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The Political Week in Review

Aired August 31, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: You won't believe what Gary Condit's staff said about their boss; what one U.S. senator said about Strom Thurmond; what another senator said about the chairman of his own party. Tonight: We'll tell you in our political week in review.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and Republican strategist Cliff May.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Even in these dog days of summer politics may slow down, but it never stops, and this Labor Day weekend is no exception. Well, it's not all bad news for Gary Condit. California Democrats have refashioned his district, possibly making it more difficult for him to run again, and his public relations consultant also quit today. But his staff still loves him. They told Larry King so last night.

Congressman Dan Burton is still on the warpath against the attorney general, but this time it's not -- it is John Ashcroft, rather, it's not Janet Reno. And speaking of Reno, word on the streets of Florida is that she may announce for governor soon, maybe next week. Same rumors in North Carolina about Elizabeth Dole's running for Senate to replace Jesse Helms.

And debategate -- remember -- that's finally over. Yvette Lozano was sentenced today to one year in prison and fined $3,000 for sending a Bush debate prep videotape to the Gore campaign.

So much to talk about, so little time. And that's not the last cliche you'll hear tonight.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Let's hope not.

Peter Fenn, good evening. Sporting of you to come to defend Gary Condit, we appreciate it.


PRESS: Is that why you're here?

FENN: Oh, yes, I'm bringing my dog, and you know everybody, defending...

CARLSON: Well, you're defending Marina Ein!

You probably saw "LARRY KING" last night, but in case you didn't, Gary Condit's staff came, as you know. This is after his son came, waiting for his wife, family pets to show up -- doubtless they'll be here soon.

But first Mike Dayton, his Washington chief of staff -- here's his take on Gary Condit's personal life -- Mike Dayton.


MIKE DAYTON, CONDIT CONGRESSIONAL AIDE: Yes, she came by the office, you know, probably four times over a six-month period. But you know, no -- I had no idea. I had never seen her in a social setting with my boss.


CARLSON: I had, you know, no idea, says Mike Dayton to the question: Did he know that his boss was having an affair with the missing intern.

So Condit's sending his staff out to lie. Just when you think it can't get lower, it does.

FENN: Well, and before he did that -- before they all went out last night, they blamed the staff because, of course, he came out and said that oh, no, there's no personal relationship here.

I'll tell you, this makes Exxon's PR job on the Valdez look like a wunderkind effort because, I'll tell you, it couldn't have been handled worse from the beginning, PR-wise.

But, you know, this isn't a PR problem. This is a fairly serious problem about a woman's life. And, you know, this guy didn't get it. Throughout the whole period, he didn't get it. And you know my guess is that before Congress comes back in next week he is going to announce that he is not going to run.

CARLSON: So basically what you're saying is, I've joined the pile-on. You and every other Democrat...


CARLSON: ... hold on. You have Gray Davis, you have Patrick Kennedy -- when Patrick Kennedy starts attacking your personal life, you're in deep trouble.

My question is, where were Democrats three months ago when it mattered? They were MIA.

FENN: I think most of us who were on shows talking about this -- I said long before the interview that he was toast. After the interview he's burned toast. My feeling all along about this was that, you know, he handled it totally wrong. He should have gone to the police and said look, you know, I -- here's the deal. I had relationship, it was -- you know, here's what I know about situation.

You know, waiting three weeks or for the third interview before he explained things was a disaster. I think most of us always said that. I was not a big Gary Condit defender, sorry.

PRESS: Well Cliff May, as we know, also Gary Condit has denied that he ever had an interview with Connie Chung.




FENN: .. but what the meaning of the word "relationship" is...


PRESS: Let's look, I mean Tucker misses the point as usual. The point is no longer Gary Condit. The point is what Democrats are going to do about it. And it was announced today in California while the media has been fixated on Gary Condit, the Democrats have been looking at what really counts: his redistricting.

They've redrawn his district to make it a Latino district. they've added another Latino district in southern California. So now the Democrats in California are going to end up with one more Democrat in Congress and pick up a seat, two more Latinos in Congress. And so, what, you know -- what looked like bad news for Democrats could very well, and it looks like it's going to turn out to be a net plus.

MAY: Over Gary Condit's dead political body...

PRESS: Absolutely, yes.

MAY: ... Democrats are going to benefit.

And by the way, this is the point that was missed: Gary Condit had to do that interview because he knew redistricting was coming up and Democrats in California -- you know that, you have your ties -- they were deciding, are we going to redraw the lines to help Gary Condit and save him or to kill Gary Condit?

He didn't pass the test on his interview, so they're killing him. Don't forget, before that interview not a single Democrat in California said I'm going to give him a primary challenge. Not a single congressional Democrat said, you know what, he should resign -- not one. In fact, Gephardt said he's an honorable man.

Once the interview happened, pass-through Democrats said throw him on the funeral pyre, he is toast, we don't need him anymore. We can benefit from this, and that's what counts, that we benefit because power, that's what counts to Democrats.

PRESS: Well absolutely, make no apologies for it in either party. But I want to look at the big picture now: Look at California. So you've got the lieutenant governor of California, a Latino; you have the state chair of California, a Latino; there are six Latino members of Congress, and now they're adding two more.

I mean, there's no doubt that George Bush's promise that he was going to be the Republican reaching out to Latinos was just pure hot air. I mean, it's the Democrats who are building a political party for the rising Latino majority in this country, isn't it? Starting in California.

MAY: The fact of the matter is that what you have under President Bush is the most diverse government we've ever seen in this country, including blacks, Latinos, women, not based on the kind of number counting that you're doing -- oh, let's see if we can build a seat for a Latino. How about a seat for an Armenian? How about a seat for maybe a -- you just, that's the way you're doing it in order to do politics.


MAY: Instead what Bush is doing is picking people who are qualified for the post, and he's not looking, simply saying OK, get me another one of this flavor, another one of this color, another one of this stripe.

FENN: Good try Cliff. Good try, good try.

Listen, you've got a serious problem in California, you've got a serious problem in other parts of the country where the Latino president is not going to be the Latino president because he's going to lose, as he did last time, two-thirds of the Latino vote. Two- thirds of the Latino vote.

MAY: There are three big Latino populations in the United States, basically; you've got Florida, where they're overwhelmingly Republican, Texas, where they liked Governor Bush and they like President Bush, and you've got California.

You know what, the Latino vote is in play. You hope that you will have the Latinos because you'll say hey, I'm a Latino, I'm a Democrat; I'm a black, I'm a Democrat. Maybe the people will think for themselves.


CARLSON: There are serious problems, and the Democratic Party has one. He's from South Carolina; his name is Fritz Hollings. And this week Senator Hollings savaged Strom Thurmond -- 98-year-old Strom Thurmond. Now this part of a pattern, as you well know Peter Fenn. A couple years ago the same senator accused African leaders of being cannibals. A couple years before that he mocked an opponent's facial tick during a televised debate; at one point even accused Sam Donaldson of wearing a wig.

Fritz Hollings is out of control. Now he's beating up on an elderly man. Stop him!

FENN: Listen, I think he should enjoy being the junior senator from the state of South Carolina at 79. I'd love to be junior senator at 79.

Fritz Hollings has a 34-year career; a very distinguished career in the United States Senate and as governor of South Carolina.

What he said about the senior senator -- the 98-year-old senior senator -- was that he was not mentally keen. Now that's like me saying to the viewers out there, you know something, Tucker Carlson wears bow ties. I mean...


CARLSON: That's what he said, but he said so much more. And part of it was the accusation that Strom Thurmond -- it was very nasty, like everything that Fritz Hollings says. He accused him of staying in the Senate because it's a convenient place to be; it's a nursing home, he said. He said he gets a car and driver, he gets someone to -- it was vicious on an old man. Why can't...


FENN: ... which he probably shouldn't, because he probably couldn't.

But you know, I think you're just mad because in the last campaign Fritz Hollings said to a reporter like you, kiss my fanny.


MAY: Can I say one thing on this? Fritz Hollings is 79 years old himself. Therefore, I think you have to chalk this up as a youthful indiscretion. And when he's older and more mature, I'm sure he'll regret having been so horrible.

PRESS: Well, you know, there's a problem here that not all of our viewers know what the distinguished junior senator from South Carolina had to say about the nearly extinguished senior senator from South Carolina.

So let me just quote Senator Hollings exactly. He said, among other things about Strom Thurmond, quote: "Everybody expected him to drop over in January. He's not mentally keen. He's alert, he's awake, and they get him to votes and lead him around."

Now, what is not true about one word?


FENN: What's nasty about that? There's nothing nasty about that.

MAY: This is the way Democrats speak about Republicans. Why -- you can see why George Bush wanted to change the tone in Washington. CARLSON: But it's not working, apparently.

PRESS: Wait, wait, you're not so easily off the hook. What one word in there is untrue?

MAY: There is such a thing -- or there used to be -- called tact, discretion. Look, why don't they do this? Why don't the members of Congress decide, say, that there is a retirement age. And it could be 65 or 75 or 79 or 85, rather than simply say, "My colleague over here, I think he is out of his mind." That is not way to deal with things in Washington.

FENN: Should he have run for reelection in 1996 at the age of...

MAY: I will say what you would say if he were a Democrat -- his constituents in his state they are capable of deciding if...

FENN: Who never -- who never even see him.


CARLSON: You know who else has good judgment, Peter Fenn? The people of Florida. That is why -- that is why -- as you well know, and I'm challenging you to be honest -- you're on CROSSFIRE. I'm challenging you to be honest enough to admit that the prospect of Janet Reno running for governor in Florida -- and it looks like she is going to, if you can even believe it -- is a horrifying one for Democrats. Here they have a war hero, Pete Peterson, decent guy, pretty moderate. Versus Janet Reno the star power. First of all, she's ill. Second, she's a terrible candidate. And third, she has the pointing-guns-at-children problem from Elian.

FENN: Tucker, the great thing about all these Democratic candidates in Florida is they know that Jeb Bush is vulnerable as the governor. For not only his record in the state, but for his record during that election. And whoever comes out of that primary, whether it is Peterson or whether it's Janet Reno, has a great shot at winning that race.

CARLSON: Janet Reno?

FENN: Whoever.

CARLSON: That is so far out of -- why doesn't someone just say to her, "Miss Reno, please call it off! You are pathetic." But nobody has the guts, just like nobody in the party had the guts to criticize Gary Condit before he blew up on TV.

PRESS: Ernest Hollings has the guts to tell Strom Thurmond get out.

MAY: But he's half (UNINTELLIGIBLE) crazy.

PRESS: You want guts, you got guts.

MAY: Same thing to Janet Reno... FENN: We like honesty (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: Under certain circumstances. And those circumstances will include the second half of CROSSFIRE, when we review week that was, the season that will be in politics. We'll be right back with CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Congress comes back to Washington next week. Agenda item number one for Senate Democrats: calming Zell Miller. The Georgia moderate lashed out at Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe the other day. Worse, he did it in the pages of the "Washington Post." Meanwhile, Republicans have a plate that's very full as well. The budget, looming midterm elections, all sorts of other worries.

It's been a big week. Here to explain it, two people Gary Condit should have hired, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and former RNC Communications Chief Cliff May. Bill.

PRESS: Cliff, I thought it was very nice of George Bush to stop by this week. You know, he came back from 26 days of Camp Crawford and then he worked half a day and then he immediately left for Camp David. I mean, this is -- seriously, did anybody maybe whisper in his ear that being president of the United States is a full-time job?

MAY: Of course, when he is at the White House he is actually doing some work, not simply selecting his cigars and interns.

CARLSON: That's the spirit.

FENN: No, no.


FENN: Change the tone, change the tone.

MAY: He did -- look, Bush was working throughout this entire vacation. Americans saw him going from one place to another to another. He did plenty of work. OK. No one takes this seriously. Presidents are always on the job, and he can be on the job in Camp David or Crawford or at the White House.

PRESS: I thought presidents were on the job, but seriously, he came back, he worked half a day, and then he gets three days vacation. The "Washington Post" figured out so far in these eight months, 42 percent of his time has been spent on vacation or on his way to vacation. I mean, we are not getting what we are paying for.

MAY: Clinton spent his time either traveling abroad for no good end, or...

FENN: He worked his butt off.

MAY: Mostly fund-raising, mostly fund-raising. What Bush has been doing is working throughout. And again, as you know, the presidency goes with the president wherever he is. We're in the computer age. Even you have got a laptop.

FENN: If you Republicans love to talk about the private sector, I have one question for you. If you didn't show up for your new job 40 percent of the time, two days out of the week, could you hold it very long?

MAY: It's harder for me to take all my work with me.


PRESS: Touche.

CARLSON: Let's talk about a good Democrat. Indeed, let's talk about, Peter Fenn, my favorite Democrat: Zell Miller of Florida.

FENN: Anyone questioning another Democrat is your favorite Democrat. But anyway.

CARLSON: You're getting warmer. And an avid letter writer. Wrote letter to the "Washington Post" this week in which he described Terry McAuliffe, your party chair, as "dumb, inept and impolite." But let's just go ahead and quote Zell Miller. Here's what he said. He said of Terry McAuliffe, "Every time he speaks it still sounds to me like fingernails across a blackboard. And he's making more and more moderates see red, the color that dominated the election maps." Zell Miller of Georgia. It sound to me like he's about to become your Jim Jeffords.

FENN: Listen, Zell Miller is known for sharp words, and I applaud him for that. We have a big tent. We criticize each other right out front. Everybody knows about it. But you know, when it comes time to govern, we can govern. We don't have to go on vacation.

CARLSON: But wait. According to Zell Miller, the Democratic party tent has gotten so small it resembles in his words "a dunce cap." But he had it -- which I thought was a clever line, and also true -- but he had some specific criticisms, and one of them I want to run by you, here. he beat up on Terry McAuliffe for attacking Elizabeth Dole. McAuliffe calls her Libby Dole, not even getting her nickname correct -- as a carpetbagger for suggesting that she might run in North Carolina. So here you have the head of -- the Democratic chair attacking a woman who dares run for Senate in a state she hasn't been living in lately.

MAY: But where she is from, unlike, say Hillary Clinton in New York...

CARLSON: This is a pretty bold attack. Will you defend it? I mean, it's ludicrous.

FENN: I guess she was a beauty queen down there when she was 18 or something. But listen. This is politics. We don't -- we love politics, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. You know, I will stand behind Zell. I will stand behind... CARLSON: Your defense is "this is politics?" That is your defense.

FENN: Well, that's the kind of show we are on. His job is to be party chairman and to be tough.

PRESS: Good job. I want to talk about a couple other races here, because first...


PRESS: The first indications that -- we are bouncing around the political map, here -- but the first indications of how well an incumbent party is doing are the mid-term elections. particularly for the big governorships. I want to take a look at -- let's start with New Jersey. Here is golden boy of the Republican party, Brett Sumner, big upset in the primary. And he has been in free fall ever since. He is now 19 points behind Jim McGreevey in New Jersey. Lost cause? New Jersey, Democratic column.

MAY: Great underdog.


MAY: Loves to come up from behind. I know Brett Schundler. He is a great candidate. When the people of New Jersey focus on him and who he is and what he represents, and see him as the great leader he is, I think he can come from behind, and I think he will do. Don't forget, no one thought he'd be the candidate a year ago. Nobody thought so.

That will be in December.


PRESS: Well, the same thing is happening right across the river. I mean, you know, here's Mark Earley, golden boy of the Republican Party. This is Jim Gilmore's state, Republican National Chairman, that he has got to deliver, that's why they made him the chairman. And Mark Warner is running -- Democrat, running 14 points ahead of Mark Earley.

MAY: Because he's got truckloads of money and has been able to start a campaign much sooner.

PRESS: Because he's a great candidate.

MAY: Look, there are challenging races in the fall, I will acknowledge that, for the Republican Party. And four years ago, when I was with the RNC, we had a clean sweep. It's going to take a lot of work for us to have a clean sweep this fall.

CARLSON: Now, Peter, let me just take out...

FENN: At least you're honest. I like that.

CARLSON: I hope you will be...


CARLSON: The remaining moments of our program to gloat just a little bit. Campaign finance reform...

FENN: Can I gloat?

CARLSON: Well, I'm not sure you're going to be able to when I pose this question to you. Campaign finance reform, of course, moving from the Senate to the House, question whether it's going to come up for a vote or not. But one of the reasons it may not, one of the reasons it may go down to a fiery and well-deserved defeat, is that you -- and by you, I mean Democrats -- lost Congressional by caucus in parts of labor on this. Because it turns out that campaign finance reform, when it really threatens to become law, scares a lot of Democrats, doesn't it?

FENN: Which merely makes you happy, doesn't it?

CARLSON: It does, very, very happy.

FENN: Well, first of all, the Democrats are coming back. We are -- what is it? Thirteen members now short of a discharge petition of getting the 218 signatures that you need, and that's not easy, getting signatures on a discharge position petition. And why is that? Why do we need a discharge position? Funny, who's in control?

CARLSON: Republicans.

FENN: Yes, and they will not bring it up.

CARLSON: ... who have been against it from the beginning. But the real news...

FENN: Oh, no, no, no. They go out and say they're for it.

CARLSON: No, that's dog bites man. Man bites dog is Democrats are against it now.

FENN: I'm for campaign finance reform. Remember that? Oh, I'm for campaign finance reform.

CARLSON: But you never believed that in the first place. The Congressional Black Caucus...


FENN: Did you?

PRESS: We've got 30 seconds left. Something we mentioned at the top of the show, we haven't gotten to as yet. Dan Burton, first time I ever agreed with him in my life, is on the warpath because John Ashcroft, who accused Janet Reno of stonewalling, is now stonewalling Congress himself. I thought this was a guy who was going to make the Justice Department responsive to Congress. MAY: Well, first of all, give Dan Burton credit for consistency.

PRESS: I do.

MAY: He fought that Justice Department, he's fighting this one. Secondly, look, you know, the founders set this up so the legislative branch is meant to have a dynamic tension with the executive branch. Sometimes that's just a cover for partisan disputes. Not in this case. There's a dispute between who has the authority, and that's the way it's meant to be.

PRESS: All right. You know, I don't know whether we covered it all are or not, but if we didn't cover it, doesn't exist because we're out of time anyway.

CARLSON: It wasn't worth covering, exactly.


PRESS: Cliff May, thanks so much for being here. Peter Fenn, you make politics fun. All right, Tucker Carlson and I -- well, there's a few little political juicy tidbits left over. We'll get to them in our closing comments coming up.


CARLSON: You know, Fritz Hollings really is the meanest guy in politics. I covered his '98 reelection. There was a debate, he savaged his opponent. After the debate, reporters came up and said, senator, you were pretty mean out there, but in real life, you respect and like your opponent. And he said, "No, I don't like him at all. I think he's horrible." He's just a vicious guy.

PRESS: You know what makes me sick, is all the Senatorial courtesy. I mean, all you hear is the honorable, the distinguished -- so and so.

CARLSON: You mean politeness makes you sick?

PRESS: No, I like somebody who speaks the truth, who is honest...

CARLSON: Who beats up on old people?

PRESS: Jesse Helms is a racist, and Strom Thurmond is ready to kick.

CARLSON: Oh, that is totally ridiculous. Would you like it if he made fun of disabled people? I mean, it's unbelievable.

PRESS: He's not making fun. He's telling...

CARLSON: He's mocking a 98-year-old man.

PRESS: He's telling the truth, but you know something, Tucker, I am worried about George Bush. I do think he's working too hard. I think we better give him a little more time off, here.

CARLSON: Bill, you said last night you were pro-vacation. This is in the good works column for President Bush.

PRESS: But 50 percent of your time on vacation?

CARLSON: Not 50 percent.

PRESS: Speaking of which, have a great Labor Day weekend, everybody. Good night for CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next week for another edition of CROSSFIRE. Happy Labor Day.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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