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CNN CROSSFIRE

America's New War: Is It Partisan to Challenge the President?

Aired October 26, 2001 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shame on the other side of the aisle. Shame!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shame on you for those comments! Shame on you for those actions!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, has bipartisanship come to an end on Capitol Hill? And if it has, is it really such a shame? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. And good news. America must be getting back to normal, because Republicans and Democrats were back to doing what they do best this week: beating each other up. Verbally, of course.

There was squabbling over the economic stimulus package. Democrats called it corporate welfare. Republicans said it was just good economics.

Another battle over the energy bill. Republicans want more drilling in Alaska. Democrats say, "No dice." And for the first time ever, there was even criticism over the war, Democrat Joe Biden saying we looked like a bunch of "high-tech bullies."

Yes, just when you thought the Democratic Party had either disappeared or filed Chapter 11, partisanship is back. The question tonight: is this good for America? Is it time to stop pretending we agree on everything? Or will this partisan bickering hurt the war on terrorism?

Tackling that topic tonight Republican strategist Cliff May, President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and Democratic strategist Peter Fenn -- Tucker.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Peter Fenn.

PRESS: Welcome back.

CARLSON: Welcome. It's nice to see you.

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It has been a long, dry season for us. The politico is here.

CARLSON: Well, it's a sign of America's health that you're back and we are happy about that. Not as happy as I was about a piece that ran in "The New York times" last week. Perhaps you read it. It was written by Rick Berke.

He did something interesting. He interviewed 15 prominent Democrats: office holders, Clinton appointees, people at the core of your party -- and he asked them, "How do you feel about President Bush?" And not one of them said he or she was sad that Bush won. In fact, a number of them said they were much happier that Bush was president. "Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia sounded relieved that Gore had lost," Rick Berke wrote. A top appointee in the Clinton administration said the Gore would have totally fouled up the war, would have micromanaged, would have run it on his Palm Pilot...

FENN: Is there a question coming here?

CARLSON: Here's the question. I'm enjoying this.

FENN: I can tell.

CARLSON: My question to you, Peter Fenn ,do you want to add your voice to this chorus that says we are glad President Bush won this election?

FENN: No question, would I have liked to have Al Gore sitting in that White House? Absolutely I would. I think Al Gore would have done a great job with this crisis.

But I also think George W. Bush has done a great job. And I think, you know, it's very important for Americans to stand together at this time when it comes to the war.

But I think what you are going to see, Tucker, is you are going to see the parties dividing on -- especially domestic issues and looking at the patient's bill of rights again, social security and Medicare. All the issues that were prevalent and front and center before September 11. And you are going to see in this November's election some nice victories for Democrats. Which I'm sure you would love to talk about.

CARLSON: Let me give you the sense of what you are up against. We have prepared a little montage. These are all people you will recognize. These are all people you know. These are prominent Democrats on George W. Bush. Here's what they say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: We have got a good strong leader with the powers to protect every American family from the kinds of fears that many of them, unfortunately, have after September 11.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I really support the kind of pain-staking, patient approach that the president is pursuing. SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This president has really stepped up to the plate for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: They love him. They love him. So here's the question. I want you to admit that Democrats were wrong to accuse the president during the election of being callow and inexperienced and not up to the job, not prepared to lead the country in a time of crisis. Turns out none of that was true. Isn't that the case?

FENN: Oh, I -- listen. I think when we look at some of the issues that we are going to differ on, we'll question George's -- George Bush's abilities.

But you know, right now, I think he has done a great job. And you know, one of the interesting things about right now is that the respect for government has gone up 28 points. People now believe the government is doing things right.

And you know what this is going to do, Tucker, to those anti- government folks, to the Tom DeLays and the Dick Armeys who want to get rid of government, who can't stand government? It's going to put them out of business, because I think what you are going to have is a whole new approach to government now.

PRESS: Well...

FENN: Good for the Democrats.

PRESS: I hate to rain on everybody's parade, but I mean, look, we are in a war. Of course his ratings are high in a time of war. Even Richard Nixon had high ratings in a time of war, and that was the Vietnam war.

But let's look at this war. We are the world's only superpower. For three weeks we have been bombing the hell out of the poorest country in the world, and yet here we are. The Taliban is still in power. The Taliban still controls all the major cities in Afghanistan. Osama Bin Laden is still alive and still on his cave somewhere. Where are the results, Cliff May?

CLIFF MAY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I guess your argument is that we need a bigger defense budget, more money for the CIA, more money for defense and less money for all the usual things you have wanted over the past few years. If you are saying we need to do more in foreign policy and more in military. you are right. We agree.

But let's talk about what's going on. What you just showed in that montage is very interesting. What you just showed is something you only saw after you had too many anchovy pizzas, and that is Bush Democrats. Whoever thought they would see it?

PRESS: No. They're not -- they are not...

MAY: Bush Democrats. That's what they are. And during this war we are going to...

PRESS: No. No.

FENN: You are dreaming.

PRESS: You know what you saw? You know what you saw? You saw Americans -- that's what you saw -- at a time of war, who pull together.

MAY: They support their president.

PRESS: But I'll tell you, here's what we want. We want to know -- I want to know that we know what we are doing in Afghanistan. If Bill -- if George -- Al Gore, rather, had been elected and he had waited a month before doing anything, he would have been crucified. If Al Gore was president today and three weeks later the Taliban was still in power, he would have been crucified.

So I want to ask you -- because George Bush said, day one, "We are going to get Osama Bin Laden, bring him back dead or alive." Here's what Donald Rumsfeld told "USA Today" two days ago about are we going to get Osama Bin Laden. Here is his answer. "It's a big world. There are lots of countries. He's got a lot of money. He's got a lot of people who support him. And I just don't whether we'll be successful. Clearly it would be highly desirable to find him." Can I ask you, when did it change? When is it become OK to leave Osama Bin Laden roaming around the world, doing more terrorist attacks?

MAY: It's not OK to leave Osama Bin Laden around.

PRESS: Then why did he say it?

MAY: We need to pursue -- and if Democrats want to get to the right of Republicans on this, they are going to find a lot of support. And there is a -- there is some split in this administration.

The Bush doctrine is very clear. We go after the terrorists. We go after the nations that harbor the terrorists and we change those nations if they won't change themselves. Now some Democrats -- I have to admit, Al Gore is among them; Joe Lieberman is among them -- they are foursquare behind this Bush doctrine. But there are some at our State Department who don't sound as foursquare behind this doctrine.

I'll tell you this. In the next election -- if this continues in the next election, the voters are not going to be asking who is Republican and who is Democrat. They are going to be asking who is for a vigorous policy of defense of the United States and who is for half measures and appeasement. Who is for Neville Chamberlain or who is for Winston Churchill.

CARLSON: I have the answer.

FENN: There aren't too many appeasers on our side.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: And I'm glad you said that. Let me get to this. Because there is one.

FENN: You found one. Well, there you go.

CARLSON: Yes, that's right. Now, there was bad news all week. But there was one bright spot: Joe Biden destroyed his political career. And he did that at the Council on Foreign Relations in a speech he gave on Monday in which he said if the United States continues to bomb Afghanistan it may be seen as a, quote, "high-tech bully." Now keep in mind, this is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tom Daschle is smart enough to just run away from a statement like this. But it's over for Biden after saying something like that, isn't it?

FENN: No, I don't think so. Because one of the things that you have to look at in this war is that there's going to be a lot of fronts. The bombing is very important. He's not against the bombing.

But, you know, it does get tiresome when we spend $500,000 to blow up a truck, which they showed on television just today. You know, we have to get in there. We have got to find this guy. We have got to take him out. We've got to get to those terrorist cells. We have to do it in a way which you cover all fronts. And I think Joe Biden would agree with that.

But, you know, the important thing about this right now is that -- that we do agree. I mean, I think, you know, there are a few people -- there may be some nuances on different approaches. But I think everybody says look, this is such an issue. This is so important for our own security that you have to use every means at your disposal.

CARLSON: But wait -- wait a second. Joe Biden is not, you know, Bergen County Chairman of the Democratic Party. He's the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

FENN: But -- Exactly.

CARLSON: And he goes in public and calls us a high-tech bully.

FENN: Look. I served on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. You have to put your eggs in more than one basket. The bombing basket is not enough. And that's partly what he was saying with this. The bombing basket isn't enough.

PRESS: I want to get to a topic where there's a lot of disagreement this week on Capitol Hill. It was called the economic stimulus package, or as a lobbyist called it, "the last train leaving the station." The corporate lobbyist, therefore, get on board.

$210 billion -- that is what the House approved this week -- of which 13 billion is the tax cut to the lowest -- I say, the poorest Americans who don't make enough money to pay any income tax and missed out on the first Bush tax cut so they get it now. That's $13 billion. The other -- the rest of the $210 billion is all corporate giveaways, Cliff May. Seriously, is this the way to respond to the terrorist attacks of September 11, to give more tax cuts to the wealthiest corporations in this country?

MAY: We have got to stop talking about it the way you are talking about it at all. What we have to do, Bill, is we need -- here's what we need.

PRESS: You want to deny the truth?

MAY: The truth is that we have companies laying off. We have companies going out of business. We were into -- going into a recession before September 11 and now we have taken a tremendous hit. What we need now are ways to go keep people in their jobs. Do people get employed by whom? By companies. That may mean we need to help corporations to continue to thrive.

We do need economic stimulus. We need to get out of this recession as quickly as we can. The last thing we want is for Osama Bin Laden in his cave to be laughing because he's managed to make an economic crisis in the U.S.

PRESS: No. Pardon me. Wait just a second. Let me tell you about this bill. Do you know who benefits from this bill? IBM. $1.4 billion.

MAY: How many...

PRESS: Let me finish. Ford -- let me finish. Ford, $2 billion. General Motors, 800 million. General Electric, 700 million. Any -- corporations get rid of the necessity of paying any tax at all. Don't you think that makes Osama Bin Laden laugh?

MAY: How many people are employed by Ford? How many by GM? How many by IBM? We are trying to save jobs and keeping this economy growing. And anybody in Congress, Republic or Democrat, who can't understand the need for good, sound economic policies now, anybody tries to take advantage of this situation should be thrashed by the voters.

FENN: Cliff, you're talking -- no, no. The problem is...

MAY: Republic or Democrat. Anybody who voted for it should be thrashed by the voters.

FENN: This -- this is very important. This is extraordinarily important, because what I'm afraid of here is you have a crowd up there that is using this war as an effort to put in place long-term cuts for big corporations to put in place what they couldn't get otherwise, and instead of working on the 150,000 people who lost their jobs in the airline industry. When the bill went through, there was zip, zero, nada for them. We have got to get them on board. We need a minimum wage increase. We need job training. We need help for workers. We need -- we don't need -- we need to take a look at this tax package so that it goes to those folks that most need it. Not to... MAY: We need to protect -- we need to do things to help this economy. We need not -- I agree with you we need to not be partisan about the war. We need to agree that we have to fight it to a decisive conclusion and we need to do things to shore up our economy so we don't have thousands of more workers out of jobs.

CARLSON: Osama Bin Laden is paying very close attention to the stimulus package, isn't he?

FENN: He's watching CNN right now. They have got a satellite in the cave.

PRESS: There's no money in this bill for unemployment benefits for all those workers who lost their jobs. Why does it all go to the corporations?.

MAY: We are trying to have people keep their jobs rather than give them more after they are fired.

CARLSON: That is exactly right. Now is not the time for you guys to complain about big business.

PRESS: Oh, baloney.

MAY: How is that...

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Nobody is complaining about big business. You are talking about -- you are talking about putting in place, you know, taking away the alternative minimum tax for corporations. You're talking about putting in place...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: What we really need is to increase the minimum wage to $11. I mean, come on.

FENN: What we need to do is to help those 150,000 folks. And you know what? The Congress passed a law to help the victims. They passed a law which gave funds for victims. And now, you know, you have thousands of lawyers who are giving their time free to help victims. No. Listen, I'm telling you. Everybody is in this together.

CARLSON: The trial lawyers. They are the heroes.

FENN: Absolutely. No, they're in it -- everybody is in it together. Everybody is in it together. And that's...

MAY: And by the way I heard your friends the trial lawyers talking about the terrorism bill which just passed, saying it unduly restricts...

CARLSON: OK. We are going to have to leave it right there, but only for a moment. Arguing here. Not much on Capitol Hill, but there are elections coming up. That may change. We'll talk about it when we come back in a moment on CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: The bottom line is in the war on terrorism, there are no partisans, there are just patriots. And we'll beat these guys. We'll beat these guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. For the past six weeks, Americans have been asked to live their lives as normally as possible, take up where they left off on September 11th. Tonight we are doing our part. For the first time in a long time here on CROSSFIRE, we are debating the pure politics of the crisis. Which party benefits from the anti-terrorism bill? Will bipartisanship last, and should it? And what in the world will candidates run on in the midterm elections?

Here to sort it out, two longtime connoisseurs of partisan politics, Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and from our RNC, Communications Director Cliff May. Bill Press?

PRESS: Well, Cliff May the president says we have to get back to normal. And I thought normal..

MAY: And you are.

PRESS: ... means politics, but it doesn't for him. You know he was going to go out and campaign for mark early in Virginia. No. He was going to campaign for Bret Schundler in New Jersey? No. He was going to campaign for Mike Bloomberg in New York, no. He was going to speak to the GOP governor's fund-raiser last night. No. I mean, why is this guy letting his party sink?

MAY: Because he's doing the most important job he can do trying to lead us through a war. And if that means he can't go out and fund raise and can't go out and campaign, that's not the right thing to do. You would be criticizing him if he were. I probably would, too. But understand that at a time of crisis like this, at a time when national security is top on the agenda, that will tend to benefit most Republicans more than Democrats.

We will talk about the war more than we'll talk about prescription drugs, where you have a natural advantage. At the same time, what you are going to see -- what you are seeing in all the races, and you'll see for a long time, are Democrats hugging George W. Bush. Hugging him.

PRESS: Oh, come on.

MAY: And they will. And they should.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: Look. This is very important, because there's no way if you are looking at the November elections coming up that the Republicans are going to do very well. You are going to lose New Jersey, Cliff.

MAY: Let me point out...

FENN: The traditional Republican state, Virginia, is looking awfully good for Mark Warner. You've already lost 10 mayor's races so far this year. All 10 have gone to the Democrats.

MAY: Look, I've got to point out -- let me point out...

FENN: The New Jersey assembly is going to go for a Republican.

MAY: I hear you. Let me point out a couple of things. One is that both in New Jersey and in Virginia, the candidates -- the Democratic candidates -- have taken out ads where they are 100 percent in favor of Bush.

FENN: No.

MAY: Yes, they have. Some thing. The Congressional -- no, there's two things the polls show very clearly. The polls have been done in your own "Post" and you know it.

One is that the Republicans in Congress now have an advantage for the first time in a long while. Two, that reelection rates for incumbents are going to be high. Bush has an 85 percent approval. So do members of Congress. People will re-elect their own members.

PRESS: Peter is right. Watch the returns in November. But speaking of getting back to normal, just a quick question. If we are back to normal, if it is safe to go on with our lives, after two months don't you think it's time to allow Dick Cheney to come out of the bunker?

MAY: Dick Cheney is working as he should -- we have in place...

PRESS: Yeah, but he's hidden in a bunker.

MAY: He's -- listen, I'm sorry he's not on CROSSFIRE. He does have some other jobs he needs to attend to right now. Among them a war that we are fighting. We may be fighting for at least -- we have in place a very powerful national security team, the most experienced we could have.

I do know a lot of Democrats who will admit to me, I'm glad we have got Rumsfeld. We have got Cheney. We have got a good team in there. And that's important. Look, incumbents are going to do well in this environment either way as long as there is no error.

PRESS: All right. Enough monologue.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I just want to ask you another question.

FENN: I knew you had a zinger for me. So I'm going to try to incite you.

CARLSON: Incumbents would have won in Virginia and New York -- both of them are Republicans -- but they can't run again. And so if they lose...

FENN: Is that these terrible term limits that the Republicans pushed through?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. We're a total...

FENN: I agree. I agree. I'm not...

(CROSSTALK)

MAY: ... New York City.

CARLSON: But you must admit that Rudy Giuliani would be mayor again. New Yorkers wants him. He's a Republican, I think.

FENN: Is that right?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. Governor Gilmore of Virginia would be governor again. Another Republican. This isn't a victory for Democrats.

FENN: Listen, tuck. Come on. Come on. Look, the notion that when there is a crisis everybody goes to the incumbent party, I'm afraid that's out the window. Arthur Schlesinger had a terrific article in the "New York Times" a few weeks back, and looking at these situations a year after these crises, a lot of incumbents got thrown out.

Look, the Democrats have only 13 seats to defend in the United States Senate. The Republicans have 20. We have got governorships now that are up. We are going to take governor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and possibly Pennsylvania.

CARLSON: Let me explain just super quickly why you won't.

FENN: Let's go across the country.

CARLSON: There's no way you can even debate this point. I'll give you one example. ANWR, OK? The one thing the war shows us is that we are far too dependent on Gulf oil. Saudi Arabia. 70 percent of our oil comes from Saudi Arabia. Clearly not a stable country, or not the ally we thought it was.

ANWR. Huge amount of oil up there. Democrats say no. It will hurt the musk oxen. Go solar. Do you think in this environment go solar is a winning campaign? You are going down on that.

FENN: So what you are telling me is that the Republicans are going to win the environmental message in 2002? Not a chance. Not a chance.

CARLSON: I'm saying it's a national security issue and you've got to recognize that.

FENN: The issues, when they come back to domestic issues, will benefit the Democrats and -- as they usually do.

PRESS: Cliff May, I want to show you an example of something that happened after the president went to -- up to Capitol Hill and gave the speech and he walked down and he surprised a lot of people. And I just want you to show -- just watch this little video.

The president walking down. And look who he is giving the biggest hug you have ever seen to. Who is it? It's not Trent Lott. It's not Dennis Hastert. It's Tom Daschle. Wouldn't you have to admit, Cliff May, that Daschle has stepped up to the plate and been a mensch in this thing?

MAY: What I have to admit is that what we have now is something that Republicans didn't want, probably, and Democrats didn't want -- and that is a president of all the people. He is a president for a wartime footing.

PRESS: No. No.

MAY: It's great that he's a bipartisan president. He ran that way. You didn't want -- wouldn't let him be that. He's being that now.

PRESS: Now I want you to watch this video of April the fifth, 2001. April the fifth. Now look at George Bush in this big hug, please.

There he is. I think you will recognize the guy. The handsome guy with the gray hair there talking to the president of the United States. And if this video would only move along, you will see the president giving me at this point here -- just about coming up -- a great big hug. I'll talk while we are watching the video. I'll talk over it.

CARLSON: I want to point out that Bill Press is nuzzling the president. You are smelling his cologne.

PRESS: Doesn't this mean, Cliff, that the president will talk to and hug anybody?

MAY: Not since Monica Lewinsky have I seen anybody that affectionate with the president.

CARLSON: That's absolutely outrageous.

MAY: This is a whole new kind of...

PRESS: He hugs anybody. Bottom line.

MAY: Which president are we talking about now? This is a whole new period of history.

PRESS: Thank you, Cliff. Thank you for bringing politics back. Thank you, Peter. Peter Fenn. I know you are speechless when you saw me...

FENN: I am totally speechless. I was trying to read your lips but I couldn't do it.

PRESS: All right. Partisan politics is back, and you will really know it when Tucker Carlson and I get to our closing comments, coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: You know, you hear a lot about displaced airline workers after September 11. But the industry was hit even harder and you don't hear a lot about it: political consultant. A group of people who I like and admire and I think and I fear their business. They might as well all quit, sell insurance, become florists -- it will never be the same.

PRESS: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Look, there are political consultants making money in New York. They're making money in New Jersey. They're making money in Virginia. Everybody knows it except George Bush. But frankly, Tucker...

CARLSON: That is...

PRESS: I am glad partisanship is back. I say it's like...

CARLSON: We didn't get into this on the show. Bush not fund raising is one the most impressive things. I think even you'll admit it, although you attacked him for it on the show. Now we can be honest...

PRESS: No, absolutely not. He is riding this war. He doesn't care about anything else. He doesn't care. And the Democrats are going to win New Jersey, Virginia, New York...

CARLSON: Because he didn't go to a fund-raiser? How is that a bad thing? That's a noble thing. He's doing the nation's business. That is so warped. It's sick.

PRESS: He's hiding out. He's like Dick Cheney.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next week on Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.

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