empty podium for debate

Republican Presidential Candidates Debate in Columbia, South Carolina

February 15, 2000


Governor George W. Bush (TX);

Former Ambassador Alan Keyes; and

Senator John McCain (AZ)


Larry King, CNN

King: Tonight, a crucial debate for the three remaining Republican presidential candidates. Joining me in South Carolina, site of Saturday's GOP primary, Senator John McCain of Arizona; former Reagan administration official, Ambassador Alan Keyes; and Texas Governor George W. Bush. They're next on a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE: Election 2000." This is the South Carolina Republican debate.

Good evening. A couple of notes before we start. We're at Seawell's Banquet Center here in Columbia, South Carolina, the capital of this state. This event tonight is sponsored by BIPEC. That's the South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee. This is the second such event they've held. They held one four years ago.

We are live, as you can tell. There is an audience here of people enjoying it. We have asked them to remain attentive so that you can listen to everything our guests say.

A couple of other notes — this is going to be a free-wheeling debate. If one guest wishes to comment on what another says after they finish, they can. We're going to cover as many subjects as we can for the next 90 minutes.

There will be only two commercial breaks at 9:30 Eastern Time, the bottom of the hour, a two-minute break, and at 10 o'clock Eastern Time, a two-minute break.

And one personal note: If I cough a little, forgive me. I've got a scratchy throat tonight.

We'll start with Governor Bush. Since we're being seen all over the world — we're on CNN International — what area of American international policy would you change immediately as president?

Bush: Our relationship with China. The current president has called the relationship with China a strategic partnership. I believe our relationship needs to be redefined as one as competitor. Competitors can find areas of agreement, but we must make it clear to the Chinese that we don't appreciate any attempt to spread weapons of mass destruction around the world, that we don't appreciate any threats to our friends and allies in the Far East. This president is one who went to China and ignored our friends and allies in Tokyo and Seoul. He sent a chilling signal about the definition of friendship.

When I become the president, I'm going to strengthen our alliances in the Far East. I'm going to work with the Russians to get rid of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty so we can bring certainty into an uncertain part of the world, and that's the Far East as well.

We must say to people in that part of the world, Don't threaten our friends. Don't threaten our allies. So I'm going to change the relationship.

King: And you're going to let them know.

Bush: Of course I'm going to let them know. That's what a president does; a president let's them know.

King: Ambassador Keyes, what would you change?

Keyes: I think the first thing I'd want to do is to restore respect for the national sovereignty of this country.

King: By...

Keyes: I was very much in disagreement with our entry into the World Trade Organization. I think we gave away a portion of our sovereignty that we should never have surrendered to an unrepresentative body that can make decisions according to that treaty that would have direct affect on the lives of Americans.

It violates the fundamental principle of our way of life. No legislation without representation — representative government. I want to see us withdraw from the World Trade Organization and put our approach to trade back on a footing that maximizes the results that we get for the American people.

I'm not interested in protectionism or withdrawal from the world. But I do think, if you happen to be the sponsors of the most lucrative market in the world, that folks ought to be paying a premium price to enter this market, or else giving us something concrete in return that's of tangible benefit to the whole American people, not just to a handful of international corporations.

King: Senator?

McCain: China is obviously a place where this — one of the signal failures of this administration. Although there are certainly many failures throughout the world.

But I would also look very — revise our policies concerning these rogue states: Iraq, Libya, North Korea - those countries that continue to try to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. As long...

King: And you'd do what?

McCain: I'd institute a policy that I call "rogue state rollback." I would arm, train, equip, both from without and from within, forces that would eventually overthrow the governments and install free and democratically elected governments.

As long as Saddam Hussein is in power, I am convinced that he will pose a threat to our security. "The New York Times" reported just a few days ago that administration officials worry that Saddam Hussein continues to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Congress passed a law a couple of years ago, called the Iraqi Liberation Act; the administration has done nothing. We should help them with arms, training, equipment, radio and a broad variety of ways. Until those governments are overthrown, they will pose a threat to U.S. national security.

King: The governor mentioned nuclear. Are you in favor of the continuation of abandonment of nuclear weapons around the world now?

Keyes: Well, I think we ought to put — where nuclear weapons are concerned, we have put our own strategic safety first. I think it is very important that we take the anti-missile defense treaty and set it aside in order to rapidly develop and deploy an anti-missile defense for the United States.

I think it has been a travesty that this administration has stood in the schoolhouse door, dragged its feet, acted as if we were suppose to thank them when they were even willing to talk about this vital necessity for our national security.

No, it's time we gave the American people and the allies of this country the assurance that can come from our superior technology, make use of it to secure ourselves against rogue states and their missiles, as well as against the communist Chinese threat that this administration has contributed to.

King: Do you agree with him?

Bush: Well, I agree. I think one of the things we Republicans stand for is to use our technologies in research and development to the point where we can bring certainty into an uncertain world. All three of us agree that the president has drug his feet on the development of an anti-ballistic missile system.

All three of us understand, just like I understand, that this nation must not retreat, but can lead the world to peace. I do believe there's an area where we can work with Russia in the post-Cold War era. And that's to work with them to dismantle strategic and tactical nuclear warheads. It's called Nunn-Lugar. And when I'm the president, I'm going to continue to fund Nunn-Lugar, to make sure that we work with the Russians to bring certainty into that part of the world. You see, the Russians have got to understand the post-Cold War era is one where we need to cooperate to bring peace. And, as John mentioned, and rightly so, we must convince them as well, not to spread weapons of mass destruction.

King: Senator, would you meet with — assuming Mr. Putin is elected in March, would you want to meet with him as a candidate? Other candidates have gone overseas while running for office, or right before the campaign...

McCain: I'm not sure that would be necessary. It might be an interesting experience, because I know what's going on in Russia. So do an a whole lot of my friends.

King: But you don't know...

McCain: But the fact is — well, we know that he was an apparatchik. We know that he was a member of the KGB. We know that he came to power because of the military brutality and massacre that's been taking place in Russia today — I mean in Chechnya today. We know that he worked a deal with Yeltsin, so that Yeltsin would have immunity, and he would be assured of the presidency, rather than basically a contested — I'm very concerned about Mr. Putin. I'm afraid Mr. Putin might be one of those who wants to make the trains run on time.

So, yes, I would meet with him as a candidate, but I think that what I would really like to do is send a message to Mr. Putin, that we expect certain behavior out of the Russians, and particularly what's going in Chechnya today, a cessation of that brutality.

And that is a very important strategic part of the world for us.

King: Would you meet with him?

Keyes: No, I wouldn't. And I think in fact it would be vital now, and during the course of the campaign, and also in the first months of an administration to make it clear that we were determined to work against the mobocracy, and the mafia that has taken over in Russia. And that we are going to seek to work at all levels with those folks who are actually seeking to establish real self-government, that respects basic human rights and that is also going to take an approach that removes power from the hands of those who basically have been using it for criminal purposes.

King: Would you meet with him?

Bush: I don't know. Probably not. In the...

King: Wouldn't you want to meet with the leader?

Bush: Maybe, but I'm going to be trying to win the election.

King: No, I mean after you get — this is after the nomination.

Bush: Oh, after the nomination.

King: I was asking, if you are the candidate, would you want to?

Bush: Well, I intend to try to win the nomination in the fall as well. If he came over and knocked on I imagine any of our doors, we would open it and listen to the guy.

Here's the question though and the verdict on Mr. Putin is out. And it's this: Will he reject the politics inside of Russia that has allowed folks to siphon off aid? Will he stand up to the corruption inside that country? Will he welcome rule of law? Will he welcome the marketplace and the great freedoms of the marketplace? That's the question for Mr. Putin.

King: How will you know without talking to him?

McCain: That's not encouraging when he cut a deal with the communists rather than the reformers in order to consolidate his power. Keyes: I think we're also going to have to be clearer certainly that the Clinton administration has been, that a good relationship with the United States is conditioned on this kind of respect for basic human rights and the requirements of the people. We shouldn't be transferring capital and doing all kinds of things that send a message of business as usual to a regime that hasn't yet shown itself willing to show respect for these basics.

Bush: Let me say one other thing. This current administration has been sending all kinds of signals confirming Mr. Putin.

We don't know enough about him. We don't know enough about this person.

America must be diligent and firm. We must expect there to be a market evolution in these countries. We understand freedom. We understand freedom, and there are some who want to isolate our nation. We must reject isolationism, because freedom's our greatest export.

Keyes: See, but there is one problem, though, and I would have to distinguish myself in one respect, because if we're going to talk that way, then I think we ought to apply it to China as well. And sending a business-as-usual signal by continuing most favored nation status is wrong. We ought to take the reins of that policy back in our hands and condition each element of the trade relationship on their willingness to respect the basic requirements of decency and of our values and interests.

King: Senator, you concerned about Austria?

McCain: I'm concerned. A guy who's name was Adolf Schicklgruber was born there, was a corporal in the German army in World War I, and obviously caused us great problems.

But this was a free and fair election, Larry. This was a free and fair election by a sophisticated electorate.

King: Hitler was elected in a free election. Well, he won a majority of — and appointed democratically.

McCain: I was going to say, there's — your interpretation of history. But the point is that this was a free and fair election. We have to watch it, we have to pay close attention to what's happening in the middle of Europe in what is viewed by most people as one of the most sophisticated countries in Europe. Obviously we need to keep an eye on it.

But I don't think the United States of America right now is prepared to overturn a free and fair election. And I'll tell you what: When the European Union started weighing in, they got a negative reaction from the Austrian people and gained more support for this guy than he otherwise would have had.

King: Governor, in what occasion could you describe where you would use arms?

Bush: When it's in our national strategic interests. Europe is in our national strategic interests. The Far East is in our national strategic interests. Our own hemisphere is in our national strategic interests. The Middle East — protecting Israel is in our national strategic interests.

And I'll give you one clear example in our own hemisphere. If, for whatever reason, somebody tries to block passage through the Panama Canal, as president of the United States I will make sure the Panama Canal remains open for trade.

It's in our interests to have a hemisphere that is peaceful and open for trade.

King: What if it wasn't? What if it was a moral question, Senator?

McCain: I just want to say, it's not that simple. It's not that simple because we are driven by Wilsonian principles as well as others. There are times when our principles and our values are so offended that we have to do what we can to resolve a terrible situation.

If Rwanda again became a scene of horrible genocide, if there was a way that the United States could stop that and beneficially affect the situation — by the way, we couldn't in Haiti. We spent — sent 20,000 troops and spent $2 billion. Haiti is arguably worse off.

Obviously, it's the last resort. But we can never say that a nation driven by Judeo-Christian principles will only intervene where our interests are threatened because we also have values. And those values are very important...

Keyes: But our — but our, I think our...

McCain: You know, I'm not interrupting you, Alan.

So I think that it's important that we always have some complex challenges as to where we must intervene. Because sometimes we find that if genocide is allowed, the consequences of inaction later on in history are far more severe.

Keyes: Well, several things are true. One, I think we need to end the Clinton policy of interventionism on behalf of all kinds of globalist ideas and interests that are of not direct relevance to our interest or to our values. And I frankly think that Kosovo was an example of that.

I also think we ought to avoid interventions that are based essentially on exaggerated propaganda, and that set the threshold of atrocity so low that, in point of fact, other nations could use that threshold as an excuse to disrupt the peace of the world — let me finish — by going into other countries in their region on the same excuse.

We should be very careful not to become practitioners of aggression, even in the name of good purposes. I think, basically, we've got to send a message to the rest of the world, that we will not be stepping in to intervene in the affairs of other countries on any kind of routine basis, unless the level of atrocity is so clear, that it justifies violating that principle of non-aggression, for the sake of which we have sacrificed tens of thousands of American lives.

And I think it would be irresponsible to do what Clinton, in fact, has done, and take us on a road of interventionism that sets that threshold so low that I think it's a threat to peace.

Bush: Yes, I think there needs to be a clear statement of when and if we'll commit troops. I worry about Rwanda. I didn't like what went on in Rwanda. But I don't think we should commit troops to Rwanda. Nor do I think we ought to try to be the peacekeepers all around the world. I intend to tell our allies that America will help make the peace, but you get to put troops on the ground to keep warring parties apart.

One of the reasons we have such low morale in the military today, is because we're over-deployed and under-trained. If you talk to the men and women who wear our uniform, who are married, they're constantly being separated as a result of deployments all around the world. We've got to be very careful about when and if we commit our troops.

Keyes: Well, we can still deal...

King: Let John add.

McCain: Obviously we have too much deployment. We should have our troops coming home from Bosnia. We shouldn't have gone into Kosovo — or shouldn't have stumbled into Kosovo. There was no need to intervene there. But look, there's only one superpower, and that's the United States of America.

And there will be times when the superpower has to do things that other nations don't have to do. And I am convinced that the best way to prevent the loss of blood certainly — certainly the lessons of the last century showed us is that there may be times when we have to come in early so that we will prevent a recurrence of what happened with the rise of Nazi Germany...

Keyes: I think...

McCain: ... which is a classic example of that.

Keyes: I think that what we have to avoid, however, is taking a unilateral approach in these sorts of matters that encourage other countries to shrink from their responsibilities, not to develop their capability and potential, and not to take responsibility for policing their regions of the world. They should not expect that the United States is going to come in and substitute for their responsibility. And if we encourage them to believe that that's going to be the case, we actually destabilize situations, we don't help them.

King: Move to another area. Sort of a man on the sidelines. We'll ask you. Do you think this has been a dirty campaign, Alan?

Keyes: Well, frankly, I haven't given their campaign a thought.

King: Not a thought.

Keyes: I will confess, I spend too much time speaking about the moral crisis of this country, the priority that this nation needs to address, to get back...

King: So, you have no...

Keyes: ... to its basic moral principles. I have a positive message of my own. I concentrate on that message because I think it's of vital importance to this country.

I frankly believe that you spend all this time beating up on somebody else because you don't have that much to say yourself. I have too much to say of a positive nature about the future of this country to worry about beating up on my opponents except when specific issues require that we call attention to differences.

All right, Governor, what do you make of all these past two weeks, the charges and countercharges? You go and then the senator.

Bush: Well, it's kind of politics. And John and I shook hands and we said we weren't going to run ads and I kind of smiled my way through the early primaries and got defined. I'm not going to let it happen again. And we shook hands and unfortunately he ran and ad that equated me to Bill Clinton — he questioned my trustworthiness.

King: Are you saying he broke the agreement with you?

Bush: Well, I'm just saying, you can disagree on issues, we'll debate issues, but whatever you do, don't equate my integrity and trustworthiness to Bill Clinton. That's about as low a blow as you can give in a Republican primary.

King: And that's...[applause] And that's what — and that's what — and that's what got you mad to sort of fight back?

Bush: Well, I stand by my ads. I stand...

King: You wouldn't change any?

Bush: No. I stand by what I'm trying to do. I mean, when the man says that I'm spending all the surplus on tax cuts and it's not true, I'm going to define what reality is.

King: Senator McCain, did you break a promise?

McCain: Well, let me tell you what happened. There was an ad run against me, we ran a counter-ad in New Hampshire, Governor Bush took the ad down. And then I was beat up very badly by all of his surrogates, called Clinton, called Clinton-lite, called every — a hypocrite. I mean, you've seen...

King: In New Hampshire?

McCain: No, here in South Carolina. You've seen it — turn on the radio, turn on the television, and unfortunately now pick up the telephone and you'll hear a negative attack against John McCain.

But let me tell you what really went over the line. Governor Bush had an event, and he paid of it, and standing — and stood next to a spokesman for a fringe veterans' group. That fringe veteran said that John McCain had abandoned the veterans.

Now, I don't know if you can understand this, George, but that really hurts, that really hurts.

And so five United States senators, Vietnam veterans, heroes, some of them really incredible heroes, wrote George a letter and said, Apologize, you should be ashamed...

Bush: Let me speak to that.

McCain: You should be ashamed. Now if you want...

King: Is he responsible for what someone else says?

McCain: Well, this same man — he stood next to him, it was his event. This same man had attacked his father viciously.

Bush: Yes, he did. Let me speak to that. Let me speak to that.

King: All right.

McCain: So I'd be glad to tell you the rest of the story, if you'd let me, when it's appropriate.

King: Well, let him respond on that point.

Bush: Let me — let me answer that.

McCain: You should be ashamed — you should be ashamed of sponsoring an event with that man there whop had attacked your own father.

Bush: Let me say something, John. Let me finish. Let me finish.

John, I believe that you served our country nobly. And I've said it over and over again. That man wasn't speaking for me. He may have a dispute with you...

McCain: He was at your event.

Bush: Let me finish please, please.

McCain: He's listed as your [inaudible]

Bush: Let me finish. Let me finish.

King: All right, let him finish.

Bush: The man was not speaking for me. If you want to know my opinion about you, John, you served our country admirably and strongly, and I'm proud of your record, just like you are.

And I don't appreciate what he said about my dad, either. But let me say something, if you're going to be — hold me responsible for what people for me say, I'm going to do the same for you. And let me give you one example.

Warren Rudman, the man who you had as your campaign man in New Hampshire, said about the Christian Coalition that they're bigots. He talked about the Christian Coalition in a way that was incredibly strong. I know you don't believe that, do you?

McCain: George, he's entitled to his opinion on that issue.

Bush: Well, so is this man.

McCain: You paid for an event...

Bush: So is this man. [applause]

McCain: You paid for your...

King: Please don't...

McCain: You paid for an event...

Bush: John.

McCain: You paid for an event and stood next to a person. And when you were asked if you would repudiate him, you said, no.

Bush: No. John, what I said — what I said — let me say what I said.

McCain: So, let me tell you what happened — let me tell you what happened after that effectively.

King: But I want Alan to give me one thing.

If you have surrogate making a speech for you today, are you responsible for what he says?

Keyes: Larry, I'm sorry. I really am sitting here wondering, because I said we were going out to 202 countries, and is this kind of pointless squabbling really what we want them to see?

We're talking about electing the...[applause]...president of the United States.

King: But it happened.

Keyes: But it — happened or not happened, and I don't know whether this is the influence of the media corrupting our process or whether it's that personal ambition becomes a substitute for our real focus on substance. But it seems to me we've got a lot more important things.

We have got a country that has abandoned it's most profound and fundamental principle. Killing babies in the womb every day is a contradiction...

King: I'm going to get to that.

Keyes: ... of the Declaration of Independence. We have got a country with an income tax system that enslaves its people and...

King: I'm going to get to that.

Keyes: ... and needs to put that back in their hands. [laughter]

King: I'm going to get to that. [laughter]

Keyes: We have got a school system that needs to be put back into the hands of parents. [laughter] And all I'm sitting here listening to is these two guys go on about their ads.

King: I'm going...

Bush: Because he asked about it. That's because he asked...

Keyes: I know you did...[applause]

King: The question...[applause]

Keyes: It seems to me — it seems — let their ad people get in the back room and fight it out, and let the American people hear what they've got to hear about the issues...

King: I'm going to...

Bush: Let's discuss the issues. Let's the discuss the issues.

King: All right — that's what — all right.

McCain: Let me just finish up, OK? [laughter]

So, so...

King: And hope for...

McCain: ... so here's what happened. We ran an ad that was a response ad. At a town hall meeting a mother stood up and she said, "Senator McCain, my son was 13 last year. We had a lot of trouble of explaining things to him that went on in Washington." She said, "Now he's 14. He's told me not long ago, 'John McCain is my hero.' He's the man I want to be like.

"Well, last night he came into her room," she said, "and he had tears in his eyes because he had answered the phone and the phone call, even though he told the caller that he was 14, said, 'Do you know that John McCain is a liar, and a thief and cheat?'"

Well, that night I called my people together. I said, Take down our response ad.

We're running nothing but a positive campaign from now on. I committed to that, I promise that.

King: Now, are you saying that...

McCain: I hope George...

King: ... George...

McCain: Let me just say...[crosstalk] [applause]

King: Are you saying that Governor Bush was responsible for that call?

McCain: I don't know who was responsible for it. But I know that the attacks go on.

Bush: Let me just say one thing.

McCain: I know that the attacks go on.

Bush: Let me say one thing about all this business, John.

McCain: I told you I pulled them all down.

Bush: You didn't pull this ad.

McCain: Yes, I did.

Bush: This had ended up in a man's windshield yesterday...

McCain: Yes, I...

Bush: ... that questions my — this is an attack piece.

McCain: That is not by my campaign.

Bush: Well, it says, "paid for by John McCain." [laughter]

McCain: It is not by my campaign.

Bush: John...

McCain: That's not — that is not by my campaign.

Bush: Well, then somebody's putting stuff up.

McCain: I pulled them off.

Bush: I agree with you.

McCain: But you're putting out stuff that is unbelievable, George, and it's got to stop.

Bush: I find that...

McCain: And your ads have got to stop.

King: Are you going to — well, let me put...

McCain: My ads have all stopped.

King: I'm going to end this now. Are you going to pull anything that you now have on?

Bush: I'm going to stand by what I'm putting on TV. And what I put on TV was looking in that camera and saying, You can disagree with me on issues, John, but do not question — do not question my trustworthiness and do not compare me to Bill Clinton.

King: And are you — you've changed your ads already.

McCain: We've pulled all ours down. There's nothing negative on the air and we have insisted that there not be a mean point.

King: Would you disclaim what Rudman said if he said...

McCain: The phone calls...

King: ... that you don't agree with that?

McCain: His phone calls...

King: Do you disclaim what the veteran said if he said it?

McCain: I think...

Bush: This man — this man served our country well.

McCain: I did not abandon the veterans. You should have...[crosstalk]

Bush: That's right, we didn't abandon the veterans.

McCain: You should have repudiated your guy...

Bush: I stood up there at that press conference and said, John, you're a man who served our country well.

Keyes: But this is the problem; once it starts, it's almost impossible to end and why?

King: I'm leaving it now. [laughter]

Keyes: No. No, I don't mean it that way, though.

McCain: It's ended.

Keyes: No, I don't mean it that way. I mean it in the first place, you know? And I think it's time we began to ask ourselves...

King: [inaudible] said that.

Keyes: ... why it is that these campaigns degenerate into this kind of stuff, and I think I know why it is.

King: Which...

Keyes: I think it's because people are trying so hard to be all things to all people that they refuse to stand forthrightly and make it clear on each given issue where they stand in a principled way and simply speak the truth and let the chips falls. And so they get into this spitting match over who did what to whom, as distraction from the lack of substance in their own campaigns.

I think people need to start thinking about whether this is the kind of spectacle that actually characterizes a serious political process, because I don't think it does.

King: Today you announced a campaign reform program.

Bush: Yes, I did.

King: You said that you'd been announcing it in other pieces throughout the past couple of months, but the first time you formulated it as a plan today.

Bush: Well, actually, I first laid it out last summer — a lot of it. Would you like me to go through it?

King: No, but one of the networks...

Bush: Well, why can't I ...

King: Oh no, no, I'm sorry, of you can go through it. No, what I mean is, one of the networks reported...

Bush: It's a great plan.

King: ... that this is the first time you've used the term "campaign finance reform".

Bush: Well, that's not true. I started talking about campaign finance reform last summer. And I said the following things: We ought to ban corporate soft money, and we ought to ban labor union soft money. We ought to make sure though, that labor bosses cannot spend union members' money without their permission. It's big difference between what I believe and John believes.

Thirdly, we should not allow federal candidates to take money from one campaign and roll it over into another campaign. That ought to be a reform.

And fifthly, what I said — or fourthly, what I said...[laughter]

King: I lost count.

Bush: Because you were listening so closely.

King: Too closely.

Bush: Yes, too closely — was that members of the United States Congress should not be allowed to raise money, when there's a legislative session — that members should not be allowed to raise money from federal lobbyists during a session.

King: On the corporate end, about unions giving against the will of the member, should stockholders have the right to say whether a corporation can give?

Bush: No, Corporations should not be giving at all.

King: Period?

Bush: There should be a ban on corporate soft money.

King: You should agree with that, right?

McCain: Of course not, because there's a $1 billion...

King: But today you called it a joke.

McCain: Yes, there's a $1 billion loophole in it.

King: Which is?

McCain: And it's called individual contributions. Mr. Bernard Schwartz, who is the head of Loral Corporation, gave $1 million individually to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1996. A series of events then took place. The transfer of technology to China that allowed them to improve the tech — their missile accuracy.

King: Are you saying under his plan you could do that?

McCain: Under his plan, Mr. Schwartz could walk down there and give that $1 million check tomorrow. And that's the reason why this is...

Bush: [inaudible] you can't give...

McCain: Yes, you — he can give...

Bush: John, there's a $1,000 limit.

McCain: He can give $1,000 to the RNC, the DNC or anybody else.


Bush: This is called the First Amendment, John.

McCain: That's what it's all about.

King: One at a time. One at a time.

McCain: That's what it's all about.

Keyes: Let me speak to this whole issue, because these folks sit here, two politicians, arguing about whether or not the people or the United States should have under the First Amendment the right peaceable to assemble and seek to petition the government and seek redress of their grievances.

I believe that all this talk where the politicians come in and say — think about this, they're going to control our ability to fund those processes through which we control their activities. And by controlling our funding, I presume they will utterly destroy our First Amendment right.

There should be no such regulation by politicians of what we the people can do in our own political process.

King: But the Supreme Court ruled they could.

Keyes: All of this — all of this...

King: But the Supreme Court ruled...

Keyes: Frankly, the Supreme Court has ruled Roe v. Wade and a lot of other stuff...

King: Well, wait a minute, is the...

Keyes: ... and as president of the United States — excuse me...

King: Hold it..

Keyes: ... as president of the United States I will — I will sit in an office that is co-equal with the Supreme Court, in which I will have an equal responsibility with the court for the interpretation of the Constitution.

King: Do you — wait a minute. Do you agree that the court has the final word?

Keyes: Let me finish.

King: You don't think that...

Keyes: The Constitution doesn't say that. Let me finish.

King: The court is not the final word?

Keyes: Let me finish, Larry. I think that it's very simple on campaign finance reform. Instead of saying that because these politicians can't act with integrity, we must give up our rights, Let the ones who don't have the integrity give up their offices.

And let's have a system that's very simple. No dollar vote without a ballot vote. Only individuals capable of voting...

King: You share that view?

Bush: Yes, absolutely.

Keyes: Publicize — let me finish, though. Publicize it immediately...

King: Well, Alan.

Keyes: ... so that people will know what's what and have no limits whatsoever on the freedoms of the people of this country.

King: But you would limit. You just said you would limit.

Bush: No, I said that under the First Amendment...

King: No unions.

Bush: That's corporate — that's money where people have no say, what he's saying. No corporate...

Keyes: No unions, no corporate money, no foreign money. No dollar vote without a ballot vote.

Bush: We have — the great thing about this country is, individuals should be the participants in democracy. The ultimate extension of some of these campaign funding reform plans out of Washington, D.C., will mean that the people who decide who the candidates are and who the victors are will be the press. I'm sure you're looking forward to that opportunity.

King: If I gave you $1 million, don't you have to take my phone call?

McCain: Sure. Ask any — ask any...

King: Don't you owe me something?

Bush: Not necessarily. But let me say something.

King: No.

McCain: ... ask any ex-senator, Larry. Ask any ex-senator, they'll tell you, they'll tell you. [laughter]

Bush: One of the things that we need to do — one of the things we need to do is to have full disclosure; is to let the sun shine in; is to let everybody know who's giving to whom. I have done that in this campaign. I put it on the Internet, who gave to whom. I've got a lot of contributors. My average contribution, by the way, is about $350 per person.

And I want you to know and I want you to know who's given because I don't want to hid anything.

So, this business about limiting individuals' capacity to put ads on the air — for example, I don't like some of the ads running about me. I don't like them at all.

We have the pro-abortion people running ads on me. I didn't like it. But it's their right in America to do so. This is America.

King: Well, let me take a break. We'll come back. This is a two-minute break. There will be only one other break and that's in another half-hour. We'll reintroduce the candidates, like if you don't know them.

When we come back, we will get into other issues, including abortion, other key domestic issues as well.

This is a LARRY KING LIVE election special.

Don't go away. [applause]

[television break]

King: The primary is this Saturday. This is the BIPEC debate at Seawell's Banquet Center, in Columbia, South Carolina. And our guests are Alan Keyes, the former ambassador; Governor George W. Bush, the governor of Texas; and Senator John McCain, the Republican senator from Texas...

McCain: Arizona.

King: From Arizona.

McCain: All right, thank you.

King: I moved you over. [laughter] One state over.

McCain: I don't think I'm allowed in Texas. [laughter]

King: True. Even a goof helps, when you want to have laughs.

OK, you say today that you're the reformer, you're the outsider. Yet 38 senators support you, 175 congressmen, and 26 governors. That's not establishment?

Bush: Well, let's start with the governors. Those who know me best support me.

King: But isn't that establishment?

Bush: Let me finish. I've worked with the governors. They know me well. They know I can lead. These are citizens that care about the future of the country. They've stood up and said, We know the man's record, we know his capacity to bring people together, we know his record of reform in the state of Texas has had great results for our citizens, and we want him to be the leader.

And you mentioned the United States senators. Thirty-eight have endorsed my candidacy, for which I'm grateful. These are citizens from all around the world — all around the country, including one from South Carolina, named Strom Thurmond. They took a look at the three of us, and decided that I ought to be the leader. They're looking for a fresh voice from outside. They want somebody to provide leadership. And that's why they supported me.

You know, I got defined early on as the insider. And I kept telling people my ZIP code is Austin, Texas. That's where I made my stake. That's where I've developed my reputation, and that's where those results are coming from. And John and Alan both have got Washington, D.C., addresses — well, Maryland I guess.

And so I — anyway...

King: OK, fair answer. He said he's still a reformer, he's still an outsider. They support him because they like him.

McCain: Well, it's fair to say that I did not win, again this year, Miss Congeniality in the United States Senate. So I have to admit that to you. [laughter]

King: You're not popular in the Senate.

McCain: No, because I've taken on the iron triangle — special interests, money, and legislation — which we've been grid locked by in Washington, D.C. We've taken government away from the people.

And young people are being turned off in droves. And the fact is that I've been involved in lobbying gift — lobbying ban, gift ban, line-item veto. I've attacked pork-barrel spending and wasteful spending, which is now worse than it's ever been.

In fact, George said that he would have — he supported and would have signed a bill, Citizens Against Government Waste — it was the worst, most wasteful spending bill in history. And I fought against it. And I didn't make a lot of friends, because I point out these pork-barrel spendings, these wasteful spendings.

King: So...

McCain: And I'll fight for reform until the last breath I draw so that we can get the American people back connected with their government.

I'm trying to change this party to bring it into the 21st century as a reform party in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt.

King: Alan?

Keyes: I find it so fascinating, we talk about outsiders. I was so far outside this process at one point that the last cycle when we held this debate I wasn't allowed to participate in it.

King: Here?

Keyes: I think that's pretty far outside. That's right, here. And in Atlanta and elsewhere as well. The only reason I'm sitting here right now is because I articulate better than most anybody in this country what's on the heart of real Republicans and real conservatives around the country, and because I have been out there, not fighting in Washington, but fighting at the grass roots, as head, for instance, of Citizens Against Government Waste, where you value the praise, I did the work.

And so the point being that for both of these gentlemen, who have all the advantages, sit at the apex of a system that supports them in every way, darlings of the media, the person who's out there...[laughter]

Excuse me, the person who is out there striving at the grass roots right now to organize folks because of what they have in their heart, not what I have in my pocket, is Alan Keyes, and reaching folks to such a degree that everybody, even your supporters, acknowledge that the person who presents the Republican message best is sitting here, not sitting there.

And it's about time we asked ourselves...

King: Then why aren't you — why aren't you doing better?

Keyes: Why? The question I asked. Why on Earth don't we want to send our best person to face Al Gore and Bill Bradley, instead of sending folks into the debate, the half-hearted, the unconvicted, the folks who in point of fact can't make our case as well and effectively as we should make it?

King: How do you respond to that?

Bush: Well, I respond to it. I put my record on the line in Texas. It's the second-biggest electoral state in the union. It's an important state. You better be able to carry Texas in order to become the president. And the people in my state gave me a chance to be the governor for the first time to hold four-year — consecutive year terms. I mean, I put my reputation out there. I'm a results-oriented person.

I want to say two things. One, I'm not the darling of the media. [laughter]

King: And number two.

Bush: And number two, it's a fundamental question. And this is the question: Who can go to Washington with an agenda that's positive and hopeful and optimistic and convince people to follow? Who can gather up support necessary? Who is it that's got the capacity to stand up in the halls of Congress and say, "Follow me"? Who has had the experience necessary to earn the will of the people?

King: And you're saying that John doesn't.

Bush: Well, I'm saying — well, I'm saying — of the three of us here, I've had the experience and the results that prove I can do so. These are good men, don't get me wrong. But I've been there. I've been there.

I look forward to saying to those United States senators, Here's a fresh perspective.

King: Well, if you have trouble getting along with them, doesn't he have a point?

McCain: I've had 234 major pieces of legislation and amendments passed when I've been in the United States Senate and Congress. One of the most successful records, whether it be in the area of reform, whether it be in the important issues of telecommunications, such as it be Y2K product liability, whether it be Internet tax moratorium, or whether it be in every major foreign policy issue that has confronted this country. My credentials are well know.

But I'll tell you what, the Republican Party has lost its way. They have selected an establishment candidate. I don't blame them for doing that. But they lost the last two presidential elections.

They lost the last two congressional elections. And unless we open up this party, unless we do what I did in New Hampshire, and that's get thousands and thousands of young people out to register to vote Republican, unless we get independents, reconstitute the old Reagan Democrats — I'm being criticized now because Democrats may like me.

I want to reconstitute that governing coalition. I can do it. I can lead and I have had experience in a lot of ways that will...

Keyes: I think — I think that what we did last time we ran experience last time and it really worked well in terms of the result.

I would love to take both of these records and sit them in an empty chair in a debate against Al Gore and see who wins.

I think that we've got to remember that what you can do to stand before the American people, articulate what's on their heart, how it relates to the great principles of this country, and how we have to address those principles in order to enter the next century with the confidence that as a decent people we will retain our liberty, not keep handing it off to the government, that's the challenge we face, in a year, by the way, when — if the spokesman of the Republican Party isn't able to meet the moral challenge of this nation's life, we will lose the election because that's where the Democrats are vulnerable.

King: Are you questioning the moral — are you questioning the moral challenge of...

Keyes: I question their ability to articulate on the moral issues of our time, a clear and passionate and convicted case that can persuade and move the people of this country. And if you can't do it, by the way, in this election year, economy booming, world relatively at peace, if we don't go out and attack that moral flank exposed by Bill Clinton's lying, perfidy, oath-breaking, and utter shameless betrayal of our moral heritage, we will lose and we will deserve to lose.

King: Let's take a moral issue...

Bush: Let me say one thing about this. This is a really important part of the debate. This is the fundamental issue that Republicans and independents in this state are going to have to look at: Who can lead? Who can lead?

King: Morally.

Bush: With all due respect.

King: Are you talking morally?

Bush: Well, morally — any of us at this table can perform better than William Jefferson Clinton — any of us will bring honor to the office. [applause]

But the fundamental question is, when we talk education, for example, who's got a record? Who's got a record of reform...

King: And he...

Bush: Let me finish.

King: His question was a moral question.

Bush: Well, that's part of it, no question about it. Part of it is to bring honor and dignity to the office and all three of us will do that. All three of us will do that.

But part of it as well is to earn the creditability of the American people, so like when we talk about education, who is it that has reformed the system? Who has got tangible results and can say that our test scores amongst African-American students or Hispanic students are up? Who's vision is it that is improving a lot of people? Because, you see, if we don't educate our children, it's unlikely that the American dream will be able to touch every willing heart. That's my record.

King: Are you saying education, Governor, is a moral issue?

Bush: Well, I'm saying education is an incredibly important issue and if we don't educate our children, we're going to have real moral problems.

McCain: Could I make a quick comment? Look, the job that I want to take is to inspire a generation of young Americans to commit themselves to causes greater than their self-interest; that's what the great presidents in history have been able to do.

On election day in New Hampshire, thousands of young people went out, registered Republican and voted and voted for me. Cindy and I got on a plane, arrived at the airport in Greenville at 3:00 a.m. There were 800 college students out there.

Now, I'll admit there was not a mosh pit, but there was certainly an enthusiastic group of young Americans out there. And that's the enthusiasm we're generating and that's what inspirational leadership is all about and I can do that.

Keyes: Two things. I would have to say from — what would I — first, Senator McCain, you've served these youngsters enough beer. I suppose they'll look really enthusiastic. [laughter]

I frankly, I frankly ...

McCain: You know, that's quite a commentary on those young people.

Keyes: Yes, it's quite a commentary on them. But it's quite a commentary on those who would take young folks, some of them not even of age, and serve them beer. But leave that aside.

King: Are you saying he served beer to minors?

Keyes: Well, look, he — he did not do this.

King: OK.

Keyes: I presume his campaign did. But second point though, let's take an example of leadership — leadership in this campaign. We had a controversy over Bob Jones University and its policies, right?

King: Right.

Keyes: Now it seems to me, when you have a problem like that, does leadership consist of going into Bob Jones University, where serious questions, in fact, do exist about religious bigotry and racial bigotry — going in, taking the applause, risking nothing, because you refuse to raise the issues? That's what G.W. Bush did.

Or does it consist of getting on your high horse, refusing to go talk to good-hearted Christian people, because you believed a bunch of prejudicial slanders in the press, and then staying away — not even carrying a message of integrity to them?

Or does it consist, in fact, in going in, carrying a message of truth and integrity about this country's moral principles, and then looking them in the eye and saying, "I'm a black Roman Catholic Christian, married to an Indian-American women. And if you can't deal with the demons of racial bigotry, and religious bigotry, and cast them out, you'll accomplish no good for this country"?

King: Why...

Keyes: Which is the better leader? You tell me.

King: Why didn't you speak against bigotry at Bob Jones?

Bush: I was asked the question, do I support his policy of no interracial dating? I said, Of course not. Of course not. My little brother, Jeb, the governor of Florida married a girl named Columba, from Mexico — a fabulous part of our family, a great person.

So please don't insinuate, in any shape — way, shape or form, that I support...

King: But they couldn't date...

Bush: Well, that's fine, but I walked in and talked about how our conservative cause must be compassionate. That's what I've talked about. I talked about how the principles of conservatism can lift the spirit of America, how we can improve people's lives, that's what I've talked about.

Keyes: In your...

Bush: That's what I talked — you didn't hear my speech.

Keyes: In your speech, sir, you said nothing about the religious bigotry and racial bigotry...

Bush: I — I talked...

Keyes: ... that had in fact to be dealt with. On and "if asked" basis, these questions are not enough. What I did was look folks in the eye and tell them: I'm willing to lose every vote over the issue of defending young babes in the womb, and I'm willing to lose every vote over the issue of standing with integrity against religious and racial bigotry.

King: You did not speak...

Keyes: What votes have these folks been willing to risk to stand for any principle?

King: Don't dominate, Alan.


McCain: Well, Alan, I've been taking a few risks in my life and I'm proud of those risks. Some of them are proudest points of my life.

Look, I was not invited to attend Bob Jones. I understand that it's a fine academic school. If I had been invited I would have gone and I would have started by saying, as I have gone to other places that people are not in favor of me, and I would have said, Look, what you're doing in this ban on interracial dating is stupid, it's idiotic and it is incredibly cruel to many people. I also happen to have an adoptive daughter who's from Bangladesh, and I don't think that she should be subjected to those kinds of things. In fact, I will stand up and fight against those. And so, look...

King: But you would have gone and said that, but you weren't invited.

McCain: If I'd have been — if I'd have been invited, of course, because you've got to bring the message to get these people up into the modern times.

King: And you said you went — you went to deliver a message.

Bush: I did.

King: OK. Why didn't you then go to the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay group who you don't agree with, to deliver a message to them?

Bush: I've got gay supporters. I don't ask their sexual orientation, though.

King: But I mean why didn't you speak, then, before that group?

Bush: Well, they had made a commitment to John McCain.

King: Oh.

Bush: And...

King: But they invited you.

Bush: Well, [inaudible] wanted to come down and speak. And so...

McCain: I have no — no knowledge that they have made a commitment to my campaign.

Bush: Well, I thought they raised money for you.

McCain: It doesn't mean...

Bush: It doesn't matter. Let's talk about that issue. Each person needs to be judged with their heart and soul. I don't ask the question what somebody's sexual orientation is. I don't ask the question.

King: So if you have gays working for you, that's fine. And you don't have a problem. You'd appoint gays in the Cabinet, et cetera.

Bush: Well, I'm not going to ask what their sexual orientation is.

King: Oh, so you wouldn't know.

Bush: I'm going to appoint conservative people in the Cabinet. It's none of my business what somebody's — now when somebody makes it my business, like on gay marriage, I'm going to stand up and say I don't support gay marriage. I support marriage between men and women. King: So if a state were voting on gay marriage, you would suggest to that state not to approve it?

Bush: The state can do what they want to do. Don't try to trap me in this state's issue like you're trying to get me into.

King: You just did. You have an opinion. [laughter]

Bush: I have an opinion.

King: Do you have...

Bush: In my state of Texas, if we tried to have gay marriage, I would campaign against it.

King: If your state of Texas then proposed the Confederate flag, you would campaign against it?

Bush: We've got the Lone Star flag flying over Texas. Let's talk about that issue.

King: We're going to move that. Are you offended?

McCain: Before we leave that issue, can I say — look, I met with the Log Cabin Republicans. I think Republicans and presidents should meet with every group. We should meet with every group of people. They don't have to agree or disagree.

And to say somehow that some people are excluded from our party who identify themselves as Republicans — I disagree with the Log Cabin Republicans on gay marriages, on the "don't ask/don't tell," on a broad variety of issues. But I agree with them on a stronger defense, lower taxes, less regulation. So we're in agreement on some issues.

And I, as president of the United States, and I as the nominee of my party, will meet with — and not necessarily agree with, everyone in the Republican Party.

King: Do you — the senator's had a little less time, so I want to hear him out. Do you agree — as Barry Goldwater, who you succeeded in the Senate, I believe, told me once that there are gays at Normandy?

There are gays on Bataan?

McCain: I'm sure that all that is true.

King: Why do you sort of...

McCain: ... but the fact is — but the fact is that those gays were people, as is today in the military, "don't-ask, don't-tell" situation. I strongly support that policy. I think that George does as well.

King: Have there...

McCain: When you have people like General Colin Powell, General Norman Schwarzkopf, our most respected military leaders who tell us that that's the policy that works, that that's the best way we can have the finest army in the world — which we don't for other reasons — then I have to support a policy that the most respected people in America would support.

King: Do you disagree?

Keyes: Well, several things. It's a whole lot easier to go meet with homosexuals when, as Senator McCain said in a meeting the other day, "I understand you believe homosexuality is not a sin." If you believe it is a sin, then going and meeting with sinners and identifying yourself in that way when you're educating your children to think otherwise is a little harder for you.

King: But you...

Keyes: Now, I understand that that is — let me finish. I understand that that's an issue of conscience and I'm not trying to dictate it to anybody and wouldn't try to dictate. But we are living in a society today where there is the use of coercive government power to try to prevent people from speaking out and acting according to their religious view on this particular issue; trying to define hate-crimes in such a way that Biblical beliefs are going to become incitement to hatred. A lot of the Christian folks in this country understand what's going on, but apparently these two gentlemen don't.

The other thing that I would have to say, the "don't-ask, don't-tell" policy is typical of the Clinton administration. It is a dishonest, shameful, dishonorable policy that winks and nods at gay folks to get them into the military, leaves the regulations on the books so that people in authority, if they come into information that somebody has violated those regulations, don't know whether they should or should not enforce them.

King: What would be your policy?

Keyes: What happens in a military when you have regulations on the books that you selectively enforce in a way that shows favoritism? You undermine cohesion, morale, respect for authority...

King: All right. Let's...

Keyes: ... and honesty. Military people should be "what you see is what you get," not "don't ask, don't tell."

Bush: The role of the commander in chief is to clearly define what the mission of the military is. The mission of the military is to fight and be able to win war, and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place.

The commander in chief must let the general officers understand what the goal is and ask the general officers to prepare a military of high morale and high standing, capable of meeting that mission. And the senator is right. Generals came together and said, This is the best way for us to prepare our military for the mission. And that's what's important to understand as the commander in chief.

It is. That's what's important for the commander in chief, Alan.

Keyes: I think it's a little disingenuous. The rest of us...

Bush: Nothing is disingenuous.

Keyes: Let me finish. I just said a little disingenuous to pretend...[laughter]

Hold it — that the generals came together and begged for this policy, when we good and well know that it was a policy imposed by the political forces in this society...

King: Well, let me put this way, what would...

Keyes: ... to turn the military into an arena of sexual experimentation and the people...

King: ... what would your policy be?

Keyes: ... who are in charge politically didn't have the guts to stand up and defend their military against...

King: All right, you're getting — hold it.

Keyes: ... pressures. That's what happened.

Bush: You're getting repetitive.

Keyes: That's what happened.

King: What would your policy be?

Keyes: I would return to the ban on homosexual activity in the military.

King: Ban?

Keyes: Return to the ban. It's the only policy consistent with both the integrity of the military, the effort to limit sexual tension throughout the military, and the need to have a policy that can be clearly understood and rigorously enforced.

King: Why is that wrong?

McCain: I don't mind being criticized by Alan Keyes. It's getting to be a regular kind of routine in these debates. But I really do question his comments about our military leaders.

General Colin Powell is one the finest men I've ever known in my life.

And to somehow infer that General Colin Powell was coerced, or forced to adopt a policy that he didn't believe in is a great disservice to one of the greatest men in the history of this country.

Keyes: Who — excuse me...

King: By the way, since we...

Keyes: ... a point of personal privilege, it is not factually on the record — you go back and take a look. Those military leaders did not favor this policy in the beginning. They were brought to favor it after political leadership failed to stand up in their defense.

King: Is he going to be — either of you — the secretary of state — Colin Powell?

McCain: Sure.

King: Sure?

McCain: That's one thing I'm sure we'll agree on.

King: Your secretary of state, too?

Bush: I'm not telling.

King: It's definite that you're saying yes?

McCain: Oh, he'd be marvelous.

Bush: Oh, he's a great man, no question about it. But one of the things we shouldn't be doing, right here on the eve of the South Carolina primary, is speculating out loud on who we're going to pick.

King: Why?

Bush: Well, because it's — listen, we're talking about philosophy. You know, we go to one state and so-and-so is going to be in the Cabinet, you know, and go to another state and name somebody else. That's kind of — that cheapens the process. What we need to do is get elected on principles and issues.

McCain: There's a few outstanding men I've had the chance to know in my life. He can serve anywhere he wants to in my administration.

Bush: He's a great man, no question about that.

McCain: Anywhere he wants. He's the 800-pound gorilla.

Bush: How about your administration?

King: All right, Alan.

Keyes: Well, let me just say, I think I'm going to wait and see. The kind of folks who are putting together the Keyes campaign will be offering an entirely different perspective on our politics, because all of them come from the grass roots of this country, and speak for its heart.

King: Ten years ago — sorry, eight years ago on this program, I asked Vice President Quayle what he would do in the terrible instance that his daughter needed an abortion. He's very pro-life. And he said, Well, he'd try to talk her out of it. And he would go with her to the clinic. And hold her hand and love her.

Bush: Yes. I'm not...

King: Would you?

Bush: I'm not going to drag my daughter into the discussions. I don't...

King: What do you mean? All right, your niece.

Bush: No, I'm not dragging personal. Look, you want my views on abortion, I'll give you my views on abortion.

King: Should...

Bush: I believe the next president should set this goal for America: Every child, born and unborn, protected in law and welcomed into life. That's what the next president ought to do. The president — and the question is which one of us can lead America to appreciate life.

The political questions around abortion are these, and this is one that's going to differentiate us from the Democrat nominee, for example, is I will sign a ban on partial-birth abortion. All three of us will sign a ban on partial-birth abortion. Vice President Gore, if he's the nominee, will sit there and justify partial-birth abortion. I don't know how he can justify partial-birth abortion.

A leader is someone that brings people together and understand the power of adoption. John is a loving adoptive parent, that's a — it's a loving act, it's a loving alternative to abortion.

A leader is someone who brings people together, both Republicans and Democrats in my state, to pass a parental notification law, a parental notification law that will reduce abortions in the state of Texas.

King: Should the woman be punished, John?

McCain: No.

King: She starts the crime.

McCain: George, do you believe in the exemption in abortion, case of abortion, for rape, incest and life of the mother?

Bush: Yes, I do. I do.

McCain: Then, you know, it's interesting, you were talking about printed material that's mailed out. Here's one that says that George W. Bush supports the pro-life plank. The pro-life plank...

Bush: I do.

McCain: Yes. So in other words...

Bush: Yes...

McCain: ... your position is that you believe there's an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but you want the platform that you're supposed to be leading to have no exemption.

Bush: Yes, but...

McCain: Help me out there, will you?

Bush: I will, I will.

McCain: Thank you.

Bush: The platform talks about — it doesn't talk about what specifically should be in the constitutional amendment. That's...

McCain: It doesn't have...

Bush: No...

McCain: ... the exemptions in it.

Bush: Please let me finish, John.

McCain: And you know that very well.

Bush: John, let me finish, let me finish. The platform speaks about a constitutional amendment.

It doesn't refer to how that constitutional amendment ought to be defined. It does not...

McCain: If you read...

Bush: John...

McCain: ... the platform, it has no exceptions.

Bush: John, I think we need to keep the platform the way it is. This is a pro-life party. We need to...

McCain: Then, you were...

Bush: May I finish, please?

McCain: ... contradictory...

Bush: May I finish, please?

McCain: ... you were contradictory in...

King: All right.

Bush: Please. We need to be a pro-life party. We need to say, "life is precious" and that's what our platform refers to. And that's why we need to leave it the same.

Now, I fully recognize good people can disagree on this issue. But the fundamental question amongst the Republicans is which one of us has got the capacity to lead our nation to understand the value of life; those of living, those yet unborn, and those elderly in America who are subject to physician-assisted suicides, for example?

King: Alan, you say a life is a life, period, right?

Keyes: No. First of all, I think that's a perfect illustration; this discussion of the problem we've got in the party. One individual who doesn't really accept the pro-life position of the party, and another who says he accepts it, but then takes positions that are inconsistent with it, so when push comes to shove he won't be able to defend it. And both willing to take at a personal level a position that will destroy you in debate against the Democrats.

When Al Gore stands there or Bill Bradley and looks you in the eye, one of you or the both of you, and says, Senator McCain, you said your daughter, that would be her decision. It would be up to her to decide, how on Earth can you represent a party that would take away from every other American woman what you would give to your own daughter?

These are folks — let me finish — who take a position that they can't defend and will then go out and represent us in such a way that we get defeated by our opponents. Isn't it time we...

King: OK. Are we...

Keyes: ... stopped doing this because this doesn't make any sense?

King: All right. We owe Senator McCain some time so I'm going to let him take the stage.

McCain: I told you this once before, Alan, and I'm sorry I have to tell you again; I've seen enough killing in my life, a lot more than you have. I know — I know how valuable and precious human life is, and I will not listen to your lectures about how I should treat this very important issue of the sanctity of human life. So, I hope you'll give me the respect that I give you and do not bring, please, my daughter into it.

It's a family decision. Thank you very much.

Keyes: See, but it's a family decision...[applause]

Excuse me. Let's be fair.

McCain: Thank you very much.

Keyes: Let's be fair to the American people, Senator.

McCain: Hold it. Thank you very much. Let's leave my daughter out of it please.

Keyes: Let's be fair to the American people. You are taking a position. I'm a pro-life person. That pro-life position applies to women who are daughters and who are wives.

King: And who are raped.

Keyes: We had better be able to stand before the American people and justify what we stand for in applying to my daughter and your daughter and everybody's daughter.

King: I've got to get a break.

Keyes: And if you're not willing to do it, you can't defend our position.

King: We've got to get a break. Alan — Alan, got to get a break.

We'll be right back with more. We have a half-hour to go. And by the way, Jeff Greenfield will moderate a panel talking about what you're watching. Don't go away.

[television break]

King: We're back on this special LARRY KING LIVE election 2000 edition, coming to you from Seawell's Banquet Center in Columbia, South Carolina under the auspices of BIPEC, the South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee.

Senator McCain, much has been made in these past debates about tax proposals — yours and George Bush's — and we know that Alan Keyes is against the tax.

Would you simply for me, what's the essential difference between your's and the governor's?

McCain: We have two surpluses, one that goes into the Social Security trust fund. There's $2 trillion there. If George Bush or Alan Keyes, or Donald Duck were president of the United States, there would be $2 trillion in there because that's the payroll tax that people pay. Then we have the other non-Social Security surplus.

I want a balanced approach. A working families tax cut — Governor Bush has 38 percent of his tax cut go to the wealthiest one percent of Americans — pay down the debt, Social Security and Medicare.

If we're going to save Social Security, we've got to take a bunch of the non-Social Security surplus, pump it into the Social Security system, because we all know that it's going broke. If we do that, then people can then invest part of their own payroll taxes in investments of their choice.

The difference between Governor Bush's proposal and mine, is that I put a whole lot of money into Social Security, Medicare and paying down the debt. He puts a whole lot of money into tax cuts.

And that's the difference.

King: And why, before he responds, is reducing the debt more important than a tax cut?

McCain: Because we'd lay this obligation on another generation of young Americans — $3.6 trillion. At town hall meeting after town hall meeting, I have average Americans stand up to me and say to me, Senator McCain, all these years of running deficits, we've accumulated this debt. We're paying more interest — as much interest, almost, on it as we are in spending on national defense. We ought to pay down that debt, and not saddle the next generation of young Americans with it.

King: One of the problems in selling that, though, is the debt doesn't call you. The debt doesn't bug you today, right?

McCain: Look...

King: Right? I mean, it didn't...

McCain: Look, Alan Greenspan just recently said we shouldn't have these massive tax cuts like Governor Bush is proposing. We should pay down the debt. But working families need the tax cut.

King: Governor?

McCain: What Alan Greenspan said, is if it's possible to discipline Congress to pay down the debt, that's fine. But short of being able to discipline Congress — which I don't think we can do — that we ought to have a tax cut. That's exactly what Alan Greenspan said.

Now my plan is this. There is a $4 trillion projected surplus. $2 trillion of it goes, as John mentioned, to Social Security — which by the way, pays down debt in the Social Security system. We retire $2 trillion of debt. I spent about have of that — the remaining — on tax cuts, and half of it as a cushion, perhaps more debt repayment, perhaps emergency spending.

The difference between our plans is, I know who's money it is we're dealing with. We're dealing with the government — we're dealing with the people's money, not the government's money. And I want to give people their money back.

And if you're going to have a tax cut, everybody ought to have a tax cut. This kind of Washington, D.C., view about targeted tax cuts is tax cuts driven by polls and focus groups. If you pay taxes in America, you ought to get a tax cut. Under my plan, if you're a family of four in South Carolina, making $50,000, you get 50-percent tax cut. I've reduced the lower rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, which does this — and this is important. There are people on the outskirts of poverty, like single moms who are working the toughest job in America. If she has two kids, and making $22,000, for every additional dollar she earns, she pays a higher marginal rate on her taxes than someone making $200,000.

You bet I cut the taxes at the top. That encourages entrepreneurship. What we Republicans should stand for is growth in the economy. We ought to make the pie higher.

Bush: But I also hear those voices, Larry, I hear those voices on the outskirts of poverty. And I've got a plan that says to her, We're going to reduce the tolls to the middle class. That's what we're saying. We reduce their high marginal rate.

If somebody's working hard, they ought to put more money in their pocket. And there's a fundamental difference of opinion.

So my plan saves and strengthens Social Security. It pays down debt. But it recognizes the most risky proposition is to leave money to be spent in Washington, D.C.

King: The person making $1 million a year gets what kind of reduction?

Bush: Goes from 39.6 to 33 percent. But by far the most...

McCain: It's $50,000.

Bush: Let me finish please. But by far the vast majority of my tax cuts go to the bottom end of the spectrum. And this language about Governor Bush's only has tax cuts for the rich, sounds exactly like Al Gore.

McCain: See, that's what he took offense of when I talked about Bill Clinton.

But let me just make one comment. It's not — it's not the Washington mentality, it's the grown-up mentality. It's the grown-up mentality that recognizes that we have obligations and we've got to pay them off.

Again — again, George says that if it come in Washington, Congress might do something about it — assume it might spend it. Assuming that the president of the United States is a hapless bystander.

Right now Bill Clinton is forcing the Congress of the United States, with threats of veto and shutdown of the government, to spend more money. I, as president of the United States, will force with vetoes and threats of shutdown, the government to pay less. And I believe that's what a president can do...

Bush: Excuse me. Let me say one thing else.

McCain: And I — if they override my veto, I'll make them famous.

Bush: [off-mike] he had a long time.

McCain: Because I can stop it. I won't be a hapless bystander. I won't say Congress will just spend the money.

Bush: Let me stop

King: Alan has got to go yet.

Bush: ... one thing and then he can speak. That shows the difference in mentality. I don't trust Congress, I trust people. And I want to give people their money back. This is a realistic plan that I am going to get done.

And John, you know, grown-up or non-grown-up. You know — I know that's kind of a line you're trying to come across with.

King: Pretty good one.

Bush: No. It's weak.

King: That sounds pretty good.

Bush: Weak. Either you trust the people or you trust government. And our Republican Party ought to stand for trusting the people to spend their own money. To give people — the taxes are the highest they've been since World War II.


Keyes: Don't apologize. Because I actually think that last sentiment is exactly right.

Bush: Thank you.

Keyes: Don't trust the people, trust the government. The only problem is, if you really...

Bush: No, trust the people.

Keyes: If you really — no, if you're going to — right. [laughter]

Bush: You should trust the people. Yes.

Keyes: Trust the people, yes. If you're going to trust the people then why have this debate in which you have two folks arguing over how they're going to use their gatekeeper role to determine how much of your own money you get to keep? That's what the income tax system does to America.

It is not the system our founding fathers put in place. The system they put in place as compatible with the status of a truly free people, is a system where you go out, you earn $100, you bring that hundred dollars home, and until you decide what to do with it the government doesn't get a look at it. Let me finish.

King: And who lights your street lamp?

Keyes: You don't — let me finish — you don't wait for the government to — you don't have to wait for some politician to give you your tax cut. By avoiding expenditures on the taxed items out there you will be able to avoid the tax. Why? Because under that original Constitution the government was funded with tariffs, duties and excise taxes, sales taxes, that you don't pay on your income. And since you don't pay them on your income, by the way, you don't get into this humiliating business of having these politicians arguing over how much of your own money you get to keep and you don't...

King: Do any of you favor excise taxes?

Keyes: Let me finish. You didn't interrupt their description of their plan, don't interrupt mine.

King: Yes, because they're owed so time and you're not. [laughter]

Keyes: One last question, because it's also true, though...

McCain: How surprising.

Keyes: ... it's also true, you don't have this humiliating business of politicians arguing over how much money you get to keep. And you are also put in a position finally where you control every last dollar of your own money and you have the first use of it. That's what we should be debating over...

King: We started the...

Keyes: ... they shouldn't have this control they're arguing about.

King: I started the tax cut with Senator McCain, this question will be for the governor.

The governor of Illinois, a supporter of yours, has stopped all executions in his state, discovering that people were freed for not doing the crime — they got out because of DNA.

Can we assume that that's a pretty good idea if DNA is proving people — a lot of people have been released from prison, from death-row, that you should curtail executions in Texas?

Bush: None.

King: No?

Bush: No. I've presided over executions in my state. I'm actually convinced that everybody who was convicted was guilty of the crime.

King: Are you...

Bush: Let me finish.

King: ... convinced that everybody on death-row now is guilty?

Bush: That we'll adjudicate those cases when they come up for...

King: But what if someone isn't?

Bush: Let me finish. If someone isn't, they should be put to death.

King: Well, but...

Bush: Let me finish. Let me finish. We've had a series of people executed in my state. These are people who were found guilty by a jury of their peers. These are people who have had full access to the courts of law. There's no doubt in my mind that each person who's been executed in our state was guilty of the crime committed.

I support the death penalty for this reason: When the death penalty is administered in a shift and sure and fair way, it will save lives. It will save lives.

King: Well, let's say an innocent is electrocuted.

Bush: No one has been executed...

King: But Illinois knows that...

Bush: Well, if that's the case, then that's fine for the governor to do what he did. You're asking — I'm the governor of Texas. I presided...

King: If you found...

Bush: ...over executions in my state.

King: If DNA got some people off Texas — off the death row...

Bush: Then we would examine every case on death row. But you're asking me...

King: If we...

Bush: You're asking me about the people who have been put to death in my state and this...

King: And you know they all did it.

Bush: Yes, absolutely.

King: How do you stand on this?

McCain: Oh, I think that the new technology of DNA would, I think, provoke a review, clearly, of cases that may be questionable, but I certainly wouldn't abandon the death penalty. But if there is evidence that maybe there is some controversy where a DNA, with this new technology, could help authenticate the fact that the person was guilty of the crime committed, there's nothing wrong with that.

But I think it's important that we recognize that the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for some crimes.

King: Do you agree?

Keyes: I think that's absolutely right.

King: Even though...

Keyes: I think in fact the death penalty is required if we're to show proper respect for life in the morality that we inculcate through the law.

The law has to be the first educator, and the death penalty is part of educating people that there's an absolute line you shouldn't cross.

King: All right, hopscotching to some other things, what do you think about racial profiling, Governor?

Bush: Against it.

King: And if you were president, you would sign that executive order that would...

Bush: I would work with state police authorities to make sure they don't racially profile.

McCain: Of course, of course, but let me point out now that we had some people come across our — or try to come across our border — that were terrorists. If you can specifically identify a suspect, and have the drawing that — the description then clearly, you will want to stop people that fit that description.

King: But you don't stop everyone with a turban or a...

McCain: But you don't stop — you don't stop everybody just for any reason. But let's be clear. The security of our borders was nearly violated a short time ago, and we have to be far more vigilant than we've been in the past.

King: Alan?

Keyes: I know everybody thinks that this doing some favor to a racial group, but if our police and enforcement people have the experience that a given crime is disproportionately being committed by folks from a given ethnic group, we are now going to pass a law that says you can't notice that?

I — I...

King: But they haven't done the crime yet.

Keyes: Excuse me, no, no. All I'm saying is we're going to pass a law and we're going to enforce a law that says that we can't notice the characteristics of individuals who commit crimes and develop profiles to help folks pursue the solving of crimes based on our experience.

Experience by the way is not prejudice. Prejudice is an opinion you form apart from experience, prior to experience. An opinion formed based on experience is not prejudice. It is judgment. And I think our law enforcement officers ought to be able to...

King: You wouldn't mind being stopped by a car if there was a high prevalence of...

Keyes: You know the person I would blame for that? If there are black folks out there disproportionately committing certain kinds of crime, my parents raised me to know that I represent the race in every thing I do. And I wish that everybody would take that attitude and stop committing crimes and doing things that bring a bad reputation on to people.

King: But if you were stopped...

Keyes: That's what I resent.

King: ... if you were stopped you wouldn't be angry?

Keyes: I just told you who I would be angry at.

Bush: We had — we had an advance man of mine, an Hispanic guy in the state — earlier primary state — I'm not going to tell you which one — who got stopped. And he got stopped because he was in the wrong part of town evidently. And I didn't appreciate that.

Now you know, this...

McCain: George is right. Some bad things have happened. They should be stopped.

King: All right. This conservative-liberal thing, are you saying John McCain is a liberal?

Bush: No, I'm not.

King: Well, you mentioned conservative lie, implying that he is not...

Bush: No, I'm not implying anything. John — John McCain can define his own positions, and I'll define mine.

King: Do you think he is a conservative?

Bush: Yes. I also think he's a fine man.

King: Why mention conservative in a race where everybody's conservative?

Bush: Because I'm more conservative on certain issues.

McCain: Because we all...[laughter]...we don't like to go around portraying ourselves as liberals. [laughter]

That's number one.

Bush: You see, let me say something about all this business. And you know — and I know, your taking umbrage of John, and arguing. But the truth of the matter is, what we're trying to do is to nominate somebody to end the Clinton era. That's exactly what we're in the process of doing. Our objective is to end the Clinton era in Washington, D.C. And that's what this primary is all about. And one of us is going to emerge. One of us is going to emerge.

And the objective has got to breathe some common sense and integrity into Washington, D.C. That's what the primary's all about.

Keyes: That is wonderful, you know.

King: No, let John go, so we can get squared on time. John.

McCain: I believe that...

King: By the way I call you by your first names. Forgive me, but I know you all so well, and so long, that sometimes it slips. I don't say Governor. I don't say Ambassador. I don't say Senator.

Bush: We won't hold it against you.

King: OK, thank you. [laughter]

McCain: Please call me Senator. [laughter]

Or Your Highness. Look, George Bush is a good man. Alan Keyes is a good man. We have some differences of opinion. This campaign spiraled down. I want the negativism out of it. The people of South Carolina deserve better than what they're getting, and we want to lift up America, and not tear down people.

But let me just say, I'm a proud conservative.

I believe that my two opponents are proud conservatives. But what this is really all about is articulation of a vision for the future of this country and how we'll lead it. No one knows what challenges we face, both foreign and domestic, as we go into the next century. And I think this campaign is all about vision.

King: Do you think you've been labeled liberal?

McCain: Well, I've been labeled everything except — I think they missed fascist. [laughter]

But this is — listen, ask observers, this is probably the nastiest campaign that people have seen in a long time. But look, I'm enjoying it. This is a great and exhilarating experience.

King: But you are...

Bush: John, you're...

McCain: I'm Luke Skywalker getting out of the Death Star.

Bush: John, if I look...[crosstalk]

John, hey John, one thing is...

McCain: I'm having a lot of fun this campaign. And I'm enjoying it very, very much.

Bush: Listen, you're playing the victim here. Wait a minute. Remember who called who untrustworthy.

McCain: You remember who made the first ad that said I was going to raise taxes by $40 billion, George.

Keyes: Can I make a substantive remark here? [laughter]

I would like — I would like...

Bush: Please do. Please do so.

Keyes: Excuse me. The rhetoric sounds good about ending the Clinton era and not — and let everybody be called conservative. But words have no meaning if you can apply those words to things so radically different that they have no similarities. So let's not disrespect the language.

And I find it hard to believe one is going to end the Clinton era by continuing his policies of "don't ask, don't tell" in the military, continuing his trade policies toward the World Trade Organization and China and so forth and so on, basically continuing federal domination of education, continuing the income tax system. We have folks calling themselves conservative all over the map who are just going to continue the same junk we get from the Clinton administration.

King: All right.

Keyes: What's the point of the label?

King: Does it annoy you that the president's performance rating is high? Character rating low, performance rating high.

Bush: It doesn't amaze me.

King: It doesn't.

Bush: I mean, it doesn't annoy me, it amazes me. It amazes me.

King: You mean because people think he's doing a good job amazes you.

Bush: Yes. It must be the Dow Jones industrial average. There's much more to life than the Dow Jones industrial average.

King: Two percent unemployment?

Bush: The Dow Jones industrial average is high, but there's a lot of people wondering whether or not the future in America belongs to them. Our failed schools are creating two societies in this country, and we better have a president to do something about it. And if you're suggesting I'm going to federalize the education system like you have, you don't know my plan, you just don't know my plan.

King: How do you explain — how do you explain the performance?

McCain: I explain it because we are in such incredibly prosperous economic times. But there are also polls that show, for example, 54 percent of the American people are suffering from, quote, "Clinton fatigue." And as fast and as far as the vice president wants to run away from him, there's an old saying that you might remember about Joe Louis said about Billy Cohn, and this is true about Al Gore: He can run, but he can't hide.

King: Do you — all of you, expect a tough race in November, is that correct? I mean...

Bush: Well, let me say one other thing about Clinton. There's not a lot of mothers and dads naming their sons Bill Clinton. [laughter]

King: All right, I want to — I want to — we've got about 10 minutes left...

McCain: Jefferson, perhaps. [laughter]

Bush: Yes.

King: We've got about 10 minutes left, and I'm going to give each of you a kind of minute and a half to wind things up. So in these final moments, just some hopscotching for topics around the world.

Mideast, Jerusalem, should it be the capital of Israel?

Bush: Yes.

King: Yes?

Keyes: I think we ought to recognize it, yes.

McCain: Immediately. And that'll make the peace process much simpler.

King: Simpler?

McCain: Sure. Because as soon as the Palestinians and others know exactly where that capital is, then it'll be off the table.

King: Should the United States be involved in trying to settle — not with arms — disputes?

Keyes: Yes, absolutely. We should show that leadership.

King: We should have been involved in Ireland and England and...

Keyes: I think it's part of the role we play, given our position in the world, yes. Where we can play it constructively, we ought to do it.

McCain: I give Senator George Mitchell and the Clinton administration credit for a fine job in Northern Ireland.

Not any place else in the world that I can think of. But sure we should.

And again, I want to point out that being made world's number one superpower has great luxuries, it also has great responsibilities and we have to understand those.

King: Will you...

Bush: Actually, unfortunately, the Mitchell effort was a good effort but it's falling apart and — but I think we ought to work to keep the peace. And the danger is is that a president who worries about his standing in the polls will try to impose an American solution. For example, in the Middle East, we can't have that. In order for there to be a real peace, both parties must agree to the terms, they must come to an agreement amongst themselves. And so, the role of the United States is to encourage and to mediate.

King: Are you saying that as president the polls won't matter?

Bush: They shouldn't matter. I mean, I'm talking about whether or not somebody, you know, is trying to earn a Nobel Peace Prize; and, therefore, take our friends and demand that our friends accept something that's unacceptable to their people. We can't be a — we can't dictate the terms of the peace and we must lead the process to achieve peace.

King: Does public opinion count?

McCain: As president of the United States, on a foreign policy issue, I will never take a poll. If in June of 1950, when North Korea attacked South Korea, if Harry Truman had taken a poll, we'd have never gone; that was an important chapter in our winning the Cold War.

I will never take a poll. In the most obscene chapter in recent American history is the conduct of the Kosovo conflict when the president of the United States refused to prepare for ground operations, refused to have air power used effectively because he wanted them flying — he had them flying at 15,000 feet where they killed innocent civilians because they were dropping bombs from such — in high altitude.

No, I will never, ever take a poll on a matter of national security.

Keyes: Well, I don't take polls in politics now, so I certainly wouldn't be taking polls in foreign policy. But I would say this, though. I hope that by that, you don't mean to imply that the president doesn't have a responsibility to develop a sound base of political support in this country for his foreign policy.

In Vietnam, we learned the horrid results that occur when you don't have that kind of presidential leadership.

So polls, no polls — you do have a responsibility to represent the American people, and to persuade them of what you are doing in foreign policy, and not to commit them to war unless they support you in it.

King: We discussed the nuclear question earlier. Are any of you in favor of reduction of nuclear arms?

Bush: Not yet.

King: No?

Bush: I want to make sure the Russians comply with SALT.

McCain: No, because we need to continue the triad. Before we break one of those legs, we'd better be pretty sure that they're not necessary. But we do need to pursue weapons — we do need to pursue ballistic defense systems.

And I want to say, I'm going to call some admirals and generals over, and some civilian secretaries over to the White House, and knock some heads together. We need more progress on this missile defense system.

Bush: Well, it's a failure of leadership in the Clinton administration. They just don't want to put something in place.

King: Tax the Internet?

Bush: I think we need to keep a moratorium in place. We don't know what the world is going to look like three to five years from now. And I think we ought to keep the moratorium in place.

Keyes: I'd keep the moratorium in place for a while. But I also would forewarn people that commerce on the Internet — once the whole thing gets established, and you have the infrastructure and base for it, is going to be taxed. I think it's unfair to lie to folks about that, because eventually, as enough commerce moves into that arena, don't tell me the politicians will resist it, because they won't.

McCain: As president of the United States, I will veto any bill that crosses my desk that reinstitutes the sales tax.

We've got to make it permanent so these people that are making huge and massive investments in the Internet will have the confidence that it won't be taxed.

Look we can't choke this baby in the cradle. I don't care about these governors. We're talking about the engine of America's...[laughter]...economy. And they ought to understand that. They're running surpluses. They ought to get their greedy hands off it so that American economy can grow and develop as it should...

Bush: Are you suggesting that governors are greedy? [laughter]

Keyes: It's the not the governors. The governors are speaking for a lot of people out there, working in the non-virtual marketplace who are going to look at it awfully strangely that they're operating a little store in their town and they're going to be taxed, but somebody who goes out to the Internet, once it is established, isn't going to be taxed. I see no grounds for it.

King: Do you...

Keyes: Once it is established we should treat it like any other business.

Bush: There should be no access tax on the Internet — there should be no federal tax on the Internet...

McCain: No state tax...

Bush: Wait a minute. What we need to do is make sure we understand before we say something like that, that we know where the world is headed. We're just learning and that's why the moratorium is important...

McCain: We've learned enough...

King: We're close on time. Do you — do you gentlemen think that inherently that any American is entitled to get a prescription?

Bush: Inherently any American is entitled?

King: Yes, in other words that — entitled. In other words, if someone needs a drug...

Bush: Inherently, what our elderly need is a modern Medicare plan that will provide prescription drug benefits, just like federal employees get.

King: Does everybody — in other words, do you feel everybody who needs a prescription should get it?

Bush: Do I feel that health care ought to be affordable and accessible? Yes, I do. But it's not going to be affordable and accessible if we have an Al Gore or a Bill Clinton try to nationalize health care.

Keyes: I think you have to be very careful because if you say that, then that means that somebody else, whether they're paid or not, is obliged to provide that prescription drug.

King: Yes, but you don't want to let someone die.

Keyes: Excuse me. Excuse me, but that's slave labor, sir. I think we need a market-oriented system that is going to provide access and benefits to all. And that's what I would work to achieve.

McCain: Every American should have access to health insurance. But we've got a big problem in America right now, and that's seniors who can't afford prescription drugs. And we've got to address that right now. And if it requires a government program, then I'll support a government program to do that.

King: What's going to happen Saturday in Carolina?

Bush: Right here?

Keyes: We're going to have an election. [laughter]

King: No, I mean, are you going to win?

Bush: Yes, I am going to win. And the reason why is because the people have heard my message. That I'm coming with a message of — as a reformer who's gotten positive results in education, in welfare, in business growth.

King: Alan, how're you going to do?

Keyes: It's in God's hands. I have no...[laughter]

King: If he turns you down, do you get mad at him?

Keyes: God doesn't turn you down. He just does the right thing in his way instead of yours.

King: Senator McCain?

McCain: We're going to do just fine. I think, we're going to do just fine.

King: What does that mean?

McCain: I think we're probably going to win. I think it's going to be close.

But really, you know, when you talk about reform, the key to reform is getting the government out of the hands of the special interests. And you've got to have a real campaign finance reform plan, not one that leaves a $1 billion loophole.

King: We have exactly three and a half minutes left. A minute each. Alan, anything you want to say?

Keyes: Well, I think it's just very important that Republicans go to the polls and vote their heart and conscience. I've been hearing from too many people that they think I say the right things, I represent the right vision for the country, it is the way we ought to go, we need to restore our moral priorities, our allegiance to the principle that our rights come from God and must be exercised with respect for the authority of God, reclaim our liberties, abolish the income tax, get school choice in place in a comprehensive way. And now I ask, You going to vote for me? No.

You never get what you want if you don't vote for what you believe in. If you don't have the guts to vote your conscience, then this country will never get back on the right track.

King: Governor Bush?

Bush: Well, I want to thank all my friends here in South Carolina. There have been a lot of folks who have worked hard on my behalf. They've heard my message that if you're sick and tired of the gridlock in Washington, let's bring a leader into Washington, D.C. If your tired of this business about pitting one group of people against another, why don't we have a uniter, not a divider as a leader? If you want somebody who's going to have an agenda that is positive and hopeful and optimistic; a growth agenda for our economy, a peace agenda for the world, an education agenda that refuses to leave children behind, they're hearing that call. They're saying, We want Government Bush.

And so I want to thank the people of this state and I want to ask for the vote. I want you to go out to the polls on my behalf on Saturday and vote for me. And if you're for me, take some friends and neighbors with you. [laughter]

King: Senator McCain?

McCain: I want to thank the people of South Carolina for their wonderful and warm reception, and friendships that we have made here — the town hall meetings, the trips all around the state have been truly marvelous.

I want to reform the government, obviously. I want to reform education, the military, health care. I can't do that unless we get the government out of the hands of the special interests. Some have come lately to the reform agenda. I've been there for years, and I've been fighting it and we'll win as we've won on other reform issues.

But most of all, I'd like to end up by recounting a story that happened at my 100th town hall meeting in New Hampshire. A lady stood up and she looked me in the eye and she didn't have a question. She said, Senator McCain, it's vitally important to me that the next president of the United States always tell me the truth. I promise you as president of the United States, based on my life, my principles and the caution of my old dear friends, I will always tell you the truth, no matter what.

King: You'd take the same oath?

Bush: Absolutely.

Keyes: Of course.

King: We want to thank everyone here. The South Carolina Business and Industry Political Education Committee, BIPEC, for putting this thing together in extraordinary circumstances. We want to thank Senator McCain and Ambassador Keyes and Governor Bush. Want to thank Seawell's Banquet Center here in Columbia. Want to urge you to vote on Saturday if you live in South Carolina. There are two big primaries coming next week too: Michigan and Arizona. Please vote there.

Also stay tuned as Jeff Greenfield will moderate a panel following this debate about this debate.

From Columbia, South Carolina, for all the folks here in the room, for our candidates, thank you very much for joining us. I'm Larry King. Good night. [applause]

APP Acknowledgement: Debate transcript source provided by David Casalaspi.

Presidential Candidate Debates, Republican Presidential Candidates Debate in Columbia, South Carolina Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/305689

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