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CNN CROSSFIRE

Bush Meets With Press, Outlines Agenda; Gephardt Steps Aside as House Minority Leader

Aired November 7, 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 tonight...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge the members of both political parties to come together to get things done for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: ... the president declares victory nicely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I appreciate all the advice I'm getting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNER: But are the Democrats declaring war on each other?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not here just to be a permanent minority party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Plus, he won't be Speaker Gephardt or even Minority Leader Gephardt. Can he ever be President Gephardt?

Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

From the George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Today, W. meets the press and outlines his agenda, sort of. Also, Dick Gephardt steps aside as the House minority leader. So who, besides Carville and me, is going to lead the Democrats back from the political wilderness? We will ask a couple of congressmen that. But first, it's our turn to lead you through the best darn political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

At the aforementioned news conference today, our president said his top priorities are job creation and homeland security. On the jobs front, he called for a bailout of big insurance companies, many of whom lost a pile in the stock market. Of course he has no similar plan to bail out working people who have lost their jobs and whose unemployment and health benefits are running out.

He also called for making the Bush tax cuts for the rich permanent. They are set to expire in 2011. So of course any benefit from making them permanent will not be felt until 2011. Dr. W.'s amazing economic elixir: take two corporate bailouts and call me in ten years.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Now I know you're not an economics guy, Paul.

BEGALA: I am. I'm the author of a soon to be best seller.

CARLSON: Well you'll add this to your book then perhaps. If you want insurance, you have to go to insurance companies. Companies want insurance against terror attacks. It would be helpful if they could get it. It would probably help the economy a little bit even.

BEGALA: So why a bailout? Why do I have to subsidize big insurance companies? I'd rather subsidize...

CARLSON: Because trial lawyers want to sue for negligence and damage...

BEGALA: When corporations are negligent and they do damage.

CARLSON: That's a whole show we need to do very soon.

Dick Gephardt has ended one feudal quest, only to march bravely but sadly off on another. Gephardt informed colleagues today he won't seek re-election to the job of House minority leader. "I'm looking forward to the freedom to speak for myself and talk about my vision for America's future." In other words, he's going to run for president.

In some ways, it was a poignant moment. In a world in which few things are certain, you can be certain of at least one: Dick Gephardt will never live in the White House. As for those who will become the next minority leader, Democrats face the choice of liberal Texan Martin Frost, and even more liberal, Nancy Pelosi of California, the Streisand candidate.

For Democrats, all of this spells disaster. For viewers of CROSSFIRE, it guarantees months of hilarious, if not wholesome, entertainment. I can't wait. This is excellent. It's like Christmas.

BEGALA: I worked for Dick Gephardt, oh, 12, 14 years ago when he ran for president in '88. I made him what he is today, embittered and broke. No, he's a great guy, he's my former boss. I wish him well. And if he wants to run for president, it starts right here, man. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) White House starts right here at GW on the CROSSFIRE set, right gang? So please, Dick, come join us on CROSSFIRE. We'd love to have you.

One of the more interestings aspects of the GOP gloat tour has been this, the White House straight faced asserts that Republicans who won, won because they waged positive campaigns. Oh? In Georgia they questioned the courage of Max Cleland, who had enough courage to volunteer for the Army, serve in Vietnam and lose both his legs and an arm in a grenade blast. His opponent never finished the Boy Scouts.

And in Texas, the Bushes ran an ad linking Tony Sanchez to the torture and murder of a DEA agent. Of course a Reagan Justice Department official came to Sanchez' defense, and the Austin (ph) American statesman said, "It gives sleaze a bad name." Yes, sleaze has a bad name. It also has a new name: Bush.

CARLSON: I have to say one thing...

BEGALA: Shame on him.

CARLSON: ... the one thing the Republicans never did that the Democrats did do for -- by the fourth cycle in a row, by my count, is play the race card. And that's something Democrats ought to be ashamed of. They did it in Maryland, they did it in other places in this country, and it was wrong.

BEGALA: That's nonsense. They did not.

CARLSON: No, that's actually true.

BEGALA: We'll have a show on that.

CARLSON: The 2004 presidential campaign is barely a day old and already a rift has opened between Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party's Chairman, and Al Sharpton, its leading candidate for the White House. At a press conference yesterday, Sharpton blasted McAuliffe for failing to help Carl McCall, the party's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) candidate for governor of New York state.

Chuck went on to charge the Democratic Party is weak, ideologically mushy and, worst of all, unsupportive of black candidates. Quote, "If the party would do this to McCall," Sharpton said, "Democrats running in 2004 are not about to wait around for them to do it to us."

Terry McAuliffe, terrified of alienating the sole remaining leader in his party reacted with horror and contrition. At DNC headquarters in Washington, he responded with the following statement: Yes, sir. I'm sorry sir. It won't happen again, sir.

BEGALA: See, this is the reason that you love to promote Sharpton. He can't even win a Democratic...

CARLSON: Because he's a viable voice for your party. BEGALA: And that is because he can't even win a Democratic primary in the most Democratic city in America? No.

CARLSON: You're beating up on your leader?

BEGALA: It is because the true leader of the Republican Party, Jerry Fallwell, is somebody who's giving direct orders to Bush, and you don't want that discussed.

CARLSON: You know, if he were giving direct orders to Bush, like Barbra Streisand gives the Democrats, I would mock him. I'd attack the Republican Party for taking his orders.

BEGALA: Who, Fallwell?

CARLSON: I would never defend that in a million years.

BEGALA: Fallwell is running the thing, man. Of course he is.

Well, in sports news today, the University of Michigan announced it is disqualifying its own basketball team from this year's post season play. The school will also return $450,000 and remove victory banners from its arena as penance for cheating that took place in the 1990s. Apparently, a booster was funneling money to players on those great Michigan Wolverene (ph) basketball teams in '90s. And the university, in order to restore a sense of integrity to its program, is refusing to accept the glory for the victories that were tainted by the cheating.

Moved by Michigan sense of honor, President Bush announced today he was returning Florida's 25 electoral votes to Al Gore. He'll be vacating the White House to president Gore tomorrow.

CARLSON: You know, Paul, you're not helping Al Gore with his psychological...

BEGALA: President Gore.

CARLSON: ... recovery reinforcing this idea that he's still president. It's like going a mental institution saying, you know, you really are Napoleon, yes you are.

BEGALA: He really did win.

CARLSON: It's so sad. Gosh its sad.

Speaking of sad, there's more bad news for Democrats tonight. This time from Berkeley, California, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a Democratic effort to criminalize their favorite breakfast drink. An initiative on Tuesday's ballot would have made it illegal to sell anything but organic coffee. Sellers of politically incorrect beans would have faced six months in jail.

Democratic leaders are said to be devastated by the loss, just as they're crushed by reports that Steven Spielberg, one of the party's most important intellectuals, may leave the U.S. Spielberg is in communist Cuba this week and indications are he might stay there. Declaring that he feels, quote, "at home" in the totalitarian dictatorship, Spielberg spent Monday evening chatting with international terrorism sponsor, Fidel Castro.

Spielberg later described his conversation with Fidel as, quote, "the eight most important hours of my life." Keep in mind we are not making any of this up.

BEGALA: Keep in mind that Steven Spielberg was recently honored by the Pentagon for the work he did.

CARLSON: Fidel!

BEGALA: Excuse me. Sorry for talking while you're interrupting here, Tucker. He made this wonderful patriotic movie, "Saving Private Ryan." He was honored by the Defense Department. He is a great American patriot, unlike some of those Republican corporate people who aren't sucking up to Fidel Castro so they can make money off of him.

CARLSON: If you hear me defend those, I hope I disappear in a puff of smoke.

BEGALA: I hope that never happens, because I like having you around.

CARLSON: Eight hours with Fidel. That's revolting.

BEGALA: Of course it is no secret that our president doesn't like press conferences very much. And yet I, for one, as a neutral observer, not a Bush fan, but I thought he was confident and relaxed today. He's better than I have seen him in a long time. I guess gambling big and winning big will do that for you.

CNN's Senior White House Correspondent John King was there in person covering the president's press conference for us. He joins us now. Hello, Mr. King. What happened at the White House today?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Begala, Mr. Carlson, good day to both of you. Good evening.

The president, as you said, Paul, was quite confident and quite relaxed. He will not claim a mandate. He says it was the candidates who won and the agenda they ran on. But that is part of the political strategy here at the White House.

Mr. Bush knows full well those candidates, especially in the close races, Jim Talent in Missouri, Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, ran on his agenda, ran on what the president said should be the urgent priorities, the new department of homeland security, terrorism insurance. He would describe it not as you just described it, Paul, the president.

And then the president, of course, preparing ambitious agenda for the next Congress, including making his tax cut permanent, other economic incentives, the energy bill that was stalled in the Democratic Senate this time. So Mr. Bush thinks he does not need to brag, if you will. He was quite humble today in discussing his political agenda.

But you can be clear from what he says he wants the Congress to do and do quickly that he believes he does, in fact, have a mandate out of this election. He just doesn't think it's good politics to talk that way.

CARLSON: And John, what about his number two, Dick Cheney? What's he going to be doing in a couple years? Any sense?

KING: Well, he'll be on the ticket with Bush. The president himself, Tucker, would not even commit to running for reelection. He said he's still digesting the 2002 results. But if the president said if he decides to run for reelection, and you can be certain that he will, that he wants Dick Cheney to be his running mate. He says the vice president is doing a fabulous job.

You'll remember a month or so ago Mr. Cheney said he would be happy to run again. Now already some conspiracy theorists here in Washington saying, you know, Mr. Cheney has already said he has no presidential ambitions. That he would never run himself.

Some of the conspiracy theorists thinking Bush-Cheney again in 2004. That way if Mr. Bush runs for reelection, there's not a vice president in the White House to run in 2008. Something perhaps George W. Bush trying to leave an open Republican field for the newly reelected Jeb Bush.

CARLSON: When a thousand conspiracies bloom.

BEGALA: I would love that we could beat three Bushes in 12 years. That would be -- god.

CARLSON: Good luck, Paul. John King, thanks very much.

BEGALA: Thank you, Mr. King.

CARLSON: We have a little bit of breaking political news to report. Alabama Governor Democrat Don Siegelman, behind in the votes slightly, is asking for a recount in that tightly contested race still not settled. And we'll of course bring you updates as we get them here on CROSSFIRE.

When we come back, President Bush has mapped out the agenda. Will Congress obey? In a moment we'll ask two members of Congress how the world is different now that the Republicans control the entire federal government.

And later, it's brutal, it's bloody, it's also a ton of fun to watch. Stay with us for day two of the Democratic Party 2000, the circular firing squad continues. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

Magnanimous in victory, President Bush today congratulated all the winners of Tuesday's election, then he went down his list of priorities, starting with the department of homeland security. One presumes Congress, including the lame duck session that begins next week, will be much more inclined to cooperate.

Two of its members join us now. New Jersey's Bob Menendez, who is Chairman of the Democratic Caucus. He is in our New York bureau. With us here in Washington is Virginia Republican Tom Davis, Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

BEGALA: Congressman Menendez, thank you for joining us there. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) vice chairman now, you may now well for chairman. Thank you for joining us.

And Congressman Davis, the Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, congratulations on a phenomenal success. It was a wonderful job you and your committee did.

REP. TOM DAVIS, CHAIRMAN, NRCC: Thank you very much. And we appreciate you sharing your enthusiasm with us.

BEGALA: Well, I'm not enthusiastic about it, but I'm honest. And I got to give you credit where it's due.

Well, our president today, as Tucker mentioned, outlined his agenda. I want to show you President Bush telling us what -- in a near recession, practically a recession -- what is plan is to create jobs. Let me play this. It won't be on that big screen, but listen to it. Here's our president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If people are really interested in job creation, they ought to join me and my call to make the tax cuts permanent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, the tax cuts being made permanent, we could argue or not they would do any good. But inarguably, they wouldn't help at all until 2011. So we're supposed to just sit on our butts for nine years and wait for more Bush tax cuts? That's his jobs plan?

DAVIS: Well, actually, that's only part of it. As you know, he put a very strong initiative through the House, the Senate watered it down, and we never got our total job package. Part of that would have been moving up the tax cuts so the people could -- real people could benefit from that today. Part of that was an energy program.

BEGALA: He didn't say that today, but that will be the House Republican position?

DAVIS: That's going to be part -- everything has died in the Senate, as you know. We had an energy bill that we passed through the House, an ambitious energy bill that's died over there. We had a trade bill that's been late getting implemented that I think will help that will actually create jobs and help consumers as well. All of that will help bring the economy back. As well as tort (ph) reform, which is very, very important. Because so much money is going to trial lawyers that could be used for much more productive purposes.

CARLSON: And it's morally wrong and

BEGALA: Like Dennis Kozlowski's $6,000 shower curtain.

CARLSON: Mr. Menendez, Congressman Martin Frost of Texas had a press conference today. He's running, of course, to replace Mr. Gephardt. He doesn't speak for all Democrats, but he speaks for a lot. He's smart politically. I want you to listen to one thing he said. This is telling, I think.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MARTIN FROST (D), TEXAS: If we try and make defense, foreign policy, the overriding issue, we will lose because the country is with the president on that issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: Now, I know a lot of Democrats feel exactly the way Mr. Frost does. Does this mean Democrats aren't going to have their own positions on foreign policy and home land defense, but just go along with the president because they're afraid?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: No, absolutely not. I think Democrats are going to have a position on a wide range of issues. Certainly on defense, which we strongly support, and overwhelmingly the Democratic Caucus has supported and supported the president post 9/11 in many initiatives, giving him unprecedented powers and resources. But by the same token, raising very serious questions on defense, on our role in the world.

And certainly, as we seek domestic security, we also believe that security needs to be broadened so that people can have a good paying job, so that we can turn this economy around. So that seniors don't have to choose between putting food on the table, paying their rent and having access to life-saving, life-enhancing drugs,.

So that when you make an investment in this country, you're doing it in a corporation who's being honest and transparent in their records and getting real investor protection and making sure we don't privatize Social Security. So it's domestic security as well as international security as well. And that security we define in a much broader way.

BEGALA: Let me come to another issue as well, which President Bush mentioned today, his judicial nominations. The Democratic Senate had stalled them. They complained that many of them were too ideological. The Republican Senate presumably will pass them easily.

Gary Bauer, one of the great leaders of the Fallwell (UNINTELLIGIBLE), said this to "USA Today" yesterday. Le me read it to you. "Republican candidates are saying, send me to Washington so I can get George Bush's judges confirmed." And everyone knows they're talking about abortion and gay rights. That's the Republican social agenda, isn't it? Attack on abortion and gay rights?

DAVIS: Not at all. And, of course, the House doesn't even get into those confirmations, speaking from a House perspective. We're focused on the domestic agenda, but all supporting the president on creating his department of homeland security.

BEGALA: Will you advance legislation that eliminates abortion rights or gay rights in the House?

DAVIS: We don't do anything, I think, that will touch the gay rights issue one way or the other in the House. We traditionally haven't. On the abortion rights, well I think it's been pretty consistent, Democrats and Republicans.

I mean David Bonior (ph), Dick Gephardt, a lot of these voted for the partial birth abortion.

BEGALA: David Bonior (ph) is pro-life, I know that. But I'm just curious...

DAVIS: A lot of Democrats have done that. Mexico City accords, we get 50 to 60 Democrats supporting on that. I don't think you'll see any radical advances. But these have been pretty mainstream.

CARLSON: Congressman Menendez, I asked you a minute ago about foreign policy and you were off on Social Security before I could stop you there. I want to know what you think about Iraq. It seems to me we could be at war in a month or two. And it's not enough at that point to raise questions, as you put it, or simply to support the president. You have to advance a position on it. And what is the Democratic position on going to war with Iraq these days?

MENENDEZ: Well I don't think that on questions of war or peace or life and death that we take party positions. Members are free to make decisions for themselves as it respects their constituency and their own views. And that's what we allow them to do in this context.

Now, I didn't vote for that resolution because I think in the last ten years that I have served on the International Relations Committee, I don't think the president made a compelling case. And I really question the timing of it.

North Korea was kept from the Congress. It should have been known before that vote took place. The CIA said the day before the vote that bin Laden and al Qaeda was the greatest national security threat to this country. Other Democrats had a different view.

Those are questions of war and peace, and I don't think they're questions of party position. They're a question of what you believe the U.S. role in the world should be and how we should approach that role including with our allies.

CARLSON: But Congressman, the party platforms contain pretty specific guides to what the party believes about the world and America's place in it. Of course you take up life or death issues every week in the Congress of the United States. Do you really think it's too much to ask that the Democrats come up with some sort of collective position on the war in Iraq since it's impending?

MENENDEZ: We have a collective position on supporting our men and women in the armed services of the United States. We support them strongly. We support the defense of the United States.

We gave the president unprecedented powers and resources after September 11. We continue to support him in the war on terrorism. But that doesn't mean that you have to have a homogeneous lockstep approach to what our role in the world is.

The fact of the matter is we have a collective approach. It is to defend the national interest of the United States. It is to defend the national security interest of the United States. But the president and Republicans don't have a monopoly on how we achieve that role by themselves. So that's the nature of a diverse party.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, let me come back to something Congressman Menendez said a moment ago. He criticized the administration for not briefing the Congress about the fact that North Korea, in axis of evil, equally evil regime to Saddam Hussein, in fact has a nuclear weapon today before he asked you to vote on authority to go to war to prevent Saddam Hussein from obtaining one. Should he have briefed your body, the Congress, before that vote?

DAVIS: Well, not necessarily. It's...

BEGALA: Congress didn't have a right to know?

DAVIS: It's apples and oranges. I mean I think it's important for -- well Saddam Hussein's regime is completely different. Because, first of all, they had signed agreements. The fact that we didn't go into Baghdad ten years ago was because he was going to allow no-fly zones and promised to do certain things.

We had U.N. resolution support and he hasn't supported it.

BEGALA: Of course, the North Koreans had an agreement with America not to develop a nuclear weapon and they violated that agreement. Right. So why are we going to go to war...

DAVIS: But the circumstances were different. North Korea is a serious situation that we will, I think, take up at the appropriate time. What intrigues me about Bob Menendez and where the Democrats are is, basically, they don't stand for anything today. If you look at them, they're divided on almost every issue.

MENENDEZ: Tom, that's absolutely not true.

DAVIS: Are they for or against this on Iraq? Are they for or against homeland security? MENENDEZ: Tom, that's absolutely not true. I mean, listen, for you as a member of the House to believe that you shouldn't have known about North Korea before a vote is incredible. How could any member of the House say honestly that as they are trying to decide how the armed forces of the United States will be deployed, how many different fronts should we fight on?

What's our preemption doctrine and how broadly is that going to take us across the world at the same time in multilateral fights, where the United States may act unilaterally in multilateral fights? Those are crucial decisions to be made in the national interest and national security of the United States.

And it was reprehensible that the administration did not tell the members of Congress the information they had on North Korea at a time which we were being asked to give the president incredible powers in that resolution to deploy. We should have known all of the challenges.

DAVIS: It wouldn't have changed his mind this time...

BEGALA: But should you have been briefed beforehand, yes or no?

DAVIS: I think we should be briefed as soon as possible.

BEGALA: OK. I'm going to have to ask you to hold that thought. I'm sorry. We're about to go to break right now.

When we come back, I'm going to ask one of our guests about a very special interest group that spent $50 million supporting his party in the election. What kind of return on investment will they get from the Republican Congress?

And then later, a long-time Democratic leader on the Hill steps aside. Maybe stepping up to the presidential plate. We'll discuss that.

And our quote of the day, an obscure congressman, not like these famous big shots on our show, takes on one of the world's most famous entertainers. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush held a long awaited news conference today to discuss his plans for the future. So we're discussing his plans for the future as well, with New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, he's in our New York bureau, and Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis, the Chairman of the successful National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

CARLSON: Congressman Menendez, I want to read you a quote from one of my favorite senators, Zell Miller. Probably the only Democrat left in the southeastern United States, I think. This is his take on what happened on Tuesday. "Something is very wrong when a so-called national party" -- that would be your party -"cannot send its national chairman or its titular head or its Senate leader into a third of this country because they would do more harm than good by being there." In other words, the problem with the Democrats is not a tactical problem, it's not a strategy problem. There's something intrinsically repulsive about the Democratic Party and its leaders to a lot of Americans. That's the point he's making.

MENENDEZ: Look, Tucker, the reality is that after these elections there was no water shed event. The country is closely divided. The Congress is closely divided. Fifty-two percent of all Americans now live in a state where there is a Democratic governor.

We won some major states that are battleground states for the presidential election. The American public is deeply divided. And so I don't agree with that suggestion. The fact of the matter is that we have some work to do and we will get on to doing with it.

But if you look on the House races, you know, President Bush won the 2000 election and 230 of the 435 House seats. So you have a very popular president with incredible amounts of money raised from special interests, including the pharmaceutical industry, and you have a set of circumstances where he used Air Force One in his persona more than you and I drive our car.

So, I mean, that's the reality that we have here. For all the criticism of Clinton, President Bush outdid him on raising money, outdid him on traveling in the country and changed the topic of these domestic issues, which are kitchen table issues in this country across American families at a time in which he raises the specter of war with Iraq.

So those are some of the factors that are at play here. But this country is still, as the Congress is, deeply divided after these elections. It's not a water shed event here.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, let me ask you, speaking of the pharmaceutical industry. They did spend $50 million, they wrote a piece of legislation themselves, House Republicans passed it for them. Now they spent $50 million more to support you and your party.

And this is what they told -- other sources, at least -- told "The New York Times" what their agenda is. Let me read it to you. "Raising Medicare payments, discouraging medical malpractice lawsuits and avoiding caps on drug prices are some of the issues that hospitals, doctors and pharmaceutical companies said they would now press for that Republican control both Houses of Congress."

Let me ask you. Are you going to stand up to people that gave you $50 million, or are you going to support the pharmaceutical lobbies version of prescription drugs?

DAVIS: Well we stood up to -- the president stood up to generic drugs and issued his own edict on that when Congress failed to act. I think we'll do what's right. BEGALA: How about on this legislation, are you going to support the pharmaceuticals' version or are you going to support the other version?

DAVIS: We support a version that is workable, that doesn't drive private plans out of agreement. And the pharmaceuticals don't want any bill. But they don't want a bill that's going to put price caps.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: But with respect, sir, they wrote a bill, and they asked you to pass it, and you did. That's fine. That's legitimate. It's America. They're perfectly entitled to lobby you.

DAVIS: That's Democratic rhetoric. It was a good bill, it was similar to a bill we passed two years before, before that kind of involvement. Let me say this about President Bush. At least he raised his money domestically, unlike President Clinton, and we didn't auction off the Lincoln Bedroom.

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: You auctioned off pictures on Air Force One.

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: You took advantage of September 11 in ways that I don't think were acceptable. You auctioned off pictures on Air Force One.

The bottom line is -- don't give us that. The point is -- is that for all of the criticisms that you leveled against Bill Clinton, this president used unlimited -- we paid for this Air Force One traveling around the country, and certainly the pharmaceutical industry did not give you $50 million so that you could write a bill that is adverse to their interests...

DAVIS: The bottom line is...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: They don't want to do anything -- they don't want to do anything -- absolutely not. Listen, you guys had $160 million in the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee towards our 80. That's two to one, as far as I see, so you got your money from a lot more special interests.

CARLSON: We are out of time. We obviously touched a nerve with Clinton. We'll have to do a whole show on that some time.

Thank you Mr. Menendez, Mr. Davis thank you.

DAVIS: Thank you very much, Tucker.

CARLSON: We appreciate it. Speaking of raw nerves, get ready for a blood bath. In a few minutes, Paul Begala tries to influence a Democratic choice for a new leader, and of course, you won't want to miss it, but next, our quote of the day. One hint, a key Democratic leader bursts into song, and boy can she sing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back. A quick reading of Tuesday's election results should make it obvious to anyone that America is not exactly crying out for a return to 1970s liberalism. Apparently, that's not as clear to members of the Democratic party. Just consider the possible replacements for House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt.

Florida Republican Congressman Mark Foley has, and his assessment is our quote of the day. Quote -- "Martin Frost and Nancy Pelosi are so liberal, they make Larry Flynt look like Charlton Heston. What's next, Barbra Streisand as DNC chairman?"

Which, of course, is not as farfetched as it sounds, since she practically already is. She's been practicing the party's theme song for years -- here it is.

(MUSIC)

CARLSON: Now, she is just -- isn't she is perfect Democrat, truly?

BEGALA: I am sure, if reached for comment, she would say Mark who? This is how obscure congressmen try to get on shows like CROSSFIRE. Well done, Mr. Foley.

CARLSON: He is on our show all the time.

BEGALA: What does it say of the Republicans in California that -- you know what their great hope is?

CARLSON: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

BEGALA: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

CARLSON: Yes, that's like...

BEGALA: Arnold Schwarzenegger, a steroid pumped-up failed movie actor who shot 500 cops in his first movie.

CARLSON: But at least Arnold Schwarzenegger...

BEGALA: I would take Barbra Streisand over Arnold Schwarzenegger in a heart beat. How about you guys? Who's for Barbra?

CARLSON: First of all, he has shot 500 people in all his movies combined.

BEGALA: Most of them cops in one I saw, "Terminator."

CARLSON: And yes, and yes -- that's slightly embarrassing, be A, he'll be running for election and, B, he's not doing anything yet. Barbra Streisand is running your party as we speak.

BEGALA: Who would have thought of the two of them, it's only Schwarzenegger who has posed in a thong bikini.

CARLSON: Well, he looks better than she does.

BEGALA: He is an odd guy. Bring him on. Let's go, Arnold.

Coming up, a loyal Democrat fires back exactly what he thinks about Mr. Carlson and the election results.

But next, a couple of party pros will be here, and they'll explain how my Democrats are going to come back from the political wilderness. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're happily ensconced here at the Georgetown -- George Washington University in Downtown Washington, D.C. Oh! Better than Georgetown, George Washington.

The Democratic Party is feeling a little sad these days, but never fear, they're about to pick new leaders. The only question, which one is the most out of step with the American public?

Stepping into the crossfire tonight Democratic consultant Vic Kamber and Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. How are you?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It's true. Both of you brilliant Democratic strategists. I'm sorry that we've had to seat you next to Tucker. He has very good table manners...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

BEGALA: ... his ideology is not exactly where you are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is embarrassing, I'll tell you.

BEGALA: Our audience should know.

CARLSON: Let me get closer.

BEGALA: Mr. Mellman, I spoke this afternoon to a senior strategist for the president of the United States, a Republican strategist. I was asking him about their strategy and he said two things.

He said, first, you have to acknowledge the Democrats played right into our hands. And his comment to me was, and I'm quoting him, "Please just disagree with us on something."

Why did we not disagree more with President Bush?

MARK MELLMAN, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Oh, I think we did disagree with President Bush on a whole host of issues. Congressman Menendez was just talking about prescription drugs. There's a real difference on that issue. The Republican bill gives all the power to HMOs. They get to decide whether to offer coverage, how much to charge and gives power to the HMOs to overrule your doctor's prescription. That's a big difference between Democrats and Republicans on that issue, on a whole host of other issues.

BEGALA: It is. But I think it's a smaller issue though than the tax cut and the war in Iraq. And many strategists, and know you'll defend your own position, said we ought not take Bush on on taxes because he'll say we're tax increasers, which is false, and we shouldn't take him on on the war in Iraq. When we surrender fiscal policy, surrender foreign policy, there ain't a lot to argue about, is there?

MELLMAN: Well I think there is a lot to argue about honestly, Paul. But look. If you look at what happened in this election, I think it's honestly hard to argue that by disagreeing with the president on the war in Iraq or disagreeing with the president on tax cuts, we would have won Georgia or we would have Missouri or taken Texas on those issues. I just think that's very hard to believe.

VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: But we lost them anyway, Mark. The bottom line is we lost them. And we lost them without a point of view. We lost them without a position. We are a party that was adrift on this issue. I think Democrat...

MELLMAN: There were people who won taking those position as well. People like Tim Johnson.

KAMBER: But there were Democratic activists that were hoping for this base to speak out on those issues. And I think -- and we didn't. We were silent.

Now part of the silence I understand because we don't have a leader. We don't have one person. A party that has a president -- we don't have one, we have 20, 30 leaders, Tucker, I'm sorry to say. Unlike what you'd like to think.

CARLSON: Vic, I want to revel in and roll around in the agony of Tuesday night. We'll get to that in just one minute.

Nut I'm so interested in your comment about the leader. The party's going to choose a leader. Because really...

KAMBER: And when they do, they'll have a platform and they'll have a position...

CARLSON: They will.

KAMBER: ... on a series on things.

CARLSON: They -- absolutely. Absolutely right. And that's why I was so fascinated to hear tonight, about an hour ago, Dick Gephardt the outgoing minority leader, was on "The Newshour" on PBS. Here's what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DICK GEPHARDT (D-MO), MINORITY LEADER: I decided yesterday that I needed to change. That I needed to change what I was doing. Change is good, it's positive, it's energizing.

And the caucus needed change. They needed new leadership to bring new slants and new views on issues. I think it's going to be good for everybody and I'm excited about what I'm doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON: There could not be a clearer statement. And as a long- time strategist, you hear it, he's running for president. And that is bad news for your party because you know as well as I...

KAMBER: Why?

CARLSON: Because he's not going to be president.

KAMBER: Tucker, I think the beauty -- the beauty of the Democratic party is that we have a number of candidates who are going to espouse issues. Whether it be Al Gore, John Kerry, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, Howard Dennis -- Howard Dean. You name it. There's going to be a number.

CARLSON: Is Al Gore going to run?

KAMBER: I think he is, I hope he is. And I think the people -- I think the people, the Democratic Party will nominate somebody. In the same way your party did.

Who was the spokesman when Bill Clinton was president? Gary Bauer? Alan Keyes? I mean you had 20 people running for president of the United States. No one party position...

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

KAMBER: Newt Gingrich. Trent Lott. Bob Livingston. Who was the leader of the Republicans...

CARLSON: Well actually there are a lot of potential and viable leaders. The Democratic Party has Al Sharpton and Al Gore. It's a pretty thin...

BEGALA: Let me ask Mark, though, about the argument we were having a moment ago about different strategists in different places and let me offer one vision. And that was Tom Harkin in Iowa, a state that Al Gore carried by 1,000 votes, classic tossup state. And Paul Wellstone in Minnesota, a state that Gore only carried by about 4,000. Very, very competitive states.

Those two went out and they fought Bush, particularly on the economic issues. Wellstone fought him on Iraq, as well. Wellstone was cruising to a victory, was actually six points ahead, when his plane crashed. And he would have, I think, continued to rise. Harkin won handily against a very high quality Republican. Contrast that with good people like Jean Carnahan and Max Cleland who could not agree with Bush more and still got beat because one obscure vote on a bureaucratic reorganization of the homeland security bill became major issue because all the real issues they had already given up on.

MELLMAN: I just don't think they've given up on the real issues. The reality is, different people different members of Congress have different views on different issues. That's democracy, that's real life, that's America.

But the reality is we got to step back a half a step and look at what happened Tuesday night because Tucker wants to revel in this miasma of Tuesday night.

CARLSON: Yes, yes.

MELLMAN: But the reality is what happened? More top jobs shifted to Democratic hands than to Republican hands. That's the simple fact. When you look at all those governors out there, more top jobs Senate and governor jobs shifted to Democratic hands than into Republican hands. We lost the Senate. That's a terrible thing, institutionally it's a big problem. It's bad for the country. Bad for my kids, bad for our families. But the reality is the country's still evenly divided.

CARLSON: It's bad for your kids? That's kind of heavy, isn't it, Mark?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: His kids are in line for Supreme Court nominations. The problem is they're not mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging thugs and so they're off Bush's list. That's what he was meaning.

In a minute we're going to continue this conversation with these guys. We're going to ask whether arguing about who is liberal and who's more moderate is really what my Democratic Party needs.

Then we'll have our "Fireback" segment and I'll make up for an omission one of our viewers insists he heard in last night's show. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. You know, unlike Newt Gingrich who quite the Congress entirely, went off to pout when his party lost the midterm election in 1998 to President Clinton's Democrats, Democratic leader Dick Gephardt today said he will stay in the House but will give someone else an opportunity to lead his party in the Congress.

We're looking at the future of the Democratic Party with pollster Mark Mellman and fellow Democratic consultant Victor Kamber. Guys, thanks for staying with us. CARLSON: Vic, here's my concern, my real concern about real Democrats.

KAMBER: I know you have a real concern about Democrats.

CARLSON: I do. Actually, it's not good for one party to be completely lame. I mean you really ought to have some kind of..,

KAMBER: That's why I understand that.

CARLSON: I'm actually being sort of serious. They're not going to learn anything from this election. Terry McAuliffe, to the "New York Times" says -- yesterday says, "I could clearly make the argument that George Bush should have done a lot better last night."

The day after the election...

KAMBER: You don't disagree? You don't agree with that?

CARLSON: This is an excuse. This is a time for the Democratic Party to figure out why it's so disliked by voters, and instead they are making up excuses.

KAMBER: Wait, wait, wait. I am the first to agree with where you were that they won Tuesday, but what dislike by the voters? It was a 50/50 election. You got 51, we got 49, but it was a 50/50...

CARLSON: It was a new president's first midterm. They should have done well and they didn't.

BEGALA: But historically, new presidents win...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, seriously, historically, new presidents win, and so they have some mandate or coattails. This president got fewer votes than his opponent, and so it was very...

(CROSSTALK)

KAMBER: Politics-wise, Republicans won Tuesday. I'm not even where Mark is. I'd like to take more credit. But the fact is, the country doesn't dislike Democrats or Democratic ideas. Right now, the president was extremely popular. I think what McAuliffe said was absolutely correct. If you look at the money the Republicans raised, if you look at the time he put out there, if you look at the effort he put, why didn't you win more? You're talking about one or two Senates seats, you are talking about four or five House seats.

CARLSON: It's never happened before, a president has never taken back the Senate in a midterm.

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) let me ask you about the next race now. We'll move forward. Congressman Gephardt is going to step down as leader today. The race to succeed him features Martin Frost and Nancy Pelosi. Martin Frost -- they're both good CROSSFIRE guests, we love them both, we take no positions on this show...

MELLMAN: Neither do I.

BEGALA: But Mark Frost today -- no, I mean within the Democratic Party I don't -- Martin Frost today held a press conference. Let me play a piece of tape of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FROST: Now our party must make a choice, must decide whether we want to speak to the broad center of the country, or whether we want to speak to only a narrow spectrum of the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Seven times in his press conference today, Martin Frost, who I love, said the word "liberal," suggesting that the fight for the future of the party is between liberals and moderates. Now, you and I had a deep disagreement about the future of the party, but it's strategic. Why are our punitive leaders arguing, pretending that this is a left-right debate, which can only hurt the party, when in truth, it is simply a strategic disagreement?

MELLMAN: Well, I really think it is a left-right debate for the public. Those terms just don't mean anything to most people anymore.

Tucker, yes, that liberal, conservative means a lot to Tucker. But to most real voters out there, those words don't mean much of anything. The reality is, it is the policies that people care about, and it is the results that people care about. People want prescription drug coverage. They want Social Security, Medicare strengthened. They want education for their kids. They want the things that Democrats want to work to provide, and all Democrats are committed to those issues.

CARLSON: One superquick -- Vic Kamber, who's going to win that race, Frost or Pelosi?

KAMBER: Nancy Pelosi. She is right on the issues.

CARLSON: That is great news. I am so glad. You all were great to come. Two Democrats Mark Mellman, Vic Kamber, thank you both very much.

Next in "Fireback," a life-long Democrat has a confession to make, and chances are, it won't be the only one. Stay tuned. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to "Fireback." A lot of dispirited yet honest Democrats out there. We're hearing from a number of them. First up, Elaine.

BEGALA: Whoa. CARLSON: Wow. Right from the '60s. Elaine from Brevard, North Carolina writes, "A lifelong Democrat, I voted straight Republican Tuesday. You need to realize that the far-left is destroying this party. I'll take the soulless corporations and the religious right over people who condemn personal property and stop much-needed roads. I'll vote Republican as long as they persist."

I agree, Elaine. It's the Democrat attack on roads that bothers me.

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: It does. I'm serious. They're pro HOV lane. That is enough for me right there.

BEGALA: You know what? Phil Graham, a Republican senator who used to be a Democrat was criticized why he wasn't a life long Republican. He said, You're not a lifelong nothing until you die.

That's a wise observation from now former Senator Graham.

"Paul made history last night, I think, in that he did not mention Bill Clinton one time. He did, however, help establish why an ass is the symbol of the Democratic Party."

Well, Victor Tremblay in Amherst, New Hampshire, let me set the record straight for you. Bill Clinton's economic policies made your ass a whole lot richer. So don't be complaining about him, bud. The language...

CARLSON: OK. John D. Sekela of Windbur, Pennsylvania writes, "Tucker, please run for political office. I predict you would lose 11 million to zero. Even someone as arrogant as you wouldn't vote for yourself."

Well, I'll tell you something, John D. Sekela, I would vote for myself.

BEGALA: I would vote for Tucker.

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER: I got a vote in the D.C. mayor's race, I will have you know -- me and Captain Kirk.

BEGALA: Actually, I think that was Bob Novak's vote.

Edward Sweet of Springfield, Illinois writes, "I want to thank you," -- he is writing, as if they didn't know, for the pop culture picture of the night on election night, he writes, "I want to thank you for giving me new wallpaper for my computer. I have the now famous Carville in a garbage can on my screen for all to see. Maybe, just maybe the reign of the Clintonistas is finally over."

So says Edward Sweet. Well, Edward, I'm glad you like the picture of James. There he is right there in all of his -- I love that. You know -- he got a lot of grief...

CARLSON: Look at the trash bag.

BEGALA: Trash bag is working. He got a lot of grief for that, actually, from a lot of Democrats, which I think is very silly. My message for people who didn't like it, get a life or get a trash can of your own.

CARLSON: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Jeremy Lillake (ph) from Avel (ph) University, and my question is, now that the Republicans control the entire government, will they look to blame Democratic governors when things go wrong?

BEGALA: No, Barbra Streisand. They'll blame Democratic singers, actresses and directors for everything that goes wrong.

CARLSON: Well, if the Democrats keep defending Barbra Streisand, they won't have to blame anyone. No, they have no one to blame, so the stakes are higher.

BEGALA: That's a very good point, and we'll see. What they'll do is argue cloture, the Democrats stopped them on procedure, and it won't work. I tried this in the White House. Yes sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Gary Gillis (ph) from Atlanta, Georgia. And Paul, you not withstanding, will Democrats use the results of this election as a wakeup call to actually grow a spine and actually stand for something?

BEGALA: Well, we'll see. We had two really smart Democratic strategists disagreeing about this. But yes, I think so, I hope so. I have lots of faith in this party. We can reinvent ourselves. Reagan beat us like a bad piece of meat, but it created the climate that created Bill Clinton, who was able to beat the Republicans two in a row, so yes.

CARLSON: However -- but here's your problem. In order to stand for something, you have to believe in something, and Democrats don't, apart from the exercise of power. I think that's true.

BEGALA: Republicans believe they'll do whatever their contributors tell them to do.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson, join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT begins right now. See you tomorrow.

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Aside as House Minority Leader>

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