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Larry King Live

The Bushes Discuss Election 2000

Aired September 26, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, the GOP presidential candidate Texas Governor George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, for the hour, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's always great to welcome them to this program, an honor to have them with us, the governor and first lady of Texas, George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, whose middle initial is W., because your maiden name was Welch, right?


KING: So you're both W's?

L. BUSH: Laura W. Bush.


KING: So when they made fun of W, it is both W's, right?

Six weeks from tonight.

G. BUSH: That's it.

KING: Is it...

G. BUSH: Who is counting though?

KING: Has it gone faster than you thought, slower, or what?

G. BUSH: I think faster. It has been an amazing experience. It's -- I think Laura and I are going to be able to look and back say, wow, what a great, great time we had together.

KING: Win or lose, you would say that, Laura?

G. BUSH: We're not thinking about losing.

L. BUSH: I think so.

KING: No, but I mean, you have enjoyed -- you are enjoying the experience.

L. BUSH: We have enjoyed it, it has been great, it really has. G. BUSH: It's been really interesting. It's a fascinating experience, you know why? We get to see America from the most unusual perspective, and it's a great country, it is. It's a country of dreamers, and doers, and people are compassionate about their neighbors, it's just unbelievable.

KING: What don't you like about it?

L. BUSH: Really -- well, I like all of it, I really do like all of it.

KING: You do? Even the bickering and the press?

L. BUSH: Well, I don't like the bad press, I love all the good press. But I like all of it a lot, I really do.

KING: What's the toughest for you?

G. BUSH: Oh, I think being away from my home. I'm kind of a nester. I like my own bed, and...

KING: You are not good in hotel rooms?

G. BUSH: I'm OK. Listen, I'm sleeping well, which is a good sign. But...

KING: How are the daughters handling it?

L. BUSH: The daughters are doing great, they're off in college.

KING: You keep them like Chelsea.

L. BUSH: That's right.

KING: Do you intend to keep them that way?

G. BUSH: Yes, I think the president and Mrs. Clinton did a really good job of sheltering their daughter as much as they could.

KING: And are you doing the same with your girls?

L. BUSH: Yes, we want our girls to have all privacy, we're not using them at all in the campaign in any way. They won't be campaigning for us.

KING: Let's get to some things right off the top of the bat. If Milosevic in Yugoslavia contends this, if he wasn't elected and a bickering starts, what should the president, what should we do?

G. BUSH: Well, I think the president needs to work with our friends and allies in NATO and keep the pressure on Mr. Milosevic, as well as work with the Russians. I think the Russians may have pretty significant influence on what takes place in the Balkans and -- it's just to keep the diplomatic pressure on the man.

KING: Would you intervene, Governor, forcefully? G. BUSH: I don't -- you mean with troops? I don't think so. I was asked that today earlier and I just don't see that as a -- doesn't need to intervene using troops -- that's an internal matter that the Serbs can take care of themselves, but I do know that we can put some pressure on Milosevic.

KING: Yesterday, in New York, apparently they have a historic agreement, both candidates, Congressman Lazio and Hillary Clinton to stop soft money.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Would you agree to that with Gore?

G. BUSH: Yes, I mean, you know, I don't trust him, to be frank with you.

KING: But they signed an agreement. Would you sign such agreement?

G. BUSH: No. Well, it depends on what it says. But remember, I'm the man who -- it was your show, he said, I will offer to get rid of soft money, in the meantime, the president is out there raising soft money. These are folks that don't have a lot of credibility on this issue and...

KING: So you are saying you wouldn't trust him even if it were something signed?

G. BUSH: Probably not, but I'd have to see what it says.

KING: Do you have any thoughts on it, Laura?

L. BUSH: Not really.

G. BUSH: I think we ought to get rid of soft money. It's hard to ask people to get rid of soft money in the middle of a presidential campaign, when you've got outspent 30 to 15 during the summer. I mean, it's kind of like, OK, fine, now we fired our weapons, you lay down your arms. I think we ought to ban corporate soft money and labor union soft money, so long as there is dues checkoff. I know we need to have instant disclosure. I know we need to have an attorney general that will enforce the law, and a Justice Department that will do the same thing. But, you know, I guess I would listen to it, but I would be skeptical, to be frank with you.

KING: Now, today also in the news is the White House released the overnight guest list with regard to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and apparently, the donors who gave the total of $600,000 to her support stayed at the White House or Camp David.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Have you ever had people stay at the governor's mansion...

G. BUSH: Yes. KING: ... who were supporters?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Is this pretty much normal as it goes?

G. BUSH: I think -- you know, look, I don't know the list, and if you are trying to get me involved in the U.S. Senate race in New York, I'm not getting involved, but nevertheless...

KING: No. What about the White House using its bedroom?

G. BUSH: Well, they shouldn't rent it out, I mean, there is a fine line between allowing a friend to come, or inviting a friend that you have known for a long period of time who may be a contributor, as opposed to renting out the Lincoln Bedroom in order to raise money. And I don't know the circumstances amongst the folks on, you know, the list, but I will tell you we have had friends stay with us and a lot of times your friends are your contributors, and I think...

L. BUSH: They're your major fund raisers a lot of times.

KING: So is it a sense on both sides, much ado about nothing?

L. BUSH: Well, I don't know about that.

G. BUSH: It depends...

L. BUSH: I mean, it's a big number of people that stayed there.

G. BUSH: It depends on the circumstances, you know? I mean, I think if somebody were to say, you can come and stay in the Lincoln Bedroom, if you give money.

KING: That's wrong?

G. BUSH: That is totally wrong. And on the other hand, if there has been a friend of the Clintons that they have been -- known for a long period of time, that they happen to have invited up there, and there is -- you know, I don't think that's a problem. I'm sure we are going to be inviting our friends should we be fortunate enough to live in the White House.

KING: Will -- should the government, or how should the government be involved in things like tire damage and Firestone? What's the government's role?

G. BUSH: You mean like consumer safety?

KING: Yes. What is the role in something like that?

G. BUSH: Well, first, I think the government ought to have been monitoring what was taking place overseas. There was a series of defective tire reports that had come in from overseas and our consumer folks should have been monitoring those -- that history and that record so as to alert people around our country. I have no problem with the government being a gatherer of information, and keeping people on alert about defective products, I think that's an important role of the government.

KING: So protecting people from something they have no control over?

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: You buy a tire, you expect it to be safe.

G. BUSH: We expect it to be good, you expect the people to make up on their warranty, but if there is information showing that there may be some -- a batch of tires that are being manufactured that are going to create hazards for the American people, yes, the federal government ought to be warning people.

KING: Is it your philosophy, Governor, it -- so we get this straight -- that you don't like government?

G. BUSH: No, I think government can be very useful, and I will give you a good example: Medicare. Medicare is a government program that needs to be made to work, because we need to help our elderly, particularly those who cannot help themselves.

KING: The vice president says you don't like Medicare.

G. BUSH: The vice president...

KING: He said HMO -- you are an HMO man.

G. BUSH: No. The vice president is -- what is -- he is into Medi-Scare, he is trying to scare people in the voting booth. That's an old...

KING: You're not anti-Medicare?

G. BUSH: Of course not. And, you know, that's just typical of the politics of somebody who might be getting a little worried to try to scare people. And, no, I'm a big supporter of Medicare so long as it's done the right way, and the way I think it ought to be done the right way is we say to seniors, you can stay in Medicare if you want, but we're going to give you a variety of options from which to choose, just like we do the federal employees.

And I've got money in my budget beyond the $400 billion that's going to be spent on Medicare 10 years from now, I've got an additional one hundred and roughly eight billion dollars of spending in Medicare. I've also got immediate help for prescription drugs for seniors, because I don't -- I agree with those who say the role of federal government is to help people who can't help themselves.

And secondly, if we find seniors having to make tradeoffs between food and medicine, that's not the American way, as far as I'm concerned.

KING: Because do you think Medicare generally as a term is more popular than HMOs in this country? HMOs come in for a lot of wraps.

G. BUSH: Yes, they do, and in some cases, they should. That's why we need to have patient protection laws just like we did in the state of Texas. But I think we -- there is a lot of seniors who like their Medicare HMOs, so long as they're well funded and not over regulated by Washington, D.C. There is a lot of seniors who like their health care programs they have in the private sector.

KING: I'm not leaving you out of this deliberately, Laura.

L. BUSH: That's OK. I'll be glad not to talk about that in here.

KING: Education is going to be your bailiwick for us, and then we're going to ask about that and a lot of other things. And we're also going to take your calls tonight for the Bushes.

Bobby Knight tomorrow night, and the Gores on Thursday. Hey, we only try to please. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with the Bushes.

The debate is a week from tonight -- the first one. Worried?

G. BUSH: No, sir. I'm looking forward to it.

KING: Anxious?

G. BUSH: Not yet. I'm -- I view it as a great opportunity to explain my vision for the country.

KING: You been practicing?

G. BUSH: Yes, some. Guys like you...

KING: Someone plays Al Gore, is that the way it works?


KING: You know, someone play me, and someone play Gore, and someone play Jim Lehrer? Is that the way you do it?

G. BUSH: We've been looking for somebody to play you for years and years. Unfortunately, you broke the mold.

KING: What do -- thank you -- what do you make of -- speaking of the mold -- what do you make of the mole mystery?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: A tape of your debate practice is sent to Gore.

G. BUSH: Yes. KING: Paul Begala, last night, said Gore was smart enough to release that, to say: It is none of our doing. And he is the one that broke the story, to his credit. What do you make of this whole thing?

G. BUSH: Well, it's actually -- it was this former Congressman Downey that...

KING: Broke it.

G. BUSH: Well, he received this tape. And he turned it in. And...

KING: What do you make of it?

G. BUSH: You know, I don't know. I will tell you, it's not one of my supporters. Somebody who is for me is not going to be sending tapes to the Gore campaign.

KING: Yes, someone ruled -- it might have been your campaign adviser, right?

G. BUSH: Yes, right. Secondly, I believe that we are going to get to the bottom of it. And I look forward to finding out who it is.

KING: Were you shocked at it, Laura?

L. BUSH: I was shocked. I really was. It is, you know, sort of a shocking happening.

KING: These kind of things -- I mean, everything usually goes in American politics. But this doesn't have a place.

G. BUSH: I don't think -- of course not. And, you know, they had some fellow on the Gore staff, I read the other day, bragging about how he has got somebody e-mailing from our campaign. If that is the case -- and he got put on leave -- paid leave, I might add -- but he got put on leave.

And I think the guy -- I think the man ought to tell us who it is, who he is e-mailing in the campaign. I would like to know who it is. And....

KING: If you received a tape of an Al Gore practice session, what would you do?

G. BUSH: I'd send -- I would turn it in just like Tom Downey did.

KING: Immediately -- wouldn't even look at it?

G. BUSH: Well, I would have to look -- you, if somebody sent me a tape, I would want to know what was on it. But Downey...

KING: Once you saw what it was, though. G. BUSH: I would stop, just like Tom did. I really appreciate that. If I ever run into the guy, I am going to tell him I appreciate his honesty.

KING: How do you explain something -- before we move to some issues, like education -- you are 19 points ahead. And when you were, you told that was unrealistic.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: You are 19 points ahead. A week later, you are 10 points behind.

G. BUSH: I know it.

KING: But then -- that happens because Gore -- Al kisses Tipper. You, a week later, kiss Oprah and dress like Regis and you are up by two points.

G. BUSH: Imagine if I had worn suspenders.

KING: Does this mean we -- no one went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public? Are polls just -- what do you make of it all?

G. BUSH: I think this means it's going to be a really close race, is what it means. It's going to be one of the really interesting presidential races that we have had in a long time. And I'm excited about my chances. The fact that I'm this close to a sitting vice president, with the economy pretty good and the world at peace, indicates I have got a very good chance of winning.

KING: Why do you think you are close, with the economy doing great and the world at peace?

G. BUSH: Because we have a difference of philosophy. I believe that the American people ought to be empowered to make decisions for themselves. That's part of my tax-relief plan. It's part of the reform for Medicare for seniors, part of education reform. And my opponent believes that Washington, D. C. is the place where most knowledge resides.

KING: And those are two distinct philosophies.

G. BUSH: Completely different. And, you know, I have got to make it clear where I stand on the issues, and talk about my philosophy. Also, people are beginning to understand I have got a deep passion to work in our country to change the culture, to usher in a period of personal responsibility.

KING: Do you think you can? Do you think a president can change a culture?

G. BUSH: I do. No, not single-handedly. But I think a president can set a tone. And a president can lead people to understand there is a difference between right and wrong. A president can rally mentoring programs around the nation. A president can call upon the faith-based programs, programs, you know, who got their genesis in churches or synagogues or mosques, to help people in need -- absolutely.

KING: Is -- close means you are going to be up late on November 7. Do you both expect that?

G. BUSH: I don't know. I don't -- it's hard for me to stay past up past 10:15.

KING: Are you going to do a Truman? Are you going to go to sleep no matter what time it is?

G. BUSH: Go to sleep -- no, I will be up, I promise you.

KING: So that -- it could be a long night.

G. BUSH: It could be.

KING: And there are key states, right?

G. BUSH: Yes, uh-huh.

KING: We're looking at -- could we have, in the realm of possibility, of a popular winner and an electoral winner, two different...

G. BUSH: Yes, I understand. I doubt that. I do.

KING: Would we have a calamity if we did?

G. BUSH: There would be a lot of discussion. And -- but I don't think that is going to happen.

KING: Do you favor the electoral college?

G. BUSH: I do like the electoral college.

KING: Why is it close in Florida?

G. BUSH: You know, I've been asking my little brother that question.


G. BUSH: It's...

KING: Your father has asked him. And so has your mother.

G. BUSH: Yes, we're asking him. I'm going to win Florida. I really believe I am.

KING: And why close is it close -- if that is true?

G. BUSH: Well, because, I think Senator Lieberman helped down there. I think there is a constituency that was appreciative of Vice President Gore's pick of Senator Lieberman. I think that -- you know, I don't know. I don't pay that much attention to the polls, and...

KING: You don't?

G. BUSH: Well, I hear about them.

KING: You don't when you're ahead and you don't when you're behind.

G. BUSH: Not really. I just understand that if you are constantly behind, it dispirits people. And if you're constantly ahead, it may create a sense of complacency. And so I tell people: "Just forget about the polls. Let's go do our job." I believe I am going to win Florida. Florida is a state that appreciates a Medicare plan that I have laid out.

But Florida also knows -- people down there know that we need to rebuild the military to keep the peace. There's a lot of veterans in Florida that are coming my way. Listen, when I had Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell stand up by me and say: This is the man who ought to be the commander in chief, a lot of veterans took notice.

And Florida has got a lot of vets.

KING: We'll come back and ask Laura about the woman's vote. And we will take your calls as well -- in a while -- for the Bushes.

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


KING: Laura, is there is, do you believe, as a block, a woman's vote?

L. BUSH: I don't know. I think maybe. I don't know if I would really say there was a big block of a woman's vote. I think there may be different ages of women that vote alike. But, I don't -- but I'm not really sure about it. I mean, we hear about it always in the polls.

KING: But we know that they elected Clinton, right? I mean, more women percentages than men voted enough to give him victory.

L. BUSH: That's what they say, for sure.

KING: Do you think your husband fluctuates? At first, he was ahead with women, then behind with women. Now, he's ahead with women. Are women just -- they can't make up their mind? Or does he -- depends on how he looks one day?

L. BUSH: He actually has always done very well with the women's vote, even when he ran against Governor Ann Richards in our state. He won almost 50 percent of the women's vote.

KING: What do you make of this?

G. BUSH: Well, first, I think each woman makes up their own mind separately. I mean, I think women are very discerning people. They are going to ask the question: What is the person's heart like? They care about whether or not I care about my fellow human beings. I -- I think I'm going to eventually do well with women, for a couple reasons.

One is because I have got a clear vision of how to improve our public education. And, secondly, I have got a clear vision of how to provide people with more time. And that is to give them some of their own money back. I mean, one of the things I think worry women is they don't have time on their hands.

They are -- they've got work and they've got their children. And I believe tax relief will help relieve some of the burden off the working women here in America.

KING: Yesterday, the vice president said: If you lopped off the 1 -- the top 1 percent that you are giving tax relief -- forget that top 1 percent -- give it to all -- everybody else but the top 1 percent, you could pay for the cost of every other program.

G. BUSH: Oh, I don't -- you know, I hadn't -- I'm not so sure. I'm not quick in my mind at math, but I don't believe in trying to pick and choose winners when it comes to tax relief. He said, in his convention speech: I'll make sure only the right people get tax relief.

KING: But do the top 1 percent need tax relief?

G. BUSH: Well, I think everybody who pays taxes should get tax relief. I don't believe you ought to try to pick winners and losers when it comes to tax relief. I also think you ought to drop the top rate from 39.6 to 33 percent for two reasons. One, there ought to be a principle that the federal government should take no more than a third of anybody's check, and secondly, that that tax relief is going to stimulate future entrepreneurial growth.

So I think one of the reasons we're doing so well now in places like Silicon Valley or in Austin, Texas, where there's a high-tech industry growing, is because of the tax cuts of the '80s.

I come from a school of thought by reducing marginal rates you encourage economic expansion.

But we also need to drop the bottom rate from a 15 percent to 10 percent and increase the child credit from $500 to 1,000. Now, that plan stands in contrast to my opponent's plan where 50 million Americans get no tax relief, and yet he calls it tax relief.

KING: And you say it's a principle, no one should pay more than a third.

G. BUSH: Right.

KING: That's a principle of yours. You think that should hold forth no matter what's happening...

G. BUSH: Well, hopefully...

KING: Unless there's a war?

G. BUSH: Yes, absolutely.

KING: Speaking of that, on the oil question...

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: ... the only two presidents that have ever dipped into the reserve were George Bush and Bill Clinton.

G. BUSH: That's right.

KING: And you attacked Bill Clinton and I imagine praised George Bush.

G. BUSH: Well, there was a difference between the two. One is to, if I could be so crass as to suggest, maybe trying to help his friend politically, and the former President Bush, did so during times of war against Saddam Hussein. And I felt that the time of war against Saddam Hussein was justified, and I felt it was justified to reserve -- tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is there for times of war or major disruptions. It's not there for political purposes.

KING: What then, governor, is the answer to a poor person in Massachusetts who can't afford to buy oil this winter?

G. BUSH: You've got LIHEAP, which is a government program to help poor people pay for heating oil, and I'm a big supporter.


KING: So there's no reason they shouldn't be -- nobody should be without heating oil.

G. BUSH: That's right, and I'm a big supporter of that.

KING: No American.

G. BUSH: That low income -- that the LIHEAP program be fully funded and that our federal government ought to help those folks pay for those, which I hope doesn't happen, but it looks like high -- high energy bills come winter.

KING: You're...

G. BUSH: I tell you -- go ahead.

KING: You're an oil guy.

G. BUSH: I was.

KING: OK. Why are prices so high?

G. BUSH: Because we're dependent upon OPEC.

KING: Always have been, though, haven't we?

G. BUSH: Well, not to the extend of 57 percent. When you couple that with a growing, recovering economy in certain sectors of the world and a strong economy in the United States, the balance between supply and demand tightened, and that's what causes prices to go up.

We're dependent more than ever upon OPEC. We need to explore at home. We need to have -- open up ANWR to exploration, which is in Alaska, and do so in an environmentally friendly way.

We need more -- there's a lot of talk about putting oil on the market to drive the futures price down. But one of the questions that people don't focus on is how do we refine additional product when our refineries at 100 percent capacity. We need more refineries, and we need less regulation out of Washington that prevents refineries from being built.

KING: Can you persuade OPEC, too? Do you think you...

G. BUSH: Well, that's the other issue and that's the fundamental...

KING: You think you can?

G. BUSH: Yes, I think you're going to have to. Listen, ours is a nation that went to war to help protect OPEC nations from Saddam Hussein. We earned a lot of capital. It seems like...

KING: Call the bet?

Yes. The question is why can't you call the bet now. Why can't the president call the bet? That's the fundamental question.

KING: Some other issues, education, of course. Your calls as well with the Bushes, the governor and the first lady of Texas. Don't go away.


KING: We'll begin including your calls in a little while as well.

The education concept: Are we poorly educated, and if so, does that mean we have a poor electorate or an educationally illiterate electorate?

G. BUSH: I guess it depends on who wins, right?


KING: What are we saying?

G. BUSH: Well, we have an achievement gap in America. There's a lot of public schools that really do good work, and our daughters went to one. We were really pleased when Barbara and Jenna went to Austin High School and they got out and did well.

KING: Do more do good than not?

G. BUSH: Yes, absolutely.

KING: So what's the problem?

G. BUSH: The problem is there are some schools that are just mired in mediocrity and will not change. There are some school districts that are just stuck, and as a result, there's an achievement gap. There's a difference between, you know, income levels, the achievement gap of people of different income levels. There's an achievement gap between Anglo and minority students.

One of my proudest accomplishments is I worked with Republicans and Democrats to close that achievement gap in Texas. Our test scores for minority students are some of the best in the nation.

But we've got to do a better job of insisting upon high standards and strong accountability.

KING: How do you do that federally in a government where the states control...

G. BUSH: Absolutely, and that's important for people to recognize that. That's why I hope people don't fall prey to the fact where people running for president say, vote for me, I'm going to correct your public schools...

KING: You can't do that as president?

G. BUSH: No, I don't think so, but you can do this: You can make sure Head Start becomes a reading program. You can funnel monies for purposes such as reading initiative. And as importantly, you can say, if you receive federal money, we want you to show us whether or not children are learning. In other words, you can insist upon accountability. In return for flexibility and authority at the local level -- and we need to make sure Congress gets rid of as many mandates as possible in federal money -- you measure. You set the standards and you measure and show us whether or not we're getting a good return on our taxpayers' money...

KING: Or? Or?

G. BUSH: Or there's a consequence, and the consequence after a period of time is that the money will no longer, the federal money, will no longer to that particular school. It will go to the parents.

KING: Laura, did you teach in public schools?

L. BUSH: I taught in public schools, in Dallas and Houston and Austin.

KING: Good schools?

L. BUSH: Very good schools, but they were minority schools. The first school I taught in was almost 100 percent African-American in Houston, John F. Kennedy Elementary.

KING: And they did a good job?

L. BUSH: They did a good job and worked very hard.

KING: What did they do that...

L. BUSH: Well, I think it was just a focus. It was just absolutely focusing to try to make sure every child learned.

KING: Because nobody -- no race is smarter than another race?

L. BUSH: No, absolutely.

KING: And if we have an equal playing field...

L. BUSH: That's right. That's right.

KING: ... then things should be equal.

L. BUSH: That's right.

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

L. BUSH: But that's one thing that's very important about Head Start, and that is to add a prereading skills curriculum to Head Start to make sure that children who go to Head Start get to hear stories all day, like your children probably do, and learn letters and learn numbers, and play games with letters and sounds so that when they start the first grade they're ready to learn to read.

G. BUSH: But you know, we also went through a period of time, Larry, where we tried some, I guess you'd call them academic, educational fads, where we got away from what works, and I think America is now coming back to what works. Phonics needs to be an integral part of a reading curriculum.

KING: Are you positive vouchers work?

G. BUSH: No, I'm not positive vouchers work. I think we ought to try them. I think states ought to try them. I don't think the federal government ought to say, you will voucherize. If I were president, I would have signed a bill that Senator Lieberman, by the way, supported that would have given parents choice in Washington, D.C.

But the state -- the government, when I'm the president, I'm not going to tell the state of Maryland or the state of Alaska, you must have a voucher program. That's up for the local people to decide.

KING: By the way, was he a good pick Lieberman?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Did it surprise you?

G. BUSH: You know, I wasn't spending a lot of time analyzing their list.

KING: But as it turns out, do you think it was a good pick?

G. BUSH: I do. I think he's a good man. I think he's an interesting pick.

KING: And what do you think we're going to expect from the debate between Cheney and him?

G. BUSH: I think...

KING: A good issue-oriented debate?

G. BUSH: I certainly hope so. I think there's going to be two good men debating. I like my man's chances. He is a solid citizen who has got a lot of experience, and he knows exactly what he and I want to do if we're fortunate enough to get elected.

KING: We'll be back with more, include your phone calls as well with Governor George W. Bush and Laura Bush. Bobby Knight tomorrow night, don't go away.


KING: We are back on LARRY KING LIVE. We will go to your calls momentarily.

There is an ad you have out that says 58 percent of 4th graders in low income schools can't read, cite the figures from the Department of Education. Experts say, that doesn't measure literacy, the gauge is reading ability, including basic level of proficiency, and that 53 percent of low-income students in Texas read below basic level, but it's not illiteracy. Is that a misleading ad?

G. BUSH: No...

KING: When you say "can't read"?

G. BUSH: Well, you know, I think people who understand what's happening in public schools know that we are not teaching our children to read.

KING: So, but you didn't mean...

G. BUSH: And as a result...

KING: When you say "can't read," you didn't mean illiterate?

G. BUSH: No, they're not illiterate, but they can't read at levels good enough to be able to become employed in the high-tech world. They are not meeting standards. And that deficiency needs to be corrected. I didn't hear the part about Texas, but I will tell you when there is something called the NAPE test, when you compare reading abilities of our students from one state to the next, our African- American 4th graders rank in the top in the nation, because we do teach children to read. KING: So when you say "can't read," you don't mean it literally, you mean at a proficient basis?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: Yes.

Laura, wouldn't you say -- I mean, this is asked from a stupid standpoint, shouldn't anybody who goes to school learn how to read?

L. BUSH: Sure, absolutely, I mean, that is the basic skill that schools teach.

KING: Reading is fundamental, they used to say, right?

G. BUSH: Still do.

L. BUSH: But it is the basic skill. I mean, if you can read, then you can read history, and you can read science, and you can read every other subject, so it's really the fundamental skill that you learn in school.

G. BUSH: But here is the thing, the standards in some places are so low that even if the standards are met, children aren't learning to read. There was an unbelievably compelling editorial in "Houston Chronicle," I read it as I first got elected, it was written by a high school history teacher that was describing to his fellow Texans what it's like to try to teach history to children who -- in high school -- who couldn't read. I mean -- and I don't mean totally illiterate.

KING: How did they get to high school?

G. BUSH: That's the question. Because we have what's called social promotion, it's so much easier to quit on an at-risk kid. And so, the whole purpose of education reform is to stop asking the question, how old are you, and start asking the question, what do you know? And start asking that question very early in a child's career and start correcting. Now, there is a lot of folks who resist strong accountability measures, but not me, because I know that accountability is the cornerstone for positive reforms, you cannot solve a problem unless you diagnose it.

KING: Some other bases, Jack Kemp said on this program a couple of weeks ago that racial profiling is as un-American as anything he could imagine and it should be stopped immediately. Should it?

G. BUSH: Yes, of course. I mean, if the definition of racial profiling is an African-American...

KING: Gets stopped.

G. BUSH: ... person is driving along and just says, we have to stop him because he's African-American, that's not the American way.

KING: Can a president do something about that? There was a movement that Bill Clinton can sign an executive order dealing with it. To your knowledge, can you?

G. BUSH: I don't know about that, but yes, I think the president can call upon racial reconciliation in America, and the Justice Department can use civil rights law, you know. I believe, though, that the best thing to do is to insist these local communities clean up their act and have their internal affairs divisions of the police departments become...

KING: So there is no reason racial -- in other words, nobody should be stopped because they're a certain color or a certain...

G. BUSH: Religion.

KING: ... religion.

Do you -- are there any states you are tossing off?

G. BUSH: Well, that's kind of a tough question.

L. BUSH: No.

KING: None at all? Laura says no. I mean, but logically, the way they break it down -- are they breaking it down correctly? Let's say it this way, California, New York to Gore, Texas and Florida to Bush; Northeast to Gore, South to Bush; the states that will decide it are New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri. Is that about...

G. BUSH: Not really. And the reason why that is flawed logic is I'm going to win California. I am.

KING: You are saying that tonight, you are going to win California?

G. BUSH: I am. Please don't fall out of your chair.

KING: I just...

G. BUSH: Well, the reason...

KING: We're only on polls, the only thing I can look at.

G. BUSH: Well, I'm 6 points down in a poll, but who pays attention, right? Anyway...

KING: Six point two percent, right?

G. BUSH: Exactly.

I believe I have got a very good chance of winning here. I was up in Silicon Valley, I've got a huge base of support in Silicon Valley for a lot of reasons; one, I support H1B visas, free trade, tort reform. I've got a good chance amongst the Hispanic voter here in California, my reputation as an inclusive governor preceded me here in this campaign. People -- you know, the Republicans have been associated, rightly or wrongly, with being anti-immigrant in the state of California. We have turned that around.

I have got a great record when it comes to public schools, and education is a very important issue in the state of California. My job is going to be to find those Republicans that were strong Republicans up until 1992, that Perot peeled off from us, and get them back into the party, and I think I can do so by being a positive, optimistic, forward-looking candidate.

KING: You have been more pro-immigration than many of your fellow Republicans.

G. BUSH: I have.

KING: Do you agree with that?

G. BUSH: I do. I do. That doesn't mean we shouldn't enforce the border. But I understand why people are coming, family values do not stop at the Rio Grande River. If you're a mother or dad in Mexico and you've got mouths to feed and you hear there is good work in a state, and you are going to come to feed your children, it's part of loving a child. It's part of what it means to be a mother or dad. And that's why I'm such a strong backer of trade with Mexico and trade in our hemisphere.

KING: Very pro-NAFTA.

G. BUSH: I am pro-NAFTA, and I want the president to have fast- track negotiating authority so we can negotiate trade agreements with a country like Chile, for example. I mean, we've got to expand free trade in our hemisphere, it's the only way for Mexico to develop a middle class.

KING: Nader and Buchanan, why aren't they in the debates? Should they be?

G. BUSH: Well, you know, I have had my wish list for debates, as you know -- I could pander, but -- I was thinking about having you be the main guy. I think the American people want to see Vice President Gore and me go toe-to-toe, that's what I think they want to see.

KING: We'll be back with some of your calls as well. Don't go away.


KING: We're back with Governor George W. Bush and his wife, Laura.

Let's go to some calls. Calhan, Colorado, hello.

CALLER: Hi. My daughter is a juvenile parole officer in Tyler, Texas, and she said you have a very good program. Do you have any plans for all states for at-risk kids?

G. BUSH: Well, I appreciate that very much. I think that the federal government can spend some more money for up-front prevention to help families raise their children in loving homes. I subscribe to what's called tough love, I believe we ought to be tough on juveniles who break the law, and in my state we expanded the facilities for juveniles to be detained, but we also know that in order to make sure that the children make the right decisions, that education system must work.

The main thing about criminal justice matters is the best criminal justice takes place at the local level. And therefore, I'm going, to the extent possible, ask Congress to provide flexibility so states can provide juvenile justice funds to meet their particular needs. Not all states or all cities have the same issues as related to children.

But I will insist that there be -- that there be tough love as the main component, and tell your daughter thanks a lot for working for Texas and Tyler.

KING: Young people coming out to vote, do you expect them to come out?

G. BUSH: I hope so. I think there's -- I think there's a lot of kids who are disillusioned right now. I frankly think that what's taken place in Washington the last couple of years has tended to disillusion children, young voters, and hopefully, the vice president and I can convince them to come to the polls. Obviously...

KING: Do you think...


G. BUSH: ... for me.

KING: ... bitterness in campaigns turns people off? Fifty percent is an amazing turnout in America.

G. BUSH: Yes, it's low. I don't know, I don't feel this is a bitter campaign. I mean, this doesn't seem like a bitter campaign to me.

KING: You don't feel like you're in a bitter...

G. BUSH: Well, do I feel bitter? No, I don't. I really don't.

KING: You don't?

G. BUSH: And I don't think my language is particularly harsh to the vice president. We disagree.

KING: You borderline accuse him of lying?

G. BUSH: No. When?

KING: Well, not truthful, you don't trust him.

G. BUSH: No, I didn't say truthful. I didn't, you know -- but I don't when it comes to campaign funding reform law. I mean, how can you? This is a man who went to a Buddhist temple to raise money and now suggests he's for campaign funding reform laws. I just -- it's going to take more than that to convince me.

KING: So you're not saying lie, you're saying inconsistent?

G. BUSH: I wouldn't say he's a liar at all. I would say inconsistent.

KING: OK. Now on the military...

G. BUSH: Yes

KING: You brought that up and there was a whole hullabaloo and the chairman of the joint chiefs said you were wrong. Are we poorly set, are we not equipped well? And should we care since there doesn't seem to be a spot, nobody's worried about World War III?

G. BUSH: Yes, we ought to care a lot. I care a lot as a potential commander in chief to make sure that we've got a military that is well-paid, well-housed and well-trained. I want the morale to be high in the military, and yes, there's a problem.

I mean, the joint chiefs -- the head of the joint chiefs came out. I guess I understand that to a certain extent. But at the same time, Colin Powell stood up and said we've got a problem, and I appreciate his -- I appreciate his analysis. And there are some warning signs on the horizon.

One, we can't meet recruiting goals. Two, there are instances where ships have gone out to sea and had to return for lack of fuel. We're short on cruise missiles.

The truth of the matter is we're overextended around the world and...

KING: Pull back?

G. BUSH: I think we ought to -- I think we ought to review every single mission.

KING: Europe?

G. BUSH: No, I think we a ought to stay in NATO and obviously stay in the Far East. But I would hope to be able to convince our European friends to start taking the peacekeeping role in the Balkans.

KING: What spot worries you?

G. BUSH: I think a lot of spots worry me. I think the Far East worries me. I mean, I appreciate so very much the president fighting, and I'll be glad to join fighting, to get China into the World Trade Organization, because I think that will help China be, you know, a constructive member of the of the international community.

But I worry about the Far East. I worry about -- I worry about the Middle East. I worry about weapons of mass destruction ending up in the hands of people that don't particularly care for our friends the Israelis.

KING: What do you say to the trade unionist who worries that WTO will cost him jobs?

G. BUSH: I would say that as the economy shifts we have got to make sure that there's worker-training money to train the workers for the new jobs of the future. I am not going to let this nation become a protectionist and isolationist nation. I think trade is in our national interest. I know it's in the national interest of our agricultural community, for example.

We're the best growers of food in the world and we ought to have a president who fights to open up markets all around the world so we can sell our grains to people all across -- all across the globe.

KING: Do you think most Americans understand that?

G. BUSH: Not necessarily, but I'm going to explain it to them, nor will it cause me to change my position if they don't understand it. I believe it's best for the country.

KING: Is there anything, governor, you feel frustrated about, that it's a message you haven't gotten across yet?

G. BUSH: No, I don't know. You know, I guess I'm asked all the time about misperceptions. I guess probably the one misperception is just running on his daddy's name and...

KING: Does that bother you?

G. BUSH: No, because I love my dad. I've reconciled my love for my dad a long time ago.

I hope people just take a look at my record as governor of Texas. I've been the governor of a big state and...

KING: How are your in-laws handling this, Laura?

L. BUSH: They're very nervous. In fact, we'll say hi to them right now. I'm sure they're watching.

KING: Your father-in-law is a basket case, right?


G. BUSH: Well, those are your words.


... to say he's a little nervous.


KING: He'll be down the tubes by November 7th.

They're out campaigning? L. BUSH: They are campaigning. They've campaigned for a lot of candidates, for a lot of Republican candidates, and done some fund raising, I think, for George.

G. BUSH: Yes, he was down in South Florida campaigning for a man we hope wins the U.S. Senate race, Bill McCollum.

KING: It's going to be a tough race.

G. BUSH: Yes, it's going to be a great race. I think Bill is going -- both of us will win when it's all said and done.

KING: You're a confident guy?

G. BUSH: Well, you...


KING: ... California...

G. BUSH: It is, but you should see what I see. I mean, John McCain and I and Laura got on a train here in California. We drove -- this unbelievably beautiful countryside on the train, and the crowds were huge. I mean, they had 10,000 people in Lodi, California. And there's a spirit and a desire to win the likes of which I haven't seen in a long time. It certainly wasn't evident in '96 or in '92.

And you know, we went to Spokane, Washington this last night, and in a hangar people had been waiting there for quite a long period (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hangar was a lot of people. And they're fired up.

KING: Because you're never late. You weren't late, were you?

G. BUSH: Never late.

KING: Never late. Say about you, you're as good as me, you're never late.


We'll be right back with Governor Bush and Laura right after this.


KING: Worcester, Massachusetts, hello.

CALLER: Yes. I'd like to know, Governor Bush, what is the first issue that you'll be working on January 21st?

KING: First thing you'll do.

G. BUSH: Well, that's a great question.

KING: Yes, it sure is. G. BUSH: I -- I want to send a bill up that will focus on public schools and education, that will pass power out of Washington, D.C., so that the states have got maximum flexibility and authority.

KING: That's first order of business, education?

G. BUSH: It is. It is. And included in that will be monies available for a reading initiative that states and local districts will be able to access to make sure young children learn to read.

The second order of business will be an immediate helping hand, which is a $48 billion, four-year program to make sure poor seniors and moderate-income seniors get prescription drugs.

Actually, the first thing I'm going to do besides legislation is to call in my Cabinet and say we're here to serve America. Our job is to represent the people of this country. Anybody who has got any hidden personal agendas, you need to leave them at the door.

KING: Concerning that Cabinet, will there be minorities in that Cabinet?

G. BUSH: Of course.

KING: Will there be women in that Cabinet?

G. BUSH: Absolutely. I've got women in my campaign. One reason I'm going to win the presidency is because I've got women in the highest echelons of my campaign, and I listen to them.

KING: And in foreign policy, you may have two black Americans in the highest two posts.

G. BUSH: If I can convince them. If I win and can convince them.

KING: Colin Powell and...

G. BUSH: Condi Rice.

KING: ... Condi Rice. They're great people.

Dallas, Texas, hello.

CALLER: Hello.


CALLER: Hello.

KING: Go ahead.

CALLER: Mrs. Bush, what are your hopes and dreams for your twin daughters?

KING: Yes. What do you want them to do? L. BUSH: That's -- that's a great question.

KING: How old are they?

L. BUSH: They're 18 years old. They're freshmen in college.

I think like every mother or every parent I hope they have a very happy life. I hope they have an opportunity to do a lot of things. I hope that they want to have a profession, that they have that opportunity. I hope if they want to stay home and raise babies, they have that opportunity. Actually, I might like that part as a grandmother.

KING: Are twins tough to raise?

L. BUSH: Twins were wild to raise. They were fun, very fun.

KING: Are they very alike?

L. BUSH: Very different.

KING: Very different?

L. BUSH: Very different. But the one thing that I actually hope for my children is that they'll be lifelong learners, because I think that's a very satisfying life.

KING: What -- are you going to worry about who they date?

G. BUSH: Yes.


I am. Actually, the boys they have brought home are pretty darn good kids.

KING: So far.

G. BUSH: Yes, they are great. And, you know, we're -- we -- that was a fabulous question from the lady, because that is really what -- you know, the hopes and dreams of parents are really -- kind of help define who you are. And my answer is, I want them to be anything they want to be.

KING: Everything else in second place.

G. BUSH: It is. And I worry about, obviously, what this campaign, or what the presidency, could mean for their ability to be anything they could be. And...

KING: Hard.

G. BUSH: Well, it is hard. And we're not going to -- you know, we are doing the very best we can to protect them.

KING: How well do you handle the humor, the comedy, the late night shows?

L. BUSH: Fortunately, we can't stay up that late, so we haven't seen any of them.

KING: But do you hear about it? Do you hear of what Leno said last night, or Letterman, or Jon Stewart?

L. BUSH: We do. I mean, I heard the -- no, no, I didn't hear.

KING: What did you hear?

L. BUSH: I didn't read those. I read the "New York Times" article, as much of it as I could stand -- "New York Times" magazine -- about how now they think humor is so influential.

KING: Did it bug you?

L. BUSH: Yes, I mean of course, because -- but, you know, Larry, you know when you get into this race that it is just a fact of life, that that is what happens.

KING: Does it bother you?

G. BUSH: No, not really.


G. BUSH: Look -- I know -- well, I know who I am. I'm -- I think, when it's all said and done...


G. BUSH: ... the obituary will say: He was comfortable in his own skin.

I remember -- look, I remember where I'm called what.

KING: The dyslexia thing, did that bother you?

G. BUSH: Oh, that was just fiction.

KING: But did it bother you? Because, first of all, millions of Americans have it.

G. BUSH: Of course they are. My little brother, Neil, is dyslexic.

KING: Successful people have it.

G. BUSH: Very much so. Winston Churchill, one of my...

KING: So how did you react when a thing like that made...

G. BUSH: I just smiled. I just thought it was silly, you know. We've got a writer who just made something up. And, you know, I'm -- even if I were, I would be a good president. But I'm not. KING: Hey, there could be good dyslexic president.

G. BUSH: But you know something, I mean, -- listen, I remember what they did Ronald Reagan. They belittled him and they said, oh, he can't possibly be smart enough to be president of the United States. He is simply an actor. The man turned out to be a great president.

And, you know, I think it is partly because those of us who don't spend our adult life in Washington, D.C. are seen to be -- somehow be deficient. But the great news is, most people don't spend their adult lives in Washington, D.C. The voters who make the determination in the elections are really looking for somebody who has got good judgment, common sense, and can relate to them.

And that is why governors have tended to be president of the United States: President Clinton, President Carter, President Reagan, and President Bush, I hope.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Bushes. It won't be their last visit.

Don't go away.


KING: The ticket -- the other side is taking a little hits on violence and Hollywood, in that they raised a lot of money from Hollywood, but -- especially Senator Lieberman -- very critical of Hollywood. Is this hypocrisy to you or part of the game?

G. BUSH: I don't know. I mean, I think what we needed to say is -- to Hollywood -- you can do a better job. You know, don't battle parents. Join with parents to teach their children right from wrong.

KING: But you take their support, right? Or you would?

G. BUSH: I don't think they're for me, for some reason -- a nice fellow like me. But I find it somewhat awkward that the language changed from, you know, the harsh rhetoric when the FTC report came out to the -- kind of the loving rhetoric here in Hollywood.

KING: How will you lead up to the debate? Are you going to take the weekend off and prepare? Is that the plan?

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: What is the plan? Give us the


G. BUSH: Well, here is the plan. Tomorrow tonight, I'm going to get back to Texas and I'm going to spend some time just reviewing policy matters, particularly -- well, just policy matters. And then Friday afternoon, I'm going to have a mock debate. And then Saturday -- on our ranch -- and Saturday morning, the same thing. Probably spend a little time cutting some ads too, because we've -- get ready for


KING: Maybe watch Al Gore here this Thursday.

G. BUSH: Yes, of course. I mean, after all...

KING: Good idea. You've got to know what the other side is doing.

G. BUSH: Yes, sure. You see what he is going to say.

KING: And then what do you do on Monday? Go to Boston Monday?

G. BUSH: No, probably go Tuesday. I'm not sure. But you will be happy to hear I'm not the scheduler. But we'll probably hit a state, work our way toward Boston -- and then get there -- get there Tuesday morning some time and relax.

And, you know if I'm -- if -- this an opportunity -- is how I view it -- to do what we are doing right now.

KING: A lot of people giving you advice?

L. BUSH: Be yourself.

G. BUSH: Yes, the great advice.

KING: Now, we know your father didn't like -- especially this kind of format that you're going to have Tuesday. Your father looked at his watch once and said, "When is it over?" -- and admitted the other day he couldn't wait until it was over.

G. BUSH: I'm not going to be looking at my watch, I can assure you. I think Jim Lehrer will do a good job.

KING: He's a fine guy.

G. BUSH: He is. And...

KING: Do you think about what you are going to wear?

G. BUSH: I haven't thought about that yet.

KING: Laura, have you?

L. BUSH: I haven't, but I will.

KING: It counts.

G. BUSH: I may go with early Regis, I'm not sure.

KING: Did you like that look?

G. BUSH: The Regis look?

KING: Yes.

G. BUSH: I'm not much of a clothes-hound. Yes, I thought it was OK.

KING: Did you like Oprah?

G. BUSH: I did like -- I really enjoyed Oprah. She is a wonderful lady. And she's an important person in America today. She...

KING: She sure is.

G. BUSH: She talks about literacy. And she combats a lot of the garbage that is on daytime TV with a program that is so uplifting and. In all, it was a very wonderful experience.

KING: It's always wonderful seeing you, Governor.

G. BUSH: Thank you, sir.

KING: Continued good luck.

L. BUSH: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

KING: Six weeks from tonight.

L. BUSH: That is right.

G. BUSH: You'll know. You'll know.

KING: Yes. We will be seeing you again, right?

G. BUSH: Thank you, sir.

KING: This is not the last visit.

G. BUSH: Listen, I want to wish you a happy new year as well.

KING: Thank you.

G. BUSH: Rosh Hashanah is coming up.

KING: Thank you very much.

Governor George W. Bush of Texas, his wife, Laura -- the debate -- first debate is next Tuesday. And we will be seeing lots more of them on LARRY KING LIVE, we trust, as they head towards six weeks from tonight and Election Day 2000, the first election of the new millennium.

Tomorrow night: Bobby Knight. Former head basketball at the University of Indiana will be aboard. And Vice President Gore and Tipper will be here on Thursday.

Thanks for joining us. For the Bushes and yours truly in Los Angeles, good night. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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