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CNN CROSSFIRE

Senate Passes Homeland Security Bill; Al Gore May be Considering Return to Politics

Aired November 19, 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: the Senate makes history. And a big new bureaucracy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have fought this fight. We need to get this done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: It's a sad, sad day for the legislative process. It is a sad day for homeland security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: President Bush wins again. Are you feeling any safer?

Not only is he back, he's everywhere.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is not doing well. I am very concerned about it. I was the first one laid off a year ago January 20.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Is Al Gore interested in a government job again?

He's dropped more than 60 pounds thanks to surgery on his stomach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: Because your stomach is so much smaller, you feel full much more quickly. So you don't eat nearly as much.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ANNOUNCER: We'll talk to the incredible shrinking congressman.

Ahead on CROSSFIRE.

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

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Listen carefully. The sound you hear is champagne corks popping on K Street, Washington's lobbyist row, as special interests celebrate their successful hijacking of the homeland security bill. With the final vote now just a formality, don't you feel a whole lot more secure already?

And just how secure are the folks in the White House feeling now that Al Gore's making his presence known? But first, a source of great comfort, amusement, and I hope security, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Senators are preparing to vote on a Republican version of the homeland security bill. Final approval is expected this hour. And, of course, we'll keep you posted as developments develop, as they often do. The bill contains special provisions protecting pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, who just happens to be a major GOP campaign contributor from legal liability sought by parents of kids with autism who believe that their children's autism was caused by a Lilly drug.

You feel safer? It also says corporations which are grossly negligent in manufacturing security products cannot be held liable for that negligence in court, effectively putting them above the law. How about now? You feel safer?

The bill also guts the Wellstone amendment, the late senator's effort to make sure that corporate Benedict Arnolds who flee the country to avoid paying taxes cannot still receive taxpayer-funded government contracts. I know I feel safer now.

One victorious Republican defended the tactic, saying, if we can't use homeland security to reward our big donors and protect dirt bag corporations, what's the point of being a Republican? I just made that up. They didn't actually say that. That's just my overactive imagination. But they would have.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: I have never seen anybody more inthralled with trial lawyers than the Democratic Party. There's no evidence autism is caused by vaccinations; there's no evidence that people who made the magnatometers are responsible for September 11.

Protecting the trial lawyers at any cost? It's actually bad politics. I don't think it's good for the country, either.

BEGALA: First off, if there's no evidence, then why does Lilly have to lobby for an exemption that keeps them immune from the law.

CARLSON: You mean juries may be unreasonable, Paul? This is news to you?

BEGALA: See hi trust people, you don't. I mean I think that if Lilly...

CARLSON: I actually don't trust a lot of juries, to be honest with you.

BEGALA: That's the difference between the two of us.

CARLSON: Maybe it is.

After their historic drubbing two weeks ago, Democrats faced a simple choice, move left or move right. Within days, they picked the former, choosing liberal Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, head of the latte caucus as house minority leader, and making plans to elevate Hillary Clinton of New York into Senate leadership. The decisions pleased Democrats in Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Madison, but were they wise politically?

The answer comes from Louisiana, site of the season's last remaining Senate race. Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu faces a runoff next month and, tellingly, she is running as a conservative. Senator Landrieu's latest political ad brags about her support of the Bush tax cut. Today she voted with the White House and against her own party on the homeland security bill.

She has not said a single kind word about Barbra Streisand, at least not in public. Democrats should take notice, but thankfully they probably won't.

BEGALA: Well Mary Landrieu is going to run her own race in Louisiana. Louisiana is its own place. But I that that this is an enormous mistake if Democrats think that they didn't learn from the last election that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Bush on fiscal policy and foreign policy disaster, then they will never learn.

CARLSON: I agree with you. Run left. I'm all for it. I think it's a great...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: No, no. Totally, Barbra Streisand. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I'm for it.

BEGALA: Excuse me for talking while you're interrupting.

CARLSON: No, it's true.

BEGALA: It's called being tough. Something my party could learn. Bush is, I'll give him credit. He's tough. But he's just tough on behalf of all the scum bag corporations that are ripping us off.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has compared his boss, George W. Bush, to Winston Churchill, perhaps the most eloquent statesman of the 20th century. And now I see why. In his new book, Bob Woodward captures President Bush's eloquence perfectly.

Here's what Churchill -- I mean Bush, I get them confused -- said to Woodward about his job. And I'm quoting verbatim. I know sometimes I make these things up. This, I didn't have to. Here's what our president said.

"I guess it's just I've tried to think a step ahead. A president must do that. And the other job that I have is to ask questions to -- some of them maybe questions that aren't worth asking. But nevertheless, I'm not afraid to ask them. That's one of the things that I'm very comfortable with. There is no such thing by a dumb question by me or anybody else on our team."

Whatever it is junior meant to say, Churchill himself couldn't have misstated it better. My hat's off to him. We have a genius among us and he is our president.

CARLSON: He has a problem with this language we call English. But you know what, being glib doesn't mean anything, as we prove every night.

BEGALA: Not to George W. Bush, that's for sure.

CARLSON: No it doesn't. That's true.

There's a lot going on in the news these days, beginning with the war, terrorism and economic anxiety. But that has not stopped "The New York Times" from weighing in on the one issue that affects the future of this nation perhaps more than any other. The membership policies at a golf course in Georgia.

In an editorial yesterday, the "Times" demanded that Augusta National Golf Club admit at least one very rich female as soon as possible. Until then, said the "Times," the club should be boycotted, quote, "especially by Tiger Woods."

Why especially Tiger Woods? Presumably because he is back and therefore morally obliged to support the position of "The New York Times" editorial page. But Tiger Woods will not be bullied. In an interview today, he explained that he is not an activist or a politician or even a socially conscious Hollywood celebrity, singer- songwriter or actress.

He is a golfer. He plays golf. He will continue to do that at Augusta National. This means he can never run for president as a Democrat, otherwise it is good news.

BEGALA: You know if other people like "The New York Times" and other African-Americans haven't pressured Augusta National, he would not be able to play there, either.

CARLSON: He is a golfer. Leave him alone.

BEGALA: He is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to the people who paved the road for him for civil rights. We all owe a debt to them.

CARLSON: That's a horrible thing to say. He doesn't owe you anything.

BEGALA: No. You know, those weenies, who are too scared to play golf with girls down at Augusta are pathetic.

Well, in happier news, the meltdown at Fox News continued today. Fox President Roger Ailes actually compared his work for Richard Nixon and George Bush senior to murder. Only a psychiatrist could tell you why. He also attacked two serious credible journalists, Bob Woodward and Tim Russert.

And then this. Ailes told "The Washington Post's" reliable source column that if Bill Clinton were still president he'd probably have offered him the same advice he offered George W. Bush after September 11. In fact, when Clinton was president, the group Fairness and Accuracy In Media reports that Ailes went on the "Imus In The Morning" radio show and endorsed the theory that Vince Foster's suicide was a murder.

"Now I don't have any evidence," Ailes said. "These people are very good at hiding or destroying evidence." Well, we always knew Fox was unfair. We just had no idea until today they were so truly, deeply unbalanced.

CARLSON: Makes me feel a little better about Ted Turner. Just a tiny bit.

Another victory tonight for the nation's powerful cockfighting lobby. A federal judge has delayed enforcement of the cockfighting ban passed two weeks ago by voters in Oklahoma. Judge Willard Driesle (ph) ruled that not only is the ban potentially unconstitutional, the founders apparently loved a good brawl between roosters, but it is also an assault on the state's economy. Cockfighting, it turns out, is one of Oklahoma's largest industries, bringing in an estimated $100 million a year.

There are also important cultural implications. According to the spokesman at the industry, cockfighting is Oklahoma's most popular indigenous sport, after tobacco juice spitting, cow clod kicking and stop sign shooting. As of tonight, it continues unhindered.

BEGALA: Hey, those aren't Oklahoma sports. I'm from Texas. We did all of that. I grew up chewing tobacco and shooting stop signs and cow clod kicking. Shame on Oklahoma for stealing our sports.

CARLSON: Next in the CROSSFIRE, Department of Homeland Security is inevitable. But does it follow that any of us will be more secure? Later, Republicans rejoice, Al Gore is back and he's very much the same.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We're whiling away the moments before the U.S. Senate votes on a Department of Homeland Security. The result has been a foregone conclusion since this morning's 52 to 47 vote against a democratic alternative. All of which begs the question, will we be safer once this huge new bureaucracy takes shape?

In the CROSSFIRE tonight from Capitol Hill are Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

BEGALA: Senators, both, thank you very much. I know this is a busy time; you're finishing up all your Senate business. It's particularly gracious of you all to join us. Senator Hutchison, from my beloved home state of Texas, let me begin with you.

There were several special interest provisions that became very controversial. One benefited the Eli Lilly Corporation. Let me read to you what "The New York Times" had to say about that today. "No one has taken responsibility for inserting a provision that would limit the legal liability from manufacturers of thimerosal, a mercury-based additive to vaccines that some people believe is linked to autism in children. Its principal beneficiary would be the pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly, which developed the drug.

"Eli Lilly contributed more than $1.5 million to congressional candidates in the last cycle. And Mitch Daniels, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, was formerly its president of North American operations."

First, just let me just ask you, who put this special interest provision in? And second, why did you support it?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: Well, I think we are in a terrible situation in our country. We're down to three or four manufacturers of vaccines for our country. They have been run out by the trial lawyers and the plaintiffs' lawsuits. So we have a provision that allows for people to go to a government agency and get compensation if they think they have been damaged or harmed by a government-recommended vaccine.

And if you are not satisfied with the sort of arbitration, then you can go on and go to court. We think that is very fair. And that is the provision that would have been kept in our bill.

CARLSON: Now Senator Stabenow, Democrats are saying this is somehow an injustice done to the parents of children with autism. But last week, "The New England Journal Of Medicine" released a study of half a million children that showed conclusively that there is no link between vaccines and autism. Do you have other information that they don't?

SEN. DEBBIE STABENOW (D), MICHIGAN: Well, first of all, this is not about information that you and I may have, it's about the parents of children with autism and whether or not they have a right to have their day in court. This amendment is politics at its worst.

We all support homeland security together. It ought to be about being American, not Democrat or Republican. But the house snuck in this provision that, unfortunately, was fought when we tried to eliminate this this morning. It was fought by Republican colleagues to take it out. It will eliminate the liability for Eli Lilly, and we've already established their political connections. They will not have to stand in court, facing the parents of children with autism and explain why mercury in their vaccine additive did not affect their children with autism. It's left to be decided. But, certainly it's something that is put in, in the dead of night. And the United States Congress should not interfere with the process of finding fact and making sure that our children and families are protected.

BEGALA: In fact, Senator Hutchison, this is not simply a partisan issue. Let me read to you a comment from a congressman from Indiana, the home state of Eli Lilly. Congressman Dan Burton, there's no more committed conservative in the Republican Party. He said this -- let me read from the AP quoting him.

"Democrats drew support from at least one Republican, Representative Dan Burton of Indiana, Chairman of the House Government Reform Committee. Burton was unaware for the provision when he voted for the measure Wednesday and wants it removed, his spokesman said."

Here's Burton's comment. "Instead of passing legislation to take away the rights of families with vaccined injured children, we should be passing legislation to try to help them." Isn't Dan Burton right? If we were going to do this, shouldn't we have had a series of hearings and figure out the best way to help these kids?

HUTCHISON: Well, first of all, most people, including myself, didn't know that Eli Lilly made that particular type of vaccine, or the additive to that vaccine. But what Congress was trying to do is have a big picture view of the need for vaccine in our country. If the government is going to recommend vaccinations, then I think we have got to realize that this is important for the health of our children and our people. So what we've done is we've said OK, if this does harm you, you have a remedy.

In fact, $1.7 billion has been given to parents of people who believe that their children were damaged by vaccinations. And I think that is a fair approach. And then you still do have the ability to sue.

So, I think what we're truing to do is make sure that we have companies in our country that will make these huge amounts of vaccines so that if we do have a terrorist bio attack we will have the capability to fight it. And I think we have got to take steps to limit liability in places where we can to make sure that we still have health care in our country.

CARLSON: Senator Stabenow, Democrats are fighting pretty openly for the right of the families of those killed on September 11 to sue the makers of metal detectors in the airports through which the terrorists passed. A, do you think that's even a valid concept? You ought to be able to sue the magnetometer manufacturers? And, B, do you think that's an important right to be able to file a frivolous lawsuit like that?

STABENOW: Well, Tucker, first let me say that none of these debates are about lawsuits. It's about holding companies accountable for the products that they make, the services that they provide. And if I might go back to something that my good friend Kay said, the issue with thimerosal from Eli Lilly has nothing to do with vaccines that deal with bioterrorism. That's just absolutely a bogus argument.

That vaccine, that vaccine additive isn't even manufactured anymore. There's grave concerns and a big debate about mercury and whether or not it affects autism in children. This is simply a special interest provision to protect a very large contributor with high connections in the White House from having to be held accountable.

Now what if that happens in airport security? What if that happens with other kinds of products?

CARLSON: With all due respect, you say it's not about lawsuits and you say the Republicans are doing this because they receive money from these industries. The Democratic Party receives more money I think from trial lawyers than from any other single group of people who, of course, make a lot of money chasing ambulances. Don't you think their motivation in giving money to your party is so you will try to defeat any kind of tort reform like this? Don't you think?

STABENOW: This is about creating a homeland security bill where we have more flexibility, the ability to share information, so that Americans are safer. All of this extraneous debate is getting in the way of doing what the American people expect us to do. The amendments that were added in the House I believe are outrageous.

We've tried to eliminate those. The whole question of accountability and liability are items that should be left to the courts. And that's something supported by Dan Burton, as you mentioned. The head of government reform committee, Republicans in the House. Supported by others that have raised concerns.

And frankly, we need to get beyond all of this and focus on the real guts of the issue, which is how do we make sure we're safer. How do we make sure that issues like Kay has worked on, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, on airport security, come to fruition. How do we make sure that, in fact, we are working together to be safer than we are today.

BEGALA: Well, Senator Hutchison -- I'm sorry to cut you off Senator Stabenow, but I know you all have to go to a vote and we're about to run out of time. But let me ask Senator Hutchison this one last thing.

One of the things I like best about you, we disagree about every issue, but you're a loyal Texas Longhorn, like I am. We both went to the University of Texas. How in the world does this bill contain a special pork provision for our arch rivals, the Texas Aggies who get the first pork out of homeland security, when the Aggies are so dumb they couldn't pull rain water out of a boot if you wrote the instructions on the heel. How did you let that get through?

HUTCHISON: I'm sure that's going over well in your Georgetown audience. BEGALA: It's G.W.

HUTCHISON: Excuse me, George Washington. But seriously, I think it should be opened up to more universities to be able to compete. That was not put in the Senate, and I think the agreement that was made was that there would be more opportunities for more universities. Texas A&M does some wonderful research, but so do many other universities throughout our country. That process will be open.

And I just want to mention back on our other point, it would be ridiculous to let people sue the magnetometer corporations, when absolutely the things that went through on 9/11 were legal. So that would be a specious lawsuit from the beginning. We have got to have some common sense in the equation here if we are going to secure our homeland for our people.

BEGALA: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, my fellow Longhorn, thank you for joining us. Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, thank you very much, as well. I know you've got to go vote. Thank you, senators.

Coming up, the White House attack machine is full bore on Al Gore. Why? Well, maybe they remember Gore got more votes than W. two years ago and maybe they fear he'll get more votes two years from now as well. And we'll put Al Gore's return to the public and political stage in the CROSSFIRE in a minute.

And then, a congressman who has decided to go public about a controversial decision that can profoundly alter his profile. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

We're coming to you, as we do every night, from the George Washington University in downtown Washington, D.C., where hundreds of people have nothing better to do and we're damn glad to have them here.

President Bush and his fellow Republicans did very well in the midterm elections a couple weeks ago. So it just has to drive them crazy every time they turn on the television set and see nothing but Al Gore. He's on the morning talk shows, he's on the evening news, he's on the prime time news mags, plus a book tour, and soon, very soon, here on CROSSFIRE as well. Clearly the highlight of his media tour.

To put the victor of the 2000 elections re-emergence into the CROSSFIRE, we're joined by Democratic Consultant Kiki McLean, former Gore aide, and Republican Bill McCollum, a former congressman from the great state of Florida.

CARLSON: Kiki, I have to say I am thrilled. Thrilled by the prospect of Al Gore running again for a lot of different reasons. I think a lot of people, a lot of conservatives are excited. Democrats not that excited.

I want to show you a poll of members of the Democratic National Committee. Here's what is said. The question is: Should Al Gore run again in 2004? Yes, 35 percent. No, 48 percent. They're really upset at the prospect he's going to lose again.

KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: No, I think what the question asked is, would you vote for Al Gore again if he ran for president. And I think we know that more people voted for him last time. And there's a good chance that will happen next time.

So you know what? It's a good thing when a leader of either party comes out and talks about issues. And right now it's killing you because, you know what, Tucker? He's out there talking about things you care about like our families on this book tour.

CARLSON: Actually, I must say -- and I'm not just saying this Kiki -- I'm delighted at the idea that he'll blow up again during a campaign. But again, I want to bring you back to a Democrat's -- because it's not about me, it's about Democrats.

MCLEAN: Tucker, you know it is about you. Because without Al Gore out there for you it's hard for you to have something to talk about. I'm looking for the Tucker agenda. We haven't found one yet.

CARLSON: Now here's the agenda of Dick Harpootlian, the South Carolina democratic chair, a very smart guy. He's a little mad at Al Gore. Here's what he says.

"We've got a primary here in 15 months and I haven't heard from him. Not a peep, not a whisper, not a letter, not a note." That ingrate. A lot of Democrats feel that way.

MCLEAN: Well, you know what? It was a difficult transition for a lot of people. It was very emotional what happened. I know. It happened to me, too.

And I think that what Al Gore did was he made a decision about what he needed to do for his family and a revery respectful, graceful, statesman-like decision to step out of the way and let George Bush have a chance to bring the country together. In the last year, Al Gore has stepped out talking about the issues he cares about. And you're hearing a lot more from him now on those issues.

What you're frustrated by is the fact that Al Gore can even command this attention, Tucker. It absolutely undoes you that the good-looking guy may get invited back to the prom.

CARLSON: A car crash demands attention.

BEGALA: Congressman McCollum, if I were putting the title on Al Gore's book, it wouldn't have been this wonderful book that he and Tipper have written about, family. It would have been "I Told You so." He was right. He was right.

We now have two years to look back on the things he said in the campaign. He predicted everything. He's prescient.

He said, for example -- let me read to you what Al Gore said during the campaign. On October 27, 2000 he told us this: "Governor Bush wants to squander the surplus on a tax plan that benefits the very wealthy. One of the biggest differences between my plan and my opponent's plan is on the fundamental issue of fiscal discipline. Governor Bush's plan gambles with our prosperity by bringing back the big deficits of the '80s."

Now Governor Bush responded by saying no, no, my plan won't increase the deficits. We've had a $400 billion turnaround in the deficit from a huge surplus to a huge deficit. Gore was right, wasn't he?

BILL MCCOLLUM, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, you've just given us the reason why Republicans are relishing the thought of debate again and a replay of the Gore-Bush race.

BEGALA: Because he's always right?

MCCOLLUM: No, no, because on the issue of the economy, for example, he's still in the same old treadmill the Democrats have been in for years.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: You had a lot of surpluses over a period of time when we didn't have a war on terrorism, we didn't have a reason to build up our military like we've had to do. And any time you have a war, Kiki, you're going to have that kind of thing.

MCLEAN: Are we at war already? Have we spent it already?

MCCOLLUM: We're at war on terrorism and we're in a position now where the economy has gone slow, principally because that's what the Clinton administration left us with. Now, at this point, we're in the process of needing to rebuild that.

And the way you do that -- and Republicans know this -- is by tax cuts, especially those that create jobs. And jobs create more tax revenue...

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: Bob, with all due respect, I am more than willing to listen to any economic opportunity plan you guys are willing to present as soon as you take responsibility that the economy is in a downturn and it's happening on your watch. When you do that, I'll be happy to listen to the plans you've got. You've got to start by taking responsibility for it.

And if Republicans want to be about responsibility, they've got to take responsibility.

MCCOLLUM: Well, first of all, we're not in a downturn, we're in a period of sluggish growth. But we are in a growth. So that's number one.

MCLEAN: You know what, my daddy told me when no was no it was no.

MCCOLLUM: And number two, your fellow, Al Gore, is off taking a more liberal slant now than he did even in the presidential campaign. He is now openly embracing, going back to the old Clinton single payer universal health care plan, which was a huge mistake in doing that.

MCLEAN: Al Gore is a man who believes in learning about issues. And Al Gore is somebody who believes you've got to take information in, you've got to keep your mind bright, you've got to keep learning things. And you know what, he doesn't just stick to something because it was written on a piece of paper somewhere and never bother to learn anything more.

CARLSON: That's...

(CROSSTALK)

MCLEAN: That is not, Tucker. It's not.

MCCOLLUM: But you know what he's doing now, Kiki, is he's embracing the idea of the United States government being the single insurer for every American. That's wrong, really wrong.

MCLEAN: What he's embraced is that Americans don't have health care they can depend on, that they can look to. And he knows that that's the number one problem and it's got to be addressed.

BEGALA: It is an important issue, health insurance. The number of people without health insurance has gone up since President Bush has taken office. Vice President Gore has said that now, very different from the Clinton health plan, now he'd like a Medicare-style system for the whole country, what we have on Medicare for everybody.

He may be right, he may be wrong, but at least he has a plan. Where's the Republican plan for universal health coverage?

MCCOLLUM: Well, I happen to head a Healthy Florida Foundation (ph), which is working on that right now with a major project coming along. I know that Secretary Thompson is unearthing something that's going to be out shortly on the issue.

But what we're not going to do is advocate Medicare for everybody, because frankly, if anybody thinks Medicare is the answer, based on all of the problems we've got trying to fund it right now and the problems they...

BEGALA: Whew -- if you were still holding off (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Florida, you wouldn't be trashing Medicare like that, Congressman. You're still in office.

MCCOLLUM: Well, the problems we've got is that...

BEGALA: It's the best health system in the country. MCCOLLUM: ... the federal government -- of course, I support Medicare...

BEGALA: Medicare?

MCCOLLUM: ... I support Medicare but...

BEGALA: OK.

MCCOLLUM: ... the problem with extending Medicare to everybody in America is that it increases the funding difficulties. It puts the pressure on that purpose for which it was intended. And it means the government will be even more incompetent in being able to do that.

CARLSON: But here's the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MCLEAN: But here's the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everybody.

Al Gore is willing to talk about the issue, I haven't heard George W. Bush talking about the issue.

CARLSON: Before you go on into George W. Bush, let's pull this back to Al Gore.

MCLEAN: You don't want to talk about your president?

CARLSON: I do, but I want more to talk about Al Gore. That's the topic.

MCLEAN: You always have. That's true...

CARLSON: Now I noticed that Al Gore, people say he's changed a little bit. I've noticed a change. I didn't understand it until I read Time Magazine this week, a long interview with Mr. Gore in there with Karen Tumeltee (ph).

Here's the explanation. I'm quoting now. "Both Tipper and I have meditated for quite a while."

Tell me more about that.

MCLEAN: It means he actually stops to think about what happened...

CARLSON: No, no, truly.

MCLEAN: ... and think about what he says.

BEGALA: Oh...

CARLSON: Is it -- I know, but you worked for him.

MCLEAN: It is, Tucker?

CARLSON: But no, no, hold on. This is a fair question. Is it Lotus position, incense... MCLEAN: Tucker, Tucker...

CARLSON: What does he mean by that?

MCLEAN: Do you ever say a prayer? Do you ever give a thought to something you did during the day?

CARLSON: I do. I'm talking about meditation, and that's distinct from prayer. He said, "We meditate, we pray."

MCLEAN: I am willing to bet...

CARLSON: What's the meditation?

MCLEAN: I'm willing to bet, if you asked your pastor, if you asked a rabbi, if you asked a priest...

CARLSON: We're not talking about a pastor. We're talking about Al Gore.

MCLEAN: They'll tell you that prayer and contemplation is meditation.

CARLSON: It is Lotus position?

BEGALA: Nobody has ever accused George W. Bush of thoughtful meditation...

MCLEAN: Meditate -- that's true.

BEGALA: ... he's not a guy give a lot of deep thought, Congressman McCollum. Is this really where the Republicans want to go, to trash a guy for his spiritual practices?

MCCOLLUM: No, we're not trashing Al Gore on that basis. The type of thing we're concerned about...

MCLEAN: Tucker was.

CARLSON: I'm asking you a question.

MCCOLLUM: Well, the type of thing that we're concerned about is his position that he took recently that said we can't fight two wars at one time, the war on terrorism and the war against Iraq. The reality is, we have to. And we've even had people in your administration, Paul, who said that he's absolutely wrong on that point. And the reality is...

BEGALA: This is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) debate about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) positions, right?

MCCOLLUM: Well, it's a thoughtful debate, but the reality is he's taking a position, which I think gets him in harm's later, and it's the wrong position.

And the reality is... BEGALA: Well, I tend to agree with him. I think he's right (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

MCCOLLUM: They're probably going to nominate him. I think the odds are that they will, if hie runs, he chooses to do that, Kiki. But I don't think that he beats George W. Bush.

MCLEAN: But you know, you know what, here's the...

BEGALA: That has to be the last word, I'm sorry. Congressman, former Congressman Bill McCollum, Republican strategist from Florida.

MCCOLLUM: My pleasure. Thank you.

BEGALA: Always good to have you.

Kiki McLean, my dear friend and pal, former Gore aide, thank you all, both. It was a fun debate. More to come, believe me.

This is not the last we've heard from Al Gore.

BEGALA: Coming up next, Cheney sends Bush abroad.

No, no, not a broad. He sends him overseas. Connie Chung will have an update on that and all of the latest news. Next the CNN "News Alert."

Later, you've heard of Body By Jake. Are you ready for body by Jerrold? Representative Jerrold Nadler will join us to discuss his meek and controversial approach to weight loss.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Coming up next in our next -- soon, rather, in our "Fireback" segment, one viewer takes offense at my teasing of the Junior League. I've not yet begun to tease. And then, Members of Congress make heavy weight decisions ever day. And we will talk to one congressman, who has taken a controversial approach to a very weighty problem.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: One of the most recognizable figures in Congress is New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, not just because he's intelligent, eloquent and willing to appear on CROSSFIRE, though he is all of those, but literally because of his figure. Last summer when he was tipping the scales at about 338 pounds, the 5' 4" congressman decided drastic measures were in order. He had surgery to reduce the size of his stomach.

Tonight, 60 plus pounds lighter, and still loosing, Congressman Nadler joins us from our New York bureau.

Welcome, Congressman.

(APPLAUSE)

NADLER: Thank you.

BEGALA: Congressman Nadler, good to see you. I don't mean that just in the perfunctory way. It's terrific to see you.

(APPLAUSE)

You're looking great. And I'm glad things have gone well on the surgery. But let me begin with a statistic that one out of 200 people who have this kind of surgery die from it. Why did you take such drastic steps?

NADLER: Well, I've been overweight my entire adult life, and I've tried everything I could. I've done dieting and Phen-Fen and liquid diets. And I went to Duke University, their weight loss clinic for a month about five years ago. And nothing worked. And you know, as you -- and the statistics are that being grossly overweight leads to all kinds of health problems.

And you know, I have a 17-year-old son. I want to see him grow up. I want to see grandchildren. I have a lot of things I still want to do in public life. And how many grossly overweight 80-year olds do you know?

So I just weighted the risks, and this seemed the better thing to do.

BEGALA: Good for you.

CARLSON: Congressman, we're seeing pictures of you on the screen, how you looked before. You look much better and much different. Congratulations.

But I wonder what message it sends to those viewers who are dieting. I mean, it sounds like you didn't think you had any option that no diet at all worked. Is that right?

NADLER: That's exactly right. You get to the point -- and this is true for many really overweight people -- where the statistics are that for very heavily overweight people, basically nothing except surgery will work to take off large amounts of weight and keep it off.

You can lose weight, but to keep it off is another question. Now when you're grossly overweight, the odds of loosing a lot of that weight and keeping it off without surgery are not very good.

BEGALA: Now Al Roker, the "Today" show weatherman has famously had the surgery of similar -- I guess the same surgery, -- recently. And he looks great too. But I was reading accounts of his surgery, and they said they reduced the size your stomach to about the size of an egg. I mean, what's dinner like now versus a few months ago? NADLER: Well, I had a slightly different type of surgery than he did. So mine is a little bigger.

But my dinner is exactly -- is similar to what I would have had before, except you eat less. And they tell you to eat the heavy protein first and then the vegetable and then the carbohydrate last, because they're worried you won't get enough protein.

But I generally eat more or less what I would have but less of it, much less of it.

CARLSON: Now Congressman, you mentioned protein versus carbohydrates. Congress has a lot to say about what the American people ought to be eating. And as you know, the USDA pyramid has carbs on the bottom. And the message to people who eat, which of course is everybody, is you ought to be eating a lot of carbohydrates relative to the amount of protein you eat.

Do you think that's the right message to send?

NADLER: Well, I'm not a doctor, and I'm not an expert. I don't know. But I did see in one of the newspapers today someone reported at some medical convention an experiment with a few thousand people in which they concluded that the Atkins approach seemed to be -- which was high fat, low carbohydrates may be superior.

But I'm not the person to ask that. Ask the medical people.

BEGALA: In fact I did see that. Now one caveat our audience should know is that that study was sponsored by the Atkins people as well. So I'm not exactly sure how much faith any of us should...

NADLER: I didn't know that.

BEGALA: ... put in that.

Another public policy question since you are a Member of Congress, and one of my favorites, I have to confess.

NADLER: Thank you.

BEGALA: You're a strong supporter of health insurance for all Americans. Now this is...

NADLER: Yes, indeed.

BEGALA: ... a procedure, I'm told, that costs $55,000. And those of us who are fortunate enough to have health insurance get it covered. What do we do about the 42 million Americans who don't have any health insurance and might need surgery like this?

NADLER: Well, I don't think it costs that much. It probably cost between $30,000 and $40,000.

Well, I think that the -- I think that health -- adequate health coverage, adequate health care is a right, not a privilege, and that everyone ought to have coverage. That's why I favor universal health care insurance. I always have.

And that's a major question for Congress and the administration. What are we going to do about people who are uninsured?

And you know, we have to come up with a solution to that. I mean, that's a major political problem. I personally think -- favor a single payer health plan. But there are other people who have other ideas.

But that is clear. People should not be able to have life saving surgery or other procedures because they have money or because they have health insurance, and other people who don't can't do that. That's just not acceptable, or shouldn't be, in the United States.

Now, Congressman, it seems to be one of the few groups you're still allowed to make fun of is fat people. It seems a shame to me. Wondering, were people cruel to you at the height of your weight?

NADLER: Oh, sure. Not just at the height, but most of my adult life there's always a small percentage of people who will be cruel. I can be campaigning and someone will say, "Why don't you have some self control? Why don't you get a hold of yourself before you ask us to trust you with anything?"

And there are other people, very nice people, who would come up and say, Gee, I think you're a terrific congressman. And I hope you're around for a long time, but I worry about you. You've got to lose weight because I want you around.

And that's well meaning, but also, you know -- and then of course there's always the four-year old in the elevator who says to his father, "Gee, he's very fat."

BEGALA: How about your energy level since the surgery? I mean, you clearly have dropped a lot of weight. I'm sure you're on the way to losing a whole lot more. Is your energy level up, or does the restricted intake of calories (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your energy?

NADLER: No, no, first of all I've always had a very high energy level. But I have I think even higher now. I feel much better. I feel more awake. I feel more eager to take long walks and do things.

And you know, it's been very good in every way.

CARLSON: So what is your -- what is your ideal weight? How slim are you going to get? And are you going to have to buy all new clothes?

NADLER: Well, you don't -- well, I'm probably going to have to buy all new clothes. You don't reach your ideal weight. These types of operations generally get you -- get you to lose between 60 and 80 percent of your excess weight. So you never get down to an ideal, but you're much less overweight than you were before.

BEGALA: Let me just kind of ask you the bottom line question. We've got viewers who are watching this. They may be in a similar situation of the one you were a few months ago.

Do you recommend this procedure to other people watching you right now?

NADLER: I recommend that people who are grossly overweight consult their physician and seriously consider it. There are serious risks, but there are also great advantages. And if you're over -- if you're over a certain mass index, which is a ratio of your weight to your height, the American Heart Association says this is the treatment of choice.

Because if you're really grossly overweight, you run all kinds of health risks, and you have to very cold-bloodily figure out, is that -- what's the greater risk? Is it one out of 200 chances of dying from the surgery? But it's probably greater than one out of 200 risks of dying early from all kinds of -- from heart disease or whatever if you don't if you're really grossly obese.

But you -- I would never recommend the surgery to anyone. I would recommend they seriously consider it. They consult a physician. They read up on the Internet about it, and they weigh the risks.

For a lot of people, it can be lifesaving. It can give us additional years. I think I'll probably be around longer. I'll be able to do more for the public. I'll be able to do more for my grandchildren -- I'll see them.

Whereas, if I didn't, I suspect I'll -- if I hadn't had the operation, I might not.

BEGALA: Congressman Jerry Nadler, from New York, facing this with the same clear-eyed courage and optimism as you always face our questions with. Please come back often...

NADLER: Thank you.

BEGALA: ... to CROSSFIRE. We love seeing you.

Thank you, Congressman.

NADLER: Thanks.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Still ahead our "Fireback" segment. One of our viewers has figured out why Tucker and the Republicans just can't leave Al Gore alone.

Straight ahead, "Our Quote of the Day." Here's your hint. This is a guy who's been having a little bit of a problem staying fair and balanced. We will let you decide when we report next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Now a follow-up on a segment we did on this show last night, we reported that Fox News Chief Roger Ailes had been caught by investigative reported Roger Woodward, sending secret political advice to the White House, something of course that actual journalists do not do.

The story has since been confirmed. Ailes does not deny the facts of Woodward's account. But that has not prevented him from attacking the character of the man who broke the story. Ailes' exercise in messenger assassination makes our quote of the day.

As he put it to the "Washington Post," quote, "Woodward got it all screwed up as usual. The reason he's not as rich as Tom Clancy as while he and Clancy both make stuff up, Clancy does his research first."

He is, I must say, among other things, smart, interesting. He is a genuinely mean, mean person.

BEGALA: I like that about him. I like meanness as you know. That's why I love you and Novak.

CARLSON: But why not just admit that you did something wrong, rather than attack the guy who reported it?

BEGALA: Well, I think what he's angry about is the content of the advice -- well, two things -- the content of the advice which was truly moronic. The audience should know this, the content of the advice was "We should attack back after 9/11. Oh, duh.

But second, that he couldn't get to Bush except through Carl Rove. This is a man who worked for Bush's father, who knows Bush for a dozen years or more. He had to go through an aide. That doesn't sound like a guy who's got a lot of juice to me.

CARLSON: How mad is the White House now at Roger Ailes? I mean, they will never take his call again.

BEGALA: In fact so mad, I think George W. Bush is coming on CROSSFIRE tomorrow -- I'm just kidding. No, he's not.

Well, still ahead, one of our viewers though has figured out the Democratic dream team to defeat Bush and Cheney. I predict Tucker Carlson will love this ticket.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE, where we reserve one part of every program for you to express yourselves. It's "Fireback," and here it is.

First up, Anthony Justice (ph) of Los Angeles writes, "If Al Gore is so easy to beat as some suggest, I would think the GOP would be foaming at the mouth for him to run and keep their mouths shut. But for some reasons, I get the impression they're a little afraid of stiff old Al due to their non-stop slamming of him."

Well, you're right Anthony. They are afraid of Al. Almost of everybody is afraid of Al Gore, in a way, but for different reasons.

BEGALA: Well, but they foam at the mouth all of the time. Anthony should know it's just a current, constant state...

CARLSON: You're more afraid of Al Gore running that I am.

BEGALA: ... of Republicans.

CARLSON: No, if he wants to run, I'm all for it. He should do what he thinks is best.

Doris Wilson of New York City ways, "Paul, you should be ashamed of yourself for obscene joke about the Junior League last night."

I told a joke -- I'll tell you in a minute.

"The Junior League has promoted positive social changes in communities across the country before your grandmother was born. Making fun of conscientious ladies is no way for a man to behave."

Doris Wilson, an excellent scolding. I will let you know that all I said was that Junior Leaguers from Texas would be willing to come to Washington stripe naked and spell out, bomb those Iraqi bastards on the South Lawn of the White House. Despite the cold, they were willing to be frigid for their country.

And I don't see what the problem was in talking about Junior Leagers.

CARLSON: You are underestimating the Junior League.

BEGALA: Keep those e-mails coming, ladies.

CARLSON: Alan Rokowski (ph) of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, a country north of here, writes, "The one Democrat who can beat Bush in 2004, Martin Sheen. Sheen's running mate would be Barbra Streisand."

Of course. That's probably true. Probably is much better than your current field. Why don't you take them up on it?

BEGALA: She would beast him, and Sheen is a better -- he plays a president on television than Bush anyway.

CARLSON: That he's an actor, Paul, it's not real, it's a fantasy.

BEGALA: You know, it's the best damn show on television. I wish the Bush press conferences were fantasy, but they're not.

Kelly Marsh Bloom (ph) in Kent, Washington, writes, "Perhaps someone should remind Paul Begala that Republicans, unlike Democrats, can chew gun and walk at the same time. Republican leadership can handle both bin Laden and Saddam Hussein."

Kelly, I hate to break it to you. Our president cannot even eat a pretzel and watch a football game at the same time. That's what happened to him. Don't tell me about walking and chewing gum, babe.

CARLSON: So that's your argument, an attack on snack food? Yes, that's a good one.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Paul, I'm George from Arlington, Texas. You've been mentioning your heritage a lot from Texas lately. Why? Are you trying to assimilate with President George W. Bush?

As a postscript, thank you for not identifying with Texas A&M University.

BEGALA: I'm a Texas Longhorn. Bush is Yaley. He went to Yale, which is not part of Texas. I grew up in Sugarland, Texas. Went to the University of Texas. I could not be more proud. And we're going to beat those Aggies. You watch, Thanksgiving Day, George.

Thanks for the comment, though.

CARLSON: Whatever an Aggie is though, good luck.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Greg Elder (ph). I'm from Frederick, Maryland. If Congressman Nadler believes in nationalizing health care, does that mean I have to pay for his corrective surgery?

CARLSON: Yes, and breast implants and Michael Jackson's facial reconstruction, and all kinds of things. It's a wonderful health plan. Sign on soon.

BEGALA: Of course, you would not be paying for elective surgery, but you already pay for Dick Cheney's heart surgery because he gets government health care. We should get the same care that Dick Cheney gets.

Breaking News. We just heard that CNN can report now that the homeland security bill has passed on Capitol Hill. So congratulations to all of us. I feel safer, and I know corporate America does.

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

CARLSON: Ninety to nine was the vote. From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE. "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT" begins right now. Have a great night.

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