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Interview with Richard Shelby, Jane Harman

Aired March 4, 2002 - 19:30   ET



DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF STATE: ...resisting us have been killed in action.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, America suffers the most casualties so far in Afghanistan. What will it take to win the war on terrorism? Has partisan politics disrupted the effort? Then, in God we trust is on the dollar bill. But should it be on the classroom wall?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, vice chair of the intelligence committee and Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman from California, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. And later, Gary Bauer, president of American Values, and Eliot Mincberg, vice president of People for the American Way.

NOVAK: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Fighting means killing, and this ancient fact of history is being brought home belatedly to America. Most Americans may have thought the Afghan phase of the war against terrorism was finished. Not so. More U.S. and other Western troops are engaged against al Qaeda fighters in eastern Afghanistan. At least eight Americans have been killed, and 40 wounded, the heaviest toll of U.S. troops in the war. The majority died when their helicopter was forced down by anti- aircraft fire and then engaged in a ground firefight.

Did Washington declare victory too soon? Are U.S. forces spread too thin? And what about Democratic demands on Capitol Hill for a bigger share in running the war?

Julian Epstein, former chief minority counsel to the Chief Judiciary Committee is sitting on the left. Good to have you here tonight,

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CO-HOST: Thank you, Bob. Senator Shelby, before we get into the recent political dust up from over the weekend, let me ask you in light of the recent news today, is the United States running into up expected difficulties in this war against terrorism? SEN RICHARD SHELBY (R), INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: I don't think they're unexpected. President Bush has warned all along that we've only been through chapter one. This is going to be a long war. And I think that we've got to brace ourselves for it. Some people thought it was over, but the administration never said that. I don't know anybody in Congress that said it. If they did, they were very naive.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Harman, as I understand it, the al Qaeda fighters, about 200 of them, or several thousand of them I should say, are surrounded. There's been about 200 killed. It looks like this battle, the U.S. is winning. Is that a correct assessment?

REP JANE HARMAN (D), INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: Well, we're not close enough to know, but they're fiercely resisting enormous U.S. firepower. These are tough fighters. And I agree with Senator Shelby. This is not over.

The important thing to note here, I think, is the American public has been well prepared by this administration to accept casualties. Unfortunately, we're going to have more casualties. And I think this is the price that we have to pay to secure our homeland against more terrorism from the al Qaeda network.

EPSTEIN: OK, let's get back into the politics if we can, Senator Shelby. On Thursday of last week, Senator Daschle said two things that seemed to me to be eminently appropriate. One was that getting Osama bin Laden was an important part of the recipe of success in this war against terrorism. And two is, as we begin to expand the war of terrorism beyond perhaps even some Muslim countries, Congress needs to be engaged as a complete partner in the effort.

Let me show you what two Republicans had to say. Let me put up on the screen what the reaction was in some of our Republican friends, your colleagues, if I may. First, if we go to Congressman Davis, Tom Davis. "His divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit the visions in our country."

Not to be outdone by House Minority Whip Tom Delay, who issued a one word statement saying that the statements by Senator Daschle were "disgusting."

Now is it disgusting from the Republican point of view to say that we have to get Osama bin Laden and that Congress needs to be engaged, according to the constitution, as a full partner in this war?

SHELBY: Well, I'm not here to attack anybody tonight. But I can tell you this, Osama bin Laden is important, but he's not, I don't believe, the central piece in whether we win this war. I believe we will get him sooner or later. I've always believed that.

Does Congress play a part in all of this? Absolutely. We control the purse strings. I have been well informed, I believe, all along about where we're going in this war. I have not had to ask four, five times where we're going. I think the map has been laid out for us. We've got to go where they are. And I think that's what the president's been telling us. That's what Secretary Rumsfeld and others -- I think the administration's laid it out well. I tell you, I'm going to back the president. I don't think we have any choice. We've got to win.

EPSTEIN: A lot of people are very suspicious of the reaction. A lot of people really think that Republicans are looking for a political fight here, and they're looking to make political hay out of this war on terrorism by this visceral reaction to Senator Daschle's statement. But let me ask you something else, if I can.


EPSTEIN: I just want to play for you a statement from Karl Rove, who spoke last month about how Republicans ought to play this war on terrorism politically. Let me see if we can get the footage of that.


KARL ROVE, SENIOR BUSH ADVISER: We can go to the American people on winning this war, because they trust the Republican party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might.


EPSTEIN: This is the president's top political adviser saying that Republicans should use the war on terrorism for partisan gain. Is that the position of the Republican party?


SHELBY: Absolutely not. And as a Republican, I would deplore such tactics. I think that what we've got to do in a bipartisan way, as Americans, win this war. And that's been my thrust all along. I served on an Intelligence Committee in the Senate. I serve on the Appropriations Committee. I think we're working toward that end.

Now there's some people that would always look for the political edge, but on the fight that we're in now on terrorism, I don't see a political edge. I don't want to see a political edge. I want to destroy the terrorists before they do damage to us again.

EPSTEIN: I'm glad to see you deploring Karl Rove's statement.

NOVAK: Congresswoman Harman, I'm sure you remember how statements by Democrats, many Democrats from California, undermined the war effort in Vietnam, contributed to the very tragic outcome there. And in connection with that, I'd like you to listen to something that the Secretary of Defense said today in his daily briefing at the Pentagon. Let's listen.


RUMSFELD: The leadership of al Qaeda stated from the outset that their intention was to kill enough Americans, so that we would flee and leave the country over to them, and that they had a series of terrorist attacks planned to create an environment that was sufficiently inhospitable that we would leave the country.


NOVAK: Am I correct, then, Congresswoman Harman, in suggesting that I'm seeing history possibly attempt -- repeating, that members of the media, members of the Democrat party are talking about eight or nine people being killed? And this sets a drum roll of if the heat gets too much, we get out of the kitchen?

HARMAN: Bob, I don't think so. You heard me answer before that we're prepared to accept casualties. Vietnam was my generation. It was a very painful chapter, and there are many people in California who served our country with distinction in Vietnam, but I don't think we have time to go back over who did what and you know, who said what about Vietnam.

About this war right now, I agree with Dick Shelby. I think that we, on a bipartisan basis, support this president in his effort to win the war, which will take a long time. I just have to say that I am really surprised that my friend Tom Davis, whom I view as a bipartisan member of Congress, one of the brightest members there, and a moderate, would use the phrase "aiding and abetting the enemy." I think that has no place in this debate. And I think any member of Congress, certainly Richard Shelby and every member of the Senate and every member of the House can raise whatever questions they want to raise. We're all elected. We all have a constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense fund this war. And we should be able to ask questions and be sure we're well-informed.

NOVAk: But you have a laudible and deserved reputation as being a patriotic person who puts the public interest above politics.

HARMAN: I hope so.

NOVAK: But aren't you concerned about a drumbeat from the left...


NOVAK: Starting to build up this hysterical let's get out of there before Americans...

HARMAN: I don't think it's hysterical. And I'm not concerned about it either. I think that the president has prepared all of us well for a long fight. I want us to stay in this fight until we have totally eliminated al Qaeda. That's more than finding the remains, let's hope they're remains at this point, of Osama bin Laden. We may or may not find that soon, but al Qaeda is still a vicious enemy, as proved today by the firefight we had in Afghanistan.

EPSTEIN: Senator Shelby, Bob talks about our experience in the Vietnam War. I'd like to take a look in the rearview mirror, a little bit closer, say two years ago, when troops were last in harm's way. And I want to show you what Senator Lott, the now Senate Minority Leader, said when our pilots were flying over Iraq in 1998. Let me show you on the screen exactly what he said.

He said, "I cannot support this military action in the Persian Gulf at this time." Then several months later, when our forces were getting ready to go into the Kosovo area, let me show what this same Senator Lott said. "I think the president needs to tell Congress what the plans are. There are a lot of unanswered questions here."

These are exactly the type of statements that Senator Daschle is making now, as he is exercising the Senate's prerogative, in a chamber that you serve, and Senator Lott, now criticizing precisely the same sentiment. Does this hypocrisy not seem to you to be just a little bit over the top?

SHELBY: Well, I'm going to reiterate what I said earlier, that I'm dedicated to seeing this war through, working on both sides of the aisle, because we have, as the congresswoman just said, we have that obligation to defend this country under the constitution.

EPSTEIN: So I take it you don't agree?

SHELBY: We're going to do this whoever it is. But I do pick up on what Bob Novak has just said, too. I don't think we should start a drumbeat from the left to say we've got casualties, which are horrible, and say we ought to get out of there. Don't ever think about getting out of this war without winning it, because it will come right back and revisit us.

EPSTEIN: The point is, though, that you don't agree with Senator Lott's criticism of Senator Daschle?

SHELBY: They have to speak for themselves.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Congresswoman Harman, Senator Shelby.

We'll be back to look at the furor over "in God we trust" panels authorized for America's classroom walls. What's all the fuss if the same slogan is on every dollar bill?


EPSTEIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Julian Epstein sitting on the left tonight.

Are religious conservatives wrapping themselves in the flag of patriotism in order to promote their religious agenda? Michigan has enacted, as part of its homeland security measure, a law that requires the posting of the words "in God we trust" in all public schools. State legislatures in Utah and Virginia have passed similar bills, which await governors' signatures. And many other states are considering the same.

Are proponents exploiting the war on terrorism for their theological goals? Here to debate it is Gary Bauer, president of American Values, and Eliot Mincberg, vice president and general counsel of People for the American Way.


NOVAK: Mr. Mincberg, I don't know how often you pledge allegiance to the flag, but I don't know whether you say under God, whether you eliminate those words. Of course, God is in the Declaration of Independence. And I want to show you something else. This is a $20.

ELLIOT MINCBERG, PEOPLE FOR THE AMER. WAY: If you use a magnifying glass.

NOVAK: It was given to me by a staffer. And it says "in God we trust". You don't need a magnifying glass. It's very clear. But it's on every coin, on every paper currency. Would you like to eliminate all these things because -- or is it just that you're afraid that it will corrupt the children?

MINCBERG: No, we wouldn't eliminate those things, but none of them constitute attempts to promote religion to captive audiences of schoolchildren as young as five and six-years old. The fact is if the national motto were "America the Beautiful," we wouldn't be here tonight, because I wouldn't object to posting that in all public schools, and Gary probably wouldn't particularly want to promote it. It's an effort to exploit patriotism, to promote religious ideas to captive audiences of schoolchildren that we object to.

EPSTEIN: Gary Bauer of American Values, let me tell you something I've never understood about the effort by you and others like you to get religion back into our public schools.

GARY BAUER, AMERICAN VALUES: I always look forward to the opportunity to educate you, Julian. EPSTEIN: Well, I always look forward -- I've been trying for years to get educated. But explain this to me. Is our faith, is our religious faith so weak in this country that we constantly need the government to prop it up by insinuating, but putting religion, by mandating religion back into our schools?

BAUER: No, it's not. Nor is our constitution so weak, that its foundations are threatened by putting the words "in God we trust" on a classroom, in a school.

Julien, what you liberals don't understand is when an event like September 11 takes place, the American people desperately want to find ways to express their most deeply held values. The first instinct on 9/11 was for people to pray. Liberal congressmen and conservative congressmen went out on the Capitol steps of a government built building...

EPSTEIN: But nobody's saying we can't do that. The question is why do we need government. The question is why do we need government -- why do we need the United States government, why do we need state governments to say this is how must you must profess your faith. This is how we're going to manage religion. BAUER: No, come on, Julian. Profess your faith. What state legislatures are doing, Republicans and Democrats in Virginia and in Michigan, and I would venture to say in every state where this will come up, it will be bipartisan. You know, are merely saying that under these circumstances, we want to remember, now you guys listen carefully, that God is the author of our liberty. That he is the only protector of it. Something the founding fathers believed, which is why it's on that money and why it's on the walls of virtually every public building in Washington, D.C.

NOVAK: Go ahead, Mr. Mincberg.

MINCBERG: My problem with that is that it directly contradicts what the founders did in the Constitution. They were very careful not to mention religion, and not mention -- even to mention God, although they certainly believed in him in the Constitution.

Because our liberties should be regarded in this country as coming from the compact that we created with our founders and with ourselves. And it shouldn't depend on my particular view of religion, which can be very different than somebody else's, and which all of us, and which all of us have the equal right to do.

NOVAK: Isn't -- the Declaration of Independence, isn't God in there?

MINCBERG: Absolutely. But you know what? It's not in the Constitution. And the specific reason for that is because in the Constitution, we say very specifically that everybody worships whoever they want to.

BAUER: And anybody can in America worship whoever they want. That is an entirely separate matter from the elected officials wanting our schools to remind our children that we trust in God.

NOVAK: Mr. Mincberg, I'm not satisfied with this thing that it's OK on the dollar because people who have money are adult, and they've always been corrupted to believe in God, but children are not.

Let me, I want to ask you an honest question. I'm much older than you. When I grew up, the pledge of allegiance to the flag did not have under God in it. It was one nation indivisible. It was added -- do you know what year it was added?

MINCBERG: In the '50s.

NOVAK: Now I want to ask you -- I want you to be -- I know what the line is that we're only worried about children. But I want you to be honest with me. Do you think that was a mistake?

MINCBERG: In 1954, I was only two-years old. So it's hard for me...

NOVAK: No, no, no, that's not a good answer. Do you think that was a mistake or not?

MINCBERG: I think it would have been less divisive, frankly, not to have added those words.

NOVAK: It was a mistake, you think?

MINCBERG: But having added them, I'm not suggesting that the pledge be banned in all public schools, as long as what we don't do, is use that as an excuse to promote religion.

NOVAK: The kids can pledge allegiance to the flag under God, saying under God, they pledge allegiance in most schools, but it can't be on the wall.

MINCBERG: They can pray, talk about God, do whatever they want to, in whatever context they want to. The problem is what you shouldn't have is the government telling people how to pray, where to put God, where not to put God. The right thing to do is to let people profess religion, not the government.

EPSTEIN: Mr. Bauer, the irony for me is right now, we are engaged in a war. We're fighting a war against religious fundamentalists who believe...

BAUER: Do not compare the Taliban to religious believing Americans.

EPSTEIN: Can I finish the queestion?

BAUER: I can tell where you're heading.

EPSTEIN: Well, no, we're fighting a war against the notion against fundamental terrorists who believe that their government, that their theocracy ought to tell people how to be involved in religion. Don't you think that what makes us different from them is the fact that we don't believe that we need the government to tell us how to pray?

BAUER: Are you suggesting that the good people of Virginia, through their elected officials, by passing something as simple as their desire to have the words "in God we trust" on the walls of a classroom, or in any way shape or form acting one iota like, as you put it, fundamentalists Taliban?

EPSTEIN: No, what I'm suggesting -- no, I didn't compare the two. What I said, what distinguishes us is that we don't believe in that. What distinguishes is us that we don't believe we need to get the government into the businses of religion.

BAUER: No, what distinguishes us is that we let women have real full lives. We let people worship however they want, but we have always believed -- you confuse worship with the fundamental principles of our country. "In God we trust" reflects what the founders of this country believe.

NOVAK: Very quickly, do you have a quick response?

MINCBERG: My quick response is that what does distinguish us from a lot of countries in the world where we've seen religious warfare is the freedom of everybody to believe or not believe as they want.

NOVAK: That'll be the last word, Mr. Mincberg, thank you very much. Gary Bauer, thank you. We'll be back with CROSSFIRE news alert. Little stories you probably never heard before, like the governor of Connecticut under assault from his cigarette-smoking mother.


NOVAK: And now the CROSSFIRE news alert. We bring you a fascinating little stories that didn't make the headlines, but maybe should have.

EPSTEIN: As you probably know by now, Dick Cheney's schedule was curiously discovered in a skateboard shop during the Olympics. Not to be outdone, the Brits seem to have their own problems keeping plans under wrap.

While on a tour in Australia last week, it seems that Queen Elizabeth's schedule was accidentally faxed to Mcdonald's in Brisbane, according to a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace. Now Mcdonald's has to keep the sauce and the Queen's schedule secret.

NOVAK: Can you get nervous in the Secret Service? Four agents did, apparently, after a hard shift guarding the vice president. Armed agents visited the Daily Double Saloon on Coast Highway 101 outside Encintas, California and reportedly did some heavy drinking. A brawl with some 15 locals ensued outside the bar.

Sheriff's deputies say an agent's comments to a woman started the trouble, which involved one agent beg biting off the tip of a man's ear. Maybe Mike Tyson is giving self-defense lessons to the Secret Service.

EPSTEIN: So you think about all the talk about the presidential race in 2006 is just a little bit early? Well, how about 2012? That's right, a new reality showed on HBO, entitled "Candidate 2012" is searching for presidential candidates that will run in 2012.

Director R.J. Cutler say candidates for the show see themselves as viable. And to boot, two of the candidates think that's too early. 18-year-old Democrat Christian Shelton plans to take on 19-year-old Republican Christopher Peek. They plan to square off in 2024, according to both of their web sites. "I know I'm the right choice in 2004," said one inspiring candidate.

NOVAK: 70-year old Serry Roland of Westbury, Connecticut is an apologetic smoker and so are the other seven members of her bridge club. So she's furious about a new 61 cent tax hike, sponsored by Connecticut governor John Roland, who happens to be her son. "Why pick on us?" she asks. Mom is organizing a letter writing, e-mailing campaign against sonny's tax. Mrs. Roland grumbles that the tax was not extended to cigars, which happen to be the governor's smoke of choice.

EPSTEIN: From the left, I'm Julian Epstein. 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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