President Clinton Thursday criticized Gov. George W. Bush, saying if he is elected president, he would appoint Supreme Court justices bent on repealing abortion rights, turn the environment over to polluters and pursue “troublesome” nuclear-arms policies.
“If Governor Bush gets elected, he’ll appoint judges more like the ones appointed by the previous Reagan and Bush administrations,” Mr. Clinton told interviewer Diane Rehm of National Public Radio (NPR).
“And if they get two to four appointments on the Supreme Court, I think Roe vs. Wade will be repealed,” he said.
Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said the president is “moving from his role of commander in chief to his role as campaign manager in chief.”
Mr. Clinton’s harshest attack to date comes as two new polls showed the Texas governor has erased the “gender gap” and drawn even with Vice President Al Gore among women.
Nationally, Mr. Bush leads Mr. Gore 48 percent to 42 percent in the bipartisan Battleground poll. The poll showed that Mr. Bush leads among women by four points. Mr. Clinton won among women by 16 points in 1996.
In a Los Angeles Times poll, Mr. Bush leads nationally by 51 percent to 43 percent. He leads 48 percent to 46 percent among women and is ahead 14 points among married women.
The Bush campaign responded to the Clinton charge that he would appoint only pro-life supporters to the Supreme Court by saying the governor has no “litmus test.” Mr. Bush also does not want to change the anti-abortion plank in the Republican platform, which calls for a constitutional amendment to ban abortions.
“The governor has made it clear he will appoint strict constructionists,” people who will interpret the law, but who “will not make law from the bench,” Mr. McClellan said.
In his comments on NPR, Mr. Clinton also said if Mr. Bush wins, “he will do what he did in Texas he will let the people who basically are the primary polluters control environmental policy.”
Mr. Clinton said that Mr. Gore, as president, would “try to grow the economy and keep cleaning up the environment.”
The Gore campaign claims Texas home to a concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants spews more toxic chemicals into the environment than any other state.
Texas ranks fifth among the states in overall toxic emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
But the Bush campaign says Texas ranks second among the states in reducing toxic pollutants since 1992 and cut them by 14 percent between 1995 and 1997. “Texas is leading the nation in reducing toxics and industrial emissions,” Mr. McClellan said.
Mr. Clinton also criticized Mr. Bush for his opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and for the scope of the missile defense system Mr. Bush would back.
“He says that he wants to build a much bigger missile defense system than the evidence warrants right now it may support it later no matter what the consequences are to the efforts we’re making to reduce the nuclear weapons threat around the world,” Mr. Clinton said.
“So I think that that gives me some pause. I think that’s troublesome. Because it could cause the country a lot of trouble in the next four or five years.”
Mr. Bush’s campaign responded by saying the Clinton-Gore administration could learn a few things from the governor.
“It’s cause for concern that the president and the vice president do not agree with this high priority. [Mr. Bush] believes it’s important to protect our country and our citizens” from missile launches by rogue nations.
On taxes, Mr. Clinton said Mr. Bush would seek “a tax cut much bigger than the one I vetoed before, defense increases bigger than the ones that I proposed, and vouchers for our schools.”
If that happens, Mr. Clinton said, “we’ll basically be back to the Reagan-Bush economic philosophy, which is cut the revenues of the government, even if it means going back to deficits and higher interest rates. And it will mean that we won’t have much money left over to invest in education or the environment or health care.”
Mr. Clinton, who plans to write a book about his presidency, sounded a bitter tone in reflecting on the partisan battles of his tenure.
The president charged that he faced “more partisan opposition than at any time in history,” and he accused Republicans in Congress of holding a vendetta.
“I think some Republicans thought that the Democratic majority in Congress had been too hard on their presidents, and so they thought it was payback time,” Mr. Clinton said.
Mr. Clinton charged that Republicans in Congress “resented the fact that they didn’t have the White House. They thought that they owned the White House, and they thought they had found a formula that would always keep Democrats out of the White House.
“They would say we couldn’t be trusted on the economy and foreign policy and national defense and welfare and crime, and we were going to tax people to death, and all the things they always said. And when it didn’t work, I think they were very angry.”
Republicans “decided that they would oppose me at every turn and in every way,” Mr. Clinton said. “It was about power.”