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Sen. Gore Scores White House on Bush Tax-Pledge Flip-Flop

By Sam Fulwood III
Los Angeles Times

LEXINGTON, Ky.

Seizing an opportunity to score points off an apparent Bush administration flip-flop, Democratic vice presidential nominee Al Gore Jr. Thursday ripped into White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater's apparent softening of his boss's promise to never raise taxes.

While campaigning in New Jersey Wednesday, Bush said that he had learned his lesson and vowed he would "never, ever, ever" raise taxes again. The White House, however, dispatched Fitzwater Thursday to make clear that the statement was not a revisiting of his 1988 "read my lips, no new taxes" promise.

"It wasn't a pledge," Fitzwater told reporters at the White House. "It was within the context of the mistake we made before on the budget."

But in Gore's interpretation, Bush was leaving room for himself to raise taxes, and that provided enough of a political opening for Gore to unleash a torrent of sarcasm.

"Well, it sounds to me as if Marlin Fitzwater has learned to be a lip reader," Gore told reporters following him as he campaigned here. "We are now greatly in debt to Mr. Fitzwater for interpreting the president's comments.

"President Bush has said repeatedly that the principal (campaign) issue is whether or not he can be trusted," Gore said. "We now know that even when he bangs his fist on the table and sets his jaw and says with a very determined look that he will never, ever, ever do something, he doesn't really mean it.

"We will have to wait for the interpretation from his official spokesman after he's checked with his handlers to get the truth of what he's really trying to say," Gore added. "Maybe next time he will say `cross my fingers and hope Quayle succeeds me.'

"I want to thank Mr. Fitzwater for being such a good lip reader and interpreting the president's comments because otherwise the nation might have been fooled into believing the president meant what he said."

Gore was in Kentucky to meet with a panel of families who had risked losing their jobs by taking time off to care for an ill or injured family member. Later in the day, Gore journeyed to Durham, N.C., where he met with 10 families with critically ill children at the Ronald McDonald House.

Both of those photo-perfect settings were intended to dramatize the Democratic ticket's support for family leave legislation, which passed the House Thursday. The Senate has already passed a similar bill and Bush has threatened to veto the legislation.

Gore repeated a challenge he first issued to Bush on Wednesday night during a broadcast of CNN's "Larry King Live" show for the administration to support the family leave legislation in the spirit of supporting family values.

When asked about business opposition to the legislation, Gore said that families should come first. "Now you talk about the hardship that would be faced by an employer," he said. "What about the hardship faced by families? We have to make a choice as a country."