two of these dollars, $2 trillion, and dedicate it to saving Social Security and paying down debt. He wants to take one of these four dollars and dedicate it to other priorities, including rebuilding the military, paying for prescription drugs and Medicare, reforming our nation's schools. And he wants to take the final dollar and pay it -- give it back to the people who pay the bills, the hardworking taxpayers, you the citizens of America. He thinks that's a responsible plan, that's a plan that will keep economic prosperity alive, unlike Vice President Gore, who wants to spend all the money in Washington.

KING: Simply stated, Mark, that looks effective. What's your response?

FABIANI: Well, Larry, that dollar is about what a middle-class family will get from the Bush tax cut every week. It's about enough to buy a diet Coke.

The fact is that "Time" magazine hired Deloitte & Touche, a major accounting firm, to do an analysis of the Bush plan, and it found out that they had analyzed three families, two middle-class families and one family making $250,000 and more. And this independent analysis found that the Gore plan would help the middle-class families and that the only family that would benefit under the Bush plan was the family making $250,000 or more.

This tax plan hangs around the Bush campaign like an albatross. It costs so much money. It busts the budget. They can't afford to do anything else, and they're stuck with it. And I think it's going to hurt them very, very badly, as it has already.

Governor Bush has problems explaining it in plain English, and I think that's an indication of what a weak plan it is.

KING: Would both of you agree -- Karen, would you agree -- that this is going to be a significant issue in this campaign, prescription drugs, Medicare, spending of the dollar?

HUGHES: Absolutely, Larry. I think it is a significant issue. And let me explain, if I could, a little bit of what Governor Bush said today. He's going provide an additional $158 billion over the next 10 years for prescription drug coverage so that every senior in America has an opportunity to access prescription drug coverage. He's going to give an immediate helping hand though $48 billion to seniors so that right away, when he's elected president, seniors will no longer have to choose between food and prescription drugs or paying their electric bill and buying their prescription drugs. He will pay the cost of prescription drugs for low-income seniors. He will help pay the cost of prescription drugs for middle-income seniors.

Long term, he's going to modernize Medicare, which is a fundamental commitment of this country, but it's showing its age. It's 35 years old, and medicine has progressed a great deal in the last 35 years. Medicare hasn't. And under Governor Bush's plan, every senior will have an option to choose a health insurance plan that covers prescription drugs.

KING: We're going to look at this in detail over, obviously, the weeks ahead. But you're going -- is it the key issue, do you think, Mark? If there is a key issues, is this the key issue?

FABIANI: I think health care is a key issue. It matters to swing voters. And in fact, what Governor Bush has proposed today is not to modernize Medicare but to turn Medicare over to the big insurance companies and the big drug companies. They basically wrote this plan that Governor Bush proposed today. They're the ones that are going to benefit from it. Seniors get no help unless the big HMOs, the big insurance companies and the big drug companies decide they want to help seniors, and there's very little chance of that.

This is a boondoggle for the big drug companies. Al Gore wants to keep Medicare providing prescription drug benefits.

KING: It will. I guarantee you both it will come up in the debates.

HUGHES: Larry, I've got to...

KING: Go ahead, Karen. Quickly.

HUGHES: I've got to respond to that, because the Gore plan makes Washington the nation's pharmacist. Al Gore is trying to do for prescription drugs what Hillary Clinton tried to do for health care, and that's a government takeover. Governor Bush's gives seniors choice. It's based on a plan that's good enough for members of Congress and for federal employees who work in Vice President Gore's own office, and we think it's good enough for the senior citizens of America.

KING: OK. We thank you both very much. Mark, always good seeing you.

FABIANI: Thanks, Larry. Thanks for having me.

KING: Karen, always nice having you with us.

HUGHES: Thanks, Larry. Good to be here. KING: Mark Fabiani, Gore deputy campaign manager for communications, and Karen Hughes, the Bush campaign communications director. From Nashville and Scranton respectively.

As we go to each break tonight, we're going to show you a little highlight, mini-highlights from previous debates. We meet our panel after this. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPTEMBER 35, 1960)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The television and radio stations of the United States and their affiliated stations are proud to provide facilities for a discussion of issues in the current political campaign by the two major candidates for the presidency. The candidates need no introduction: the Republican candidate, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, and the Democratic candidate, Senator John F. Kennedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You can safely say the race is under way, and the panel to discuss all of this, in New York, George Mitchell, former United States Senate majority leader, 14 years in the Senate, former Democrat of Maine. In Washington, Jack Kemp, co-director of Empower America and the 1996 Republican vice presidential candidate. In Washington, Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor of "The Washington Post": bestselling author, Pulitzer Prize winner, got a new book coming soon. And Bill Schneider is also in Washington, CNN's senior political analyst and syndicated columnist.

Let's start with George Mitchell and discuss the debate about the debates. What do you make of all this, George, and what's going to happen?

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Gore wants more debates with a larger audience; Bush wants fewer debates with a smaller audience. I thought that Karen Hughes did a rather skillful job of tossing up dust there and making Gore's credibility the issue as opposed to Bush's reluctance to have more debates.

In the end, they'll compromise, and they'll have more debates than Bush would like and fewer than Gore would like, and the American people will benefit from all of them.

KING: Jack Kemp, what's your -- what does your crystal ball tell you this is all going to come out?

JACK KEMP, CO-DIRECTOR, EMPOWER AMERICA: I don't know that I have a crystal ball, but I -- I agree with Senator Mitchell. I think we'll end up with another debate with a wider audience. But I want to stick up for you, Larry. I think they ought to debate with Larry King and Tim Russert as well.

Look, it's a debate about a debate. It's very much to do about something, but not very much. It's going to be settled in the end: Once they come to a conclusion, it will all be over and we'll go onto the most important things: what to do in America in the 21st century and for the world.

KING: Bob Woodward, what's your read on this debate debate argument?

BOB WOODWARD, "WASHINGTON POST": From the point of view of the voters, they hate the haggling. There is nothing -- there is no greater turn-off than to hear the spokesmen for both presidential candidates shouting at each other, debating whether we do it this way or that way, whether Larry King does it or Russert does it, or on this day. And the only winner in this in terms of the candidates would be the one who stands up and says, this is ugly, this is the tone of Washington and American politics that people hate, and damn it, I'll do it any way the other guy wants.

KING: That's the strategy you would take.

Bill Schneider, what do you think is going to happen and what do you read the public thinking? Do you agree with Bob?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The public wants debates, and I think there's the perception somehow that George Bush is being a little reluctant about this, and he's being a little cute this -- trying to make an issue of Gore's credibility, you know, because Gore said he would debate with you and he would debate with Tim Russert, and now he says he won't do it unless there are commission debates.

I mean, look, the commission debates -- they have a track record, they have been doing it since 1988, that reaches the widest possible audience. I think you ought to be the moderator in a commission debate, but the debates really have to reach the widest possible audience so that they can reach those swing voters, who are the ones most susceptible to the debate influence.

KING: So, all right, is -- in your opinion, Bill, is it workable -- is a negotiation workable to satisfy both parties and therefore the American public, hopefully?

SCHNEIDER: You know what? It better be workable, because you're going to find an awful lot of mad voters if there are no debates this year. There are going to be debates, they are going to work it out, otherwise they are going to have a voter uprising on their hands.

KING: Bob Woodward, are you predicting that one of the candidates will do that, or are you saying that's what you hope happens?

WOODWARD: Well, it's just -- it is on the wrong issue, and to focus on it and discuss it just angers people, and it really reminds me of the Vietnamese peace negotiations where they spent all their time talking about the size of the table. With all due respect to you and Russert and other people who will do that, the size of the table is not the issue, and Bill Schneider is quite right. KING: And, Bob -- we just work here, Bob.

Anyway, we will take a break and come back and get to some of the those issues and your phone calls with this great panel.

Dr. Laura tomorrow night. On Thursday night, a look at the letters of Ronald and Nancy Reagan with guests that include Katherine Graham, Mike Wallace and Merv Griffin. Friday night, the president of Russia.

We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You already are the oldest president in history and some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent encounter with Mr. Mondale. I recall, yet, that President Kennedy had to go for days on end with very little sleep during the Cuba Missile Crisis.

Is there any doubt in your mind that you would be able to function in such circumstances?

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Not at all, Mr. Truitt (ph), and I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Now, gentlemen, what's your overview of the closeness of this race? Senator Mitchell, how close?

MITCHELL: Very close at this time. Really you could flip a coin. A slight edge to Gore, I think, heading into the final two months.

KING: Jack, what's your view?

KEMP: Neck and neck, very tight, and been my view the whole time that it was going to be nip and tuck right down to the wire, to the debates at least. I would say that George Bush may be a little bit ahead and a little more ahead in the Electoral College.

KING: Bob Woodward, is the truth we don't know?

WOODWARD: Yes. That indeed is the truth, but the polls show it neck and neck. I think the interesting question is, what issue is going to get something more than transitory traction? In other words, is somebody going to come up with the military readiness issue, or the tax issue, or health care, and drive it day after day for a sustained two or three weeks? And if you could figure out what that issue is, then we'll probably be able to figure out who is going to benefit from it.

KING: In other words, you're saying the issue would be a breaker here?

WOODWARD: Yes. Something where -- I mean, if you just take the military readiness issue, it's pretty clear that the effort by Bush and Cheney to make that a big deal didn't quite work and you now look at the commentary on it and details that are coming out, and it's very clear the issue is not military readiness now, but military readiness in five or 10 years. Where are we going to go? What are we going to do? And they didn't frame it that way, and I think they missed a chance.

KING: Bill Schneider, how close and how far down to the wire?

SCHNEIDER: It's pretty close. I would say Gore has the momentum, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of these two guys opened up a lead sometime in October perhaps after they have their first debate. You know, it's an odd election, because there are generally two things that you can say about any election that voters say. One is, we've never had it so good, and the other is, it's time for a change. You never have people saying both in the same election and this time you do.

KING: So?

SCHNEIDER: Overwhelming numbers of Americans say, we've never had it so good, it's the best economy of our lifetime, and overwhelming numbers of Americans also say, it's time for a change. So they really could go either way. They want a change of leadership in the country, but not a change of direction, it's not like 1980 after one term of Carter, or 1992 after George Bush, when they really wanted a big change of direction. Now they just want a change of leadership.

KING: George, with something like this, is it possible -- I mean, of course it's possible -- do you think we could have an electoral winner and a popular vote winner different?

MITCHELL: Possible, but very unlikely. I think that Gore will hold the Democratic base primarily built on California and New York. Bush will hold the Republican base primarily built on Texas, Florida, the Rocky Mountains and the South. So the election is going to be decided in the key Midwestern industrial states. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois are trending to Gore; Ohio to Bush. Michigan is up for grabs. If Gore can win Michigan -- I don't think he'll win Ohio, but were he to do that, he would clearly win the election. That's why I think it's a slight edge to him right now.

KING: And vice-versa, if Bush were to win Illinois, would that be his?

MITCHELL: Oh, it would be very, very big. If Bush were to carry three of those five states, he would win the election.

KING: Does the winner of three of the five win it? MITCHELL: I think so, yes, particularly if one of them is Pennsylvania and one Illinois. Of those five, they're the two largest, so they're very significant.

KING: Yes. We'll get Jack Kemp's thoughts as well as the other panel members, they're with us the rest of the way, plus your phone calls. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN QUAYLE (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I have as much experience in the Congress as Jack Kennedy did when he sought the presidency. I will be prepared to deal with the people in the Bush administration if that unfortunate event would ever occur.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Bentsen?

SEN. LLOYD BENTSEN (D-TX), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: All right, Jack Kemp, Senator Mitchell gave us his rundown. How do you see it?

KEMP: Oh, I don't have a rundown. I just hope the governor talks about the issues, from prescription drugs and the type of choice that they will get under the Bush plan to reform of Medicare, which has to happen here at a time in which, in the next 15 years, 80 million people will turn 55. So we have to reform Medicare -- Social Security reform, tax reform, education reform.

And I believe -- picking up on something Bob Woodward said earlier -- don't talk just about military preparedness. Talk about the abuse of foreign policy by an overreaching military.

KING: All right.

Jack, are you saying this will be an issue-oriented campaign and an issue-oriented decision?

KEMP: I hope it is. It has to be.

KING: Do you think it will be?

KEMP: Excuse me, Larry. In my opinion, it has to be if George Bush is to win. And that is, I think all of us want to see him come front-and-center on the issues of whether we are under-taxed or over- taxed, whether Social Security can survive 2015 or '20, without some fundamental reforms and some personalized retirement accounts that will give working families a chance to take advantage of a much higher rate of return than the 1 percent in T-bills that they are getting now.

KING: Bob, how is the public going to react to the big issue of the day, the statement by the governor today, the reaction by the vice president, to the Medicare HMO and insurance and prescription question?

WOODWARD: Well, health care is a big issue. But again, the candidates are throwing numbers at people. And the numbers really don't mean anything. I think people intuitively kind of know: Gee, didn't we have a Mrs. Clinton health care plan and proposal. And those of us in the media covered it month after month: Hillary will propose -- this is going to happen.

And we now realize that these are things that are kicked around that often never become law and never become real. So, you know, the issue -- and Bill Schneider is an expert on the numbers on this -- but everyone talks about the swing voter or the undecided voter. And I think polls show that there in fact more persuadable voters, people who are not undecided. But people maybe are leaning one way and can be persuaded.

And I think people are thirsting for candidates coming out and saying: Look, I'm going persuade you on this issue or that issue.

KING: Bill, do you think it will come to that?

SCHNEIDER: I think it is coming to that. Look, Larry, look at what -- the debate we are having this week. This is a campaign that was supposed to be two candidates reaching for the center, no big differences between them, two relatively moderate representatives of their party. We have got a big-issue campaign. No one expected it. There's no crisis in the country. I think the reason is: We've got a big surplus, a huge amount of money.

And we have to got to decide what we want to do with that in the 21st century, what direction we want to go. Look, the differences over the Medicare and prescription drugs is -- those are very big. Forget the numbers and what kind of subsidies we are going to get. The question is: Do we want a program that basically secures the Medicare system as it is and expands to include prescription drugs? That's what Vice President Gore is proposing.

Or do we want fundamental changes in the Medicare system, which Governor Bush says will allow people more diversity of choice, private insurance plans, will cost the government less? These are fundamental directions of choice between private and public investment. Gore is proposing to expand and secure the safety net. Bush is proposing to change the whole nature of the welfare state in this country on Social Security, on Medicare.

Tomorrow, Gore is going to talk about it: a rainy-day fund to protect against deficit spending in the future. These are very big issues.

KING: Now, George, isn't a huge surplus what one might call a wonderful dilemma? MITCHELL: Well of course, let's be clear, this is a projected surplus. This is not a reality. This is not money in the bank. This may occur if things go well over the next 10 years. If they don't go quite as well, then I think people have to rethink what they proposed to do. That's the first point.

The second point is: Yes, it is a good situation. I served during -- in 15 years in the Senate, and most of the time, we confronted extremely high deficits, very hard choices. There are choices to be made now, but it's a much more pleasant task.

KING: Let's take a call.

Bryan, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Yes, if Governor George W. Bush refuses to cooperate and participate with the Commission on Presidential Debates, can't Al Gore show up alone and have people ask questions and have it televised nationally anyway? And I'm asking this to the whole panel.

KING: Jack Kemp, you take it first.

KEMP: Well, he could. He could. And I don't think George Bush would let that happen. Nor do I think Al Gore would let that happen. And then, just to play this scenario out a little further. George W. Bush could be on the LARRY KING LIVE show and have an empty seat next to him for Al Gore.

I mean, I believe -- as I think all of us do -- there is going to be a compromise. They are going to get together. There may be one more debate. It will have a national audience. You'll have two national audiences, and maybe two with Russert -- one with "Meet the Press" and one on LARRY KING LIVE.

But I don't know. I would hope it ends up that way, because I, like everybody else, want to see as many Americans have access to the candidates in a face-to-face debate and some type of a town-hall forum as possible.

KING: Bob Woodward, wasn't there a debate once where Carter refused to debate Reagan and Anderson, and they be debated by themselves? They were going to have an empty chair, but decided against it?

WOODWARD: That's right, but it probably decided...

KING: That was the League of Women Voters, wasn't it?

WOODWARD: I forget what it was, but I don't think it determined any votes or determined the outcome. To a certain extent, maybe Gore missed an opportunity when Bush offered to appear on your show and Russert's show and one of the commission debates. Gore should have said: Yes, and I'm also going to go to the two commission debates, which are nonpartisan and kind of have sanctification that maybe some of the others don't. And then he could have appeared without Bush, and I think in effect, would have forced Bush to go. KING: In other words: Yes, plus.

WOODWARD: Yes, plus. And: I'm going everywhere. You name it, and I'll talk.

KING: We will be back with more of our panel and more of your phone calls on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1988)

BERNARD SHAW, MODERATOR: Governor, if Kitty Dukakis were raped and murdered, would you favor an irrevocable death penalty for the killer?

SEN. MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I don't, Bernard. And I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't any evidence that it's a deterrent. And I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime. We've done so in my own state. And it's one of the reasons why we have had the biggest drop in crime of any industrial state in America, why we have the lowest murder rate of industrial state in America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 9, 1993)

ROSS PEROT (REF), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... U.S. companies, because it is so difficult to do business in this country, can't wait to get out of this country and go somewhere else, and if possible get labor that costs 1/7 of what it costs in the United States.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How would you change it? How would you change it?

PEROT: Very simply. I would go back and study first, look at this, it doesn't work.

GORE: Well, what specific changes would you make in it?

PEROT: I can't, unless you let me finish, I can't answer your question. Now you asked me and I'm trying to tell you.

GORE: Right. Well, you brought your charts tonight, so I want to know what specific changes you would like to make the treaty.

KING: That's a fair question. If you're against it...

(CROSSTALK)

PEROT: How can I answer if you keep interrupting?

GORE: Go ahead. Go ahead.

PEROT: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right, Bill Schneider, is that an example of Gore at his best maybe?

SCHNEIDER: His best and his worst: a bit relentless and a tough debater, a very aggressive debater. It's what people like about Gore. You know, he has a lot of drive. The guy is relentless. On the other hand, it sometimes turns people off, because he's very aggressive and it's not a very likable side of Al Gore.

KING: Jack Kemp, we know it's your favorite subject.

(LAUGHTER)

Is it catching on, lower taxes? Is it really catching, the public talking about it? Is it...

KEMP: Not the way it's being sold. Not the way it's being talked about.

The problem is, in my opinion, being an old supply-sider, that we're talking about $1.3 trillion of revenue just being lost to the private sector. Well, first of all, that wouldn't be bad in and of itself. But really, what George Bush is trying to do is bring back a debate over where the top marginal tax rate should be on working, saving, investing, and producing income.

So in my opinion, I would talk less about the 1.3 trillion and remind people that when John F. Kennedy cut tax rates in the 1960s, the economy grew, inflation went down, interest rates came down, and we got more revenue, not less: the same with Ronald Reagan in 1981/82 and 83. And every tax cut in this country has brought in more revenue over time than was lost in a static analysis.

So sell it the right way -- growth, jobs, creating opportunity for people -- and I think it can be a great issue in 2000.

KING: George, could that work?

MITCHELL: No, it won't work. It didn't work in the last campaign or the campaign before that. I think that the American people understand what's important for economic growth. As has been said earlier on this show, these are the best times that most people have experienced in their lifetime. They recognize that it's in large part, not exclusively, due to the economic programs of this administration.

And this massive tax cut, combined with all these spending programs -- one of the ironies of this whole campaign really for me -- I don't know how Jack feels about this -- is to see a Republican presidential candidate proposing nearly every week a large new spending program. That of course reflects the existence or the projection of a very large surplus. But it is kind of an unusual thing.

I think that Bush did a very good job in selecting Cheney to secure his base so he could now move to the center. Gore kind of secured his base at the convention with his speech so he could move to the center.

I disagree slightly with Bill. I think they are trying to struggle to define and occupy the center, because that's where the election's going to be decided: 90 percent of voters have either made up their minds or leaning strongly one way. They're trying to find and persuade that last 10 percent.

KING: Ellijay, Georgia, hello.

CALLER: Yes. Mr. Kemp, will the prescription drug issue, in you opinion, be a bigger issue than your favorite tax issue and the education issue?

KEMP: Well, I think education is a big issue. Giving lower- income families greater choice over whether to send their children to public or private schools, I think that's a fabulous issue, because it leads to education reform.

Prescription drugs is an important issue because Al Gore has made it one, but it's also one that I think has been effectively handled, along with Medicare reform, by George W. Bush. And I still believe that -- my good friend George Mitchell disagrees -- reforming the tax code and giving working families and low-income people a chance to get jobs and expanding the economy, and taking away the marriage penalty and the death penalty of taxation, to me are big issues facing the American people. But it has to be sold with a tenacity that has yet to be evidenced in this campaign.

KING: Bob...

MITCHELL: Larry -- Larry, could I just note that in the last seven years of the Gore-Clinton administration 22 million new jobs have been created? People have never had it better than they have in this economy.

KING: Bob Woodward, are they going -- how -- how is the public going to go on vouchers, do you think? What's the public opinion on vouchers?

WOODWARD: Don't know, but there is this new study, which we wrote about in the post and Bill Safire in "The New York Times" wrote about where they actually had two groups that were very much the same, and people were selected by lottery who got voucher scholarships and they did considerably better going to private schools. So there is the first real hard evidence that it works.

If I could just go back to this tax cut issue, because at least the polls suggests this and the public attention, that it has not grabbed hold. And part of the reason why -- and Senator Mitchell remembers this very well. I remember interviewing Senator Mitchell about Clinton's effort to get the deficit down. And everyone who served in Congress, in the Senate at the time, and I think in the public had this sense that deficits really hurt the American economy, and now that we're rid of them let's not give it away.

KEMP: That's not going happen. That's not going to happen. The answer to the deficit is, as we began to talk about it in the early 1980s, to grow the economy. And luckily, this president got the advantage of the Reagan-Bush economy from the '80s.

KING: Let's ask Bill Schneider, what does the public think about taxes versus vouchers versus prescriptions versus education versus health care versus everything?

SCHNEIDER: I'll tell you what the public thinks. There's a division here, and we're seeing it in this election. The most interesting thing about this election is right now there's a landslide for George Bush among men and there is a landslide for Al Gore among women. They're not just voting for different candidates, but there are competing landslides between men and women. And I'll tell you why...

KING: Wow.

SCHNEIDER: The kinds of things that Bush is proposing strike a lot of women as risky: the tax cut. That's going to risk creating a deficit. His program to change Medicare to give people more choice with private insurers. School vouchers -- sounds like it's a risk to the public school system. Allowing people to invest some of their Social Security money.

That is innovative. It's a challenge to the status quo. It is a reform program, and it strikes men as interesting and novel and really new thinking. But women see it as risky.

What is Gore proposing to do? He's proposing to expand and secure the safety net, and that's one of the things that appeals to women voters. So we're seeing these competing landslides over a fundamental difference: not just between Democrats and Republicans, but between men and women.

KING: We'll be right back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 6, 1996)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My balanced budget plan puts 10 years onto Medicare. We ought to do that. Then we could have a commission. But Senator Dole's plans are not good for the country.

JIM LEHRER, HOST, PBS "THE NEWSHOUR WITH JIM LEHRER": Senator Dole, speaking of your tax plan, do you still think that's a good idea, the 15 percent across-the-board tax cut?

BOB DOLE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh yes, and you'll be eligible, and so will...

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Me too?

DOLE: So will the former president, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: I need it.

DOLE: Well, the people need it. That's the point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 15, 2000)

KING: Are you saying that Governor Bush was responsible for that call?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know who was responsible for it, but I know that the attacks go on.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me just say one thing.

MCCAIN: I know that the attacks go on.

BUSH: Let me say one thing about all this business, John.

MCCAIN: I told you, I pulled them all down.

BUSH: You didn't pull this ad.

MCCAIN: Yes, I did.

BUSH: This, that ended up in a man's windshield yesterday, that questions my -- this is an attack piece.

MCCAIN: That is not by my campaign.

BUSH: Well, it says, "Paid for by John McCain."

MCCAIN: That is not by my campaign.

BUSH: McCain 2000 -- John...

MCCAIN: That is not -- that is not by my McCain.

BUSH: Well, then somebody's putting stuff out.

MCCAIN: I pulled them all.

BUSH: Now I agree...

MCCAIN: But you're putting out stuff that is unbelievable, George, and it's got to stop, and your ads have got to stop.

KING: Are you going -- well, let me put a...

MCCAIN: My ads have all stopped, television...

KING: I can end this now. Are you going to pull anything that you now have on?

BUSH: I'm going to stand by what I'm putting on TV. And what I put on TV was looking in that camera and saying, you can disagree with me on issues, John, but do not question, do not question my trustworthiness and do not compare me to Bill Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, hello.

CALLER: Thanks for taking my call. Larry, I'd like the panel to comment on this. I see the CNN and ABC as participants now in gaining the debates, and that's a case of ratings whereas the panel or the commission, the presidential commission, is not for ratings but rather for debate. Would not the American public find conflict there?

KING: Well, I don't know that it's for ratings. Bill, you want to comment?

SCHNEIDER: Well, look...

KING: Commission wants as many people -- everyone wants as many people to watch as possible.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. I mean, the argument is that the debates that the commission has proposed would be so-called "roadblock," which means all the networks would carry them. So therefore, even the casual voters would see them, because it would be carried on all the major networks, including the cable news networks. If there -- if the debate is on "Meet the Press," say, on NBC, ABC said already they're not going to carry it, so there would be a lot of other options. It wouldn't reach the maximum possible audience.

WOODWARD: But I think that the question that the viewer is asking is, is there a self-interest that NBC or CNN has in having a presidential debate, and I think the answer simply is yes.

KING: But every network would accept one, wouldn't they, Bob?

WOODWARD: Sure, and they should, and you're right to do it.

(CROSSTALK)

Yes, exactly.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments and get some closing comments from each of our panelists. They'll be with us frequently throughout the weeks ahead, and this will not be dull. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 21, 2000)

GORE: On government procurement, there was no change there. That's a false charge.

Secondly, look, you have misrepresented that vote entirely, Senator Bradley. That was not about affirmative action. That was about quotas.

It was 337 members of the Congress voted against that. You voted for the same way on final passage.

Now, let me talk about a more recent vote, not 20 years ago. In 1995, you were the only Democratic senator...

BERNARD SHAW, CNN ANCHOR: Time.

GORE: ... to vote against affirmative action to help expand the number of African-American-owned broadcasting outlets, radio stations and TV stations. Why did you -- why were you the only Democratic senator on the Finance Committee to vote against that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: George Mitchell, do you expect a lot of negativity?

MITCHELL: I do, Larry. It's unfortunate, I think it's already begun, and I think it will continue. If I might, I'd like to go back just to make one minor point -- a major point on an issue that wasn't mentioned. What's really needed is economic growth. I agree with Jack Kemp on that. The surplus should be used to pay down the debt, keep interest rates low, keep this economy humming.

This American economy is the greatest job-creating machine in all of human history. It's got to keep going. And that's what's best for people of all economic classes: a guy making a million dollars a year, a guy making $10,000 a year. They'll benefit most from a strong economy with job creation. And that's really what's needed to do with the surplus.

KING: Jack, you expect it to get ugly?

KEMP: Not ugly. I think it's going to be tough. Both candidates are tough. George Bush on his tenacity and the debate with John McCain. And we just saw a picture of Al Gore going after Bill Bradley tooth and nail.

But thanks to George Mitchell -- he raised the issue again -- the economy is doing well. I believe and George Bush believes we can do better. No. 2, it's doing good for those who have. There's a lot of people who don't quite yet have enough to do well. They ought to be able to put 2 or 3 percentage points of their payroll tax into the market economy and get 16 to 17 percent rate of return rather than 1 percent rate of return. Yes, this is going to be a great campaign, but I hope it's on issues, and in my opinion, that would be George Bush's victory.

KING: Bob Woodward, do you expect a lot of negativity?

WOODWARD: Probably, and just watching the Gore-Bradley snippet there of that debate, if Gore has the adrenaline running at that level in the debates, I think he's going to have to get up and kiss his wife every 15 minutes to show the other side.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: All right, Bill Schneider, how do you rate all of this? Is it going to get -- you've been watching these a long time. Worse before it gets better?

SCHNEIDER: Well, it's going to get pretty tough because it's going to be very close, but I think that the voters are going to see the fact that there are a lot of big issues here at stake. I mean, it's a question of how much public investment and private investment we want, how much risk we want to do, what we want to do with the surplus. These are enormous questions. The voters want to vote for someone who they think can get the job done.

KING: Would that indicate, Bill, a big turnout?

SCHNEIDER: Well, if it gets close -- you know, the biggest turnout we've seen in recent decades was 1960, which was a very close race between Nixon and Kennedy. The turnout was enormous. It hasn't been that big since 1960, because it was an exciting race.

I think this is going to get to be very exciting.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll be seeing lots of you along the trail.

Tomorrow night, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. On Thursday night, the letters of Nancy and Ronald Reagan with Katharine Graham, Mike Wallace and Merv Griffin. And Friday night, the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin.

I'm Larry King. Stay tuned for CNN "NEWSSTAND." For all of our guests, thank you for joining us and good night.

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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