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Interview with Nita Lowey, Tom Davis

Aired November 7, 2001 - 19:30   ET



MAYOR ELECT MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: Tonight, is not about Republicans or Democrats. It's about New Yorkers.



GOV. ELECT MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: The people of Virginia have spoken. They have said they want a new approach for our commonwealth.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are going to change way business is done in Trenton.


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Election results are in. No recounts are required. What is ahead for the winners and the nation? This is CROSSFIRE.

Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. The results are in, and it's not great news for the G.O.P. Democrats won two of the three most closely watched races in yesterday's off-year elections.

The lone Republican winner, Mike Bloomberg, New York's new mayor, was, until recently, a Democrat. Except it's not quite that simple. Voters in Virginia elected a Democrat as governor. But they also handed almost total control of the state house to Republicans. New Jersey voted a Democrat into the governor's office for the first time in 12 years. But to get there, the new governor had to go right on taxes.

So what does it all mean? And what does it bode for next year's elections, when Congress is up for grabs? The Florida recount began a year ago today. Has politics become any less confusing in the meantime?

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE tonight to sort it out, two members of Congress who will help decide next year's midterms: Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; and her counterpart, Tom Davis of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee -- Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congressman Davis, brave of you to come in here tonight. After the licking you took last night there is no other way to spin it, is there, Congressman? You had a lousy night.

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: I though it was a pretty good- night, actually. For the first time in history we elected Republican mayor in New York following another Republican mayor. In Virginia we went to an all-time high gaining 12 seats in the state house, moves us to 64 Republicans, plus two independents that caucus with us.

We lost a governorship, but if you take the total statewide ballots, more votes were cast for Republicans than Democrats and most of all, the only important race needed for our purposes was the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which we won. And for purposes of redistricting, that is where appeals will go. So we are very happy. Could have been happier, but we are pleased.

CARLSON: Congressman Lowey, I know the gloat-a-thon is about to begin, so let me just put the brakes on it a tiny bit. In Virginia, Mark Warner, the new governor is totally neutered by the Republican state house, a newly solid Republican state house. New Jersey just reverts to what it always was, a democratic state, and New York, a city that is five to one Democrat, there is a Republican mayor. This is a victory?

REP. NITA LOWEY (D), NEW YORK: Well, we can also look at fact we won 32 out of 34 mayors, and Tom and I have been talking about how these races are local, local, local. You look at the actual districts where Mark Warner did well and McGreevey did well and you look how great we are doing in the suburbs and so many of the seats are going to be in the suburbs. And Tom talks about the judicial race.

Well, look, we have learned in 2000 how much you can depend on a court decision. And in fact, you keep talking about Michigan, Pennsylvania, where we picked up seats in Georgia -- we expect to pick up seats. The redistricting has gone well for us: Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee. So I think overall, it was a great night. And Frankly, it is because our issues are the peoples' issues.

PRESS: All right, now, let's all agree that the real message of last night, and it is an important message, when you look at Pat Buchanan, and Jerry Ferraro, and Mark Green, is that co-host of CROSSFIRE should not quit this job and run for political office.

DAVIS: Absolutely. Political office doesn't pay that well and it is also a dead end for you.

PRESS: It seems to me it is a dead end for all of us, so stay where you are.

CARLSON: I shall. PRESS: All right. Congressman, you start out by saying --the first thing you say is you have got a Republican mayor of New York who is succeeding another Republican mayor New York.

Let's look at Michael Bloomberg. He has been a Democrat all his life. He only became a Republican about six months ago because he knew the Democratic field was two crowded, so it was purely a pragmatic decision as to how to get to the mayor's office.

He calls himself a liberal. He is pro-choice, pro-environment, pro-gay rights. So, I want to ask you, is he your role model now for future Republican candidates?

DAVIS: If you want to win in New York he probably is -- if you want to win in New York City. In Virginia you had a pro-gun, very conservative Democrat running basically on a Republican platform. So you have to cut the cloth to fit the coat. And that is exactly what happened. The Democrats localized the Virginia race by running a Democrat who ran right of center. And in New York we ran a Republican left of center.

But the party labels -- what's interesting here -- party labels matter less than philosophy.

LOWEY: Tom, how about Nassau County? When Tom Swozey (ph) ran and the first time since 1917 the Democrats not only have a have county executive, they have both houses.

DAVIS: It's all local.

LOWEY: Exactly.

DAVIS: We did an exit poll in New Jersey and Virginia yesterday. In Virginia, the generic congressional is a plus seven Republican. In New Jersey it is almost even, the generic congressional. It has zero effect on the congressional election. It is a different agenda. Nassau County is a local agenda. New York City is a local agenda.

PRESS: But Congressman, if I may, I agree with your point that it is local, but that is an important point. So, OK on foreign policy, people are saying, we salute the president. But on the local issue, on taxes, on schools, on the environment, people are saying the Democrats are better on those issues.

DAVIS: That's not what you are saying at all.

PRESS: Let me ask you to listen, please, to a man I'm sure you consider probably one of the best political minds in the country and how he wrapped up last night's election. Here is Democratic chairman Terry McAuliffe.

DAVIS: My hero.


TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: I feel bad for the Republican Party. They got shut out last night. It was a horrible night for them last night because they didn't have the right message. They ran conservative candidates, they tried to run their old tax and spend issue ads. It didn't work for them.


PRESS: So all you old "tax and spend" and anti-government stuff just isn't cutting it anymore, is it?

DAVIS: I don't think that is accurate at all. I think it depends on what context and how you use the local flavor. Look, taxes are not, right now, a front running issue. There is no question, it is not front burner. But if you take a look -- what I get concerned about at the congressional (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is what is it going to be a year from now?

When you go into a recession and if you raise taxes, then it becomes an issue. And a lot of these states are under a lot of pressure with their budgetary constraints and their weakening economy. There are many chapters to be played out. The key for us is right now, President Bush and Congress have all-time high approval ratings at this point.

If the congressional elections were yesterday, it would have been fine. We would have been in great shape. Our exit polls in Virginia and New Jersey show that. The elections a year from now, we will wait and see. But I don't think there is anything in there that should give you any encouragement or necessarily discouragement about next year.

They were localized in their nature when a Republican wins in New York City and a Democrat wins in Virginia.

LOWEY: Well, just to respond to that, you know the president didn't go out campaigning. In fact, Dick Cheney was out pheasant hunting in South Dakota. So when you see the candidates on their own, it's a Democratic message that is winning. And I really feel sorry for some of the Republicans. They are going home and have to defend Tom Delay's airline security, no action. They are going home and defending an economic stimulus package that you know hasn't accomplished anything here.

CARLSON: Hold on here. You speak of Democrats. Let me just name one: Mark Warner. He did win. He is now or will be the governor of Virginia. But to call him a Democrat is a little strong. I don't know how closely you watched the campaign but the guy ran as the son or the bosom buddy of our president, George W. Bush. He ran as self- described conservative.

The man is a fan of NASCAR. This is a cell phone mogul who lives in Old Town Alexandria. All of a sudden, he turns into a redneck as and has the soundtrack from "Deliverance" as his campaign tune. He came out against the car tax. He didn't run as a Democrat, he ran as a Republican. LOWEY: From what I see and what I saw, when you have the president at an all-time high in popularity, when you have Dick Cheney and the president not participating in elections, you have McGreevey winning in LoBiondo's district. We picked up three seats in the assembly, one in the Senate, 32 out of 34 mayors again went Democratic.

It seems to me that we are in very good shape and it because of the issues. Airline security, economic security, are on our side.

CARLSON: But there is also a financial here isn't there? Warner outspent Early two to one. He throws in 5 million of his own money to do this, that in addition to the millions he spent when he ran for senate a couple of years ago.

How can you, as a proponent of campaign finance reform be happy when a candidate like this who basically buys seats wins? Doesn't that go against everything you believe as a Democrat?

LOWEY: I think that Tom Davis should speak to Speaker Hastert and say let's bring campaign finance reform to the floor of House. I support is. We had a discharge petition, let's do it. I think that is what we really have to do. But as long as the Republicans won't bring campaign finance reform to the House and really deal with it seriously, then look, you know, you have to deal with the law the way it is.

DAVIS: Under campaign finance campaign finance reform these people could still spend all their money. Your bill would not prohibit these millionaires from buying office. You know that and I know it. It doesn't touch that issue.

LOWEY: Let's bring campaign finance on and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) .

PRESS: And it is too bad that it doesn't, but that is another CROSSFIRE debate. I want to come back to Virginia too. It's your state, Congressman.

DAVIS: Absolutely.

PRESS: It's a red state, one of those red ones on the map, just one year ago, bright red. It is a conservative state, a law and order state. And it is the state of the Republican National chairman Jim Gilmore who could not even convince President Bush to have his picture taken with Mark Earley. Isn't this a huge personal defeat for Jim Gilmore, and shouldn't he be fired on the spot?

DAVIS: No. I think Jim is doing a good job as chairman of the RNC. Let me tell you, he put the resources into this race. This was a localized campaign focused on Virginia issues. Mark Early made a big mistake in his nonsupport for a sales tax increase in Northern Virginia that would have paid for transportation and education and it cost him dearly.

And I told them that I thought they were on the wrong side of that issue. But aside from that the person who ought to be embarrassed is Terry McAuliffe because if he money into the New York City mayor's race they never saw it coming. They were sitting there gloating, saying it is a Democratic city, nothing is going to happen. If they put half the money that we did in Virginia in New York, you might have had a Democratic mayor. He missed the boat, Nita, he missed the boat.

LOWEY: Tom, if were you in New York at the time when we had seven games as part of the World Series, and everyone that was alive and kicking was watching the World Series, and you had a candidate that put $60 million dollars with commercials going every five minutes, look, we have a Democrat in New York, and he is going to be good mayor.

DAVIS: Bloomberg was on during the World Series more than Derek Jeter. It is true. But a little money from the DNC and you might have gotten the message across.

LOWEY: We did have a little money, but not 60 million.

PRESS: Let me also ask you about New Jersey. Christie Whitman, Republican, pro-choice. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that Brent Schundler, his candidate, who is as far right as you can get among the Republican Party, who loses and loses badly. He got crushed. Doesn't prove that New Jersey is added to the list of states like New York and like California, where you cannot run and win statewide if you are anti- choice?

DAVIS: I don't know about the choice issue, but I think there are a series of races...

PRESS: Big issue, there.

DAVIS: ... well, you have some of the strongest right to life proponents wining in districts that voted for Clinton...


DAVIS: I don't know that I can come to that conclusion but it clearly is a state where it is a moderate state for a Republican. And when you try to run from the right and you jettison part of your moderate base, which is what happened, you had a bitter primary there. The incumbent acting governor would not endorse the other Republican candidate and from there it just imploded.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Lowey, speaking of the subject of abortion that bill just brought up, I want to show you Mark Green, thank heaven, lost for like the hundredth time yesterday, but he is still not off the hook. I want you to take a look at probably the ugliest spot I have seen on television in a long time. That says a lot. This is Mark Green's anti--Bloomberg ad that ran in New York.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kill it, kill it.

According to court documents, that's what Mike Bloomberg told a female employee when she informed him she was pregnant.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CARLSON: Now we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) inside the question of what exactly is wrong with that behavior if you are pro-choice, the philosophical question. Isn't it time to declare, you, as a Democrat, a moratorium on Mark Green running again. Stop him before he runs again. Can you do that? LOWEY: I wish we could have a moratorium on nasty ads on both sides. You know, when you have a primary...

CARLSON: Hold on, that was Mark Green's ad.

LOWEY: I'm saying, Bloomberg ran plenty of ads that weren't pleasant either. I think it would be really terrific if we could have a moratorium on all those nasty ads that inevitably come up at the end, and really stick to issues. And Bloomberg won because he put a lot of money in during the Yankee game and he is a liberal Democrat.

CARLSON: So you are going to allow Mark Green to run again. There is the headline, I am sorry.

PRESS: We will get to your job right after this break. When come back we will ask that magic question: Will the Democrat victories last night catapult the Democrats into control of the House of Representatives in 2002? Stay tuned.



ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Obviously the president is a Republican. The president is pleased with Republican victories. But when you take a look at this in sum, I think it is fair to say it was a close election throughout the country and it was mostly decided in local issues and local campaigns.


PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. OK, we know who won and who lost last night. But the bigger question is: What's it all mean for next year's all-important congressional races? Do Democrats have a leg up? Or will President Bush's current popularity not only hold, but sprinkle down upon his fellow Republicans?

It may all depend on one of these two people with us tonight: Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia is responsible for keeping the House in Republican hands. Congresswoman Nita Lowey of New York has the job of winning it for Democrats -- Tucker.

CARLSON: Ms. Lowey, it is amazing how things have changed politically in the last two months, but there are always some people for whom this stuff takes a long time to dawn. They emerge like Japanese soldiers caught in some Pacific (UNINTELLIGIBLE) , not aware the war is over.

I want to give you a prime example. Paul Begala asked a variation of this question, midterm elections, how is the president going to affect it. Here is what Paul Begala said, I am quoting him. Quote:

"Even with an 87 percent approval rating, Bush is still the guy who couldn't get as many votes as Al Gore. You heard it here first, one term, guaranteed." Isn't this just a metaphor for the way Democrats look at politics? You need an individual to bash or beat up on. And if you don't have that someone to vilify, what do you have? Zero, zip, nada, nothing. LOWEY: Actually, I think the Democrats and the Republicans are united in support of George Bush and wish him well. However, I'm talking about Nita Lowey and Tom, I think we are very supportive when it comes to international policy. But as I said before, I really feel sorry for the Democrats, because -- Republicans, excuse me, because Tom Delay and Dick Armey are forcing their members to take some really tough votes.

Three days, three days it took to bailout the airline industry, and it is about seven weeks plus later and we still have not passed an airline security bill. I know I fly. We are still not X-raying the bags in the hold. We are still not locking the doors, and we still don't have the National Guardsman or air marshal on every plane.

Well, these Republicans in tough districts are going to go home and have to defend that and they are also going to have to defend a very bad economy that is slowing.

PRESS: You can hardly hold on, Congressman.

DAVIS: Indeed, I think the House pass a pretty good bill. The Senate passed a bill. It is in conference and I think we will get it worked out in the next week or two, hopefully. We will get this worked out.

The differences between the bill are actually minimal. Politics is the exaggeration of differences, whether the people checking the baggage are federal employees or not. One says they have to be but only in major airports. It doesn't apply to the minor airports, where you can contract out. The other bill gives flexibility to the executive branch.

But things are fine. The weakening economy I think is something that troubles all of us, but to hold Republicans accountable for this stage of what happens is I think a little naive. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) started in under the Clinton Administration. It was exacerbated on...

LOWEY: Come on, Tom.

DAVIS: And instead of partisan rhetoric, is let's work together on a stimulus package that we can send up that will get this economy moving again...

CARLSON: But Congressman, let's -- the congressman raises an interesting point which is that the reserve of political goodwill, that Democrats counted on, the reserve of goodwill that came from this booming economy of the Clinton years is virtually gone. Let me just give you one of many examples: You say, I think correctly, Bloomberg won probably because Rudy Giuliani stood next to him. What you don't say is that Green lost despite Bill Clinton standing next to him.

Clinton came out and campaigned for Mark Green in New York City which has got to be the Epicenter of support for Bill Clinton. He lives there now and it did nothing. People have forgotten about the Clinton prosperity, haven't they, what you used to talk about.

LOWEY: Two points. We were talking about bipartisanship or partisanship. The airline security bill passed the Senate 100 to zero. John McCain came over trying to convince Tom Delay and Dick Armey to put same bill on the floor that passed Senate 100 to zero, Democrats and Republicans working together.

Huh-uh, I'm not going get into, this is a little different in this bill. That bill that passed the Senate was good for Democrats and republicans and Tom Delay and Dick Armey were twisting arms and wouldn't allow it to come to the floor.

PRESS: All right, but I want to get back to last night...

DAVIS: The House is entitled to pass its own bill. What, do we need rubber stamps in the...


LOWEY: It is a week later, a week later and we are talking about a weak economy. The best thing we can do to get people to fly again, to go on vacation...

DAVIS: Is to rubber stamp the Senate?

LOWEY: No, it is to make those airplanes safer.


PRESS: Airplane -- airport security, we have debated many times. It is a good issue. Straighten it out, fix it, but today, let's talk about this election again.

Here is President Bush. You talk about the reserve of good will the Democrats are counting on from Clinton, it is the Republicans who are counting on the reserve of good will from George Bush last night and it did not materialize.

Congressman Davis, wouldn't you have to admit that this 87 percent that the president is enjoying is strictly because of the war? It has nothing to do with him and certainly nothing to do with his domestic policies?

DAVIS: I think it has lot do with him and the leadership he has provided in this and there is a tendency to rally around the flag in these situations, and I think we readily concede that. And there is no question that there is a bounce for a president that shows strong leadership. But I don't think it is just the war. I think it is the way he has led the country. That is not transferable, just like Bill Clinton was not transferable in New York to the mayor's race there. You can't transfer it. But I will tell you this: As head of the campaign committee, I would much rather have a popular president to run with rather than an non popular president, where they take it out the members of Congress if they don't like the president. We don't have that problem.

PRESS: Wait, you say it is not transferable. Let's look at New York City. There is no doubt that Mike Bloomberg owes probably, I don't know, 40 percent, let's be conservative, of the votes he got to Rudy Giuliani, who did not leave his side for the last week or so. Don't you think if George Bush had been in Virginia and made a couple appearances for Mark Earley, that he could have put Mark Earley over the top? It is only five points.

DAVIS: He may or may not, but I think the president, at this point, No. 1, he is supplying an atmosphere where Republicans can run under strong leadership and be proud. He is making it acceptable to be a Republican and to vote Republican for groups that have it.

PRESS: But you ask him to get in there. You know Jim Gilmore did, you know Mark Earley did. And he never did, and Dick Cheney went pheasant hunting. They let you down, didn't they?

DAVIS: You know, what, he is elected to be a good president first and the fund raiser in chief and the politician in chief second. So what the president did I think, in terms of focusing on the country and not being partisan at this point is, I think, good for the country in the long term. And frankly, the White House is doing a lot of things to help Mark Earley.

The RNC disbursed, I'm told, sums to try to come to his rescue. That is under the auspices of the White House. But I don't think that the president wanted to put his personal bank on the line in this case, because he is trying to govern the country and trying to stay above the partisan squabbles at this point. Good governance is sometimes good politics as well.

LOWEY: Unless it's airline security, then you can be...

CARLSON: Or hunting.

DAVIS: We have a better bill in the House. Your bill doesn't cover the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

CARLSON: Now that the lock box is dead, in ten seconds -- your beloved lockbox closed forever, what's the main issue Democrats are going to run on in 2002?

LOWEY: A year from now, who knows? But as far as I'm concerned it would be airline security, economic security, Social Security, the fact that the Republicans would like to privatize it. I think all these go together. People want someone who is on their side and working for them.

CARLSON: I like the first part, who knows? But thank you both, Congressman Lowey, Congressman Davis, thank you both very much. Bill Press and I will be back, we know, for our closing comments here on CROSSFIRE in just a moment. See you then.


PRESS: Tucker, what is really significant is that yesterday was the one-year anniversary of the presidential election of last year. Here we are a year later and we still don't know who won.

CARLSON: What you have been doing for the past year, Bill?

PRESS: As a matter of fact...

CARLSON: How is that for a setup line?

PRESS: That is a great setup -- as a matter of fact, a lot of the last year I spent writing this book that came out of our "SPIN ROOM." Do you remember that, "SPIN ROOM?"

CARLSON: Indeed.

PRESS: This new little book called, "Spin This" comes out this week. There is a picture of it. Published by Pocketbook, Simon and Schuster. Available at your local book store or It is all about spin, Tucker, and its many manifestations -- not just political, but legal personal and our lives.

CARLSON: And our personal lives. There is a euphemism for you. I am going to -- that is going to be the most dog-eared chapter.

PRESS: That is a euphemism for sex. Now, Tucker, I want you to read what you wrote on the back of the book.

CARLSON: For a cut of the royalties I will do anything. It says, "For me, Bill Press on spin is like Julia Childs on French cooking, master practitioner is letting the rest of us in on the secrets of their craft. Plus Bill is funnier than Julia Child. Every word is true. I recommend this book."

PRESS: And for that, Tucker...

CARLSON: We are both going to hell.

PRESS: The check is in the mail.

CARLSON: The check is in the mail, Amen.

PRESS: From the left, everybody, good night for CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Press.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE. See you then.




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