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Republicans Spar Over Campaign Finance Reform in Debate

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An aggressive George W. Bush pledged in a campaign debate last night in New Hampshire to “push for tax cuts, so help me God,” if elected to the White House, and accused presidential rival John McCain of seeking campaign finance changes that would hurt the conservative cause. [includes rush transcript]

McCain, his insurgent candidacy at a crossroads in the first-in-the-nation primary state, used the forum to strongly defend his actions on behalf of a political donor who was seeking action from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). A series of letters that surfaced yesterday showed that McCain had asked the FCC to help some of his major donors, including local telephone companies and broadcasters.

Bush, McCain and other GOP contenders, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes, Gary Bauer and Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, met for 60 animated minutes on a stage at the University of New Hampshire–the site of the debate earlier of the two Democratic presidential hopefuls.

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

AMY GOODMAN: We move right now directly into the Republican debate of last night, where the presidential contenders faced off at the University of New Hampshire and spoke on a number of issues. We’ll play excerpts of those issues and then speak with Chuck Lewis, who is head of Center for Public Integrity and has just put out the report The Buying of the President 2000. These are excerpts of the debate.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: This is not only no new taxes, this is tax cuts, so help me God.

TIM RUSSERT: Governor, so we’re clear, even in the case of a prolonged world war, with the United States involved, you would not consider raising taxes?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: If — if you’re talking about the extremest of extreme hypotheticals, as sometimes you have the tendency to do.

TIM RUSSERT: Which sometimes happens.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. But let me put it to you this way. When I’m the president, we’re not going to obfuscate when it comes to foreign policy. If I ever commit troops, I’m going to do so with one thing in mind. And that’s to win, Tim. And that’s to win in a fashion that not only achieves victory, but gets us out of the theatre in quick order.

TIM RUSSERT: And spend what it takes.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: And get — absolutely, if we go to war.

TIM RUSSERT: And raise revenues to spend.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ll see what happens.

TIM RUSSERT: Alison King has the next question.

ALISON KING: Mr. Bauer, you have said that if you are president you will only support Supreme Court justices who will vote against Roe v. Wade. If you would choose justices based on the abortion issue, do you feel voters should choose their president based on the abortion issue?

GARY BAUER: I will put no justice on the court that does not understand the clear moral idea found in the Declaration of Independence that is the basis of this country. And that idea says that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. And the first right it lists is the right to life. So, yes, all of my judges will believe that, and all of my judges will want to welcome every child into the world, give them a place at the table. I will put no bigots on the court, and I will not put anybody on the court that would sacrifice even one American child.

JENNY ATTIYEH: Mr. McCain, you’ve made cleaning up Washington the keynote of your presidential campaign. And yet yesterday we learned that you pressed the FCC to take action on a matter that ultimately benefited Paxton Communications, whose executives have been major contributors to your campaign. You say you did nothing wrong. But to others, your actions and words can seem hypocritical. Would you agree that you’ve exercised poor judgment?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: You know, the reason why I’ve worked so hard for campaign finance reform, because all this money washing around Washington and all these uncontrolled contributions taint all of us. No matter what we do, we are under a cloud of suspicion. And I am one of those, as well. And that’s why I fought so hard and will continue to fight so hard to clean up this mess and return the government back to the people of this country, which they’ve clearly lost. And since I worked there, I know it. And ask anyone else who works there.

But, you know, this case was clearly one where a person did not get a decision. This person had purchased a television station. The average time for the FCC, which is under the supervision and the oversight of the committee that I chair, usually takes 418 days. They ended up taking 700 days. At 700 days I said — wrote to them, “Make a decision.” Now, eight other congressmen told them to vote for or against this. I didn’t. I said, “Make a decision.” My job as chairman of the Commerce Committee, as every other major commerce — committee chairman in Washington, is to make the bureaucrats work for the people. And that has to do with making decisions. I would do the same thing again at almost anytime.

JENNY ATTIYEH: Well, for a man who rides the Straight Talk Express, that wasn’t the most forthcoming of answers. Let me just ask you again. Do you think you —

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, what was not forthcoming about it?

JENNY ATTIYEH: Did you exercise poor judgment, do you think?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I said no at the beginning, but I don’t know how to be more forthcoming. I’d be glad to elaborate. This was a decision that had been delayed for over 700 days. People deserve to know the answer. They — just as you are — all of us who pay taxes who deserve to get an answer from their government. I told them to give them an answer. I think that’s appropriate in my role as chairman of the committee that oversights this bureaucracy, which, by the way, is extremely difficult for most people to deal with.

TIM RUSSERT: They say Mr. Paxton, who you helped, was going to have a fundraiser for you Friday. You cancelled that. Why would you cancel the fundraiser if you have done everything according to form?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Because for the next three days I’m going to focus on these debates and the rest of the campaign, and I knew that if I didn’t that we’d be talking about that most of the time.

TIM RUSSERT: So, the appearance is not appropriate? So the appearance is not appropriate?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I thought that I would have to explain —

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Republican debate in New Hampshire.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: — and spend my time concentrating on these debates. Our money is coming in very well, by the way.

TIM RUSSERT: As you know, Senator—

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Not anywhere near $74 million, but it’s coming along pretty good.

TIM RUSSERT: As you know, the same article said that two Baby Bell companies that wanted to merge also had a letter on your behalf to the FCC. They gave you over $100,000. Is there a pattern here that you should stop?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: There’s a pattern of my exercising my duties as chairman of the Congress committee which oversights these issues. I will continue to.

TIM RUSSERT: Governor Bush, you said today that Senator McCain should answer these questions, that he should walk the walk. Has he answered the question? Is he walking the walk?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes, I think so. I think that — well, my objection with John is, is not how he’s conducted himself as chairman of the Commerce Committee. My objection is, is he’s proposing a campaign funding reform that will hurt Republicans and hurt the conservative cause. He’s asking us to unilaterally disarm, which I will refuse to do.

TIM RUSSERT: But you have no problem with him —

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought his answer was fine.

TIM RUSSERT: Next question. John just —

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Can I respond to that very quickly?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Look, you know as well as I do, George, that the unions carry millions and millions of dollars in checks and soft money down to the Democratic National Committee. The trial lawyers do the same thing. We’re hurting the unions bad if we take away their soft money. I’m for paycheck protection. I’m also ask stockholders also to pay theirs. But what you’re saying is that we should continue what happened in 1996. That’s disgraceful.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I know. John —

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Chinese money, Indonesian money came into the campaign. We’ll never know about the breaches of security.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Let me ask — let me say something.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think you’ve got to understand. Right now a supporter of yours is running attack ads morphing Bill Clinton’s face into mine. And by the way, ask him to get a better picture, will ya?

TIM RUSSERT: Next question for Steve Forbes.

JOHN DiSTASO: I’m being directed to just start asking. Mr. Forbes, you’re a wealthy man with a tax cut plan. Your social politics have shifted some to the right in the past four years. You’ve been known in the state for four years, spent millions, still remain at 10% or 11% in the polls. Tell us why you’re not yet connecting or not connecting with a large segment of the New Hampshire voters. Is it that some view you as aloof and out of touch or as — or while others may say that you’re just not the genuine article?

STEVE FORBES: I am independent. The special interests and lobbyists have no hooks into me, and that’s why I think my campaign is catching on. I’m picking my pockets. I’m not picking the pockets of the taxpayers. And the special interests have no interest in me, because they know their gravy train is going to be derailed when I’m president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED: Mr. Hatch. You are a twenty-three-year U.S. senator and a powerful player in Washington. Yet, as a presidential candidate, many feel that your campaign has been flat at best. A current New Hampshire poll puts you at about 1%. As a respected political figure, why have you been so unsuccessful winning over New Hampshire voters?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Keep in mind, I came in rather late in this. I came in on July 1st. At that time, George announced that he had raised $36 million. It was astounding, and it’s a credit to him. I said if I got a million people to give me $36, I’d have as much as he does, and I’d win it with $36 million. And I wouldn’t have to spend $70-some million to prove that I’m a conservative who’s going to get in there and cut taxes and cut spending in the federal government.

And last, but not least, you raised the issue of judges. I’ve worked with every federal judge in the last twenty-three years. The most important single issue in this campaign is, who’s going to pick the next 50% after Bill Clinton? I sure don’t want it to be Al Gore or Bill Bradley, and I’d sure like it to be me. And I think people across the board would appreciate the judges I would pick.


JENNY ATTIYEH: Mr. Keyes, I have a short question for you. What does the term “separation of church and state” mean to you?

ALAN KEYES: I don’t think that’s an important question, actually. I think the more important question would be, “Is there any reference to separation of church and state in the Constitution of the United States?” And the answer to that question is, no, there is not. The First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, which means what? The ability to take your religious beliefs and carry them into practice.

JENNY ATTIYEH: Can you just interpret that for me. Are you for or against the separation of church and state? Are you willing to abide by it?

ALAN KEYES: You are trying to force me to speak in terms that are not relevant to American life. The Declaration of Independence states very clearly that the foundation of all our rights is what? We do remember this, right? All men are created equal and endowed by their creator —


ALAN KEYES: — with certain inalienable rights. OK? Now, what does that mean? It means the source of our rights is the creator, God.

TIM RUSSERT: Senator McCain, last night on this very stage, both Democratic candidates for president said that they would require appointees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff to support allowing gays to openly serve in the military. Would you do the same, or would you insist that your appointees oppose allowing gays to openly serve in the military?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: My appointees on the Joint Chiefs of Staff?

TIM RUSSERT: That’s correct.

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I would make sure that a policy that’s working and is working and should work is continued. I believe that when people like General Colin Powell and other most respected men in America come up with a policy that does work — yes, it has troubles with it, yes, if it needs some reviews or changes or fine-tuning, then I’ll be glad to support such a thing, but I cannot — I cannot change a policy that’s working. And remember, there’s something unique, and that is, we give the very lives to the hands of their military leaders. And their military leaders — our military leaders are the ones whose advice we should rely on.

TIM RUSSERT: Gary Bauer, OK, go ahead.

GARY BAUER: The answer on requiring the Joint Chiefs of Staff to answer the demands of the gay rights movement in order to serve this country — and our party ought to find our voice and say that we will not put that kind of requirement on our military.

TIM RUSSERT: Governor Bush, I see you nodding your head. Would you appoint someone to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who openly advocated openly allowing gays to serve in military?


TIM RUSSERT: Would you appoint —

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: I would appoint —

TIM RUSSERT: Would you appoint an openly gay person to a senior staff or cabinet position?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: How would I know? I don’t ask. Somebody’s sexual orientation is their personal business, as far as I’m concerned.

TIM RUSSERT: If he or she said —

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Somebody —

TIM RUSSERT: If he or she said, “I am gay and proud of it and think that’s an acceptable lifestyle.”

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: It depends upon what their politics are, Tim. It depends on what — what their views are. But I’m a — I agree with what John and Gary said about the military. I’m a ’Don’t ask, don’t tell” man. The purpose of the military is to fight and win war and to be able to deter war.

STEVE FORBES: Open gays should not be in the military. The military is not an agency for social experimentation. They have a real mission, and they should be allowed to carry it out.

TIM RUSSERT: Go ahead, Mr. Keyes. Quickly, please.

ALAN KEYES: As I was saying — one last point, because I think that the point just made about social experimentation is exactly correct. But more important than that, I think it’s about time we all faced up to the truth. If we accept the radical homosexual agenda, be it in the military or in marriage or in other areas of our lives, we are utterly destroying the concepts of family and sexual responsibility without which the traditional family cannot survive.

Elián González, the reason I didn’t take time is that it’s not a very long answer. I believe it’s quite clear. I respect the bonds and family ties and the obligations of family. We should not allow ideology or politics ever to trample upon those bonds. If this father has been a real father and wishes to have his child with him, I’ll tell you one thing, if somebody said for political reasons they were going to take one of my children and keep those children away from me, you can bet that those would be fighting words. I think we need to respect that father’s proper position and obligation, or we’re showing no respect whatsoever for family and parenting.

Second point, however, how do we know his decision is freely given? The INS was wrong to accept a decision that was taken under the shadow of Castro’s tyranny. Until that father is allowed out of the country to make a free will decision that all the world can see, that boy should stay in the United States. He should stay in freedom until we’re sure his father has decided in freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’ve been listening to excerpts of the Republican presidential candidates facing off last night at the University of New Hampshire. These debates, the Republicans and the Democrats separately, are going on throughout the month. You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, here with Juan Gonzalez. Welcome, Juan.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Good day, Amy, and to our listeners around the country and, yes, listeners, whether we’re ready or not, the presidential election campaign is about to get into full swing for the year 2000. And I think, you know, interestingly, Amy, a couple of indications already that the powers that be in the society have already decided after two presidential elections, where third party candidates and the electorate began to display an increasing independence from the two parties, everything seems geared this time around to minimize the role of any oppositional or third party candidates.

You have, for instance, the fact that many of the primaries have been front-loaded. By March 14th, basically, the candidates of the two major parties will be decided because there’s so many primaries happening at the same time. On March 7th you’re getting — we’ll be getting California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, most of the Northeast, as well as California. And the next Tuesday, the 14th, there will be Texas, Florida and many of the Southern states. So, in essence, you’ve got to have a lot of money to compete that way.

And then, also just yesterday the National Debate Commission issued a ruling that they’re not going to allow in the fall debates anybody to participate who public opinion polls do not show has at least 15% of the electorate already behind them. So that is clearly aimed at possible third or fourth party candidates that might actually offer the people of America a little bit more nuance in their choices for the next president.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s right, keeping them out. These are the candidates, among them, who we’ve heard from yesterday and today, who will be then allowed in those presidential debates, but only a few, one or two or three of them. We know the challenges of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader in the last election. But right now, we’re going to talk about the Republican candidates and the money behind them. We just heard George Bush, Gary Bauer, John McCain, Senator of Arizona, Steve Forbes, Senator Orrin Hatch, a conservative, motivational speaker Alan Keyes facing off about all different issues, gays in the military, Elián González, tax cuts, etc.

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