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The Political Week in Review

Aired April 27, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Bob Kerrey's nightmare...


ROBERT KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: It may be that I did nothing wrong, but I feel like I did something wrong.


PRESS: Bush's first 100 days...


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: I think he's done a marvelous job.



REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I think people are just taking a deep breath and glad that the president has not caused more destruction than he already has.


PRESS: And Denise Rich tells all.

Tonight: a political week in review.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE: Democratic strategist Tony Coelho, former Gore campaign chairman; and Republican strategist Ed Gillespie.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. In case there's anybody left anywhere who doesn't already know it, Sunday marks George Bush's 100th day in the White House.

The president celebrated this week by giving nonstop interviews in which he defended his record as an environmentalist, admitted he'd never get his full $1.6 trillion tax cut, and said we would do whatever it takes to defend Taiwan. Overall, the American people give him pretty high marks so far. But Bush's statements were almost overshadowed by the shocking revelations of former Senator Bob Kerrey that the mission in Vietnam, for which he won a bronze star, actually killed up to 20 innocent civilians. Kerrey, a potential Democratic candidate against Bush in 2004, said he was prepared for the Pentagon to take his medal back.

And speaking of shocking revelations: On ABC tonight, Denise Rich vows -- quote -- she "did not have sexual relations with that man Bill Clinton." Who cares?

Well, wrap it all up. A week full of political news to debate so let's get right to it. Sitting in on the right tonight, from the "National Review" and of course, from CNN's "CAPITAL GANG," Kate O'Beirne.

Hi, Kate.

KATE O'BEIRNE, GUEST HOST: Hi, Bill. Thank you, and thanks for coming in.

About Bob Kerrey's story: How is it possible -- you've been around politics for so long -- for such a high-profile politician to have such a big story about him remain secret during 25 years of quiet, during 25 years of public life? Don't the political pros always assume they know what's noble about a candidate, especially one who's run for president?

TONY COELHO, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: Well, I think, Kate, this is a very sensitive issue, as you probably appreciate. Here's a 25-year-old young man who goes to war, kills people. A month later, is in another episode in the war, loses his leg. Ends up trying to recover, as to how to adjust to his life after he comes out at 25 years old with one less leg than when went in. There's a lot of emotion that's involved here, a lot of stuff that was hidden.

Sure, he put a band-aid over this wound and kind of hid it from himself. And I think it's great that he has taken the band-aid off and he's -- he was writing that chapter in his book long before "New York Times" and others started to play with it. "Newsweek" did the right thing a few years in not going ahead with the story.

It's a very sensitive time for Bob, but let me tell you something else -- a very sensitive time for a lot of people my age who went through this Vietnam experience. And we're still struggling with it. And I hope that Bob comes out of it, and the rest of us come out of it, too. It's time for us to move on.

O'BEIRNE: Based on your political experience, and how the public, the complicated feelings about Vietnam -- had this story come out in '92, do you suppose it would have been that damaging to Bob Kerrey, especially given that Bill Clinton survived draft dodging, accusations -- pot-smoking accusations, womanizing accusations -- would it have been that harmful, do you suppose, to Bob Kerrey?

COELHO: You couldn't stop during that Bill Clinton jab, could you? (LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE: Just making a simple comparison.

COELHO: But I think the issue is, is how he would have handled it. You know, I'm very sensitive on disability issues, as you well know. And I think that if he handled it in a way that -- talk about himself, his life experiences and so forth, I think it would have helped him.

I think that what's happening today is that it looks like it came out and forced him -- forced it out. Whereas, actually, he's written a chapter in a book already. He has it written. And it's unfair the way it's come out, but I think it's great just to get this over with. We need to move on as a country.

PRESS: Ed Gillespie, Senator Kerrey is quoted in this morning's "Washington Post" pretty strongly, where he says, about his bronze star -- quote, "I've never worn that damn medal. I never campaigned and said, 'Vote for me; I'm a hero.' If they want to take it away, I don't care."

Do you think the Pentagon should rip that bronze star off his chest?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't think so, but I think that's for the Pentagon. I have not served in the military. Who am I to second-guess a medal of honor winner, a legitimate hero, like Bob Kerrey?

And I think sometimes in the world of politics, you take a public figure at his word. And I think that's what we should all do here with Bob Kerrey, and hope that he does heal in this process.

PRESS: I want to get another sensitive issue out of the way, if I can. The -- this wire that just crossed a very short time ago, where the Austin Police Department has announced that two young women were arrested early Friday for alcohol possession under age, and one of them happens to be the president's daughter, Jenna.

I totally, totally feel that the president's family ought to be -- that that ought to be a totally private matter. But we want to say this is the second time within this hundred days there's been an alcohol-related incident involving Jenna. The first time the White House said, "No comment." This time, the White House says, "no comment."

Ed, you're an adviser -- were, to the president. You're still close to him. How many times can something like this happen where there's a question of law involved and the White House just not say anything?

GILLESPIE: Well, unlike when I said I did not serve in the military so I couldn't make a judgment on...

PRESS: You are a parent. O'BEIRNE: The parent's expertise.

GILLESPIE: I had a beer or two in college, and...


GILLESPIE: And I think a lot of other folks have, and...

PRESS: I'll -- join the crowd.

GILLESPIE: The approach that we've taken over the past eighth years with the Clintons and with Chelsea is the right one. And we should take the same approach with the Bush daughters as well, and allow them their time to grow and be college students. And you know, it's not a political matter. It's a family issue, and it's up to the family.

O'BEIRNE: About the first hundred days, Tony,

I sympathize with Democrats. Your guy's out of the White House, there's a new tenant there. I'm a conservative. I don't like abrupt change either. George Bush is keeping his promise on tax cuts. He -- there have been no Lincoln bedroom sleep-overs, no campaign contributions from the Chinese, no coffees at the White House. He hasn't even started dating.

Is the problem that the change has been too abrupt for you Democrats? Should we have eased you in to new management more subtly?

COELHO: We don't have any trouble with it any more so than what I read today in the "Washington Times" about how the Republicans are screaming all over the place, that George Bush is not doing a good enough job as president. And the division on the Republican side with their newly elected president, only 100 days in office, is kind of amazing to me as a Democrat.

I find it fascinating that they say look, Cheney is getting too much credit for doing all these things. The president needs to be more involved. He isn't paying attention to those of us in the House and the Senate. He should be doing more with worldwide leaders. I found it fascinating to read the division on Republican side.

PRESS: Why don't you defend your guy, Ed?


GILLESPIE: We are celebrating 100 days, and there is much to celebrate. The fact is, is that we are off to a great start. There's a reason that this president enjoys a 63 percent approval rating, by last count, after a very divisive election. He has changed the tone in Washington. He has cleaned up the poison well that we all injected with poison over the past eight years. And he's made it a better place to work and respect one another.

People have differences of opinion, but look, he's moved his tax package -- you guys started at zero, Tony, in terms of tax relief. We're now at -- he is at 1.6, The House is at 1.6. The Senate's at 1.3, So we're going to be somewhere between 1.3, and $1.6 trillion in tax relief. That's a major accomplishment.

Education reform, Medicare reform, and taking on issues like racial profiling as well. And, of course, the success that he had, and the decisiveness with which he handled the China situation. He has proven to be a very straightforward, forthright, strong leader, and I think the public is recognizing that.

COELHO: Well, I think the thing that I've been -- I think he's done a decent job in the first 100 days, but let's be fair. Don't go exaggerating about this 63 percent approval. I mean, in modern times, that is not very impressive for the first hundred...

GILLESPIE: It's better than where Clinton was.

COELHO: Just barely, but Clinton went through a major problem, and it corrected itself. Let's make sure that George Bush's last day in office is as popular as Bill Clinton, and that probably won't happen.


COELHO: His last day in office, that's what I keep pointing out to you, But I think that the other thing is, is that when you talk about we started off with zero with tax cut, that's just not true. I was involved in the Gore campaign.

O'BEIRNE: It was 250 billion, I think.

COELHO: We started much higher than that, than zero. So let's -- I think that -- let's keep things in perspective. I think there's a lot of things that George Bush has done in these first 100 days that he may live to regret. Basically, telling California to go to hell in regards to energy prices...

GILLESPIE: That's not...

COELHO: Basically, telling the Russians, telling the Middle East, telling the Chinese. Going across the board and saying that we don't care about your problems, to a great extent. All these things may come back to haunt him, so we'll see.

O'BEIRNE: Tony, speaking of poisoning the well -- I'm surprised Republicans talk about poisoning the well, given how they're being hammered by the Democrats, and we have an honest liberal here.

Isn't the Democrats ad about arsenic really dishonest and hysterical? As you know, Tony, that standard has been the same since 1942. Spanky and Alfalfa drank water with this level of arsenic.

More importantly, as you probably recognize, October -- this past October, the Senate considered, in a deal with the White House, letting the EPA extend the deadline for the new arsenic standard. Tom Daschle voted to let the EPA extend the deadline, which is the position of the Bush administration. Shouldn't the Democrats drop this dishonest, hysterical take?

COELHO: Kate, you Republicans are so defensive on this. You know, it was really a screw-up by the White House in the way they handled this. You know this as well as I do. You can talk about all the facts...

O'BEIRNE: Public relations.

COELHO: You can talk about all the facts that you want, but the point is, is that in the merits...

GILLESPIE: Let's talk about all the facts.


COELHO: Let's talk about the facts. Let's talk about the merits. Here we have a situation where you have mothers and grandmothers and fathers and grandfathers, all across this country, who are worried about the arsenic in the water for their kids and their grandkids. And the White House, very cavalierly, just throws it out and says...

O'BEIRNE: No, Tom Daschle agreed with the Clinton-Gore White House to let them postpone.

COELHO: But it's the that they, in effect, disregarded it. When the public reacted the way they did, this White House reversed itself, and so forth. That's what you're seeing happen. This White House has made major mistakes in regards to the environment. And its a constituency they better be concerned about because this president won't get reelected four years from now if he, in effect, keeps that attitude going in regards to the environment.

PRESS: I want to ask you that question, Ed, and you can defend arsenic if you want. I find it impossible to defend more arsenic in our drinking water, but if you look at -- I mean, this is basically an onslaught on the environment. The arsenic thing, reversing himself on CO2, abandoning the global warming treaty, saying that 60 million acres of national forest that Bill Clinton protected is going to be opened up, wide open. George Bush ordered the Justice Department to totally do away with that -- brought mining back on the public lands.

Don't you guys get it? That the American people want clean air, clean water, and they want to protect the land? Why is he doing this? Is he just paying off the oil companies and the timber companies and the logging companies, or what?

GILLESPIE: The fact that is that this is an administration that has proposed now, with the Environmental Protection Agency, the second-largest operational budget in its history. Bill Clinton ran that through in the last one of the myriad of things that he did in last minutes of his administration...

PRESS: What?

GILLESPIE: The arsenic regulations, were in last week of his administration.

PRESS: Was it wrong?

GILLESPIE: Yeah, it was wrong. It certainly warrants review.

O'BEIRNE: Tom Daschle thought so.

GILLESPIE: Daschle thought so is exactly right. When Clinton was in, Daschle thought it was wrong. And they've just taken advantage of this, to demagogue, is the reality here. This is a very pro-environment administration. You don't have to regulate municipalities and tell them: Here's how you're going to -- to test your water.

PRESS: Why is it good -- why is it good to have more arsenic in our water?

GILLESPIE: What is good is to allow them to review and to confer with the municipalities. Municipalities have to meet these standards, Bill, and the fact is what would happen here under some of these standards, if we rolled them back this quickly, you're going to have municipalities shutting down their water plants. It's that simple. They couldn't meet the standards.

And now they're reviewing it, and they may come back down. But there's a -- when you can't just run out the door and try and pass all these regulations on your way out the door and then expect people not to review them and say: "You know what? We haven't had a chance to gauge the impact of this. Let's take a look."

PRESS: We're going to take a...


COELHO: In fairness, it wasn't rammed through in the last minute. It was studied for quite a bit of time. The decision was made at the end.

PRESS: We're going to take a break so our guests can get a sip of arsenic here, while we take a break.

Believe it or not, there are some issues left over. Has George Bush succeeded in changing the tone in Washington? More on CROSSFIRE.


O'BEIRNE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Kate O'Beirne of "National Review" and CNN's own "CAPITAL GANG," sitting in on the right.

In Denise Rich's interview with Barbara Walters, the billionaire fugitive's former wife says there was no quid pro quo linking her big bucks donations to her ex-husband's pardon, but admitted that her money helped her get president Clinton's ear.

We'll talk about that and much more in our political week in review with guests: Democratic strategist Tony Coelho and Republican strategist Ed Gillespie -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Ed, as anxious as I am, and eager to talk about Denise Rich, I'd like to start with something else, if I may, which is, as we said, the White House has done a pretty good job of staying on message, but there are some things you can't control, like gas prices. Suddenly, gas prices are soaring again. Coming into the summer, you know, a time when everybody travels, looks like it could be a horrendous situation.

Last year at this time, candidate Bush was going around the country just slamming Bill Clinton for not having a plan to deal with these higher gas prices. Well, he was asked by CNN's John King in his 100 days interview what his plan was for dealing with gas prices. Let's listen to his response, please.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: But not much hope, then, for anybody thinking about spring and summer vacation this year?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think people are speaking about -- people who are thinking about spring and summer, hopefully the price of product will decrease to the extent -- if anybody's gouging anybody, we'll find out about it. But the solution is going to require more refined product.


PRESS: So hopefully, the price of gas will go down. Boy, that's a lot to bank on, isn't it, Ed?

GILLESPIE: The fact is, the Clinton administration did nothing on this front for eight years, and we're in 100 days now, in the Bush administration, and they are grappling with a major crisis. And they're coming to terms with it, and the fact is that the way you're going to answer this is going to be to try to find ways to increase production and to increase refineries, as well as conserve, and as well as come up with alternative energy sources.

But Bill, you know what the liberals like you want to do is you want to drive your Ford Expeditions out to your lake house on the weekend and tell the rest of us to stop driving those gas guzzlers and carpool and take the metro. And it's not going to be done that way. You're going to have to do some of that and some conservation.

But the fact is, the only answer here is to try to and find ways to get more energy into the system and get it from where it is to where it isn't.

PRESS: And the truth is, the truth is that every time he's asked about it, and earlier in this interview he said the same thing. All he talks about is a one-trick pony, is drilling in Alaska, drilling in Alaska, drilling in Alaska. You know it's not going to happen for 10 years.

Just earlier on NBC this evening they showed their latest poll. They asked the American people: "What do you think about George Bush's performance on energy?" Good or excellent said 29 percent. Fair or poor, 61 percent. Ed, the American people know he is not coming forth with anything to help now.

GILLESPIE: What the American people appreciate about this president is the fact that he is measured and realistic and he takes these issues and studies them, and comes up with valid proposals. And then he takes them and sells them, and talks to them about what he's going to do. That's what we are in the process of seeing now, with the working group on energy in this White House and this administration, working with members of Congress from both sides of aisle, by the way, unlike the past administration who completely froze out the other side in their bitter partisanship. And when he gets this proposal out before the public, I think they're going to respond very favorably to it, Bill, and you may be surprised.

PRESS: I doubt it.

O'BEIRNE: Tony, speaking of running out of gas, what has happened to your Democratic Party? Denise Rich now explains that you have cause -- she got access because she paid a whole lot of money to the Democratic Party, so her billionaire fugitive husband could get this pardon he didn't deserve. You joined a party that cared about the little guy. Aren't you really disgusted with what happened to those Democratic values with pardons and much else for sale during the Clinton White House years?

COELHO: Well, I think, Kate, if you want to be honest, maybe we shouldn't bring it up, because you want to talk about pardons, maybe we should talk about daddy Bush's pardons. I just think that a president has a right to pardon if he wants to...

O'BEIRNE: Absolutely!

COELHO: And I disagree with -- strongly with some of the pardons that President Bush gave. I think they were despicable, some of them. But you know, you never heard me take them on, because I think the president has the right to do it.

But you right-wingers, you conservatives, you Republicans, are just so fascinated with Bill Clinton, so -- you just can't be -- get used to the fact that he was president, and you want still him to be president, you want to attack him, you just -- you can't get over it!

O'BEIRNE: Tony, Tony...

COELHO: I just feel sorry for you! I just -- I don't know -- two years from now, three years from now, I'll bet you still ask questions about him.

O'BEIRNE: I don't miss him a bit! But you know who I'm curious about -- and I don't miss Bill Clinton a bit.

COELHO: But why do you keep asking questions about him?

O'BEIRNE: I'm curious about... COELHO: Tonight, every question, you said "Bill Clinton," every question!

O'BEIRNE: I am curious about your candidate, Al Gore. You've got Robert Reich, former Labor secretary, saying the Democratic Party is dead, in fact, "dead as a door nail" in his terms. We have Dick Gephardt taking political advice from Barbra Streisand. Where is the standard-bearer from your party? Where is Al Gore? Haven't heard from him during the first 100 days. He even ignored Earth Day, which is big oversight for Al Gore.

His party needs him, and now Terry McAuliffe says, we are not going to hear from him until the fall. Where is Al Gore?

COELHO: Well, I think Al Gore is doing the right thing. I think basically he's given George Bush the opportunity to be president, and I think that is what Al Gore should do.

The public was tired of this last presidential campaign, and they went through all kinds of trauma, as everybody knows, and Al Gore has really been the right type of an American here, sitting back and letting Mr. Bush be president, letting him do this thing -- and then he will come on the stage at the right time.

I think it is the right thing to do. I tell you what, Kate, I guarantee you, if he were out there saying anything today, you would be on your shows attacking him for not giving George Bush time to be president.

O'BEIRNE: I just figured...


COELHO: If I were him, I'd do what he wants to do and ignore what you want him to do. That's what I would do.

PRESS: It's the same old world, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

COELHO: Absolutely.

PRESS: Gentlemen, thank you for coming and helping change the tone in Washington. Ed Gillespie, Tony Coelho, good to have you here.

And Kate O'Beirne and I will have some final caustic closing comments about the week's political news coming up next. Stay tuned.


O'BEIRNE: Bill, in the interest of changing the tone on CROSSFIRE and in the spirit of compassionate conservatism, I would like to return your generous advice that you've been giving the Republicans for eight years. The other team won. The other guy's in the White House. You don't like him. The public gives him high approval ratings, you liberal Bush-haters will never like him. Bill, you're going to have to get over it! PRESS: Well, I've accepted the fact that the Supreme Court put George Bush in the White House, Kate. And I -- I want to be OK in the spirit of changing the tone. I would not flunk him for his first 100 days. I'd give him a C. A B on foreign policy, but an F on the environment, Kate, and that's where they're still making a big mistake. And you ought to call your friends up over there and say, hey guys, you know, get off the arsenic kick, get off the national forest kick. People want to protect the environment.

O'BEIRNE: Given his normal, rational work schedule, no more manic 24-hour days like Bill Clinton, don't you think maybe he should be graded on a curve? Because he probably only worked 70 out of 100 days?

PRESS: He makes Ronald Reagan look like a workaholic!

All right, from the left, I am Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE. I will see you later in THE SPIN ROOM.

O'BEIRNE: And sitting in on the right, I'm Kate O'Beirne. Join us again next week for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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