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Text: Tim Russert's Interview With Vice President Gore
Sunday, July 16, 2000 Following is the transcript of Tim Russert's interview with Vice President Gore on NBC's "Meet the Press."
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, good morning. It's great to be here at the library at the U.S. Naval Observatory.
GORE: Good morning, Tim. Welcome.
RUSSERT: Important campaign coming up, a lot of important issues. You were in Saginaw, Michigan, on Thursday night. And for three hours, you took real questions from real people.
RUSSERT: I'd like to play one of those questions from Sheila Redman and a portion of your response and give you a chance to talk about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REDMAN: I feel kind of bad in asking this but I have to. Where have you been for the past eight years?
GORE: Good question. Thank you. Thank you. The job of vice president ...
GORE: ... is a mixed blessing. But you may not always notice that guy. And if you do, he may be just standing there stiffly behind the president not saying a word. Well, when you--like the woman behind the man--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: What were you trying to say?
GORE: Well, she spoke up and she said, you couldn't hear her, as well. She said, you mean like the woman behind the man? And what I said was that you know, I've learned a lot about those issues. If you are a partner, trying to help someone out, and carry the load, part of the load when it gets heavy, and not seek the credit and help out, that's a--you know, I've enjoyed serving that way but it's fundamentally different from being the leader of this country, which I'm seeking to be.
And speaking in my own voice, spontaneously, from my heart, that's the key to a successful dialogue with the American people. But for eight years as vice president, I've concentrated everything that I can do on trying to help the president strengthen his hand and help the American people and the country by making the administration a success.
RUSSERT: What role would the president play in your campaign? Will you ask him to campaign vigorously for you across the country?
GORE: Sure. Now, he's got a full-time job, as they say, but, sure, he'll be helping out. He's offered help, of course. We're good friends, and I welcome that.
RUSSERT: In New York state it's one of the states where you are solidly ahead by 12 points. Mrs. Clinton is running for the Senate in a dead-even race. Will you campaign with her frequently?
RUSSERT: Around New York?
GORE: Yeah. You know, my campaign schedule is a 50-state schedule. But surely there will be lots of appearances in New York.
RUSSERT: After your meeting in Saginaw, Ed Sarpolis of the Detroit Free Press talked to "The New York Times" and this is what he said, and I want to give you a chance to respond to it. I'll put it on our screen.
"Gore's problem in Michigan is not issues. It's personality and character because he's tied to Bill Clinton. They will punish Bill through Al. And until Gore separates himself from Clinton, it's the sins of the father being visited on the son."
Do you agree with that?
GORE: No, I really don't. Because I think as the race heats up and as people start to really tune into it, traditionally people don't really focus on the race until Labor Day, maybe the conventions and then Labor Day. And at that point, I think they look at the people who are running. And all elections are about the future and about the American people. And I think what people are most interested in is prosperity and progress.
And you know, this extraordinary record of the past eight years didn't happen by accident. We turned around a deep recession and the biggest deficits in history. Made them into the biggest surpluses and the strongest economy in the 211-year history of the American republic.
We have low unemployment, low inflation. I've put out an economic plan, Tim, to keep that prosperity and progress going. And to fight for people, not the powerful, to take on whatever interests might stand in the way of continuing this prosperity in progress, and to make sure that everybody participates.
You know, there are a lot of people in the midst of this prosperity who are struggling. There are a lot of people who are affected by the turmoil and the dramatic change in our economy. There are a lot of seniors who need prescription drug benefits. There are families that are frustrated when their medical decisions are made by accountants for HMOs and insurance companies.
I propose changes that will fix those problems. Now, this contest is really about whose side are you on? I'm for the people. My opponent is for the powerful. The old guard is trying to get back in, and their economic plan would take us back to the days of eight, 10 years ago when we had a very large deficit, a triple-dip recession. I want to continue the prosperity in progress.
RUSSERT: Should voters consider this, the equivalent of a third Clinton/Gore term?
GORE: No, because we--well, first of all, I'm a different person and I have been a part of the shaping of the policies that have helped to unleash the potential of the new economy.
But we face dramatically different challenges now than we did some years ago, eight years ago. When we came into office, the debt had been quadrupled. Now we're paying down the debt. Will we reverse that? I want to completely pay off the national debt by the year 2012. My opponent has put forward economic proposals that would start increasing the debt again and put us back into deficit. And incidentally, that's what he's done in Texas. Can I show you a couple of charts?
RUSSERT: I want to talk about Texas in a little bit.
GORE: All right.
RUSSERT: Let's cover a couple other issues first and then we'll get there, I promise.
One of the issues you broke with the president was a very visible one. Let me put a photograph on the board and give you a chance to react to it. What does that represent to you?
GORE: Well, I think that was kind of a Rorschach test for the country, and I think that it meant different things to different people. I wasn't there. I didn't see exactly what happened. But what it represents is the collision of law enforcement and people who, for whatever reason, were reluctant to go along with what the law enforcement officers felt was a legitimate order.
Now, Elian Gonzalez was rescued on Thanksgiving Day, and two days after that, I said I thought it should be sent to a family court. And I didn't say it in Florida but I said it in New Hampshire and then Iowa, and that--you know, I know my position was not politically popular, but I felt it was the right thing.
RUSSERT: In April a state court ruled it could not be heard in family court, it had to be heard in federal court.
But the most interesting comment you made was in New Hampshire campaign. I want to give you a chance to think about it then respond to it. It says, and this is Al Gore, "If the father comes to free soil, and says without fear of intimidation, this is what I think is in the best interest of the child, then that settles the case."
Juan Gonzalez came here, had a private meeting with the attorney general in her office and said, the best interests of the child is for me to take him home to Cuba. Does that settle the case?
GORE: Well, it ended up being a pretty determinative. But from the beginning, you know, there was some doubt about whether or not he was able to state his real views.
RUSSERT: When he was in Janet Reno's office. Is that fair enough?
GORE: I understand. But family members still in Cuba. I mean, obviously, the longer he stayed here in the United States, the more difficult it was to believe that he was not stating his real intentions.
RUSSERT: But was he in fear of intimidation in your view?
GORE: Well, I think it was still open to question, but, obviously as I say, that became a point that was hard to debate.
RUSSERT: If Al Gore was president, would Elian Gonzalez be here today?
GORE: Well, I think the whole matter would have--could have possibly been resolved a lot sooner if it had been sent to a family court.
RUSSERT: Would he be here?
GORE: Well it depends on what the family court decided was in the best interest of the child.
RUSSERT: At your Saginaw town meeting, there were three questions about Ralph Nader, which surprised a lot of people. What do you think of Ralph Nader?
GORE: Well, I don't really know him personally, but understand, at the Saginaw meeting, the only people who were invited to the meeting were those who were undecided voters. And I'm reaching out to those who are making their minds up all over the country. And it was a great meeting. It was three and a half hours.
RUSSERT: I watched it all.
GORE: Did you?
GORE: Did you see that ironworker with the small cap who--wasn't he great?
RUSSERT: Because he supported you.
GORE: Well, but what he said was I think really the central point. And he didn't say it in fancy words. He said, look, he said, I've got three kids. My wife works part time. All I can tell you is eight years ago my family was really struggling to get by. And I've had good, solid work for eight years. I want to keep that going. It's good for my family, and that's why I'm for you, to keep this going.
RUSSERT: Mr. Nader is now at eight percent in the national polls. In Michigan he's up at least eight. And that causes you to be behind George W. Bush in Michigan, a must-win state. Nader has gone around saying Al Gore is a chronic political coward and an ultimate panderer. And this is what he said on "MEET THE PRESS," which was a very substantive charge. Let me show it for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NADER: A careful reading of the federal regulatory agencies, like the approval of pharmaceuticals, the food regulation, the auto safety and aviation, the regulatory agencies under Clinton/Gore are as bad or worse than under Reagan/Bush.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RUSSERT: Mr. consumer advocate, it's a very serious charge.
GORE: Well, you know, people can judge for themselves. I certainly don't agree with that. And I think that what we have done in the past eight years has been to protect the American people, to stand up for their best interests. In some cases we have speeded up the regulatory process. You know, I think that some of the red tape is unnecessary. I've been in charge of the reinventing government project and we've reduced the size of government to the smallest level since John Kennedy was president. I'm proud of that. And we have speeded up some of the unnecessary regulatory interference without compromising the health and safety of the American people.
RUSSERT: Do you take Ralph Nader's challenge seriously?
GORE: I don't take a single vote for granted, Tim. I think in the final analysis, in the home stretch of this campaign, my guess is that the vast majority of voters are going to see that for all practical purposes, it is going to be a choice between two very stark and clear alternatives.
I'm for prosperity and progress, fighting for people, not the powerful. George W. Bush represents the old guard, the corporate special interests campaign, $100 million. Trying to take us back to the huge tax cut for the wealthy approach that wrecked the economy before. And I think in the final analysis, it's likely that most people will see that as the principal contest and want to make a difference on one side or the other.
RUSSERT: Would you want Mr. Nader and Pat Buchanan included in the presidential debates?
GORE: I would--I don't make any judgment on that. I think that most people would like to see a one on one, a set of one-on-one debates between Governor Bush and myself. And the debate commission has scheduled three of them, and they have their own way of deciding who's involved and who's not. I've accepted for two or three months now your invitation to debate on this program. Have you gotten a yes from Governor Bush yet?
RUSSERT: His campaign says he will debate you, and the request is under active consideration.
GORE: He will debate me on MEET THE PRESS?
RUSSERT: He will debate this fall and the specific request--
GORE: Well, have you talked to him?
RUSSERT: Yes I have.
GORE: What did he say to you?
RUSSERT: It's under active consideration.
GORE: Well, he didn't say yes.
RUSSERT: Not yet, but if he does, if he does, September 10th right here.
GORE: How are you going to persuade him to say yes.
RUSSERT: Maybe you're helping today.
GORE: Do you think so? What kind of approach can--can you get Jack Welsh (ph) involved?
RUSSERT: Well, I would never do a thing like that. We are totally independent from GE, we did get Al Gore and Bill Bradley at the table in December, and we're trying--
NADER: Yes, well I accepted that one first, and incidentally, I had the most wonderful event with Bill Bradley this past week. It was terrific.
RUSSERT: In Green Bay, Wisconsin.
GORE: And it was not only, it was not a kind of a begrudging deal. It was very enthusiastic and the private meeting was very warm and very enthusiastic. I really thank Bill, his folks, because it was a great event.
RUSSERT: One of the issues that arose in the primary was gun control with Bill Bradley. Thirteen children a day shot dead in the United States of America. Sixty-five million handguns. Why don't you support the registration and licensing of all handguns?
GORE: I support a photo license i.d. for the purchase of new handguns.
RUSSERT: But there are 65 million in existence now. Why not support registration and licensing of all handguns?
GORE: I think it's much--I think we're going to have a much better chance to enact a practical measure that will focus on the photo license i.d. for the purchase of new handguns. I talked just yesterday with a woman named Carol Price in Baltimore, whose 15-year-old son was killed two years ago by a nine-year-old who picked up a 9mm gun at the neighbor's house, a terrible, terrible tragedy and God bless her, she's out there fighting for gun safety and here's what she said, Tim.
She said, "I and my group, she's organized. She was one of the organizers of the Million Mom March. She said that she strongly supports the proposal that I've put forward for photo license i.d. for new handguns and she said that you've got all these people who have a gun in the attic or stored away somewhere and if you try to get people who've had these weapons for, you know, 40 years to go get them and troop down to the police station, it's just not going to happen.
RUSSERT: But that's not the problem, these handguns are on the street today.
GORE: Well, that's right.
RUSSERT: In an ideal world, would you like to register and license all the existing hand guns?
GORE: Look, we don't live in an ideal world, we live in a world where we have to take problems as we see them. Let me give you another example. The woman who purchased the weapons that were used in Columbine said that if she had had to get a photo license i.d., she would not have made the purchase. Columbine would not have taken place.
The guy who went on the spree in Pennsylvania, the person who bought one of those weapons said exactly the same thing. What you have is a lot of shadow purchasers who go in and buy handguns and then they're used by somebody else. This is the bottle neck that needs to be addressed as the problem. But we also need to close the gun show loophole and have mandatory child safety trigger locks, restore the three day waiting period. Look this is a problem that has to be addressed, Tim.
RUSSERT: You've changed your philosophy on gun control a little bit, let me show you what you said to the "Washington Monthly" when you were in the Senate. I'm going to put it on the screen for you.
In '85 you voted against banning interstate sales of handguns and Gore said, "stringent gun control, (Quote), haven't been an effective solution to the underlying problem of violent crime." You've changed your mind?
GORE: I have, yes, I changed my mind. That was 15 years ago, and what's changed is the flood of cheap handguns and assault weapons, the terrible blight of these horrible tragedies and like a lot of people, I've changed my views on it. And I think we have to address the problem. Without effecting a sportsman and hunters and legitimate gun owners but focusing on the people who shouldn't get handguns. I was one of the co-sponsors of the Brady law which has prevented countless tragedies by preventing felons and fugitives and stalkers from getting handguns. And I think we need to restore the three-day waiting period under that Brady law.
RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue ...
GORE: Governor Bush does not, incidently.
RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of Social Security. This is the report of the trustees of the Social Security fund, the secretary of treasury, Lawrence Summers and others. And they issued this report. Let me put it on the screen for you and our viewers. It says that near 2037 tax income of the combined funds is estimated to be sufficient to pay 72 percent of the program cost. That ratio will decline to about two-thirds by 2075. What they're saying is, that if nothing is done to the system, in 2037 when the baby boom generation retires, either you'll have to raise taxes 28 percent, cut benefits 28 percent and even more as the program grows. When Social Security was invented, created, there are 42 workers--
GORE: Big difference between inventing something and creating something, it's like the Internet.
RUSSERT: We'll get to that. Forty-two workers for every retiree. Now there are just about two workers for every retiree. The life expectancy was 63 back then. It's now 77 going to 85. There are 40 million people currently on Social Security, going to 80. In 19--in the year 2037, we will spend--you know how much we'll spend on Social Security? Four trillion dollars.
RUSSERT: We'll only take in about trillion from the payroll tax. There will be a trillion dollar a year short fall and you have proposed taking some of the projected surpluses now and setting them aside or designating them to the Social Security trust fund. Our projected surplus is at best are $200 billion. People who study this, you know Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat. Senator Warren Rudman, Republican, the conquered coalition, they've looked at your proposal and said, you are relying on rosy scenario's, budget surpluses that may not exist of $200 billion a year when the shortfall is a trillion a year. Your plan is (quote),not credible, it's a free lunch proposal. (End quote)
GORE: Well, obviously I don't agree with that. And first of all, Tim, you've been a bear on this issue and I compliment you for it because it's one that needs the kind of sustained focus. And it's for that reason that I put out a plan that doesn't just rely on the surpluses, as you've said, with all due respect. Here's the way my plan operates. I want to put Social Security and Medicare in an iron-clad lockbox with a sign that says, "politicians, hands off." And I will veto anything that--
RUSSERT: But, where's the money going to come from?
GORE: I'm fixing to tell you, I'm fixing to tell you. First, I want to make this clear. I will veto anything that has people dipping into Social Security or Medicare and those trust funds to use it for any purpose other than Social Security or Medicare. Now, if we keep those trust funds sacrosanct and don't dip into them, the operation of that approach will help to eliminate the entire national debt by the year 2012. Now, that's with a mid-range projections. Now you know how much we spent on interest payments on the national debt each year?
RUSSERT: About $250 billion.
GORE: About $250 billion. If that expense is completely eliminated from the books, then we have a lot more options. Now, the part of the avoided costs that is attributable to the trust fund, I think should be put back into the trust fund. That change by itself will extend the life of the Social Security trust fund well into the second half of this century to 2054 at least.
RUSSERT: But Mr. Vice president, your entire premise is based upon your guaranteeing record surpluses for the next 40 years. If those surpluses don't occur, Social Security will be a trillion dollars a year short and you'll either have to raise taxes, cut benefits or cut other programs or create deficits. Why not deal with Social Security now head on?
GORE: Well, I am. I am. According to the best projections that we have. And incidentally, Tim, the answer to what the economy will do in the future is not an answer you find in a crystal ball, but one we make ourselves with our own hands. And the positions being debated in this election will determine the outcome.
I've put forward policies to eliminate the debt and keep the prosperity and progress going and Governor Bush has proposed policies that will spend far more than the revenues projected and put us right back into deficits again. And he's proposed ...
RUSSERT: But you're ...
GORE: ... actually privatizing Social Security which would be a disaster.
RUSSERT: You're guaranteeing surpluses for 40 years. Who can do that?
GORE: The best projections that we have, not only from the economists at the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget, but even more so, the private economists who are projecting what's most likely to occur in our economy, say that that's the safest assumption.
RUSSERT: You're kidding?
GORE: Now, would you have us reject the best advice and economic assumptions that are available?
RUSSERT: Your own secretary of Treasury is saying it's only going to have 72 percent of the money necessary.
GORE: But that's before--that's without the plan that I've proposed.
RUSSERT: But your plan is based upon hoped-for surpluses.
GORE: No, it's based upon the most reliable economic projections that we have. And incidentally, the projections over the last several years have been--have turned out to be on the low side. These are the mid-range projections.
RUSSERT: You mentioned privatizing. Let me put on the board what Clinton/Gore proposed in the year 2000.
"Increased return from private investment that the administration proposes tapping the power of private financial markets increase the or other private financial institutions.
GORE: Now, Tim, you know the difference. You know the difference. First of all ...
RUSSERT: You want the government to invest in the market. George Bush wants individuals to invest.
GORE: First of all, I don't support that proposal.
RUSSERT: It was in your budget.
GORE: Well, it was withdrawn from--it was floated as a trial balloon and it did not involve any money from the Social Security trust fund.
RUSSERT: It was printed in your budget. It was your budget proposal.
GORE: I understand. I don't support it. And I put out my own Social Security plan, and the difference is, that did not involve any money from the trust fund. That was general revenue money.
Now, that's all the difference in the world compared to Governor Bush's proposal. What he wants to do is to divert 16 percent of the money that's going into the trust fund and put it into the stock market now. Now, that means that the checks that are written the next month would have to be cut by 16 percent unless he makes up the money from some other source. And that's a trillion dollars over the next 10 years. Which if he takes it from the trust fund, it goes bankrupt in short order. If he takes it from the budget, he puts the budget in a deeper hole. Let me show you ...
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President ...
GORE: ...I want to show you this...
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, you will. But you have for the first 20 minutes said we're going to have a robust economy; you're going to keep it going. And in order to have a robust economy, the stock market keeps having to grow. Now you're suggesting, because Governor Bush suggests the plan involving the stock market, oh, no, that's risky. When you based your entire premise of your economic program on a robust stock market and economy. You can't have it both ways.
GORE: Well, no, here's the difference. I encourage investments in the stock market. In fact, I've put out a plan you can think of Social Security plus, to encourage investments on top of the base of Social Security. To give people a new incentive and option to build up private savings, but that should be on top of the foundation of Social Security, not at the expense of Social Security.
Governor Bush's plan is Social Security minus. Because you don't want to--you don't want to take your nest egg, your hold card and put that at risk. Let's give a new incentive for working families to be able to invest and save on top of Social Security.
But if you invest the Social Security trust fund money, then you're really asking for some trouble. Because even if this turns out to be, as we expect, a strong economy in the future, there are going to be winners and losers and the losers will immediately pressure Congress for a taxpayer financial bail out like the S&L bail out.
RUSSERT: We have to take a quick break. We'll be back with a lot more questions for Vice President Al Gore. We're live here on MEET THE PRESS.
RUSSERT: We're back with Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Vice President, you said that the presidential election--this presidential election--will decide the future of the Supreme Court.
GORE: Yes, very much so.
RUSSERT: And people immediately turn their attention to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which allowed abortion. I want to ask you a simple question. Do you believe that life begins at conception?
GORE: No. I believe there is a difference. You know, I believe that the Roe v. Wade decision wisely embodies the kind of commonsense judgment that most Americans share.
RUSSERT: In 1987, let me show you a letter you wrote to your constituents and put it on the board.
"During my eleven years in Congress I have consistently opposed federal funding of abortion. In my opinion it is wrong to spend federal funds for what is arguably the taking of human life. Let me assure you that I share your belief that innocent human life must be protected and I'm committed to furthering this goal."
You went on with the "Washington Monthly" and gave an interview that said, "It is quite correct that a position like mine in opposition to the federal funding of abortion results in unequal access to abortions on the part of poor women. Nevertheless, I feel that the principle of government not participating in the taking of what is arguably human life is more important."
When did you change your mind on that principle?
GORE: About 10, 15 years ago. I can't give you the exact date. And here's the reason I changed. I talked to a lot of women, who taught me about the kinds of circumstances that can come up and the kinds of dilemmas that women can face. And the circumstances are so varied.
I've come to the very deep conviction that a woman's right to choose must be protected regardless of the woman's income. Now, I've always supported Roe v. Wade and I've always opposed a constitutional amendment to take away a woman's right to choose.
RUSSERT: But you did vote to define a person as including an unborn child.
GORE: Well, that was a very odd procedural vote on the Phil Gender (ph) amendment years ago.
GORE: I favor the Roe v. Wade approach. Let me say, Tim, ...
RUSSERT: When does life begin?
GORE: Let me just say. I did change my position on the issue of federal funding, and I changed it because I came to understand more from women. Think about this ...
RUSSERT: But you were calling fetuses innocent human life, and now you don't believe life begins at conception. I'm just trying to find out when you do believe life begins?
GORE: Well, look, the Roe v. Wade decision purposes and answers to that question.
RUSSERT: Which is?
GORE: Which is--in my view, a commonsense approach that there is the developmental process during which the burden kind of shifts over time and they say, you know, they talk about the burden being different, burden of proof different in the first trimester than the third trimester. And that's the way the Supreme Court has addressed it and incidentally, it would just reaffirm by a narrow one vote margin, five to four, that justice is chosen by the president elected this November will determine whether or not a woman's right to choose is protected or taken away.
I will protect a woman's right to choose. Governor Bush has sworn to take away a woman's right to choose. He has told Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that he will make appointments that will be very pleasing to them, that's not difficult to interpret. You know, the court picked by the president will shape the Constitution's interpretation for the next 30 or 40 years.
RUSSERT: Do you believe there should be any restrictions of a woman's right to choose?
GORE: Yes, the ones in Roe v. Wade.
RUSSERT: Should there be a restriction on minors getting abortions without parental consent?
GORE: Difficult question because there are all kinds of circumstances where you have some children kind of raising themselves, situations where they're families are fractured and they're in trouble and they have nobody to turn to.
RUSSERT: You could have a judge order that. But you voted against that.
GORE: I mean, I think that--I think that you need to let that be worked out in the context of a woman's right to choose. There are all kinds of different circumstances.
RUSSERT: But a child needs permission to have her ears pierced.
GORE: I understand.
RUSSERT: You don't want parental permission for an abortion?
GORE: You know some of the provisions that have been proposed on this have been a back door effort to eliminate a woman's right to choose. I think that there should be discretion to recognize the unusual circumstances where it's obviously in the best interest of--to allow the choice to go forward.
RUSSERT: But a simple bill which said, parental consent is necessary. If it's an abusive situation, which the child is living alone then a judge can (OFF-MIKE).
GORE: Well, I'd want to look at that. I think you have to have a common sense approach.
RUSSERT: Right now there's legislation which says that a woman on death row, if she's pregnant, she should not be executed. Do you support that?
GORE: I don't what you're talking about.
RUSSERT: It's a federal statue on the books that if a woman is pregnant and she's on death row, she should not be executed.
GORE: Well, I don't know what the circumstances would be in that situation. I would--you know, it's an interesting fact situation. I'd want to think (OFF-MIKE).
RUSSERT: On the death penalty, there are currently 21 people on federal death row. Fourteen blacks, three Hispanics, one Asian and three whites. Eighteen of 21 minorities. The head of the ABA, American Bar Association has said, we need a moratorium at the federal level. Let's put a freeze on all potential executions and review everyone of these 21 cases in light of the fact that 18 of the 21 are minorities.
GORE: Based on present evidence, I don't support that. However, the Justice Department is in the midst of an intensive review of the cases, circumstances and the very question that you're getting at here and I await the results of that study. I do--you know, I support the death penalty, Tim. I think that it, I've always supported it for (OFF-MIKE) crime, but I was surprised by what was found in Illinois and I think that the governor there made the right decision in calling for a moratorium based on the extraordinary number of errors and I think that any state where they have a record approaching that of Illinois would be well advised to look at that precedent, but I do not believe the evidence as it currently is--
RUSSERT: At the federal level.
GORE: At the federal level, justifies a national moratorium.
RUSSERT: Let me show you what you told the Associated Press and give you a chance to talk to the public about it. You said, "if you're honest about the debate, the death penalty debate, you have to acknowledge you're always going to be some small numbers of errors." What you're suggesting is that taking of an innocent life is a risk worth taking in order to have the death penalty.
GORE: No, I think the only acceptable approach is zero errors, but in all commonsense you have to acknowledge that since we are all human and humans are imperfect, even a jury system with all the many procedural appeals and safe guards, may in spite of everybody's best efforts sometimes produce a mistake. It has been my impression that such mistakes are exceedingly rare.
RUSSERT: Even if they have one or two.
GORE: Well, they haven't found one or two to my knowledge. I don't think they have found one or two in the current review.
RUSSERT: The Supreme Court also ruled that the Boy Scouts could exclude gay members. Do you agree with that decision?
GORE: I think it depends upon the question of whether it is a public organization or sufficiently intertwined with public activities to justify it. I respect the Boy Scouts but I disagree with discrimination against gays and lesbians. I just think the time has come to end that discrimination. Now it's different depending on whether it's a private organization or public organization and frankly I have not read that opinion, Tim, and I will do so.
RUSSERT: But you've talked about abortion; you've talked about death penalty. Should the Boy Scouts be forced to have gay Scout leaders and gay members?
GORE: I haven't read the opinion, but I will. It turns on the subject--on the question of how deeply enmeshed in the public arena they are. Evidently, the court found there was not enough of a public involvement.
RUSSERT: It said the opposition to homosexuality is part of their expressive message. You know the Boy Scouts. Should the Boy Scouts be allowed to have their organization without admitting gay scout leaders or gay boy scouts?
GORE: Well, I've given you my answer. I oppose discrimination, and I hope that we can get to a day when there is not discrimination either in public organizations or in private organizations. I will give deference to the opinion of the court pending my review of it.
RUSSERT: Missile defense. Tom Daschle, leader of the Democrats in the Senate said, Mr. President Clinton, do not decide about going forward with missile defense this year. Postpone that decision for the next president. Do you agree?
GORE: First of all, the lessons that come out of the recent tests have to be analyzed and understood. When the president concludes his meetings at Camp David, and, incidentally we all hope and pray for the success of those on-going discussions, even now as we speak. At the conclusion of that process, there's likely to be an intensive analysis of what the implications of this recent test failure are.
RUSSERT: The Democrats voted unanimously to have real tests with real decoys. Do you support that?
GORE: Well, I mean, I think you have to leave the testing protocol to the experts. There are legitimate questions that are raised. And I think it can benefit from an intensive review. Let me tell you what my position is.
I think that--you know there are two threats we have to worry about here. One is the threat we've dealt with for the last 50 years on a bipartisan basis, the arms race with the former Soviet Union and now Russia. And they still have many thousands of missiles with warheads that can hit us. And keeping deterrents in place, obviously, makes sense. And you don't want to discard the ABM treaty and trigger the chance of a renewed arms competition. You don't know what kind of leadership Russia might have in the future.
But the second threat is this relatively new one, the prospect that some unstable rogue nation might get a small handful of missiles and try to use them to blackmail us. And it's only responsible to investigate whether or not it's possible to protect our nation against that kind of threat without reigniting the arms race with the Russians or starting a new one with China.
RUSSERT: But until we know it works, shouldn't the next president make that decision rather than President Clinton?
GORE: Well, I'm not going to forestall President Clinton's judgment on that decision. That's his judgment to make. And I will participate in the analysis of the recent tests, but I'm not going to try to take that decision away from him.
RUSSERT: Russia, seven billion dollars in international loans, much of it American taxpayer money is missing in Russia. There was an article in "The New York Times" which I've always wanted to ask you about. Let me put it on the screen.
"The Central Intelligence Agency uncovered an analysis that analysts considered to be conclusive evidence of the personal corruption of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and sent it to the White House expecting the Clinton administration to be impressed with their work. Instead when the secret CIA report arrived in the office of Al Gore, it was rejected and sent back to the CIA with a barnyard epithet scrawled across its cover. At CIA headquarters the message seemed clear: the vice president did not want to hear allegations that Chernomyrdin was corrupt and was not interested in further intelligence reports coming out."
GORE: That is utter nonsense.
RUSSERT: Never happened?
GORE: Never happened. You know, I don't think I ever wrote a message of that kind on any CIA report. Also, I would dispute the statement that whoever sent that over there expected the White House to be impressed with it. You talk to the people who were in charge of that division and what they'll tell you was that they absolutely agreed that it was a very sloppy piece of work.
RUSSERT: Do you think Chernomyrdin was corrupt?
GORE: I have no idea. I think that in his dealings with our country, he proved to be a person whose word was worthy of respect. And we accomplished a great deal with Chernomyrdin. In fact, right here at the Naval Observatory, I talked with him personally and worked out the provisions by which the war in Kosovo was ended. And he played a major role in that.
And you know, Russia is now, for all of its many problems, the question there is not whether or not to return to communism. The question on the table in Russia is, how fast are they going to move forward with the reforms? They now have a privatized market. They have more private ownership in their economy than many countries in western Europe.
RUSSERT: Do you think President Putin is respecting freedom of the press, freedom of speech?
GORE: Oh, I think there are some serious questions that have been raised there, especially with the jailing of the fellow Gusinsky (ph) with media most and they just went into their ...
RUSSERT: And that's pretty troubling?
GORE: Yes. I think it's very troubling. And I don't think we know exactly how that happened. He said that he didn't know about it. Well, you know ...
RUSSERT: It just happened again.
GORE: I know. They went into their facilities again.
RUSSERT: We have to take another quick break. We'll be back with a lot more from Vice President Al Gore. lied under oath.
RUSSERT: ... should be an independent counsel to look into this because they think you may have broken the law or lied under oath. And they point specifically to your denial that you knew that event was a fund raiser. And let me just go through the documentation they have developed. The first was a Secret Service description which said, according to the Secret Service, the event was a fund-raiser. There was an e-mail from your staff member, Kimberly Tilley (ph) to you which talked about it as a fund raiser. And an Al Gore e-mail back to her which says, we already booked the fund-raisers, then we have to decline another event.
The National Security Council looked at this matter and made a judgment it was OK for you, as it says, in their e-mail, to visit the Hsi Lai Temple where there will be a fund raising lunch (OFF-MIKE) to the people. Harold Ickes, the deputy chief of staff put together a memo where he projected income of $250,000 for the (OFF-MIKE), vice president of the United States fund-raiser in Los Angeles.
With all that, the Secret Service, your own staff, your own e-mail, the National Security Council, the deputy chief of staff all calling it a fund-raiser before the fact, how can you insist you didn't know it was a fund-raiser?
GORE: Well, look, Tim, this has all been aired publicly and otherwise, and those are pretty selective facts. What happened was, another event was set up and then canceled. And the lunch that was canceled was what a lot of that was referring to.
RUSSERT: But the National Security Council specifically (OFF-MIKE).
GORE: I understand, but I didn't know about that. Look, all I can tell you--
RUSSERT: Rita (OFF-MIKE), she introduced you and translated for you, your fund raiser.
GORE: Well, no, but a member, also a member of that organization and, you know, there was a Republican elected official there, the highest ranking Republican other than the mayor in Los Angeles county. There were numerous Republicans and never--no money changed hands. I did not know it. And you can--you can accept that or not. That was--and it's all been reviewed.
RUSSERT: Do you believe now it was a fund-raiser?
GORE: You're beating a dead horse here.
RUSSERT: No, no, it's open, open investigation when the director of the FBI and three Justice officials say it should be looked into, that's why I'm asking you. You deserve a chance to talk about it. Do you believe to this day it was fund raiser?
GORE: I believe it was not. I believe it ...
RUSSERT: To this day?
GORE: Yes. There was--there was no request for funds. No money changed hands.
RUSSERT: But they did raise money and people went to jail for it.
GORE: After the fact, people went back and solicited those who were present. I did--there was no money that changed hands there.
RUSSERT: The other issue was your raising money at the White House. The attorney general said it was soft money, therefore, it was OK. Others insist, no, it was hard money, real money for the campaign. Leon Panetta gave testimony that you were very focused on the documents, you looked at the documents, that you then told "The New York Times" that, in fact, that sometimes you drank a lot of iced tea and had excused yourself for the rest room. Harold Ickes testified, whenever you left the room, he stopped the meeting. How can you contradict Leon Panetta, who said you were focused on that meeting when the distinction between hard money--
GORE: I didn't say that to the "New York Times." I was asked was I always present in the room and did I leave the room? And I did. I hear what was going on when I left the room, I said no, and that's the truth.
RUSSERT: Coffees. As you know, there were 103 coffees at the White House which raised about $7.7 million. In April you were asked by Robert Conrad, who's investigating the situation, whether or not you attended any of those coffees, and you said, I don't think so, maybe one. Two days later your lawyer amended your comments by said, you misunderstood the question and you in fact had attended about 25 in the White House (OFF-MIKE).
GORE: Well again, that's pretty selective. The question was about White House coffees and I did misinterpret that because I responded accurately and truthfully to the question of White House coffees. It turned out to be three or four instead of one, but there were other meetings in a different building, and I immediately said, OK, look, if you're asking about this, here's the full number.
RUSSERT: And I said that. Now it appears there were about 37 coffees that you attended at the White House or the executive office building next to the White House. When you were asked that question, and I want to give you a chance to clarify this on the screen, this is what Mr. Conrad, the prosecutor said, did you have discussions with anyone concerning the role of coffees would play in raising that type of money? Gore: let me define the term raising if I could, because if you mean would they be events in which money was raised, the answer is no. People reading that conjure up, it depends what "is" if. If people are being brought in the White House 103 times, and you attend 37 of those, high rollers, money--people who gave $8 million within a matter of weeks, it never occurred to you that you were raising money at the White House?
GORE: They were not fund-raisers. That's the simple point.
And, again, this has all been investigated many times, and I put out the entire transcript of that voluntarily, completely and fully so that people can make up their own minds about it.
RUSSERT: Lanny Davis, special council to President Clinton, no more loyal defender and spin doctor for Al Gore and Bill Clinton, wrote a book entitled "Truth to Tell." This is what he said. "Months after the coffee story was over, everyone knew that our denials the coffees were about fund raising had been absurd, it would have been better to have described these events from the start as fund raisers and not to have attempted to deny the obvious."
GORE: Well, they were not fund-raisers, so he can--
RUSSERT: He's wrong?
GORE: Yeah, as far as I'm concerned.
RUSSERT: Senator Arlen Specter is deeply offended and has asked you for an apology for your campaign staff referring to him engaging in McCarthy-like tactics.
Senator Specter, who's Jewish, very sensitive to that charge, will you apologize to Senator Specter this morning for accusing him of McCarthy-like tactics?
GORE: Has he no shame?
RUSSERT: You don't apologize.
GORE: Well, you know, that was the expression by the counsel for the Army, and that wasn't an accusation that I made, but an accusation that my press secretary made.
RUSSERT: Do you stand by it?
GORE: Yes, I mean, he speaks for himself, but I think he's doing an excellent job.
RUSSERT: And you do not apologize?
RUSSERT: Charles LaBella, the special counsel looked into this, he said, "you know, Clinton-Gore won the game, but if you look at their shoes, they had chalk all over them as they went into the end zone."
GORE: Sounds like you're talking about the Buffalo Bills.
RUSSERT: We're going to get to that. Forty-one men have been president of the United States. In your mind, who were the three or four greatest?
GORE: Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson.
RUSSERT: No Bill Clinton?
GORE: Look, I think Bill Clinton will be judged in the eyes of history as having done a great job as president.
RUSSERT: But not one of the greatest?
GORE: Well, you know, where do you draw the line? What are the categories? I think that if you look at the economic success that he has helped this country achieve, the crime rates have come down, the welfare rolls have come down. We have the strongest economy in history. I think that it's likely that history will judge him to have been a great president.
RUSSERT: We have to take another quick break, we'll be right back with the vice president for a very important question.
RUSSERT: Mr. Vice President, January 8 you witnessed a crime (OFF-MIKE) and never reported it. There was stealing, that was in the state of Tennessee. Let me show you what happened. The AFC playoff game, the Bills and Titans. You saw those two lines. A professor from the University of Rochester has examined this and proved through the use of the Internet, which you invented it was a forward pass and not a lateral.
GORE: Look, Tim, the Internet is limited. I have here a scientific study prepared by a physicist from Vanderbilt who has refuted the Rochester study. Let me--now, we don't have a camera in the ceiling of a dome. So we went to satellite photography. That is a declassified satellite photo which clearly shows--now, here, it's been analyze. Here is the conclusion of all the imaginary analysts. It says the pass was a lateral. And incidentally--
RUSSERT: We thank you for your views. It was a forward pass.
GORE: It was not a pass.
RUSSERT: We have to go.
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