|SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN|
The Democratic nominee for vice president discusses religion, politics and his new partnership with Al Gore.
JIM LEHRER: Senator, welcome.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Great to be with you, Jim. Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: After four days, how does it feel to be a candidate for Vice President of the United States?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I must say I still have a sense that it's all a miracle, a sense of wonderment, just a lot of gratitude to Al Gore for having the confidence in me, and very excited about the reaction that he and I have been receiving as we've made this tour this week, and I'm real committed to doing everything I can, because I believe in Al Gore to make him our next president.
|Moving up to national office|
JIM LEHRER: Was running for national office something that you had thought about before, or are you kind of jarred by this whole experience?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I had not thought about it, and I am jarred and excited, and appreciative. I mean, we talked about the American dream on Tuesday in Nashville, and there is a way in which, you know, I was raised in a family where they said if you work hard, there's no limit to what you can achieve in America. But, honestly, this went even beyond my Mom and Dad's dreams, certainly beyond mine. I think there was probably a moment earlier, times earlier in my life when I dreamed of being a United States senator, and so I - when I achieved that dream, I felt very fortunate, but this goes beyond it.
JIM LEHRER: Are you comfortable with the extensive scrutiny this has unleashed on you and your family?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: You know, so far, so good. I know that I've thought about this a lot and written about it, not at this level, but about the loss of privacy that comes with being involved in public life today, although I understand now I'm going to receive a kind of going over that I never have before. But I understand it's part of the bargain, and I don't feel defensive about it. In a very interesting way I was thinking yesterday that so-called vetting process that one goes through as part of the vice presidential search process where Al Gore reduced the number of people he was thinking about - some number, I gather, under ten, and then we each went through a very comprehensive investigation of just about everything we'd ever said or written or done. So in some way having cleared that review, it prepares you for what's to come. Of course, I hope what we talk about mostly in the campaign is the future -
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: -- of our country and the different vision that the two tickets offer for that future.
JIM LEHRER: Much has been made, as you know, Senator, about the fact that you're an orthodox Jew. Has that gotten out of hand, from your perspective?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, not yet. We'll see what happens as this goes on. I understand the fact that I'm Jewish would be of interest at the beginning because, of course, this is a first. And, as I've said this week, I think that says more about Al Gore than it says about me, because it suggests his confidence in the American people that they will not make their judgment on a candidate for national office based on that candidate's religion. And I share that confidence, so the fact that I'm Jewish, I hope, will become irrelevant. I hope that nobody either votes for me or against me because I'm Jewish. The fact that I'm orthodox, I understand, involves the questions because it's unusual - what will you do on the Sabbath, what will you not do - and those are fair questions. I'm happy to answer them as people ask them, but I hope that too will recede as we focus in on the policies that Al Gore and I stand by, the principles we stand by as compared to the programs of George Bush and Dick Cheney.
JIM LEHRER: What is the most important thing that people should know about you and your religious beliefs?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, you know, my religion has been central to my life. It - you know - helps me answer those questions that Admiral Stockdale asked in that favorite debate eight years ago. Who am I and what am I doing here? So, you know, that's part of the value system, the system of discipline that I've put around my life. But-so it informs a lot that I do - but it doesn't - you know - doesn't control what I do, certainly not as an elected official.
JIM LEHRER: So what is the connection then between your personal beliefs, your religious beliefs, and you, Joe Lieberman, the United States senator, now the candidate for vice president, the politician, in other words?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I love to be on this show because it gives me a chance for longer answers.
JIM LEHRER: You bet. Take your time.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: What I want to say is that my faith, the sense that I believe in God, I believe that our existence here is not an accident, but that God created the earth and humans who are on it, and that we, in turn, have a responsibility and gratitude to try to live a decent life and improve the world, to live according to the values that are part of all religions, in this case my religion. But I say that because I do think that that world view that I was raised with is part of why I went into public life, public service in the first place to try to make a difference, to improve the world. And I've had opportunities way beyond anything I've dreamed of to do that, and this, of course, is the greatest I had. But by and large, though, you know, as a senator, we are all the products of our experience, our education, our family life, what we've read, what we've done. My faith is also part of what informs those judgments, but, you know, I make judgments separately, and my obligation as a public official, of course, is to the Constitution, to the country, and to the people that I serve.
|Policy differences with Gore|
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir. All right. Now, much has been made about your policy differences with Vice President Gore - on school vouchers, for instance, he's opposed to them; you're in favor of some experiments being done with them as they relate to poor children.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Right.
JIM LEHRER: Does this - and other issues - affirmative action - there's a whole list of them that people are making up, in fact, I'm sure as we speak. But when you speak now as a candidate for vice president and you're asked about affirmative action or any of these issues where you and Vice President Gore disagree, what do you - how are you going to handle that? Hey, this is what he said and what we're going to do, but this is what I'd say?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Right. Good question. Look, on the - the first thing to say I think is the most important, which is that Al Gore and I agree on the great overwhelming majority of problems facing our country, our voting records are remarkably similar, and we have been friends and co-workers for a dozen years now. We were quite close in the Senate. We shared some priority interests - national security, environmental protection, sort of a new economy, economic growth questions, and we've worked together at a time that he's been in the White House, so that on most issues we agree. We certainly have an underlying agreement on values, and our families are friends and all of that. But there are some matters on which we disagree, and I take it to be a sign of Al Gore's strength as a leader that he didn't look for somebody who agreed with him on every issue, including some issues like vouchers, which, you know, are important to central constituencies within the Democratic Party. And, you know, Al and I have talked about it this week. They have been wonderful talks. He said to me, you know, in this campaign, and certainly when, hopefully, we are elected, I expect the kind of relationship we've had over the years in which we've exchanged ideas, we've talked about new ideas, how you solve problems, will continue. And, of course, I've said to him I hope it will, too, but I understand that if President Gore decides, Vice President Lieberman will certainly support that decision. That's the way it will be.
JIM LEHRER: But between now and then, candidate Lieberman, you are by yourself. You're in a debate with Richard Cheney or you're by yourself, you're being interviewed by somebody like me, and you're asked for your position on an issue. Are you going to answer it, hey, this is what I, Joe Lieberman, think or this is what Al Gore thinks and I'm support him on that even if I disagree with him?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: It's not surprising you have asked me a question no one else has in this remarkable week. I think I may explain why I took some of the positions I did in the few areas where we disagree. Incidentally, I think the Republicans are making of the disagreements and making disagreements out of areas where there is really not much of a disagreement, but that's for them to do and us to clarify. But in the end, I think I've got to make clear in the campaign that the positions that Al Gore is taking in this campaign are now my positions.
JIM LEHRER: And that's not a problem for you?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: No, it's not, because they're few and far between. They're the exception, and not the rule. In the case of vouchers, for instance, yes, because of my concern about poor children being trapped in failing schools, I've supported demonstration test programs on vouchers, which would only be available to kids below a certain income level. But, you know, on a whole host of other areas, that have to do with education, I agree totally with Al -- on needing to invest more in education, to focus in on the results of the system, have standards of accountability -- demand something for what we put in. Al's got a very exciting revolutionary idea for universal preschool to help kids go to school before kindergarten, to get them on the road to success. Funding for crumbling schools to allow... to help the local governments reconstruct some of the old schools. I mean, on most of the things that are important for the future of education, including supporting good salaries for teachers and federal money to help train and upgrade the quality of teachers, Al Gore and I are in total agreement.
JIM LEHRER: New subject, Senator. The newspapers are full of stories today about the fact that President Clinton may be trying to hog the spotlight at this Democratic National Convention next week in Los Angeles. How do you feel about that?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I think it's much ado about nothing. I think that it's a media-generated story. I mean President Clinton has been very supportive of Al Gore. He and I have been friends for a long time, and he made a very gracious... the president made a very gracious phone call to me on Monday congratulating me on the vice president's selection of me. I know that he is going to speak on Monday night, and then depart. This convention is about the future. It begins with our contention that we are the team best able to take the country forward because we have been part of the remarkable prosperity and progress of this last eight years. But this is a new team with new ideas and new energy. So it's about the future. Al Gore is the future and Joe Lieberman is proud to aspire to be part of that future with Al.
JIM LEHRER: You know, the President said yesterday up in New York, at a meeting of evangelical preachers that Vice President Gore should not be blamed for anything he, President Clinton did in the Monica Lewinsky matter. First do you agree with that?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I sure do. I find the appeals from the Republicans who keep talking about restoring honor and integrity to the White House, which certainly seem to be not very veiled references back to President Clinton's troubles, to be irrelevant to this election. President Clinton is not on the ballot. Al Gore is. And it would be very unfair to associate him with that particular unfortunate episode in our history.
JIM LEHRER: What about -- George W. Bush said today that, told some reporters that the Vice President should speak out now. He should tell the American people, like you did, how he feels about what the President did. In fact, I'll give you a direct quote "If he's got a problem with what went wrong in the past he ought to explain what it was. I think the Vice President should speak out."
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I thought the vice president had spoken out. I think that in some sense the Republicans seem sort of sad to see President Clinton go. They don't... you know, they didn't have much real criticism to say about the Clinton-Gore record at their convention. The economy is so strong. We've had welfare reform, crime rates are dropping, all sorts of indicators suggest that life is better in the U.S. than it was eight years ago. So they keep harping to the past. And what Al Gore and I are going to ask the American people to do is look at our vision of the future, think about how it will affect their lives, and then compare it on health care, education, prescription drugs, environmental protection, a woman's right to choose, gun control--dramatic differences between the Bush-Cheney ticket and the Gore-Lieberman ticket-- and then think about which team they want to have leading their government and therefore affecting their lives, the American peoples' lives and the future.
|Separation from Clinton|
JIM LEHRER: Senator, as I'm sure you know a lot of the pundits have said, wait a minute: One of the reasons that Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman was because of your strong religious beliefs, the way you spoke out publicly, first Democrat to do so and you spoke out on the floor of the Senate against President Clinton - that that helps inoculate Al Gore from being joined at the hip with Bill Clinton's problems. Do you see it that way?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I was in Al's presence earlier this week when somebody asked him. He said no, he had constantly had said he had three criteria: One - and I say this with the remaining humility I have after this week -- one is that he wanted somebody who could be not only vice president but president in the case of an emergency -- it's still hard for me to get those words out of my mouth -- but I appreciate his confidence that I'm such a person. Two, where we had an agreement on values and positions. And, three, that he thought we could have a good working relationship. I think those are the three reasons. And I hope that Al's choice of me says something more to the American people about him, because I do think that people don't really know him as I do. And the great thing about this week has been, it's not that we've rushed to form a team here. We have been friends and co-workers and family friends for more than a decade now. And therefore, this has been not only a thrilling week for me. It has been a very enjoyable week. I hope it's true. I believe it's true for Tipper and Hadassah as well.
JIM LEHRER: You and the Vice President said a couple of days ago that you were not going to attack Governor Bush and Secretary Cheney. What does that mean?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, it means we're not going to attack them personally. I think that's very important. Al and I feel that George Bush and Dick Cheney are decent people. We're not going to claim otherwise. What we're going to attack are their positions, their policies for the future of America, because I think the heart of this election is that -- what do the candidates offer for the future? You know, if you've got one candidate saying he is going to take, as George Bush is, take the $2 trillion surplus and basically spend it all on a tax cut that really does benefit the wealthy more than others, and you've got another candidate, Al Gore and now myself, who say let's do with that surplus what the average American family would do if they had a windfall, you would take some of it and pay down your debt. You would take some more and spend it. We would spend it in a tax cut for the middle class, and you would take some of it and invest in your family's future, and that means spending on prescription drug coverage, better education, health care and environmental protection. That's the kind of difference that exists. And on that we're going to be relentless in what might be called attack, but we think their policies and pledges for the future deserve attack. But they're not going to be personal. I respect these two men.
|Issues of character|
JIM LEHRER: But what about issues that many voters say that really go to the heart of who they're going to vote for, issues of judgment, issues of character. How do you make the distinction between... How do you and Al Gore make the distinction between you, you two, and George W. Bush and Dick Cheney without talking about character and judgment and personal issues?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, I mean I think... Obviously part of what's... That's a good question, Jim. Part of what's on the line here is the public's evaluation of the people involved. But this is not a personality
JIM LEHRER: You said it a lot better than I did. That's what I was trying to say.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: But this is not a personality contest. It's really about what these two teams would do in government for America's future. Now I do think that, you know, and this is not to say anything negative, but one of the factors here is that the experience that the Vice President, Al Gore, has had as a member of Congress, as a member of the Senate, as I think, by most estimates, the most and involved accomplished vice president in our history, and to me that's part of the relative weighing of matters. That's something that the American people ought to consider when they think about who they want in the Oval Office. But that's quite different from whether you think somebody is affable or not.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Senator, to a point you made earlier about your own qualifications. Are you confident that if there was an emergency you could be President of the United States?
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Well, honestly, when you look at it, you say is anybody capable of that? You say somebody has to be. And you look into yourself, as I have, and you say yes, I have the confidence to do that. I've been blessed with a series of wonderful opportunities in government -- including the last 12 years, when I've spent a lot of time working on America's national defense and foreign policy, working on a whole host of domestic issues -- and learning to make decisions -- so as awesome as it is, and I honestly do still say this with some humility, I appreciate the confidence that Al Gore has put in me and I will do my best to merit that confidence.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Senator, thank you very much. And congratulations on your selection.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: Thanks, Jim. Great to talk to you, as always.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, sir.