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Can Linda Chavez Be Confirmed?

Aired January 8, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do remain confident. She's a good person and a good -- she will make a fine Cabinet secretary.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, President-elect Bush gives a vote of confidence to his choice for labor secretary as she comes under fire for allowing an illegal immigrant in her home. Can Linda Chavez be confirmed?


SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: It doesn't sound good to me. Somebody that lived with you did some chores around your house; she really didn't get paid, she just got some living money. It doesn't sound good for a labor secretary.


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the "crossfire" in Boston, Massachusetts, Robert Reich, former Clinton labor secretary; and in West Palm Beach, Florida, former Bush labor secretary Lynn Martin.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Who is in the real "crossfire"? It's Linda Chavez, nominated to be secretary of labor. She did get a vote of confidence today from President-elect Bush. But she should ask fired baseball managers how much that helps.

Chavez's trouble deepened over the weekend, when an unfriendly, presumably Democratic, neighbor leaked to the press that eight or nine years ago, she allowed an illegal immigrant from Guatemala to live in her home. Since this woman did odd jobs and received a little money, did Chavez break the law?

Whether she did or not, it gave organized labor something tangible in its campaign against her nomination. What the union leaders really object to are her views: opposing racial quotas it's and a higher minimum wage. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney did all he could to defeat George W. Bush, but now wants veto power or his secretary of labor. Senate hearings begin Tuesday of next week, January 16 -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Lynn Martin, good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: First of all, I want to say for the record, that I thought it was wrong to reject Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood for hiring an illegal alien, but I think the same standard that applied to them should apply to Linda Chavez, and she herself helped lay that standard out in an interview with Jim Lehrer back in 1993; please listen to just a little bit of it.


LINDA CHAVEZ: I think most of the American people were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination, that she had hired illegal alien. That was what upset them more, than the fact that she did not pay social security taxes.


PRESS: That's what upset the people then, and now we have Linda Chavez; she hired an illegal alien; she clearly broke the law by her own standard. She's is in deep trouble, isn't she, Lynn?

LYNN: Well, first of all, I don't think there's agreement that she hired an illegal alien, and that is going to be the issue. I think we all know that you cannot and ought not hire illegal aliens, and so, certainly, that is a question that she should and must answer. But I believe, what she is saying, and I know it's an old Washington custom to ignore this, but we may actually have to wait for the facts on this, that, she, through her church, tried to give somebody some help. She had done it before and was doing it again, and as someone who's just had a number of guests in her home, I assure you that guests in your home empty dishwashers and help with dishes and do things like that and don't view it as pay.

And it isn't viewed as pay, so before we agree that somehow she as broken the law, and if she has, indeed, that's going to be difficult. I don't think Secretary Reich or I would have any disagreement on that, but I think it important we wait to hear exactly what it was. People in Washington occasionally do good deeds and Linda Chavez may have actually done one.

PRESS: Well, for several months, we debated what the meaning of "is" is; now, perhaps, we are debating what the meaning of "hire" is. There seems to be disagreement between Linda Chavez and this Guatemalan woman, Marta Mercado, as to whether or not she had a job.

We just did an interview here at CNN with this woman from Guatemala, and here is what he said she did for Linda Chavez for money. Please, listen up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARTA MERCADO: Sometimes I cleaned the kitchen, I mopped the floors, I vacuuming, I did some laundry sometimes, some ironing, but it was not every day. It was, you know, sometimes...


PRESS: It wasn't every day, Lynn, she says, but she did say on ABC a little earlier that she did this for money, and so, when you take someone in your home, you give them jobs to do, you tell them what to do, you tell them when to do it, and you pay them for it; that's not hiring somebody?

MARTIN: Well, I'm not sure she was paid for those jobs. That is the point. And it is going to be a question that has to be answered. We're not disagreeing. The reason I'm laughing, and this is a very serious area, but I think people sometimes have the wrong idea of what people do.

Before we came tonight, here, I vacuumed, wash the floor, and did a load of wash, and loaded the dishwasher, and you are right; no one paid me for it, but that is part of running, daily, a home. And so I think we want to be very careful.

I should quickly add here that I don't think this is necessarily Republican or Democrat. When -- I was confirmed very quickly with a unanimous vote, and so I should take this opportunity to thank Democrats. It can be done; Bob, you can remember your confirm. I can't remember the exact vote count. These don't always have to be horrendous conflicts. I hope we can move to that, this time, with Governor Bush's nominees.

NOVAK: Robert Reich, of course, as you are well aware, irregular work is permitted. It's not considered a hire. There is no evidence -- the woman herself said she didn't do it regularly, but isn't it something over the top that people in this town, including some of my journalistic colleagues, are now taking book on when George W. Bush will throw her over the side? Isn't this "Alice in Wonderland" -- verdict first, evidence later?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY: Bob, I take no responsibility for what happens in your town. I escaped your town. I'm not going back to your town. If your journalists want to do whatever they do, that's perfectly fine. But look, I do agree with Lynn Martin.

In a show of extraordinary bipartisanship, we ought to wait until all the facts do come out. But let me just add one point here: and that is, if somebody is coming into your house -- if it turns out, they come into your house, and you pay them, and they are doing a bunch of jobs for you, you are absolutely right, Bob. That does -- that is in the gray area in terms of what employment actually means, but we're talking about somebody who is going to be secretary of labor.

And if they are going to err at all, we want them to err in enforcing the laws on the side of protecting people and calling them employees, and providing social security, and making sure they get the minimum wage, and doing all the things that we want done for employees, not to simply turn their backs and say, well, this person really isn't an employee.

NOVAK: Mr. Secretary, I would like you to listen to something that the president-elect's press secretary designated -- everybody has long titles these days; something he said today on this issue. Let's listen to Ari Fleischer.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY DESIGNEE: I think there's no doubt about it, taking somebody who's in a moment of need into your home is an act of compassion. She has done this on many occasions with other people, various backgrounds and various walks of life; it's call kindness.


NOVAK: The other people...

REICH: I shed a tear.


NOVAK: If I may ask the question, Bob; she did bring in other people: two Vietnamese immigrants, she brought in children of a Puerto Rican person who didn't have a job, and I know, Bob, that liberals such as yourself like to help people in the abstract -- in the mass. But isn't it nice for a compassionate conservative to help individuals sometimes?

REICH: I think it's wonderful and this act of kindness and generosity gives new meaning to the term compassionate conservatism, particularly if you bring somebody in, and you ask them to do a lot of meaning (ph) little chores in your house, and you pay them for it, and you don't provide them the minimum wage or social security, but you do it out of the compassion you feel for them and their predicament.

Remember, in the pre-days before the minimum wage, a lot of employers said, look at these poor people; they're not worth the minimum wage. Out of our compassion, we're going to give them jobs, but basically, they are not worth anything. Look, let's wait until all the facts get out here. All I'm saying, Bob, is we want somebody who is going to vigorously enforce the laws of this country, the labor laws of this country. And if it turns out that she is shading, playing with definitions, wondering what "is" is in terms of employment, it may not be a good sign.

PRESS: Lynn Martin, I saw that news conference with Ari Fleischer today. I have had one of the biggest laughs I've had in a long time. You know the immigration law very clear. The immigration law says it is illegal to harbor anyone who in this country without proper documentation. It doesn't say, oh, if you are being a nice guy, it's OK. It's against the law, you know that; I ask you again, it's pretty clear. She broke the law, Lynn; admit it.

MARTIN: At church, as you know, the Catholic Church has been very active in this area, and it's my understanding -- I've asked for people to help in this area. I -- Bob and I -- I don't think it's a first, but it comes close -- I know it's ridiculous, but let's try to wait for the facts.

It's also true that what a secretary of labor is going to do, is part of product with what has gone on before. They don't come in and change everything differently, but at the same time, they have to have a level of respect and comedy to work with Democrats and Republicans alike. The process will let us see how that's going to work. I don't know why we are so -- we're in such a rush to judgment about someone who's past is interesting, and who's, at least, a creative thinker.

PRESS: Well, her nomination is coming up January 16. Now is the time to raise the questions, not after she is already confirmed.

MARTIN: That's true. I have no objection to the questions, Bill, by the way; I think it's appropriate that the Senate ask them.

PRESS: Let me suggest why the questions are particularly appropriate to her. I think Senator Daschle said it best yesterday morning -- on one of the Sunday morning talk shows. Please listen to Senator Daschle:


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: This is the labor secretary. The labor secretary ought to set the example, ought to be able to enforce all the laws. If she hasn't been able to do that in past, one would have serious questions about whether she'd be able to do it, and as her capacity as secretary of labor.


PRESS: Right on point, no?

MARTIN: I don't know if you are talking to me or Bob.

PRESS: I am, to you.

MARTIN: I say, and I believe Senator Daschle said, that's what the hearing process is going to be about. It's appropriate. And I can only tell you, that, although I would not call myself a close friend, I certainly know this person. Even when I've disagreed with her, I have found her a person, yes, of great personal compassion. I'm just telling you that as a human being.

NOVAK: Before we take a break, I want to ask Secretary Reich a question. Just of -- the kind of the level of the discourse in this story, which just broke yesterday, let's listen to your friend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ABC'S "THIS WEEK") REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Hiring this woman means a sense of -- minimum wage. She is for a certain minimum wage. And maybe her and this woman had a joint venture to hire a woman that, kind of, a indentured servitude status.


NOVAK: Can't you and I -- we often agree on something; I will think of something we agree on soon. Can't we agree that it is really going overboard to call her an indentured servant?

REICH: We don't know enough, Bob, and again -- what concerns me, a little bit about all of this, is that the issue here -- the factual issue of whether or not she took in and knew this person was an undocumented alien and also didn't pay social security -- all that is very, very important. It will come out. But that discussion and that factual inquiry is, sort of, diverting attention from her record, what she has said, her values. The question of whether she will actually enforce the law, the minimum wage, affirmative action, Glass Ceiling Commission, all of that is very important.

PRESS: Mr. Secretary, you are right on target, and that's where we are going when we come back from the break. Do these policies of Linda Chavez make her the enemy of organized labor? We will pick up that question, and let me tell you right now, the CROSSFIRE will not stop at 8:00, because Lynn Martin is going to hang around. She'll be in our chat room right after tonight's show. Log on to to throw your tough questions to Lynn Martin. We will be right back.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Even before news of Linda Chavez's troubles with an illegal immigrant surfaced, organized labor had determined to fight her nomination as labor secretary. They say she is their enemy because of her opposition to affirmative action and the minimum wage. Do those policy positions make her a bad choice for labor or should labor unions have any say at all in her selection after backing Al Gore?

We debate the new nominee for labor secretary tonight with two former secretaries: Republican Lynn Martin, of President Bush's Cabinet; she's in West Palm Beach, Florida; and Robert Reich, labor secretary for President Clinton joins us from Boston; he's also the author of the new book, "The Future of Success" -- Bob.

NOVAK: Robert Reich, the AFL-CIO President John Sweeney has called the nomination of Linda Chavez an insult to American working men and women. And what he is objecting to, as I can see it, mostly, is that she is opposed to racial quotas. Now, this was -- and to a big increase in minimum wage. This was the position of the man who appointed her -- who got elected -- President of the United States George W. Bush.

Can you explain to me, why he should put in a labor secretary who is opposed to his positions? REICH: Bob, undoubtedly, the threshold that a Cabinet appointment has to meet, with regard to their positions, the objections -- the people can level against their positions, is not the same as the threshold for, let's say, a Supreme Court Justice, who's going to be in there forever.

A president should be entitled to put into his Cabinet people who share his points of view, but, at the same time, there is a legitimate question that can be raised and should be raised about whether one of these people -- whether it's John Ashcroft or it is Linda Chavez, is going to genuinely enforce the laws that he or she has under his or her domain.

Now, in terms of minimum wage or Glass Ceiling or affirmative action or a bunch of other labor laws, Linda Chavez has been very public about her opposition in principle to lot of these things. George W. Bush didn't say he didn't want a minimum wage, didn't like a minimum wage increase, he didn't say he thinks that there is no Glass Ceiling, and that's what I understand Linda Chavez said. He really did not campaign against labor laws.

NOVAK: Well, he did campaign against racial quotas, but moving on from there, Mr. Secretary; they're dredging up many of the things that Mrs. Chavez has said over the years in her syndicated columns, and I just wonder if that's fair. What would you think of confirming a -- somebody for secretary of labor who had said: "Stalin's economic organization was remarkably successful" or: "Stalin converted Russian surplus farm capacity to efficient industrial capacity." Would you say that somebody who was that injudicious in his comments should not be confirmed in...

REICH: I would say that any president that put that person up is going to have a lot of political problems -- is opening himself up for political trouble. But -- but I -- I never said anything like that like. In fact, like Lynn Martin, I was distinguished in my particular confirmation by having 100 Senators -- all of the Senate vote in favor of me.

NOVAK: Didn't you say the things I just quoted?

REICH: No, no, no. If I did, you were quoting way out of context. I am not a communist. I am not a socialist. I am, at worse, a liberal.

PRESS: Those of us who write columns know that our words -- all of us -- the words will come back to haunt us.

REICH: It's interesting. In my confirmation hearing, there came out a big volume of Reich quotes and Reich publications that we have to worry about, and I -- really, in preparation to that confirmation, I had to prepare all kinds of responses to all these quotes, and I finally got through it, and somebody brought out Reich quotes, volume two.

MARTIN: I missed that on the "bestseller" list, but I promise to read it. PRESS: Well, I want to go back to "Chavez, volume one" and let's ask you about a couple of issues; number one, the minimum wage. I mean, she is an open -- even though Senate and House Democrats and Republicans last year agreed to raise minimum wage -- it never happened; it got bottled up in committees, but both parties agreed to do it. She's been an active vocal opponent of the minimum wage, and she blamed it on -- and here's the quote I want you to listen to: those guys, namely Robert Reich as secretary of labor. She said the blame should be laid on "those folks at the Clinton labor department who seemed to think wage policy should follow Karl Marx's dictum from each, according to his abilities to each, according to his needs."

Do you really agree with her that minimum wage is a Marxist idea, and that Bob Reich is a Marxist?

MARTIN: I think you're just going to go on for a long time, Bill, and I'm enjoying this.

PRESS: I was wound up.

MARTIN: Let me suggest a number of things here. I hope we don't get to a time where we can't approve of people who write; and writing, you know, does sometimes -- you say things that later on -- I'm sure I said things at age 10 and 12 someone could dig up and thank God didn't.

Two things about the minimum wage. One, it's my understanding that she does not support ending the minimum wage, but would, for instance, wonder what happens if you are in a different kind of economy and there's an area with very high unemployment . These are legitimate questions but that doesn't preclude the fact that she would enforce the law. I think we all know that that's what you must do.

But the second part here, and I suspect the more important part, the minimum wage, in my view, is one of these issues that people drag up once in a while that doesn't have the relevance to the new economy it once had. Minimum wage is not a living wage. What we have to concentrate more on, is making sure people can make enough money, having the kind of training they need to succeed.

PRESS: I'm jumping in just because we are almost out of time. I want to jump in, quickly, to one other issue.

REICH: I have to respond to that. I have enormous respect for Lynn Martin in every other way, but I just have to say, the minimum wage means something to ten million people who are now getting by on $10,800 a year, and that minimum ought to be increased, Lynn...


MARTIN: It used to be the Restaurant Association against it, the Labor Union's for it, but what we are looking at is...


NOVAK: Madam Secretary, we are going to have to live with no time being left; thank you very much, Lynn Martin. Thank you Robert Reich. And Secretary Press and I will be back with closing comments.


NOVAK: Bill, if I could just put a little balance to your representation of what the Guatemalan woman, Marta Mercado, said in our interview on CNN. She was asked about the money she received from Linda Chavez. She said, I think it was a gift. She was asked about allowing to live in their house. She said, they were very, very nice and kind. Just, to bring a lot of balance. I know when you're wound up, you don't like balance, but there it is, baby.

PRESS: The balance is, this is no difference from Zoe Baird. She lived in her house she mopped -- except she was doing housework and not taking care of the kids -- she mopped the floors, she did the laundry, she did the dishes, she did the vacuuming, and she got paid for it.

And she said, Bob, on ABC, she got paid because Linda Chavez knew she had a family that needed some help. That's a job.

NOVAK: Let me tell you something. Robert Reich was approved by the Senate 100 to nothing. Janet Reno was approved by the Senate 100 to nothing. But the Democrats just can't leave it alone. When they have people they don't agree with, they want to drive them in the dirt, the Bill Press style.

PRESS: You know what it's called? Opposition, and you know what? She ain't going to make it. From the left, I'm Bill Press. We will debate this again on the THE SPIN ROOM tonight at 8:30. See you later.

NOVAK: What a nasty fellow. From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time, for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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