|NEWSMAKER: SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BOB DOLE|
April 17, 1996
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) has wrapped up his party's nomination for President earlier than any other candidate in recent history. With the race now clear between Dole and President Bill Clinton, the Senator discusses the coming campaign and working with his rival.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, welcome.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Republican Presidential Candidate: Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe you're going to be elected President in November?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think so. I feel good about it. I think the nom-- this nomination is pretty well wrapped up. We have a big kind of fandango in mid August, our convention, but my view is that we've got some great opportunities. We know right now that Clinton is ahead in sort of the horse race, but we've just finished a rather bruising primary, so I feel pretty good about it.
JIM LEHRER: Is he--do you see him as being vulnerable?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Oh, I think all of us are vulnerable. I think he's certainly good at the rhetoric and a good campaigner. I like him personally. We don't have any problem with each other as far as I know. I've cooperated with him on NAFTA, GATT, troops in Bosnia, things that were very important to him, but, you know, we have a different philosophy generally, and that's what the two-party system is all about.
JIM LEHRER: Draw the differences in philosophy between you and President Clinton. What are they?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think, you know, as I said on the stump, these--they think it's not quite accurate, but I think my view is that we trust the people and he trusts government--that's the short hand, that we haven't seen much evidence. We've seen a lot of discussion about ending welfare as know it and about sending power back to the states, the so-called 10th Amendment to the Constitution approach. But I have seen that happen. We've seen a big, big tax increase, $265 billion. We've seen the President praise a program that says that this government will determine, the federal government, family leave policy if you have over 50 employees. We haven't seen any signs of more power back to the states. And you would think, having been a governor, he would be very receptive.
JIM LEHRER: What other major differences are there between the two of you, that if somebody is going to make a choice between you and him, on what basis should they go beyond what you've just said?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I think you look at tax policy. I mean, I've got a record. I've closed loopholes--some would say raised taxes--I've also cut taxes. Uh, I think other domestic programs, sending welfare back to the states, back to the governors, Medicaid back to the states, trying to preserve and strengthen Medicare, as we did with Social Security in 1983, and I was on that commission at the time with Claude Pepper and others. I think foreign policy, the President I think said in the campaign of '92 that it's economy, stupid. And he's had a lot of foreign policy problems, and some I don't think he's handled very well. Haiti, I certainly wouldn't have spent $3 billion of American money to prop up Aristide, whose last official act before he left office was to recognize Fidel Castro and Cuba. I think we've sort of gotten into it in Bosnia because we depended too much on the United Nations; it's called multilateralism. So I think there are a number of differences, judges. You know, the judicial branch has never discussed much, but I find, and I think polls will, will underscore this, there's a lot of concern about federal judges and judges not being accountable. We just finished a survey. The numbers are way up there in the 80's and 90's on judges should be accountable, just as accountable as members of Congress and the President of the United States. So we know--we see a number of issues where we think we can make some headway.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of people say now that the major role of the President is one to be kind of the nation's cheerleader, emotional, spiritual hand-holder, as much as it is positions on issues that you just enumerated. Do you disagree with that?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I think to some extent, you need to provide the moral leadership and maybe spiritual leadership. You want people to feel good about America. You need to be positive in what you say and what you do. So I don't disagree with that. You can't, you know--I've been in politics so long, you'll see a lot of people that can tell you everything wrong with the system but never have one way to fix it, and they don't want a way to fix it, they just want to point out what's wrong with the system. And my view is if you don't have a positive agenda and don't have the confidence of the American people, then, you know, I think you're not going to be a very successful President.
JIM LEHRER: If you are elected, I mean, to get at the difference between--would you be a kind of a, for want of a better term, a bully pulpit President, or a--or would you go in with a legislative--you come from a legislative background. You're an experienced legislator. Is that what you would come in to the White House to do?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think a combination. As I sort of think about it, it hasn't happened yet, but you think about it, I am a legislator, I like to get things done, I like to believe that I do the right thing, even though it may not be the popular thing. And there are probably some exceptions we all have, so I'd like to have an agenda for America that I could outline, sort of my vision for America, where I want to take America, something that's real, something to make a difference in the lives of children and workers wherever, and in addition, talk about the basic values and talk about America and talk about our strength. And, no doubt about it, we're the greatest country on the face of the Earth. I think sometimes we're so busy beating each other up or pointing out the shortcomings of America, that we fail to understand what America is really all about.
JIM LEHRER: Have you given thought to the fact of let's say you're elected in November, and then you're re-elected, and so there is a quote "Dole" era in American politics and government, have you given any thought to what you would want said about a Dole era when it's all said and done?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think the period of stability, a period of downsizing the government, there'd be reconnecting government with values that people have in Wichita or Los Angeles or Chicago, basic American values, you know, sort of regaining our status as the world leader whether we like it or not. We are the world leader, and--but, you know, reducing the deficit, balancing the budget, a lot of things I'd like to be remembered for, but above all, I think a period, eight-year period of peace and freedom and watching and observing different countries emerge as democracies around the world, maybe expanding NATO and doing a lot of things I think would be very helpful as we go into the next century.
JIM LEHRER: You've mentioned values several times. What as President would you do about the values that are held by the American people?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: You aren't going to pass any laws. I mean, you might be able to pass--welfare reform, I think, would help, where you put a premium on work to restore someone's dignity or self-esteem. I've told the story before when I was county attorney in my little county, my grandparents were on welfare, and I had to sign the checks every month, so I--this was during the Dust Bowl and Depression days, when you--most people lost about everything--so I know that welfare is important. The government does good things. But I also know that we sort of, we need to change it. Sen. Moynihan, who has probably spent more time working on welfare than any other Senator, says the system has failed. So it's not a partisan thing. It's failed. We need to put a premium on work. We need to get people to stay at home and stop some of the out-of-wedlock births and things of that kind. Now, you can do that through legislation. But we also have to take a look at the structure of the American family. Let's face it, when the families break up, that's when problems occur with drugs or crime or whatever it is. We can pass tougher drug laws, tougher crime laws, use a gun in the commission of a crime, tougher sentencing, but above all, you've got to talk to people, not pass laws, talk to people about America and about values and try to stimulate the churches and the service clubs and educational institutions to keep us together.
JIM LEHRER: And you feel you could do that better than Bill Clinton has done?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think I've had some broader experience as far as bringing in another generation, reaching out to people, reaching out to Americans with disabilities. I've always had this view. Maybe it's, maybe it's not totally doable, and that we're one America. I really believe that we're all, we're all in this country, the greatest country on the face of the earth. We don't try dividing ourselves, black Americans, rich Americans, urban, disabled, whatever, and think about this country as the greatest country on the face of the earth, and the potential each of us have, with a little luck and maybe some help along the way, then I think we're going to have a better nation. I think I would be a good, hopefully, an inspiration to many people in that regard.
JIM LEHRER: What about the, the--for want of a better term, the so-called character issue, and judging, putting you next to Bill Clinton--what measurement would you throw out for people to use, or should they even use one, should they even try that?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, my view is I'm not going to make character an issue. I mean, I think character will be an issue, it always is, when it's my character, his character, I'm going to talk about Bob Dole, talk about myself, I don't like to do it, but I think people know who I am and I've been trying to do a little of that in the primary campaign about where Bob Dole is from. Was I born in this suit and tie, the Majority Leader of the United States? Absolutely not. I was born in Russell, Kansas. My dad wore his overalls to work every day for 42 years. We grew up living in a basement apartment. So I want people to know that I'm real, that I really--that President Clinton says, you know, I share your pain. I can almost tell 'em I feel your pain, I've gone through some of that in my lifetime, but the bottom line is I think people need to look at each of us and say a lot of things, who would I trust my children to if something happened to me, would I want 'em to be with Bob Dole or Bill Clinton, and they're going to make the judgment. I know what they'll decide.
JIM LEHRER: And does it relate also to crises that come, in other words, you could be prepared for Senate Bill633 and then one day you're President and a huge crisis comes--that is part of the evaluating process.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: No doubt about it, and that's character. That's, you know, how you deal with it, what your process is, how do you make decisions, and do you make decisions? Some people put it off, and sometimes I found in my legislative career sometimes not making a decision on the spot may solve the problem in the next 24 hours, so I think that's part of it, no question about it.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go through some of the things. You've already mentioned a couple of them. I'm going to go--foreign affairs--Bosnia. You criticized the President's policy on that. Do you think that he's had a failed policy in Bosnia?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: It's been my view shared by Democrats, myself, Sen. Lieberman sort of carried the ball on the Senate side, Democrat from Connecticut, Republican from Kansas, to lift the embargo, let the Muslims defend themselves and not send American troops. Now we learn through the Los Angeles Times that while the Iranians were providing weapons and the administration knew it but looked the other way, while they were telling us, no, we can't do that, it'll upset our allies and all those things, so I, I just happen to believe that--and I made these criticisms back in the Bush administration too--I didn't start them when Bill Clinton became President. I said the Bush administration had a lot of shortcomings on Bosnia policy. They didn't want to get wrapped up in another conflict in an election year. And they kept talking about keeping Yugoslavia together when it was already split apart. It had already had Croatia and Slovenia declaring their independence, but I think we haven't been decisive in Bosnia over the years. We didn't lift the embargo, even when candidate Clinton said lift the embargo and have air strikes and in April of '93, barely into his Presidency, that went off the radar screen. In fact, I talked to him about it, agreed to support him. So my view is it's a flawed policy. We now have 20,000 American troops there, plus support troops. Maybe that wouldn't have been necessary.
JIM LEHRER: But he would argue, yes, we have 20,000 troops there, but we have peace there, which we've never had before.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, our view is that if we don't train and arm the Bosnians in these next few months when we leave, the peace will be short lived, and I hope it succeeds. In fact, I've stood on the Senate floor, took a lot of heat from my colleagues, when the President said we're sending the troops and when they arrived there, I said, okay, he is the President, he is the commander in chief, and I'm supporting President Clinton. And a lot of people mistook that for supporting his policies. My view is he, he made the decision. He is the President. And I should support the President where I can.
JIM LEHRER: You mentioned Haiti a minute ago. The last U.S. troops have just left Haiti. They've had a democratic election. You hang with your--or stick with your criticism of that as well.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: In fact, there will be a report released this week by a group of people who've been there just in the past two weeks. I don't have the details yet, and very critical of what's happened in Haiti, and I believe the administration knows it's coming. I think they've taken certain steps to sort of ward it off, but I think our--I think we've spent at least two and a half, maybe three billion dollars in Haiti, and I'm not certain whether we have democracy in Haiti. I'm not certain whether the police there can take--I'm not certain whether they've stopped some of the brutal killings, political murders in Haiti. In fact, we know that they couldn't certify that, so they had to suspend some of the funding yesterday because of an amendment I offered to the bill.
JIM LEHRER: So you still--you think--
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I know it's important. I know the people of Haiti, I know it's the poorest country in the hemisphere, we ought to help the people in Haiti, but I never was one that felt that we were helping a real leader when we helped Aristide.
JIM LEHRER: Back to domestic things. How important an issue do you think Whitewater is as far as President Clinton is concerned?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I think it's marginal at this point, if something happens, if anything would happen at the trial in Little Rock, we're about to reach an agreement here to reopen the hearings up to a certain date in June. We're not quite there yet. That may happen yet before we go on the air today, but if it does, we'll probably conclude the hearings by mid June.
JIM LEHRER: Do you know of anything that's come out in Whitewater yet that would cause the President--I mean to cause somebody not to vote for him, to say he's disqualified to be President?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I know of nothing. In fact, I must say people may not believe this but I've sort of stayed out of Whitewater. I've never mentioned it publicly, I've never made any reference to President Clinton or to Mrs. Clinton in any of my public statements the past couple of years. I thought as the Republican leader I should stay away from it, and I don't think I've made a statement on the Senate floor on Whitewater. I may have early on but--so my view is let's get the facts out, see what happens. The American people are pretty good judges. They'll decide whether it should be an issue or not.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Rockefeller said yesterday that you ought to step down as Senate Majority Leader while you run for President. What do you think of that idea?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Well, I haven't thought much about it. I think Sen. Dodd said the same thing today. He happens to be chairman of the Democratic Party and they didn't say he was stepping down, but I'd be willing to make a package deal if President Clinton steps down and turns it over to Al Gore, I'll step down and turn it over to Trent Lott. And then we can both be out there, we won't have any official duties, and we can campaign, but I think beyond that, it's a little ludicrous to want Bob Dole to step aside and not have the same rule apply to the other candidates. We're candidates now. It's not President Clinton and candidate Dole. It's candidate Clinton and candidate Dole.
JIM LEHRER: But give some guidance to the voters out there as they go through these next few months. What's going to be politics, what's going to be government? When are you going to be functioning as Senate Majority Leader? When is he going to be functioning as President? When are you going to be functioning as candidates? How do we figure this all out?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: It's going to be difficult, but I think we have a fair understanding. Right now we're taking up a terrorism bill the President says he'll sign. We hope to take up next the health care bill which we think the President will sign. I think we understand it. Immigration, we have a little trouble there, the minimum wage issue, we might be able to resolve that next week, maybe not. So I think most of these things will work--try to work through them, but I would say come July, August, then it's going to get--it'll be fairly political.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the minute you mention the minimum wage, the Democrats say that you're refusing to give them a vote up or down on the Senate floor, on minimum--raising the minimum wage--because of Presidential politics, because you think it'll pass and you don't want that hanging around--come candidate time, is that right?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I voted for a minimum wage increase in the past. Keep in mind that in '93 and '94 when they had a majority, Democrats controlled everything, the White House and the Congress, the President said we shouldn't have a minimum wage, President Clinton, they didn't send a minimum -- and they could have passed it any time. Now that we have a Republican Congress, and the President's trying to satisfy organized labor, which just announced another $35 million they're going to give to the Democratic Party. This has become a big issue. Now maybe we can resolve it. I'm certainly--you can't--you know, you can give all the reasons in the world why minimum wage is probably not the best way to go, but you'll never explain it to anybody, so it may affect a very small percentage of people, not many people who are out there working are working for the minimum wage. They are generally college students or part-time workers, and some come from upper income families, but beyond that, we're looking at maybe some way we can formulate an increase in the minimum wage plus some other features of the amendment that the Democrats might not be so crazy about.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, have you had any trouble thus far, and do you think you're going to have any trouble sitting across the table from this man, President Bill Clinton, the man that you are going to not only run against, you want his job and whatever and function as Senate Majority Leader, and you think he's going to have any problems. It's hard to imagine. No average person has trouble imagining that, I would think. Help us.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: We spent 55 hours together over the holidays. Of course, I wasn't the Republican nominee then, but I was a candidate, and I think a lot of things we agreed on. I said the other day when somebody asked me about Mickey Kantor, the new Commerce--he's been very helpful to me, he's been very cooperative, and I support him, and I assume I could have said, well, I'm not going to support anybody, and I talked to Mickey Kantor yesterday by phone from Japan. He wanted to thank me, and he was with the President, I said, well, tell the President we're trying to pass the terrorism bill, if Joe Biden will stop talking, Sen. Biden. He's got about 14 amendments, so I think, you know, it doesn't seem to bother me at this point. I think there will come a point when it's going to be they'll say, okay, Mr. President or Mr. Leader, it's probably about as far as we can go, but people want us to get things done. They know it's going to be a hot contest. They know it's going to be, you know, we need a competitive two-party system. I want to be a good President, the President wants to be a good President again, another term, but let's don't start the fight yet. Let's get some things done first.
JIM LEHRER: Is it going to be a clean campaign?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: I hope so. I've had enough of the--I know what negatives do. In Iowa, my ratings went--positive rating went from 80 percent to 52, and my negatives went from 17 percent to 47 after a lot of negative ads by Mr. Forbes. And I barely, I limped out of Iowa, lucky to win that state, but I know that the ad's already on the air--the Democrats are already running ads direct, directed at me. I hope it's going to be a clean campaign.
JIM LEHRER: It's been suggested this could be one of the nastiest campaigns in years. Where does that come from? Why do people expect that?
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: It's either me or Bill Clinton--I--I assume you've got people out there--I've got a long voting record. They can probably find a lot of things I've voted on over the years. He's the President, he's made big decisions--we don't agree with, so I guess, I think it's only fair to point those things out, but hopefully it's going to be based on the issues, something the American people understand, not on the sound bites, not on the 30-second TV spots.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, thank you very much.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Thank you.
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