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Was Today's Find in Iraq the Elusive "Smoking Gun?"

Aired January 16, 2003 - 19:00   ET


On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE tonight, the weapons inspectors have found something. Iraq's trying to explain.




ANNOUNCER: Iraq's in the CROSSFIRE again.

Show Uncle Sam the money.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are taking 18 cents or more of every dollar earned by every American in federal taxation. And that ought to -- that's pain enough.


ANNOUNCER: But it isn't enough. The deficit is getting worse. Would tax cuts stop the red ink or make it worse?

A diversity of racial problems.


BUSH: I strongly support diversity of all kinds.


ANNOUNCER: From university admissions to the Confederate flag to judicial nominees and Trent Lott too, an equal opportunity debate on the race factor tonight on CROSSFIRE.

Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Robert Novak. (APPLAUSE)


Tonight, on the 12th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War, U.N.'s weapons inspectors in Iraq find empty chemical warheads that are, they say, in excellent condition.

We'll also debate the politics of the budget deficit and some deficit predictions the administration assures us are nothing to hyperventilate about.

Also, just who is playing the race card in U.S. politics?

But first, it's time for us to lay our cards on the table. Here comes the best political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq today nearly found a smoking gun. Well, one that once was smoking, they think. The inspectors reported finding a number of empty chemical warheads that are still in excellent condition. One warhead is still being evaluated.

Iraqi officials call this a matter of finding old weapons that have been forgotten. And the leader of the U.N. inspection team in Baghdad said, "It was not a smoking gun that would substantiate violation of U.N. resolutions."

The White House agreed, but said the find was still important.

Would President Bush go to war on such flimsy evidence?

Stay tuned.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST: Stay tuned, indeed. We're going to have one of the U.N. weapons inspectors, a guy who was in Baghdad just a few months ago, Scott Ritter, and Ken Adelman, one of the defense policy review board guys from the Pentagon who's quite hawkish.

NOVAK: I think they need more evidence than that. And they ought to have more evidence than that. They may go to war without more evidence than that.

BEGALA: Rarely do I do it, but I have to say Novak is right. It will never happen again, though.

President Bush visited Mercy Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania today and called for a maximum punishment of $250,000 for doctors or hospitals who kill or maim. In a bit of poor timing for Mr. Bush, the hospital he visited today is affiliated with one in nearby Wilkes- Barre, Pennsylvania, which along with two doctors, announced on Monday that they would pay $7 million to Dorothy Thornton.

Ms. Thornton is the widow of Frank Thornton, whose brain damage and death were allegedly caused by Mercy Hospital in Wilkes-Barre and its doctors, when they allegedly inserted a ventilating tube into his esophagus instead of his trachea during surgery.

Under Mr. Bush's proposal, the widow Thornton in this case, would only be entitled to $250,000 for the pain and suffering she has gone through, even though the lawsuit she filed against the doctor and the hospital has cost her more than that.

Think about it. If an incompetent or drug addicted doctor causes brain damage and death to the one you love, George W. Bush thinks that that life is worth a whopping $250,000. Why? All to protect greedy insurance companies who jack up their rates to cover their losses in the stock market.

NOVAK: You know, Paul...


NOVAK: ... Paul, the designation of greedy insurance companies comes in the ATLA and North American Trial Lawyers Association briefing papers, and we know what all of this is about. The trial lawyers are the major source of campaign funds for the Democratic Party. And they get greedy, they get rich. They really are despoiling the doctors of America by stopping medical service. And you ought to be ashamed of yourself for supporting that process.

BEGALA: If some, God forbid, if some butcher hurt you Bob, I hope you got $250 million, not just $250,000. Your life is worth a lot more than that and so is the life of every one in this audience.

NOVAK: It's about political...

BEGALA: Shame on George W. Bush.


NOVAK: ... it's about political contributions.

At about 8:15 last night the great Senate crisis ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Without dissent on terms that could have been had nine days earlier but the Democrats had come something without precedent -- holding up for nine days the mandate of the 2002 election, turning over control of the Senate to the Republicans.

Democrats in the minority actually conducted hearings, even tried to hold a confirmation hearing.

Senate Democrats were following the advice of Barbra Streisand, James Carville and Paul Begala. What a threesome -- obstruct, obstruct and obstruct a little more.

Just because it didn't work in 2002, they figure, doesn't mean it won't work in 2004.

BEGALA: First, the Democrats only wanted the same level of funding in the minority that the Republicans had when they were in the minority. Simple fairness, that's all they were asking, and they pretty much got it. Good for the Democrats. Finally, Dr. Frist and the Republicans came around. It was their fault. They could have had this nine days ago as you said, if they would have only agreed to be fair.

NOVAK: That is just untrue, Paul. I wish you would do a little reporting sometimes because they had offered this to the Democrats before. They finally gave up. It was an outrage, an outrage to have Fritz Hollings, who had the lost control of the Senate, conducting hearings by the Senate Commerce Committee.

BEGALA: I thought you said they were obstructionists. He's conducting hearing. He's trying to move the business of the Senate.

Now here's where we're obstructionists. The Senate Republicans today put their partisan politics ahead of your personal security. In a remarkable and irresponsible vote this afternoon, Republicans killed a Democratic amendment to bolster America's homeland security.

Democrats wanted to help the immigration service track foreigners in our country, help the FBI respond to terror attacks, help the Customs Service inspect cargo in our ports, help out hometown heroes in the police and fire departments and more. Republicans stopped them.

Many experts say that all of these steps and more are needed. And America is still very vulnerable to terrorist attacks, which are more likely if, God forbid, President Bush does go to war in Iraq.

So why did the GOP sell out our national security and our homeland defense? Not because of the deficit. White House Budget Director Mitch Daniels says that even a $300 billion deficit is no big deal to the president.

So the choice is clear. If you want something said about homeland security, ask a Republican. If you need something done about homeland security, you need a Democrat.

NOVAK: That's a good Democratic slogan, Paul.

But the matter of the fact, as somebody who didn't know what you were talking about would have thought that you were saying that there was some substantive proposals involved. It wasn't. It was just money.

The Democrats...


... the Democrats always want to spend more money. And let me tell you something...


... the Republicans want to reduce the size of government, the size of money. And this homeland security is just an excuse of more spending. BEGALA: So what are you going to pay cops wit? What are you going to pay FBI agents with? What are you going to five them Fruit Loops? What are you going to give them a nice -- we've got to pay them money. They earn their money. They ought to be keeping us safe.


NOVAK: You just take all of the spending caps off, and that's what you want. I know what you want.

BEGALA: No, what I want is (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Democrat Mike Snow appeared to have lost his seat in the Georgia House of Representatives November 5 by 195 votes. But a Democratic judge invalidated the results, possibly preventing the House speakership in Georgia from being turned over to a coalition of Republicans and maverick Democrats.

The new election shows -- get this -- a 64 vote win for Mike Snow. But look at Snow's yard sign, showing Georgia state flag with a confederate emblem and saying, "Mike voted to keep our flag. Let's vote to keep Mike!"

Wasn't it the Democrats who whined that the flag issue elected Sonny Purdue a Republican as governor of Georgia? Actually, Purdue never said a word about the flag unless he was asked. Who's the hypocrite here, Paul?

BEGALA: Here's the flag, Bob. Here it is.

NOVAK: Who's the hypocrite?

BEGALA: This is the Confederate battle flag that used to be on the Georgia flag. Roy Barnes, a great hero, had that reduced, because it's an insult to millions of Americans.

But here's what happened. First off, shame on Mike Snow. He should never (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that Democrat or (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: Thank you, hallelujah, said from a veteran Democrat.

BEGALA: Your reporting, Mr. Novak, is in correct.

Sonny Purdue raised the issue. I went and looked on his campaign Web site. The flag was one of only six issues on the whole Web site that he raised, and the flag was on there.

NOVAK: Never, never mentioned it in his speeches, only when asked.

BEGALA: No, the guy got elected on this dirty flag and he ought to be ashamed of himself.

NOVAK: You can't even accept it when you get beat, that the Republicans actually are the party of the future in the South.

BEGALA: No, they're the party of racism. In this case on this issue, shame on the Republicans.


BEGALA: Well, the Bush administration today filed its brief, asking the Supreme Court to halt the University of Michigan's affirmative action program. President Bush did not take questions from reporters on the subject today, nor did he yesterday, and for good reason. A few hours before Mr. Bush spoke yesterday, ABC News White House reporter Terry Moran asked press secretary Ari Fleischer the following question.


TERRY MORAN, ABC REPORTER: A question about his feeling about fairness in America. When he was 18, he got into Yale University, which had and still has a policy of granting very special preferences to children of graduates like him. Is that preference OK? To give him a leg up, but other preferences...

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: I think you're getting...


BEGALA: But Fleischer declined to respond directly, as did the president.

Why? Because in George W. Bush's America, only the right people receive preferential treatment. When a Hispanic or a black kid gets a let up, Mr. Bush wants to make a federal case out of it, literally.


Of course, Mr. Bush himself is the beneficiary of a very special kind of affirmative action, preferences that help the hard drinking, underachieving near-do-well (ph) children of the Eastern moneyed elite.


That's affirmative action for you.


NOVAK: You know, that's racist and it is plain class struggle. And I'm always amused when reporters ask questions straight out of Paul Begala's Democratic briefing book.

Let me tell you this, that what is involved in the Michigan case are white people being denied admission because of racial quotas. And that's what the president is against.

BEGALA: Who was denied admission because Bush, an unqualified man, went to Yale?

NOVAK: That has no relevance at all. BEGALA: No relevance at all. Of course it does.

NOVAK: It's demagoguery.

BEGALA: No it's not. It's the issue.

Well, as we have reported earlier on CNN, U.N. weapons inspectors issued a terse statement today saying that they had found a number of empty chemical warheads that they say are in excellent condition. An Iraqi government spokesman quickly dismissed any allegation that the find is significant, calling the material forgotten.

A U.S. official said, the find -- quote -- "Raises lots of questions, but is not a smoking gun."

Joining us from Albany, New York, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector himself, Scott Ritter.

Scott, thank you for joining us, sir.




NOVAK: Mr. Ritter, how do you evaluate this finding? It is of any importance? Is it a sign that, "Ah, hah, we were right, they have been hiding the real goods on us?"

RITTER: Well, the way I evaluate it is A, to note that inspections to do work contrary to what the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration have been saying that, "You know we can't expect the inspectors to accomplish anything in a country the size of Iraq."

Guess what? Today they found something. Now it's not a huge smoking gun. In fact, I believe it's indicative of the accounting problem I've always said exists in Iraq.

But the inspections can work, and I think we have to continue to give them our full support.

The other thing we have to take note of is no American service members died today. We're not at war. You know, we solved a problem simply by allowing the inspectors to do their job.

NOVAK: Mr. Ritter, I appreciate you saying that it works, it's not a smoking gun. But tell me what it is. You were an expert on this. When you find all of those empty, empty weapons in good condition, what does it mean?

Does it mean they're getting ready for a chemical attack? That they're preparing for some kind of chemical warfare? Or does it mean nothing? RITTER: Well, first of all this is early on in the process. They weapons were just found today. So I think we have to allow the inspectors to you know, do a very thorough investigation to answer these very legitimate questions.

And believe me, there should be questions asked. The Iraqis should not be allowed to simply sweep this under the rug and say, "Ooops, we had an accounting error."

But let's put this in perspective. This -- the Ukadere (ph) ammunition storage depot is a place I've been to many times. It's a huge facility. It was extensively bombed during Desert Storm. Munitions were scattered all over the desert. And you know, there are boxes and boxes full of munitions.

When we went into these facilities, we carried special detection equipment to look for chemical agent. We didn't open these boxes because we didn't find any evidence of chemical agent.

The inspectors today opened the boxes and found weapons Iraq had purchases in 1988. The boxes have been sealed since that time.

I believe what we have here is an accounting problem. But we have to investigate furthermore.

I think what this shows is that when Hans Blix says the Iraqis have to start being more proactively cooperative, this is why.

You can't have inspectors finding this. The Iraqis today should send military officers to every ammunition depot and open up every box to ensure this never again happens. They have to give a full accounting of their programs to the inspectors in accordance to the rule of law.

BEGALA: Well, I'm glad you raise that, Scott. Let me press that point. It is the Iraqi's obligation to disclose this. They didn't do that. Isn't that a material breach?

RITTER: Well, first of all, they did declare this. If you read the declaration, and I have, they did declare that this shipment of 122 millimeter artillery rockets was received. And you know, they gave the numbers of rockets received.

The problem comes as they said, "We can't account for them all. You blew up some of them during the war. You know, we buried some. Hundreds of thousands of them were turned over to inspectors and destroyed."

The Iraqis said, "We received them. This is how many received, but we can't tell you what happened to everything." So what we have here is an accounting problem, not a material breach. No American should be called to go to war and die because we found 11 unfilled chemical munitions.

BEGALA: Well, Scott, let me ask you when they should be? Guys like you, guys like me, said for example, through this long process, President Bush had to go to the Congress. Well, he did. Then we said he had to go the U.N. Well, he did. Then we said he had to let the weapons inspectors in, and he did. And you've got to give them a chance. And they've done so.

And what point, what level of breach will it take for Scott Ritter to support war to change the regime in Baghdad?

RITTER: I think you're going to have to find a viable active weapons of mass destruction program.

You know, empty warheads are meaningless unless you have the agent to put inside them. If you find evidence that Iraq is attempting to procure or attempting to manufacture or in fact has manufactured and is hiding active chemical agent, now we've got a problem.

If more than 10 years after the international community has banned these weapons, these chemical weapons, biological weapons, nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles, and we find evidence that Iraq has continued to pursue these programs, we have a right to presume ill intent on the part of the Saddam Hussein and hold them into account.

But right now we have an accounting problem. Inspectors are there. They're receiving the full cooperation of the Iraq government. You know, they went into this facility. All doors were open. The Iraqis have cooperated throughout this process. This is not a casus belli.

NOVAK: In that connection, Scott Ritter, I'd like you to listen to something that President Bush just said about the inspection process.

Let's listen to the president.


BUSH: So far the evidence hasn't been very good that he is disarming. And time is running out. At some point in time the United State's patience will run out.


NOVAK: Is what the president is saying that unless the Iraqis say, "OK, we can confess," that the bombs will start falling on Baghdad? Is that how you interpret that?

RITTER: Well, it appears the Bush administration won't accept, you know, any response from the Iraqi government that doesn't include an absolute confession of guilt that they have these weapons and here they are leading them to them.

I'm not giving the Iraqis a clean bill of health. They're going to have to earn it. But I'll tell you what. We need to let the inspectors do their job. It may take six months. It may take a year. It will be a frustrating process. But at the end of the day, if the inspectors find nothing -- and today they proved they are viable -- if they find nothing, we may have to accept the fact that there may not be anything in Iraq to find. And the president shouldn't be rushing off to war.

I would ask the president to start practicing writing letters to the families of service members who will die in this conflict and make sure he can write a darn good letter that explains why they have an empty seat at Thanksgiving, why there's an empty stocking at Christmas.

It better be a good letter. And I'll tell you what, 11 empty chemical warheads simply isn't going to hack it to the family of those Marines, soldiers, sailors and airmen who are out there defending our country right now.

BEGALA: Scott, let me ask you briefly about a story that has broken today, and that is that Saudi Arabia may in fact be trying to encourage and engineer a coupe in Baghdad. Is that the best alternative? Is that the best solution?

RITTER: I think Saudi Arabia, like many of the neighbors surrounding Iraq, are scared to death about this -- the possibility of war with Iraq. An American-led invasion of Iraq will be disastrous for the entire region. And the Saudis understand that President Bush has invested so much political capital into the concept of regime removal and it's virtually impossible for him to back away regardless of the justification for war.

The military buildup has taken on a life of its own. It will reach critical mass sometime next month where we're simply not going to be able to pull back, even if there is no excuse.

So Saudi Arabia is desperate for anything that will prevent a war. And at this point in time they understand that maybe the only thing that will prevent a war is getting rid of Saddam Hussein. So they would prefer a coupe over an American-led invasion.

NOVAK: Scott Ritter, thank you very much.

RITTER: Thank you.


NOVAK: Despite Iraq's denials, does today's discovery mean the U.S. is closer than ever to a Desert Storm II?

In a minute we'll ask someone who has the administration's ear, Defense Policy Board Member, Ken Adelman.

Later, the flag their either love or hate down in Dixie. Are the Democrats really that hard up for an issue for an issue against George W. Bush?

And in a $10 trillion dollar economy, what's a few more billion dollars worth of evidence (ph)?




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Iraq says that empty chemical weapons found -- warheads, rather -- found today by U.N. weapons inspectors are simply forgotten leftover from a decade a more ago.

And even a U.S. official says that today's discovery is not, quote, "A smoking gun."

But will the Bush administration hesitate very much longer before it unloads on Saddam Hussein?

Joining us how, Ken Adelman, the director -- former director of the U.S. Arms Control Disarmament Agency under President Reagan.

He is now a member of the Pentagon's prestigious Defense Policy Board. He also writes for Defense




NOVAK: Ken Adelman, you've heard Scott Ritter say that finding these 11 empty warheads still the inspectors have to do their work, but it doesn't tell you much.

Do you think it tells you much.

KEN ADELMAN, FMR. DIRECTOR, U.S. ARMS CONTROL DISARMAMENT AGENCY: I have minimum regard for Scott Ritter, let me just say because...

NOVAK: You don't want to hear (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

ADELMAN: No, no, but he is the one addressed the Iraqi parliament under an million picture of Saddam Hussein. He's the one who's taken $400,000 from an Iraqi agent...

BEGALA: He's not here to defend himself...

ADELMAN: No, no, but I mean...

NOVAK: Can we go to the substance. Can we go to...

ADELMAN: ... yes, but let's label him as a spokesman for an Iraqi government.

NOVAK: All right, you've done that. ADELMAN: Fine.

NOVAK: Let's go to the substance.

ADELMAN: The substance is that we are not talking 11 warheads right here, even though that is a material breach. That's clearly not allowed in the U.N. declarations and resolutions. What we're talking about is a pattern of behavior over 12 years that's unmistakable.

NOVAK: Now I'm going to show --give you a little soundbite by CNN's national security analyst, Ken Robinson. And I really hope that after you listen to him you don't an ad hoc, ad hominen attack on his background.

ADELMAN: He's not a paid by the Iraqi government.

NOVAK: Let's listen to Ken Robinson.



KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I can't believe that any one is going to jump to a conclusion that this is all of a sudden a smoking gun. The Iraqis were expert at deception, and the locations where munitions were destroyed, went in a lot of different directions and some of them were covered up in the sand. And you know, we'll be finding stuff in that desert probably for the next 10 years.


NOVAK: It's irrelevant, isn't it, this find?

ADELMAN: No, it's very relevant. It's relevant because it shows what the pattern of behavior has been for the last 12 years. And let say this about smoking gun. Guns smoke because they've been fired, OK. That's not what we want to have happen here.

The only smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud. And I for one do not want to...

NOVAK: Ken Adelman, they don't have a nuclear bomb. Come on, Ken.

ADELMAN: They certainly have chemical weapons. They certainly have biological weapons. And Bob, they have had a most vigorous nuclear weapons program, and if it weren't for the Israelis in 1981, taking out the Oserick (ph) plant, they would have had nuclear weapons...


ADELMAN: ... in the mid-1980s. And then think of what the Middle East would have been like had Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. BEGALA: Let me play you a piece of video tape...


BEGALA: ... from an equally dark analyst of the situation, one who matters an awful lot, our vice president. This is what he said back in August about the likelihood of inspectors being successful. Take a look.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with the U.N. resolutions. On the contrary, there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box.


BEGALA: Now a few weeks later, to his credit, his boss the president overruled him and supported inspectors.

Doesn't Dick Cheney owe President Bush and the rest of us who supported inspectors an apology?

ADELMAN: No, I think Dick Cheney was absolutely right.

BEGALA: They found the stuff today.

ADELMAN: They found the stuff because there are, you know, unmistakable ways that you're going to run across things like this.

BEGALA: But that's not what Cheney said. Cheney basically said they couldn't find their butt with both hands.

ADELMAN: No, Paul...

BEGALA: These guys are over there, and they have found 11 warheads.

ADELMAN: OK, but they stumbled across 11 warheads. What Hans Blix, who is a very nice man. I worked with him in the '80s in the U.N. What he did was wrong. What he did was the opposite of what he should have done. What he should have done is take the new authority of the resolutions to take scientists, Iraqi scientists out of the country with their families, and then find out. And then go after facilities.

You go people first, and then facilities. You don't go facilities because then you're running around like a chicken with your head cut off in a country of 23 million people, the size of France.

NOVAK: It's hard to think that anybody could be more incorrect than my good friend, the vice president. But I want to play you a soundbite...

ADELMAN: You have more soundbites tonight...

NOVAK: Yes, from CROSSFIRE, Mr. Adelman, that's even more wrong than the vice president. Let's listen to it.

BEGALA: The vice president was right.


ADELMAN: Hans Blix is a very nice man. I worked with him many years in the '80s. But the fact is once his team gets into Iraq, I can't see a way that they are going to find any violations.


NOVAK: So you were just a very low level...

ADELMAN: Right...

NOVAK: ... you were absolutely wrong because you said they just found a violation.

ADELMAN: They stumbled on something and...

NOVAK: Oh, they stumbled on it.

ADELMAN: All right, Bob, they were better than I thought they'd be.

NOVAK: All right.


BEGALA: Well, good for you. But let me ask you also. A moment ago you said this is a material breach.

ADELMAN: Sure it is.

BEGALA: Good for you. I agree. Our president, however, began this process articulating a policy -- this is the President of the United States who says "zero tolerance," his words, not mine.

Now we know since then according to our president, the declaration was deceitful. Now you say that these chemical weapons, warheads, are material breach.

Why does our president stake out positions that he does not later back up? Why does he talk so strong and then wimp out?

ADELMAN: Give him time. I don't think there's going to be any wimping...

BEGALA: I don't want him to go to war, but I just don't think frankly...

ADELMAN: Well, what to you want him to do, Paul?

BEGALA: I want him to not run his mouth.

ADELMAN: I mean, what's the alternative?

BEGALA: I want him to shut up and let Cheney run things. And what I really want -- he scares me when he talks without a script, Ken.

He's not...


BEGALA: ... up to this.

ADELMAN: Yes, he is, and he's been very, very good wartime leader. I think he's done a super job, to tell you the truth.


ADELMAN: I think that if you're looking for more moderation and don't want to go to war, then what you want is the people of Iraq to remain repressed and oppressed. What you want is the Middle East to be run by the likes of Saddam Hussein.

You want the weapons programs that he has to continue.

BEGALA: I just don't want...

NOVAK: Mr. Adelman, let me...

ADELMAN: I want a world without Saddam. I want a world of democracy in the Middle East.

NOVAK: Mr. Adelman, let me...

ADELMAN: And it's certainly not weapons of mass destruction.

The only way to get rid of them is to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

NOVAK: Mr. Adelman, I want to show you a...

ADELMAN: Another one.

NOVAK: ... commercial, a TV ad. Let's listen to it.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: War with Iraq, maybe it will end quickly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... three, four.


Maybe it will spread. Maybe extremists will take over countries with nuclear weapons. Maybe the unthinkable.

Maybe that's why Americans are saying to President Bush, let the inspections work.


NOVAK: That's pretty strong, isn't it?

ADELMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pretty (ph) offensive (ph). No, I find it (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BEGALA: But you just a moment ago you raised the specter of a mushroom cloud -- two minutes ago.

ADELMAN: If we don't do something about Saddam Hussein, I am not fearful of liberating Iraq. I am fearful of keeping Iraq so that madmen in the world like Saddam Hussein get a hold of nuclear weapons and become like North Korea.

BEGALA: Stalin had nuclear weapons for 50 years, and we contained him.

ADELMAN: Stalin did not have nuclear weapons for 50 years. Stalin had...

BEGALA: The Soviets had them for 50 years and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) too.


NOVAK: We will debate Stalin...


NOVAK: ... another time.

Thank you, Ken Adelman. I appreciate it.

BEGALA: I appreciate it very much.


NOVAK: Coming up, when in the world did Democrats become deficit hawks? And will it help them any more than it did the Republicans for about 60 years?

Later, the Bush administration infuriates Democrats by insisting that equal opportunity really does mean equal.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to the live Washington audience, call 202-994-8CCN. Or e-mail us at CNN@GWU.EDU. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


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

The budget deficit is growing, and true to form, Democrats are trying to make a federal case about it. White House Budget Chief Mitch Daniel's figures the shortfall will exceed $200 billion this fiscal year. Bigger than expected. But as he puts it, nothing to hyperventilate about.

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE, former Congressman Tony Coelho, Democrat of California, and former Congressman Bill McCollum, Republican of Florida.


BEGALA: Please take a seat. Mr. McCollum, let me start with today's news. Just -- in fact, a few hours ago, Senate Republicans killed a Democratic amendment to increase our homeland security. This is some of the things that were in the bill. Just some. Let me put it up on the board for you.

Assistance to state and local authorities to combat terrorism, border security, airport security, port security, nuclear facilities security, mass transit, federal law enforcement, clean water security. The Republicans killed it all. Why?

BILL MCCOLLUM, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Well, my guess is that it was done because of the fact that they didn't agree with the basic approach. They have an alternative. You know that's usually what happens, as Tony and I have debated that many times when we were in Congress.

You have a Republican alternative, you have a Democrat alternative, what the president wants. And so it isn't killing homeland security. It's getting -- first of all, we need to see orderly process over there. They're right now beginning a new Senate. They've got issues over who controls the Senate.

We haven't had the change of power that you'd expect now. They're still arguing over the details. So you're going to see a lot of crazy things the first couple of days. And it's a budget issue.

BEGALA: But the experts all say that our facilities are unsafe. We are at risk. We may be going to war in Iraq, which the CIA tells us increases the terrorist threat here at home. And it seems to me that Republicans are simply playing politics here.

MCCOLLUM: Well believe you and me, nobody can be more concerned about politics in a study like that than me. Because that's the area I dealt with the whole time I was in Congress.

BEGALA: But you know we need to do these things to protect our... MCCOLLUM: Well you need to do some of those. But I don't want to argue the specifics of this proposal because I'm not familiar with all the details of the argument of why or why not. I just know from experience of being there that, in fact, those are usually the reasons that I gave you why those kind of amendments don't go through at that time in this setting, dealing with this budget at this moment.

BEGALA: So that's an alternative issue.

NOVAK: Tony Coelho, I've been trying to understand Democrats all my life, and it's not easy. But you've been one of them...

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: We've been trying to understand you, too, Bob. But it's all right.

NOVAK: You've been one of the great interpreters of them. Explain to me that you're all running around like chickens with your heads off crying budget deficit, budget deficit, budget deficit, and then the first debate of the new Congress, the Democrats all got up and said we have to spend more money. Now how do those two things relate to each other?

COELHO: I don't know what you're talking about.

NOVAK: Well, you say that the budget deficit is too big, therefore we have to spend more money.

COELHO: I don't know what you're talking about.

BEGALA: This amendment on homeland security.

COELHO: But is that all you're talk talking about? I mean, that doesn't make any sense.

NOVAK: I know it doesn't. That's why I want you to tell me how it does (ph).

COELHO: No, it doesn't make any sense what you're saying. I just -- what you have, you have basically -- is you have a Republican Senate and an administration that wants their cake and eat it too. They basically want to reduce the revenues to the government, and they want to go ahead and spend exorbitantly. And we're starting with these surpluses all over again.

And what the Senate Democrats are going to do are going to make them face priorities. Where are they going to put their money? Where are they going to spend their money? These are the choices that need to be made now.

NOVAK: Just -- if I could just follow that up. You know, Tony, I was watching the debate. The amendments by the Democrats, as Paul quite clearly said, were for more spending.

COELHO: Of course.

NOVAK: And so how can you say we're deficit hawks if you want to spend more money?

COELHO: I think the issue is -- the issue is where do you want to spend the money? That's what the Democrats are saying. Where do you want to spend the money? That's the issue.


BEGALA: But Bill McCollum, the Democrats want to spend the money on the things that make us safer, first and foremost. Their first priority, homeland security and things that make us smarter like education. Our president, however, wants to spend the money on an enormous tax cut for the hyper-mega grossly filthy, Novakian rich. And even Republicans...

MCCOLLUM: Wow. Isn't that a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to put it. What a Democratic brush stroke that one was.

BEGALA: I was kind of proud of that. Even Susan Collins, a Republican senator, is troubled by how much Bush wants to spend on his tax break. Here's what Senator Collins had to say. "I'm concerned about the size of the president's package at a time when we have pressing needs and we are possibly on the verge of a second war with Iraq. I question whether this is truly stimulative." This is a Republican saying a Republican plan is not good.

MCCOLLUM: Let me tell you what the problem with the economy is right now. It's different than any time in my memory. You have a problem from September 11, you have a problem from the fact that we had the Enron scandal last year. You have a business community that's not investing and there's no growth. We're right now on a track for two percent GDP growth over the next five or 10 years. If we don't get off that track we will continue to have deficits because of the war and other things that are going on as far as the eye can see even if you do every pruning anybody would imagine doing.

What we need to do is get to three percent growth or four percent growth. And the way you do that is by having tax cuts, especially the thing like eliminating the double taxation of dividends. Give confidence again in our stocks and companies and in investment and in investing and finding ways to form capital, create new jobs, and have more taxable transactions to bring the revenue in that will then grow this economy.

NOVAK: Tony Coelho, Mitch Daniels, the OMB director said -- can we put it up on the screen -- "We ought not to hyperventilate about this. By any historical measure, these are manageable deficits."

So I thought I would take a look at the historical measure, and we find this is a percentage of gross domestic product. 1983, when there was a tremendous surge of economic activity, look at that, it was six -- the budget deficit was six percent. In 1986 the economy was really humming, five percent. In 1993 we were coming back from a recession. The recession -- actually the recovery that started in '92, three percent.

The estimated 2004 with the tax cut is only two to three percent. That's not much of a deficit.

COELHO: I always find it fascinating how you Republicans can twist things around.

NOVAK: Explain that.

COELHO: Well, it's very easy. I have been on this show where you used to kick my so and so because we were spending too much money...

NOVAK: Still do.

COELHO: ... and we were in deficits. And here we are now, you're talking about -- deficits are all right if they're Republican deficits. And it makes no difference if they're Republican deficits.


COELHO: I don't understand that. I don't understand that. And even Bill was the author of amendments to try to cut the budget and cut things back, we're spending way too much money. Now you guys say it's all right if we spend it, though.

NOVAK: Just to defend my own -- from a personal attack, Tony, I never -- you never heard me talk about deficits.

NOVAK: Bob has always been a deficit (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'll back you up on that.

NOVAK: I'm a deficit dove (ph). I'm against spending, but I don't care about deficits.

MCCOLLUM: First and foremost, Tony, we need to get to growth. And the reality is, you know Robert Reich, your former Democratic secretary of labor, believes that we need to have deficits now. Where he disagrees with the Republicans, and you probably do, too, is on the question of how you form the taxes, how you form the spending and the composition.

The reality is we need to grow this economy right now. We need to grow the economy.

BEGALA: Let's take a look. This is what our president and his fellow Republicans told us two years ago when the Congress enacted his economic plan. And let's take a look at the unemployment numbers since then. The day that President Bush's plan was enacted, June 7, 2001 there were 6.4 million Americans out of work.

Today there are 8.6 million. 2.2 million of us have lost their jobs since we put Bush's plan in. We ain't growing. We need a new direction.

MCCOLLUM: Well, Paul, you and I both know the reason for that. It's September 11, it's the Enron scandal.

BEGALA: It's Bush's tax cut. No. No sir. MCCOLLUM: No, it has nothing to do with the tax cut. We need to have implemented that tax cut much faster. His problem with that tax cut is it doesn't take effect for quite a few years. And that's why the new bill is out there to speed it up so it will get into the economy so that you will have the opportunity for that money to be there for the growth to occur. If you don't do this, there won't be any growth.

You don't have the growth in the economy, you don't have new jobs created. You don't have more taxable transactions. You'll never get out of the system. Why did you have balanced budgets eventually?

BEGALA: Because Bill Clinton was president and he knew how to expand the economy. He knew what the hell he was doing.


MCCOLLUM: Because of the Reagan growth years got that started. That's why. Because Ronald Reagan had a way to get growth going and Clinton benefited from it. That's what happened.

BEGALA: I like that myth. Bill McCollum, Republican of Florida, thank you for joining us. Tony Coelho, Democrat of California, thank you both for a good, fun debate. We'll have lots more of these, believe me.


BEGALA: Well at least one pro football fan also watches CROSSFIRE. Maybe he has a friend who explains it to him as the show goes on. He's fired back a question today for the audience, which we will ask them in just a bit.

But first, how does a man who got into Yale on his daddy's name oppose a leg up for minority kids trying to get into college today? Well, with an appeal to the Supreme Court, that's how. We will put the politics of race, the president, and affirmative action in the CROSSFIRE next.



NOVAK: Hours before President Bush announced his opposition to the University of Michigan's policy for giving special advantages to minority advocates, no less a Democratic icon than Teddy Kennedy rushed to the podium to declare that, in terms of civil rights, the Bush administration "talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk." But there was no news media condemnation of Kennedy and the Democrats for playing the race card. Only complaints that President Bush and Republicans are racially insensitive.

Put this in the CROSSFIRE with Democratic Congressman Chaka Fatah of Pennsylvania, who joins us from Philadelphia, and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.


BEGALA: Congressman, thank you for joining us from Philadelphia. I'll start with Mr Castellanos here. Alex, I'm going to play you a piece of tape I ran earlier in the program, in case you missed it, from the press briefing yesterday. An ABC News reporter asking a question of the spokesman of the president of the United States. Listen to this.


MORAN: ... question about his feeling about fairness in America. When he was 18, he got into Yale University, which had and still has a policy of granting very special preferences to children of graduates like him. Is that reference OK? To give him a leg up but other preferences are not?

FLEISCHER: I think you're getting...


BEGALA: Why is it OK for Yale to let George W. Bush in because his daddy went there, but it's not OK for Michigan to help poor kids who are black or Hispanic?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There are a lot of factors that universities consider. And if someone has a special relationship and heritage and the university means something to him, a lot of universities use that for black and white students.

BEGALA: But if your parent is this big money Eastern elite named Bush, that's OK. But if your heritage is Hispanic or African- American, no?

CASTELLANOS: No. But the issue...

BEGALA: He's a hypocrite on this issue, isn't he, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: Of course not.

BEGALA: He ought to send back the diploma.

CASTELLANOS: No. The issue in the University of Michigan case, which we all know, is that they have a policy that says you get 20 points because of the color of your skin. But say you get a perfect SAT, you only get 12 points. Now we live in a country that -- where the civil rights revolution has succeeded. Where we've changed a lot of hearts and minds.

And most people in America believe you should not get a job or admission to a university because of the color of your skin. This is racial profiling in education and it's wrong. We have a chance to do something about it. And that's what this president is trying to do.

NOVAK: Well I have a great deal of admiration for Alex, Congressman Fattah. But I think -- I want to give you somebody who said what he said, but I think he said it a little better than you did, Alex. Let's listen to him.


BUSH: At the undergraduate level, African-American students and some Hispanic students and Native American students receive 20 points out of a maximum 150, not because of any academic achievement or life experience, but solely because they are African-American, Hispanic or Native American. To put this in perspective, a perfect SAT score is worth only 12 points in the Michigan system.


NOVAK: Is that fair, congressman?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA: What is unfair, Bob, is that every person who has said what the president just said is purposely misleading the American public about what the affirmative action program is at the University of Michigan, how it works, and the fact that it's very similar to every other college, selective college in the country. It does not provide 20 points just because you're an African-American. The president, maybe he was misinformed. But nonetheless, is misleading the American public.

And I would invite the fact checkers at CNN, maybe they can do a service. Tell us whether or not this is a quota system, and tell us whether or not you get 20 points just for being an African-American.

NOVAK: I think you do, Congressman.

FATTAH: It's not true. It is absolutely misleading. Let me finish my point, Alex. Alex, if I could, let me just finish my point.

There are 13 different categories under which you could get these 20 points. You could be from a rural area. You could be economically disadvantaged. You could have some special contribution to make.

You could be a member of a group that had been discriminated against for admissions at the university in its past. That is, an African-American or Hispanic. The point that needs to be made -- excuse me. The point...

CASTELLANOS: Well actually, Congressman, you need to study this a little bit more, too.

FATTAH: The president went on to say that this was a quota system.

NOVAK: Let Alex respond.

FATTAH: Can I finish my point?

CASTELLANOS: What they actually did, Congressman, is reverse -- as soon as I can help you with it. Because what they actually did is reverse engineer quotas. What they had was a...

FATTAH: Quotas are illegal in this country. CASTELLANOS: They did. And so the University of Michigan still wanted to have their quota. They changed the word to "target" and "goal," and said how can we get there? Ah-ha, we'll give points on race. That's wrong. That's racial discrimination.

BEGALA: How many points did Bush get from Yale. You never answered the question. How many points did Bush get from Yale?


NOVAK: Let's not talk about Bush, Paul.

BEGALA: How many points -- Bush did not qualify to get into Yale. Some qualified kid was turned away so that the son of a moneyed elite could go there . And now he's saying that other kids shouldn't get a leg up because they're black or Hispanic?


FATTAH: Bob, if I could just say something here.

NOVAK: Go ahead.

FATTAH: The first thing we need to do as a nation is provide an equal educational opportunity K to 12 before we turn away affirmative action at the college level. Kids aren't born and then show up.


FATTAH: Kids are not born and then show up for college admission.

NOVAK: Maybe Congressman, if you would...

FATTAH: Let me finish my point, please. Kids are not born one day and show up for college admissions the next day. They go to public education systems in our country in which everyone, including President Bush, has reminded us are unequal and unfair in terms of poor youngsters getting a quality education.

NOVAK: Go ahead, Alex.

CASTELLANOS: Then clearly, Congressman, would you support equal opportunity in education in lower schools? In other words, letting parents of poor kids, middle class kids, black or white, would you support letting their parents choose the best school for them with their tax dollars, public or private? Would you support real equal opportunity in education? Republicans do.

FATTAH: Alex, if you would let me answer the question, I will. I would support -- I'm going to be filing a brief in this case. And I'm going to ask the Supreme Court to take notice of its decision 50 years ago in Brown (ph), where it said that wherever a state is going to provide a public education they have to do so equally.

What we need to have is quality public education K to 12, and then we won't have to have a situation where kids who don't get qualified teachers, don't get updated textbooks, get the most crowded classrooms and President Bush recognizes this. The federal government says there are 8,000 failing schools, but yet we want to somehow not provide any opportunity for these kids to go to college.

NOVAK: Chaka Fattah, I want to get back to the University of Michigan. I want to ask you this. There are people who filed a lawsuit, white people -- there are white people in the world who have been abused and discriminated against, and they -- can you imagine, can you sympathize, empathize with them that they have applied for school, their marks are very high, they have great attainment, they're very good on all kinds of testing, and they're knocked out because they're white? Is that fair?

FATTAH: When Jackie Robinson was allowed to play major league baseball, was there some other ball player who happened to be white that could suggest that because he was allowed to play, they were not allowed to play? Did you support Jackie Robinson being able to play major league baseball?

NOVAK: Nobody was better than Jackie Robinson.


FATTAH: But the point here is that in order to include those people who have been excluded, you want to suggest that somehow of the thousands of seats at the University of Michigan that the ones that displaced these particular plaintiffs happened to be the African- American or Hispanic kids who, for in our country unfortunately by law for a long time could never even go to school.

BEGALA: Because -- this is why I have a whole lot more respect, Alex, I love you personally. But for your position and for Mr. Novak's position if you all would acknowledge what is evident. Mr. Bush didn't...

NOVAK: Well let's lay off the damn point.

BEGALA: See, you won't do it.

NOVAK: Well it's ridiculous. You turn everything into a bashing of Bush.


NOVAK And I'm getting sick of it. I am really getting sick of it.

BEGALA: No Bob. You reap -- I'm sick of you saying -- crying alligator tears for some kid who doesn't get into Michigan.

NOVAK: I'm not crying alligator tears. I have some sympathy for them. But we're sick of this Bush bashing.


FATTAH: Bob Novak, can I just ask you one question?

CASTELLANOS: And I have a question for you. Will you acknowledge, Paul, that the Democratic Party has become the party that is for racial discrimination in this country?

BEGALA: Certainly not.

CASTELLANOS: In other words -- no it's all right if Democrats do it? It's all right if some people do it?

BEGALA: How about the Republicans in Texas calling...


CASTELLANOS: The Democrats have the same position on taxes. Tax cuts are all right for some people, but if you work too hard or make too much money, no, no, no. We'll decide who gets what. Why is the Democratic Party becoming the party of discrimination and the Republican Party the party of equal opportunity?

BEGALA: Why does he support references for the elites, but not for minorities? Why does he?

CASTELLANOS: Oh, come on, Paul. There's no such thing.

BEGALA: There's no such thing?


NOVAK: Last word from Congressman Fattah -- go ahead.

FATTAH: What we need is an equal opportunity for young people to learn. The Supreme Court should order that as the law of the land in K to 12, and then you would not need affirmative action at the time that kids apply to college.


BEGALA: That will have to be the last word. Congressman Chaka Fattah from Philadelphia, thank you very much. Alex Castellanos, here in our studio in Washington, thank you, as well.

Well one of our viewers thinks he has a reason why everyone should stop picking on the confederate flag. We will let him fire back at us next. Stay with us.



NOVAK: Time for "Fireback." When the viewers "Fireback" at us.

The first e-mail is from Paul Dickey of Arp, Texas. You know Arp, Texas?

BEGALA: Arp? NOVAK: "Why do we pick on the Confederate flag? If we eliminate the confederate flag, what from the past will we choose to pick on next? Perhaps George Washington. Paul, like most Texans, you're a little behind the curve. We're already picking on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, every white man in the 19th Century is under attack by the left."

BEGALA: This is not from the 19th Century. This was placed on this flag in 1956 to protest the integration of the public schools. It was wrong, it was racist. Georgia corrected it under Democrat Roy Barnes, and god bless him for doing it. And he lost his job because of it.

Karen Bassey of North Carolina writes: "Why does Bush just hit and run? Like, yesterday, he gives this little speech on affirmative action, and instead of answering questions, he runs. Why is that?"

Well I think you saw in that last segment, he can't answer the question about...

NOVAK: Can I respond?

BEGALA: You respond and then I will. Fine.

NOVAK: Oh yes. He doesn't answer the questions because he gets these left wing tilted questions from people like Terry Moran of ABC, which comes straight out of the left wing play book.

BEGALA : It's a legitimate question to ask the president, who today opposes affirmative action, if it was fair for him to receive it when he was a college student. That's a fair question.

NOVAK : On a later (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Dan Stewart of Hickory, North Carolina says, "Hope you enjoyed your dinner in Winston-Salem last night. How about those Wake Forest Demon Deacons?" I had dinner -- he spotted me, obviously. I had chunky barbecue at Pig's Pickin' (ph) in Winston-Salem. The meal was great, the game was bad, my beloved Maryland Terrapins went down. But in the ACC we have two games; we'll get Wake Forest and College Park next month.

BEGALA: Now that's a sport worth watching. And the Maryland Terrapins, of course, Bob's team. The defending national champions.

David White in Houston, Texas writes about a loser sport: the NFL. "Regarding Begala's statement that 'The NFL is boring and only wife beaters and gamblers watch the games,' just a quick question to the audience. Could Begala possibly be a bigger dork?"

NOVAK: Well, no, you couldn't. Because, I'll tell you, I don't beat my wife, you know that. And I don't gamble anymore. I never beat my wife. And I love NFL football.

BEGALA: No, I could be a bigger dork, like these losers who sit and watch the NFL on Sunday afternoons.

NOVAK: I watch it and I'm not a loser. Question? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I don't think you're a dork. But I do think there's been a lot of talk about this smoking gun theory. And I do want to say that I'm not looking for a smoking gun. What I'm looking for is an itchy trigger finger . And it's the future that matters. I just don't see any immediate threat in these eleven empty warheads.

NOVAK: Well I couldn't agree with you more. And I'll tell you this, I think this country's going to be in trouble if that's the kind of evidence we're going to cite for an act of war. I really believe it.

BEGALA: I agree. And the most troubling thing I heard today was Scott Ritter saying that when you deploy this many troops -- we're about to have six aircraft carriers and maybe 200,000 men and women there -- that when you deploy that many, it becomes a critical mass. And nothing stops a war from happening. I pray to god that that's not the case.

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

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


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