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CNN CROSSFIRE

Gun Control Advocates Claim Maryland Sniper Could Be Caught If Tracking System Was In Place; Some Claim Bush Politicizing Iraq Issue

Aired October 8, 2002 - 19:00   ET

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

ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE: On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE: Anguish, anger and a sniper on the loose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... to stop this insane killer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Tonight: Is the gun lobby fighting a tool that could find a killer?

Should the U.S. do it now? The use of force debate exposes political fault lines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Mr. President, we have decided Iraq is a danger.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Put a sign on the statue of liberty up here. Put a sign: "Out of business."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: And who says he's only interested in Iraq?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There needs to be fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C.

Tonight on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Robert Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight, as lawmakers debate Iraq, how closely are the folks back home watching? Also, the anti-gun crowd spots a target of opportunity.

But first, a political briefing that really hits the bull's eye: our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Something rare today on Capitol Hill, with both houses of Congress debating the same resolution, giving President Bush broad powers to make war against Iraq. It's no fun for Democrats, who are delivering tortured speeches in both the House and Senate.

Some say they will vote for the resolution, but make it clear they don't like George W. Bush at all. Others say they won't vote for the resolution, but make it clear they really hate Saddam Hussein.

Where do they get this stuff? In a script sent last Thursday to Democrats in Congress by Stan Greenberg, Bob Shrum and, yes, our own James Carville.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Nice try, Bob. The political script here was written by Carl Rove, who way back in January nine months ago, announced Republicans were going to try to politicize the war, and they have done it.

Well President Bush today ordered Attorney General John Ashcroft to seek an injunction, ordering West Coast dock workers back to their jobs. Ports from San Diego to Seattle have been closed since management locked dock workers out in a dispute over pay and benefits.

The lockout as cost our economy some $2 billion a day and has dragged on now for 10 days. Mr. Bush said he was taking the step to protect our fragile economy and ensure the flow of vital goods to military bases. I think it's really because, let's face it, it feels so good for a Republican to screw a bunch of union workers.

NOVAK: Paul, these union workers are doing make-work jobs for $100,000 a year. I know $100,000 doesn't mean anything to you, but it means a lot to most Americans. And I tell you this: they are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fighting the new technology.

The Democratic Party's motto is that anything goes, as in New Jersey. Senator Robert Torricelli, in a free-fall for re-election, was replaced on the ballot by Torricelli's archenemy, former Senator Frank Lautenberg. The assumption was that Lautenberg would be a lay- down hand against the rookie Republican candidate, Doug Forrester. Maybe not.

The respected Eagleton-Rutgers Poll for the Newark "Star Ledger" shows the race at dead even. Forty-four percent each for Lautenberg and Forrester. Now, if Forrester moves ahead, will the New Jersey democratic bosses have to find a replacement for Lautenberg?

BEGALA: No. Frank Lautenberg has been doing OK for a guy that's been in the race for five days. And wait until people find out that Frank is one of the fathers of the super fund and that Doug Forrester wants people instead of polluters to pay for toxic cleanups. My money is on Lautenberg. Well, not that they're playing politics with the war, of course, but Republicans are running an ad in South Dakota that shows Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda terrorists and suggests that Democratic Senator Tim Hutchinson -- Tim Johnson, excuse me, is somehow soft on defense.

But Senator Johnson voted for the Pentagon budget and has been endorsed by the VFW's political action committee. Moreover, Senator Johnson supports President Bush's use of force in Iraq, even though his own son, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne division, is likely to be sent to fight. That's the ultimate commitment to our nation's defense.

Now the man smearing Johnson, Republican Congressman John Thune, has never worn the uniform and has no children in the service. But what do you expect him to do, campaign on the economy?

NOVAK: Paul, just a few facts. Tim Johnson has been living out on the merits of his 30-year-old son, who is a sergeant in the Army. Tim himself spent a few months in the Army in 1969.

And John Thune's two children are two 14-year-old and 11-year-old girls. I don't think they can wear the uniform. Just the girl scouts uniform, that is.

Making Rudy Giuliani recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize ran into opposition from the Reverend Al Sharpton. "The award for Rudy," said the reverend Al, "is offensive." He called the former mayor of New York, "one of the greatest racial polarizers in the history of American politics.":

Oh, to be called a racial polarizer by Al Sharpton. He made his career stirring up racial strife, becoming nationally notorious with a phony story about a 15-year-old African-American girl abducted and raped by six white law enforcement officials. Sharpton did get an award for that story: $65,000 that a jury ordered him to pay a falsely accused prosecutor.

BEGALA: I don't know about the Nobel Peace Prize, but Rudy Giuliani should have been named the director of homeland security. And I suspect George W. Bush didn't name him because he didn't want to be overshadowed by a more effective executive leader.

Republican Congressman Richard Pombo of California posted a photo on his Web site recently, purporting to show Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle saluting the American flag with his left hand on his chest. Pombo's Web site then sneered, "Tom Daschle shows his true colors."

But the photo was a fraud. The image had been reversed. Daschle had, in fact, been pledging allegiance with his right hand over his heart, something he no doubt learned when he served our country in the United States Air Force.

Mr. Pombo, on the other hand, has never worn the uniform, but his Web site does boast that he is the recipient of the "Golden Mouse Reward." An award for having a really keen, if not entirely, accurate Web site.

NOVAK: It was stupid for Pombo to do that. But a couple of facts, Paul. He got that fraudulent reversal of Senator Daschle from an e mail that was doctored by somebody else. When he learned it was no good, he immediately took it off the Web and apologized to Senator Daschle -- a little fact.

Tomorrow marks one week since a sniper started killing people, apparently at random, in the suburbs here around Washington, D.C. The anti-gun lobby seems to see this as a perfect excuse to push its agenda.

Some gun controllers claim they could have caught the killer by now if only we had a special tracking system that matched bullets to individual guns and guns to their owners. Of course they don't mention that Maryland, where most of the killings have taken place, has such a system. It's horribly expensive and, you know, the killer or killers are still at large.

First in the CROSSFIRE tonight are Dennis Henigan, legal director for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence. And with him, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, good of you to join us. This is always a contentious topic: gun control and gun rights, but particularly now when there is a sniper on the loose.

Bob mentioned in the introduction a system that's being tried out in Maryland that would take a ballistic fingerprint from every barrel of every new gun produced. Manufacturers would keep that fingerprint on file, and then if we had a federal system, as many law enforcement folks have proposed, they would be able to track down that gun and maybe even find the killer.

Here is what a law enforcement official told "The New York Times" today. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is the former chief the crime gun analysis section of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

He said this: "I definitely think that the technology is there. And it has been refined to the point where it's cost effective. It would not be an imposition on the manufacturers or law enforcement or citizens, so I'm all for it."

Mr. Pratt, why are you against it?

LARRY PRATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: Well, for one thing, he is wrong. The technology isn't so hot. They have had it for handguns in Maryland for casings, not the bullet itself. And they've run 17,000 runs on the system and they've not solved one crime with it.

And there's a number of reasons why I think that would be. In addition to not all the guns are in the database, they never will be. Because it's possible to buy guns with illegal false identification. The government accounting office actually did that about a year ago, and everywhere they went they made sure they had a false identification of a non-criminal, somebody who wasn't in the database. And, of course, they were sold a gun.

You can also change the barrel, change the firing pin, so that you change all the signatures. And actually just using the gun not even all that much will also change the characteristics of that fingerprint. So it all adds up to only one thing gets accomplished, a registration system of gun owners that's even more extensive than what we already suffer from.

NOVAK: Mr. Henigan, let me make a little scenario. We don't know who this murderous sniper is. But I'm going to make a little bet that he stole the weapon some place. Now, if he stole the weapon, and they had this system nationwide, that in itself would kill the system, wouldn't it?

DENNIS HENIGAN, LEGAL DIRECTOR, BRADY CAMPAIGN AGAINST GUN VIOLENCE: Well, first of all, Bob, you have no idea whether he stole the weapon.

NOVAK: Well let's just assume he did.

HENIGAN: But in fact, most of the guns used in crimes are not stolen at all. They're bought from gun dealers, they're bought by traffickers who sell them into the illegal market. The fact that such a system would not solve every crime does not mean it's not a very valuable system.

It makes absolutely no sense when we have the technology today, to not only be able to tell that the same gun was used in multiple shootings. We could tell which gun it was. And we could do that before we even confiscate the gun.

NOVAK: Then explain this to me, Mr. Henigan. Why it is that in Maryland, which has this system, they have spent $4 million on this system. I don't live in this crazy state anymore, I used to. But that's why the taxes are so high. And as a result, they have had no convictions, no arrests. What kind of efficiency is that?

HENIGAN: This is a complete distortion. The Maryland law is brand new. It's only been in existence for a year. It takes guns a certain amount of time after they're sold by a retail gun dealer to be used in crime. The law enforcement community says there is no question that this system can work.

How do you think we were able to establish that this same gun was responsible for multiple murders? Because we compared the markings on those casings. The one missing link is we don't have that national database to be able to tell exactly which gun that was, and then trace it to the first retail buyer, a tremendous law enforcement tool. The reason we are not doing this is because of the paranoia of people like Larry Pratt and the gun lobby who keep crying everything constructive we do about gun violence will lead ultimately to confiscation of guns.

PRATT: I'll point out that in New York City, after 25 years of being promised that the registration of long guns would not lead to confiscation, they changed the rules. And it did lead to confiscation. California tried to do the same thing. But when we found about it, that kind of backed them off at least for a while.

HENIGAN: Yes, but, Larry, you said the Brady bill was going to lead to registration, it was going to lead to confiscation.

PRATT: Well, it has, as a matter of fact. And the FBI has an illegal database of all the people that have been buying guns. So you have got a registration list from the instant background check. You are proposing that you get another one from this kind of a bullet signature system. And I frankly don't -- I'm not convinced that you want to do anything else, than someday use it to do what New York City did, because you're not going to catch crooks with it.

HENIGAN: Larry talks about what might happen some day. I'm talking about today. There's a sniper on the loose. People in this community are living in mortal fear right now. We could find this guy if we had the technology to do it. All you're talking about is...

PRATT: That is not at all an assumption. And every time your gun control buddies have gotten something into law, the crime rates go up. Whether it's D.C., or whether it's England, or whether it's Jamaica.

HENIGAN: The crime rate has plummeted since the Brady bill.

PRATT: Excuse me. It had nothing to do with any lowering of the crime rate. And one of your own research scientists said the same thing. But in England they are now the most dangerous place to live of the 18 industrial countries in the world. Jamaica...

(CROSSTALK)

HENIGAN: Compared to America?

PRATT: Yes, compared -- it's the U.N. study that was done last year. Sorry, pal, you are you the most dangerous guy loose.

(CROSSTALK)

PRATT: But you are you the most -- you produce the most violent society in the industrial world. And England and Jamaica is so dangerous that tour boats are stopping that as a port of call.

BEGALA: Because, Mr. Pratt, as you once said, gun control basically kills. Guns don't kill people, gun control does. Is that your philosophy?

PRATT: Well, of course. Because you leave the victims unable to protect themselves. And that's what you see in Washington, D.C. It's what you see in England.

BEGALA: So my 6-year-old should be packing heat?

PRATT: I think you should.

BEGALA: I own three guns and I don't mind -- I just said it on the air. John Ashcroft knows I own a gun. So what? They're not going to come get my gun, Larry.

PRATT: Kathy Wilson's (ph) kindergarten is a gun-free zone.

BEGALA: Thank god.

PRATT: Oh, yes. Well that's where one of the kids was hit. Apparently the murderer forgot that it was a gun-free zone.

BEGALA: OK. So Billy (ph) is going to be packing heat? (CROSSTALK)

HENIGAN: Larry wants teachers to have guns in the classroom.

PRATT: But in fact, the reality is you make people more exposed and put them in greater danger.

BEGALA: Mr. Pratt, we're going to break. Hold that thought, both of you. We've got a hot debate going and I hate to cool it off, but we're going to take a break.

In a minute we're going to ask our guests if there is any gun measure at all that Larry Pratt won't oppose. I doubt that there is.

Later, the fundraiser in chief talks about Iraq at another Republican rally. But of course he's not trying to make political hey (ph) from the war, certainly not.

And our quote of the day is from someone who had a lot of explaining to do today when he testified on what his FBI did or did not do to prevent September 11. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The sniper killings in the D.C. area raise questions about whether Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department ought to do more to stop gun violence. Of course Mr. Ashcroft is a busy man, what with covering up naked breasts on a statue at the Justice Department and arresting terminally ill people smoking marijuana and all.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, and Dennis Henigan, Legal Director for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

NOVAK: Mr. Henigan, this wonderful law you have in Maryland, which cost $4 million, over a year, no arrests, no convictions. What it has done, is that nobody wants to ship guns into Maryland because of the inconvenience. And Colonel David Mitchell (ph), the Maryland State Police Superintendent said, "We did not, nor did we ever intend for this legislation to be a de facto gun ban. Nor did we intend this legislation to create an undue hardship on Maryland gun dealers."

That's Colonel Mitchell (ph) speaking. But you were not unhappy about the burden on gun dealers, were you? HENIGAN: No. The point of this law is not to put unnecessary burdens on the gun industry. And this could be done much easier at the federal level, Bob. When a manufacturer sells a gun to a distributor, the manufacturer could test-fire that gun and those markings, that data, could go immediately into a federal computer.

We could do this nice and easy. It does cost money, Bob. It costs money to save lives; it costs money to fight crime. Just think of the costs to this community of the fear that grips us because of this sniper.

NOVAK: Mr. Henigan, I've been talking to people like you on this show for about 20 years. And some of them are very candid with me, and some are not. I'm going to give you the candor test. What you would really like to do is have national registration and severe restrictions on gun ownership, wouldn't you?

HENIGAN: No. What we want is...

NOVAK: You flunked the test.

HENIGAN: No, what we want is a system like we have with automobiles. We have record keeping of automobile transfers. We have licenses for automobile owners and drivers. People don't object to that. And yet guns are a product designed to kill.

And all we have is a limited background check on sales from gun dealers. We don't even have universal background checks so that if I sell you a gun as a private citizen, there's no background check.

BEGALA: Mr. Pratt, let me ask a question before you give an answer, because I want to give you my candor test. I know you've called for the repeal of the Brady bill, you've called for the repeal of the assault weapon ban. Candidly, what gun control would you support?

PRATT: If you could show that gun control was constitutional and actually hurt criminals rather than law-abiding people, I might be willing to talk to you about it. But until then I think we should get rid of what has impeded...

BEGALA: So flame throwers?

PRATT: No, we're talking about guns.

BEGALA: Those are arms. The Constitution (UNINTELLIGIBLE). A stinger missile is a shoulder-mounted arm.

PRATT: That's a wonderful red herring, but that's not where...

BEGALA: But you would ban flame throwers? Of course.

HENIGAN: Ask him about machine guns.

BEGALA: Yes.

HENIGAN: You wouldn't ban machine guns?

PRATT: No.

BEGALA: Machine guns have been banned since the '30's.

PRATT: In Switzerland they have a country full of armed people with machine guns.

BEGALA: Well go move there. I like America.

PRATT: They have a murder rate lower than ours.

(CROSSTALK)

PRATT: Let me ask a question. You were saying that you don't support banning guns. Well, if so, did you disagree, or do you disagree that handgun control went to court to try to keep the D.C. gun ban?

HENIGAN: Look, we believe that individual communities ought to have the power to enact whatever gun laws they want.

NOVAK: All right. Mr. Henigan, let me just ask you a question.

(CROSSTALK)

PRATT: Virginia has a certain kind of law from the national government. You're being a hypocrite.

NOVAK: We don't have much time. I want to ask you one question. We're in the District of Columbia right now. Parts of this town I would not want you to walk in, because I wouldn't walk in. This is a dangerous place.

There's guns all over the place. Do you think banning of all firearms in the District of Columbia does anything but keep them out the hands of law-abiding citizens so only the criminals have guns?

HENIGAN: Bob, do you know where those guns come from? They don't come from the District of Columbia. They come from Virginia...

PRATT: And Virginia has a lower murder rate.

HENIGAN: The come from Florida. They come from states with much weaker gun laws. That's why we need a federal solution.

PRATT: The states with the weaker gun laws have lower murder rates.

BEGALA: Our attorney general said that the FBI will not be permitted to compare the names of suspected terrorists against federal gun purchase records . Attorney General Ashcroft told the Senate he offered no encouragement to senators who are trying to get the FBI the authority to do so. So the only apparently civil liberty that John Ashcroft supports is the right for terrorists to own guns. I guess you're with Ashcroft on this, aren't you? PRATT: Well, you know Mohammed Atta seemed to be able to get a false ID without too much trouble. I don't think he's going to go in and say, Hi, I'm Mohammed Atta. I'm from Saudi Arabia. I'm here to kill you, will you sell me a gun? These guys are just a little smarter than that.

NOVAK: This debate will continue, but not tonight. Thank you very much, Larry Pratt, Dennis Henigan. Thank you so much.

In a little bit, we'll see how the Iraq debate is playing outside Washington's Beltway. Will the Democrats' agonizing really fool any of the voters?

And our quote of the day comes from a man who has had a lot of fingers pointed at him since September 11. Today, he did some finger pointing of his own.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Louis Freeh spent eight years as FBI director, leaving the agency in June of 2001. But he was just as surprised as everyone else when terrorists struck on September 11. Today, Freeh answered critics who say he and his agency didn't do enough to prevent the terrorist attacks. He told Congress that he kept asking for money to hire special agents, analysts and linguists to help with counter- terrorism.

What happened to the requests? And that is our quote of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: In fiscal year 2000, I requested 864 additional counter-terrorism people at a cost of $380.8 million. I received five people funded for $7.4 million.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: That was the worst example of buck-passing I have ever seen. He blames a democratic president, he blames a Republican Congress. He was there.

They tripled his budget for counter-terrorism in the years that he ran that. And instead of taking responsibility for his own direction and leadership he failed to provide, he passes the buck. Shame on Louis Freeh. And my president and yours, Bill Clinton, appointed him. Worst appointment Clinton ever made.

Well a United States Marine has been killed in what Kuwait is calling terrorism. Connie Chung has all the details next in a CNN NEWS ALERT.

Later, are voters really hanging on every word of the Iraq debate? Or would they rather have Congress be doing something to help our economy? Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BEGALA: Coming up, one of our viewers tries to correct the presidential mangling of the English language. Probably a lost cause though.

Next: the showdown on both causes of the Capitol and repercussions in every Congressional district. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're coming to you from the George Washington University in Foggy Bottom, D.C.

They're debating the Iraqi use of force resolution in both the House and Senate. But it looks like a forgone conclusion. A bipartisan vote in support of what President Bush wants with no changes.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says he hopes to end debate and get a vote by the end of the week. The Senate's senior Democrat, Robert Byrd, is reported by colleagues as threatening a filibuster. But there isn't much one senator can do.

The result on Capitol Hill is clear, the political outcome in the country uncertain. In the CROSSFIRE now, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and the chairman of Georgia's Republican party Ralph Reed.

BEGALA: All right, gentlemen, four weeks to go. Let's get to it.

Back in January, Karl Rove gave a speech. He told his party to politicize issues of national security and war and by golly, you've done so, Ralph, your party.

You're running ads in South Dakota. You're running ads in Missouri. You're running ads in Arkansas attacking patriotic American senators, Democrats all, on the war in Iraq.

Now, here's the fly in the ointment. It ain't working. "The New York Times" poll out this week asked people: "Do they think," we'll put it up on the screen for you, "Is the Bush administration using Iraq for political advantage?" Fifty-one to 40, yes.

So they're seeing through your strategy, Ralph.

RALPH REED, CHAIRMAN OF GEORGIA'S REPUBLICAN PARTY: Well, first of all, I was at the speech that Karl Rove gave and he didn't say that at all. What he said was,

BEGALA: He told you to talk about the war and the economy...

REED: No, what he said was that the American people know that Republicans are better at issues of foreign policy and national defense. That's an irrefutable fact.

BEGALA: He also said, And we'll take the issues of national security to the voters, didn't he? REED: Well, I think what Democrats like you would like, Paul, is for every other vote that a Democrat casts to be open for debate, except the votes they cast on national security and defense. And that's just not how you run an election.

The fact is, that Senator Tim Johnson has voted 29 times against national missile defense. That's a legitimate issue.

BEGALA: Would have stopped those al Qaeda box cutters.

REED: Max Cleland, given the opportunity to co-sponsor Zell Miller's bill on Homeland Security, a bi-partisan bill, instead is siding with the government union bosses. That's an issue that we ought to talk about in the campaign.

NOVAK: Speaking of Max Cleland, senator from Georgia, you know, unlike you two, he has to run for office. And he is running away from people who are attacking the president. His race for re-election has tightened up in Georgia, I think you'll agree. And let's listen to what Max Cleland said on the floor of the Senate yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MAX CLELAND (D), GEORGIA: I'll be supporting the resolution backed by the president. And opposing the alternatives. Because I believe it's imperative that we now speak with one voice to Saddam Hussein, to the entire international community, and most importantly, to our servicemen and women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Steve, as a political consultant, do you think that's a good approach for the senator? Or would you tell him to say, No, I'm for peace.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I'm sure he's for peace. Aren't we all for peace? I thought it was encouraging last night that the president said that war is neither inevitable or unavoidable, which I think gives us hope that perhaps we won't be there.

I think it's smart for him to do that in Georgia, given the electorate in Georgia. I think it's also true that Max Cleland would like to see a broad coalition of allies, which so far we haven't seen. I think it's also true that Max Cleland would like to see the American public fully engaged and fully supportive of this effort which we haven't seen. And I think Max Cleland would like to see if it's possible the U.N. Security Council vote in favor of the resolution that the president's put forward. And we all would.

NOVAK: You know, he is not Charlie McCarthy and you're not Edgar Bergen. You're putting words in his mouth. He didn't say any of those things. Just a minute. He didn't say any of those things on the Senate floor. He said, I'm for what the president wants without changes. This is what I hear in both the House and the Senate. Just whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing, that's the political thing to do, isn't it?

MCMAHON: Well, he said he's for the resolution that the Senate -- that the president favors and he's against the two alternatives. That doesn't mean that he wouldn't like to see a broad coalition. I haven't heard a Democrat yet who thinks we ought to go this alone. I have not. I don't know if you have.

NOVAK: I didn't hear that criticism.

BEGALA: Mr. Reed, let me ask you about -- I don't want -- I'm not interviewing about policy administration. You are the chairman of the Georgia Republican party.

In your state, your party, your candidate attacked Max Cleland, a man who left three limbs, two legs and an arm, on a field of honor in Vietnam. You attacked him, your candidate did, said he violated his oath of office to protect America because he voted for an amendment to a treaty on chemical weapons that Bob Kerry, a Medal of Honor winner, supported and that Bill Frist, the chairman of the Republican Senate Committee, supported.

I'll give you a chance to prove your decency. Wasn't that disreputable to attack a man's patriotism like that?

REED: No, I think what Saxby Chambliss said is that Max Cleland did not cast a vote that in his view defended the national security interests.

BEGALA: He said he violated his Oath of Office. With respect, Mr. Reed, he said he violated his Oath of Office to protect our country.

REED: To defend a legitimate national security interest of the United States. And that vote would have subsumed the national security interests of the United States.

BEGALA: So Bill Frist -- the chairman of the Republican Senate National Campaign Committee, Bob Kerry -- a Medal of Honor winner and Max Cleland -- a hero from the United States Army, a Captain who served his country in Vietnam -- they're all traitors to our country? They're violating their Oath of Office?

REED: Paul, we're not having a hearing here on whether or not somebody should get a medal for what they did in the war.

BEGALA: Max got two. He got a silver star and a bronze star.

REED: This is not about his war record, it's about...

NOVAK: We all know his war record. Don't we, Ralph.

REED: And we honor his service to our country. NOVAK: Now, Steve, let me talk about the real politics. Not the fancy offices like you have here in Washington, but the real people who are out there.

I was talking to a Congressional office, of one of the few districts that -- well there's a little fight going on. Democratic incumbent -- I'm not going to tell from what state, but it's an industrial state. They told me that the phone calls coming in were 571 against the war, 3 for the war. You got that? He is going 100 percent for George Bush not saying a word of criticism, because he knows it's the nuts calling in and that the real people are supporting the resolution. Isn't that the real politics?

MCMAHON: Well, I don't think so. If you look at the polls, and that's what you seem to be obsessed with is the polls...

NOVAK: I'm not obsessed with anything.

MCMAHON: People believe -- people believe that Saddam Hussein is a threat, and I think most Democrats believe he's a threat. The question Democrats have is is he an immediate threat and do we want to establish a policy of preemption for this country and for the U.N. given all the ramifications that that entails.

And do we want to go it alone? I would remind you that just about four weeks ago the president was saying I'm not going to Congress and now he is. That's because the Democrats made him. I'm not going to the U.N. Security Council, now he is. That's because the Democrats have forced him. He was talking about a regime change just a few weeks ago, and now he's talking about limiting it to weapons of mass destruction.

So I think the Democrats, Bob, have been doing their jobs and have gotten the president to take this in a more realistic...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Go ahead, Ralph.

REED: The president was scheduled to address the U.N. on September 11 for months. It's the traditional address given by the U.S. president on the opening day of the U.N., No. 1. But No. 2...

(CROSSTALK)

REED: What the administration said was they believed he had sufficient authorization from Congress based on the 1998 resolution that Bill Clinton supported. He never said he would go back. He said he felt he had sufficient authorization.

(CROSSTALK)

REED: ... but I applaud him for doing so. I think he had sufficient authorization, but the point is he has gone back.

Look, this is part of a process. The president made his case to the United Nations. He laid out credible information to the American people. I would point out that a few weeks ago the Democrats were saying no way no how was he going to get this resolution.

Now they're all running in front of the parade before they get run over by it. So it's the Democrats who moved towards the president, not the other way around.

MCMAHON: The Democrats have said, Let's try to bring the Congress, the country, the U.N. and our allies along. And so far the president, four weeks ago, was saying we don't need any of those people, and now he's saying I'd like all of them.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Hang on just a second. Coming up later in our show, one of our viewers wants to correct Mr. Novak about who really has the political kiss of death. That's what (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for.

But next, our guests are going to look at some of the hottest races and biggest issues in the election only four weeks from today. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're exactly four weeks from election day. And while it may be Iraq-around the clock at the White House, out in the hitherlands, people are actually worried about other things like -- oh, say their jobs, their retirement, their kid's education. So we're talking politics with the Georgia Republican Chairman Ralph Reed and Democratic Strategist Steve McMahon.

NOVAK: Steve McMahon, there's been an attempt by Democrats to nationalize this election, have the same issues in every district -- not the war, I guarantee. So people like my colleague Paul and James have been abusing the president every night. And, let me show you the results of this -- all this abuse. I guess you've been abusing him too. How Bush is handling his job as president. Approve 67 percent, disapprove 28 percent. This dog won't hunt, will it?

MCMAHON: Well, it seems to be hunting a little better than these numbers suggest.

NOVAK: That's the CNN-USA -- we paid for that here.

MCMAHON: That's a great poll. I trust it implicitly.

There was a number from the "CBS-New York Times" poll that Paul didn't mention. And that is 69 percent of Americans -- including I think about 65 percent of independents and over 50 percent of Republicans -- think the president is spending too much time on the war and not enough on the economy. They were asked that question, do you think he should he spend more time on the economy? So, in spite of these numbers -- which are pretty good -- but they're top-line surface numbers.

NOVAK: You are a sophisticated consultant. You know what push polling is?

MCMAHON: That's not a push poll.

NOVAK: Do you think he's spending too much time on the war? Yes, I guess he is.

MCMAHON: Beneath the surface...

BEGALA: Push polling is not that bad, its a devious technique that Lee Atwater used to used to try pretend it was a poll to spread dirty information about people. But here's a real poll from CNN-"USA Today."

Ralph Reed -- they asked about economic conditions today. Twenty-six percent say they're excellent or good. Seventy-three percent say fair or poor. What do they want the candidates to talk about? Well the "New York Times" asked them. Seventy percent talk about the economy. Seventeen percent, talk about Iraq. You guys are on the wrong side of the issue, aren't you Mr. Reed?

REED: Well, no, I mean we're talking about all those issues out there.

BEGALA: Are you?

REED: Absolutely.

BEGALA: Please do. Go ahead.

REED: Let's talk about the fact that the Republican House passed a solid Pension Reform Bill in April and the Democrat Senate -- which Tom Daschle runs -- can't get it out. Let's talk about the fact that the Democrat-controlled Senate hasn't passed a budget for first time in 26 years. Let's talk about the fact the president has asked them to do things, for example, in the area of terrorism insurance. Do you know that there are 300,000 construction workers that are without jobs today because construction projects are held up because Tom Daschle won't pass a terrorism insurance bill because he's beholding to the trial lawyers.

BEGALA: So the Republican position is...

REED: 300,000 jobs, Paul.

BEGALA: We've lost 2 million jobs since George Bush became president. We've lost $4.5 trillion in investments in the market. One point million people have lost their health insurance and the Republican answer is: Bail out big insurance companies?

REED: No, I mentioned three critical economic points. It involves fiscal discipline, it involves the markets knowing what the budget is going to be. You may not know about that, but people who are actually out there, do.

BEGALA: And I'm sure Georgia Republican party chairman is an expert on fiscal policy. NOVAK: Let me -- you know what I don't really understand is that the -- once again, the Democrats are appealing to the whiners, the complainers, the losers in the society, the people who don't do well.

BEGALA: The losers?

NOVAK: Aren't those the people like the people moaning in the audience, who -- aren't those the people who vote Democratic anyway? I mean those are not the swing voters, the people who want a little helping hand from the government?

MCMAHON: We'll take everyone of them, every single one of them. And you know what, we're going to get a lot of them. And the reason we are, and the reason we are is because -- you know, I'm reminded a little bit of the dog chasing the car. You better have a pretty good idea of what you're going to do when you catch it. The president has wanted this quick consideration of his Iraq authorization in Congress, and he's going to get it and he's going to get his vote this year.

And suddenly he's not going to Iraq anymore, he's going to have to talk about the economy, economic security, social security, retirement security. Those are things he doesn't want to talk about.

The fact -- has anybody here made any money in their 401-k in the last two years?

NOVAK: No, I make it in my stock account. I don't need to have this 401-k doing it for me, see. I want to ask you this question. One of the hottest races in the country, South Dakota, we have talked about it before, John Thune and Tim Johnson.

They have been -- they just have been even for months.

No -- it's nip and tuck, a lot of factors going on there. Where is your great campaign about denouncing the economy? If the economy was so lousy, why is that race staying even?

MCMAHON: Well, because John Thune is a strong candidate. It's the same reason that in Arkansas, Senator Hutchinson is 10 points behind Mark Prior. It's because Mark Prior is a good candidate.

NOVAK: It has nothing to do with those issues.

MCMAHON: No, no. It has something to do with the makeup of the state and what the base vote is for either party. It's the reason Max Cleland, frankly, is in a close race in Georgia. It's not because Max Cleland did anything wrong, there are too many Republicans there, Bob. There are too many Republicans.

BEGALA: One of the issues that Iraq has overshadowed is corporate irresponsibility. Are you concerned, your own -- were a consultant for the Enron corporation, the dirtiest folks around. Are you concerned that particularly religious conservatives who value moral values are going to be put off by the Republican's close tie, their state party chairman in Georgia, was an employee -- a consultant for Enron. Is that going to hurt Republicans in the election? REED: No, not at all. Because the -- Because No. 1, they're focused on the candidates whose names are on the ballot. No. 2, they know that our candidates and our president took the lead in passing and signing into law responsible corporate governance bill.

And I tell you, Steve is talking about, you know, the dog catching the car. I'm not so sure the economy is a panacea for the Democrats. ABC did a poll and found 65 percent believe that business cycles, and not the president, caused the economic problem.

NOVAK: That's going to be the last word. I know they have confidence in you in Georgia, very much.

Steve, thank you very much.

MCMAHON: He's getting the last word.

NOVAK: Next on "Fireback," one of our viewers suggests a perfect way to chase Saddam Hussein out of Iraq.

But it may be an inconvenience to Paul Begala.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Now, it's "Fireback" time. First from Brian Rinaldi of Whitewater, Wisconsin: "Mr. Novak, why do you insist on trying to prove that Bill Clinton is the 'kiss of death' to a campaign. The truth is George Bush has been the 'kiss of death' to my 401(k), my job and my financial stability."

Brian, you're making my point. You're a whining, losing Democrat.

BEGALA: All right. No comment. Bob Jones of Woodstock, New York writes: "Send Begala and Carville to Iraq. Hussein would die of frustration trying to get a word in edgewise."

Hey, I'm ready to serve my country, Mr. Jones.

NOVAK: I'll buy that. John of Frederick, Maryland says: "Wow, it only took Paul one week to blame the sniper shootings on guns and Republicans rather than the criminals committing this travesty."

John, you've got that right. He would blame his cold and sniffles on the Republican party.

BEGALA: No, in point of fact, this is a serious issue and I'm not trying to blame the Republicans. Somebody has to do something about this registration system. And it is true that our Republicans oppose it.

Eric Shoemacher of New York writes, "I'm not sure which is more frightening. The possible NUCLEAR threat posed by Iraq, or our president repeatedly using the word NUCULAR on national television in a prepared speech." Now, Mr. Shoemacher, we checked the tape. And for those of you who didn't see the tape, here is, ladies and gentleman, the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The regime in Iraq would likely have possessed a nucular weapons. To enrich uranium for nucular weapons. To pass nucular technology. To developing a nucular weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Nobody is perfect, Paul. First question from the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, my name is Bill (ph) Crowds (ph). I'm from La Canada (ph), California.

NOVAK: La Canada (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

NOVAK: A few Republicans out there, yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot. And I'm a loyal Democrat. And I want to know...

BEGALA: God bless you, Bill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know why my party seems so leaderless?

NOVAK: Because they have gotten under the throes of the teachers, the trial lawyers, the labor leaders, the environmentalists, and the pro abortionists. And so, they don't have leaders.

BEGALA: No. Because they passed the 22nd Amendment. Bill Clinton should still be in his third term if they didn't have that tactic.

We only have a little bit of time, so go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name is Lisa (ph) Wishman (ph), and I'm from Grenville, South Carolina.

My question is for Mr. Novak. Could you please explain your outright opposition to registering guns? We register cars and nobody comes and confiscates them.

NOVAK: Who said I was for registering cars?

BEGALA: He's consistent, Lisa, you got to give him that.

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

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

"CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins right now.

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Caught If Tracking System Was In Place; Some Claim Bush Politicizing Iraq Issue>

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