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"Levey Live" archives

 
Q&A With Roy Neel

Tuesday, June 22, 1999

"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to to key Washington Post reporters and editors, local officials and people in the news.

Bob Levey
Bob Levey
Craig Cola/washingtonpost.com
Bob's guest today is Roy Neel, a former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, who will discuss Gore's presidential campaign. In addition to serving as Gore's chief of staff during the first year of the Clinton Administration, Neel was also the chief of staff for the Vice Presidential campaign. He was legislative director from 1977 to 1987 and chief of staff from 1987 to 1993 while Gore served in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. In 1988, Neel was policy advisor to Gore's Presidential campaign and a member of the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee.

Roy Neel
Roy Neel
Herman Farrer
Neel is now the president and CEO of the United States Telephone Association, where he has been since January 1994. He holds degrees from Vanderbilt University and Harvard University. He has been a Navy journalist, a sportswriter for the Nashville Banner, special assistant to the Mayor of Nashville and state director for the National Endowment for the Humanities affiliate in Tennessee.

Here is a transcript of today's session:




Reston, VA: Do you think Al Gore will successful achieve universal health care where Bill Clinton left off?

Roy Neel: It seems that health care reform is destined to be at best incremental as long as Congress and the White House are divided politically. However we should see some progress even next year on Patients' Rights and will continue to see progress as long as individuals, corporations, unions, etc. push for it. Al Gore has been a major inside player on these issues, notwithstanding the First Lady's role, and should be well-positioned to lead in 2001.


Warrenton, VA: Do you think Al Gore made a mistake by defending Bill Clinton so staunchly during and right after the impeachment? The one quote I recall that seemed absurd was "Bill Clinton is our moral leader".

Roy Neel: Al Gore IS fiercely loyal to the President, and it is mutual. I believe the Vice President was most assertive when he was criticizing those who may have used the Impeachment process for pure political gain, which of course, backfired. Gore was always explicit in his denunciation of the President's behavior in the Lewinsky matter, and never swayed from that strong criticism.


Arlington, VA: I noticed the vice president delivered a small portion of his announcement speech in Spanish last week. Obviously he was speaking to a broader audience than the citizens of Carthage. Is he concerned about competing for Hispanic voters with Texas Gov. George W. Bush?

Roy Neel: Hispanic voters are a HUGE, and growing political force in this country, and Al Gore is not about to cede those votes to Gov. Bush, Bill Bradley, or anyone else. Certainly Gov. Bush has an asset with some Hispanic voters with his command of Spanish, but I think Hispanic Americans are going to get behind the candidate who has the best command of ISSUES, not simply the language.


Bob Levey: More on Gore's denunciations of Clinton's romantic behavior: Many Republicans have criticized Gore for expressing that view far later and far less publicly than he might have. Your view?

Roy Neel: I am absolutely personal that Al Gore was very candid and tough on the President in private. As far as I'm concerned he handled this very sensitive situation with integrity and clarity. That business was about the President's PRIVATE behavior, not his official conduct and his leadership on issues and crises, which have arguably been strong and successful. Obviously no Democrat-- no American -- was pleased with the President's private behavior, but that's now history.


Arlington, VA: Did you work with consultants to make the Vice President more animated when speaking to the public? Did you give the Vice President speaking "pointers" to help him in this area, or are tongue and cheek comments and actions that show him as "loose" well scripted?

Roy Neel: I'm not a speech coach or anything like that. I'd hate to be subjected to the kind of brutal scrutiny that Al Gore has faced in every forum, large or small. But I can tell you that he is indeed a warm, funny, totally engaging guy when given a chance. I think all this will come out during the campaign.


FFX, VA: Mr. Neel,
I work in the Telecom industry, and wanted to know what you think about the level of involvement the gov't. will have in regulating-legislating telecom over the next several years. It seems that right now, with the Internet being largely unregulated, every congressman with an inferiority complex is proposing regulating legislation so they can tell their constituents that they are "cleaning up" the Internet. Do you think that they will come to realize that it is largely unregulatable?

Roy Neel: Thanks for the question- that's my day job! I believe strongly that total deregulation of telecommunications should be the goal of policy makers, especially at the FCC, which seems to not have gotten the message from the 1996 Telecom Act. I believe in the Vice President's vision about extending these great technologies to everyone, every school and hospital, wherever they reside. Unfortunately the FCC seems more inclined to tie the hands of the very companies that can do this job. Deregulate all telecom now!


Germantown, Maryland: Why do you think Al Gore isn't
doing as well in the polls
at this point in time. Apart
from the fact that the media
likes to portray him as uncharismatic -he does need to be more relaxed-, he has everything else going for him.
The economy is as good as it's
ever been. When compared to Bush: Gore's "character" is better,his foreign policy credentials are better, and his physical appearance is as good as Bush's. All these qualities should make him competitive going into the 2000 election. [edited for space]

Roy Neel: As I said earlier, I think Al Gore's personality will come out as this campaign progresses. And you're right, he has a great resume!


Bob Levey: Bill Clinton has said that Al Gore is the "most influential and effective vice president in the history of the United States." But being vice president is still like kissing your sister. How can Gore use this kind of praise to help him, rather than to underscore the fact that he's been second banana all these years?

Roy Neel: Bob, I disagree-- being VP in this administration is more like kissing Cindy Crawford! I know that old-time conventional wisdom is that the Vice President's job is, to paraphrase John Nance Garner, worth no more than a bucket of spit...but that mold is broken with the Clinton-Gore team. Al Gore's involvement, public and private, will be a very hard act to follow for the next President-Vice President team.


Bethesda, MD: Gore seems to have written off Bradley and is already running against Bush. Do you think that might turn out to be a mistake?

Roy Neel: The Gore campaign has absolutely not written off Sen. Bradley. He's smart, able, he has many prominent friends all over the country, and he's raising a lot of money. And, gratefully, we may just have a Dem. primary that is issue-oriented, gentlemanly, and dignified. The Republicans would love to have that, and I think it will help Al Gore if he is the nominee.


Bob Levey: Al Gore's first choice of careers was newspapering (bless his poor heart). Did that contribute in any way to the Gore of today?

Roy Neel: Absolutely. He's one of the most analytical national political figures ever. I think he was drawn to journalism as a way to improve society, to correct wrongs and help stop abuses of power. And those are the same qualities that make him a thoughtful, assertive leader with a wide reach on issues and people. Of course not all of us with a newspaper background are so motivated and high-minded. I was a sportswriter, largely because I wanted to have a job that paid me money ($100 a week in the sixties) without really working.


no tell, alabama: Isn't it true, contrary to
what you hear, that Gore is
more disposed than Clinton was
to using the bureaucracy to
his own ends? To the degree
it doesn't do what he wants,
it's downsized. A Democrat

Roy Neel: If you're referring to the VP's Reinventing Government initiative, I think it's fair to say that this is the highest level, and most substantive commitment to TRUE government reforms, in the history of the Republic. That project has saved taxpayers billions, finally gotten agencies like the IRS and the Soc. Sec. Admin. to become much more user-friendly, and generally sent the signal that this Administration isn't going to tolerate business-as-usual in the bureaucracy.


Oklahoma City, OK: Roy: I agree entirely with Vice President Gore's decision to offer details of his policy proposals, as a counterpoint to Governor Bush's vague generalities. But does he run the risk of Turning off would be supporters, the way Michael Dukakis did when he advised beleaguered Iowa farmers to diversify their crops and grow Belgian endive?

Roy Neel: The difference here is that Al Gore actually knows what he is talking about. No insult intended to Mike Dukakis, a genuinely nice guy, but he obviously wasn't very familiar with Iowa (or agriculture) when he made that statement. Al Gore has the advantage of not only real conviction on these issues, but a great deal of experience from 16 years in the House, Senate, and now six as Vice President. He knows his stuff.


Arlington: Besides those summers toiling in the hot Tennessee sun, Gore essentially grew up in Washington. Why is he so ashamed to admit this? Being a native "inside-the-beltway" denizen, I don't understand what is so horribly wrong and or embarrassing about admitting that he grew up in D.C.? He should be proud that he had the opportunity and privilege to enjoy an education at St. Albans just the same as G.W.B. should not be ashamed of prepping at Andover. There are a lot worse places to grow up then in Northwest Wash..

Roy Neel: I don't think he has ever disavowed his education-- his parents worked hard to give him the best opportunities possible, both in DC and in Tennessee. I know his father and I know his mother well, and I can tell you that they made sure he knew his roots (Smith Co. Tenn), and was appreciative of his opportunity in Washington. And, by the way, I would put Al Gore's knowledge of farming and the land up against any candidate in this race, Dem. or Republ. (By the way, I have raised three sons in NW D.C....do you think we'll get that in-state tuition break for our high school grads? If so would you please write your Congressmen and say so?


Bob Levey: What went wrong with Gore's 1988 presidential campaign? What went right? What did he learn from that shakedown cruise?

Roy Neel: What went wrong was about everything...except the Candidate's unbridled enthusiasm and optimism. People forget that he actually won a bunch of primaries and didn't crash until New York. He did a lot with very little, and learned mightily from the experience. It made him a great VP candidate in 1992.


Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: If Mr. Gore wins, which I hope for, will he attempt again to modify or streamline or correct the "don't ask -don't tell" policy? Will anyone be strong enough to force the military to be fair in their policy on gays? This being the Stonewall anniversary, it seems a good question! How about gay cabinet nominees? [edited for space]

Roy Neel: Al Gore has been outspoken in his calls for fairness toward gays in the military, the workplace, in society. I don't know where the military leadership would take this policy (it appears that the leadership is rapidly changing to a more sensitive position), but I think Al Gore would want to continue to fight for progressive, realistic policy in this area. Frankly, as a Vietnam Veteran I think this is a ridiculous fight. Behavior, not sexual preference, should be the issue.


Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: If Mr. Gore wins, which I hope for, will he attempt again to modify or streamline or correct the "don't ask -don't tell" policy? Will anyone be strong enough to force the military to be fair in their policy on gays? This being the Stonewall anniversary, it seems a good question! How about gay cabinet nominees? [edited for space]

Roy Neel: Al Gore has been outspoken in his calls for fairness toward gays in the military, the workplace, in society. I don't know where the military leadership would take this policy (it appears that the leadership is rapidly changing to a more sensitive position), but I think Al Gore would want to continue to fight for progressive, realistic policy in this area. Frankly, as a Vietnam Veteran I think this is a ridiculous fight. Behavior, not sexual preference, should be the issue.


Washington, D.C.: Don't you think it's absurd that Gore said Clinton will go down in history as one of our "greatest presidents?" I want to hear you defend THAT one.

Roy Neel: I guess it depends on your criteria. If the strongest economy in our lifetime, world peace, dramatic progress toward environmental quality, balancing a federal budget that was out of control in the Eighties, a consistent commitment to social justice, and the best Vice President in history are important, then that's not an overstatement. The knee-jerk Clinton haters should get a life.


Silver Spring MD: Any thoughts on who should be on the other half of the Gore ticket?

Roy Neel: Someone who can complement President Al Gore the way Al Gore has complemented Bill Clinton. There are lots of great possibilities, but I'd get in trouble speculating about them at this point. Who do YOU think he ought to pick if he gets the nomination?


Bob Levey: You attracted a modest amount of flak in 1994 when you left the White House staff after one year to become an association president (read: lobbyist). Do you think all that editorial sniffing about revolving doors was misplaced? Did you think so at the time?

Roy Neel: When I left the White House I was mostly wanting to have a schedule that gave me a normal life with my kids, afford to send them to college, and work with an industry that was on the move, and full of great people and interesting issues. The telecom industry filled that bill then and it's even better now. As far as media attention to that move is concerned, I thought you were all worthless jerks to take such a cheap shot at me...but then, that's the way the news business works. Seriously, I had no problems with the coverage...I was just flattered that anyone even CARED where I was going to work. And remember, I and my White House colleagues had/have a very strict five year prohibition on contacting the White House on ANY issue.


Bob Levey: How do you think Tipper Gore will "play" on the campaign trail? And will she ever consider running for the Senate from New York?

Roy Neel: Tipper is a fantastic woman, genuine in every way. Of course, she and all of Al's family are going to be great assets, mostly because they support him so totally and in so many ways. I'm going to miss his daughter Karenna's participation in the campaign while she's out having her first child next month.


Bob Levey: President Clinton clearly strained his relationship with Al Gore when he told the New York Times how worried he was about Gore's campaign. Why did Clinton do this? And can the damage be undone?

Roy Neel: I think the President's comment was misunderstood. There's no rift between the two- they're good friends.


Bob Levey: The famous Gore comment about inventing the Internet: How could a man who has been in public office non-stop since 1976 say something so silly, something so sure to come back and bite him?

Roy Neel: What he said may have been inarticulate, but the basic facts are true-- no one in public life has done more to advance the telecommunications technologies we now call the Internet, through policy changes, than Al Gore. This is a tempest in a teapot.


Bob Levey: That's it for today. Many thanks to our guest, Roy Neel. Join us next Tuesday at the same time when our guest will be Washington Post political columnist Mary McGrory. And if you haven't yet checked out "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," the Friday version of our show, shame on you. That Friday version appears from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.



© 1999 The Washington Post Company


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