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Gore and Bradley Face Off in Debate

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Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley traded barbs yesterday on health care, Russia and the meaning of presidential leadership in a prickly debate laced with sarcastic one-liners. [includes rush transcript]

The two candidates for the 2000 Democratic U.S. presidential nomination met in their fourth debate–the first of this year -at the University of New Hampshire in the state that will hold the first primary of the campaign on February 1.

Although Gore enjoys a double-digit lead over Bradley in national polls, most surveys show the former New Jersey senator narrowly ahead in New Hampshire.

Both Gore and Bradley said in the debate that if they were elected president, they would require their appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to fully support allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

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

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley traded barbs last night on healthcare, Russia, the meaning of presidential leadership and gay issues. In a prickly debate, laced with sarcastic one-liners, the two candidates for the 2000 Democratic US presidential nomination met in their fourth debate, the first of this year, at the University of New Hampshire, in the state that will hold the first primary of the campaign on February 1st.

Although Gore enjoys a double-digit lead over Bradley in national polls, most surveys show the former New Jersey senator narrowly ahead in New Hampshire. Both Gore and Bradley said in the debate that if they were elected president, they would require their appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to fully support allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

Before we turn to some underlying issues that are perhaps the most important motivations for actual legislation and policy that gets passed and implemented in Washington, we thought we would bring you an excerpt of the debate. It was hosted by ABC’s Peter Jennings, with some New Hampshire reporters asking questions in between. We’ll begin with Al Gore.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: We passed tough welfare reform, which I think has worked. You voted against it. I voted against those budget cuts. You voted for them. I voted, as I said a moment ago, for the resolution to use military force to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. You voted against it.

My question is not about the details of those votes. It’s really more basic. Would you vote differently on any of those three votes if you had it to do over again? Were they mistakes, and why?

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: The answer is, no, I wouldn’t have voted differently. In ’81, if everybody in the Congress had voted as I had voted, against the budget — for the budget cuts, but against the tax cuts, we would not have had the deficit of the 1990s. As a result of that, we would have had more economic growth, as you were well aware, given the economic growth now. When you have more economic growth, you have more revenue coming to the government, which would have meant more money to do things to try to help the people who are poor.

No, on welfare reform. I don’t think the answer to the problems of people who are poor in America is to take a pot of money from federal officials, send it to state officials and say spend 80% of this as best you can. I think that this is a much more serious question. We have a booming economy. Welfare is down, but deep poverty is up. It’s not down. Deep poverty.

I was out in LA not so long ago, in East LA, and I did a session on healthcare, and a woman came up to me and said, “What are you going to do about this welfare reform bill?” I said, “What do you mean?” She said that the people who are going out to work are getting minimum wage jobs, they’re not getting any training, and therefore, they’re never going to move forward.

When I voted this way, I got a call — I was in later doing something for CBS — and I got a call from a mayor of a major city in the United States, who said, “Bill, unless something happens, if we get into a recession, I’m going to have 100,000 people on my streets.” And I voted against the welfare reform bill, quite frankly, that is not the welfare reform bill today, because I said at the time that you’d spend the next four years correcting that bill, but remember, this vote came in October of 1996. October of 1996. Who knew that Bill Clinton was going to win? Maybe it would have been Bob Dole. If it had been Bob Dole, there would have been a long time before there were any changes made in that welfare reform bill.

So, no, I wouldn’t have voted, because I don’t think that you deal with this problem with kind of federal shirking of responsibility and states assuming all responsibility. I think there’s a commitment there that has to be good.

As you know, one of the changes that was made was to give the governors greater flexibility about the two- or five-year cutoff. But if you give them more flexibility — I guarantee you I’m going to watch to see if they cut people off. I’m going to watch that very vigilantly as President of the United States.

And on the issue of the of the Persian Gulf, no. The fact of the matter is, when the vote was taken, I thought that we should continue sanctions, as did most people in my party. And I thought that you should continue sanctions and then later have the right to use force. I said I was prepared to use force at a later day. And that’s a decision that I made then, and I stand by it.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, I think all three were mistakes, but I’m not going to debate the details of it. I mean, I think that people were trapped in the old welfare system. I met earlier with Christine McGuire here, who lives in Portsmouth, has two children. She was trapped in welfare. Now she has a good job. There are millions like her. Saddam Hussein would still be in Kuwait if we had tried to rely on sanctions. Those budget cuts from Ronald Reagan hurt New Hampshire.

You know, but my point is beyond that, Bill. In all those words about the three different votes, one word I didn’t hear — and I — was the word “mistake.” And here’s why I think that is important. I think our country deserves a president who, when he makes a mistake, is willing to acknowledge it and willing to learn from it, because I believe that the presidency is not an academic exercise. It’s not an extended seminar on theory. It has to be a daily fight for the best interests of the American people. The position of president is the only position filled by somebody who is charged with a responsibility for fighting for all of the people. If I make a mistake, I’ll do my best to own up to it and then to learn from it and learn from you about how we can deal with the reality as we find it, and then work together to shape that reality to make this a better country.

PETER JENNINGS: Can I ask you both, how large —

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Well, let me just —

PETER JENNINGS: — how large a mistake is a president allowed to make? Mr. Bradley? Mr. Gore? Either one of you.

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: How large a mistake as a president?

PETER JENNINGS: Well, you both talked about mistakes.

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Yeah. I mean —

PETER JENNINGS: You both talked about admitting mistakes.

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: Al picked three things that I didn’t think were mistakes. If you want me to admit to a mistake so that I can pass this litmus test, I’ll admit to a mistake. You know, I voted against Alan Greenspan the first time.

PETER JENNINGS: I’m not touching that one, sir.

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: That was a mistake.

But, you know, someone once asked Sam Walton, who was the head of Wal-Mart, “How did you get to be successful?” He said, “By making the right decisions.” He said, “How do you get the right decisions?” He said, “With experience.” He said, “How do you get experience?” He says, “Making the wrong decisions.”


SEN. BILL BRADLEY: So I think you learn from your mistakes.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Let me respond to that. You know, in heading up the Reinventing Government Program, which has made a pretty good start in trying to reform our government, I learned the old axiom that I didn’t know before: if you’re not making some mistakes, you’re not trying hard enough. And I think that a president who tries to bring fundamental change to our country has to be willing to try new things.

I supported the Welfare Reform Act, for example, because I thought that it was a bold plan that needed to be tried, and it has worked.

But, you know, the country can ill-afford —

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: But it’s not the plan that’s there now.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If I can — I didn’t interrupt — I want to finish.

The country can ill-afford big mistakes by a president who stumbles into something that could be avoided with the kind of judgment and experience that our people ought to have the right to expect in any president.

Now, it’s up to the voters to decide how to find that in this race. I’m proud of the seven years that I have served in shaping this economic policy, in reducing the welfare rolls, in helping the President bring about peace in various regions of the world, in reducing the crime rate for seven years. But I am still learning. And I think that a president who tries to do the best job possible to take our country into the future in the way we should go into the future has to be willing to really get out there and push the boundaries and try new things.

PETER JENNINGS: I’d like to ask you both a question about a litmus test, if I may. Mr. Bradley used the phrase, and you’ve both talked about gays in the military. You both believe that gays should have the right to serve openly in the military. President Clinton has had great difficulty. The Joint Chiefs, as well as the Congress, have been a principal obstacle to that particular policy.

If you become president — I’ll ask you one at a time; you first, Mr. Gore — if you become president, will you nominate members of the Joint Chiefs who only support your gay policy? In other words, will it be a litmus test?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I have rejected the notion of litmus tests on the Supreme Court by saying that there are ways to find out the kind of judgment somebody has without posing a specific litmus test.

I think that it’s a little different where the Joint Chiefs of Staff are concerned, because you’re not interfering with an independent judicial decision. As Commander-in-Chief, a president is giving orders, in effect, or he is — he’s the superior of the officers that are reporting to the Commander-in-Chief in the chain of command.

I would try to bring about the kind of change in policy on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that President Harry Truman brought about after World War II in integrating the military. And I think that would require those who wanted to serve in — on the position on the Joint Chiefs to be in agreement with that policy. So, yes.

PETER JENNINGS: So, if I understand it correctly, you would only nominate members of the Joint Chiefs if they supported —


PETER JENNINGS: —- your gay support -—

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think that the new policy has to be implemented in a way that accomplishes the goal and yet recognizes the practical challenges that the military leadership will have to confront in making that change. I would insist, before appointing anybody to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that that individual support my policy. And, yes, I would make that a requirement.

PETER JENNINGS: Mr. Bradley, would you, sir?

SEN. BILL BRADLEY: I can say that in much shorter words, I think. And that is, when you’re president, you are Commander-in-Chief, and you issue orders. And soldiers are good soldiers, and they follow your orders. A consultation process takes place, certainly, in which you hear their view, but when you follow an order, no matter — I’m sure that there are people in the military today don’t agree with President Clinton on fifty things. But my sense is that when you’re President of the United States, military people are loyal to their Commander-in-Chief, whatever the policy is that the Commander-in-Chief calls for for the country, and that’s what I expect them to do if I’m President of the United States and we move toward gays in the military, which I intend to do.

PETER JENNINGS: Well, based on your brevity, sir, you get —

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Bradley, New Jersey senator, Democratic presidential hopeful, sparring with Vice President Al Gore. They faced off in New Hampshire last night. Just an excerpt of what they had to say. Both Al Gore and Bill Bradley saying last night, if they were elected president, they would require their appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to fully support allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.

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