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Mr. Bush Goes to Washington

Aired December 18, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Mr. Bush goes to Washington. How did he get along with this man? Did he convince these guys to pass his big tax cut? And did he find a good woman or man to serve in his cabinet?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the CROSSFIRE, in New York, Republican Congressman Vito Fossella; and in Boston, Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Harry Truman said, if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. But George Bush took chance, left his dog Spot home and came looking for friends, any way; still trying to sell across the board tax cut. Looks like it may be an uphill fight. Alan Greenspan, Bush's first stop, in the past voiced reservations about that tax cut, saying the national debt should be paid down first. Republican leaders Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert, Bush's next stop, joined Democrats Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle in urging caution, saying, take it one step at a time.

After that, Bush spent the rest of the day interviewing potential cabinet members, while the future and present first ladies met for tea at the White House. Tomorrow, it's Bush's turn to size up the Oval Office, sitting down with President Clinton. And then it's off for his long delayed meeting with Vice President Gore. So will this round of good feelings produce good results for Bush or are he and his tax cut in for some tough sledding?

Two members of Congress debate his prospects tonight and joining, as guest host on the right, back from a long postelection vacation, Mike Murphy, Republican political consultant extraordinare. Mike, good to have you here.

MIKE MURPHY, GUEST CO-HOST: Good to be here, Bill.

PRESS: We'll be back -- we'll get to you in just a second, but let me go right to Congressman Fossella. Congressman, Dick Cheney and George Bush today -- in their meetings -- both putting a great face on it. They were saying, that our across board tax cut -- we're not backing up an inch. We are going in full boar, and we're going to get it. You're a realist, Congressman Fossella. That tax cut man is dead on arrival, isn't it?

REP. VITO FOSSELLA, (R), NEW YORK: I hope not. I think George Bush did the right thing in sticking to guns. He based his campaign -- the centerpiece of his campaign for presidency was across the board tax cuts. The American people obviously liked what they saw and his plan for a pro-growth tax cut policy and I hope he sticks to his guns and carries forward.

And I think, if anything, as there some indications that the economy may be slowing down. Many folks who have opposed tax cuts in the past, have done so because they said that time was surplus -- we don't want to overheat the economy. Well, now, if there are signs that the economy may be slowing down, I don't think there any time like the present to promise -- deliver what you promised to the American people. Propose, at a minimum the tax cut that you ran on, and hope members of Congress, the Democrats and the Republicans, support the tax-cut plan. I for one will support it.

PRESS: Well, Congressman, he is the president-elect, but there also are some other powerful forces in Washington. As I mentioned earlier, Alan Greenspan says, at this time, the tax-cut plan is not a good idea. Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert have both said, we ought to take things one step at a time, no great big enchilada, and Senator Grassley, the Republican Chairman of the Finance Committee, today said, that George Bush better be ready to settle for less, because he ain't going to get it. Where's the support coming from? It's not there.

FOSSELLA: Right here.


You know, I think there are a lot of Americans who understand they are paying a little bit too much in taxes. Again, the results speak for themselves. George Bush is the president-elect, in part because of his tax-cut plan. And I think, you know, in being president-elect in just about a week's time -- give the guy the opportunity to state his case, to come before Congress, to take it directly to the American people.

And he may not, at the end of the day, get all he wants, but I think he'd be doing a disservice. Bill, you are a man of principle. I think that you would not hold George W. Bush in the highest regard if he didn't stick to his principle and come forward what he ran on, I'd think you would think he's less of a man.

PRESS: I'm also a realist. Go ahead, Mike.

MURPHY: Congressman Meehan, I'm going to try to decode the twists and turns a Democrat talk on taxes here and you can probably help me out. When the economy has been good, Democrats always say, we can't afford a tax cut. A tax cut is a bad idea. But now, with heating oil prices going up, stock market going on, more layoffs being announced, and a lot of people being worried about the economy, shouldn't a tax cut -- a real one, not a phony targeted one, be done to stimulate the economy. If you don't like tax cuts because the economy is good, doesn't the threat of recession now make it a case for tax cuts?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, certainly, we should have a tax cut and I think that's one thing that Democrats and Republicans agree on. In fact, we should eliminate the marriage penalty. We should do something about the estate tax. I think there is a broad bipartisan support for a tax cut. What's also important here, and one of the reasons Bill Clinton was so successful in terms of the economy over the last eight years, is he listened to Alan Greenspan and the fact is, we also have to make sure that we reduce the national debt.

Twelve cents of every tax dollar goes to interest on the national debt. We need to reduce that at the same time. The other point that I would make here, Mike, is the fact that most of the tax cut as proposed -- the $1.3 trillion tax cut, as proposed by Governor Bush is backloaded -- it's in the second part of the decade. If we really need an economic stimulus, which I agree with you -- we do, then lets front load some of these tax cuts.

MURPHY: But does that mean you are arguing for a bigger net tax cut now, in terms of exhilerate (ph) the size of it? Because most Democrats say...

(CROSSTALK) code for small tax cut now. Are you saying bigger is good because...

MEEHAN: I'm not sure -- well, first of all, I'm not sure that a $500 or $600 billion tax cut is a small tax cut. What I'm simply pointing out is that if you say we need an economic stimulus, which I think, most people agree, a stimulus wouldn't be a bad thing, then why is this $1.3 trillion tax cut back loaded in year five, six, seven, eight, nine -- that's where the major tax cuts would come into effect.

What I'm saying is, this is time for bipartisanship. Basically, we've had an election that came down right down the middle. I think what the American people want is Democrats and Republicans to work together, have a substantial tax cut, but also pay down the national debt, and that -- the president-elect needs to listen to Alan Greenspan on that issue.

PRESS: Congressman Fossella, we used to have a U.S. Senator from California by the name of Sam (ph). He was asked once whether or not the United States should give back the Panama Canal and his answer was no, we stole it fair and square. Some people think the same question and the same answer may apply to how George Bush won the presidency. I want to give you two indications, here, of both sides of this issue.

First of all, Minority Leader in the House Dick Gephardt, today, finally agreed to use the 'l' word in talking about George W. Bush. Let's listen to Mr. Gephardt first.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: January 20, not too many steps from here, he's going to be sworn in as the next president of the United States. I'm don't know how you can get more legitimate than that.


PRESS: At the same time, Congressman, The Economist, hardly a liberal magazine, came out today with this cover: "George W. Bush, The Accidental President." Isn't there always going to be a cloud, a shadow over this man's presidency, Congressman?

FOSSELLA: Not in my mind; perhaps in some minds, but the reality is in this country we have elections and there are winners and losers. In this case, today, as a matter of fact, George W. Bush will be the next President of the United States. And I think for all those who want to question the legitimacy, I think they'll feel free to do so, but right now, I think, the president-elect has made it clear what he wants to do. He wants to cut taxes, he wants to improve education, he wants to strengthen social security Medicare, and build up our national defense and employ -- ultimately employ a missile defense system to protect our nation. I would encourage anybody who wants to, to jump on board and do what's in the best interest of our country.

And, if I might -- just go back to what you talked about with Alan Greenspan. If I'm not mistaken, I think Mr. Greenspan, yes, would prefer debt reduction but not -- he would not prefer increased spending. I think what you are starting to see is a movement to increase spending and there seems to be a thought process that if people in Washington spend your money, it's wise, but if the American people who work hard -- five, six, seven days a week, spend their own money, it's unwise or reckless or it's not prudent.

Now, I happen to side with the American people and let's cut their taxes now. That's what George Bush ran on. I would hope he would follow through on that commitment.

PRESS: All right, but I want come back to this question of legitimacy because today, while the electoral college is making it official that George W. Bush is the president, down in Broward County, Florida -- remember Broward County -- guess what they were doing? They were counting the ballots. The Miami herald, Associated Press and the Washington Post have all been given access to all of the ballots now in Florida. They are going to count them all by two different standards and Congressman, you know as well as I, within a couple of weeks, we're going to know that Al Gore won Florida. And then you're going to have George Bush -- he didn't win the electoral vote and he didn't win the popular vote. Again, how do you deal with an impostor as a president FOSSELLA: Goodness gracious. I don't think that's the case at all and, you know, folks can feel free to count. If it's too hot in Broward County that they're counting again, so be it, but I think, what most Americans can appreciate at this point, not all, obviously, but most, we now have a president. The campaign, the election is over. Lets get back to business. And for all those who say they want to work in a bipartisan way, I say come on board, we have a new president, we have a new Congress. Let's do what's in the interests of the country. If "The Miami Herald" wants to sponsor a recount, two counts, five counts, 25 counts, let them do it. But it's not going to change one thing as far as I'm concerned, and I think most Americans would agree with it.

MURPHY: Congressman Meehan, to follow up on that point, don't you think it's time now, in the interest of the presidency, to get the hotheads in the Democratic Party to basically sit down and shut up? And regardless of what kind of electron microscope recount we get, isn't it time to get behind the president, accept the fact that George W. Bush is president-elect?

MEEHAN: Well, I think it is time to accept the fact that he's going be to be sworn into office, and I think Democrats should work with the president-elect in a bipartisan way. And one of the first things that we could do is pass campaign finance reform. Senator McCain has been working hard with Democratic and Republican senators in the Senate. I've been working with Chris Shays, Republican from Connecticut. Let's pass campaign finance reform, send it over to President-elect bush and have him sign that bill.

And there are a number of other things we can work in a bipartisan way: a patients' bill of rights, a real patients' bill of rights, prescription drug coverage for seniors as part of the Medicare program.

I think we have an enormous opportunity to get a lot of things done in a bipartisan way. President-elect Bush is being left with the largest surplus in history. There are a lot of great things we can do.

PRESS: All right, we're going to take a break right there. We don't want too much bipartisanship. We'll be out of business then.

By the way, both of our members of Congress, in the spirit of bipartisanship, have agreed to stay around and be in our chat room tonight tonight, Congressman Meehan and Congressman Fossella right after the show at

And when we come back, we're going to ask who's really going to be in charge in this new administration, George Bush, Dick Cheney or Colin Powell?


MURPHY: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Mike Murphy, sitting in on the right.

The electors made it official a few hours ago. It's Liberation Day. Mr. Bush is coming to Washington, and we're talking about that and what it will mean with Republican Congressman Vito Fossella of New York and Democratic Congressman Marty Meehan of Massachusetts.

Congressman Meehan, I applaud what you've been saying about bipartisanship on the show today, but a lot of the henchmen of your party have been acting pretty aggressively, And so I've got to ask a cynical question -- maybe I've been in Washington too long -- which is this, isn't the Democrat plan to pretty much torpedo George W. Bush and try to clean up in the midterm elections? I'll give you an acid test here: Can you name one major Bush campaign position that your leadership will endorse and walk away from the Al Gore blueprint? One thing that you will you not just parrot the old Al Gore position but actually move and endorse the Bush position, just one?

MEEHAN: Well, look, I'm willing to compromise on tax issues and on some of the others issue that we believe in. Frankly, I don't think we're that far apart. The key for Governor Bush is going to be to make sure that he doesn't get sucked in by the right wing of his party. That is really the most important thing, because effective presidents always govern to the center. So if he can resist that, I think there's room for compromise on this. I don't recall seeing very many henchmen on this. I think most Democrats are embracing the new president and saying, let's go to work. Let's roll up our sleeves. So that's a challenge that awaits us.

MURPHY: It looked to me like Dick Gephardt got kind of dragged kicking and screaming to back off what he said about legitimacy, but I'll take it in a bipartisan spirit.

Here's another question...

MEEHAN: Well you know what, though, Mike? I'll take...

MURPHY: ... education reform, a new question...

MEEHAN: I'll take his press conference today at his word. I thought he did a nice job today.

MURPHY: I will, too.

Here's one for you. What about this? Education reform, big issue, Joe Lieberman clearly the Democratic hero of the year. I like him a lot because before he kind of got that Al Gore mandatory Kool- Aid, he was for vouchers, for the kind of education reform Bush is for. Would you support Joe Lieberman as Bush's secretary of Education in the Cabinet? Not a bad idea.

MEEHAN: Yes, I would. I think that would be a great appointment.

Look, I think that when you win an election basically the way George Bush has won this, I think it's very important that he reach out to Democrats and put them in the Cabinet. And Joe Lieberman would be a great choice. I don't know, maybe you can send that on over to the transition team. But, no, I think he ought to look at Democrats right across the board. And I think that's the only way this administration is going to get off to a successful start.

PRESS: Congressman Fossella, I'll give you an equal acid test. Editorial page of "The Wall Street Journal" today, Fred Barnes of "The Weekly Standard" suggests Treasury Secretary Bill Bradley. I mean, you want a Democrat, take a high-profile Democrat, not some Democrat nobody ever heard of. What about Bill Bradley for Treasury secretary, does he have your vote?

FOSSELLA: I don't vote on it, Bill, but...

PRESS: How about your support?

FOSSELLA: I think Bill Bradley is a wonderful man. However, I don't think he will survive what -- and be the next appointee. I think what George Bush should be looking for is someone who shares his basic philosophical view on the role of government, tax policy and right now George Bush primary cornerstone, if you will, this tax plan, is across-the-board rate cuts, which means that we believe in the American people. We provide incentives and opportunities and allow the American people to save and to invest and to create and to build and to grow our economy.

I do not believe that at the end of the day Bill Bradley would support that. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I think for us to start selecting the Cabinet from afar is wrong.

George Bush -- let's be clear, he's made some terrific choices right out of the gate. Nobody can argue with the choices he's made...

MEEHAN: Vito, I can't...

FOSSELLA: ... Unless Marty Meehan wants to be attorney general, I refrain from...


PRESS: Go ahead, Congressman...

MEEHAN: Vito, I can't think of a better place to decide the Cabinet than right here on "CROSSFIRE." I think...

PRESS: There you go.

All right, I'm glad to see that bipartisan only goes so far, Congressman Fossella.

But now I want to shift gears here a little bit and get back to this question about who's really running the show.

You know, I know that next to CROSSFIRE your favorite television show is "Saturday Night Live," and they did a little schtick Saturday night that when Al Gore and George Bush finally met, they met at Chi Chi's restaurant. And, of course, they were trying to figure out who really was going to be the president.

Just listen to a little bit of -- here's "Saturday Night Live," just for laughs.


WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: You're not the president, right? DARRELL HAMMOND, ACTOR: No, you are, George. Don't worry, no more lawyers.

FERRELL: Than it's official. I'm the president. This is going to be cool. Hey, maybe I'll start a war. Wars are like executions super-sized.

Did you ever start a war?

HAMMOND: No, George, I never did it.

FERRELL: I hope I can do it. That Dick Cheney's going to be one tough boss.


PRESS: Dick Cheney, one tough boss. When you see Colin Powell, when you see Dick Cheney and you see these heavyweights, doesn't it really make you want to know, who is really going to be in charge here?

FOSSELLA: No, but it makes for some nice humor. And by the way, the cartoon -- I have two boys, 5 and 3 -- so the Cartoon Network is my favorite show, even more than CROSSFIRE, Bill, I must say.

But, however, having said that, I think that the bottom line here, and we all know this, that George Bush is in charge. He's a good administrator. he's proven that as governor of Texas. He has a great team in place -- Dick Cheney, obviously, vice president-elect out front assembling a great team.

Who could argue with the choices they've made already? They ran a terrific campaign, they were underrated throughout. He's the winner, let's proceed and move on. And there's no question about it, not only that George Bush is secure, but that he's already put a good team in place.

MURPHY: Quick question for Congressman Meehan: Is Al Gore finished? Would you support him for nominee in four years, or should your party get somebody else?

MEEHAN: Well, I don't think he's finished. Anytime you win the popular vote for president of the United States by 400,000 votes -- I think Al Gore has a bright future. In four years -- it's a long way off, but I certainly could support him.

But let's -- you know I really think, in spite of the need to have this partisanship back and forth, let's take 2001 and actually govern. That's actually try to meet in the middle. And, you know, Colin Powell spoke before the Republican Convention; he talked about reaching out and he talked about doing it every day in a way that was real, in a way that was sustained.

I think that's what this administration has to do, and if they do it for real that will be great for the country. PRESS: On that challenge, congressmen, I thank you both. I'm sorry, we're out of time, but remind everyone that both Congressman Fossella and Congressman Marty Meehan will be there in the chatroom, joining all of you, taking your questions right after the show.

Congressman Meehan up in Boston, Congressman Fossella in New York, thank you very much for joining us; good to have you back on CROSSFIRE again.

And Mike Murphy and I will wrap things up in some bipartisan closing comments -- not too nice, though -- coming up


PRESS: Now you can you find out what's coming up in the CROSSFIRE: sign up for a daily e-mail, sent free of charge, telling you what we are planning for that night. Log on to to sign up for your daily CROSSFIRE e-mail.

Of course, Mike, we know that if John McCain had been the nominee there would be no doubt who's in charge, right? But I just want to show you something: CNN did a poll today and they asked people, if this were 2004 and it was Al Gore versus George Bush, who wins? Guess what? Al Gore 50, George Bush 41.

This guy is off to a weak start.

MURPHY: Let it go! Let it go! Let it go! It's over, it's over, it's over. It's going to be Bush mania here, he's going to have a good inauguration. I think he's going to get off to a strong start.

The question is, are the Democrats going to try to sandbag him, or are they really going to tell the truth about being bipartisan? And only their actions will tell.

PRESS: It's his problem, it's not the Democrats, Mike. His problem are the Republicans who don't think he's conservative enough -- it's Tom DeLay and it's Dick Armey and it's Dan Burton and the gang up on the hill who think they own him.

MURPHY: It's Democrat cynics who want to torpedo him and win election in two years, and the plan will backfire.

PRESS: Well, we certainly don't want him to succeed too much.

MURPHY: Yes, see?

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

MURPHY: Sitting in on the right, I'm Mike Murphy. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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