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Can Any Democrat Beat President George W. Bush?; Are Airline Passengers Any Safer?

Aired February 18, 2002 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight on this President's Day, they're off and running. But can any one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls beat George W. Bush? And now that the federal government has taken over airport security, are you any safer?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, Donna Brazile, former Gore campaign manager and former Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari. And later, Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, ranking member on the Aviation Subcommittee and aviation analyst Michael Boyd.

PRESS: It's a whole new week of CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining this President's Day, where believe it or not, a lot of people still want the job. And more than two years before the next opening, they're already out there campaigning for it. Sort of.

Hopefuls John Kerry, John Edwards and Tom Daschle all made the trek to Oakridge, California last weekend. Joe Lieberman and Dick Gephardt follow later this week. Of course if re-elected, California Governor Gray Davis may have his own designs on the job. Meanwhile, presidential wannabe Al Sharpton made a foray into New Hampshire. And rumor has it that Al, what's his name, you know, the guy that got the most votes in 2000 may want another shot himself. No lack of candidates. The big question is, can any one of them beat George Bush -- Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Donna Brazile, our producers were like Diogenese in ancient Greece searching for an honest man. They were searching for a serious Democrat, who is happily enthusiastic about Al Gore trying again for president. And the closest they could come was his old campaign manager, you. Most of them tended to agree with John Kerry at the Democratic Convention this past weekend in Los Angeles. Let's listen to Senator Kerry.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: You got Tom Daschle here. You've got John Edwards here. You got Gray Davis here. Al Gore would have been here, folks, but to make sure Democrats are protected for '04, somebody had to be moved to an undisclosed secure location.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOVAK: Can a Democrat run for president when he's being made fun of? That's what I hear, everybody kind of laughs about the guy with the funny beard and the no necktie.

DONNA BRAZILE, FMR. GORE CAMPAIGN MGR.: Well, the guy who decides to rejoin the national debate to talk about serious issues, foreign policy, the economy, campaign finance reform and of course the environment. So I think Al Gore, if he decides to run, and we won't know until some time after the November election.

NOVAK: Are you going to be with him, too?

BRAZILE: I'm neutral for now. It's too early for me, Bob. I want to have more time to talk with you like this, so I can talk about all the candidates running. We have two Joes, two Als, two Johns, Dick Gephardt, Tom Daschle, Russ Feingold, Howard Dean. We have many candidates who are ready to take on George Bush in '04.

NOVAK: If faithful Donna Brazile won't endorse -- Mr. Gore is in trouble. But let's talk about one of the Johns. If Al Gore's been around too long, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina hasn't been around long enough. And let's listen to something he said at that convention this weekend. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Like many of you, I grew up in a little town in North Carolina. And the way I was raised, and the way I grew up, not in North Carolina, in California for you.


NOVAK: Now let's set the scene. He's in this Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. And he is such a redneck, he thinks he's in the middle of North Carolina. How are you going to train that boy in two years?

BRAZILE: Well, I think John Edwards is a great candidate. And I think he would make a very good presidential candidate. Again, I'm not supporting anyone right now, but I do believe that we have a great bench and we have more than enough individuals out there who are willing to take this president on the environment, campaign finance reform, education, you name it.

PRESS: Now Susan Molinari, we all know it's much too early to have this conversation.

SUSAN MOLINARI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I've never been so happy to be so quiet on this show.

PRESS: But, no, it's President's Day, right?

MOLINARI: Yes, it is.

PRESS: So what the hell. I'd like you to listen to something my good friend Bill Kerry, because he's about he smartest strategist out there, had to say about President Bush. "He looks very strong now. We don't know where he'll be a year from now." Simply stated, but you got to admit it's true. Wouldn't the biggest mistake the Republicans could make, remembering what happened to father Bush, be to be so cocky to think that George W. is invulnerable?

MOLINARI: Well, absolutely. And you know what the beauty is? That George W. doesn't think George W. is invulnerable. And he is running this White House. And he is, you know, running for president from the day that he got elected and not making the same mistakes that his father made, and in fact, talking about the economy, talking about jobs, talking about environment. While he's doing all he can to be commander-in-chief and lead us where no one can debate, as a world leader in keeping us free from terrorism and harm.

BRAZILE: But Susan, he's already broken many of his campaign promises, including last week, when he promised the people in Nevada, I'll never forget. He sent Cheney out the last minute in Nevada and said, "No, we don't intend to put any nuclear waste in your state. Well look, he's broken that promise.

MOLINARI: You know what? And he's also passed, let's see, education bill. I don't remember Clinton/Gore.

BRAZILE: Couldn't have done it without Ted Kennedy.


BRAZILE: Couldn't have done it without the 12 Democrats who crossed party lines.

MOLINARI: Before September 11, his ratings were through the roof because he kept his word to his campaign promises.

BRAZILE: Before September 11, there was a poll out that said that Al Gore, if the election was held at that point, Al Gore would have squeaked by 1 percentage point.

MOLINARI: Oh, I do -- I would love to see that poll.

BRAZILE: 49:48

PRESS: Who said it's too early, right? One thing Bob indicated, we learned about John Kerry this weekend, which I didn't really know before, he's got a sense of humor.

NOVAK: Or a good speechwriter.

PRESS: Maybe he's got a good writer.

BRAZILE: I'm sure you know it, Bob.

PRESS: But I'd like to listen to another little funny word that John Kerry had to say, but I think he's making a point. Here's John Kerry again in Los Angeles, California Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KERRY: A number of you, a number of you have asked me if I am interested in running for the most powerful office in the land. And I want to make it clear to all of you today, I want to make it clear, I have no interest at all in being Secretary of State of Florida.


PRESS: Now the point made, Susan, don't you think -- isn't one of the problems that there are a lot of people out there, over 500,000 more that voted for Gore than for Bush, who feel cheated because they voted for their guy and he didn't get the big prize he deserved. Sleeping issue that you don't know how big it is, do you?

MOLINARI: Obviously, I think it is a bigger issue for the Democrats, as they go through their primary, because you know what? A lot of those people are the same people who are polling George Bush in absolutely phenomenal numbers with incredible job approvals, as an international president and as a domestic president.

BRAZILE: We're all unified.

MOLINARI: Those numbers are wracking up.

BRAZILE: Susan, we're unified in a war against terrorism. We also believe that we will win that war. But we're not unified in drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

MOLINARI: Approval numbers are approval numbers.

BRAZILE: We're not unified on dipping into Social Security. We're not unified on bringing us back to deficit spending.

MOLINARI: Of course, we're not.

BRAZILE: We're not unified.

NOVAK: Donna Brazile?

MOLINARI: Democrats even with their labor unions are not unified on drilling in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Donna Brazile, I want to -- I think we want to hear now from the Democratic candidate who is the most interesting. And he was just here on CNN this afternoon. Let's listen to him.


REV. AL SHARTPON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: I think in the last several general elections and certainly presidential primary season, we've season a drift to the right by the party. Many of those that are talking about running now have be been part of that drift or continuing that drift.


NOVAK: Well, that's music to my ears. Are you ready to join Al Sharpton in fighting that drift to the right? And is there a drift to the right by the Democratic Party? Or is Al talking through his hat?

BRAZILE: No, I think Bill Clinton and Al Gore led us down a wonderful road to prosperity, which took us down through the mainstream of America. And so, I don't believe this party has drifted either to the right or to the left. But instead, we're drifting toward working families.

NOVAK: You're not going to support Al for president?

BRAZILE: I tell you, I'm neutral, Bob. I'm very neutral.

MOLINARI: It gets better every minute. No, I don't want to say a word.

PRESS: Here's what I found interesting today.

MOLINARI: All right, go ahead.

PRESS: President Bush is in Japan. He's standing alongside of a prime minister of Japan. About a year ago, his ratings were up 75, 80 percent, almost as high as George Bush's. They're down in the toilet today because the Japanese economy is in the sink. We're in a recession in this country.

MOLINARI: Yes, we are.

PRESS: Isn't that the issue that it's going to be more important than the war? And if Bush does not get us out of the Bush recession, he is dead meat.

MOLINARI: Well first of all, I don't think that it is more important than the war. I think that there are a lot of people who are very concerned about our own security here in the United States and anything that people can do. And this president does, to make us feel safe, will not be underwrited. Is the economy and jobs important?

PRESS: But if this recession continues, doesn't matter what he's done in Afghanistan.

MOLINARI: Absolutely and -- well and you know what? The truth is it's going to matter because there's something called the economic security package that was killed by the Democrats in the Senate. And this nation knows that. This nation knows that. That's one of the reasons why we're not bouncing out of the Clinton recession as quickly.

NOVAK: Donna, I'm going to ask you a quick question. We're almost take break. You're Al Gore's old campaign manager.

BRAZILE: And Al Gore's friend.

NOVAK: Do you think he should shave off that beard?

BRAZILE: No, as long as he's comfortable with it.

NOVAK: You like that beard?

BRAZILE: I like the beard. I think -- Al Gore -- he looked very well with that beard.

MOLINARI: I kind of like the beard, too. I do.

BRAZILE: Thank you, Susan.

MOLINARI: We have to agree on that one.

NOVAK: I'm glad you agree.

PRESS: Abe Lincoln had a beard. Hey, you know.

NOVAK: That was a long time ago.

MOLINARI: I'm not really seeing the analogy there but...

PRESS: Well, at least it was a beard.

NOVAK: All right, thank you very much, Donna Brazile, Susan Molinari.

MOLINARI: Thank you.

NOVAK: Coming up next on CROSSFIRE, more glitches in airport security, but aren't the feds taking over?


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. This morning at Los Angeles International Airport, there was confusion and congestion when a security screening station was closed down. The reason? An inactive National Guardsman tried to pass non-functioning military explosives through a checkpoint.

Also this morning, an American Eagle flight from New York to Cleveland was turned back and the passenger screened again. The reason? Apparently a bag was found in a checkpoint area back in New York.

But where are the feds? At one minute after midnight Sunday, the federal government took control of checkpoints at the nation's 429 commercial airports. Was that a bad idea? Or will federal supervision pay off in time?

We're asking Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, ranking Republican on the Senate Aviation Subcommittee. She's in Dallas. And aviation expert Michael Boyd, a former airlines executive, who is now an independent consultant. He's in Denver -- Bill Press.

PRESS: Michael, you and I have talked about this issue several times. I think you know that I believe most airport security is a big pain in the butt. However, today as Bob indicated, we had two incidences in the first full day of the -- second full day, I guess, of the federal government's taking over, that idiot out in L.A. who was stopped. And this incident in LaGuardia, where the plane came back, and they were able to check that bag. Isn't that evidence, Michael, that already we're in better hands than we were two days ago?

MICHAEL BOYD, AVIATION ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. No, the problem is nothing really changed, except the name at the bottom of a couple of contracts. The biggest problem we have is the accountability issue, which we haven't had since 9-11. But these incidents are just one of many security failures, none of which should have taken place. All of which should have taken place under the enhanced oversight of the FAA or the DOT, which had security oversight on 9-11. So I'm not real excited about what we're looking forward to.

PRESS: Yes, but this is the second day, third day of the new system. It won't all take place until November, but we are going to see some changes. Michael, let me listen to you -- ask you to listen to Michael Goldfarb, former chief of staff at the FAA, appeared with Paula Zahn this morning here on CNN and indicated some of the things that I think are good news for passengers. Here's Mr. Goldfarb.


MICHAEL GOLDFARB, FMR. FAA CHIEF: Lots has changed. Number one, they will be extensively trained. They will be taught how to look for a different kind of person, a different kind of threat, than simply checking bags. They'll be looking at who's at the airport. Number two, they're going to be federal employees. They're going to have extensive background checks. They're going to have to be U.S. citizens. And they've raised the bar significantly on the kind of skills and qualifications needed to make sure things don't happen.


PRESS: Now Michael, that's all progress, isn't it?

BOYD: I don't know what planet this man was talking about. Extensive training? 40 hours and 60 hours on the job. That's not extensive. The background checks? Already they're starting to look at hiring the same people who were there.

In terms of education, they're not even going to require a high school diploma if they worked at Argenbright, staring at a screen for a year. This isn't higher standards. And the same oversight, the Department of Transportation's untouchable, unaccountable oversight will still be there. I'm trying to figure what planet Mr. Goldfarb is speaking about, because it sure wasn't security in the United States.

NOVAK: OK, Senator Hutchison, I'd like to call on an expert from this planet. It's Michael Miller from "Aviation Daily." And let's listen to him.


MICHAEL MILLER, AVIATION DAILY: They should be a little bit more forthright with the details, because there's a lot of concern about this transition. There's airport terminals being emptied for no apparent reason. Somebody kind of wanders through security. And a city is at a standstill for six hours.


NOVAK: Now isn't that what we're going to have more of? And isn't the federalization going to lead to incidents such as today, where we had an American Eagle flight going out to Cleveland. And apparently, they found an unchecked bag in a checkpoint area. And they called the plane back, inconveniencing those people, screwing up the schedule. Isn't that the real problem we have?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX), AVIATION SUBCMTE.: No, I think they are exercising judgment and they're leaning over on the side of caution. And I think that's the right thing to do.

And I do think that there are changes. There are going to be more qualified screeners. They are going to have high school diplomas, except if they have experience or have shown that they can do this job. They're going to have testing. They're going to have training.

There is a transition. It's not going to be perfect during that transition. It won't be perfect even after the transition, but I do believe that you are seeing an improvement every time you go to an airport. And I certainly fly a lot. And I'm sure you do, too. And you know it's different since before September 11.

NOVAK: Well, senator, from the standpoint of the inconvenience to you, and to Bill Press, and to me, and to millions of other frequent flyers, can you cite a single instance since September 11 where all this inconvenience has prevented any terrorist from acting? The one terrorist that's been nabbed, the potential terrorist has been nabbed since then, got on the plane in Paris. And Mr. Richard Reed, and they found some explosives in his shoe. It wasn't any kind of security that caught him. It was an alert stewardess, an alert flight attendant, I should say. Now isn't that -- can you cite an incident where all this inconvenience has caught anybody?

HUTCHISON: Well, we have not had a terrorist attack, Bob. That's the proof. And I certainly think that one of the issues that we're going to have to face is requiring foreign airports to also beef up their security and meet the standards that we must set in the post September 11 environment.

PRESS: Michael Boyd, you mentioned Argenbright a little earlier. This is a company, of course, that was in charge of Boston on 9-11, the company that was in charge in Chicago when the guy got on with seven knives, and was in charge in Philadelphia, where they were fined twice, I believe, for not doing background checks on their people. The list goes on and on.

Isn't the fact -- this company's going to be gone. They are eliminated under this plan. Isn't that in itself good news for flyers?

BOYD: Well, that's like a fire department showing up after the building burned down, and saying, look what a great job we did. PRESS: No, there's more work to do. They're getting rid of the guys. They're incompetent.

BOYD: They're get being rid of -- stop a second. They're getting rid of all of those companies. Argenbright is still working today in Denver because the DOT said United, you still handle it. I mean, Rodney Slater and his administration almost balanced the budget with the fines he laid off on those people. The fact is, they should have been fired right away. They're going away, but all private companies are going away. So saying we've gotten rid of Argenbright, look how great we are, years after they should have been fired.

PRESS: Yes, but had -- just quickly, you had 60 companies before. Each of them under a different system. Now you've got one system. Tell me that's not better?

BOYD: The reason is the oversight of it. The FAA and DOT -- the FAA is an untouchable, almost a rogue bureaucracy that had no accountability. Not one can -- how many hearings do we have right now in Congress about Enron? Only one person died there and he killed himself. We had 3,000 people die. And not one hearing that I know of has ever held Jane Garvey's foot to the fire and say Jane, what the hell went wrong? Jane, why was the security director in Boston promoted after that?

NOVAK: Senator, let me follow that up, because everybody I talk to who knows, says the FAA is one of the worst agencies, not only in this government, but for many years. But why hasn't Jane Garvey and the FAA feet been put to the fire on this, as Michael Boyd says?

HUTCHISON: I think they have. I think there have been hearings that asked what happened.

BOYD: Not many people got fired.

HUTCHISON: But look, I'm the first one to say that before September 11, we were lax in our security system. I tried to pass a much stiffer security system for our airports. And I got half of it through. And the FAA had not even put out the regulations that would meet the part that we did pass.

And that was increasing the training requirement for screeners and other security measures. So I have been a critic of the FAA, but I don't think we should keep throwing bombs and movie houses and acting in the irresponsible ways. Things are getting better. We are going to have lapses in the transition, but we are going to have a much better security system than any in the world.

NOVAK: But just briefly, senator, before we take a break, can you tell me in about 10 seconds why we have those National Guardsmen with auto weapons? They may scare the heck out of kids. What good are they doing there?

HUTCHISON: Well, I think they will be phasing out as qualified, trained people come into place, but they were an interim. And they have actually caught some things that screeners didn't catch. PRESS: Senator Hutchison, thank you so much for joining us. Michael Boyd, thanks for being there.

BOYD: My pleasure.

PRESS: Fly safely to all of us. When we come back, Bob and I are going to step into the CROSSFIRE and let you fire back at us. And you'll be happy to know that there were lots of nasty e-mails for Bob Novak.


NOVAK: And now it's payback time for the viewers. Here are nasty e-mails to Bill and me. Last Friday night it seems that I said a few unpleasant things about Hillary Clinton. And that upset Dolores Ward from guess where, Mena, Arkansas. She writes, "It is obvious to anyone with even a pea brain that the Republicans, including you, Bob, are Clinton bashing again to try and get people's minds off the mess Bush has made of the economy."

Bush hasn't made any kind of mess of the economy, but I like to bash the Clintons. And a lot of people like to hear me bash them.

PRESS: You're wrong on both accounts. OK, now last week I said that the skating officials had done the right thing in Salt Lake City. Daniel Frankovich disagrees. He writes, "By giving into public sentiment, the IOC has undermined the basic principle of good sportsmanship. What's next -- lawsuits for disgruntled ski jumpers?"

Well Daniel, I would say there's nothing -- good sportsmanship about judges that cheat. And number two, the officials didn't go according to public sentiment. They looked at the videotape. The Canadians skated better. End of story.

NOVAK: Last week, I was critical of Secretary of State Powell. Not for saying that sexually active kids who shouldn't be sexually active should use condoms, but he didn't mention the word abstinence. And so this created a tension with Von Wilson of Tempe, Arizona, who writes, "I would just like to compliment Colin Powell for having the guts to live in the real world and not the so-called fantasy world created by the Republican Party's conservative wing."

The trouble is that when Colin Powell attacks conservative values, he gives encouragement to people like Von Wilson.

PRESS: And I criticized the First Lady of Arkansas for her love affair with trailers. And this came from Isen Marken in Oceanside, California. "It might interest you to know, some mobile homes cost upwards of $200,000. Your public apology will be accepted when you make it on TV."

NOVAK: Yeah, are you apologizing?

PRESS: To which I say, no apology. Anybody who spends $200,000 on a trailer should have their head examined. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good-night for CROSSFIRE. NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.




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