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Crossfire

The Bush Cabinet

Aired December 28, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT-ELECT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a man who has got great judgment, he has got strong vision, and he is going to be a great secretary of defense, again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, Bush picks a former defense secretary to be his future defense secretary. Is Donald Rumsfeld the best choice? What about Bush's other Cabinet picks?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Mary Matalin. In the Crossfire, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts. And in New York, Republican Congressman Bob Barr, from Georgia.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

President-Elect George W. Bush surprised the political cogniscenti with his choice of Donald Rumsfeld for defense secretary. The post was the object of intense speculation because defense is a Bush priority, and he's already assembled heavyweight defense experts from Dick Cheney to Colin Powell with whom the secretary will have to work. Rumsfeld, a seasoned public servant, has held high posts in four Republican administrations, including secretary of defense for Gerald Ford.

Bush said he hopes to have his Cabinet completed by the end of the first week of the new year. So far the chattering classes in Capitol Hill have given him high marks with the exception of his attorney general nominee, Missouri Senator John Ashcroft, whose selection exhilarated conservatives and outraged liberals.

So, in the CROSSFIRE tonight, the Bush pre-presidency. What do his Cabinet picks tell us about George W. Bush? Are they throwbacks or the best in the business? And is the threatened liberal fracas over Ashcroft about him, or a warm-up for 2002?

Sitting in again for Bill Press, looming large on the left, the esteemed Professor Robert Reich.

ROBERT REICH, CO-HOST: Large on the left, Mary. I've got -- I'll tell you, I've got a question for congressman, the esteemed Congressman Bob Barr. The nomination today of Donald Rumsfeld, doesn't this make it official, that Dick Cheney is, in effect, the next president of the United States? I mean, these are all old cronies of Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney is running the transition. Dick Cheney is the liaison to Congress. He's the tie-breaker in the Senate. Basically, it's going to be a Dick Cheney administration, right?

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Well, I think what you are seeing is, first of all, with regard to President-Elect Bush, you are seeing a man whose much more complex I think than people were willing to give him credit for. His Cabinet picks reflect very diverse backgrounds, diverse views, diverse experiences, and so forth. So I think that is very good.

But you are also seeing, Robert, I agree with you, a vice president in Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, who will exert great influence, who brings his own unique background and vast experience in government, and frankly, for those who said that Bush was a lightweight, I would think they would cheer this rather than criticize it.

REICH: Oh, nobody's criticizing it. I mean, people thought that Al Gore was the most effective, and certainly, given more responsibility than almost any vice president in history. But here, we have, what looks like, a prime minister model of government. You have, maybe George W. as the king, and Cheney as the prime minister. Or take a corporate model, you have a chairman of the board, who is George W., and you have the CEO, actually, running things, Dick Cheney. Which model do you want?

BARR: Well, I think what we'll see is a -- is a model that is uniquely George W. Bush. He recognizes that there are some areas in which others have perhaps more background and expertise, and he's not afraid to reach out to people like Dick Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld, who have that sort of background.

So I think you are going to see a very active vice president, which I think will be very, very good for the country, given Mr. Cheney's vast background, in both domestic policy and in international affairs, especially.

MATALIN: OK, Congressman Frank, let me pick that up there with you because the parliamentary analogy is not on point, but the corporate analogy might be with George W. Bush, as the chairman of the board, and Dick Cheney as the chief executive officer, where Bush sets the tone, he makes the decisions, and Cheney goes out and gets the job done. It's orderly, it's professional, it's efficient, it's results oriented, it's accountable, it's mature, it's steady. What's wrong with that model?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Nothing, I think it's premature to predict that's what's going to happen. I think it, frankly, underestimates George Bush.

I -- nobody gets elected president of United States, you know, Dick Cheney knows a lot about government, but he wasn't in primaries against John McCain, he wasn't doing a lot of that tough campaigning. He came on after George Bush had done a lot of it. So the notion that George Bush is going to defer to him quite that much, I think, is wrong. Particularly, by the way, in domestic policy.

It is true, that when it comes to national security policy, Dick Cheney is going to be a major figure. Although I think Colin Powell is probably going to be taking direction from nobody, but because he is a forceful figure in his own right.

But in domestic policy I don't see that. I do see -- I haven't seen any great role for Cheney, unusual for vice president domestic policy, and I think that we will probably see George Bush carrying out domestic policy with his own initiative, very much like other presidents have.

MATALIN: Well, thank you, for being so open-minded about that. In the spirit of bipartisan, in the season, that was very nice. And the I take it, you also don't buy another argument I have been hearing, that is absurd to me.

FRANK: Don't push it now, Mary.

MATALIN: OK, this reaching back to his father's Cabinet. I keep -- envision this, it is 2008 and Hillary Rodham Clinton is assuming the presidency of the United States. Shouldn't she be able to reach back to the last -- I am not saying this is going to happen, it is kind of a fantasy thing on the liberal side -- shouldn't she be able to reach back to last most current.

FRANK: I thought you wanted to change the model so we would have a queen and a prime minister, at that point, although...

MATALIN: Wouldn't it be absurd for her not to reach back to the last Democratic administration, and should she be precluded from that?

FRANK: Not at all, no. Let me say this, I think -- what we have what we have here is, you know, they used to talk about the hot stove league, you know the hot stove league was before you had year-round sports, basketball and football, when baseball was the only real sport that people focused on in America. The hot stove league was when people would sit around a hot stove in December, and sort of fantasize about baseball because there was no real news being made.

What is relevant to be about George Bush is what public policies he is going to advocate, and who he picks for the Cabinet is really much less important than we have to treat it now because that is all we've got to talk about. No, I think it is entirely reasonable. Every administration of one party, where there has been a gap, goes back to the previous administration. In fact, the under-secretaries and assistant secretaries of one administration, tend to be the people who are the secretaries in the next one.

It is unusual go back -- we are not going back to George Bush's father now with Donald Rumsfeld, I guess we are getting back 25 years, yes.

MATALIN: Nixon, what you call experience.

FRANK: But those things really don't seem to me to be of any great relevance, one way or the other. The question is, what policies are they going to advocate?

MATALIN: There you have it, Professors Reich.

REICH: Well, let's pursue that a little bit, in terms of what policies we are going to see advocated. One thing that strikes me about this new Cabinet in formation is the corporatist character of it. I mean, you have got not only Don Rumsfeld, CEO, former CEO of J.D. Searle (ph), a global pharmaceutical company, formerly chairman of the General Instrument.

You have got Mitch Daniels at OMB, Eli Lilly.

You have got Paul O'Neill at the Treasury, Alcoa.

You have got Don Evans at Commerce, oil company executive.

Dick Cheney, oil and Richard Automobile.

Isn't this a kind of business roundtable administration? Is this sort of the takeover of the executive branch by big business?

BARR: Well, we don't have a Robert McNamara maybe, who is going to reach back to that and complete the circle, I suppose. But the fact is, these are very successful people. But I don't think you can paint it all with one brush, Robert. You also look and you see people like John Ashcroft, who have very vast experience in law enforcement in government. The same with Governor Whitman, somebody who has a very different background from that corporate background that you mentioned with these other folks.

And then you have, Miss Rice, who comes from academia, and Colin Powell, from the military.

I think you have a very, very strong, diverse Cabinet here. And I do agree with Barney that what will be very, very important in the coming weeks, is what we see the bench form, the sort of the bench, the under-secretaries, and assistant attorneys general. That will be very, very important, and we give us very, very significant clues, as to whether or not we are going to see a sharp break with some of the policies of the past, and going off in new directions.

REICH: Bob, you mentioned John Ashcroft. I want to pursue Ashcroft in just one moment. But before we do, let's just finish that thought, your thought about this being a diverse, well-balanced administration, I -- this has a kind of a retread quality to it. Barney Frank was talking a moment ago about all administrations basically going back to administrations before, but this almost seems like the second term of the first Bush administration. So many of these people, and presumably so many of their appointees, are basically old Bush administration appointees. Isn't this -- aren't we getting sort of Bush II, a kind of the book-end to the Clinton administration? BARR: I hope not. And I don't think so. I think that what George W. Bush is doing here, is taking the best of the past and combining it with, I guess, it is a bad analogy the best and brightest of the newer generation, and bringing them together. It may be a very difficult chemistry, or it may be something that will work remarkably well, and we'll see as a model for future administrations. But, to...

REICH: Don Rumsfeld not much of the new administration, Bob, this really -- not a not a new generation in Don Rumsfeld.

BARR: No, but Condoleezza Rice is; and so what I'm saying is you're seeing -- bringing together the best of the old and the best of the new. I think it's very exciting, to be honest.

MATALIN: Can I just rap on this, Congressman Frank where we -- I don't usually -- to measure success for conservatives isn't usually done in this regard; but of the 12 appointments so far, only five have been white guys. You've got -- here they are, four women, two Hispanics, two blacks; you've got eight diversity, if you will, appointments, and five white guys, yet Bush is being attacked for...

FRANK: Mary, in the spirit of bipartisanship, I accept your implicit concession that we've been right all along.

I'm serious; you know, this is a very good point. I give George Bush credit -- when he was asked if he was sending a message when he announces his first appointments -- because I think there were no white guys. it was Condoleezza Rice and it was his counsel Mr. Gonzales and Colin Powell.

And they said, are you sending a message? He said, you bet I am.

For one, he was being honest instead of being coy and saying, oh, no I'm picking without regard to anything. Yet there was a real point, when you have a society where certain groups of people have been treated unfairly because they are women or black or gay -- I don't expect much from Bush out of that -- or Hispanic, et cetera. There's a real point to saying, look, I'm going to demonstrate that those who hold people back because of these characteristics are wrong. And I'm going to try -- I'm going to make a special effort to pick people who are diverse.

That's important and I, frankly, people on your side used to make fun of that. And I am delighted, now, to have you take credit for it. Yes, he is entitled to credit as the first Republican president who has recognized that our concern for diversity is really an effort to deal with some of the prejudices in American society and to lead by example in dealing with those prejudices.

My only regret is that I'm afraid that he's going to leave out one very important group, of which I'm a member, and that's gay and lesbian people.

Bill Clinton deserves a lot of credit for being the first president to appoint people who were openly gay and lesbian. And I'm afraid that George Bush is just going to leave us out of his diversity mix; but I am glad he's doing what he's doing.

MATALIN: Well, you know the camp -- in the campaign, there was a very broad and open unity reach out to the gay and lesbian community.

FRANK: Well, that's simply not true, Mary. No, that wasn't true.

MATALIN: No, it simply is true because I was a part of it.

FRANK: Well, this is a new confession from you that I hadn't expected. I take you as diverse, but as a lesbian I wasn't ready, yet, to accept you...

MATALIN: Lipstick -- I'm an official lipstick lesbian.

FRANK: There was a game that he was playing, there. During the primary he used the gay issue against John McCain. The Bush people gay-baited John McCain, which was hard to do, since John McCain doesn't support any gay issues. And he used a term, "special rights," which is a way to denigrate an effort to have any discrimination legislation for sexual orientation, exactly the same as we have it for race and for other groups.

No, I didn't see any kind of great outreach; yes, it's true my colleague Jim Kolbe was allowed to speak at the Republican Convention, but he wasn't allowed to talk about gay issues.

MATALIN: There will be no discrimination in this administration. I'm saying this here loudly and proudly.

FRANK: No, but...

MATALIN: We got to go to break -- we got to go to break.

FRANK: The question is appointments and diversity. You concede diversity is a good thing; then why should we be left out?

MATALIN: We have to go to break on that note. We'll discuss that question in the break; when we come back we'll all discuss the Ashcroft appointment, which has been the lead fight so far and we haven't even started. But like this hot stove series we're on.

Stay with us on CROSSFIRE; we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REICH: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, I'm Robert Reich.

We're talking tonight about the new -- the nation's Bush administration: what to make of the Cabinet appointments -- today Don Rumsfeld. Is this the business roundtable taking over the executive branch? Is this just a retread, a replay, of the old Bush administration? What can we make of this?

Our guests tonight, Representative Barney Frank, a Democrat from the wonderful commonwealth of Massachusetts; and Representative Bob Barr, Republican from the proud state of Georgia.

And Bob Barr I've got a question for you: We've talked about Don Rumsfeld so far because that's the news of the day. But the news of week and, perhaps, the news of the next month is really going to be John Ashcroft.

And the question for you, and I don't want, you know -- you are too smart to give me Republican spin right now. I'm going to ask you a political question and I want -- and you are going to give me an honest political, real-politic answer.

Look, this guy Ashcroft may be a nice man, he may be a man of integrity, but is he going to heal the wounds that have been made and endured in this campaign, particularly in the post-campaign? His record on civil rights, his record on abortion -- this guy is a polarizing influence, isn't he?

BARR: Well, that's certainly what you and many are saying, and I hope that saying it so doesn't make it so. The fact is -- the question, really, that we ought to be asking, Robert, is will this man make a good attorney general? Will he bring integrity to an office? Will he bring principles to an office? Will he bring the proper priorities of the Bush administration and implement those so that we see fair justice meted out in the 94 judicial districts around the country.

And I think everything in his background, both as an attorney general, as a governor and as a sitting United States senator, tell me that, yes; the answer is that he will bring integrity, hard work and the proper priorities to this office. And I'm very distressed to see, already, that people are attacking this man personally.

I was on a program just the other night in which one of our former colleagues in the House, Ms. Ferraro, said, well she didn't know whether John Ashcroft was a racist or not, simply because he voted against an African American judicial nominee. That's the sort of personal attacks that don't bode well. But that's not coming from John Ashcroft, that was coming from...

REICH: Let's hope that there are not going to be personal attacks; that this is not going to be politics of character assassination. All I'm asking is a very simple assessment, here. We have George W. Bush coming to office, saying he's going to be a unifier, he's going to be bipartisan, he's going to bring the parties together.

He was not elected with a majority, he was elected by a minority -- he got the electoral votes by a hair; we don't even know what happened in Florida. A lot of people, particularly minorities, are feeling that they -- you know, 90 percent of African Americans voted for Al Gore.

Now, look at the record of this guy in terms of being a moderate. Two -- here's a quote from him: "Two things you find in the middle of the road, a moderate and a dead skunk." I mean, this is not a guy who has made his career as being a unifier or a moderate, isn't that fair? BARR: No, I don't think that's fair because, for one thing, you could not have been elected governor of Missouri if that were -- if he were not a fair man, if he did not -- were not able to reach out to different groups. He would not have been elected to the United States Senate if he were as polarizing as you seem to indicate.

But I think the answer to your question, Robert, is, if people will just give John Ashcroft a chance -- to let him get into his Cabinet position, and let's see what he does. Don't prejudge him simply because he might have, on various principles that you may disagree with or that Barney may disagree with -- have taken a different position on a particular case or a particular nominee. That's not fair.

MATALIN: Congressman, let's go to the Senate, where this fight, this war will be waged if, indeed, it's going to be a war. And one of the most liberal members of that body was on our own "LATE EDITION" on Sunday -- that's Senator Wellstone of Minnesota, who had this to say about the Ashcroft appointment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAUL WELLSTONE (D), MINNESOTA: Is this somebody who is qualified? Is this somebody who you believe is ethical and will work hard? And I think John, you know, can pass that test.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Not one senator has said he is ready to oppose John Ashcroft, and you just heard the most liberal saying what the criteria should be. And it's being widely reported that the liberal interest groups are teeing up, not to much to defeat Ashcroft, because they know they can't, but to tee up for 2002. Is that in the spirit of bipartisanship? Is that the way this new government should start, do you think?

FRANK: Well, first of all, I think bipartisanship ought to be understood correctly. It does not, as I understand it, repeal the constitutional requirement that we have an election next time around. You have to do two things at once. Yes, bipartisanship should mean that you try to cooperate in those areas where it's important that the government function, and that you try to find some areas of agreement.

But, it certainly shouldn't mean that it's a bad thing to be thinking about the next election. That's called democracy. So, yes, part of the next election is going to be how you respond to George Bush. Now, the key about Ashcroft, and let me reassure my colleague Bob Barr, I have no intention of attacking Mr. Ashcroft personally.

But, in terms of public policy, I think his appointment is a terrible one. He did accept an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. I don't think someone committed to fairness and civil rights and equal treatment should have done that. I thought the fact that George Bush apologized for going to Bob Jones University was a good thing and I wish that Mr. Ashcroft would. He didn't just vote against an African-American nominee, he led the fight to kill the appointment of, I believe, the first African- American judicial appointee from Missouri, and I think the key has to do with abortion.

MATALIN: Now wait. Stop. Let me -- let's go through his record on civil rights where he lived in Missouri because before he's been called a white supremacist by the man who defeated him, even though he was dead. He, while he was in the Senate, voted for 23 out of 26 black judicial nominees. As governor, he selected the first African- American state appellate.

(CROSSTALK)

FRANK: Can we stop with he voted for 23 out of -- excuse me.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Martin Luther King holiday -- 23 out of 26.

FRANK: Martin Luther King holiday, 50 now states now have it. That's a pretty low bar; 23 out of 26, that means he voted against.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: But I have a whole page of his civil rights record. He voted against one nominee.

FRANK: No, he voted, by your count, three. Mary, I'm only quoting you. Twenty-three minus...

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: OK, three and he voted for 23.

FRANK: Twenty-six to 23 is more than one. He didn't just vote against it. He led the fight to block it. He went to Bob Jones University, a racist institution, and accepted an honorary degree. He said -- I'm told he said he didn't know what kind of institution it was and my view was that by the time they gave him the hood at the honorary degree ceremony and it was white and it had eye holes, he should have had some idea. Well, how do you not know what Bob Jones is?

REICH: You know, Bob Barr, there are so many...

FRANK: The real issue is abortion.

REICH: There are so many other issues here. I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANK: Abortion is the big issue.

REICH: Yes, abortion is a big issue, but it's also school desegregation plans that he opposed. Has a big record on a lot of issues. We're going to hear all about it.

MATALIN: You know what, why don't we do this -- we're all having such a great time, let's have a repeat of you guys tomorrow night. We'll have another show. Thank you, Congressman. We love the stove -- the Hot Stove League. We hope you'll be back many times in the new year.

FRANK: You don't like the white eye holes?

MATALIN: No, I don't like that one, but it was a pretty good joke. Congressman Barr, as always, it's a joy to have you. Professor Reich, we'll see you again soon...

BARR: Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Robert.

MATALIN: ... and -- no, I'll see you right after the break. Stay with us for our closing comments on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REICH: Mary, you know what bothers me about Ashcroft? I mean, he is -- he's a man of -- presumably, he's a man of integrity. I worked with him when he was on the Hill, but he is a man who represents the extreme in the Republican Party on abortion, on civil rights, on schools. He opposed the desegregation plan in Missouri. All of this is going to come out.

But what I don't understand is here is George W. Bush after a grueling post-election period, trying to do all of this kissy-kissy sweet talk with Democrats, trying to be a unifier, and he puts somebody up in the most sensitive position, attorney general, with all of the discretion over the sensitive issues before our society -- affirmative action, abortion -- and he puts somebody up who is a right-winger and a sop to the right wing. You explain that to me.

MATALIN: You know, I'll explain it this way: There are many people, in fact, the majority of the people in this country believe that the Democratic views on abortion, for instance, are far more extreme. The advocacy of partial-birth abortion or even huge numbers of the African-Americans think that affirmative action needs to be reviewed and updated. So did Clinton. That's how he started his administration. If you disagree on the merits -- on the policy, that's one thing. But the attack on Ashcroft has been the politics of personal destruction. Get over it.

REICH: Mary, from the Lilliputian left, I'm Robert Reich. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the righteous and proud right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again next time for more CROSSFIRE.

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