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Republicans, Democrats Clash in Debates

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Republicans sparred over abortion and Democrats accused each other of negative and dishonest campaigning yesterday as the two parties held their final debates before Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary. [includes rush transcript]

Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain fended off accusations by other Republicans that they are soft on abortion during a 90-minute exchange marked by sharp attacks at the two men, who lead the polls in the nation’s first primary.

A 60 minute debate by the Democrats also turned testy, with Vice President Al Gore accusing Bill Bradley of making negative personal attacks, and the former New Jersey senator saying that Gore had lied about his record on issues. The two battled over welfare reform, tax cuts and healthcare.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to the last debates before the New Hampshire primary, the first primary of the election 2000.

We’ll begin with the Democrats. They faced off yesterday. Vice President Al Gore versus the former senator of New Jersey, Bill Bradley. No, the reporters who were asking the questions did not ask questions about the Occidental Petroleum-Gore connection, and Bradley did not raise the issue, although we know the campaign knew about the issue yesterday of the connection between Gore and Occidental Petroleum. But they discussed a number of issues, and this is Judy Woodruff of CNN beginning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The first question goes to Mr. Gore. Most people believe that you are an honorable man, but when it comes to electoral politics, your critics, including some Democrats, say that you will do almost anything to win, including reinventing yourself, using consultants no matter what their reputation and running not just a tough but a mean-spirited campaign. Newspaper editorials here in New Hampshire and around the country accuse you of distorting Mr. Bradley’s record. Is this really necessary to win your party’s nomination?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, Judy, of course, I strongly challenge your characterization. And there is nothing that I have said in this campaign that is in any way mean-spirited. I have never run a negative personal attack against my opponent, and I never will. I have never even mentioned his name or shown his picture in an advertisement. And I have no plans to.

Now, I think that some people who feel uncomfortable when the substance of positions is criticized confuse a free-spirited debate on the substance of issues with negative attacks.

It’s not a negative attack to defend Medicaid, when Senator Bradley proposes to substitute vouchers or subsidies, as he prefers to call them, limited to $150 per month per person. It’s not anything but an exercise in democracy to defend Medicare and say what all the independent analysts have said, that because the baby boom generation is about to retire, doubling the population of Medicare recipients, we need to start putting money into the trust fund. Senator John McCain has the same position.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, Mr. Vice President, there have been evidently several distortions of Mr. Bradley’s record, and I’m going to cite just two of them. You charged, for example, that his healthcare plan would eliminate federal standards for nursing homes. It would not. Number two, you’ve charged in supporting — that he, in supporting pilot private school voucher programs, which he did, he voted to siphon off money from public education — excuse me, which is also not the case. Now, is this a matter of misinformation or were you just being political?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, Judy, I disagree again with your characterization. Federal nursing home standards are enforced, by the providing of money under the Medicaid program to more than two-thirds of all the nursing home patients who get as much as half of their money from Medicaid. When the federal government says, look, you have got to abide by standards, the only threat they have to enforce those standards is withdrawing money.

Now, on public school vouchers — private school vouchers, Senator Bradley voted every time it came up in the Senate for private school vouchers. It’s pretty well accepted that there is a limited amount of money in communities for public schools and that if you take some of that money and devote it to private schools, over time that is going to result in the siphoning of money away from the public schools.

UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you Mr. Gore. Mr. Bradley, I want to get right to the heart of the education issue with you. So can you go ahead and clarify your voucher position then at this time?

BILL BRADLEY: Sure. I don’t think that vouchers are the answer to the problems with public education. I voted for it several times when I was in the Senate as an experiment. There are now two experiments going on. I don’t think it’s the answer to the problems of public education.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: The way you’ve been talking, I just don’t see how you can vote for Ronald Reagan’s budget cuts and then try to campaign like Robert Kennedy.

UNIDENTIFIED: And one final from you, Mr. Bradley.

BILL BRADLEY: Well, let me just say, when Al accuses me of negative campaigning, it reminds me of the story about Richard Nixon. It said Richard Nixon’s the kind of politician who would chop down a tree and stand on the stump and give a speech about conservation. It just won’t fly.

UNIDENTIFIED: Mr. Bradley, your turn to pose a question to Vice President Gore.

BILL BRADLEY: Al, Hillary Clinton said the other day that consistency on fundamental issues of principle is important. She went on to express how she and Rudy Giuliani have the same position on choice now, but that he had changed his position to arrive there and she had always been there. My question to you is, do you think she’s wrong?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I’ve always supported Roe v. Wade. I have always supported a woman’s right to choose. And let me say that if you entrust me with the presidency, I will guarantee that a woman’s right to choose is protected.

Now, it’s true that early in my career I wrestled with the question of what kinds of exceptions should be allowed to the general rule that Medicaid should also pay for this procedure. I have come to the strong view that all women, regardless of their income, must have the right to choose, and that’s my position.

Now, the next president is likely to appoint as many as three, maybe four, justices of the Supreme Court. All of the Republican candidates who are in this studio have taken a pledge to overturn Roe v. Wade and support a constitutional amendment to take away the right to choose. We basically agree. We have exactly the same position. So if you want to manufacture a distinction, OK. But if you want to know my position, I favor a woman’s right to choose, regardless of the woman’s income.

BILL BRADLEY: Well, you still didn’t answer the question, whether consistency on fundamental issues of principle is relevant. I think they are. And I can understand why you wouldn’t answer the question, because when you were in the Congress, you had an 84% right-to-life voting record. And it seems to me that this is an issue that requires somebody to know where they stand and to know why they stand where they stand.

I respect people who have a different view than I do. I respect your position that you had. People can evolve. But your campaign shouldn’t go around saying that you’ve always been for a woman’s right to choose, because the record shows you have not.

UNIDENTIFIED: Alright, let’s —


UNIDENTIFIED: Let’s go on to the next group. Mr. Gore, you have a question for Mr. Bradley. Oh, no, I’m sorry, I’m sorry —


UNIDENTIFIED: I’m sorry. You do get a chance to respond.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yes, I thought that I did. Thank you, Tom.

I have always supported a woman’s right to choose, and I support it today and —

BILL BRADLEY: That’s not true. You voted —

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, it is true. I have always supported Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose. And the fact is the exceptions on the —

BILL BRADLEY: Al, that’s not true.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If I could finish — I haven’t interrupted you, Bill. The exceptions to the general rule that Medicaid should provide funding for abortions constituted virtually the only votes in the House of Representatives during those years, and I’ve told you that I wrestled with that. But if you want to know what my position is, you can look at the record and you can hear me right now. And not just here, but in every speech that I have made. I support a woman’s right to choose.

UNIDENTIFIED: Alright. If you could ask a question now of Senator Bradley, Mr. Gore.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Yes. On the question of welfare reform, I believe that it has been an important achievement. In fact, we have moved seven million people from welfare to work, cutting the rolls in half. You voted against it in the United States Senate, and I’m wondering why.

BILL BRADLEY: I voted against it, because I didn’t think it was in the best interest of the country. And I’m wondering why you think it’s working so well, when because of welfare reform there are one million children in this country today who don’t have health insurance, who have lost their health insurance because of welfare reform.

I also think that although the welfare rolls have dropped, that people in deep poverty have increased. And when I look at this vote and I see what this vote really was was a gamble with kids for reelection. In October 1996, that’s when the vote took place. That’s when the discussion took place.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Bill Bradley and Vice President Al Gore in their last debate before the Democratic primary in New Hampshire next Tuesday. When we come back, we’ll hear from the Republicans. This is Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. As we go now to the Republican debate that took place last night in New Hampshire just before the Democrats sparred, and this is the debate between, among others — and they will be identified as we go along — George Bush and John McCain, Alan Keyes, Steve Forbes. And as they go, they will introduce — they will be introduced by the reporters questioning them.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’ve got vibrant charter school movement. I’ve got a public school choice movement. They — we’re making the best progress in the nation for improvement amongst minority students, that are minority students because of our strong accountability system are making tremendous improvement. That our schools are some ranked as some of the best in the country, Steve. Our public school system is meeting the challenge.

In terms of the budget, I’ve slowed the rate of growth down. And when you take out population growth and inflation, it’s by far the slowest rate of growth ever in my state’s history in terms of tax cuts. I not only led our state to a billion-dollar tax cut in ’97, I led our state to a $2 billion tax cut in 1999. Real meaningful tax cuts.

But I guess the way to answer your question is, you know, the people of Texas took a look at my record, the second biggest state in the union, a mighty important electoral state for any Republican running for president, and they said, “Mr. Governor, we accept your record,” and they overwhelmingly voted me back into office. I nearly got 70% of the vote.

STEVE FORBES: Well, George, on —- again on SATs -—

AMY GOODMAN: That was George Bush, this is Steve Forbes.

STEVE FORBES: Texas is one of the few states where minority scores have gone down, not up. Standards have been dumbed down. Eighth grade science tests in Texas shows four — pictures four insects and says, “Pick out the fly.” So that’s why the test scores have been not going up. Now, again, how are you going to improve education nationally, when in Texas it’s gone down? And in terms of tax cuts, yours is a tax cut that only Clinton and Gore could love, when most people don’t get it.


STEVE FORBES: Your own budget director said six out of ten didn’t get it.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Let me answer, OK? I —- you know, the people of Texas looked at the real facts. I’ve just explained them to you. Our test scores -—

STEVE FORBES: What are the real facts on the SATs?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Please don’t interrupt me. Let me finish, OK?

STEVE FORBES: Well, answer the question.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: The test scores in my state on the NATE test, which compares state-to-state, show dramatic improvement, and that’s objective analysis, after objective analysis has ranked Texas as one of the best education states in the country. It’s not only because of me. It’s because of teachers and principals and parents. One reason our SAT —- our SAT scores have improved since I’ve been the governor. You need to get your researchers to do a better job. But unlike many states -—

STEVE FORBES: Your ranking went down.

AMY GOODMAN: And now we turn to John McCain on education vouchers.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You’re asking for money to take out of public education for vouchers, when they need that money. Let’s kill off that sugar subsidy. Let’s kill off that ethanol subsidy that helps nobody, except perhaps Archer Daniels Midland, and let’s take that money and put it into the education of our children. That’s where we can really help parents in America.

UNIDENTIFIED: Governor Bush, you have a rebuttal to that. Thirty seconds.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: My rebuttal is that we spent a lot of money on disadvantaged children, which I support, but there must be high standards set at the state level. My program says states, John. I am a governor, and I understand what federal controls are, and I understand federal mandates, which I’ve opposed. But I believe we owe it to our children to say to the state, you owe —- you need to set standards and you need to measure, and if the schools don’t rise to the challenge, as opposed to allowing the status quo to reign, we need to free the children. We need to free the parents -—


GOV. GEORGE BUSH: —so they can make a different choice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Keyes, you get the next question.

ALAN KEYES: Thank you very much. I’d like to address my question to Steve Forbes. Steve, I’m very concerned with the surrender of America’s national sovereignty on steps that have been taken in recent years that undermine our allegiance and application of our Constitution. Particularly I’m concerned that by joining the World Trade Organization and subjecting the American people directly to decisions taken by an unrepresentative body that will then be applied directly to their affairs without the intervention of their elected representatives in the Congress or elsewhere, we subvert the American constitutional system.

Would you join me in a pledge because of that assault on the Constitution, which it represents, to withdraw this nation from this unrepresentative body, the World Trade Organization, and reestablish the sovereignty of the American people in their international economic affairs?

STEVE FORBES: I believe in the sovereignty of the American nation and the American people. I believe in a US, not a UN, foreign policy. I believe that we should destroy or send the International Monetary Fund to the political equivalent of Jurassic Park, given what it’s done.

Concerning the World Trade Organization, Clinton and Gore have made a total hash of the thing. The whole thing was supposed to be designed to mediate trade disputes, so they can reduce barriers that are in the way of our products and services. We’re the biggest trading nation in the world, and they discriminate against our products like no other nation. The WTO is like the wooly mammoth.

I think we have to take direct action. If that organization can’t get its act together, let it stay on the side, and we take direct actions I propose to do in reducing trade barriers with our partners, starting with the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement with Ireland and Britain, and we should do the same thing with Australia and other countries in the Pacific Rim. That way, we can stop this discrimination against our products, and the WTO can go its own way.

UNIDENTIFIED: Mr. Bauer for Mr. Keyes.

GARY BAUER: Alan, a couple of weeks ago you criticized my good friend John McCain because he expressed some support of or interest in a controversial music group. In view of that, I was a little surprised this week to see you fall into a mosh pit while a band called the Machine Rages On or Rage Against the Machine played. That band is anti-family. It’s pro-cop killer, and it’s pro-terrorist. It’s the kind of music that the killers at Columbine High School were immersed in. I don’t know, don’t you think you owe an apology to parents and policemen on that one?

ALAN KEYES: Actually, I don’t, because I was in no — accusing me of having some complicity in that music would be accusing me of — of I don’t know, being responsible for the color of my skin. When you can’t control things, Gary, you’re not morally responsible for it. And I was not morally responsible for the music that was playing as I stepped out of my rally and faced Michael Moore, whatever his name was, doing whatever he was doing. That’s his concern, not mine, and until you told me this fact, I had no idea what that music was, contrary to our friend John McCain, who expressed the view that this was his favorite rock group. I think telling somebody that it’s your favorite thus and such is actually taking responsibility for the choice and making it clear to folks that this is something that you prefer and that this is something that you care about, and so forth and so on.

To do it in a lighthearted way, rather than having it imposed on you by circumstances of which — over which you have no control is something that I think is totally unacceptable. So I think that I would beg to differ with you. I had nothing to do with that music, disclaim any knowledge of it.

Admittedly, I was willing to fall into the mosh pit. But I’ll tell you something. You know why I did that? Because I think that exemplifies the kind of trust in people that is the heart and soul of the Keyes campaign. It’s about time we got back to the understanding that we trust the people of this country to do what’s decent. And when you trust them, they will in fact hold you up, whether it’s in terms of giving help to you when you’re falling down or caring for their own children. So I thought that as an emblem of that trust, it was the right thing to do. Any anyway, my daughter thought it was a good idea.

I do know that when I got down, one of the folks who was there with one of the news crews looked at me, and he says, “You know, you’re the only person I’ve ever seen dive into a mosh pit and come out with his tie straight.” And I think that’s — you know the real test of dignity? The real test of dignity is how you carry it through hard times. I think I learned that from my people. We went through slavery when we didn’t have the outward signs of what others would call dignity, because we understood that dignity comes from within and that whatever circumstance you are going through you can carry that dignity with you, and no one can take it away.

So I think you may have a misunderstanding of dignity. It doesn’t come from what you do in a mosh pit; it comes from what you do as a result of the convictions of your heart. And I’ll leave it to the American people to judge the convictions of my heart.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re going to move on to a question that all of you will have an opportunity to answer. Thirty seconds each, beginning with Mr. Bauer. The question is this. The Commission for Presidential Debates has issued its criteria for determining which candidates will be admitted to the nationally televised debates this fall. One of the requirements is that all candidates must be showing 15% in the polls. Some feel that 15% rule has the potential to exclude independent candidates, specifically the Reform Party nominee. Do you think that’s fair?

GARY BAUER: I don’t think it’s fair. In fact, I think we should stop relying on polls, period, whether it’s to pick who’s a serious presidential candidate or, what’s even worse, to decide what policies we ought to be pursuing in Washington, D.C. This process ought to be as open as possible. The American people deserve that. They certainly deserve not to have elites, whether it’s some organization or pollster somewhere, deciding who they’re going to get a chance to hear from and who they’re not going to have a chance to hear from.


GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yeah, I think it’s fair, I do, because I think otherwise there’s going to be a stage with fifty people. And it’s going to be hard for the candidates who are — who have a chance to become the president to be able to make their case.

I hope the debates don’t turn out to be a kind of an Oprah Winfrey-style who can walk around and who can feel people’s pain the best. I hope they’re open, honest, straightforward dialogues, based upon the philosophy. And I’m confident that any of us up here can take our philosophy and make the case to the American people, compared to who we may be running against.


ALAN KEYES: I think it’s totally unfair. And I think it would give a dangerous power to pollsters and to those who are capable of manipulating those polls. And I think it would be anathema to the process that ought to leave these choices in the hands of the people. You won’t get fifty people on a stage if you set the threshold of participation in those that debate at the proper level of qualification in states around the country.

It was not easy for the Reform Party to meet the qualifications. But once they have objectively met the qualification to be on the ballot in a sufficient number of states to win the electoral votes needed for the presidency, no polls or anything else ought to keep them out of the debates. You are depriving the American people, when you do that, of a proper choice.

UNIDENTIFIED: Senator McCain? Senator McCain, I want to return to a subject matter you alluded to earlier in our debate. The US Supreme Court this week upheld the rights of states to cap the amount of an individual’s contributions to political candidates. The court rejected the notion that contributions deserve First Amendment free speech protection, although the court didn’t address the issue of soft money contributions. Is this court’s ruling seen as a stepping stone, in your eyes, to further campaign finance reform?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: This court ruling is a magnificent affirmation of the efforts that I and reformers have been making for many years. And, you know, Governor Bush says that it’s unilateral disarmament if we get the special interests out of Washington. I see it as a clear road to victory, because when I’m in the debate with Al Gore, I’m going to turn to Al Gore and I’m going to say, “You and Bill Clinton debased the institutions of government in 1996, and you were engaged in reprehensible conduct, and then you said there was no controlling legal authority.” I’m going to give you the controlling legal authority, and I’m going to make what they did illegal. And, George, when you’re in that debate, you’re going to stand there, and you’ll have nothing to say, because you’re defending this system. You know, you’ve said that it’s bad for our party if we have campaign finance reform. I’ve always had the belief that what’s good for our country is good for our party.

UNIDENTIFIED: Let me follow up by asking you then, Senator, by and large the Republican establishment opposes the campaign finance reforms that you propose. Why is that?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: And if there’s anybody around that wants business as usual, they don’t want to vote for John McCain. I’m not proud when the Republican Party has taken $7 million from the tobacco companies. I’m appalled when I hear of these new set-ups of millions and millions of uncontrolled money that will never be disclosed.

We know what happened in '96. Chinese money flowed into the United States of America, and our national security was compromised. That's wrong. That’s wrong. And until the last breath I draw, I’ll give the government back to the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED: Governor Bush, I’m going to give you thirty seconds.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: John, I don’t appreciate the way you’ve characterized my position. I’m for reform. I sure am. Wait, I’m for reform. I’m for getting rid of the corporate soft money and labor union soft money. But I want to make sure big labor, big labor toes the line, too, and that’s the difference between what you’re for and I’m for.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You know and I know that labor gives millions of dollars, and it would be affected also.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: May I finish, please, John? May I finish, please?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Fine. I’ll be glad.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Thank you. You’re — paycheck protection is important to make sure the playing field is level. And you can call all kinds of names you want. But the truth of the matter is, an overwhelming number of your members of the United States Senate on the Republican side do not support your plan, because it’s not fair. And that’s the reason why.

UNIDENTIFIED: Thank you. McCain — John McCain, we’re going to give you thirty seconds to rebut.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, I mean, look. We know what happened. We know what’s happening. It’s now legal in America for a Chinese Army-owned corporation with a subsidiary in the United States of America to give unlimited amounts of money to an American political campaign. I don’t know how you defend that.

We know that the labor bosses go down with the big checks. We know the trial lawyers go down with the big checks. We would ban that. Clearly we want paycheck protection, but really we also know what’s going on with some of your people right now. They’re setting up soft money to be used in the general — at least the media reports in the general campaign. My friends, we’ve got to fix this system, before it lurches out of control and young Americans won’t take part in the political process.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican debate in New Hampshire last night in Manchester. That was Arizona Senator John McCain, Texas Governor George Bush, millionaire Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Republican administrator Gary Bauer.

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