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Will Democratic Control of the Senate Change George W. Bush's Governing Style?

Aired June 1, 2001 - 19:30   ET


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: As Democrats prepare to rule the Senate, will there be a new George W. Bush to deal with the new majority? Plus, margaritas and misdemeanors: public lives and a private matter.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left: Bill Press. On the right: Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: former Clinton adviser Paul Begala and Republican Strategist Ed Gillespie.

CARLSON: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

For George W. Bush, the honeymoon officially is over; the hangover rages. Jim Jeffords bolted the GOP last week and took the Republican majority in the Senate with him. Bush says his agenda will remain unchanged.

That's what you think, say newly powerful Senate Democrats. And Democrats aren't the only ones giving Bush headaches. The famously restless John McCain has invited Tom Daschle to spend the weekend with him in Arizona. It's a purely social visit, says McCain. The White House fervently hopes so.

And most jarring of all, the first family made the wrong kind of news this week. Bush's twin daughters were cited for buying booze in an Austin restaurant. This time the press showed little restraint. The story made "The New York Times."

Is all of this the beginning of a rough patch for Bush, or is it par for the presidential course?

Sitting in for Bill Press tonight on the left tonight, Michael Kinsley, the pride of Seattle and the editor of


You know, Ed, the guy who could use a nice relaxing weekend in Arizona this weekend is Trent Lott. Is it just -- it's an amazing coincidence, isn't it, that just as Daschle is about to become majority leader he gets invited for this purely social occasion out at the ranch with McCain?

ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't know if it's coincidence or not. I tend to take Senator McCain at his word. I think when he says that he's going to have a social visit with Senator Daschle and have him out to the ranch, I accept that fact. Senator McCain has a record of working across the aisle with Democrats, across from the left to the center in the Democratic Caucus. And to have out to ranch, as with President Bush, by the way, after the election, I think, is a nice gesture.

KINSLEY: It was very nice of him to have the president of the United States out to his ranch.


KINSLEY: All right, do you want to look into the camera and say that, in your opinion, McCain is not playing any kind of a game, doesn't enjoy twisting the knife into George Bush at all...

GILLESPIE: This camera right here?

KINSLEY: ... and this has nothing to do with that?

GILLESPIE: This camera right here?


GILLESPIE: I would be happy to look into this camera and say I accept the senator at his word and that it's a social visit in Arizona.

KINSLEY: How do you make a living as a political strategist?


KINSLEY: Tucker.

CARLSON: Now, Paul, you'll admit that the Democrats are lusting after John McCain, and I hope you'll also admit that it's kind of pathetic, actually. Here's John McCain, unreliable, but no liberal; he's pro-life, he's pro-gun, he's not particularly sympathetic to unions, he's against affirmative action and gays in the military.

And yet the Democrats so eagerly want him. I mean, there's no principle in here. If you want John McCain, what's the point of being a Democrat? And would you take Phil Gramm if he decided to switch back?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: No, I don't believe I'd take Phil Gramm, but I would take John McCain in a heartbeat.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves...

CARLSON: The Democrats wouldn't let Bob Casey speak at the convention...

BEGALA: I've worked with...


BEGALA: ... I know a lot more about that story than you do, Tucker.

CARLSON: But he did not speak because he was pro-life.

BEGALA: No, Tucker. I was there; it's because he wouldn't endorse Bill Clinton. We wouldn't let Jesse Jackson speak until he agreed to endorse Bill Clinton as well. That's what it was all about.


BEGALA: I love Bob Casey, I worked for Bob Casey twice.

CARLSON: That sounds like a whitewash to me. But the point is John McCain is no liberal and he's no Democrat, so why are you lusting after him?

BEGALA: Well, first off, I'd love to have him. But it's a big tent. John Breaux is pro-life, probably has voted against a variety of gun control bills. He's one of the leading Democrats in United States Senate.

Unlike the Republicans who, sort of, you know, march in lockstep or just kick you out if you happen to think for yourself, Democrats would take McCain. He's a free spirit, he's independent, I'd love to have him.

Senator McCain, if you're watching, come on over.

CARLSON: So in other words, there's no principle involved.

Which leads me to my second question, which is Jim Jeffords. He runs as a Republican just a few months ago, he switches to become an independent, and he says in his speech, look, basically, nothing happened in the last six months to make me change my mind. Essentially I wasn't invited to some barbecue at the White House, so in fit of pique, I leave.

There's no other plausible explanation, and there's no principle at the core of his switch; true?

BEGALA: Well, Ed takes John McCain at his word, as do I. Let's take Jim Jeffords at his word.

He's a guy who was a loyal Republican soldier all through the Reagan revolution. A loyal Republican soldier all through the Gingrich revolution. He jumps off the train under Bush. Why? Well, Bush's agenda, believe it or not, is even more radical.

Here's why: Bush is trying to quintuple the acceptable level of arsenic in the water. Jeffords is a guy who cares desperately about the environment. Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol...

CARLSON: Oh, please!

BEGALA: ... on global climate change.

CARLSON: Nobody's accepted the Kyoto protocol! No country; only one country has accepted Kyoto.

BEGALA: Tell it to all of our allies who are so furious with Bush because he has tried to walk away from that. Bush has had a very, very extremist agenda. He's trying to send up a bunch of right- wing, knuckle-dragging judges who look like you stopped the evolutionary chart at Cro-Magnon. I mean, this is a guy who has gone beyond anywhere that Reagan or Gingrich was, and a lot of people like Jim Jeffords, who've always considered themselves Republicans, are quitting the party, and I don't blame them.


CARLSON: Not a lot of people...


CARLSON: ... just Jeffords; we'll (UNINTELLIGIBLE) names later.

GILLESPIE: There are 600 Democrats who have changed parties since Bill Clinton got elected.

KINSLEY: Well, I'm glad you brought that up, because I want to remind you of one of them. Ben Nighthorse Campbell became a Republican; was a Democratic senator. You know, you talk, and Bush talks about bringing civility back to Washington.

I don't remember, Paul, and maybe I -- it's slipped my memory; was there the kind of bitterness and personal attacks on Ben Nighthorse Campbell from the Clinton White House that there has been from the allegedly civil Bush White House on this guy who decided he'd rather be a Democrat, as if that was a crime.

GILLESPIE: What are the bitter and nasty attacks on Senator Jeffords from the White House?

KINSLEY: He has no principles; he's a kook...

GILLESPIE: Who, Michael? Give me a quote -- who said that from the Bush White -- you said someone in the Bush White House.

BEGALA: Karl Rove called him disingenuous, which is a fancy word, a Karl Rove word for "liar."

GILLESPIE: No it's not; no it's not.

KINSLEY: Karen Hughes had some tart remarks.

GILLESPIE: But you said "kook," you cited these bitter remarks, but you're not backing them up. Let's hear what they are; tell the American public -- they're watching, Michael -- what are the quotes that you're saying that were done from the Bush White House, and give me a name of someone who said it.

KINSLEY: Ed, we're sitting here on this set, I can't run out to Nexis, but wait.

GILLESPIE: You've got no cards in front of you there -- give me an example. You make a baseless accusation...

KINSLEY: Are you saying it's a baseless accusation?

GILLESPIE: Yes, I'm saying that the fact is that Senator Jeffords -- when he left there was no one in the Bush White House who made a vicious personal attack against him like you just levied a charge of. And I'm asking you to back it up, and you haven't.

KINSLEY: Well they have. And certainly, certainly, other Republicans have, the conservative press has, "The Wall Street Journal."

GILLESPIE: The conservative press? You know, if I had control over the conservative press -- I'd love to have control of the conservative press. You don't have control over the liberal press, and neither do you. The fact is, the press is a free press in this country, and they're allowed to put on the front page whatever they want.

I wish "The New York Times" didn't have that right sometimes, but they do.

KINSLEY: And I don't think "The New York Times" said anything about Ben Nighthorse Campbell comparing to what "The Wall Street Journal" said about Jim Jeffords.

GILLESPIE: Michael, tell me again, how is the Bush White House responsible for that? You said the Bush White House made a vicious personal attack against Senator Jeffords, and I'm telling you that that is false and inaccurate, and you cannot hold the Bush White House responsible for something that's written on "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page. They criticize the Bush White House on occasion.


CARLSON: Let me make a vicious and unfair personal attack on Jim Jeffords, if I can for a sec, Paul Begala. I want to get back to his motive here. Now, he not only supported Bush, he was on his campaign committee in the state of Vermont. He was intimately familiar with George W. Bush's campaign promises. I want you to name one, a single change, that Bush has made that spurred Jeffords.

BEGALA: I'm name you two that are particularly important to him. First, on the environment: Bush promised in the campaign to limit CO2 emissions, one of the principal causes of global climate change. Bush made the promise; Bush broke the promise as soon as he got into office. That bothered a lot of green Republicans like Jim Jeffords...


BEGALA: Here's the second -- wait, I told you I could name two.

No, but he said he would put a cap on carbon dioxide emissions, separate and apart from Kyoto...

CARLSON: In a single speech. BEGALA: Oh, so if you only make a promise once, you're not a liar when you break it.

The second thing, which is really important to Jeffords and important to most Americans, is that Bush, so as to save money for his multitrillion-dollar tax cut, refused to fund, get this, education for poor, retarded children. That is like something out of central casting...

CARLSON: That is such a crockball!

BEGALA: Well, $300 million that Jim Jeffords wanted...

CARLSON: Jeffords agreed to the deal at the beginning. When they were working out the education package, Jeffords was in on it, and then midway through he says, oh, somehow I'm out of it, you've broken a promise; never specifies which promise he's talking about.

BEGALA: I'll tell you the promise: $300 million of funding for indigent, mentally handicapped children...

CARLSON: You've got be kidding.

BEGALA: No, it went so far that Phil Gramm stood up in a Republican conference, widely reported, and said, you know, poor, retarded children, not a Republican priority. To which, to his credit, Chuck Hagel stood up and said, if that's true, I'm not a Republican either.

But that's what's going on in the heart of Republican Party...


CARLSON: ... but it sounds like quite a dramatic showdown, but the bottom line is that Bush has increased education funding.

GILLESPIE: That's exactly right, by 11 percent.

CARLSON: And this idea that he's snatching bread from the mouths of poor retarded children, as you put it, is totally ludicrous.

KINSLEY: Well, what is your theory of why Jim Jeffords did this, then, if he didn't do it for the reasons he said?

GILLESPIE: Well, first of all I think that Jim Jeffords is a liberal Republican. That's a fact. He does tend to be different from the majority of colleagues on a number of issues. Tucker is absolutely right, however, on the fact is that he is supportive of and was leading the charge for the president's education initiative in the Senate. He is the cosponsor of the president's Patients' Bill of Rights bill in Senate. He was the one who got the tax cut moved from $1.6 trillion to $1.35 trillion, largely by saying we need to get more money into some of these programs. He campaigned with then-Governor Bush in Vermont. He was beneficiary of a lot of support.

KINSLEY: So your point is that he's actually pro-Bush? GILLESPIE: No, my point is that...


GILLESPIE: ... when he says that he left the party because somehow the president was, you know, not pursuing the agenda he campaigned on. that's inaccurate. That's not accurate.

KINSLEY: So if he didn't leave out of principle and if he didn't leave because he's a kook, because you would never say such a thing...

GILLESPIE: Thank you.

KINSLEY: Why did he leave?

GILLESPIE: Well, I think there are a number of reasons that he left. I do think the fact is he may have determined that it would be a more long-term interest for him to maintain a chairmanship by going into the Democratic caucus. That's a possibility, certainly.

KINSLEY: Do you think he was cheating, as people have suggested -- Republicans and conservatives in various offices -- that for the Democrats to say to him: You can keep your chairmanship?

GILLESPIE: I think all's fair in love and politics, and if you want to offer him a chairmanship, that's a pretty good bargain for the Democrats to get full control of the Senate, for one committee chairmanship. Can't fault them for that.

KINSLEY: Because I believe the Republicans made the same offer to Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

GILLESPIE: Well, I can't fault the Republicans for making that offer.


CARLSON: Now, speaking of party switching, Paul, do you think it's possible, and I want you to open your mind on this one, that Al Gore may be planning on switching parties?


CARLSON: Because, clearly, he's deliberating, he's coming up with some master plan for his life. Something is going on. On all the issues of the day, his voice has been silent, pretty much an admission it's a good thing he wasn't president in the first place. He has nothing to say about what's going on in the world today, does he?

BEGALA: I love you guys. If he were speaking out about the very many mistakes that our current president, court-appointed president, is making, he would be called a sore loser. He did lose a lawsuit which cost him the presidency. He in fact won the popular vote, as we all know. So he can't win for losing. CARLSON: So he's sitting around feeling bitter. "I won, I won, I won the popular vote!" Is that what he's doing at his apartment in New York?

BEGALA: It's perfectly sensible for him.

CARLSON: Where is he?

BEGALA: HE's teaching and he's watching his new grandchildren come into this world.

CARLSON: He's raking in the dough on speeches, too, isn't he?

BEGALA: Well, I certainly hope so, because he deserves it, before this Bush recession sets in, and maybe he'll get one of Bush's tax cuts if he gets rich.

KINSLEY: All right, all right. We've got to take a break, and when we come back, "Margaritagate": the president's twin daughters are arrested for ordering a drink in a bar! Should he be impeached?


KINSLEY: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Mike Kinsley, editor of, sitting in for Bill Press. Vital questions grip the nation this evening. Questions like: So why is Tom Daschle visiting John McCain's ranch? Will Democrats really take over the Senate next week, or was it all a dream? When the president's daughter is cited twice for underage drinking, should it be discussed on CROSSFIRE, or should CROSSFIRE just discuss whether discussing it should be discussed?

Here to discuss all of this are our guests, Republican Strategist Ed Gillespie and Democratic Strategist Paul Begala. Professor Begala is author of a scrupulously objective new scholarly history of the second Bush administration, "Is Our Children Learning: The Case Against George W. Bush." Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, congratulations, professor. That looks like a brisk and informative read!

OK, so here's the story from Austin. The two Bush daughters, healthy, vigorous, nice looking 19-year-old girls in a bar called Chuy's in south Austin, I know you're familiar with it.


CARLSON: One of them, or both order a margarita. Nothing out of place here, except a Democratic operative sees this, calls 911, like the restaurant's on fire. The cops show up, and the next thing you know, it's in "The New York Times."

Compare this to a couple years ago, one of Al Gore's children got in trouble, was tossed out of school. Gore personally called the editor of "The Washington Post," editor of "The Washington Times," editors of both news weeklies, and we never read about it. I'm in favor of that, but why do you suppose this double standard is at work? The Bush girls order an illicit drink, boom, it's in the "Times." Gore kids, nothing.

BEGALA: You're right, it's not fair. I spent more time in Chuy's than I did in the library when I went to the University of Texas, and you know, a kid, a college student ordering a drink is not "man bites dog," it's not even "dog bites man." It's "dog scratches himself."

CARLSON: But this was clearly big news to the Democrats sitting in Chuy's. They called 911.

BEGALA: First off, you have no idea if it's a Democrat. Here's a...


CARLSON: I'm sure it was a Republican. Probably some Right- Winger did it, huh?

BEGALA: I was a bartender, also, in college, and so with the bartender regulations...

GILLESPIE: So the bartender called in.


BEGALA: I'd say, as a bartender I would never have served an underage person, nor do I recall, your honor, ever having done so.


BEGALA: But I think it's wrong for the press. Here's my suggestion, OK? The press should cover the children of politicians the way they cover the children of, oh, say, news anchors or editors of major dailies, OK? if the editor of "The Washington Post" kid gets arrested for trying to buy a beer when she's in college, then we cover that the same way we cover Bush's kids. I don't think it's fair.

And the ought to be covering the arsenic in the water. She's a lot healthier drinking that margarita than she is the arsenic that Bush is putting in the doggone water.

CARLSON: There is no arsenic in the water, Paul. He's insane!

KINSLEY: All right, there's too much agreement going on here. And there is this difference, which is that Governor Bush signed, quite enthusiastically, a so-called zero tolerance law in Texas on underage drinking. I think that's a ridiculous law, but I don't think George W. Bush thinks it's a ridiculous law. And, also, do you think that if Chelsea Clinton had been arrested -- not arrested, I'm sorry -- had been caught and cited twice within a month for underaged drinking, that the press would have ignored that story?

Because I'll tell you what I think. I think the press would have covered it very heavily. I think Republicans would be saying the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and it would be a big, big thing. Bigger, or at least as big, as this story. So I don't see a double standard at all.

GILLESPIE: First of all, Mike, had that happened, I wouldn't be saying the apple would fall far from the tree. The fact is, not as a Republican, as the father of three -- I think there are certain things in public life and in politics that ought to be off limits. And the fact is that family matters, private matters, and giving two daughters the opportunity to be freshmen in college without the goldfish , the spotlight and the goldfish bowl, is something that, as a matter of civility, the media ought to accept.

KINSLEY: Well, they did that. There was nothing about them in the campaign. There was nothing, or virtually nothing about the first time. But the second time, you know, the damn just breaks, and it seems to me that that's reasonable. And certainly...

GILLESPIE: Well, it seems to me that it's unreasonable. We disagree on this.

KINSLEY: Certainly, there's no double standard that I can see.

GILLESPIE: You know, I don't know, because you're proposing a hypothetical as to whether or not a similar matter had happened to Chelsea over the past eight years. Hypotheticals, it's hard to say, but I would hope that the -- I hope the media wouldn't have done it then. I wish the media wouldn't do it now. I wish they would give these daughters their privacy.

BEGALA: How many Republicans spoke out, though, when Lard Butt Limbaugh was making fun of Chelsea Clinton on that -- person's radio show? None.

CARLSON: On the other hand, there was a consensus...

BEGALA: How many Republicans -- I'm standing up for the Bush girls and their privacy, but they didn't do it -- Mike's right. If Chelsea had done this, every Right-Winger would have said: You see the "it takes a village theory" of parenting? You see what the liberal, secular, humanist values of left...


CARLSON: That is so...

BEGALA: You know -- you would not have. But your friends in the right would have.

CARLSON: ... secular, humanist values on left, but I don't think they would have...

KINSLEY: I could write "The Weekly Standard" or "Wall Street Journal" editorial exactly along those lines.

GILLESPIE: Hang on, I have to point this out, because here you are talking about the viciousness of the conservative media of the right. Paul, you're the one who sat on the show this evening, used the word "liar," accused the president of poisoning people's water, and said that the Republican Party does not care about mentally disabled children. Now, that is as vicious and as smearing as politics gets in America.

BEGALA: I have not yet begun to smear, if that's a smear, Mr. Gillespie. It is a fact.

GILLESPIE: That is just ridiculous, the way that you would go after...

BEGALA: Those are facts. That on record.

GILLESPIE: Using words like "liars."

BEGALA: That's a record.

CARLSON: You just have quintupled the level of argument -- they're dumping boxes of arsenic -- no, please. We're talking about jiggering of standards, here. Standards that weren't even in place -- this is like...

BEGALA: They will never be under Bush.

CARLSON: Right. This is like one of the last-minute, along with stealing the salad forks, all these ludicrous...

BEGALA: Another lie from the right. Attacking the Clintons for trashing the place.

CARLSON: Well, he didn't steal the salad forks. He did take a wide- screen TV and a DVD. But I'm just saying...

GILLESPIE: Not to mention the furniture.

CARLSON: I'm just saying Bush did not raise arsenic levels. This is the great...

KINSLEY: All right, all right. We're running out of time. Trent Lott said on the radio, "There's something liberating about being in the minority. You're freer to advocate positions and amendments you really think should be adopted."

Are we supposed to conclude from that that this whole time he's the majority leader, he's been advocating positions he doesn't think should be adopted?

GILLESPIE: Oh, I think Trent Lott is a conservative senator, and when you're in the Senate, you know, sometimes the conservative view doesn't prevail. Sometimes the liberal view doesn't prevail. What prevails is that which gets 60 votes. So, do I think that Senator Lott has supported things over the past 6 years, as majority leader, that he would liked to have seen been, perhaps, deeper tax cuts, for example, 1.6 trillion in tax cuts instead of 1.35? Sure, he would liked to have done that. That's not where the votes were, so he compromised. When you're in the minority, the onus is less on you to be the one to compromise. KINSLEY: He didn't say, "I have to compromise and accept things." He says "I advocate things that I really believe in." So I assume when he's majority leader again, if that should happen, we should stop believing what he says.

GILLESPIE: No, I think that what he says is sometimes, I'm for a $1.6 trillion tax cut, can't get all that, going to get 1.35 and live to fight another day.

CARLSON: I think the key here, Mike, is we can believe what he says now, and that's what matters.


CARLSON: Paul Begala, Ed Gillespie. Mike Kinsley and I will be back in just a moment to untangle the vast rhetorical mess left by our guests in our closing comments. We'll be right back.


KINSLEY: You know, Tucker, I didn't drink anything, of course, between the ages of 18 and 21, and I'm sure you didn't, either. But I understand that many people do, and I think the real problem here, seriously, is our silly drinking laws. And there's no reason why someone in college or someone in the military or someone in the work force who's over 18 shouldn't be able to have a...

CARLSON: I wonder where those laws came from. I hate to make this a political issue, but laws like that, laws against smoking, laws for seat belts, helmet laws -- all the uptight, nanny-like laws that are on the books...

KINSLEY: You're saying those are Democratic?

CARLSON: I'm saying exactly that. And you know that perfectly well. All the little liberal laws.

KINSLEY: The helmets, yes. The helmets, yes. But the drinking age craziness is bipartisan, tilting conservative.


KINSLEY: From the left, sitting in for Bill Press, I'm Mike Kinsley. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. We want to thank Mike Kinsley for a terrific week on CROSSFIRE, and welcome back Bill Press next week. He'll be tan, rested and ready. Join us then on CROSSFIRE.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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