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Should So Many Democrats Be Jumping on the Bush Bandwagon?

Aired January 31, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET



SEN. RUSSELL FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: When I vote for John Ashcroft in committee...


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Democrats for Bush's most controversial nominee. Democrats for Bush's big tax cut. Democrats for Bush's faith-based program. Even Democrats going to the White House for a movie. What's going on? Should so many Democrats be jumping on Bush bandwagon?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters of California and fellow Californian and Democratic Leadership Council vice chair, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. He did it in Texas. He's trying it in Washington. George W. Bush is taking his pitch directly to Democrats. From the morning after his acceptance speech, when he took a call from chief critic Jesse Jackson, to this afternoon when he met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, President Bush is doing his best to woo his political enemies.

Is his strategy working? Time will tell, but the early evidence indicates a mass swoon is in progress. Prominent Democrats have been visible at every Bush agenda item so far. Former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says he supports Bush's faith-based initiatives. Senator Zell Miller says he supports a Bush tax cut. As of tonight, five Democratic senators have announced their plans to vote to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general.

Perhaps most telling, three members of the Kennedy family, including Senator Ted Kennedy and his son, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, are scheduled to visit the White House tomorrow. The agenda? Watching a movie with George W. Bush. The fabled Bush charm seems to be working, but can the honeymoon last, and should it? Or have Democrats rolled over too easily, given up too much in return for too little -- Bill?

PRESS: Thank you, Tucker. We should mention, of course, that this is another Bill and Tucker combo. CROSSFIRE now and then at 10:30 p.m. Eastern and 7:30 p.m. West Coast we'll be doing "THE SPIN ROOM" together.

Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, welcome. We have known each other a long time. I supporter you in your first campaign for Congress. I'm glad I did. I'm glad you're there.


PRESS: But let me put this in context. Tucker ran through most of them. I counted up seven, in the last 10 days, events. First there was a meeting of the so-called Democratic elders in the Cabinet room of the White House with President Bush. Then, Teddy Kennedy and George Miller went down to talk about education. Then Zell Miller says I'm for his tax cut.

Then Russ Feingold and four others say, Democrats, we're voting for John Ashcroft. Then Joe Lieberman shows up to support his faith- based initiatives. Then the whole Kennedy clan, as Tucker says, is going to the White House tomorrow to watch a movie, and the Democratic Black Caucus meets today at the White House with the president.

Why doesn't the Democratic Party just shut its doors?


TAUSCHER: Look, Bill, you know better than anybody that we Democrats are very passionate about our common beliefs and work and faith and opportunity and responsibility. But we also believe that we need to move forward and get some things done for the American people. This is our new president and we're willing to listen to what he has to say.

But we are very firm on many things. First of all, we're firm on the fact that we're not going to support vouchers in an education bill. We're not going to be for tax cuts that are irresponsible. They should be triggered. And we're not really for John Ashcroft because we think that he is a divider not a uniter and we think he's a bad nominee for attorney general.

PRESS: Well, I want to ask you about that because I know Bush is a charmer. I mean, frankly, I haven't seen that side of him yet, but obviously a lot of people have. But I think it's his actions, not his words, that you've got to look at and you mention Ashcroft, who is the antithesis of everything that Democrats stand for.

And yet I just watched, before I came down here on C-SPAN, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, our former chair, stand up and say he's going to vote for Ashcroft. I mean, talk about a dagger right to the heart. Why? Why?


TAUSCHER: Well, I think that Senator Dodd spoke eloquently about his reasons, but I can tell you what I'm happy about, that in California, our senators are opposing Senator Ashcroft for attorney general and I think that we're going to stand up -- Maxine and I are very good friends. We're going to work very hard together to make sure that our principles, that we stand with them, that we get the good things for the American people. We're not rolling over. We're working hard.

CARLSON: You know, Congressman Waters, a lot of intemperate words have been used to describe John Ashcroft. I think you've used some of the most intemperate. I just want you take a look at something you said about him the other day.



WATERS: I stand by early statements about John Ashcroft whether he believes himself to be a racist or not or whether or not he would try to re-invent himself and talk about what he is today as what he was opposed to yesteryear, I'm telling you that his actions have been racist. They add up to racism.


CARLSON: Now, John Ashcroft has never been observed making a single racist remark. His wife, as you know, worked for many years at Howard University, which you must admit, is odd behavior for the spouse of a racist. Isn't this the sort of completely outrageous, unsubstantiated remark that makes bipartisanship impossible?

WATERS: Well, it's interesting to hear you say he's never made a remark. If that's your definition of racism, then we have a different understanding about what it really is. It's not really what you say anyway, it's what you do.

When we look at his record and how he stood in the way of voluntary desegregation, was admonished by the court, was taken on by the "Post-Dispatch" because he persisted in trying to do everything that he could to block desegregation in St. Louis; when we look at the fact that he denied voter participation resources to inner city St. Louis while he gave them out all around in other areas; when we look at the way he blocked the nomination of Ronnie White; when we look at all of these things, it adds up to something that certainly looks racist.

So, if you are only looking for a remark, an outrageous remark, it really doesn't come that way...

CARLSON: I was actually looking for any evidence at all. But let me just...


WATERS: Is that not evidence to you?

CARLSON: Let me just grant you the point you just made. Let's just say John Ashcroft is a racist. Many Democrats are going to vote for him. Let's just pick one, Russ Feingold, who was the first, I believe, to announce he was supporting John Ashcroft. Is Russ Feingold a racist?

WATERS: No, as a matter of fact...

CARLSON: Then why would he support a racist?

WATERS: Well, I think he's got a lot reasons to do it. One of the reasons I believe that he's doing it is because he's so anxious to get campaign finance reform, he is running around with McCain and he's trying to attract Republicans. They are trying to attract Democrats. I think he's got another agenda.

CARLSON: So, he's willing to ignore racism for that other agenda?

WATERS: Obviously. The actions speak for itself.

PRESS: Congresswoman, during the campaign, this past campaign, Ralph Nader was out there and Ralph Nader a thousand times, I'm sure, if he said it once, said something probably you and I hated to hear him say. But I want to remind you what Ralph Nader told audience after audience, a real quick little clip here.


RALPH NADER, GREEN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There isn't a dime's worth of difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush.


PRESS: It drove me crazy every time I heard that, and yet, what did we say yesterday? What do we see in Washington? But look at this, now. There he is. Our vice presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman, standing alongside of George Bush 10 days into the administration. Was Ralph Nader right.

TAUSCHER: No, he was not right, and that's why he only got two percent of the vote by the way. Clearly there were massive differences between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

PRESS: But if people see that at home, when they see that, this coziness all of a sudden socially, aren't they going to think maybe Ralph Nader was right.

TAUSCHER: No. I will tell you that when I was home this weekend, the people in my district are tired of partisanship for political gain. They really want activities that bring good things for American working families. They want good policies. They want to rhetoric lowered. They want to make sure that we're working together.

And that's why Maxine and I are working together in the House Democratic caucus. We want real accomplishments. But at the same time, we have very strong values that we're going to stand for. We know, as I said earlier, we're not going to support an education bill that includes vouchers or no, we're not going to be for irresponsible tax cuts. And things like this Ashcroft nomination, I think was tremendously antagonistic, and I think it set the wrong tone because he is a divider, not a uniter and we want to move forward. We are willing to stand at the halfway point and say OK, Mr. President, show us what you've got, and that's where we were.

PRESS: Well, I guess the question is of tactics, OK, because I agree with what you're saying. But the question is how are you effective as an opposition party?

Now I remember eight years ago when Bill Clinton came in. You know what, from day one Republicans never accepted him as legitimate, never accepted him as having a mandate. It was open warfare from day one. On a personal level, they went after him on Whitewater. He had an independent counsel almost every day of the whole eight years.

Why should we treat Bush any better than they treated Clinton? And look where they are, by the way. They've got all three branches of government work for them.

TAUSCHER: Well, I think we're better than that and I think the American people are looking for better than that. And I think that this is not about caving. We're not caving. It's only been eight days, for God's sake, and we've only seen a few pieces of legislation.

What we're really looking to do is to find some common ground for common sense legislation, and we're going to give him a chance. As Maxine said, it's about the deeds. There's been a lot of rhetoric. We now have to see what they're going to do.

CARLSON: Well, speaking of our better angels here, Congresswoman Waters, listen to what your leader in the House, Dick Gephardt, said about President Bush the other day.



REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: He's doing a good job. I commended him for reaching out so often, for having so many meetings and having a broad range of members. Not just having conservative Democrats, but having more moderate and liberal Democrats as well. I think that's a prescription for trying to really get some things done.


CARLSON: Now, notice the hand reaching out and contrast to your own conduct. On the very day of the inauguration, you were protesting President Bush before he was even president, you and Ed Asner. Now obviously, your constituents like this, but it's really doing anything to make America better. At some point, are you going to reach out and try to meet new president halfway?

WATERS: Well, first of all, if you saw that rally that was down in downtown Los Angeles, you will realize that the people who came there were from all over L.A. County. As a matter of fact, I was disappointed more of my constituents were not there.

It was widely attended by a lot of people. Most of them are quite progressive, and let me just say this: I think people should be honest about who they are and what they care about, and not allow themselves to be used as a backdrop and a photo-op for anybody.

I think that Bush is expert at using people as a backdrop and as a photo-op, trying to send a message he's reaching out at the same time he's denying poor woman contraceptive resources; at the same time he's got John Ashcroft over there, who is against everything that I care about and stand for.

CARLSON: But we're all human beings here. At some point, we have to come to some common ground. Can you name one thing, just one thing on which you agree with the new president?

CARLSON: No. I mean, that is just an irresponsible question on your part.

CARLSON: You can't name a single thing you agree with George W. Bush on?


WATERS: That is not the question that you should ask. You should ask -- you should be asking me why is it Bush is doing all of this ceremonial backdropping, imaging and profiling? Why isn't he dealing with the kinds of issues that I've raised concerns about all of my career. That's what you should be talking about. What does he agree with me on?

CARLSON: He's got a long way to go to win your support, I have the feeling.

WATERS: Well, it's not about him winning my support, it's about him doing the right thing for most of the people of this country and not trying to play simply to the right-wing, religious, Christian Coalition and giving them their choice for attorney general. It's about whether or not he's going to mainstream himself. He has to get rid of all these extremists that's pulling his strings.

PRESS: Members, take a pause, take a break. We're going to take a break here. The CROSSFIRE will continue after the show. Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher was good enough to stay around in our CROSSFIRE chat room. You can join in. You can throw your questions to her by logging on to

When we come back, the debate continues and guess who -- guess who may be the star guest at this weekend's Democratic retreat? You won't believe it.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. As they do every year, Democratic members of the House of Representatives will head off to nearby Pennsylvania this weekend to plan their moves for the coming session. But this year they may have an unusual guest. Expected to attend and speak is Republican President George Bush. That's right. Republican President George Bush.

The first time ever the leader of an opposing party has been welcomed into other party's inner circle. What's going on? Is this welcome bipartisanship or the end of two party politics? We debate the Democrats' apparent love affair with George Bush with two California Democrats, Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher of Contra Costa County and Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Congresswoman Waters, let's talk about this love affair.


CARLSON: And let's begin with Congressman Patrick Kennedy. I want to read to you an excerpt from an interview he gave to his hometown paper, "The Providence Journal."

Asked why he was going to the movies with George W. Bush, he said, and I'm quoting: "I am honored by the fact he invited me down, and the fact of the matter is he's now president of the United States. It would be good for Rhode Island for me to whatever working relationship I can have with him."

Now Congressman Kennedy, a pretty partisan guy, sounds absolutely smitten. My question has to do with motives. There are all these Democrats, Bill, gave their names, why are they doing this? You said that Feingold was ignoring racism for campaign finance. Why is George Miller doing this?

WATERS: Let me just say to you Patrick Kennedy is not embracing the policies of Bush, and don't even put it that way. He comes from family that has a long history in this country, and they do have these kind of invitations and I think they should respect the invitation and should follow up on and should be there

But let me tell you something, Patrick Kennedy will be the first one to take on Bush on these issues. If you've ever seen him on the floor, if you've ever seen his passion on progressive issues, you will know that we don't have to worry about him and George Bush. He won't be tricked and he won't be fooled.

CARLSON: Let's talk about someone that you personally have worried, I think, quite a bit about, and that's Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He, of course, has gotten behind this faith-based initiative idea that the new president has put out. Pretty controversial issue. Why -- what possible motive does he have to lend his name? Has he completely sold out?

WATERS: Well, first of all, let's make sure we understand how this faith-based initiative being cast. We already fund religious organizations. The Catholic Charities are some of the biggest recipients of government funds of any organization.

Bush is trying use it in a different way and trying to attract in a different way and trying to pretend in a different way. We do have to be concerned about the way in which the money is allocated and whether or not they're going to have policies of discrimination. But otherwise...


CARLSON: But to my question, why is Lieberman aiding and abetting this? Why is he lending his name to this potentially scary and dangerous plan that Bush has? Why has he joined the dark side?

WATERS: Well, again, you're casting it as scary and dangerous and I'm trying to let you know it's another one of those smoke and mirror kind of things that Bush is so capable of doing. We fund religious organizations already. We just have to make sure that they are not violating the Constitution by allowing the funds to be used in certain ways and mixed with church funds.

Lieberman obviously came to the Democratic Party with a strong religious background. He said it up front. A lot of people knew it. Some people disagreed with it, but he is who he is, and that is not to say that he is representing all Democrats.

PRESS: Well, I want to pick up that, congresswoman, because Joe Lieberman said, I have a lot of -- I love the guy, right, but he said, well, I'm here, but that doesn't mean I support the plan because, as usual, the devil is in the details. But I mean, don't you think it's important to know the details before you stand up with the guy?

TAUSCHER: Well, let's be clear about this: the education proposal that George Bush talked about...

PRESS: I'm talking about the faith-based initiatives.

TAUSCHER: But it was one that was created by the Democratic Leadership Council, a group that I'm the vice chair of that Joe Lieberman's been the chair of. This faith-based initiatives was also created at the Democratic Leadership Council.

The difference here is that this is about making sure that the money is goes to programs, not proselytizing. We don't really know right now exactly what the details are. We're happy to hear it.

But we know that lots of money already goes into some of these programs. We want to make sure that we're not getting in-between the separation between church and state. But once again, we're listening, and we're being respectful of the fact that there is opportunity now for us to try to move forward. But we know what our values are and we're not going to compromise them.

PRESS: All right, speaking of listening, I walked into a restaurant for lunch today, picked a newspaper that we all read here in Washington called "The Hill," I could not believe my eyes. Ruined my lunch. Let me just show you the headline here, if I can. There's the headline, the current issue: "Bush to Woo House Democrats at Pennsylvania Retreat."

Bush has been invited to your retreat...


WATERS: No, not invited.

TAUSCHER: He's offered to come.

PRESS: He's offered to come. He's offered to come. But you've said, your leadership has said, sure. You can come and speak to us. Now, wait a minute. This is the opposition.

TAUSCHER: First of all, let me say this right now. This is not about the president coming to speak to Democrats. What I hope will be accomplished is that he comes and listens to Democrats.

PRESS: Since when?

TAUSCHER: Since when? I think...

PRESS: When does the president ever come and just listen. That's my point.

TAUSCHER: Well, that's the point that we're trying to make here.

WATERS: Let me just tell you, Bill, he invited himself, and they didn't want to turn the president of the United States down. But they are making it very clear that this is not a lovefest, that they're going to put some hard questions to him. And we haven't heard from him since we've started to make it clear that we were going to ask questions.

PRESS: In your wildest dreams, can you imagine the Republicans ever inviting Bill Clinton to come to their Senate or House retreat?


TAUSCHER: But forget, we're a party, as Democrats, that really celebrate tolerance and diversity and we really want to do the right.

PRESS: Not surrender.


TAUSCHER: This is not surrender.

CARLSON: Congresswoman Waters, have you been re-evaluating Bill Clinton since he essentially shoved Terry McAuliffe down the throat of the Democratic National Committee, ignoring in the process other qualified candidates, such as Maynard Jackson of Atlanta? Isn't this every bit as intolerant as anything has that John Ashcroft has ever done?

WATERS: Let me say this: As you know, I believe that the parties should be absolutely open, and should try and attract all of the participation it possibly can. I don't like it when we do things that do not comply with that kind of what I think is the Democratic Party principles.

And so, I am supporting Maynard Jackson. I think competition is good. I think that it opens up the party to new ideas, and we have a good competition going on. He's challenging Terry McAuliffe and let the best person win.

CARLSON: But clearly Bill Clinton doesn't think that at all, Of course, he orchestrated the entire process from the very beginning to get his guy, going right past Maynard Jackson. I mean, why would he do something that intolerant?

WATERS: Let me just tell you, I don't know of any perfect parties. The Democratic Party is not perfect. Certainly, the Republican Party is not perfect, and that's why they have people like me. We have to make them better. We challenge them. We raise questions. We get out there on the cutting edge and say, hey, wait a minute.

And we don't care whether it's a Democrat or a Republican, when we think that the spirit of the party is being violated, when we think people are not being treated right in country, we don't care who they are, whether it's Democrat or Republican, Lieberman or Clinton, we tell them. That's what we do.

PRESS: I want to come back, if I can congresswoman, just to this very point. The Democratic Party has to decide where it's going to go post-Clinton. Can the Democratic Party move beyond Bill Clinton with someone who is so closely tied to Bill Clinton as the chair? And wouldn't somebody like Maynard Jackson maybe make that transition easier.

TAUSCHER: I agree with Maxine. I think that this is a process that needs to be open. I think we have to have a full airing of the issues. I think we have to accept the fact that we did not do well in this last election, and we've got to look forward to new leadership and people that are going to move forward.

CARLSON: Accept the fact that you didn't do, I like the sound of that. Congresswomen, Congresswoman Tauscher, Congresswoman Waters, thank you for joining us.

WATERS: You're welcome.

CARLSON: Bill Press and I will be back in just a moment with our closing comments.


PRESS: Tomorrow, CNN will bring you live coverage as the Senate votes on John Ashcroft's confirmation. it gets underway at 1:45 p.m. Eastern time. And don't forget tonight, the debate, the CROSSFIRE debate continues online with Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher. She'll be in our chat room right after the slow at

Tucker, I hate to say this, but I think my party looks like a bunch of wienies. I mean, look, this election was about something. There were real differences in this election, and I say to my fellow Democrats, remember who you are when you get the White House invitation.

CARLSON: You know what I learned today, I know a lot of people who are into the campaign finance reform issue, but to learn tonight that Senator Russ Feingold. one of my favorite Democrats, would tolerate racism simply for the sake of his own financial legislation -- that's what Maxine Waters said tonight. I though it was stunning news.

PRESS: Well, I don't know whether that's the case or not. I don't think it is, frankly.

CARLSON: Of course it's not the case.

PRESS: But here's what I have to say: To think that Russ Feingold is going to get something from George Bush or get something from the Republicans because he votes for Ashcroft, the man is kidding himself and so is Chris Dodd.


CARLSON: Bill, fit this into your mind, perhaps he's not acting out of political calculation. Perhaps he's doing what he thinks is the right thing to do. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

PRESS: You know what I say, remember this is politics. This is not a garden club.

CARLSON: Cynical, cynical.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

PRESS: And tonight, 10:30 in "THE SPIN ROOM," Donna Brazile joins us to debate the same issue, me and Tucker.

CARLSON: That's right. That would be 7:30 Pacific. Join us there.



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