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Is President Bush Doing a Good Job?

Aired April 25, 2001 - 19:30   ET



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd say pretty darn good. I mean, I'm enthusiastic about the job. I really love what I'm doing.



SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: If this is the first 100, we're concerned about what the next 1,360 look like.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: President Bush's first 100 days. How's he doing? Tonight: the perspective of two congressional leaders.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Republican conference chairman, and Congressman Martin Frost from Texas, chairman of the Democratic caucus.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. It's only day 96 of the Bush presidency, but the 100 days' measurements are being taken. The view in Washington is mixed, along partisan lines, naturally. But the American people like what they've seen.

The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows 62 percent approval, 29 percent disapproval of President Bush's job. He was all over television today to mark his 100 days. The president ended ambiguity about the U.S. defending Taiwan against any Chinese attack, raising hackles on Democrats and Clinton administration officials. And he continued to plug away on behalf of tax cuts.

Today, the president went to New Orleans for a rally and then to Little Rock tonight for his first political fund-raiser as president, and then back to the ranch at Crawford.

So how's the president doing? Are the American people wrong in giving him high grades, or have those first 100 days really been a big success, Bill?

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: We'll find out, Robert. Senator Santorum, welcome.

Let's start out. The president sort of decided to celebrate his first 100 days by making a unilateral declaration of policy in these interviews this morning. He said -- removing, as Bob indicated, any ambiguity -- that if Taiwan's ever threatened, the United States will do whatever it takes to defend it, which basically means all-out war to protect Taiwan. That's never been said by an American president before, and it was said, senator, without any consultation with members the Armed Services Committee, the Intelligence Committee, or the foreign policy committees in the Senate or in the House.

No. 1, major change, you have to agree. And No. 2, shooting from the hip, no?

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I wouldn't call it a major change. I think the president has articulated clearly what I think most members of Congress and I think most people in this country believe, which is an ally that we have a security arrangement with is attacked that we are going to defend.

And the reason we're out there -- I mean, we're out there. We're selling arms to the Taiwanese. We have carriers deployed out there. We have -- we have a security arrangement with this country. To suggest somehow or another that we would not use -- use military force if they were attacked I think -- maybe it wasn't as explicitly said by an American president, but I think clearly that was -- that was the policy.

PRESS: Well, it's always been implied, but there's always been this ambiguity. One senator who has very strong feelings about our relationship with China spoke out today, kind of defending President Bush but sort of kind of not. Listen to what Senator John McCain had to say, sort of trying to help the president out. Here he is.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I don't think that President Bush is trying to change U.S. policy. I mean, this issue is one that requires very carefully nuanced words. You have to be very careful how you state our somewhat complex policy toward China and Taiwan. And I'm sure that they'll clear up that language sooner rather than later.


PRESS: So he's saying you've got to be very careful, but Bush was not careful. He was basically saying it was a screw-up, wasn't it?

SANTORUM: Oh, I don't think John was saying it was a major screw-up. We are -- often dealing with the Chinese or any kind of diplomatic thing, parsing of words is in fact important.

But I think what we saw here is the president took in the case of the sales of arms a rather conservative, a measured response. Many of us in Congress were encouraging him, maybe want to sell an Aegis class destroyer to the Taiwanese. He did not do so.

And I think what he wanted to do was to assure I think maybe the world that that did not mean that we were backing away from our commitments to Taiwan, and I think that was the kind of responsible approach to take.

REP. MARTIN FROST (D), TEXAS: Bill, we have kind of a tradition in this country of bipartisan foreign policy. It stops at the water's edge.

And I'm not going to be critical of the president...

SANTORUM: I bet you won't be.

FROST: ... I think -- on foreign policy, though. I think -- I think that the president does need to be careful in terms of what he says. And we've had both Democrats and Republican presidents who followed a particular policy for over 20 years, well over 20 years now, of keeping this somewhat vague.

I mean, a lot of us in Congress have been supporters of Taiwan and don't want to see anything happen to Taiwan. I've supported the sale of arms to Taiwan. But I would suggest that the president on foreign policy perhaps needs to be a little careful in terms of what he says and how he says it.

NOVAK: Of course, I'm so shocked that John McCain isn't 100 percent supportive of the president. That really is shocking.

But you know, a lot of your colleagues in the Democratic Party were just all over him, all over President Bush today for what he said. But I would like to have us all listen to what President Bush said this morning in an interview with CNN, John King. The problem that a lot of the critics -- a lot of the criticism from a lot of the Democrats that this will encourage Taiwan to declare its independence, because we will then defend them from an attack by China, which is pretty silly.

But let's listen to what the president said.


BUSH: I have said that I will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself, and the Chinese must understand that. Secondly, I certainly hope Taiwan adheres to the one-China policy.


NOVAK: That means (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- do you have any trouble with that?

FROST: No. I think that was in response after he made some earlier comments on another broadcast, Bob, and some people in the White House said, Mr. President, you really need to clarify your position. I think that statement was fine. But I think he had made an earlier statement that needed a little clarification. But again, Bob, I'm not going to pick a fight with the president on foreign policy. I will note that during the Clinton administration Republicans often picked a fight with the president on foreign policy, including when we had troops in the field and airmen over Kosovo. And I think there's nothing to be served by that.

NOVAK: I thought they let him do anything he wanted to, but that's another story. We're not going to talk about President Clinton too much, are we?

Congressman, I'd like you to take a look at the -- of the Gallup Poll, "USA Today"/CNN/Gallup Poll about the April approval ratings of the first year in office.

President Bush now is 62 percent. President Clinton, 55 percent. The president's father, 58 percent. Ronald Reagan, who had just been shot and people were very sympathetic to him, 67 percent. Jimmy Carter, 63 percent. Nixon, 61 percent.

So this president that all of you have been making fun of and saying he's not up to the job, the American people like him even if you don't, isn't that correct?

FROST: Well, Bob, I've never said I don't like him, and I think the American people...

NOVAK: They think he's doing a good job.

FROST: I think the American people are very generous. As you showed from your chart, presidents of both parties, the American people tend to give them the benefit of the doubt early in their administration.

I will say that this president has not been bipartisan the way he said he was going to be, and I have some problems with that. I have some problems with things he's done on the environment and his priorities.

But I think the American people are by nature generous, and they give a new president, any president regardless of party, the benefit of the doubt early in his term.

PRESS: Senator, in this interview with Charlie Gibson on "Good Morning America" this morning, the president was asked what one of his -- maybe the biggest mistake he'd made in his 100 years (sic). He said jokingly maybe I wore a red tie too many times.

But I'd suggest...


Yeah, I noticed. But I suggest that there might have been a bigger mistake that he made in his first 100. And there's a new ad released tonight by the Democratic National Committee, which -- we don't how much time was bought on it, but at least we have a copy of it. SANTORUM: Paid for with soft money I believe.


PRESS: I'd like to show -- perhaps.

I'd like to show...

SANTORUM: That's a subject of another show.

PRESS: Listen to just a little bit of it. Maybe this is President Bush's big mistake. Here it goes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I please have some more arsenic in my water, mommy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: More salmonella in my cheeseburger please.

NARRATOR: George W. Bush tried to role back protections against arsenic in drinking water and salmonella in school lunches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, this is a great place for an oil well. And so is this.

NARRATOR: Bush is trying to allow oil drilling in Alaska's Natural Wildlife Refuge and even in our national parks.


PRESS: Now, wouldn't you have to admit coming from environmentally friendly Pennsylvania that it was a mistake to declare war on the environment in the first 100 days?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, the president has not declared war on the environment. The president's taken I think rather reasonable approaches on a lot of things. And the arsenic situation is a classic example. He did not roll back. What he suggested was that we need to take a new look at it. He's for lowering the standards. He just believes that the standard that was set by the prior administration to roll back to was -- would be too costly, and was not, given the incredible technology now to measure such infinitesimal parts per billion, that, you know, we have to look at what is a reasonable standard, what is safe.

There may be lots of things in water at such infinitesimal levels that have absolutely no health effects and to get rid of them and the cost associated with that. And the cost, by the way, could have health effects, because that's money spent on that that was not spent on other things to improve the environment and improve...

FROST: Bill, I hope the Republicans keep defending the president on these environmental decisions, because the president has taken some pretty extreme positions.

SANTORUM: He's not taken -- on the case of arsenic, he did not take an extreme position.

FROST: He is -- he is a decent person. No one will dispute that. But he has made wrong decisions. And now he's come under fire...


SANTORUM: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not make a wrong decision on arsenic. Arsenic is a naturally occurring thing.

FROST: I hope they continue to think that.

SANTORUM: If you'll allow me, I will. But what he has done is said we need to look at the science, and we need to find out what, in fact, is detrimental to health, and that's the level we should go to, not some artificial standard that makes people feel good.

PRESS: I hear your defense, but I want to take a page from my colleague, Bob Novak's, book and take a look at what the American people think about this. They look at the arsenic, they look at rolling back the CO2, they look at abandoning global warming and all the other stuff that Bush has done, and in our CNN/"USA Today" poll, the same poll Bob was talking about, April 20th to 22nd: Does big business have too much influence over George Bush -- yes, 63 percent of the American people; no, 31 percent. They see that issue as payback to the oil companies and the gas companies and the mining companies.

SANTORUM: There's another number you didn't show. They asked in that same poll what was his record on the environment, and the majority of the American public thought it was a good record. I didn't see that number come up on the screen.


SANTORUM: You didn't show that number. The American public...


PRESS: How do you explain that? Payback to big business, isn't it?

SANTORUM: The American public realizes that this president is concerned about the environment. They realize that this president is going to do his best to make sure we have a balanced approach to the environment.


FROST: I think Bob wants to change the subject.

PRESS: Of course he does. So does Senator Santorum.

NOVAK: I think he's been too soft on the environment, too friendly to the greens in my opinion.


PRESS: Yes, there's still birds alive.

NOVAK: Congressman Frost, that was really -- I have been around this town, this is my 44th year of being a reporter here. I have never seen the national committee of a party put out an attack ad on the president of the United States before he's been in 100 days. We had a showing on CNN earlier today that the left wing interest groups -- you would call them liberal interest groups -- are spending money in attacking President Bush in vast amounts, far more than any defense of him on the right. Isn't this -- aren't you conduction the continuous, constant, permanent campaign as advocated by James Carville?

FROST: Well, Bob, first of all, the Republicans didn't give Bill Clinton one day in office without attacking him.

NOVAK: They didn't run those kind of ads.

FROST: They were after him from the day he took the oath of office, and


FROST: Let me answer your question. I have seen ads defending this president. I have see an enormous buy on the school voucher issue. I don't know if you see that. Every time I turn on TV, every time...

NOVAK: Compared with...

FROST: Oh, come on.

NOVAK: We have the non-partisan...

FROST: For months now, I have been seeing ads on school vouchers.


SANTORUM: But that's not attacking anybody. That's promoting a particular issue. That's not attacking a particular person.

PRESS: One at time.

NOVAK: Do you approve of those DNC ads?

FROST: Oh, I think that the party is entitled to do what they want to, Bob. I think that you really ought to be talking, quite frankly, about the size of the tax cut, about whether we're going to pay down the national debt. I had town hall meetings in my district last week, people want to know why aren't we concentrating on paying down the national debt? Why aren't we doing something about prescription drug?

(CROSSTALK) PRESS: You see, there is more to talk about, and we'll get to it when we take -- right after we take this break. What about that tax cut, and has the president succeeded, in his 100 days, of changing the tone Washington?


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. One hundred days: It may be an unfair test, but it's one that no president can escape because we in the media won't let him. First reports on George Bush's 100 days are in, and, no surprise, Republicans are enthusiastic and Democrats are, well, underwhelmed.

What are the most important measures and how's he measure up? That's our debate tonight with Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and Democratic Congressman Martin Frost of Texas, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congressman Frost, before we took our break, you were starting to rail, if I can use that word, against the tax cuts, but I'd like you to listen another thing that the president said in his debate with John King of CNN today.


BUSH: In the first 100 days, we got one bill out of the House at $1.6 trillion and one out of the Senate at $1.2, so at least the parameters have been defined. I think we're going to get meaningful tax relief.


NOVAK: Let us be candid. If I had gone to you in the campaign and said George Bush was going to be elected in a disputed election, and by April, we would discussing whether the 10-year tax cut would be $1.6 trillion or $1.2 trillion or in-between, you would have said, Novak, you're smoking something funny because there's no chance of that. You'd say, well, Bush has only proposed $1.2 trillion in the campaign. Aren't I correct? This is a great triumph for the president.

FROST: Well, Bob, the question is what's the real figure? It may be $3 trillion, before they are through.

NOVAK: I hope so.

FROST: As you know, they have -- well, I know you hope so, and it could be, and I can tell you, I was in Texas over the break, and I had people in the most conservative parts of district come up to me and say, congressman, we want a takes cut. Of course, we want a tax cut, but we want you to pay down the national debt. We don't want to use all of that revenue just for a tax cut, and we also want prescription drugs and we want education and we want enough money for defense. Bob, you should be concerned about the fact that this administration has delayed and delayed their budget on defense. They're going to spend all the money on the tax cut. They're going to spend all the money on other thing, and you're -- they're not going to have enough money to do the fundamental things you want for a strong national defense.

SANTORUM: That's not actually true.

FROST: It is true.

SANTORUM: It's not true. The president spends, in his proposal, a $1.6 trillion tax cut. I hope he gets 1.6 trillion...

FROST: Bob wants three.

SANTORUM: ,, but if gets in-between 1.2 and 1.6, that's big win for this president, and you've got to admit it's a big win for this president. He got what he asked for in the campaign, number one, and number two, he got much more than any Democrat had ever proposed, and we got 15 Democratic votes in the United States Senate for a $1.2 trillion tax cut. That's the first time we'd ever gotten a bipartisan budget passed by the United States Senate.

So, that is a huge win, and it shows the power of this message. With respect to spending, this president is taking a very responsible approach with 4 percent. That is not bare bones. That is above the rate of inflation. That is a reasonable number.

And what we need to do is look and increase our priorities in education. The president's increase is a 12 percent increase in education -- almost 12 percent, 11.8. And then he says we need to do a 4 percent increase in defense, but we need to study and set our priorities in defense. We need to take a look at how we're going to get to the next generation. That is the responsible approach.


FROST: He's already used up the 4 -- the 4 percent in defense with the funding of the military retirees legislation that we passed last year -- has nothing for quality of life of our soldiers, for raising pay, for better housing...

NOVAK: Before we get too deep into the budget, I want to ask you a political question. You're a great politician, one of the great political minds of the Democratic Party...

SANTORUM: This is a good setup. This is a good setup. Look out!



NOVAK: Terry McAuliffe, your party chairman, he raged a campaign that this guy wasn't really elected president, and therefore, that, that pounding this was an invalid election. I would like to read to you from this same CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll how Bush won the election. This is the American people.

Fair and square, 50 percent; on a technicality, 29 percent; stole the election, 19 percent.

Now, isn't this a question of that only 19 percent say he stole the election? Shouldn't you call up Terry McAuliffe and say, get off this thing, Terry?

FROST: Bob, the election is over. Bush is the president. The question is, what does he stand for?


Let me be very specific on this: That's what you have to judge Bush on. Does he stand for a tax cut that goes primarily to the wealthy and is not focused on the middle class? Does he stand for the right things? Is he going to do -- is he going to do the kind of things the American people want?

I mean, the election is over, he won, we do need to change some things about the way elections are conducted. We need to make sure that we have uniform ballots in this country, that we have up-to-date equipment so that the votes are recorded. But the election is over.

PRESS: Senator, we just have about a minute left. I just want to get this one question in, because I think some events are very important to tell what the man is all about. The first bill that Bill Clinton signed as president was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which Bush's father vetoed twice.

The first bill that George W. Bush signed was to repeal the protection for workers in American offices, to get rid of the ergonomics regulations. Doesn't that say a lot about this guy's priorities, that he's on the side of big business and not the people?

SANTORUM: No, what it says is that the president signed something that had overwhelming bipartisan support of the Congress, because this was an outrageous bow, a payoff, one of the many payoffs at the end to organized labor in the prior administrations.

FROST: This was a study that had gone on for 10 years.

SANTORUM: This was ill-conceived, this was...

PRESS: Longer.

SANTORUM: This was very, very costly, and it would have destroyed -- help destroy the American economy.

So this was a president taking a tough, responsible -- what it shows is this is a president who's willing to stand up and do the right thing.

FROST: This was protecting the safety of workers. SANTORUM: This was a president who was going to stand up and tell the Americans the truth.

NOVAK: That's going to be -- have to be the last word. Thank you very much, Senator Santorum, Congressman Frost. And I will have closing comments, will try to explain to Bill what the first 100 days was all about.


NOVAK: Bill, eight years ago during the first 100 days of Bill Clinton, you were still losing elections for...


... the Democrats in California. But those of us that were here felt that President Clinton had about the worst 100 days of any president in memory. President Bush's 100 days, hasn't made any mistakes.

You don't like him cutting taxes and doing things for the private sector. But can I tell you a little secret? He won the election and that's what he promised.

PRESS: Well, I know he was put in there by the Supreme Court, Bob, but look...


PRESS: Look, Bob, this is the truth: The expectations for George Bush are so low, that's what he's benefiting from. If he's still standing, people say he wins. The truth is, Bob, I'll be honest: I think Dick Cheney had a great 100 days. I think George Bush still has his training wheels on. He may grow into the job. He's not there yet.

NOVAK: That meanness really doesn't do you credit. I want you to give this president some credit and say, boy, Bob, he had a good 100 days. He's going to have trouble ahead, but this was good.

PRESS: I'm not going to say -- you know, I'm not going to say that, because I always tell the truth, Bob. He did not have a great 100 days.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. See you later in "THE SPIN ROOM."

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



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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