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Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on Campaign 2000

Free Media
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Congressional Profile: Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.)
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Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2000; 2 p.m. EDT

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is one of the Republicans' favorite targets, has also taken positions to the left of Clinton and Gore. He has opposed the administration on permanent normal trade relations with China, and on President Clinton's Medicare bill for not spending enough money on prescription coverage. However, as a member of the House Judiciary Committee, he was one of President Clinton's staunchest defenders during his impeachment.

What does Vice President Gore have to do pull together not only centrist Democrats like Sen. Lieberman, but more liberal members of the party like Frank? How strongly does Massachusetts, the most Democratic state in the union, support the Gore-Lieberman ticket? Frank was live online on Wednesday, Aug. 23 to talk about the Gore campaign, the battle for the House and Campaign 2000. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Free Media: Good afternoon, Rep. Frank, and welcome. Democrats are fighting to take back control of Congress this fall. Will having Sen. Lieberman on the ticket lengthen Vice President Gore's coattails to help House Dems?

Rep. Barney Frank: In a few specific places maybe, where Jewish voters might have been undecided where it might help in a couple of Florida districts and it might help Hillary Clinton. In general, no. First I don't think presidential candidates have large coattails, and secondly, vice presidential candidates add very little even to the presidential candidate, much less any other.

Council on Foreign Relations, Cambridge, Mass.: Critics of the WTO argue that further trade liberalization should be conditional on the integration of environment, labor and human rights concerns into WTO policies and operations. The Clinton-Gore administration has not provided a coherent response to those critics. How would a Gore-Lieberman administration respond?

David Fairman
CFR Term Member

Rep. Barney Frank: First I think the president has provided a response for which he was severely criticized in Seattle. He did say prior to Seattle that he did want worker rights and environmental standards included. He did not include human rights and I think appropriately so, because there's a nexus between trade and environmental and labor standards that isn't involved with human rights. That is severely underpaying workers and exploiting them and completely ignoring environmental rules gives you an unjustified competitive advantage by lowering production costs. It's reasonable, therefore, in the trade context to raise them. Human rights is an important moral issue, but does not have the same competitive impact.
As to Gore, I was pleased by his comments on this in his acceptance speech and I believe that he would build on Clinton's statements and work toward some inclusion of labor and environmental standards in trade. In particular, Gore has been at the forefront of concern over global warming. American conservatives have argued that we cannot address this unilaterally in the U.S. and can only take steps if other nations including specifically India and China also do so. Incorporating environmental concerns into trade negotiations is the only practical way to accomplish this. So I believe Gore will be doing that.

Helena, Mont.: Rep. Frank, almost 30 studies have shown that induced abortion increases a woman's chance of getting breast cancer by 30 percent. Knowing this, will you reconsider your position against measures such as informed consent for abortion?

Rep. Barney Frank: I believe patient's who are about to undergo any medical procedure receive appropriate information. And I trust women to make reasonable judgements for themselves in this regard and not have decisions imposed by government. That is equally true of abortion and all other medical procedures. I do not think it is medically indicated to single out one procedure legally for special treatment.

Eileen Cassidy, Peace Corps: Dear Congressman Frank,

In your opinion, what was the most successful foreign policy decision and/or issue of the Clinton/Gore Administration which, if effectively explained to the American people, could help the Gore/Lieberman ticket in demonstrating leadership and intellect over the Bush/Cheney ticket?

Rep. Barney Frank: At this point the biggest success appears to be Northern Ireland. Clinton courageously and creatively intervened with the great help of George Mitchell and the result seems to be very significant progress in solving a serious problem that's been around for a very long time.
I think it shows the limitations of the Cold War framework that still seems to shape much of the Bush advisers approach. It's an example of a humanitarian type intervention that was very productive with good results. And from a political standpoint I think it's already benefitting President Clinton and to some extent Gore because a large number of Irish-Americans appreciate the President Clinton's role here. I do not think the traditionalist and conservative Bush advisers would have persuaded him to see Gerry Adams of the IRA. Clinton did that and it had very productive results.

Council on Foreign Relations, N.Y.: You have been an opponent of PNTR. In your view, what are the differences between Bush and Gore when it comes to trade relations?

Rep. Barney Frank: I believe Gore will build on Clinton's move to incorporate labor and environmental standards.

Council on Foreign Relations, D.C.: Is Chinese growth inevitably a threat to American interests, and what kind of relationship would you see the next administration needing to try to build with China?

Rep. Barney Frank: Chinese growth is not necessarily a threat. Our policy should be to try to push China and pull China in a peaceful direction. I think we underestimate the extent to which China now needs us much more than we need China. And I would have held off PNTR both until China agreed particularly to some environmental concerns and also moderated its belligerence towards Taiwan and its extreme repressiveness at home. I believe a rapidly developing China does threaten the world's ability to adopt important global environmental standards, such as in global warming, and I believe Gore is far likelier than Bush to understand and act on this.

Brookline, Mass.: Because of his perceived weakness on presenting the specifics of his program, do you think Bush and his advisers can get away with avoiding a reasonable number of debates with Gore, and if they try to duck them would this become a potent campaign issue?

How many debates do you think they and their VP candidates should have?

Rep. Barney Frank: I think there should be four or five debates. My preference would be for two debates with just Bush and Gore, two debates between Nader and Buchanan, and one or two debates with all four. I do think Bush is understandably reluctant to debate, and he will pay a political price for that unless he successfully obfuscates and ducks the debates in a manner that also lets him duck the blame for them. But unlike the Philadelphia convention where the media was essentially tolerant of a masquerade, I do not think journalists will allow Bush to get away with sabotaging debates without bearing the responsibility for that.

Council on Foreign Relations, Iowa: In order to facilitate the international communities response to humanitarian atrocities, do you think a list of criteria should be adopted that could trigger a military-led humanitarian intervention, or do you think any such action should be made on an ad-hoc basis?

Thank you.
James S. Henderson, Ph.C.
Program Officer
The Stanley Foundation

Rep. Barney Frank: It has to be ad hoc. There is no way to put military forces on automatic pilot -- especially if you are going to do this as you should try to do on a multi-national basis. No government will precommit its military force to be triggered by some formula. But we should try to work with our allies and other friendly countries, through the UN if possible, to come to agreement on procedures for deciding rapidly as situations arise whether to respond militarily. And we should support the designation of forces from cooperative nations to be contingently available for fairly rapid deployment in such situations.

Washington, D.C.: What do you think the Gore administration will bring to the gay and lesbian community?

Rep. Barney Frank: Al Gore brings a very deep commitment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. He strongly supports a wide range of public policies to protect people against discrimination based on sexual orientation. The only area where he's not supportive and he is joined here by, unfortunately most other elected officials, is marriage. He has fought hard for an anti-discrimination law and a hate crimes law, is much better than President Clinton on the subject of service in the military, in part because Gore as a Vietnam veteran is not intimidated by the military in the way that Clinton has been.
Gay and lesbian people play prominent parts on Gore's staff. And unlike their few Republican counterparts, they do so without being dishonest about their sexuality.
Finally, Joe Lieberman has been for several years one of the three main sponsors of the major gay rights bill, the Employment Non-discrimination Act, along with Senators Kennedy and Jeffers. The fact that a man as religiously observant as Joe Lieberman is one of the leading advocates of this nondiscrimination bill is particularly helpful in our fight against homophobia.

Silver Spring, Md.: Congressman, you yourself have been the target of not-so-subtle personal attacks by the Republicans, especially Dick Armey. Two questions: How do you yourself deal with ad hominem attacks, and what do you suggest to Joe Lieberman when he is the victim of Republican smears?

Rep. Barney Frank: As to Dick Armey, I think I've developed a pretty strong immunity to criticism, but I have to say that Dick Armey's apparent obsession with my sexuality is getting a little creepy. As to Joe Lieberman, I believe that he is smart enough not to internalize any of this nonsense, and to recognize that it will probably be redowned to his and Gore's benefit, because I believe the American people on the whole strongly oppose anti-Semitism.

Free Media: That was our last question for Rep. Barney Frank. Thank you to Rep. Frank and to all who participated.

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