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1st Presidential Debate Part 5: Vice President Al Gore and Governor George Bush

October 3, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: New question.


JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush, are there issues of character that distinguish you from Vice President Gore?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well — man loves his wife, and I appreciate that a lot, and I love mine. And the man loves his family a lot, and I appreciate that, because I love my family.

I think the thing that discouraged me about the vice president was uttering those famous words “no controlling legal authority.” I felt like — that there needed to be a better sense of responsibility of what was going on in the White House. I believe that — I believe they’ve moved that sign, “The buck stops here,” from the Oval Office desk to “The buck stops here” on the Lincoln bedroom, and that’s not good for the country. It’s not right. We need to have a new look about how we conduct ourselves in office.

JIM LEHRER: Are you saying all of this is irrelevant, Vice President Gore, to this election?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: No. I think — I think the American people should take into account who we are as individuals, what our experience is, what our positions on the issues are, what our proposals are. I am asking you again to see me for who I really am. I am offering you my own vision, my own experience, my own proposals. And incidentally, one of them is this.

This current campaign financing system has not reflected credit on anybody in either party, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve said before, and I’ll pledge here tonight: If I’m president, the very first bill that Joe Lieberman and I will send to the United States Congress is the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. And the reason it’s that important is that all of the other issues, whether prescription drugs for all seniors that are opposed by the drug companies, or the patients’ bill of rights to take the decisions away from the HMOs and give them to the doctors and nurses, opposed by the HMOs and insurance companies — all of these other proposals are going to be a lot easier to get passed for the American people if we limit the influence of special interest money and give democracy back to the American people. And I wish Governor Bush would join me this evening endorsing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill.

JIM LEHRER: Governor Bush?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: You know, this man has no credibility on the issue. As a matter of fact, I read in the New York Times where he said he co-sponsored the McCain-Feingold campaign fund-raising bill. But he wasn’t in the Senate with Senator Feingold.

And so look, I’m going to — what you need to know about me is I’m going to uphold the law. I’m going to have an attorney general that enforces the law. That it’s the time for — the time for campaign funding reform is after the election. This man has outspent me. The special interests are outspending me. And I am not going to lay down my arms in the middle of a campaign for somebody who has got no credibility on the issue.


JIM LEHRER: Senator McCain said — excuse me one sec —


JIM LEHRER: — Vice President Gore.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: There’s a huge trust. I see it all the time when people come up to me and say, “I don’t want you to let me down again.” And we can do better than the past administration has done. It’s time for a fresh start. It’s time for a new look. It’s time for a fresh start after a season of cynicism.

And so, I don’t know the man well, but I’ve been disappointed about how he and his administration has conducted the fundraising affairs. You know, going to a Buddhist temple and then claiming it wasn’t a fundraiser is just not my view of responsibility.

JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore?

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, I think we ought to attack our country’s problems, not attack each other. I want to spend my time making this country even better than it is, not trying to make you out to be a bad person. You may want to focus on scandals. I want to focus on results.

As I said a couple of months ago, I stand here as my own man. And I want you to see me for who I really am. Tipper and I have been married for 30 years. We became grandparents a year and a half ago. We’ve got four children. I have devoted 24 years of my life to public service. And I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: If you entrust me with the presidency, I may not be the most exciting politician, but I will work hard for you every day. I will fight for middle-class families and working men and women. And I will never let you down.

JIM LEHRER: So, Governor, what are you saying when you mention the fundraising scandals or these fundraising charges that involved Vice President Gore? What are you saying that the voters should take from that that’s relevant to this election.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I just think they ought to factor it in when they make their decision in the voting booth and do a better job —

JIM LEHRER: In what —

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Pardon me.

JIM LEHRER: In what way?

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I just, you know, I think that people need to be held responsible for the actions they take in life. I think that —

JIM LEHRER: Go ahead, excuse me.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I think that’s part of the need for a cultural change. We need to say that each of us need to be responsible for what we do. And people in the highest office of the land must be responsible for decisions they make in life. And that’s the way I’ve conducted myself as governor of Texas, and that’s the way I’ll conduct myself as president of the United States, should I be fortunate enough to earn your vote.


JIM LEHRER: Senator McCain said in August that it didn’t matter which one of you is president of the United States. In January, there was going to be blood on the floor of the United States Senate, and he was going to tie up the United States Senate until campaign finance reform is passed that includes a ban on soft money. First of all, would you support that effort by him, or would you sign a bill that is finally passed that included soft —

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Well, I would support an effort to ban corporate soft money and labor union soft money so long as there was dues check-off. I’ve campaigned on this ever since the primaries. I believe there needs to be instant disclosure on the Internet as to who is giving to whom. I think we need to fully enforce the law. I mean, I think we need to have an attorney general that says if laws are broken, we’ll enforce the law, be strict about it, be firm about it.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Look, Governor Bush, you have attacked my character and credibility, and I am not going to respond in kind. I think we ought to focus on the problems and not attack each other, and one of the serious problems — hear me well — is that our system of government is being undermined by too much influence coming from special interest money. We have to get a handle on it. And like John McCain, I have learned from experience, and it’s not a new position for me. Twenty-four years ago, I supported full public financing of all federal elections, and anybody who thinks I’m just saying it will be the first bill I send to the Congress, I want you to know —

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Let me just say one thing —

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: — I care passionately about this, and will fight until it becomes law.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: I want people to hear what he just said. He is for full public financing of congressional elections. I’m absolutely, adamantly opposed to that. I don’t want the government financing congressional elections —

JIM LEHRER: And on that —

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: — and there — sorry —

JIM LEHRER: I would just say on that wonderful note of disagreement, we have to stop here, and we want to go now to your closing statements. Governor Bush is first. You have two minutes.

GOV. GEORGE BUSH: Thank you, Jim. Thank the University of Massachusetts. Mr. Vice President, thank you. It’s been a good, lively exchange. Obviously we have huge differences of opinion. Mine is that I want to empower people in their own lives. I also want to go to Washington to get some positive things done.

It’s going to require a new spirit — a spirit of cooperation. It’s going to require the ability of a Republican president to reach out across the partisan divide and to say to Democrats, “Let’s come together to do what’s right for America.” It’s been my record as governor of Texas. It’ll be how I conduct myself if I’m fortunate enough to earn your vote as president of the United States.

I want to finally get something done on Medicare. I want to make sure prescription drugs are available for all seniors, and I want seniors to have additional choices when it comes to choosing their health care plans. I want to finally get something done on Social Security. I want to make sure the seniors have the promise made will be a promise kept, but I want younger workers to be able to manage some of their own money, some of their own payroll taxes in the private sector, under certain guidelines, to get a better rate of return on your own money.

I want to rebuild our military, to keep the peace. I want to have a strong hand when it comes to — when it comes to the United States and world affairs. I don’t want to try to put our troops in all places at all times. I don’t want to be the world’s policeman; I want to be the world’s peacemaker by having a military of high morale and a military that’s well-equipped. I want to have antiballistic missile systems to protect ourselves and our allies from a rogue nation that may try to hold us hostage or blackmail a friend.

I also want to make sure our education system fulfills its hope and promise. I’ve had a strong record of working with Democrats and Republicans in Texas to make sure no child is left behind. I understand the limited role of the federal government. But it can be a constructive role when it comes to reform by insisting that there be strong accountability systems.

No, my intentions are to earn your vote and earn your confidence. I’m asking for your vote. I’ll — I — I want you to be on my team, and for those of you working, thanks. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. And for those of you making up your mind, I’d be honored to have your support.

JIM LEHRER: Vice President Gore, two minutes.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I want to thank everybody who watched and listened tonight, because this is indeed a crucial time in American history. We’re at a fork in the road. We have this incredible prosperity, but a lot of people have been left behind. And we have a very important decision to make. Will we use the prosperity to enrich all of our families and not just the few?

One important way of looking at this is to ask: Who are you going to fight for? Throughout my career in public service, I have fought for the working men and women of this country, middle-class families. Why? Because you are the ones who have the hardest time paying taxes, the hardest time making ends meet. You are the ones who are making car payments and mortgage payments and doing right by your kids. And a lot of times there are powerful forces arrayed against you. And make no mistake about it; they do have undue influence in Washington, D.C., and it makes a difference if you have a president who will fight for you.

I know one thing about the position of president. It’s the only position in our Constitution that’s filled by an individual who is given the responsibility to fight not just for one state or one district or the well-connected or wealthy, but to fight for all of the people, including especially those who most need somebody who will stand up and take on whatever powerful forces might stand in the way.

There’s a woman named Winifred Skinner here tonight, from Iowa. I mentioned her earlier. She’s 79 years old. She has Social Security. I’m not going to cut her benefits or support any proposal that would. She gets a small pension, but in order to pay for her prescription drug benefits, she has to go out seven days week, several hours a day, picking up cans.

She came all the way from Iowa in a Winnebago, with her poodle, in order to attend here tonight. And I want to tell her I am going to fight for a prescription drug benefit for all seniors, and I’m going to fight for the people of this country, for a prosperity that benefits all.

JIM LEHRER: And we will continue this dialogue next week on October the 11th at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The format then will be more informal, more conversational, with the two candidates seated at a table with me. The third will be October 17th, at Washington University in St. Louis, and that will follow a town hall-type format. Also ahead, the day after tomorrow, on October 5th, there’s the 90-minute debate between the Democratic candidate for vice president, Senator Joe Lieberman, and the Republican candidate, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney. It will be held at Center College in Danville, Kentucky. The moderator will be Bernard Shaw of CNN.

Thank you, Governor Bush, Vice President Gore. See you next week. And for now, from Boston, I’m Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night. (Applause.)