A QUESTION OF TOLERANCE
AUGUST 7, 1996
The 107 member GOP Platform Committee is in San Diego trying to forge a compromise on the abortion issue. First, Jeffrey Kaye reports from the convention hall, where delegates today voted against Bob Dole's "tolerance" language. Then, Margaret Warner leads a debate on how this particular plank is dividing the Republican party.
Jeffrey Kaye updates the abortion platform debate form San Diego.
Browse NewsHour coverage of abortion politics:
April 11, 1996
The aftermath of Clinton's veto of the late term abortion ban.
April 10, 1996
President Clinton's comments following his veto of the partial birth abortion bill
February 21, 1996
A panel of Republicans discuss the issues that are dividing the party.
February 9, 1996
The effect of the religious right and the abortion issue on the Iowa Caucus.
MARGARET WARNER: For a look at where the platform fight goes from here, we have two Republican office holders: Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and George Allen, the governor of Virginia. Welcome both of you. Sen. Snow, where do you go from here?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE, (R) Maine: Well, we're continuing to work with Sen. Dole in the campaign organization and Republican Party officials about the fact that we want minority views represented in the party platform as an appendix to the platform so that we include the language that was drafted by Gov. Wilson, the personal responsibility plank, as well as the Wyoming language that was passed by the Wyoming convention. That is still possible. It's doable, and we hope that they will respond by including that in there so that Republicans who have different views than the views that are expressed in the party platform are accorded fairness by that acknowledgement in the permanent party platform document.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And help us out here. Exactly what kind of language would you want in this appendix? Would it mention abortion specifically?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, yes, obviously, it would but the language that was drafted by Gov. Wilson would talk about family values and ways in which we can reduce the incidence of abortion, issues upon which we could agree in terms of abstinence, as well as methods of contraception or adults, and to do--to move in a direction that we all agree we should do is to reduce abortions in America, and also to include the Wyoming language that will also reflect the differing views among Republicans on this issue. Clearly, we're not in agreement on abortion, and, therefore, the way it's stated in the party platform does not represent a majority of Republicans, let alone a majority of Americans.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Gov. Allen, would the pro-life forces have any problem with that kind of language in an appendix?
GOV. GEORGE ALLEN, (R) Virginia: Well, the question is, is whether as a party we're going to stand for something, and there are a variety of issues, not just abortion, that they're looking at, whether the economic development matters as far as jobs are concerned, education, law enforcement, and others. Whether or not there is an appendix to it reflecting the debate that there was in the Platform Committee will remain to be seen, but it seems to me that what Bob Dole was trying to do has already been put into the, into the platform by saying there are diversity of views on this particular subject, in fact, all subjects, and the main concern was for those folks who feel that, you know, there should be no stand taken on abortion, I think that's just an abdication of responsibility as a party. We are a large party. The people expect us to take a stand. Don't just say, gosh, it's controversial, so we'll not take a position. My position is one that I think it ought to be more specific on actual issues that are achievable but, nevertheless, the platform is a standard by which we rally around as Republicans. 95 percent of the issues I think we can agree upon, and I think that you know, we're spending too much time actually bickering over such minor things as to being a minority subcommittee reports attached to a platform and if anybody ever saw the Republican platform, it's a small novel. Um, I think that we ought to get about the actual task of this convention. That's nominating Bob Dole, getting the party unified, get all the wings of the party flapping in the same direction towards victory this fall. We need to be working as a family and as a team and once the decisions are made, we need to be backing our candidate.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Governor, what about the point that Sen. Snowe just made and we just heard Gov. Wilson make, which is that, in fact, 50 percent of Republicans certainly in the party as a whole are for this plank that you want and 50 percent, in fact, are pro-choice, and the argument that the platform should reflect that?
GOV. GEORGE ALLEN: Well, it's not reflected by the folks who are on the Platform Committee. The Platform Committee members, two from each state, are not just selected out of the blue. They are selected by the delegations. We in Virginia voted for our Platform Committee members, both--the two of them--there was a contest in fact for one of the slots. So I think to the extent that the Platform Committee members reflect the views of those delegations, it seems to me that it's clearly more than a majority that have a--have this view as far as the abortion plank is concerned. Again, I think folks need to understand that all Republicans are not either here or here on this issue of abortion. There are a lot in here, and it depends on the specific issue. And I think you ought to look at some of the specifics in this platform that we don't think the taxpayers should be paying for elective abortions. We don't believe in sex-selection abortions. We certainly are opposed to what President Clinton did, and that is veto the partial birth abortion ban which allows abortions really right up to the time of delivery. Even the American Medical Association called it nearly infanticide, which is the murder of an infant. And so we need to understand and let the people across the country understand that I think there are a lot of folks in the Republican Party with the diversity of views on this issue. A majority have this very strong pro-life view, but President Clinton is on the absolute extreme on the other side--
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
GOV. GEORGE ALLEN: --being for abortion for any reason for all nine months, and, in fact, have the taxpayers pay for it as well.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Governor, let me get back to Sen. Snowe and let me explain to our viewers that we're having a little problem with our video picture from Portland, Maine, but we can still hear Sen. Snowe. Senator, why is it so important--you heard what--I hope--what Gov. Allen just said--why is it so important for you and the pro-choice forces to specifically mention abortion in the platform?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, first of all, they're the ones that are mentioning abortion. I think we should take abortion out of the platform, as well as taking it out of politics. They're the ones that are insisting on a position. Frankly, only 6 percent of all Americans would endorse a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in all instances. That doesn't even reflect Sen. Dole's position on the issue. Furthermore, this platform plank on abortion does--is not supported by a majority of Republicans. 57 percent of all Republicans oppose it. 34 percent of the current delegates who will be attending the convention next week in San Diego oppose the anti-choice plank.
MARGARET WARNER: But what damage does it do?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, it does a lot of damage because we obviously have a significant gender gap. It sends a chilling message to women about how they perceive the Republican Party, that we're inflexible, intolerant, and that this somehow represents a view of all Republicans when, in fact, it doesn't. The message that I'm getting here at home in the state of Maine is get my party back, it's moving in the wrong direction. And that's what we're trying to do. We're saying that we can agree on this issue. I'm not insisting that the Republican Party endorse my viewpoint on abortion. I'm saying let's agree to disagree and recognize there are differing views and not insist upon one another's position as is currently the case, and I appreciate what Gov. Allen was saying but to dismiss our views is excluding a significant number of Republicans whom Bob Dole and other Republican candidates need in order to win this election, and we're alienating them from the Republican Party. They no longer feel included. So this becomes a significant issue, not only the issue of abortion itself, but also what it represents to a number of Republicans who think that he constitutional amendment, as it's written in the party platform, really is contrary to Republican principles of limited government and government interference.
MARGARET WARNER: Gov. Allen, respond to the Senator's point about the gender gap and the problem that Bob Dole right now has with women voters.
GOV. GEORGE ALLEN: Well, I think one thing that Sen. Snowe is correct in portraying is that this isn't even Bob Dole's position. He does believe there should be exceptions for rape, incest, and I believe there might be one other exception too, and the life of the mother, of course. And so this, this position is not what I ran on as governor of Virginia, but, again, you know, when you're looking at a platform, you have to look at the totality of it. I think that women, mothers, whether they're working women, whether they're single women, whatever, they're going to be attracted to what Bob Dole is talking about our economy, whether it's a tax credit for each child, whether it's a capital gains tax cut, which means there will be more investment and more jobs and more security in people's homes.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Gov. Allen, let me just ask you--are you saying--excuse me--are you saying that you don't think the party pays any political price for having this very strong pro-life platform?
GOV. GEORGE ALLEN: Margaret, that's a very good point. On the issue of abortion, this is what I say to folks. Figure out in your own heart and mind what you think is right. It is a very difficult question. There are some countervailing principles. There are good people on all various sides of this issue. You're going to take a stand, and whatever stand you take, you're going to get a broken rib, and there's no way you're going to please everyone on it, but you have to do what you think is right, get your broken rib. If you start spinning around, you'll end up with a whole rib cage broken. And so you got to take a stand on it. It is an issue that we should, of course, have a position on because it's not something you can say, well, politics shouldn't be involved in it. Of course, it's--politics are involved in it, and the government is involved in it when you have a Supreme Court some twenty some odd years ago come in and knock out the laws of about 2/3 of the population of this country, naturally there's going to be a concern on it. It is a legitimate issue, although it's probably not the highest issue on the minds of most people.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me let Sen. Snowe back in here, especially since her video is now working.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: I think it's important to note that this constitutional amendment that's been included in the Republican Party Platform would criminalize abortion, not only for the doctor who performs the abortion, but also the woman who receives them. That's a very harsh position. I have not yet received an answer to the question as to why we would include a position in the party platform that is only endorsed by 6 percent of all Americans, that even those Republicans who are pro-life don't support this view. We are the party of limited government intrusion, if any government intrusion at all, and certainly not when it comes to personal decisions. And many people have expressed to me the position and the sentiment that the government should not be making this decision in this instance. That's why I say we should take abortion out of politics. Yes, we should take it out of the party platform. And I agree with Gov. Allen, there are so many differing views on this issue, and I respect all of them, so therefore why do we insist on taking a view that's only endorsed by a small minority within the Republican Party as well as in America?
MARGARET WARNER: Senator and Governor, I'm terribly sorry. We have to leave it there. Senator, let me just ask you one final very short question. If you don't get this appendix, will there be a floor fight?
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: Well, there may well be. We're obviously trying to get the six days. We hope it doesn't come to that.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE: We're working with Sen. Dole and others to hopefully avoid that.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thank you both.
GOV. GEORGE ALLEN: A pro-life agenda by the way does not include punitive action against the women who have abortions. That is clearly spelled out in an amendment to the platform.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Governor, thank you and Senator, thank you very much. We'll have to leave it there. And, again, we apologize for our transmission problems with Portland. Thanks.