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How's the Bush Transition Shaping Up?

Aired December 22, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: A new attorney general, a new pardon for Dan Rostenkowski and a new license plate for the presidential limo. Tonight, a look back at the week in politics.

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin.

In the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican strategist Susan Molinari.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Both the president and president-elect bestowed some serious holiday cheer today. Clinton granted 59 pardons, including one for former Democratic powerhouse, Chicago Congressman Dan Rostenkowski.

While Clinton was letting people go, Bush was bringing them in, naming three more top administration posts: attorney general, environmental protection agency, which he will raise to Cabinet level, and the Republican National Party chairman. The news-packed day capped off a week of transition activity of both the outgoing and the incoming which we review now with our two veteran Washington watchers.

How's the Bush transition shaping up? How's the Clinton era closing down? And what's coming up in the new political year -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Susan Molinari, I thought President-elect Bush was doing pretty well with his Cabinet appointments until today, when he decided or were maybe he was forced to throw a bone to the conservatives, and appointed John Ashcroft as attorney general. Now let's see, first of all he puts Colin Powell at defense, pro-choice, and Christie Whitman, pro-choice, at EPA and then he puts the anti- choice, anti-Roe v. Wade as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. What is Bush trying to do, have it both ways?

SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Bush is trying to do something that I know is foreign to a lot of Democrats in this town, and that is appoint the best people to the best jobs. John Ashcroft is someone who is very well-respected in this town, has a history of being in important positions, and frankly, did something that I know does probably, stymie a lot of people sitting around this table. He did the classy thing, when an election was called and he could have contest it. PRESS: He did a classy thing in that case, but I do contest your statement that he is best person for the job.



PRESS: I think the President-Elect Bush not only alienated women with that appointment, but minorities as well. We remember Ronnie White, on the Supreme Court of Missouri, John Ashcroft led the opposition, alienated African-Americans in this country, if I may finish, because he said this guy was soft on crime. This is a judge who affirmed the death penalty 41 times, and now Bush rubs it in the face of African-Americans by putting him as AG.


MOLINARI: I have to say something, this just makes me so mad. We had an opportunity several years ago to watch somebody, a president, appoint the first African-American to the Supreme Court and Democrats in this town screamed, and complained, and kicked and not once did a Republican look at people and say, you're doing that because he's black. I mean that is just outrageous to say that because someone opposes somebody, that it is on racist terms or that it should disenfranchise the entire African-American population.

PRESS: But it did. You can't deny that it did, and now he puts him in as AG.


MOLINARI: But there's no basis to that. I mean, there's no bias to that. Were you sitting here saying let's give Clarence Thomas a break because he needs to be in an important position to sort of break ethnic stereotypes, no.

PRESS: To use your phrase, he was clearly not the most qualified person in the country for the job.

MOLINARI: Oh, please. Mary jump in.


MATALIN: I have never said -- seen grosser, divisive, racist, tactics than the ones that occurred in this campaign. That James Byrd chain ad was the most despicable thing I've ever seen and all your party is about now, instead of applauding on these incredible -- let's talk about what a good job Bush has done. Instead of applauding these breakthrough appointments that are diversity on merit, all the Democrats are doing is saying they're political ploys.

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Listen, affirmative action is supported by the new secretary of state, condemned by the new president. This appointment of the next attorney general will do more to set back affirmative action, do more to harm civil rights. Here is a guy who is the Christian Coalition's choice. He would not go for tobacco funds to states to help kids, educate them against tobacco.

He has been, one of the most strident, Susan, and you know this, on abortion. He would not even allow a were woman's right to choose for rape and incest. This is somebody who I think will be a very political attorney general, in contrast to what the vice president -- the president-elect is now saying. This guy will go after Roe v. Wade, and I think -- I think that George W. Bush will rue the day he made this appointment.

MATALIN: Do you ever see anything outside...

FENN: ... will rue the day he made this appointment.

MATALIN: This is so absurd, Peter. Do you ever see anything or your party outside the realm of politics? This man is an esteemed governor, an esteemed attorney general, an esteemed senator. He has a great record and is a man of great integrity, who did a class act in that case.

FENN: He did do a class act when he gave up in his concession speech...

MATALIN: Do you see the world through any...


FENN: No, no, no. But...

MATALIN: Let me finish. Do you see the world through any other spectrum except abortion, abortion, abortion?

FENN: No, listen, I can talk to you about other things. I can talk to you about his beliefs on separation of church and state as well. But here is a guy -- let me say this -- that George Bush says is guided by principle, this appointment guided by principle, not politics.

This is all politics, this appointment. The -- look, the Jerry Falwells of the world were livid. And what are they going to do? They're going to put in Christie Todd Whitman at EPA, and they're all going, oh, my god...

MOLINARI: First of all...


MATALIN: That's another stoke of genius.

MOLINARI: That's what this is all about. This is about Democrats sitting down at the end of the first week and saying: Oh, my gosh, we have one of the most diverse Cabinets. We have people who are moderates. We have people who are every ethnic and racial group, who are leading this country...

MATALIN: Gender. Qualified, qualified. MOLINARI: And then all of a sudden you see somebody and you say, OK, now here's how we can go on the attack and spin for this week and try to bring the president down.

PRESS: Susan, one thing I won't let you do is put my words in my mouth, OK, because I have applauded all the Cabinet members so far, except Ashcroft. And I want to talk to you about one that Peter just mentioned, because the conservatives have really been grousing about Christie Whitman. They didn't want her as a running mate. They didn't want her as a part of the Cabinet.

Gary Bauer was on IP yesterday -- "INSIDE POLITICS," I'm sorry; that's what we call it. And here's what he said about that appointment.

Let's listen.


GARY BAUER (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Appointing her is like waving a red flag in front of the people that stuffed the envelopes, rang the doorbells and made George Bush president. It would be like Al Gore giving, again, a pro-life governor a major position in his administration.


PRESS: Now, on environmental issues, she may not be perfect, but she has done a great job in New Jersey protecting coastline, a great job in New Jersey protecting open space. I think she's a damn good appointment to EPA. What do you say to Gary Bauer?

MOLINARI: Well, I say the words that Governor Bush said when he was taking, you know, announced that he was going to accept Al Gore's concession, and that is that he was not elected to represent one party. He was elected to represent one nation. And I think that his appointments thus far show that he is a man of his word, and he's keeping basically the same philosophical spectrum, the compassionate conservatism, that philosophy he led as governor.

PRESS: I would also like to point out that we think it's her many appearances on CROSSFIRE that actually got here this job.


Now, but the governor also said, you know, he's going to govern in a bipartisan way, and there's all this talk about Democrats in the Cabinet. Where is the Democrat in the Cabinet, Susan?

MOLINARI: You know, where were you guys? Charles Krauthammer had a great article today in "The Washington Post" that said, you know, Bill Clinton won by one percentage point more than George W. Bush. He didn't win a majority either. And I didn't hear anything. Maybe I missed that one show when you were all out there saying, President Clinton, when are you going to appoint, you didn't win with a majority either. PRESS: Bush promised the Democrat in the Cabinet -- or he didn't say that precisely to reach out, and everybody has been talking about there are going to be Democrats in the Cabinet. I'm just asking where is it and when.

MATALIN: Well, maybe it's coming. I mean, you know...


FENN: He's saving -- he's saving the best for last, Bill.

MOLINARI: Wait a second.

FENN: He's saving the best for last.

MOLINARI: We know that he's met with Senator Breaux, who said he's not interested. We know word has gone out between members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to Democrats, don't you dare accept an appointment because we can't afford to lose one member because we're in such rough shape right now.

So, I mean, I think that has a lot to do with it. Party leadership in the Democrat Party are keeping them all on a nice tight rein.

MATALIN: Well, and of course, all these appointments are made on merit, and we're still looking for a meritorious...


FENN: No affirmative action for Democrats...


Let's -- well, you know, we've got Bill Cohen. You guys liked Bill Cohen, right?

MOLINARI: And when he did come around?

FENN: Right?


MOLINARI: Yes, second term. So in Bush's second term maybe he will find a Democrat.

FENN: I wouldn't wait for that. There's not going to be one of those.

MOLINARI: Maybe in Bush's second term he'll find a Democrat that's worthy.

PRESS: Second term?

(LAUGHTER) MATALIN: Let's talk about, you are playing politics, playing politics. The president, the outgoing president -- OK? -- let's talk about the outgoing transition. He just can't stop. You know, even a cursory reading of the papers or watching of the news, just this week -- we're going to show you a couple of things about the economy. The figures released yesterday by the government show a 2.2 percent third- quarter growth. This is anemic. It's down from the previous quarter's 5.6 percent growth.

The Fed this week switched their strategy from controlling inflation, to preparing for a downturn in the economy. The Nasdaq is worth half its value since March. We have exploding energy costs. We have eroding consumer confidence. And when George Bush, president- elect, raises the specter so citizens can prepare, can become aware and prepare...

FENN: Prepare?

MATALIN: ... for this downturn in the economy, the president sends out his attack dogs, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) attack dogs coming out, saying he is playing politics.

FENN: You mean Chicken Little, the Chicken-Little approach, the sky-is-falling approach? Here is -- listen...

MATALIN: You're-telling-the-truth approach.


FENN: Mr. Bush, the elder, the 1.6...


FENN: Poppy, as we're fond of calling him -- is, with the $256 billion deficits that started that off, as opposed to

(CROSSTALK) MATALIN: Could we get into the 21st century?

FENN: Well, we are here with $250 billion surpluses. Look, this economy is the strongest it has ever been. To come out and say: Oh, oh, the economy is in trouble! Oh, everything is going down! Oh, things are doing terrible!


FENN: And that's why I need a $1.6 trillion tax increase, which is what he wants.

MATALIN: It's called stimulative.

FENN: Stimulative? Oh, it is a stimulative for the rich. We have been through this. It is not going to happen. Even Dennis Hastert, who now gets a little slap on the wrist from


PRESS: Susan Molinari, George Bush wants the market to tumble so he can sell his $1.3 trillion tax cut.

MOLINARI: Oh, he's not. Absolutely not.

PRESS: And that is why he is using recession word, he and Cheney both.

MOLINARI: What a -- absolutely not. I think he does want to do two things. I think, one, he wants to prepare people, so that when he makes the big sell for this tax cut, people understand exactly why. And number two, I hope one of the reasons why he is doing it is that, when it starts to happen after he takes the oath of office, you will obviously see that a lot of it developed -- all of it developed while President Clinton was finishing out his term.

And I think that is absolutely justifiable. But you know what, Mary, the problem


MOLINARI: No, that is absolutely not true. The economy doesn't react that way. But this all goes back to a bigger story, which I know we are going to touch on. And that is that President Clinton will not leave the stage.

PRESS: We are going to -- we will touch on that and a lot of other stuff when we come back.

MOLINARI: I hope so.

PRESS: And, meantime, yes, indeed, they are still counting votes in Florida. Are there going to be any surprises when we know what the tally really is? When we come back.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE and our end-of-the-week political wrap-up.

Yes, just when you thought safe to go back to Florida, hanging chads are back and ballot counting has resumed, this time by reporters from state and national dailies, who are examining all the ballots from all 67 counties to see what the real statewide tally was. So will it surprise us? Will it cast a cloud over the Bush presidency? Or will it show that Bush won it fair and square?

Debating the week's political news tonight with two insiders: Republican strategist Susan Molinari and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn. I'm not sure it's a compliment to be called an insider.


MOLINARI: Veteran Washington insiders: It makes us sound very old, very inside-the-Beltway. MATALIN: Wise. Very wise.

MOLINARI: Thank you, Mary.

MATALIN: OK, wise guy.

FENN: OK, wise guy, right?

MATALIN: Before we regurgitate Florida for the hundredth time, let me just -- I can't -- this is so funny. Elvis just couldn't stand it this week. With all the, you know, attention away from him, he goes on and does the most profoundly petty thing I've ever heard. He puts on the presidential limo, or is about to put on the presidential limo, these vanity plates that are popular in the District of Columbia, "Taxation Without Representation."

Now forget about their pettiness. Bush is against this, and he's going to have to remove it from the presidential limo -- the hypocrisy of this. For eight years, the president did nothing about statehood in the District of Columbia and in fact he had his own Department of Justice argue against those citizens who were trying to bring statehood in the District of Columbia. You'd think in his final hours there would be a reduction of the hypocrisy quotient -- no.

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So you're for statehood for Washington.

MATALIN: I'm not. I'm not -- I say the Constitution precludes it, but I'm saying this president had -- not only did he have an opportunity and didn't do anything about it, he sent his Justice Department to argue against it. And now he's running around -- he's running around bedecking the next president's limo.

FENN: Listen, he's taken more interest in the District than any other president. And one of the things, I live in the District. So I hope, I hope, that those license plates stay on that car when George W. Bush comes to town on the 20th of January. And I hope that we can come to some kind of an agreement where folks like me are not disenfranchised, where I have a voting representative in the House of Representatives, where I have voting representation...

MATALIN: Then why did Clinton -- why did Clinton send the Justice Department vote against it? And anything that's good that's happened in the District is because of Tony Williams, not because of the president.

FENN: Tony Williams is a good fellow too.

MATALIN: Great mayor.

FENN: And I think we may find the president living in the District of Columbia.

MATALIN: There is that, there is that -- then put it on his own car.

MOLINARI: (OFF-MIKE) answering the question.

PRESS: Susan, the license plates -- the license plates are symbolic. But on the gut issue, I mean, you would have to agree that it's not fair for people who live in this District not to have a vote.

MOLINARI: And I don't have a problem with that -- at all. I do agree with that. But you know what? I haven't been president of the United States. I'm not doing this as sort of like a nan-a-nan-a-nan- a, a laugh set.

FENN: Well, it has to pass the Congress.

MOLINARI: But you know what? It has -- it's not just. It's all of this. It's -- it's, you, know Terry McAulliffe. It's, you know, Bill Clinton saying, I'm not leaving, and if I do I'm making sure that my fingerprints are all over this town when I go.

PRESS: Well, I just have to tell you he is president until January 20th: Deal with it.

Now I want to go back to Florida. There is this counting taking place in Florida. The Associated Press, "Washington Post," "The Miami Herald," "L.A. Times," "Wall Street Journal," I don't know who and all else, they've got their reporters in there, and they're sitting around the table, and they are looking, going from county to county, looking at these ballots.

First of all, wouldn't you have to agree that for history's sake, if not for the president's sake, it is important that somebody count all those ballots, undervotes and overvotes, to find out what the statewide tally really was?

MOLINARI: No, because there are states throughout this country that have had undervotes. There was, what, 1.5 million undervotes in this country. And forget about all the machines that never work in -- I mean, you would have to do this in every state, in every area to really find out the integrity of how this all went, not the of least of which was.

I remember watching this very station, when Mary Matalin challenged the early call on Florida. And we'll never know how that affected the people who were voting in the panhandle or on the West Coast, will we?

PRESS: Well, there is a reason why they're counting Florida...

MOLINARI: So if we're going to do revisionist history.

PRESS: There is a reason why they're counting Florida and not the other states: because Florida determined the outcome here. And isn't the fact...

MOLINARI: Because it failed. Because the news...

PRESS: May I ask my question before you answer it? Isn't the fact that you don't want to know the final vote tally because you know it is going to show that Al Gore won?

MOLINARI: That's not true at all.

PRESS: It may be.

MOLINARI: It is because there have been problems all along the line. When the networks call an election before polls are even closed in a state, well then I don't know that we're ever point to find out with all the mistakes that were made who should rightly be president of the United States.

And at this point in time, why aren't we coming together to say, it is now time to move forward, support this president and support this Cabinet?

PRESS: Because maybe he didn't win.

MATALIN: Get over it: Bush was elected.

MOLINARI: What are you going to do if he doesn't?

FENN: This is absolutely right. He's going to be inaugurated on the 20th of January. The vote count -- the vote call was eight minutes before 8:00, so they had all of eight minutes on that, and in the western part of Florida...


MATALIN: People standing in lines, driving to polls, 15,000 votes, Peter, 15,000 votes.

FENN: First of all, this is -- look, here's where we are now on this. We are, after everybody said, oh, gee, all these absentees are going to come in around the country and George Bush will win the popular vote. We're at 540,000 votes now nationwide for Al Gore. We're going to have a situation -- I predict, I may be wrong, but I predict that we're going to have a serious change in the vote totals in Florida, and it is going to be shown that Al Gore, if they -- all the votes were counted, and counted fairly, with any standard you want to put out there because these are votes...


MATALIN: How would you know, count it fairly?

FENN: Well, because these are votes where...


MOLINARI: That have been in boxes, that have been shoved, poked...


FENN: The chad was loose. The chad fell out. My only point -- I mean, look we -- the American people are simply going say after this is all over OK, the system was screwed up, and we got somebody in the White House. We'll stand behind him. He is our president, but they will forever know in history that not only did he win, Al Gore, the popular vote but he also took the electoral vote.


MATALIN: You know, this idiocy of the popular vote -- this is also the man who -- you see, we don't have a popular vote schedule here. We have an Electoral College. It's -- that's what our country was founded on.


FENN: Thank God for you.

MATALIN: Can I point the situation for you. This is man who could not win his home state, could not win his sitting president's home state, lost Democratic state that hadn't been lost to Democrats in an open seat since 1928. And here is a guy who could not even -- he does not have enough control over the party that this sitting president installed his own guy, Terry McAuliffe, Susie alluded to him earlier, to take over the party. He is just poof. He's gone. Don't talk to me about that. But let me ask this you before we run of other time.

PRESS: Is this a question or a speech?

FENN: I was going to say.

MATALIN: Well, this notion that Al Gore is some martyr here, that...


FENN: It is kind of a bummer when you win the election and then you don't get inaugurated.

MATALIN: He didn't win. He didn't win. Get over it. Get over it.

FENN: Can I play my song now?


FENN: There you go. Merry Christmas, Mary.

MATALIN: We wish them a Merry Christmas, and we'll give you our own personal -- you, you our own personal season's greetings when we return for our closing comments. Stay with us.


MATALIN: The debate doesn't end, it just goes online. Peter Fenn and Susie Molinari take your questions after the show at And then, of course, you won't want to miss spin.

PRESS: "SPIN ROOM" at 10:30.


PRESS: No rest for the weary, here.

MATALIN: Speaking of spinning and spinning out of control, every economic indicator suggests a downturn, including Alan Greenspan. The Fed decided this week they're not going to fight inflation anymore. They're going to prepare for this downturn, and in the face of this Bill Clinton says Bush making people aware of it and telling them to prepare for it is playing politics. This is a guy whose legacy building to last dog dies. Just have some integrity.

PRESS: Mary, let me just say something. If Alan Greenspan were worried, he would have cut interest rates this week. He did not. This a very strong economy. The Dow is up 148 points today. The Nasdaq is up 176. This economy needed to slow down. It has a little bit. For anybody to talk about a recession is very irresponsible, and George W. Bush is going to have to learn...


MATALIN: No one is talking about a recession.

PRESS: ... that when he speaks people listen. He's has to be more careful.

MATALIN: Oh, please.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. Have a great holiday weekend.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin, also from CROSSFIRE. I'll be up watching "SPIN ROOM" tonight with you, preparing, and continuing to wrap my Christmas presents.



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