Vice President Al Gore
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IM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, welcome.
AL GORE: Glad to be with you again, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: First, your announcement today that Commerce Secretary William Daley will replace Tony Coelho as your campaign chairman. Why the change?
AL GORE: Well, I’m grateful to Tony for doing a great job, and his health problems, as he told me late last evening in a telephone conversation from the hospital, are such that he has been strongly advised by his doctors to step down from his duties as campaign chair, and some of the specific conditions that he has are exacerbated by stress.
He has to have a lengthy period with as little stress as possible, a liquid diet, and complete rest. And his doctors have said that’s completely inconsistent with being a campaign chair, and I reluctantly accepted that conclusion, as, of course, he did. And he did a terrific job, Jim.
He positioned this campaign to win the primary. He put together a winning team. He’s positioned us for a great convention and a winning fall campaign. And I hate to see him go. When his health recovers sufficiently, if his doctors will permit it, I’m going to ask him to take on some limited duties in the fall. I hope that will be possible.
JIM LEHRER: How soon do you -
AL GORE: But in the meantime -
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
AL GORE: — I am very proud that Secretary Bill Daley has agreed to step in and serve as my campaign chair. I woke him up about midnight last night, and we had a lengthy conversation, and I was very pleased that he agreed. And he’s here with me in Cincinnati today, and he is starting the process immediately, and he’s going to be moving to Nashville, and taking over as chair of the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Just for the record, is there no connection at all between Tony Coelho’s decision to leave the campaign and the investigation or the allegations about having to do with an expo in Portugal, 1998?
AL GORE: None whatsoever.
JIM LEHRER: So if the illness problem had not arisen, he would still be the campaign chair tonight?
AL GORE: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: Why Bill Daley?
AL GORE: He’s a great friend, a great American, a known excellent leader. He’s done a fabulous job as secretary of commerce. He did a great job in the business community. He’s been a campaign manager before. I know him well. We’ve worked together. He is terrific. And I’m very excited that he’s going to step in and take this position.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, the Associated Press, among others, reported this today as your shaking up your campaign again. Is that the way this should be seen?
AL GORE: That not fair. No, this is a human problem having to do with a specific set of health conditions that has caused Tony to take the orders of his doctors, and that’s the sum total of it.
JIM LEHRER: And it’s specifically an inflammation of his colon, right?
AL GORE: Diverticulitis with some complications – Joe Berra’s Disease – you’ll have to ask the doctors about the other details, but what the – both conditions – Tony has been a champion for trying to find cures for epilepsy, a condition that he has had for quite sometime. And he has been a great champion for ending discrimination against Americans With Disabilities. But in combination with these other conditions his doctors said that the stress exacerbates all of them, and that it would be foolhardy for him not to get rid of as much stress as possible.
JIM LEHRER: All right. The Tony Coelho situation aside, Mr. Vice President, you have been satisfied with the way your campaign has been going lately?
AL GORE: Very definitely. We’re at a stage now, Jim, when most Americans are not really tuned in to the campaign. That typically starts around Labor Day. And what’s important about the campaign dialogue right now is the ideas that both campaigns are advancing. I’m talking about prosperity and progress and how we can manage our economy in ways that keep the economic growth going and keep building the number of jobs and the strength of our economy.
And, you know, in just a short time, we’re going to enter a brand-new era with very large surpluses reported that will extend out for many years to come. And these predictions will come true if we don’t mess up the economy. The other side is proposing that we squander those surpluses before they even get here with a $2 trillion tax cut and a $1 trillion Social Security privatization plan. And I’m recommending instead that we pay down the debt, that we move Medicare off budget and tell the Congress, “hands off! Don’t use that trust fund for anything except Medicare” and the same as we do with Social Security.
And then let’s have a savings incentive to give Americans a tax break for savings accounts and investments on top of Social Security — Social Security-plus, not Social Security-minus. This will not come at the expense of Social Security.
And then with $500 billion of tax cuts for Americans over the next ten years, we will then take on the bold challenges to improve health care, to improve education, to clean up the environment in ways that create millions of new jobs with the new national trust fund for taking on each of those three challenges.
JIM LEHRER: I want to go ask about some of the specifics involved in what you just outlined for a moment, but coming back to your campaign, Governor Bush continues to lead you in most of the polls, and they seem – the lead seems to be increasing over time. What do you attribute that to?
AL GORE: I don’t pay much attention to the polls. Five, six months ago I was behind by 20 points. And now the measurement of the difference is very narrow. That could be interpreted as progress and success, but I don’t take any more meaning out of the polls that show me gaining than the ones that showed me far behind.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
AL GORE: I think it just goes up and down, and I think that at this stage perhaps the most significant number out of the polls is one that I read this morning. Only about 15% of the people are really paying close attention to the election right now. So, what the other polls are measuring is not all that meaningful.
In any case, the American people will make this judgment. And I have full confidence in their decision, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this campaign. I’m excited about it. I want it to be a campaign of ideas and not insults, debates and not ducking. I want to see the prosperity and progress continue and our country strengthened.
JIM LEHRER: You talked about prosperity. Are you not getting the credit you believe you deserve for the good economic times?
AL GORE: Jim, I think the American people deserve the credit for the economic success of America. It’s their hard work that’s produced it. Of course, there is more to it because the American people have always been hard working. They were working hard in 1991 when the economy was a disaster. And the difference in part is explained by the new policies that President Clinton and I put in place. I cast the tie-breaking vote and helped design the program, and the impact of the new policies has been to give the American people new tools they’ve used to unlock the potential of our new economy and instead of the biggest deficits ever, we now have the biggest surpluses. Instead of a triple-dip recession, we’ve seen a tripling of the stock market and 22 million new jobs and the strongest economy in the 211-year history of America.
JIM LEHRER: There’s a new Los Angeles Times poll, fairly new Los Angeles Times poll that shows that 24% of those questioned said the technology industry deserves most of the credit for this prosperity, the Clinton administration, 14%, and Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve almost as much at 10%. Where would you put the numbers?
AL GORE: I’d give 100% of it to the American people.
JIM LEHRER: So you don’t technology, Alan Greenspan or even the Clinton administration deserve any credit at all, Mr. Vice President?
AL GORE: Well, the American people elected us and the American people have brought all these new technologies into the economy, and, seriously, Jim, I think that those who look at technology’s role are right because clearly we have a surge of productivity. Some of the investments made some years ago in the Internet, in computers, the first personal computers came out of the Apollo program, the Internet came out of the Defense Department program, the information technology assistance from the High-Performance Computing Act has helped, the other investments have helped to give the American people the tools they’ve used to bring about this terrific technology revolution, and that’s causing our economy to be a lot more productive.
JIM LEHRER: Let me read you what Governor Bush said about. “The momentum of today’s prosperity began in the 1980s with sound money, deregulation, the opening of global trade and a 25% tax cut.” Has he got it wrong?
AL GORE: Oh, yeah, of course. Because we had a miserable economic performance in the 1980′s, and you don’t have to take my word for that. Just ask anybody on the street who went through it. We had the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930′s. We had a quadrupling of our national debt. We had $300 billion budget deficit stretching out as far as the eye could see. Crime rates soared, social problems got worse.
There was no plan to do anything about it. The policymaking process was paralyzed; nothing got done. And there was no hope in the minds of many people that the deficits would ever be taken care of. Every time the economy started to pick up a little steam, it drove interest rates up and it slipped right back into recession.
What changed was the new economic plan in the summer of 1993 that every single Republican voted against and that passed by a single vote margin in the House and a tie-breaking vote in the Senate. When that changed, the biggest deficits were turned into the biggest surpluses. We balanced the budget. And now we’ve got the strongest economy ever in the history of the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Your second announcement of this day was your tax cut, the $500 billion tax cut.
AL GORE: Right.
JIM LEHRER: Before it was only $250 billion. What happened?
AL GORE: Right. The new estimates of the expected surplus are really impressive. I’ve always used conservative assumptions. That’s one of the ways we’ve balanced the budget. That’s one of the ways we’ve had fiscal discipline, but in anticipation of the new budget estimates that will be coming out soon, I have tried to start a national debate on the big choices that we have to make in this election year 2000.
Some people think that the choices concerning the surplus are somehow less important than the surpluses… than the decisions concerning the deficits. I think that’s wrong. I think that both are crucial to giving us prosperity and progress, and I’m proposing that we eliminate the debt entirely by the year 2012, that we give some tax incentives for savings and eliminate the marriage penalty and targeted, affordable tax cuts for education and health care and environmental protection.
And then let’s take on these big challenges of improving education, expanding access to health care, finding cures for diseases like cancer and ALS and diabetes, and cleaning up the environment and producing the new technologies that are going to be in great demand around the world in order to improve standards of living while reducing pollution.
JIM LEHRER: But no cuts in the basic tax rates across the board?
AL GORE: Expansions of the earned-income tax credit, elimination of the marriage penalty, tax credits for child care and after-school care, long-term care. The reason it doesn’t make sense to have a huge $2 trillion or $1.9 trillion tax plan is that that….
JIM LEHRER: Which is what Governor Bush has proposed.
AL GORE: Correct. And even with the largest estimates of what the surplus could be, that spends way more than the most expansive estimates, and immediately puts us back into deficits.
Now here’s why that’s important, Jim. One of the reasons our economy is so strong today is that around the world and here at home, there’s more confidence in our economy. Investment capital closed towards the U.S. markets. We are seeing many more jobs created here because of a higher level of confidence that we’ve got our act together and we’re making the right decisions. We’re not going to squander our national wealth.
And if we go right back to spending money that we don’t have and pledging it before it even gets here and pledging in advance to spend far more than would ever get here anyway, then– we’re just announcing that we’re going back to the old ways and going back into these giant deficits and instead of paying off the debt we’re going to build it back up again. That would be the best way to guarantee that the surpluses predicted never actually arrived. So I think that we have got to continue with fiscal discipline and conscientious policy making.
JIM LEHRER: To change the subject on you, Mr. Vice President, the death penalty. How concerned are you about the new about the possibility of mistakes being made in the administration of the death penalty both in trials and in the sentencing and the convictions of these folks?
AL GORE: Well, I think everybody has to be concerned about the possibility that there are far more errors than was previously thought. Most of us who strongly support the death penalty have assumed that the mistake in judgments are rare indeed. But the record compiled in Illinois by use of this new DNA evidence seems to call that into question. Given the record in Illinois, I think the governor there was right to impose a moratorium until they can get the criminal justice system straightened out. If there were a similar record of error in the federal courts, I would support a moratorium there. I do not think the evidence supports that at this stage, but I strongly believe that DNA evidence should be used in capital cases, wherever it’s available. For one thing, it’s not only the tragedy of an innocent person being executed. It’s also the fact that the person who actually did commit that crime is still free out there walking around. So I think that whatever your views on the death penalty, you ought to be in favor of using this new evidence as broadly as possible to improve the administration of justice.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think there should be a moratorium across the board right now while this matter is investigated and looked into?
AL GORE: I don’t think the evidence thus far justifies that. If the inquiries now underway should ever establish a record nationally that is comparable to what was found in Illinois, then that should be an open question. And the study by the… by Columbia University begins to pose that question, but I don’t think that we have evidence now that would justify such a step.
JIM LEHRER: Is Governor Bush correct in proceeding with allowing the death penalty to be carried out in Texas?
AL GORE: I don’t know the circumstances of the cases in Texas. I have not had a chance to review those cases, so I do not have an opinion on that.
JIM LEHRER: On missile defense, does the new arrangement between North and South Korea announced yesterday, does it reduce the nuclear threat from North Korea?
AL GORE: I hope it will. We don’t know yet. The initial optimism is heady indeed. I’m hoping that it turns out to be a… the beginning of a process for reconciliation that will bring freedom and economic prosperity to the… to North Korea and eventually a reunification on terms that spread economic and political and religious freedom throughout the peninsula. If that happens, surely that will have a profound impact on the role that North Korea now plays in the debate over nuclear weaponry.
JIM LEHRER: If that should happen, would that diminish the need for a nuclear missile defense system here in this country?
AL GORE: Yes but not eliminate it because North Korea has been seen as the first of potentially several so-called rogue states that might have the capacity to obtain some nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them within the next 10 to 15 years. We are well advised to keep a weather eye on such threats and make sure that we can protect the American people.
JIM LEHRER: If you’re elected President, you will proceed with the implementation and building of a nuclear missile defense system, correct?
AL GORE: It depends on the tests. It depends on the findings of the research. It depends on a number of factors. There are alternatives that have been put forward, but assuming that the technology is proven out, assuming that the threat remains real, assuming that the balance of advantage to the United States in taking the impact on arms control into account justifies going forward, then, yes, I would. But those are all factors that will have to be analyzed carefully.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Vice president, thank you very much for being with us tonight.
AL GORE: Thank you, Jim. Thanks for having me.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.