Archive: Mark Knoller

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Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante is the host of's Smoke-Filled Room. Each week, Bill invites a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room to answer your questions. This week Bill has been joined by some of his CBS News colleagues in special daily election editions of SFR. Today's guest is his White House co-worker Correspondent Mark Knoller.

Plante: "Ralph Nader has been making inroads with Democratic voters, and therefore has been getting a lot of pressure to drop out of the race. So far he has refused," notes our first viewer, S.M. "Do you think he will drop out at the last minute and ask his supporters to vote for Al Gore? Why or why not?"

Knoller: I believe Ralph Nader when he says he has no intention of dropping out at the last minute. He feels his candidacy offers American voters a choice and he ridicules Bush and Gore and being beholden to the same corporate special interests he’s running to contain. If his candidacy means Gore loses, Nader says: so be it. Also, he has no love lost for either Bush or Gore because they went along with the system that locked him out of their three presidential debates.

Plante: Tom writes, "Both Al Gore and George W. Bush have military experience, albeit limited with Gore being a journalist, and Bush serving in the reserves. How important is having a military background to serving as President and Commander in Chief?"

Knoller: Like any other experience, the more you know, the better you do your job. But I'm not sure that Al Gore's experience as a military journalist during the Vietnam war - or Bush's experience in the Texas Air National Guard - will prove of much value in making the war and peace decisions they would face if elected. It doesn't seem that Jimmy Carter's naval experience proved of much value in his handling of the Iran hostage crisis.

Plante: "If the Republicans hold their majorities in the Senate and the House, and the Democrats win the presidency do you think there will be the same gridlock between the White House and the Hill that exists now? Would Al Gore be better able to broker compromises that Bill Clinton has not been able to? And, if the situation was reversed - Democrats taking over the Hill and Bush winning - what would happen?" Phil is curious.

Knoller: Much too much is made of Washington gridlock. That's just another way of describing the very "checks and balances" that the founding fathers wanted. They were wary of a president and congress of the same party inflicting too much government on the American people. Gridlock protects Americans from just that. And, the important stuff that government has to do, usually gets done, gridlock notwithstanding.

Plante: Lynn asks, "How can there be a budget surplus when there's a huge trade deficior is this comparing apples and oranges? Where is all the money coming from that will fund Bush's and Gore's proposals?"

Knoller: The federal government has produced a surplus in each of the last three fiscal years. What's important to remember is that the National Debt still stands at nearly $1.5 trillion dollars. Adopting Bill Clinton's approach, Al Gore says his program would "pay down" the National Debt. Bush thinks American taxpayers should get a tax cut since the government's getting more revenue than it needs at the moment to match expenses. And where does all the money come from: FROM YOU!!! 48% from federal income taxes; 34% from social security taxes, 10% from corporate income taxes and the remainder from excise taxes and user fees.

Plante: And finally, many viewers have written in to say they are upset with candidates returning money to Arab contributors. They say they are worried that a Gore/Lieberman ticket would ignore their interests in favor of Israel's. Is this a concern for Al Gore? George Bush?

Knoller: All American presidents have recognized that US interests in the Middle East are best served when America has a good relationship with both Israel and its Arab neighbors. Certainly Israel is America's closest ally in the Middle East, but the U.S. has a friendly relationship with Egypt and Jordan. The U.S. went to war to protect Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. And America is reaching out to Syria and even Iran. What the U.S. wants in the Middle East is stability and an absence of conflict. Gore and Bush's foreign policy advisors would pursue very similar policies along these same lines - with some variations in the degree of activism.

About Bill Plante
Bill Plante is a three-time Emmy Award winner who joined the CBS News Washington Bureau in 1976. He has been covering national elections since 1968. In 1984, he was part of a CBS News teamthat captured an Emmy for coverage of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. Plante is one of the most knowledgeable and respected political correspondents in Washington. (He'll do just about anything, including bungee jumping, to get a good story.)