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CNN CROSSFIRE

Can the Bush Administration Sell a War With Iraq?; A Man Committed to Getting Rid of God, One Lawsuit at a Time

Aired September 5, 2002 - 19:00   ET

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


ANNOUNCER, CROSSFIRE: From The George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak.
ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight, the atheist who wants Congress to stop praying.

Also, Senate Democrats lower the standard for a mean-spirited partnership.

But first, the news that meets our high standards for the best political briefing on television. Here comes the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Will miracles never cease? Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic majority leader, had a good word to say about Dick Cheney. The vice president came up to Capitol Hill, today, with CIA Director George Tenet to brief the four top bipartisan leaders of Congress about Iraq, fulfilling President Bush's new promise to keep Congress informed.

"It was," said Senator Daschle, "a very helpful briefing." He said, many of his questions were answered. The Democratic formula is to blast away at Dick Cheney whenever possible. But Daschle forgot politics, when it came down to a matter of war or peace.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Good for Tom Daschle, and good for Dick Cheney for going up there. I do think they should be beyond partisanship.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai today survived an assassination attempt. The attack wounded the governor of Kandahar and a U.S. Special Forces soldier. U.S. Forces then shot and killed the would-be assassin and the Afghan president escaped unharmed. The situation in Afghanistan is so unsettled that Karzai recently replaced his Afghan bodyguards.

Now, U.S. troops protect him, and, today, they saved his life. Commanders of U.S. Special Forces have said that if President Bush decides to invade Iraq, those special forces will be required there and should be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Karzai's response when translated roughly was, hey, George, now that you've bombed my country, could you at least give enough guys here to keep my ass alive?

That's a rough translation from Afghan.

NOVAK: Just for the feeble-minded, he didn't actually say that.

BEGALA: He didn't actually. I made it up, actually.

NOVAK: I knew you made it up. All right.

The Democrats who control the Senate sent a clear message today, if you are really antiabortion, don't expect to get confirmed for a major federal judgeship. In a strict party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 against President Bush's nomination of Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen to the fifth U.S. Court of Appeals in New York. Why? Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy called Justice Owen a right-wing ideologue. The real reason she was rejected? She opposes abortion.

BEGALA: Well, Bob, that's not true. I mean, she opposes abortion, but the Senate and Democrats have confirmed 73 Bush nominees for the bench, almost all of them pro-life. For example, Lavenski Smith, on the 8th Circuit, worked with, associated with the Rutherford Institute, a conservative and pro-life organization. In fact, signed on a brief to appeal Roe vs. Wade. That's not the issue. Abortion was not the issue with her.

We will debate it later, I promise you that.

America, as we know is vulnerable to al Qaeda terrorist attacks. Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. War may be imminent. The economy is listless. And where is our president? After a month long vacation, and two whole days of work in the White House, he's out raising special-interest money in Indiana for an advocate of privatizing Social Security, named Chris Chockola (ph). Why isn't our president in Washington, leading the nation in the world of peace and prosperity the way Bill Clinton did, instead of out raising money for somebody called Chris Chocola, Chokola, whatever? Said Bush, hey, the dude's name reminds me of the cereal, you know, Count Chocula, Congressman Chocola, cool, huh?

OK, I made that one up, too, but that's what he's thinking.

NOVAK: You know, I think it was real interesting for a Clinton stooge to be criticizing a president for fund-raising. Boy, that takes gall.

BEGALA: I've got all the gall you need.

NOVAK: A new survey just released by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and by the American Enterprise Institute confirmed something we all knew. Most college professors are Democrats. More than 90 percent of professors in the arts and sciences departments of prestigious eastern colleges belong to the Democratic, Green, or other left-wing parties. They feel Republicans are libertarians.

Do you wonder that the kids coming out of college know so little and have such strange ideas? Come to think of it, isn't Paul Begala one of those Democratic professors? BEGALA: I am at Georgetown University. Here, at George Washington University, these are brilliant students, here. I don't know if your professors are liberals Democrats or Republicans or...

NOVAK: Very smart.

BEGALA: Well, headlining are our profiles in hypocrisy report, President George W. Bush, the man who spent the summer decrying big spending from Congress is now asking Congress to boost spending. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that Bush, who just a few weeks ago chastised the House Appropriations Committee for passing $700 million in emergency forest fire spending, is now asking for $825 billion for the same emergency forest fire spending.

White House aides say they're attempting to reach the folks at Arthur Andersen who cooked the books for Dick Cheney at Halliburton so that they will certify that 825 million is actually less than 700 million.

NOVAK: And plus, you made that up, too.

BEGALA: Well, actually, they're very close at Arthur Andersen.

NOVAK: It's very hard to tell what Paul makes up and what he...

BEGALA: It's called, it's called a joke, see.

NOVAK: The same "Saturday Night Life" boys.

President Bush, today, added a section about Iraq to his usual stump speech. He told crowds to pay attention to the coming national debate. The president went on to say he will not let America be blackmailed by the world's worst leaders with the world's toughest weapons. Will Congress get the message?

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE is California Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. He is slated to become chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the next Congress.

BEGALA: Congressman, it's good of you to join us. I know you're busy and you came straight from Capitol Hill. There was an article recently, an op-ed, a column by an influential foreign policy writer named Jim Hoagland in the "Washington Post." And this is what he had to say about our president leading us into war. We're going to put it up on the screen, and I'll read it to you.

"They Administration critics do not think that George W. Bush and his divided administration are capable of implementing an orderly and successful military campaign in Iraq, without inflicting major casualties and national damage on the United States. They don't think this president and his squabbling men are up to the job. The first thing to be said about this line of argument is that it is legitimate, important and could even come to be correct."

Is this president up to this job? REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Oh, absolutely. And I think, first, if you look at the Iraq question, I think we have to commend the quality of this administration in that this guy takes on the tough ones. The first tough one was the ABM treaty, and that was the treaty that we...

BEGALA: The Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

HUNTER: Yes. That we agreed to with Russian that said we promised not to stop incoming ballistic missiles coming into U.S. cities. And the president took that one on. That was a tough one, had lots of critics, worked that out with the Russians.

And here, he's made a decision not to leave to future American generations the problem of a Saddam Hussein with a nuclear weapon. Now, we all know, if everybody's taken the classified briefings, and we're giving more, the Armed Services Committee has set some up now for Tuesday. We're going to start holding classified briefings on Tuesday for all members of Congress, but we know that this guy has a robust nuclear well development program.

He's kicked the inspectors out. He's moving ahead. He's not going to stop. He's not going to voluntarily give them up. And in a couple of years, he's going to have a nuclear weapon. So the question becomes do you want to have a guy who executed his son-in-laws, shoots people on camera...

BEGALA: Don't we all want that, though, at some level?

HUNTER: ... and killed 100,000 Kurds is, I think, somewhat unstable. Having a nuclear weapon at his, under his control.

NOVAK: The question...

HUNTER: The president has decided not to put that on future generations. He's going to handle this tough one. I think he should be commended for that.

NOVAK: But the question, Congressman Hunter, is whether he does have these nuclear weapons. And I want you to...

HUNTER: He doesn't have them yet.

NOVAK: ... I want you to listen to something -- or even developing them. I want you to listen to something that the Secretary General of the Arab League, a substantial guy, former foreign minister of our friends, Egypt, Amre Moussa. Let's listen to what he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMRE MOUSSA, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ARAB LEAGUE: For 40 years, we have no solid information about the situation in Iraq. Let them go back. Give us the necessary information about what is going on insofar as those weapons are concerned. War is a very, very serious proposition, and all of us have to try to avoid as much as we can any military action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, isn't that make sense, Congressman, that we send back the inspectors. If they don't cooperate, we say, OK, you had your chance, but before the blood is spilled, before the bombs fall, let's send these people back and see whether he does have nuclear weapons. A lot of people don't think he has made any progress at all.

HUNTER: Well, first, with respect to inspectors, you need to get the testimony of the U.N. inspectors that we had. And we would have a team of inspectors inspecting a particular city, and we would have weapons of mass destruction development going on nearby at a hidden location that Saddam Hussein wouldn't tell us about. We would have defectors come out, tell us about those. We would point that out. He said, oh, that slipped my mind. I guess we might have something over there.

NOVAK: That isn't what Scott Wither (ph) says.

HUNTER: Oh, absolutely. If you read the UNSCOM reports from the United Nations, they're replete with examples of deception by Saddam Hussein.

NOVAK: Why not send them back and give him a chance before the bombs fall?

HUNTER: For this reason, for this reason. We have very reliable information, and we work on military information, and we have very reliable information that he is -- when you develop a nuclear weapon, you do, you have to do a series of things.

You have to do machining of the war head; you've got to do the development of the conventional explosive that triggers the nuclear explosion. The regime in Iraq is moving ahead on all those components. I can tell you that from the briefings that I've had, they are moving ahead, robustly, with a nuclear weapon development program. Now, I've seen that, to my satisfaction, I've seen enough evidence to believe that that in fact is occurring.

And they're trying to get other things from other countries that have... like China, that have certain components that they need. You know, you need not too much plutonium or enriched uranium to be able to build a nuclear weapon. When that happens, you can build it pretty fast. We went in in '91, after we captured a number of his facilities, our conclusion was, the United Nations' conclusion was, that he was 18-24 months away from having a weapon. Now, many people argued...

NOVAK: That was disputed by several people.

HUNTER: ... But in 1991, we had people that said we should put sanctions on for five to seven years. That would have been, I think, disastrous. Secondly, with respect to the military capability of doing this and the U.S. capability, Menachem Begin hit the Osiraq reactor in Iraq in 1981. I believe one person was killed in that raid, that was, I believe, the French technician who came in on a Sunday to work in that particular place. That was 1981, 10 years before we invaded. If that hadn't happened, if that reactor hadn't been preempted, Iraq would have had the material to have built and constructed and fabricated a nuclear system.

BEGALA: I actually believe that, but that's 21 years ago, so we've known, for at least 21 years, that he has or wants weapons of mass destruction. Was Iraq...

HUNTER: ... destroyed a number of facilities in '91, when we went in.

BEGALA: ... I'm curious as to this change of heart in this administration. Was Iraq evil in 1998, when Dick Cheney's Halliburton was doing business, there? Was Iraq just as evil, last year, when President Bush said we should have, what he called, smart sanctions?

HUNTER: Well, first, what I'm looking at is a capability of Iraq to hurt the United States.

BEGALA: Yes, but were they evil then, when Cheney was doing business there or Bush said sanctions were enough?

HUNTER: Well, certainly, you've got western companies, whether they're French, German, or American, that through technology transfer and going through other countries, like China, have contributed to the technological development of weapons systems in Iraq and lots of other places where we shouldn't do that.

And we should... when we do the export administration act, we should look very carefully at the security ramifications of the technology transfer that the United States engages in. That's not the question.

The question is are we going to leave to a future generation the capability of Iraq to utilize nuclear weapons, whether it's using, for a purpose of foreign policy leverage or to hurt American troops in theater or hurt Americans? I don't think you want to have a Saddam Hussein with nuclear systems. And you know, we're going to have...

BEGALA: I'm sorry to cut you off on that. We're going to take a break, and we'll come back on this point, because it is the most important point. Congressman Hunter, I'm sorry to cut you off, but we're going to take a quick break, and in a minute we're going to ask Congressman Hunter about how all this is playing with the American people.

This is, after all, an election year, coming up this November, right around the corner. Some cynical observers think all this talk about war actually benefits the Republican party.

Later, the man who wants "under God" out of the pledge. He's got a new target. And our quote of the day. It comes from a man with some experience in the settling problems in the Middle East and doing it, peacefully.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

NOVAK: ... fifty-eight percent. Do you agree with the American people or do you disagree with the American people on that?

HUNTER: Well, you've got two aspects there. One is they want to have as much as information as possible. We want to get that to them, but we're going to embark on that on the Armed Services Committee, and the president asked us at the White House, he asked people in foreign affairs, in the Armed Services Committee and the leadership, House and Senate, to take this issue on, have lots of hearings, look at the facts, and also produce facts...

NOVAK: Hasn't he done enough already to -- explain that.

HUNTER: Well, he asked us to help him on that. And with respect to that, the Armed Services Committee is going to have the first hearings at 8:30 in the morning, Tuesday morning.

We're going to duplicate those hearings in the afternoon. We're going to wait -- we're going to make sure that every single member of Congress, and most of the public that wants to watch, sees as much of the facts as we can possibly show them.

So the president has just embarked on this campaign to let the American people understand what he what to do and what he must do.

BEGALA: Well, Congressman, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) interrupt you, but you're giving president credit for your work, and you're doing your job. You may be a Republican, but I respect how you're making your case. Our president is not.

HUNTER: He asked us to do that. He didn't try to slip this one by. And my point is this, the president understands this is a new era of what I call terrorists with high technology. I think we're going to have to make this decision over and over.

We're going to have times in the future when we see a small country or a group developing a nuclear device, because that technology's out there, we may see a Libya, for example, developing a nuclear device. The question for the United States is going to be are we going to wait until they have the device fielded and then, try to work with them or deal with them or are we going to try to keep them from having the capability to build it in the first place.

And I think we're going to have the question over and over. Iraq is the first take on that question. BEGALA: Isn't that a test of presidential leadership? For example, one year ago September 11, right, the whole world was on our side, even Syria, even Libya, even Iran made steps to try to aid and help America. Today no one stands with us except Israel and Great Britain.

HUNTER: I'm reminded of one thing, Paul...

BEGALA: Just a minute. A year ago, 90 percent of the people thought the president was doing a good job. Today, it's down to 61 percent. A year ago, Democrats and Republicans joined together to endorse the war on Afghanistan. Today, Bush can't get his Cabinet, his daddy is against the war. I mean, he can't even unite his own party...

HUNTER: Come on, now.

BEGALA: ... own Cabinet, much less our country. That's a collapse of presidential leadership, is it not?

HUNTER: No, it's not a collapse of leadership. And let me tell you, the president has embarked on this campaign to educate the American people.

What I am cognizant of, and I think everybody should reflect on is the fact that in 1981, Menachem Begin saw Iraq building a nuclear reactor. He, unilaterally, went out and destroyed that nuclear reactor with an aircraft strike.

That's the one that I talked about. The entire world, all the leaders of the western world, openly condemned his action, and 10 years later, when we had to go into Iraq, we were awfully glad that Saddam Hussein did not have that nuclear material.

My point is, and I made this point to the president, sometimes doing the right thing is a lonely thing. I think we should have a coalition, but I think we should deprive him of this nuclear capability, regardless of how big this coalition is. On the other hand, I think it's going to be a pretty good sizable coalition. The British have come on fairly strongly with it.

NOVAK: We're almost out of time. You've got to remember that Paul turns everything into an attack on George W. Bush.

HUNTER: Isn't that terrible?

NOVAK: Please, bear that in mind.

BEGALA: No, it's just when he collapses like this, when he's such an abject failure.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: A quick question for you. When will the House of Representatives actually vote on this resolution, do you think?

HUNTER: You know, I don't have a time schedule.

BEGALA: When do you think? It will be before the election.

HUNTER: I think it's going to be before we get out of town.

BEGALA: So that's before the election?

HUNTER: And I think the president is going to make his case. He's going to let the American people make the case, and Paul, if you've got these big numbers on the other side, then it shouldn't work to the advantage of Republicans.

NOVAK: We're out of time, and thank you very much, Duncan Hunter. Appreciate you being here. Hope to see you again.

HUNTER: Great to be with you.

NOVAK: Still to come, the atheist who's single-handedly trying to remake America in his own image.

Later, Congressional Democrats put their nasty stamp on the federal judiciary, and they're also trampling on the separation of powers, and our quote of the day comes from a long-time international meddler, who usually offends me, but not this time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

You know, former President Jimmy Carter is in many ways a model elder statesman. The former president has a deep dedication to human rights and to resolving international conflicts and, like the rest of us, he's been listening to the administration's talk of war and to the reaction here and abroad.

An opinion column President Carter wrote for today's "Washington Post" contains our quote of the day. He wrote, "As has been emphasized vigorously by foreign allies and by responsible leaders of former administrations and incumbent officeholders, there is no current danger to the United States from Baghdad."

So sayeth Jimmy Carter.

NOVAK: You know, I'm not a Jimmy Carter fan. That may come as a huge surprise to you, and I think he is a meddler and bumbler. He has said terrible things about Cuba. He was all wrong about Nicaragua. He's bad about North Korea, but he is absolutely right, in my opinion. There is no danger from Baghdad to the United States.

BEGALA: Wow. Well, you speak the truth when -- I admire that you're willing to praise a Democrat when you think he's right, Bob. I admire that.

NOVAK: Next, a terrorism alarm sound at a U.S. chemical depot. Connie Chung will tell us why, next in a "CNN NEWS ALERT."

Later, somebody who's ready to stand up to the atheist who's caused so much aggravation, this year.

And speaking of aggravation, Senate Democrats have just lowered the standard for playing politics with judges.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Still ahead, your chance to fire back at us. Believe it or not, we've gotten an e-mail from liberal who's a big Bob Novak fan. Get that.

Also, if it's so important to start every session of Congress with a prayer, why don't more lawmakers show up for it?

But, next, the Senate refuses to consent. Will the Bushites take its advice?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you live from The George Washington University, here, in beautiful downtown Washington, D.C.

The United States Constitution gives the president the power to make judicial nominations, to then confirm them with the advice and consent of the United States Senate. Well, today, the Senate Judiciary Committee did its job under the Constitution by refusing its constitution to the nomination of right-wing Texas Judge Priscilla Owen for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

The vote was 10 to 9, along party lines, with the Democrats in the majority. Now, since the Constitution doesn't require a president to like it when the Senate withholds consent, W. decided to whine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Treating a fine woman this way is bad for the country. It's bad for our bench. And I don't appreciate it one bit. And neither do the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

In the CROSSFIRE to talk about the fight over judicial nominees, Ralph Neas with People for the America Way and former Florida Congressman Bill McCollum.

NOVAK: Ralph Neas, a lot of people would probably be puzzled why Judiciary Committee would reject Justice Owen, a fine record, very well qualified, tremendous in support from Texas, and the answer of why she was rejected comes from the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, and let's listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Justice Owen is being opposed by an axis of profits. This axis of profits combines the money of trial lawyers in the abortion industry to fund the Washington special interest groups.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: The trial lawyers and the abortion industry, that's a pair you can't beat in Washington poker, can you?

RALPH NEAS, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: Bob, it's one of the most ridiculous statements I've ever heard Senator Orrin Hatch make. Today was a great victory for the American people because the Senate Judiciary Committee defeated a right-wing ideologue who would have turned back the clock on civil rights, consumer rights, the environment, and also reproductive rights.

NOVAK: It was all abortion, wasn't it, Ralph, to be honest?

NEAS: No, that's why I made this point, and, really, the main point was that the committee proved with documentation that this nominee, repeatedly, whenever her ideology clashed with the law, tried to change the law, remake the law. And the best witnesses, Bob, Alberto Gonzalez, counsel to President Bush.

NOVAK: That was a dissent.

NEAS: Eleven times. Not once, not twice, 11 times he wrote, "You are trying to remake the law." And guess what, the Republican candidate for the Senate in Texas, John Cornyn, several times said the same thing, "You're an activist."

NOVAK: That was in legal cases.

NEAS: Of course, it was. We're talking about...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You're making it appear that Gonzalez was opposed to the confirmation.

NEAS: Of course, he's not opposed. How can he be opposed if he's the counsel to President Bush? Yes, sir, I'll do whatever you want to do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Outrageous conclusion.

BEGALA: Let me ask you about something that is indisputable in the public record. The Texans for Public Justice, analyzed Justice Owen's folks on the Texas Supreme Court. In Texas, we elect our judges. Many states do. But she had a remarkable record of ruling in favor of her contributors. Get this. "Owen's 11th biggest litigant donors appeared in her courtroom 26 times. While these big docket donors appeared an enviable 77 percent of the time before the court as a whole, Owen, herself, was even kinder, favoring her contributors 85 percent of the time." Now, you were in the Congress. We didn't agree anything, but you didn't vote with your contributors 85 percent of the time, Bill McCollum. Why should she?

BILL MCCOLLUM, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: Let's set the record straight, Paul. This is outrageous partisan attack on this woman, and it's a spin that you're doing and others are doing.

BEGALA: That's not true. The statistics...

MCCOLLUM: Let me finish is this answer. Justice Owen was elected by 83 percent unopposed the last time. She was listed as well-qualified by the American Bar Association to this post she was nominated for, which is the highest rating the American Bar can give. She had the support of every major newspaper in the country, including the liberal "Washington Post." How can anyone really say that all of this stuff is really true? I'll tell you what,...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Are you comfortable with a judge who votes 85 percent of the time for her contributors to win a case before her, sir. Just answer the question, please.

MCCOLLUM: What else is there to answer the question.

BEGALA: Please. Pretty please.

MCCOLLUM: Yes, 10 percent of the time is how often she dissented from the majority of the Texas Supreme Court, which is less than half the time the United States Supreme Court Justice, on average, dissents. This is a many stream judge. Yes, I'm comfortable with how she voted because I think she voted the right way.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: ... Democrats on the Judiciary Committee in 1997, when President Clinton was naming judges. I'd like you to read them quickly.

Senator Ted Kennedy, "It's time to end the excessive partisanship over judicial nominations."

Senator Pat Leahy, "If there is one area where partisan politics should not be allowed, it is in the area of the federal judiciary."

And I love this one. Senator Joe Biden, "Everyone... everyone who is nominated is entitled to have a shot, to have a hearing and to have a shot to be heard on the floor and have a vote on the floor." Why

wasn't she given a vote on the floor? Because of her votes that confirm her, isn't that right?

NEAS: And you know, those senators were talking about an unprecedented occurrence in our nation's history. John Ashcroft and Trent Lott and Orrin Hatch actually blocked 35 percent of Clinton's circuit court judges that were nominated, 35 percent. Do you know, and I think you mentioned it before...

NOVAK: What about saying everybody should have a shot on the floor?

NEAS: Please, please. They were talking in those statements, Senator Leahy and Senator Biden, about people who had been approved by the Judiciary Committee and were being blocked by Trent Lott and the right-wing Republicans...

NOVAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you don't even know that, Ralph.

NEAS: I do, too. I've studied this, as clearly, you have not yet, Bob.

NOVAK: She said everybody needs a hearing.

NEAS: The point -- and that is exactly what Pat Leahy is doing. I think you mentioned before, 73 judges confirmed already. More than in the first year of the H. W. Bush administration.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: The reality is that 127 judges were confirmed by the Republicans when President Clinton was in his first two years of offices versus only 73 here. And in her case in this particular instance, you got both United States Senators and the American Bar Association certifying that she has the top rating of all, and wanting her to be confirmed, and many Democrats in Texas wanting it, and she's being rejected.

In the case of the ones that were rejected by the Republicans in the past of the Clinton nominees you named, they didn't have both United States senators. That was the key. They didn't have both of their senators in the state where they were nominated from.

BEGALA: Let me ask about a broader question. One of those senators then is now our Attorney General John Ashcroft, and he made a point that I actually agree with. I'm going to read it to you. He said back in 1997, "If the Senate is going to be responsible for the philosophy expressed by the members of the judiciary, then it's incumbent upon us to take the philosophy of the judiciary into consideration when we evaluate the suitability of those nominees."

MCCOLLUM: You're now getting to the heart of the matter. Senator Chuck Schumer says we should do that. But historically, ...

BEGALA: So did Senator John Ashcroft.

MCCOLLUM: ... but historically, we haven't. Even if you are going to take it, this is a new precedent, it wasn't taken before by Democrats, it isn't Biden's position, it isn't my position...

BEGALA: But it's Ashcroft's.

MCCOLLUM: ... and in reality, the only philosophy issue here is pro-life and pro-choice, and this woman is mainstream on that.

NOVAK: Bill McCollum, thank you very much. Ralph Neas, thank you.

NEAS: Great to see you, Bob.

NOVAK: Coming back in our "Fire Back" segment, a viewer asked why no one's worried about another country that hates America's guts.

But next, the man behind a legal offensive to get God out of America's public life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

This summer, Dr. Michael Newdow became America's least favorite atheist. It happened when a federal appeals court panel took his side in a lawsuit and declared that the phrase "under God" should not be in the Pledge of Allegiance. The ruling's been put on hold as many legal analysts expect it to be overturned, but Michael Newdow is not done.

He has filed another federal lawsuit contending that it's unconstitutional for taxpayer-funded chaplains to pray in the Congress and minister to lawmakers.

Dr. Newdow, who is an emergency room physician, as well as an attorney, joins us from Sacramento, California. And here with us on our set, Indiana Congressman, Mike Pence, a Republican and, like every member of Congress, he's a codefendant in Dr. Newdow's lawsuit.

Thanks for joining us. Dr. Newdow, welcome.

NOVAK: Dr. Newdow, everybody in Washington is trying to figure out where you end. Are you going to stop with the singing "God Bless America" in government functions? But in all seriousness, what in the world are you doing on this chaplain's issue. The people like it. If anyone anybody needs a chaplain, it's the members of Congress, I believe. What is your purpose?

DR. MICHAEL NEWDOW: It's not the people like it. Look what you just said. Some people like it. The theistic people may like it, but there are other Americans that don't like it, and it's not supposed to be there. The chaplains -- the Congressmen can go down and worship anywhere they want in a church that's nearby. But they can't do it in the halls of Congress.

BEGALA: Well, Congressman Pence, let me bring you into this. I actually don't think the chaplain violates the Constitution, but as a man of faith...

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Neither does the Supreme Court.

BEGALA: Well, I imagine we'll get to that one day, but as a man of faith yourself, and a member of Congress, how many people show up to that prayer every morning? PENCE: Well, I'm there often. There are usually a couple dozen members on the House floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I used to work there.

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: This has gone on since, literally, 1789. It started in the federal hall, where it we'll be meeting in New York tomorrow in that historic joint session.

BEGALA: And yet, is there a greater den of sin than the Congress? I mean, has it done any good?

PENCE: Well, and as I said before, the Supreme Court ruled on this. 1983, when I was getting started in law school, the Supreme Court ruled, in "Marsh vs. Chambers," the chaplaincies of the Senate and the House are in no way in violation inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States. It matters, it's important to the American people, and it's tradition in our history we should keep.

NOVAK: Dr. Newdow, every -- I'm sure you've read some of our history. God was invoked at our founding constitutional convention, our earliest sessions of Congress, we have the motto "in God we trust." Do you really believe that there was an intent in the framers of the Constitution to not permit those manifestations by the vast majority of this country in a belief in God?

NEWDOW: No, I think they wanted everybody to be able to worship god as much as they want. They didn't want government to do it, and the Constitution, you'll notice, doesn't have God. You talk about the Constitution. It's missing. Why would they leave it out? Every state Constitution mentioned God. Every one of the preambles had a worship to God. Our federal Constitution doesn't have it.

NOVAK: What about "In God we trust?" Do you believe that's unconstitutional?

NEWDOW: Absolutely, on our coins and as our motto, sure.

NOVAK: Where do you end, Dr. Newdow? Do you go after that next? Is that your next lawsuit?

NEWDOW: Hopefully. It will depend on how the Supreme Court, if it gets there, rules on the pledge issue.

PENCE: With all due respect to Dr. Newdow, and I'm a conservative bible-believing Christian, but I, as my late father used to say, I'd fight to the death to protect Dr. Newdow's right to believe nothing, or to be an atheist. That's part of what is to be an American, but we're talking here about the traditions of this country, and the reality is that the founding documents of this country include not just the Constitution, but the Declaration, which says that every American is endowed by their Creator, capital "C," Creator, with certain inalienable rights. It adheres to the American character to recognize a belief in a supreme being. We celebrate that in Congress every day.

BEGALA: The chaplain has, at times, been a divisive force in the house. Just a couple of years ago, two years ago, a bipartisan 18- member panel recommended a Catholic priest to be the first Catholic priest to be the chaplain of the House of Representatives, and the right-wing Republican leadership overturned that, and it was a huge controversy. But because of this controversy...

NOVAK: Let's not make everything a partisan fight.

BEGALA: No, Dick Armey, in fact, said the members would not feel comfortable with this Catholic priest.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so ridiculous.

BEGALA: There was a division in the House just two years ago.

PENCE: Well, there was some controversy about that. I know Chuck Wright who was the other choice over the wonderful Catholic priest, who's our chaplain now and does a brilliant job. This is an important American tradition.

NOVAK: Dr. Newdow...

NEWDOW: I don't know what you're talking about chaplains. I mean, this is ridiculous. I mean, this is -- we have an establishment clause, Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, and you're sitting there discussing the Congressional chaplain.

NOVAK: Are you saying that the Catholic religion is the established religion in this country? Are you saying that?

NEWDOW: I'm say theism is the established religion.

PENCE: Well, in Dr. Newdow's defense, and I'm not here to defend you, Dr. Newdow, but...

NEWDOW: Go ahead.

PENCE: ... the truth, here, is that our founders and the Supreme Court, throughout the history of this nation, has recognized that we are a religious people who acknowledge a supreme being, and that the acknowledgment of that supreme being has been a part of our culture and should remain a part of our national institutions. We are not an atheistic government. We are government believes we are endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.

NOVAK: I'm afraid that's going to have be the last word.

Thank you very much, Congressman Mike Pence. Dr. Michael Newdow, thank you very much.

In just a minute, our viewers get to fire back at us next, and at Michael Newdow.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Welcome back.

It's "Fireback," when the viewers take us on.

Connie of Manassas, Virginia says, "This man opposing God in every part of our national traditions needs to wake up. Does he not live in the same country as the rest of us that experienced the pain and horror of September 11, 2001. Get your head out of the California smog." Connie, spoken like a true daughter of Virginia.

BEGALA: From Manassas. Ian Adrian, in Staten Island writes, "I don't know why we're thinking of attacking Iraq just because they might have nuclear weapons in a few years. Under that logic, let's attack North Korea. They hate our guts. They mistrust their people and, hey, they've already got nuclear capabilities." That's actually a very good point. There's a lot of countries we don't like that have the nuke.

NOVAK: OK, Jim Parker of Pottsville, Pennsylvania writes, "There are two things I hate worse than taxes: those who cheat on them and corporations doing big bucks here in the U.S. moving overseas to avoid paying them. Turn loose the dogs of war." "Sic em I.R.S." Jim Parker, I just hope the IRS never sics you because you'll hate them worse than you'll hate the tax evaders.

BEGALA: Greg Daries in Colorado Springs writes, "Although I am generally liberal politically, I applaud Bob Novak for thinking for himself, rather than spouting ideologue blather. He speaks out against the Republicans often enough to irritate them. What a guy!" What a guy! Liberals for Novak!

NOVAK: Question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Katie. I'm from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and my question is do you think there would have been just as much support for keeping the words "under God" if it wasn't for the massive patriotism after September 11?

NOVAK: Yes, there would.

BEGALA: Yes, I think so. It was added, actually, about 50 years ago, but people are comfortable with it. And as a liberal who supports separation of church and state, it doesn't mean we've established a state religion, and that's what the Constitution bars.

Yes, ma'am.

NOVAK: Next question.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, I'm Laurie from Nashville, Tennessee. If political stances on controversial issues are not legitimate reasons to decide whether to confirm a judicial candidate, then what would be such grounds?

NOVAK: I'll tell you what the grounds now to confirm are is that they are a criminal activity, they're corrupt, or they're unqualified. And it is an absolute trip into a very bad situation for our country when you -- that your people are establishing, because the tables are going to be turned.

BEGALA: My people did establish them, they were named Madison and Jefferson and Washington, they wrote the Constitution. They didn't say the Senate will advise and confirm. if qualified. They said, simply, advise and consent, and that means the Senate can decide for themselves, and God bless the United States Senate.

NOVAK: Question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name's Ian from Alexandria, Virginia. There are no examples of successful atheistic countries. Can America's success be traced to do a belief in a creator?

NOVAK: I really do believe that. I think that's one of the reasons we are the most God-fearing country in the world, and we are the most successful country in the world, even if some of the liberals don't think so.

BEGALA: Yes, but let's not become a theocracy. The Taliban was more God-fearing than we were. We just didn't happen to share their particular religion. But no, we don't need to turn this country into a theocracy. We need to separate church and state, and those of us who want to practice religion can do so as we see fit.

NOVAK: The separation of church and state doesn't mean you can't say a prayer at a football game in Texas. That's just ridiculous.

BEGALA: Actually, the Republican Supreme Court says you can't force children to say a prayer at a football game in Texas. They were right.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: On the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT begins immediately after a CNN NEWS ALERT.

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