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Mary Matalin Saying Goodbye to CROSSFIREAired January 5, 2001 - 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)
MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin.
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ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: From the right to the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE: Mary Matalin will be named as assistant to the president and counselor to the vice president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: Tonight, a look at the incoming Bush administration with an outgoing CROSSFIRE host.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Mary Matalin, former CROSSFIRE host and future counselor to the vice president.
NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Yes, Mary Matalin, after a year and a half on CROSSFIRE, is saying goodbye tonight, and as a guest, not a host.
Mary today was named to a top White House staff position in the Bush administration: assistant to the president, counselor to the vice president. She clearly will be working for Dick Cheney, and that puts her at the side of the new regime's most dynamic figure. Vice President-elect Cheney was on Capitol Hill today looking at his new office on the House side to match his traditional office on the Senate side.
In the evenly divided Senate, the two parties agreed today on power sharing, the same amount of Republicans and Democrats on each committee. But liberals got ready for a nasty attack on attorney general-designate John Ashcroft. And Republicans talked about getting rid of some executive orders issued by Bill Clinton.
Mary Matalin, who is more now than just another of us motor- mouths, is well-equipped for this struggle, wearing wound stripes in many past Republican battles. But questions persist: Why would a CROSSFIRE conservative host want to work for the government? Will this Bush administration prove as spineless as the last one? And can Mary Matalin grind down real Democrats as easily as she did Bill Press? -- Bill.
BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Now that he has insulted both of us.
MATALIN: I have a question, where -- where -- why...
PRESS: No, you don't ask the questions anymore.
MATALIN: Why have you never told me how bad my hair looks? Did you see all those incarnations? I want co-host courtesy tonight, just like John Ashcroft is going to get senatorial courtesy, right.
PRESS: I was going to ask you about those old-hair looks, but Mary, congratulations.
MATALIN: Thank you.
PRESS: I don't want to start on a personal note, but I do have to ask you: So what does Dick Cheney have that I don't have?
MATALIN: Let me count the ways.
PRESS: Let me put it this way. You've got -- I think this is what everybody wants to know. You've got a great job on television, make a lot of money giving speeches. You've got all of this independence, and you're giving all of that up and all of this up for a job in the White House. Why would you do that?
MATALIN: Gee, I've been getting that question asked for days now, since it started to be leaked, and I don't have a good answer, because to me the question is why wouldn't you do what, when you have this once-in-a-lifetime experience -- I love the Bushes, I revere the Cheneys. I believe fervently, as I think you picked up over the last year and a half, in conservatism. And the more I've debated with you, the more fervently I believed in it. And it just -- it just fits together. And obviously, I wouldn't do it without the support of the family, the whole family.
PRESS: That was my next question: Have you told James yet?
MATALIN: Well, I hope he's watching the show tonight. This will probably -- yes, I've told him. Do you think I could do it without him?
Could not do it without him.
NOVAK: What did he say?
MATALIN: He pretty much was over along the Bill Press lines, with a little more emotion to it.
But you know, he's not surprised that I'm a conservative.
NOVAK: Mary, is this administration going to go the way of the first Bush administration, where you just -- you give up everything, you let the Democrats run over you, you try to be gentler -- what was it? Gentler and...
PRESS: Kinder, gentler.
MATALIN: Kinder, gentler.
NOVAK: Kinder, gentler. I hate the word kinder.
MATALIN: How about eight (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stronger, better, prouder, duty, honor, country. I mean, I feel like this is a total flashback. This is the same argument you were making, which wasn't true then and it's not true now. That administration didn't roll over. Those were different times.
But as you yourself have written already of this administration, it has been an extraordinary beginning. This Cabinet was put together faster, better, stronger, on the merits, lots of wonderful diversity there, and all buttressing those very promises that George W. Bush ran on.
NOVAK: Well, let me give you an example. Today, we had a situation where the Republicans in the Senate said we're going to give power-sharing. I thought only the French -- the French were the only people who did power-sharing in politics. And we're going to give them half the committee memberships.
Now, they've been telling me for weeks they would never do that. Now they do it. Isn't that typical, that the Republicans just aren't as tough as the Democrats?
MATALIN: Speaking of the French, see, there's the executive branch and the legislative branch, and vive la difference, OK? What they're doing on the Hill there is their business, and it looks like they think they can work through it. It has nothing to do with the executive branch, and it's -- I don't have anything...
NOVAK: What do you think it?
MATALIN: I think they have to, in the spirit of bipartisanship, which means not us -- not conservatives reaching across necessarily totally, but that the Democrats reaching back, that it was probably a good-faith effort to make that happen.
PRESS: Every incoming president and vice president has their agenda that they want to take the time to put before -- to be put forth before the Congress. John McCain isn't waiting. John McCain stood up and said: I'm going to name the No. 1 issue; it's going to be campaign finance reform. And as soon as the president is sworn in, I'm going to push it through the Senate. We've got the votes.
Do you consider that a poke in the eye to George W. Bush?
MATALIN: No. But I'm not surprised that you would try to set it that up way. It's not -- John McCain has been about campaign finance reform since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. That's no surprise that he's going to bring that up.
He ran on it. He didn't run successfully, which says something about the issue.
It is not a poke at George W. Bush, who has said that this administration has higher priorities. It's not against campaign finance reform. We've had the debate a million times. You know what's in Bush's campaign finance reform. You know what he thinks is absent from this one. But he said he wants to start with education, prescription drugs, problems that can be attended to right now.
PRESS: Right. That's the point. He'd rather start with some other things. Even Don Nickles said that this is one way to destroy the honeymoon and John McCain ought to wait. You think he ought to wait, too, don't you?
MATALIN: I think that the administration will bring its packages to the Hill, and that's what will be attended to.
PRESS: If I may, Bob. Just a follow-up on this legislation. Senator Feingold, the Democratic half of McCain-Feingold, was on "THE SPIN ROOM" last night. I asked him about President-elect bush, then President bush, vetoing this legislation, certain to veto the legislation. Here was Senator Feingold's response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Well, the president-elect is getting a bum rap. He has not said he's going to veto the bill. He has been very cautious. The vice president-elect has been cautious. Andrew Card has been cautious. I have listened to every one of their comments. They never said veto. They never said our bill is unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PRESS: He thinks George Bush might sign his bill. Is he crazy?
MATALIN: Well, they haven't sat down. There's no administration there yet to sit down with. There's been lots of courtesy calls, lots of meeting, greeting, hugging, kissing, reaching out, setting the tone on the Hill. But until they sit down, look at the legislation and hash it out, that's called -- that's called reaching a consensus, finding common ground. I think we can do it.
NOVAK: Mary, one of the smartest Republicans in this town is Phil Gramm. Do you agree with that? MATALIN: Yes, I'm a longtime fan of Mr. Fiscal Conservative.
NOVAK: I'm -- let me -- let's put up on the screen what he said to "The Los Angeles Times." He said: "Since George Bush was elected on the platform on this tax cut, two things have happened: The surplus has gotten bigger and the economy has gotten bigger. We might find ourselves in a short while debating a bigger tax cut or one that is implemented quicker."
Do you agree with that?
MATALIN: This is going back to this initial question: Why would you want to do this? Tax cuts as a values issue has been a driving force behind conservatism for decades. There has never been a time where revenues were decreased by a tax cut. I think there just -- and if you look at Gephardt's remarks this week, he's talking about the Democrats' tax cut being too little. I think everybody finally understands what Bush has been saying for two years, the stimulative effect of a tax cut on the economy, which clearly needs it right now.
NOVAK: Mary, I want to ask you about your new boss, Dick Cheney, who you've worked for a long -- you've known him for a long time.
NOVAK: Absolutely long time. You know, on -- they had on "Saturday Night Live" the actor playing George W. Bush saying, you know, I don't know what I'm going to do with that Cheney, he just makes me work so hard.
MATALIN: I hope you keep your night job.
NOVAK: Is -- is Cheney really the guy who's running this thing and we've got a kind of a -- a -- a puppet president who is -- and you -- I know you go where the power is. You used to work for Lee Atwater at the Republican National Committee. You've gone to the guy who's really running this...
MATALIN: I come to CROSSFIRE. Here's the power...
PRESS: There it is.
MATALIN: Here's all the opinion-making on the Hill and across town. Look, you know how this works. You've written about it. You've watched the incredible career of Dick Cheney. And what my favorite thing amongst the chattering classes was the lack of credit George W. Bush got at the time of the choice of Dick Cheney, which all of us who have seen him work and understand how he works realized what a great choice that was.
NOVAK: I said it was a great choice. I said it was.
MATALIN: It was a great choice then and it's happening now. Bush is a -- George W. Bush, whom I've known for 20 years, has always been a leader, has always been secure and confident and delegated and makes the decisions. And you can see how that's happening.
NOVAK: So what you're saying is Dick Cheney is going to do all the -- make all the decisions, make all the work, and...
MATALIN: No, he's not making -- I mean, it's very clear over there who's the boss. Dick Cheney knows who's the boss. Everybody knows who's the boss. And he has said it on more than one occasion, and that's how it's playing out.
PRESS: Advice for the president-elect is coming from many different directions. It came today from an unusual source, a very conservative writer, Charles Krauthammer of "The Washington Post," and some unusual advice. "Bush's To Do List" was the head of the column.
No. 1 on the suggestions from Charles Krauthammer is pardon President Clinton. Krauthammer says he may not want it, he may not need it, but it's the right thing to do. George Bush ought to prove his independence, put this issue behind all Americans, and do it right away. Would that be part of your advice?
MATALIN: You know, there is something that is new going to happen in town that hasn't happened with regularity that we would like in politics, when somebody gives -- somebody says something, George Bush takes them at their word. Bill Clinton has said on more than one occasion -- was it reiterated during the campaign by his vice president and Democratic nominee, Al Gore -- he will not seek a pardon. And George Bush has taken him at -- he's taken him at that word.
PRESS: But what Krauthammer is saying is that George Bush has a chance to prove himself bigger than that, to continue a tradition started by President Ford that we don't hound former presidents after they've left office, and that George Bush ought to be big enough to do that. Again, why not?
MATALIN: Do you want me to preadvise in a circumstances -- for what's he going to get indicted on?
PRESS: I'm asking you...
MATALIN: I mean, I think if the circumstances -- you cannot answer that question nor preadvise until you know what the circumstances will be, if he's even indicted.
PRESS: All right. We're going to take a break, and when we come back, again, CROSSFIRE may be losing a co-host. But we're gaining a new source in the new administration! More questions for Mary Matalin, when we come right back.
PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. What is it about politics? Once you get it in your blood, you can never get rid of it. In fact, you never want to get rid of it, as Mary Matalin, like many others before her, has just discovered.
A great job on television, the opportunity to work with giant journalists like me and Bob Novak. How lucky can you get? But when politics calls, when the White House calls, Mary can't resist stepping back up to the plate. And so here she is, the new assistant to President Bush and special counselor to Vice President Cheney, but not before she answers a few more tough questions.
MATALIN: You know, where's the queen for a day the thing I was promised tonight?
NOVAK: How long have you been on CROSSFIRE?
Now, Mary, I want you -- I want you to let it all hang out on this one. The -- you spent the last eight years in the media, for the first time. You worked for CNBC, you worked for CBS Radio. We were glad to have you the last 18 months on CNN. What did you learn about the media that you didn't know before when you were on the outside looking in? What did you learn these last eight years about it?
MATALIN: Well, I want to make it clear that I wasn't -- don't profess to be a journalist and always performed on air in whatever medium as a...
NOVAK: Yes, but you were able to look at it...
MATALIN: I think what I learned -- and I loath to be as complimentary as this is going to come out, because it is great fun to do media-bashing -- there are -- it is a hard profession. And there -- and more often than not, the journalists try to get it right. And there is a way to help them help you without betraying -- betraying your boss, your cause.
But there's been a kind of an -- the acrimony and tension between the media and politicians, I think, has been increased in the last eight years, not that it's ever -- there's also a tension, but the last years eight years I think has made those relationships even more tenuous.
NOVAK: I would like you to comment on this. In the -- just in the few weeks that we've had this delayed transition, there's a -- there is a kind of a formula -- and I'm sure you know what the code is and I know what the code is, and even Bill knows what the code is. And that is that when you name -- when President-elect Bush has named anybody who is a conservative, he becomes controversial. Not only John Ashcroft for attorney general, but the candidate for secretary of the interior, candidate for secretary of energy. Anybody who has any conservative ideas gets attacked.
What do you make of that?
MATALIN: So, that's what you're trying to get me to say... NOVAK: Yes.
MATALIN: ... that the media is liberal. It is -- because it's so second-nature, I just don't even -- I really don't even think about it. It's just -- it's like -- it's like breathing. You know that's going to be the approach, you know that there's a mind-set, that there is a double-standard. There's a kind of feminism, where abortion -- those who are pro-life are ideologues and those who are pro-choice are for women's right.
I mean, we've been doing this for 20 years, and it's just so second nature I don't even think about it. But it is true, and -- but I cannot say that every single journalist who is a liberal wears it on their sleeves or puts it in their stories.
NOVAK: I -- I -- I am just -- I am just amazed that John Ashcroft, who I -- I have been looking through the files and everything. Has anything ever bad been said about him? You know, he was just -- he was just a nice conservative senator. Now he is a demon. He is -- he is George W. Wallace, you know.
MATALIN: Well, see -- and this -- and this has been painful on CROSSFIRE, too, and I do think it's one of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) new tone and blah blah blah. One of the legacies of the Clinton administration has been the politics of personal destruction, and if you disagree with somebody, the new tactic, or the now tried-and-true tactic, is to demonize them on their personal beliefs as opposed to their -- your policy differences. And that's what's happening with Ashcroft.
But I think people are really sick of it, done with it. You asked me a year ago on another program, do you think this era is ending, an era manifested by someone very close to both of us. Yes, I think it's over. I think people are ready for it to be over.
PRESS: Well, let me suggest, too, that what the Bush camp seems to be trying to do -- and you have been articulating this on CROSSFIRE -- is how dare you disagree with anything we say...
NOVAK: No, no.
NOVAK: Come on.
PRESS: ... or how dare you disagree with anybody we appoint.
Let me just play a little bite from your to be new press secretary, Ari Fleischer, when he was reacting with shock that anybody would disagree to some of these Cabinet appointments. Here's Mr. Fleischer.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FLEISCHER: This is a time to unify, to act in a bipartisan fashion, and I think that opposition so they can raise money and so they can warm up for the next group is wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PRESS: Now, I've been around not that long, but I've been watching turnovers and presidencies for a long time. Every administration puts people up, and every administration gets opposition to some of their nominees. Wouldn't you just tell somebody like Ari to relax? It goes with the territory.
MATALIN: Ari has been doing a great job and looks pretty relaxed to me in a high-stress situation. But look, here's the difference. They are not -- these liberal groups are not opposing Ashcroft on his policies. They're calling him a bigot because he opposed one black judicial nominee after voting for 23 out of 26, and they call him a racist for that.
NOVAK: It's outrageous.
MATALIN: It has nothing to do with the policy.
They call him an ideologue, an extremist because he's pro-life. We don't call people who propose and support partial birth abortions, we don't call them what they are, extremists. We should do that more often. That is the difference: attacking. These ad hominem attacks are different than opposing the policies.
PRESS: I -- I hate to close on a point of disagreement. I have not seen one ad hominem or ad feminem attack or Gale Norton or Linda Chavez or John Ashcroft. They have all been questions about policy. And, again, I want to repeat -- this is nothing new -- I want to repeat something that one of the senators up there said in November, 1997 -- put up on the screen -- talking about another nominee.
This is Orrin Hatch. He said: "His" -- Justice Department nominee -- "His good intentions should not be sufficient to earn the consent of this body. Those charged with enforcing the nation's laws must demonstrate a proper understanding of that law and a determination to uphold its letter and it spirit."
PRESS: If I may. He said that about Bill Lann Lee. All I'm asking is: Isn't it legitimate to ask the same questions about John Ashcroft?
MATALIN: Do you have any evidence ever, in his entire career -- which has included being a governor and an attorney general -- that he has never upheld the law? Any evidence?
PRESS: No, all I'm asking, isn't it...
MATALIN: Is there any evidence?
PRESS: All I'm asking, isn't it legitimate to ask the questions?
MATALIN: Then he can pass that test. They are not asking that test. They are saying: We want to see what -- we believe that he will violate civil rights because he opposed one black judicial nominee. That is what they are saying. That is code language for calling him -- in a very ugly way -- a racist. And people are sick of that.
NOVAK: Mary, president -- to my surprise, president-elect Bush's Cabinet is really much more conservative than Ronald Reagan's was. I think it's a better Cabinet. It's very qualified.
MATALIN: You're surprised.
NOVAK: Yes. I'm pleasantly surprised. I think it's a terrific -- it's the best-constructed Cabinet I have seen in 40 years of watching Cabinet-making. But beyond the Cabinet, let me tell you, there's a lot of people who are pro-life, anti-abortion, who supported this -- Governor Bush -- very hard.
Pat Buchanan got, what, one-quarter of 1 percent of the vote? And they asked for only one thing, really. They asked for the passage and the signature of a bill on partial-birth abortion. There's a lot of other things that are less contentious. Do you think this administration will make that a priority in the year 2001?
MATALIN: I think the country is ready for it. The Bush -- we've already discussed what are the Bush priorities right now: education, prescription drugs, the tax cut. Do I think it will get done? Yes, because the country is ready for it. Many Democrats support it. Many pro-choice people support it. This is an issue whose time has come. It is infanticide -- been called so by Moynihan and other leading Democrats.
And it cannot stand in any culture that sanctifies life, as this one does.
NOVAK: One more issue -- and I will -- I hope that you will use your enormous influence -- assistant to the president -- I mean, a gal from Illinois, Northern Illinois.
NOVAK: You are a neighbor. You are a neighbor.
NOVAK: Yes, I'm a neighbor from there, really, you know
(CROSSTALK) MATALIN: You are a protege.
NOVAK: Illinois -- assistant to the president. The thing that is most disappointing about George W. Bush is, there is no cut in the capital-gains tax in his program. And everybody knows -- I mean, everywhere I go in America, people want to cut on the capital-gains tax. Will you use your enormous influence and ability to try to get them to cut that, that obscene tax? MATALIN: What I'm going to recommend is that there be a new Cabinet established -- a new Cabinet position for Bob Novak, the capital cuts czar, the capital cuts czar.
NOVAK: No, no, no, no, not I -- not I.
PRESS: That is it.
NOVAK: All right.
MATALIN: Thank you. Thank you both.
PRESS: And we'll be back. We'll be back -- all three of us -- with closing comments coming right up. Don't go away.
MATALIN: Oh, I didn't know that.
PRESS: Mary, I just have to -- I hope you remember that our late, great friend Bob Squire and I lobbied very, very hard to get you this job.
PRESS: He would be proud of the job you have done, as I am. I have some misgivings about this administration.
MATALIN: Oh, stop it.
PRESS: But you know what? I am going to sleep a little better knowing that you are there.
MATALIN: I got through the whole show without crying.
MATALIN: I can't believe I'm going to miss you. And you, prince of darkness, you taught me everything I know, all the right stuff.
PRESS: Just to how softie we are -- Bob.
NOVAK: All right, I think this is -- thank you so much for a absolutely great performance. You beat Novak. You beat Buchanan. You were the best.
MATALIN: OK, I have a little bit better hairdo.
NOVAK: And you've got to leak to me, too.
MATALIN: Thank you.
PRESS: Do you have a -- do you have a closing comment? MATALIN: My closing comment is: We should all, in unison, be grateful to this wonderful CROSSFIRE staff, without which this show could never happen -- Christine (ph), Kate (ph) and Jennifer (ph), who's about to have her baby -- because they make us look smart.
NOVAK: They sure do. And, gee whiz, Traficant one night and Mary Matalin the next. How can you beat that?
PRESS: As I said when she started: smart, sassy, articulate, fun, witty, and wrong on all the issues.
NOVAK: And a conservative Republican. Yay!
PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.
NOVAK: From the right...
MATALIN: From the right...
NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another addition of CROSSFIRE.
MATALIN: Thank you. Thank you.
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