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Cheney defends voting record, blasts Clinton on talk-show circuit

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney vigorously defended his conservative voting record on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit, but acknowledged that he "might find a couple" of votes he would change if still a member of Congress.

Cheney capped off the long week in which he was chosen as Texas Gov. George W. Bush's running mate with a string of appearances on all five major network talk shows.

The one-time defense secretary and former White House chief of staff also lambasted President Clinton as a "flawed" and "tragic figure" who has failed to live up to the post-Watergate standards he said were established by Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, his former boss.

He declined to extend that characterization to Vice President Al Gore during an interview with CNN's Late Edition, but said that the public is keenly aware that the Democratic presidential hopeful "represents the Clinton-Gore" years and, "I think the American people have had a bellyful of that."

However, Cheney devoted most of his television airtime defending himself against Democratic critiques of his voting record during his tenure as a six-term congressman from Wyoming during the late 1970s and 1980s --- charges he dismissed as "hogwash."

"The fact of the matter is, if there's anybody focused on the past, it's the Democrats. They've had eight years and they haven't dealt with the key problems," Cheney told CNN, heralding GOP plans to reform Social Security and education.

McCain defends Cheney

But Cheney has come under increasingly heavy fire for a number of conservative stances against popular gun control measures, funding for the federal Head Start pre-school program, and the Equal Rights Amendment for women.

Cheney defended two of his most controversial votes on the gun issue -- opposition to provisions banning armor-piercing "cop-killer" bullets and easy-to-smuggle plastic weapons -- mainly on legislative procedural grounds.

"In both of these cases, these measures came up under suspended rules" which allow for no amendments, Cheney said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "I had very strong feelings, and still do under the Second Amendment" concerning the right to keep and bear arms.

On CBS' "Face the Nation," he said he would "happy to entertain" the idea of changing his position on both measures, which he stringently opposed in 1985. "If a clean vote, I would authorize money to ban cop-killer bullets and weapons," he said.

Arizona Sen. John McCain also came to Cheney's defense during his appearance on the CBS program, arguing that the Wyoming congressman's votes came at a time when Republicans were a "beleaguered minority" frustrated by the Democratic leadership in the House.

"Sometimes, we cast votes in anger at the process," McCain said. "We felt shut out at not being able to amend or make our own proposals."

Democrats take aim with TV ads

Cheney defended his staunch anti-abortion voting record, but showed signs of moderating his position to coincide with Bush's stance allowing for exceptions in instances of rape, incest, or when a woman's life is in danger.

Cheney acknowledged that support for an amendment banning abortion is extremely unlikely, but said that both he and Bush would work together to oppose a type of late-term procedure that opponents refer to as "partial birth" abortion, and develop an agenda "to try to reduce the incidence of abortion."

Another controversial vote was Cheney's stance against a non-binding 1986 House resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa, and recognition of his political organization formed to fight apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC).

Cheney said he was one of 180 House members to vote against the resolution because the ANC "at the time was viewed as a terrorist organization and had a number of interests that were fundamentally inimical to the United States."

He said that Democratic attempts to characterize his entire public service record around the Mandela vote was a prime example of why American voters "think people back here (in Washington) are basically irrelevant ... never dealing with an issue that has anything to do with the future of this country."

The Democratic National Committee is set to being airing ads in 15 states Sunday reminding voters of Cheney's conservative legislative record on Head Start and his opposition to the Clean Water Act.

"I hope the Democrats spend the next three months going after my voting record, I'll be happy to defend it," Cheney challenged. "But in the meantime, we're going to talk about the future of the country, and we're going to win the election."

Cheney also discussed President Clinton's legacy during his talk show appearances, telling Foxs News Sunday, "I'm one of those people who thinks that Clinton is an embarrassment for the most part."

He said that he believed that Clinton lied under oath during testimony in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but added he lacks the legal expertise to comment on whether or not Clinton should be disbarred by the state of Arkansas.

"He's a man of considerable intellect, great interpersonal political skills and yet flawed, in some respects," Cheney told NBC's "Meet the Press," referring to Clinton, and the sex scandal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.