September 14, 2000
RAY SUAREZ: Now, the latest twist in the New York Senate campaign. Last night in Buffalo, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton squared off against Congressman Rick Lazio for their first debate. The moderator was Tim Russert of NBC News.
TIM RUSSERT: Good evening. And welcome to WNED-TV public television station studios in Buffalo, New York.
RAY SUAREZ: Both candidates were asked about health care. Mrs. Clinton was asked if the reform proposals she made early on in the Clinton administration would have hurt New York's teaching hospitals.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: In 1993 and 1994, we did attempt to reform our health care system to provide universal health care coverage. Now, as everyone knows, that was not successful. But we learned a lot, and I in particular learned a lot about what we can do step by step to try to reach the goal of providing quality, affordable health care. And here in New York, there isn't any more important part of the health care system than the teaching hospitals, which are really the crown jewels of the health care system. We did propose a funding stream that would have provided additional funds to the hospitals, but we still have not done enough six, seven years later.
RAY SUAREZ: Representative Lazio was asked about his vote against legislation allowing patients to sue their HMO's.
REP. RICK LAZIO: We don't want to drive more people onto the rolls
of the uninsured. Yeah, sure, a vote for that bill might have pleased
some editors and some editorial boards, but it wasn't the right thing
TIM RUSSERT: When 28 New York Congressmen vote one way and you vote another way, it's suggested that you did that because you're more loyal to the leadership of the Republican Party in the House than you are to the constituents of New York.
REP. RICK LAZIO: I don't think anybody can rationally say that, Tim. In fact, if you look at my record, it's a record of independence in the House, whether it's standing up on the environment or on funding for the arts, or on a whole range of other issues. I've been able to stake my claim and have a record that's reflective of New York.
TIM RUSSERT: Mrs. Clinton, your response.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, you know, Tim, listening to the Congressman's response reminds me of a word I've heard a lot of this past year, "chutzpah." He stands here and tells us that he's a moderate, mainstream, independent member of Congress. Well, in fact, he was a deputy whip to Newt Gingrich. He voted to shut the government down. He voted to cut $270 billion from Medicare. He voted for the biggest education cuts in our history. Time and time again, when he's had a choice to make, particularly at the critical turning point when our country was really on the line with Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, he stood with the Republican leadership and Newt Gingrich. Once again, he's standing with the Republican leadership, not just against the rest of the Congressional delegation, but 200 health groups, including doctors and nurses.
REP. RICK LAZIO: Well, I have to go back to Mrs. Clinton's last remark, because it has to redefine the word "chutzpah." Mrs. Clinton, you of all people shouldn't try to make guilt by association. Newt Gingrich isn't running in this race. I'm running in this race. Let's talk about my record.
TIM RUSSERT: The issue of trust and character has been raised repeatedly in this campaign. Mrs. Clinton, I want to start with you. In January of '98, you went on the "Today" Show and talked about what had occurred at the White House. I want to play that for you and our viewers and our voters and give you a chance to respond.
MODERATOR: So these charges came as big a shock to you as anyone.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: (January 27, 1998 "Today") And to my husband. I mean, you know, he woke me up Wednesday morning and said, "you're not going to believe this."
MODERATOR: And so when people say there's a lot of smoke here, your message is... Where there's smoke...
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: There isn't any fire.
MODERATOR: If an American president had an adulterous liaison in the white House and lied to cover it up, should the American people ask for his resignation?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, they should certainly be concerned about it.
MODERATOR: Should they ask for his resignation?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: (January 27, 1998) Well, I think that if all that were proven true, I think that would be a very serious offense. That is not going to be proven true.
TIM RUSSERT: Regrettably, it was proven true. Do you regret misleading the American people?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, you know, Tim, that was a very painful time for me, for my family, and for our country. It is something that I regret deeply that anyone had to go through. And I've tried to be as forthcoming as I could, given the circumstances that I faced. Obviously, I didn't mislead anyone. I didn't know the truth. And there's a great deal of pain associated with that, and my husband has certainly acknowledged that and made it clear that he did mislead the country, as well as his family.
TIM RUSSERT: In your response, Mr. Lazio, would you also address your fund-raising letter of July of 2000 where you said the First Lady embarrassed our country?
REP. RICK LAZIO: I stand by that fund-raising letter. I stand by that statement. And I think that, frankly, what's so troubling here with respect to what my opponent just said is somehow that it only matters what you say when you get caught. And character and trust is about well more than that. And blaming others every time you have responsibility, unfortunately, that's become a pattern, I think, for my opponent. And it's something that I reject and I believe that New Yorkers reject. We can do, well, better.
TIM RUSSERT: Mr. Lazio, your credibility was brought into question earlier in this race when this television commercial ran throughout the state.
SPOKESPERSON: Lazio and Moynihan made a difference. They're from New York. They're fighting for New York. Tell Lazio and Moynihan, "keep fighting for us."
TIM RUSSERT: Senator Moynihan wrote you a letter and said that you have never been photographed together, that this was misleading, and was "soft-money fakery." He asked you to contact the Republican Leadership Committee who paid for that ad, the two members of the advisory board, George Pataki, Alfonse D'Amato, and your campaign said, "we don't know how to reach them."
REP. RICK LAZIO: Well, let me say, first of all, that ad did not come out of my campaign. I'm taking full responsibility for everything that my campaign does, whether it's the letter that you referenced or any commercial. The truth of the matter is, though, that I was the author and was the prime mover in the House behind the working bill that this commercial was all about. The fact is, is that it did help disabled Americans go back to work and keep their health care benefits, that it was an accomplishment, that I am a doer, that I did get the job done, that it was signed into law. And that's the truth of the matter.
TIM RUSSERT: But why give the impression you're walking down the hall with Senator Moynihan when that was, in fact, dummied footage?
REP. RICK LAZIO: Well, listen, I don't stand for that. I reject that. But that's not my commercial. We would never have created that commercial or aired that commercial.
TIM RUSSERT: Why not call George Pataki and Alfonse D'Amato and say, "take it off?"
REP. RICK LAZIO: It was taken off.
TIM RUSSERT: At your request?
REP. RICK LAZIO: It was taken off. I think it ran its course, as a matter of fact.
TIM RUSSERT: Mrs. Clinton?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I've been trying to run a campaign based on the issues, not insults, and I think that we've just seen a clear example of how difficult that is.
TIM RUSSERT: A question from Mark Hammester, who is here in the audience. Much of America is watching this race. Can both of you set an example to the rest of the country and renounce the use of soft money ads for the rest of this campaign? Mr. Lazio?
REP. RICK LAZIO: Absolutely. As somebody who has twice voted for McCain-Feingold, who is a strong believer in campaign finance, who got the support of the leader on the campaign finance movement, John McCain, I think it is my responsibility to try and lead on this effort. As America looks to New York, this is an opportunity for us to be able to say, "we don't have to rely on soft money." And my campaign has not had one commercial nor raised one dollar in soft money. My opponent has raised soft money by the bucket loads, and I guess they have learned how to raise soft money over many years. Let me say this, though, we have an opportunity to do something important here tonight. I have right here a pledge that I sent over to my opponent. It's a ban on soft money pledge. I am willing to say we will neither raise nor spend a dime of soft money, and ask all outside groups to stay away, if my opponent is willing to do the same.
TIM RUSSERT: Mrs. Clinton?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, Tim, you know, back in may, I made exactly that offer. I said, "let's forego soft money," but let's also be sure we don't have these independent expenditures, like the one we just talked about concerning Senator Moynihan and the fake ad. And I said, "you know, if you would do this, I would certainly abide by it." If you will get signed agreements from all your friends who say they are raising $32 million and will not be running so-called independent ads, will not be doing push polling, will not be doing mass mailings that are filled with these outrageous personal attacks, I think we can have an agreement. I would like to see those signed letters from all those different groups that you have counted on to flood this state. I think if we can get signed agreements from all of your allies when you wouldn't ask the one group to stop, but if you will get those signed agreements, then you know we can make a deal. But I also...
TIM RUSSERT: Do we have a deal, Mr. Lazio?
REP. RICK LAZIO: I'd like to get it done today.
TIM RUSSERT: Will you get those signed agreements?
REP. RICK LAZIO: I'd be happy to. Let's just get this deal done right now.
TIM RUSSERT: Let me get Mrs. Clinton to...
REP. RICK LAZIO: Right here, here it is. Let's sign it. It's the New York freedom from soft money pact. I signed it. We can both sit down together. We can all get all the media in here. We will make sure it's an ironclad deal. And I am happy to abide by anything that we all agree on, but let's get it done now. Let's not give any more wiggle room.
TIM RUSSERT: Mrs. Clinton, do you want to respond?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, yes, I certainly do. You know, I... I admire that. That was a wonderful performance and...
REP. RICK LAZIO: Then why don't you sign it?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: And you did it very well.
REP. RICK LAZIO: I'm not asking do you admire it, I'm asking you to sign it.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, I would be happy to when you give me the signed letters...
REP. RICK LAZIO: Well, it's right here. It's right here.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: When you give me the signed...
REP. RICK LAZIO: Sign it right now.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: Well, we'll shake on this, Rick.
REP. RICK LAZIO: No, I want your signature, because I think that everybody wants to see you signing something that you said you were for. I am for it, I haven't done it. You have been violating it. Why don't you stand up and do something important for America? While America is looking at New York, why don't you show some leadership, because it goes to trust and character?
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: And this new radio ad from the Republican party using soft money is not part of your campaign?
REP. RICK LAZIO: What are we talking about here? Let's put things in perspective.
TIM RUSSERT: We are out of time. We have to...
REP. RICK LAZIO: $6 million, $7 million, $8 million that you have been spending.
TIM RUSSERT: We have to allow time for closing statements.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: I will use the 30 years of my experience to go to work for the people of New York. But, look, I know that there may be some who think that the most important issue is who has lived here the longest. That's the test. And if that's the test, I can't pass that test. But if you want someone who will get up every day and be on your side and fight for better schools, health care, and jobs, I can pass that test, and I would be honored to serve as a Senator on behalf of the people of New York.
REP. RICK LAZIO: Now, you have got to decide in this campaign how you define "character" and "trust." My opponent has talked and talked, but she has done nothing for New York. I've delivered for New York. And as an old Yankee manager Casey Stangell used to say, "You can check it out." So I look forward to your vote in November, and I thank you for being with me here tonight.