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1st Presidential Debate Part 2: Vice President Al Gore and Governor George Bush

October 3, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: New question. Vice President Gore, how would you contrast your approach to preventing future — future oil price and supply problems like we have now to the approach of Governor Bush?

VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Excellent question, and here’s the — here’s the simple difference. My plan has not only a short-term component, but also a long-term component, and it focuses not only on increasing the supply, which I think we have to do, but also on working on the consumption side. Now in the short term, we have to free ourselves from the domination of the big oil companies that have the ability to manipulate the price, from OPEC, when they want to raise the price, and in the long term, we have to give new incentives for the development of domestic resources like deep gas in the western Gulf, like stripper wells for oil, but also renewable sources of energy and domestic sources that are cleaner and better. And I’m proposing a plan that will give tax credits and tax incentives for the rapid development of new kinds of cars and trucks and buses and factories and boilers and furnaces that don’t have as much pollution, that don’t burn as much energy and that help us get out on the cutting edge of the new technologies that will create millions of new jobs because when we sell these new products here, we’ll then be able to sell them overseas, and there is a ravenous demand for them overseas.

Now another big difference is Governor Bush is proposing to open up our — some of our most precious environmental treasures like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the big oil companies to go in and start producing oil there. I think that is the wrong choice. It would only give us a few months’ worth of oil, and the oil wouldn’t start flowing for many years into the future, and I don’t think it’s a fair price to pay to destroy precious parts of America’s environment. We have to bet on the future and move beyond the current technologies to have a new generation of more efficient, cleaner energy technologies.

JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, it’s an issue I know a lot about. I was a “small” oil person for awhile in West Texas. This is an administration that’s had no plan, and all of a sudden the results of having no plan have caught up with America.

First and foremost, we’ve got to make sure we fully fund LIHEAP (ph), which is a way to help low-income folks, particularly here in the East, pay for their high fuel bills.

Secondly, we need an active exploration program in America. The only way to become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil is to explore at home. And you bet, I want to open up a small part of — a part of Alaska because when that field is online, it will produce a million barrels a day. Today we import a million barrels from Saddam Hussein. I would rather that a million come from our own hemisphere, our own country, as opposed from Saddam Hussein. I want to build more pipelines to move natural gas throughout this hemisphere. I want to develop the coal resources in America and have clean coal technologies.

We’ve got abundant supplies of energy here in America, and we’d better get after it and better start exploring it, otherwise we’re going to be in deep trouble in the future because of our dependency upon foreign sources of crude.

JIM LEHRER: So, if somebody is watching tonight, listening to what the two of you just said, is it fair to say: Okay, the differences between Vice President Gore and George W. Bush — Governor Bush are the following. You are for doing something on the consumption end; you’re for doing something on the production and drilling –

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I’m — let me clarify. I’m for doing something both on the supply side and production side and on the consumption side. And let me say that I found one thing in Governor Bush’s answer that we certainly agree on, and that’s the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, and I commend you for supporting that. I worked to get $400 million just a couple of weeks ago and to establish a permanent home heating oil reserve here in the Northeast.

Now, as for the proposals that I’ve worked for, for renewables and conservation and efficiency and the new technologies, the fact is, for the last few years in the Congress we’ve faced a lot of opposition to them. They’ve only — they’ve only approved about 10 percent of the agenda that I’ve helped to send up there, and I think that we need to get serious about this energy crisis, both in the Congress and in the White House, and if you entrust me with the presidency, I will tackle this problem and focus on new technologies that will make us less dependent on big oil or foreign oil.

JIM LEHRER: How would you draw the difference –

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I would first say that he should have been tackling it for the last seven years. And secondly, the difference is, is that we need to explore at home, and the vice president doesn’t believe in exploration, for example, in Alaska. There’s a lot of shut-in gas that we need to be moving out of Alaska by pipeline.

There’s an interesting issue up in the Northwest, as well, and that is whether or not we remove dams that produce hydroelectric energy. I’m against removing dams in the Northwest. I don’t know where the vice president stands, but that’s a renewable source of energy we need to keep in line. I — I was in coal country yesterday in West Virginia. There’s an abundant supply of coal in America. I know we can do a better job of clean coal technologies. I’m going to ask the Congress for $2 billion to make sure that we have the cleanest coal technologies in the world. My answer to you is, is that in the short term we need to get after it here in America. We need to explore our resources and we need to develop our reservoirs of domestic production.

We also need to have a hemispheric energy policy where Canada and Mexico and the United States come together. I brought this up recently with Vicente Fox, who is the newly elected president. He’s a man I know from Mexico. And I talked about how best to be able to expedite the exploration of natural gas in Mexico and transport it up to the United States so we become less dependent on foreign sources of crude oil. This is a major problem facing America. The administration did not deal with it. It’s time for a new administration to deal with the energy problem.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If I — just briefly, Jim, I know. I found a couple of other things that we agree on, and we may not find that many this evening — (laughs) — so I wanted to emphasize them. I strongly support new investments in clean coal technology. I made a proposal three months ago on this. And also domestic exploration, yes. But not in the environmental treasures of our country. We don’t have to do that. That’s the wrong choice. I know the oil companies have been itching to do that, but it is not the right thing for the future.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: No, it’s the right thing for the consumers. Less dependency upon foreign sources of crude is good for consumers, and we can do so in an environmentally friendly way.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, can I have the last word on this?

JIM LEHRER: New question.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Of course. (Laughter.)


JIM LEHRER: New question; new subject.


JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, if elected president, would you try to overturn the FDA’s approval last week of the abortion pill, RU-486?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I don’t think a president can do that. I was disappointed in the ruling because I think abortions ought to be more rare in America. And I’m worried that that pill will create more abortion — will cause more people to have abortions.

This is a very important topic and it’s a very sensitive topic because a lot of good people disagree on the issue. I think what the next president ought to do is to promote a culture of life in America — as the life of the elderly and the life of those living all across the country, life of the unborn. As a matter of fact, I think a noble goal for this country is that every child born and unborn ought to be protected in law and welcomed in life. But I know we’ve got to change a lot of minds before we get there in America. What I do believe is we can find good common ground on issues like parental notification or parental consent, and I know we need to ban partial-birth abortions. This is a place where my opponent and I have strong disagreements. I believe banning partial-birth abortion would be a positive step toward reducing the number of abortions in America.

This is an issue that’s going to require a new attitude. We’ve been battling over abortion for a long period of time. Surely this nation can come together to promote the value of life. Surely we can fight off these laws that will encourage to — to allow doctors to take the lives of our seniors. Surely we can work together to create a culture of life so some of these youngsters who feel like they can take a neighbor’s life with a gun will understand that that’s not the way America is meant to be. And surely we can find common ground to reduce the number of abortions in America.

As to the drug itself, I mentioned I was disappointed. I hope — and I — I hope the FDA took its time to make sure that American women will be safe who use this drug.

JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, Jim, the FDA took 12 years, and I do support that decision. They determined it was medically safe for the women who use that drug. Now this is indeed a very important issue. First of all, on the issue of partial-birth or so-called late-term abortion, I would sign a law banning that procedure, provided that doctors have the ability to save a woman’s life or to act if her health is severely at risk.

And that’s not the main issue. The main issue is whether or not the Roe v. Wade decision’s going to be overturned. I support a woman’s right to choose. My opponent does not. It is important, because next president is going to appoint three, maybe even four justices of the Supreme Court. And Governor Bush has declared to the anti-choice groups that he will appoint justices in the mold of Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who are known for being the most vigorous opponents of a woman’s right to choose.

Here’s the difference:He trusts the government to order a woman to do what it thinks she ought to do. I trust women to make the decisions that affect their lives, their destinies, and their bodies.

JIM LEHRER: All right –

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: And I think a woman’s right to choose ought to be protected and defended.

JIM LEHRER: Governor, we’ll go to the Supreme Court question in a moment, but make sure I understand your position on RU-486. If you’re elected president, will you, not through appointments to the FDA — you won’t support legislation to overturn this?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I don’t — I don’t think a president can unilaterally overturn it. I think the FDA’s made its decision.

JIM LEHRER: So that means you wouldn’t, through appointments to the FDA –


JIM LEHRER: — ask them to reappraise it –

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I think once the decision’s made, it’s been made. Now — unless it’s proven to be unsafe to women.


VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, Jim, you know, the question you asked, if I heard you correctly, was would he support legislation to overturn it. And if I heard the statement the day before yesterday, you said you would order — he said he would order his FDA appointee to review the decision. Now, that sounds to me a little bit different. And I just think that we ought to support the decision.

JIM LEHRER: Governor?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I said I would make sure that — that women would be safe who used the — used the drug.

JIM LEHRER: All right. On the Supreme Court question, should a voter assume — you’re pro-life; you just stated your position.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I am pro-life.

JIM LEHRER: Should a voter assume that all judicial appointments you make to the Supreme Court, or any other court, federal court, will also be pro-life?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Voters should assume that I have no litmus test on that issue or any other issue. But the voters will know I’ll put competent judges on the bench, people who will strictly interpret the Constitution and will not use the bench to write social policy. And that’s going to be a big difference between my opponent and me. I believe that — I believe that the judges ought not to take the place of the legislative branch of government; that they’re appointed for life, and that they ought to look at the Constitution as sacred. They shouldn’t misuse their bench. I don’t believe in liberal, activist judges; I believe in strict constructionists, and those are the kind of judges I will appoint.

I’ve named four Supreme Court judges in the State of Texas, and I would ask the people to check out their qualifications, their deliberations. They’re good solid men and women who have made good sound judgments on behalf of the people of Texas.

JIM LEHRER: What kind of appointments should they expect from you, Vice President Gore?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Both of us use similar language to reach an exactly opposite outcome. I don’t favor litmus tests. But I know that there are ways to assess how a potential justice interprets the Constitution. And in my view, the Constitution ought to be interpreted as a document that grows with the — with our country and our history.

And I believe, for example, that there is a right of privacy in the Fourth Amendment. And when the phrase “strict constructionist” is used, and when the names of Scalia and Thomas are used as benchmarks for who would be appointed, those are code words, and nobody should mistake this, for saying that the governor would appoint people who would overturn Roe v. Wade. I mean, it’s very clear to me. And I would appoint people who have a philosophy that I think would make it quite likely that they would uphold Roe v. Wade.

JIM LEHRER: Is the vice president right? Is that a code word for overturning Roe v. Wade?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Sounds like the vice president is not very right many times tonight. I just told you the criterion on which I’ll appoint judges. I’ve had a record of appointing judges in the state of Texas. That’s what a governors gets to do. A governor gets to name supreme court judges. And I’ve given my answer.

JIM LEHRER: All right.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: He also reads all kinds of things into my tax plan and in my Medicare plan. And I just want the viewers out there to listen to what I have to say about that.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: That’s a yes. It is a code.

JIM LEHRER: Reverse the question. Reverse the question. What code phrases should we read by what you said about what kind of people you will appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: It would be very likely that they’d uphold Roe v. Wade. But I do believe it’s wrong to use a litmus test. But — (laughs) — if you look at the history of a lower court judge’s rulings, you can get a pretty good idea of how they’re going to interpret questions. Now, a lot of questions are a first impression, and these questions that have been seen many times come up in a new context. And so — but, you know, this is a very important issue because a lot of young women in this country take this right for granted, and it could be lost. It is on the ballot in this election, make no mistake about it.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I’ll tell you what kind of judges he’ll put on there. He’ll put liberal, activist judges who will use their bench to subvert the legislature, that’s what he’ll do.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: That’s not right.

JIM LEHRER: New subject, new question.

Vice President Gore, if President Milosevic of Yugoslavia refuses to accept the election results and leave office, what action, if any, should the United States take to get him out of there?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, Milosevic has lost the election. His opponent, Kostunica, has won the election, it’s overwhelming. Milosevic’s government refuses to release the vote count. There’s now a general strike going on, they’re demonstrating. I think we should support the people of Serbia, the — Yugoslavia, as they call Serbia plus Montenegro — and put pressure in every way possible to recognize the lawful outcome of the election. The people of Serbia have acted very bravely in kicking this guy out of office. Now he is trying to not release the votes and then goes straight to a so-called runoff election without even announcing the results of the first vote.

Now we’ve made it clear, along with our allies, that when Milosevic leaves, then Serbia will be able to have a more normal relationship with the rest of the world. That is a very strong incentive that we have given them to do the right thing. Bear in mind, also, Milosevic has been indicted as a war criminal, and he should be held accountable for his actions.

Now, we have to take measured steps because the sentiment within Serbia is, for understandable reasons, still against the United States because their nationalism has led — even if they don’t like Milosevic, they still have some feelings lingering from the NATO action there, so we have to be intelligent in the way we go about it. But make no mistake about it, we should do everything we can to see that the will of the Serbian people, expressed in this extraordinary election, is done, and I hope that he will be out of office very shortly.

JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, one minute.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I’m pleased with the results of the election, as the vice president is. It’s time for the man to go, and it means that the United States must have a strong diplomatic hand with our friends in NATO. That’s why it’s important to make sure our alliances are as strong as they possibly can be to keep the pressure on Mr. Milosevic.

But this will be an interesting moment for the Russians to step up and lead as well; be a wonderful time for the president of Russia to step into the Balkans and convince Mr. Milosevic it’s in his best interest and his country’s best interest to leave office. The Russians have got a lot of sway in that part of the world, and we’d like to see them use that sway to encourage democracy to take hold. And so it’s an encouraging election. It’s time for the man to leave.

JIM LEHRER: But what if he doesn’t leave, Mr. Vice President? What if all the things, all the diplomatic efforts, all the pressure from all over the world and he still doesn’t go, is this the kind of thing, to be specific, that you, as president, would consider the use of U.S. military force to get him gone?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: In this particular situation, no. Bear in mind that we have a lot of sanctions in force against Serbia right now, and the people of Serbia know that they can escape all those sanctions if this guy is turned out of power. Now, I understand what the governor has said about asking the Russians to be involved, and under some circumstances that might be a good idea. But being as they have not yet been willing to recognize Kostunica as the lawful winner of the election, I’m not sure that it’s right for us to invite the president of Russia to mediate this — this dispute there because we might not like the result that comes out of that. They currently favor going forward with a runoff election. I think that’s the wrong thing.

I think the governor’s instinct is not necessarily bad, because we have worked with the Russians in a constructive way in Kosovo, for example, to end the conflict there. But I think we need to be very careful in the present situation before we invite the Russians to play the lead role in mediating.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well obviously we wouldn’t use the Russians if they didn’t agree with our answer, Mr. Vice President.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, they don’t. (Laughter.)

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: But let me say this to you. I wouldn’t use force. I wouldn’t use force.

JIM LEHRER: You wouldn’t use force?


JIM LEHRER: Why not?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Because it’s not in our national interest to use force in this case. I would keep pressure. I would use diplomacy. There’s a difference between what the president did, who I supported in Kosovo, and this. And it’s up for the people in this region to figure out how to take control of their country.

JIM LEHRER: New question. How would you go about, as president, deciding when it was in the national interest to use US force, generally?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, if it’s in our vital national interests, and that means whether or not our territory — our territory is threatened, our people could be harmed, whether or not our alliances are — defense alliances are threatened. Whether or not our friends in the Middle East are threatened. That would be a time to seriously consider the use of force.

Secondly, whether or not the mission was clear; whether or not it was a clear understanding as to what the mission would be. Thirdly, whether or not we were prepared and trained to — to — win. Whether or not our forces were of high morale and high standing and well-equipped. And finally, whether or not there was an exit strategy.

I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don’t think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we’ve got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation-builders. I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.

And so I take my responsibility seriously. And it starts with making sure we rebuild our military power. Morale in today’s military is too low. We’re having trouble meeting recruiting goals. We met the goals this year, but in the previous years we have not met recruiting goals.

We’re — some of our troops are — are not well — well equipped. I believe we’re overextended in too many places. And — and therefore I want to rebuild the military power. It starts with a billion-dollar pay raise for the men and women who wear the uniform, a billion dollars more than the president recently signed into law. It’s to make sure our troops are well housed and well equipped, bonus plans to keep some of our high-skilled folks in the services, and a commander in chief who clearly sets the mission. And the mission is to fight and win war, and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place.

JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, one minute.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Let me tell you what I’ll do. First of all, I want to make it clear our military is the strongest, best- trained, best-equipped, best-led fighting force in the world and in the history of the world. Nobody should have any doubt about that, least of all our adversaries or potential adversaries.

I — if you entrust me with the presidency, I will do whatever is necessary in order to make sure our forces stay the strongest in the world. In fact, in my 10-year budget proposal, I have set aside more than twice as much for this purpose as Governor Bush has in his proposal. Now I think we should be reluctant to get involved in someplace in a foreign country. But if our national security is at stake, if we have allies, if we’ve tried every other course, if we’re sure military action will succeed, and if the costs are proportionate to the benefits, we should get involved.

Now just because we can’t — don’t want to get involved everywhere doesn’t mean we should back off anywhere it comes up. And I disagree with the — with the proposal that maybe only when oil supplies are at stake, then our national security is at risk. I think that — that there are situations, like in Bosnia –

JIM LEHRER: Vice President –

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — or Kosovo, where there’s a genocide, where our national security is at stake there.

JIM LEHRER: Governor?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I agree that our military is the strongest in the world today. That’s not the question. The question is it will be the strongest in years to come. And the warning signs are real. Everywhere I go around the campaign trail I see people who — moms and dads whose son or daughter may wear the uniform, and they tell me about how discouraged their son or daughter may be. A recent poll was taken amongst a thousand enlisted personnel, as well as officers, over half of whom are going to leave the service when their time of enlistment is up. The captains are leaving the service. There is a problem, and it’s going to require a new commander-in-chief to rebuild the military power.

The other day I was honored to be flanked by Colin Powell and General Norman Schwarzkopf, who stood by my side and agreed with me. They said we can — even though we’re the strongest military, that if we don’t do something quickly, if we don’t have a clear vision of the military, if we don’t stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we’re going to have a serious problem coming down the road. And I’m going to prevent that; I’m going to rebuild our military power. It’s one of the major priorities of my administration.

JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, how should the voters go about deciding which one of you is better suited to make the kinds of decisions we’ve been talking about, whether it’s Milosevic or whether it’s whatever, in the military and foreign policy area?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, they should look at our proposals, and look at us as people and make up their own minds. When I was a young man, I volunteered for the Army. I served my country in Vietnam. My father was a senator who strongly opposed the Vietnam War. I went to college in this great city, and most of my peers felt against the war, as I did. But I went anyway, because I knew if I didn’t, somebody else in the small town of Carthage, Tennessee would have to go in my place.

I served for eight years in the House of Representatives, and I served on the Intelligence Committee; specialized in looking at arms control. I served for eight years in the United States Senate and served on the Armed Services Committee.

For the last eight years, I’ve served on the National Security Council. And when the conflict came up in Bosnia, I saw a genocide in the heart of Europe with the most violent war on the continent of Europe since World War II. Look, that’s where World War I started, in the Balkans. My uncle was a victim of poison gas there. Millions of Americans saw the results of that conflict. We have to be willing to make good, sound judgments. And, incidentally, I know the value of making sure our troops have the latest technology. The governor’s proposed skipping the next generation of weapons. I think that’s a big mistake –

JIM LEHRER: Governor –

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — because I think we have to stay at the cutting edge.

JIM LEHRER: Governor, how would you advise the voters to make the decision on this issue?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I think you’ve got to look at how one has handled responsibility in office, whether or not — it’s the same in domestic policy as well, Jim, whether or not you’ve got the capacity to convince people to follow; whether or not one makes decisions based upon sound principles; or whether or not you rely upon polls and focus groups on how to decide what the course of action is. We’ve got too much polling and focus groups going on in Washington today. We need decisions made on sound principles.

I’ve been the governor of a big state. I think one of the hallmarks of my relationship in Austin, Texas, is is that I’ve had the capacity to work with both Republicans and Democrats. I think that’s an important part of leadership. I think of what it means to build consensus. I’ve shown I know how to do so. As a matter of fact, tonight in the audience, there’s one elected state senator who’s a Democrat, a former state reps who’s a Democrat; a couple — one statewide officers who’s a Democrat. I mean, there’s a lot of Democrats who are here in the debate to –

JIM LEHRER: We’re — Go ahead.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Because they want show their support that shows I know how to lead. So the fundamental answer to you question is who can lead and who had shown the ability to get things done.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: If I could say one other thing –

JIM LEHRER: All right, we’re way over the three and a half minutes. Go ahead on this particular issue.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think one of the — I think one of the key points in foreign policy and national security policy is the need to reestablish the old-fashioned principle that politics ought to stop at the water’s edge. When I was in the United States Congress, I worked with former President Reagan to modernize our strategic weaponry and to pursue arms control in a responsible way. When I was in the United States Senate, I worked with former President Bush, your father, and was one of only a few Democrats in the Senate to support the Persian Gulf War.

I think bipartisanship is a national asset, and we have to find ways to reestablish it in foreign policy and national security policy.

JIM LEHRER: In a word, do you have a problem with that?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Yeah. Why haven’t they done it in seven years?

Continue to Part 3