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CNN CROSSFIRE

News; Domestic

Aired January 24, 2003 - 19:00   ET

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

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We'll change American politics.
ANNOUNCER: He got into the presidential race, got on stage with the other candidates, and got some bad news: a fire at his headquarters.

SHARPTON: I will continue in my drive for the nomination.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Al Sharpton steps into the CROSSFIRE.

He's getting ready to address a state of disunion.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: The president's State of the Union is a moment to talk about the big challenges that...

ANNOUNCER: We'll look over what challenges need the most attention tonight on CROSSFIRE.

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Tonight the one presidential candidate the Democratic Party desperately wishes would just go away.

Also, President Bush prepares to tell Congress about the state of the union. Will lawmakers stop spending money for long enough to listen?

But first, the best daily political briefing in television and it's absolutely free, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

The Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle of South Dakota, traveled to Cleveland today to unveil an economic stimulation plan. President Bush is proposing $674 billion in tax cuts over ten years, and Senator Daschle proposing just a one-year fix, one-fifth that size.

Small business gets a little tax help if they give employees health insurance, then 1 million unemployed get more handouts and everybody, I said everybody, gets a $300 gift from the government, whether or not they pay any taxes.

A terrible left-wing plan but with one silver lining: there's not one chance that it will pass in the Republican-controlled Congress.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: That is a shame that it won't pass. I hope it will because here's why. The right-wingers misstate the facts grievously. Every citizen, under Daschle's plan, is a taxpayer if they get a tax cut, they just don't pay the income tax.

You see, they pay the payroll tax, they pay sales taxes, they pay excise taxes. They pay lots of taxes. But the president only wants to cut the rich man's taxes: the estate tax, for millionaires, and the income tax. Why not everybody?

NOVAK: It takes a Democrat to make an argument that people who don't pay the federal income tax should get a tax cut. Only a Democrat can say at that.

BEGALA: They're Americans. By the way, they're going to spend that money to boost the economy.

Well, a report from the Associated Press earlier today said that the top nuclear watchdog investigating Iraq has plans to tell the United Nations the Iraqis' cooperation has been, quote, "quite satisfactory." In fact, the inspector planned to give Saddam Hussein a "B."

Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the group I mentioned, later retracted this grade, saying that the comment was not appropriate and that the U.N. Security Council's job, not its job, to pass judgment.

Now, if we're grading President Bush for the accuracy of the matter of Iraq's nuclear program, on the other hand, maybe I'd be generous to give him an "I" for incomplete. Here's why.

In September, our president told the United Nations that Saddam Hussein tried to buy aluminum tubes which, our president said were, quote, "used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons," end quote. Now, as "the Washington Post" quotes today, experts in the United States government, as well as British and U.N. experts, say that claim is now seriously in doubt. Turns out the tubes are for conventional weapons.

Said one American expert to the post, quote, "If the U.S. government puts out bad information, it runs the risk of undermining the good information it possesses."

Something to think about as President Bush rattles the sabers next week in his State of the Union address.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, I know you like to use this program every night to bash President Bush, and you're bashing him again, but I will agree with you on one thing. I believe when matters of war and peace are at stake, you have to be very, very accurate and particularly when you're talking to the American people.

BEGALA: And I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on war and peace but he has -- you're right -- he has to be very scrupulous in his comments. NOVAK: It happened more than eight years ago, but Bill Clinton can't get over it! Defeat of his national health plan triggering the Republican takeover of Congress in the 1994 elections.

Now, the former president addressed health care advocates yesterday and told them he was demonized, demonized when his plan died in Congress. This time, said Mr. Clinton, we must be bipartisan.

Across town today Democratic Senator John Breaux of Louisiana made his own health care speech. Ironically, it was John Breaux who pleaded with Bill Clinton to compromise. Hillary was in charge, and she said no.

The Democratic Party still hasn't recovered. I wonder if the Clintons will acknowledge how much damage they caused their own party.

BEGALA: Well, that is something if the worst thing you can say about a president and his wife is that they tried to bring health care to Americans. That's the greatest criticism the right wing has about President Clinton.

You know, God bless them.

NOVAK: Why wouldn't they compromise?

BEGALA: You know what? Actually, the Republicans, if you want to go -- I was -- happened to be working for the president at the time, the Republicans would not compromise, even though the president didn't propose a far left plan.

NOVAK: John Breaux said this is going to die unless you compromise and they wouldn't compromise. And you know why? It's the advice you gave him. Remember you told -- you told them that if they killed that plan without a compromise, they would beat the Republicans like what?

BEGALA: Like a bad piece of meat.

NOVAK: And you were wrong.

BEGALA: And you know what? President Bush has now presided over another million and a half Americans losing their health care. It's a serious issue and I wish he would address it, but we'll have to get a new president to do that.

More information has come to light today on the extent to which President Bush relied on affirmative action to get his elite, private education.

Nicholas Kristof of "The New York Times" reports today that George w. Bush got a far greater boost to get into Phillips Andover Academy than minority kids get today at the University of Michigan.

What's more, when he applied to Yale, Mr. Bush's SAT scores were, according to Mr. Kristof, 78 points lower than Yale's median in math and a whopping 102 points below the median for verbal skills. No surprise there.

Yet Mr. Bush got into Andover, just as he got into Yale, just as he got into a coveted, non-combat slot in the National Guard during Vietnam.

Perhaps Hispanic and black kids today could learn from our president's example. If you want to get ahead in life, don't rely on affirmative action. Do it the old fashioned way, rely on your family's name and your daddy's money.

NOVAK: You know, I've tried very hard, Paul, to explain this to you. I'm going to try once more.

What's involved in the University of Michigan case is the question of the constitutionality of racial preferences. It's unconstitutional. What you're talking about is preferences for who your father is; and if you play football you get preferences. Nothing in the constitution about that.

If you want to make your point, say it is unconstitutional to get an advantage because of your father or your football playing, but it is unconstitutional to have racial preferences.

BEGALA: It is unconscionable for George W. Bush to pull the ladder up behind him when there are deserving black and Hispanic kids who he will not give a hand to.

NOVAK: There's a legal question involved and not just political spin.

I reported yesterday that one of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, was trying to have it both ways on Iraq. He voted in the Senate to give President Bush war- making authority in Iraq but yesterday delivered a major foreign policy speech attacking the president for pressing the war.

I suggested Senator Kerry was having it both ways, and today one of Kerry's Democratic presidential rivals, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, agreed with me, saying Kerry made his big mistake in voting for the war resolution.

John Kerry is experiencing something new for him, being attacked from the left. And considering Democratic primary voters, it might just work.

BEGALA: It is a stunning thing, which as you accurately report, a Democrat, the most liberal guy in the race, except maybe Al Sharpton -- we'll ask Sharpton in a minute if he is to the left of Governor Dean -- but when the most liberal guy in the race is attacking John Kerry using Bob Novak's talking points.

It's going to be a great campaign. I can't wait to...

NOVAK: To borrow a phrase from Gene McCarthy, who when he once saw a ticker item about two liberal Democrats attacking each other, when I see Howard Dean attacking John Kerry, I say, trouble in the leper colony.

BEGAL: You wait and see. One of those guys is going to win.

Joe Foss received a hero's burial this week at Arlington National Cemetery. In case you don't know who Joe Foss is, as many in my generation do not, he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism in World War II as a fighter pilot in the Pacific, where he shot down an amazing 26 enemy aircraft and damaged another 14.

He went on to become the governor -- the Republican governor of South Dakota. He was the first commissioner of the American Football League, where he helped create the Super Bowl. And later was the president of the National Rifle Association.

And we lost another member of the greatest generation this week, Bill Malden, the infantry sergeant whose cartoons chronicled the every day heroism of millions of GIs.

The reason I am free today to speak my mind and criticize our president on a show like this is because of the heroism of men like Joe Foss and the service of men like Bill Malden.

I know it's painfully inadequate, but it's all I can say. Thank you, guys, for saving the world.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, Joe Foss was a conservative Republican.

BEGALA: He was.

NOVAK: And Bill Malden was an ultra liberal, but he was my friend and colleague. He was a cartoonist for the "Chicago Sun Times," my paper. I still write a column for the "Sun Times." And he was -- We didn't agree on anything, but he was a great man.

Rest in peace, Bill.

BEGALA: And same to Joe Foss, who was as conservative as I am liberal but God bless him for his service.

Well, his Harlem headquarters caught fire last week, but will his presidential aspirations go up in smoke as well? In a minute, we will ask the Rev. Al Sharpton as he makes that mandatory stop for every presidential candidate, right here on CROSSFIRE.

Later, President Bush gets ready to address a more skeptical audience than his usual hand-picked Crowds. We'll tell you when and why in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Declaring that no presidential candidate can speak to the disaffected, the young people, to minority, women, gays and lesbian with his credibility and with his track record of advocacy, the Reverend Al Sharpton officially entered the race for president this week.

Of course, like everyone who's running for president these days, Reverend Sharpton knows the road to the White House runs right through CROSSFIRE.

Joining us from New York, Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend, thank you for joining us.

NOVAK: Reverend Sharpton, now I don't think it's any surprise to you to know that the people who run your party, the Democratic Party, are scared to death of your running and messing up their game.

Do you think they have instigated another African-American, former Senator Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois to run against you as part of a conspiracy?

SHARPTON: Well, I mean, first of all, I think that the clear objective of my race -- we have filed the exploratory papers, we'll officially start in the spring -- is to give voice to a lot of issues and people that I think are the majority of Americans.

I think that there may be all kinds of schemes. They are totally immaterial to me.

First of all, I'm not running an African-American campaign. We're running a broad-based campaign that includes African-Americans and Latinos and gays and lesbians and laborers and others.

So if they have a conspiracy, as you call it, on the African- American side, it won't help them, because our campaign will be much broader than that. And I think that if that's the case, they're playing a divisive race card, not me.

I think what we really need to talk about is the issues as to why a lot of people, most Americans, are not voting and why I feel it is necessary to address the issues they're concerned about to bring them in the process. Because all of these behind-the-scenes maneuvers won't mean anything when we get out into the primaries and the voters go in the booths.

NOVAK: Well, let me ask you about one more conspiracy question, about an in front of the scene event, and that was your headquarters in Harlem, as you're announcing your exploratory committee, going up in smoke. And they say it was an accident.

But once you had a fire like that once when you had another political campaign. What's going on? Do you know?

SHARPTON: I have no idea. I mean, you know, we -- I was in Washington, I got the call. I came back. Police said the preliminary findings was it was an accident. They have not given a final report. Others are looking into it.

I'm trying to make sure National Action Network survives. We'll be having our weekly rally and broadcast on two stations tomorrow up the block at another church.

Again, I will let the investigators and those that represent the legal department at National Action Network handle the investigation.

The timing of it caused a lot of people a lot of concern. My concern is to keep the movement going and the message that I think is important.

You know, Dennis Rivera, the labor leader, came to the headquarters yesterday and started a fund-raising drive to help us. And he said the important thing is that our voice and our message is needed now nationally and he wanted to help. That means more to me than anything, and that's what I'm trying to preserve and that's what I'm trying to do.

BEGALA: Well, Reverend Sharpton, let me go over some of the record that you bring to this race.

In 1995 you called a New York City clothing store owner a white interloper. The store was later burned, eight people died. In 199...

SHARPTON: Well, let's go one by one, Paul. Let's go one by one, Paul. No, we're not going to go quickly. Let's go one by one.

In 1995, there was, led by many people locally, a picketing of a local store for trying to evict someone, which I called an interloper. Four months later a guy that was obviously not well burned down the store and killed himself in the store. To try to make that connection is to try to say because I went to Israel last October and supported the secured borders of Israel that I instigated some attack against Palestinians.

So don't try to loop that together. A guy that's crazy enough to kill himself had nothing to do -- May I finish? You said this is the road to the White House. Are you allowed to talk on the road, Paul?

So to loop them together, I think, is reckless and irresponsible on your part. It certainly had nothing to do with me.

BEGALA: How about the question of New York state and local taxes in 1995. The "New York Times" said you failed to pay $20,000 of New York state and local taxes and other medical bills and other things.

SHARPTON: Well, I think -- Well, first of all, that was an allegation that we said was not true. I think, when we formally announce, you ought to ask all candidates to release all of their tax information and we'll all do what everybody does...

BEGALA: Absolutely, absolutely.

SHARPTON: Paul, now, again may I finish?

BEGALA: Go ahead.

SHARPTON: I think that it is ludicrous for you to ask the brokest guy in the race about his money. I'm running against millionaires. You have a lot more to read about theirs.

BEGALA: Taxes are always a big issue and whether or not you've paid them. But again, you were sued by landlords for unpaid rent, you were kicked out of the...

SHARPTON: Again, that is not true. An organization that I am president of on some locations have had conflicts. I'm sure that you have federal agencies that argue with their landlords. Is that President Bush being sued?

There's nothing there, you're talking about, that my personal residence was involved in. You're talking about parts of an organization. I lead a national organization. We're in several cities. There may be any kind of conflict with landlords. That does not speak to my personality responsibility.

Try again, Paul. I'm still here.

NOVAK: Reverend Sharpton, Howard Wolfson, who I think you know was an aide to Hillary Clinton, he's now the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. And he said about this -- about your campaign, we're going to put it up on the screen.

Howard said, "These guys have no idea what they're in for."

What do you think Howard means by that?

SHARPTON: I don't know. I mean, I think that one of the things that people try to do is try to castigate people that have the nerve to stand up and speak for people and issues that haven't been spoken for.

For example, we were the ones that fought racial profiling cases all over this country that ultimately led to being an accepted term from the New Jersey case, to the case of Arlo Diablo (ph) to the case of Abner Louima. And successfully fought them.

We also fought about racism in advertising and was able to get millions of dollars for minority advertisers.

We fought for Haitian democracy, for South Africa. Many issues.

But many of our so-called friends want to limit us to two or three things that they consider things that they can try to discredit you, without raising the broader issues and raising the achievements that people that rallied around you for.

I think that they are, in many ways, displaced when people are not intimidated by their attacks and when they have to come to the reality that they keep speaking for people they don't speak for. And when people emerge on their own and show that they have, in fact, been false in their claim, they get uncomfortable about that.

NOVAK: OK, Reverend Sharpton, we're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we will have lots more questions for Reverend Sharpton. And later, we'll talk about the possibility of a washed up Democrat -- Can you imagine that? -- joining this wonderful cast of characters for 2004.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. We're talking with the Reverend Al Sharpton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Five other Democrats are also in the race, but with the exception of Howard Dean, are they really just Republicans in disguise?

The Reverend Sharpton is in the CROSSFIRE from New York.

BEGALA: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for staying with us through the break.

You once called the Democratic Leadership Council a moderate group started by people like Bill Clinton and Al Gore. You called them Jim Crow Esquire. When has the Democratic Leadership Council ever advocated racism?

SHARPTON: I never said that. What I said was...

BEGALA: Yes, you did.

SHARPTON: Well, unfortunately, I didn't for you, Paul. Maybe before I get off tonight you'll get one right.

I said that our fathers had to fight Jim Crow. We have to fight James Crowe, Jr., Esq., who is a lot more polished, a lot more educated, but it's the same disenfranchisement.

Now, why did I say that? Because I feel that the policies that the Democratic Leadership Council has represented: pro-death penalty, which is unfair. It has been proven to have racial disparity. Pro- military buildup, pro-big business, which has cost a lot of labor their jobs. I think those are the challenges today, just as segregation and other things were the challenge of yesterday.

That is not saying that they are racist. No one said racist. I said our challenge today is against them, as our fathers had to face the challenges of yesterday.

Just like I said at the anti-war march, I was the only candidate to speak at the anti-war marches that we have to challenge Bush today as Dr. King challenged Lyndon Johnson 30 years ago. That was not calling George Bush Lyndon Johnson. That was saying we must rise to the challenges of our day.

BEGALA: Will you support the nominee of your party?

SHARPTON: Well, I think that if all candidates make that commitment, then it would be appropriate for me to join in that commitment. BEGALA: That's mincing words. Just yes or no, sir.

SHARPTON: I'm going to answer it my way. You know, y'all have to get used to y'all can't give orders no more, Paul. There are grown folk in this party now and we're going to answer the questions the way we believe.

I will abide by whatever the understanding will be of all of the candidates. I certainly wouldn't stand up and give a blank check when I have not heard from other candidates what their conditions, and first of all, what all their policies are. There are big differences.

And when you get through -- you know, I had to go through this with others, when you get through all of your other and really learn that people are not going to be intimidated, we're going to talk about health care in this country, we're going to talk about education, we're going to debate the issues and, based on vision and substance, we will commit.

But to come in on the basis of personality and say, I'll support a guy would be disingenuous and really mean have I no depth in terms of what I believe in.

NOVAK: Reverend Sharpton, I'm going to put up a quote of yours on the screen. You say, "The whole new Democratic Party is the old Republican Party... We have a whole bunch of elephants running around in donkey's clothes."

Would you just -- You like to name names and I like to name names. Give me some of the candidates who have announced their intention to run for president, whether they are elephants or not? Is Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, any of them elephants?

SHARPTON: Well, no, first of all, I talked about the party. I didn't say the candidates.

I do believe the party has moved far to the right. I do believe that the party has a bunch of elephants running around in donkey clothes.

When you can't tell the difference in the question of war, in the question of health care, in the question of big business deregulation, in the question of tax certificates, between the Republicans and the Democrats, someone needs to step forward and raise that.

NOVAK: We're almost out of time. But Reverend Sharpton, I want to give you a chance to set yourself apart from the rest of them.

We've been messing around with this health care issue for about eight years. I've been waiting for a Democrat to say let's get rid of the private health insurance, let's get rid of the whole private system and have a government-run health system.

Are you ready to commit to that?

SHARPTON: Well, I think we need a government health system, but I think we need to do it in a way that we can afford it and guarantee it.

I think the first basis is, I agree with Congressman Jackson Jr. and Frank Watkins, we need to make health care a right in a country like this. I think that's what we need to argue about.

NOVAK: And have the government run it, Reverend?

SHARPTON: I think have the government manage it and have the government guarantee it. I don't know if running it in an administrative way is something that has to only be part of government.

BEGALA: Reverend, we're almost out of time. But just before we leave, you're concerned about Democrats acting like Republicans. Was that on your mind when you supported Al D'Amato, a Republican, for the United States Senate against...

SHARPTON: No. You know, throughout the civil rights movement, Paul, we supported Republicans when we felt Democrats were out of line. You know Jesse Jackson was supporting Charles Purse (ph).

BEGALA: Was it truly a civil rights...

SHARPTON: Again, you know, you have a problem with me answering questions, Paul. Remember when Rev. Jackson supported...

BEGALA: You don't give me an answer.

SHARPTON: I'm giving you an answer. I'm not going to give you one you want. That's why this race is going to be exciting. Because you liberals are not going to get what you want this time.

We are not going to support people that we feel are not inclined to do what is correct. I think that politics should be about supporting what you believe in. That you should not be enslaved to a party participant just because they hold the title. I think people ought to be accountable, not the public accountable to the candidates.

BEGALA: Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you for joining us from New York City. Ladies and gentlemen, Al Sharpton.

NOVAK: Next, distraught relatives of a missing California woman go public with their suspicions. Connie Chung has the details in the CNN News alert, next.

Then, George W. Bush ran for president saying he would usher in an era of personality responsibility. Today, Wall Street's at a three-month low, oil prices a two-year high. Think he'll take responsibility for that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS ALERT)

NOVAK: Judging by our e-mail, Al Sharpton's presidential candidacy really resonates with our viewers. In a little while I'll let a couple of them fire back. But next, is Gary Hart really the future of the Democratic Party? Well, at least he's younger than Walter Mondale.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

President Bush gives his State of the Union speech next Tuesday. Administration officials say he'll use it to brace the country for the prospect of war with Iraq. Will it unify Americans or trigger another round of divisive debate?

In the CROSSFIRE, John Podesta, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, and Republican consultant Charlie Black.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: All right, guys, let's get right to it. This is one of the nights when the whole audience is so happy they paid the cable bill. OK. We've got the two smartest guys in politics here, and Charlie and John. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding.

Today, the leader of my party in the United States Senate, Tom Daschle, went to Cleveland, gave a terrific speech in the economy, proposed tax cuts for every American, not just the millionaires, and he said President Bush wants to leave no millionaires behind. Now I know he's resonating with what the American people want, because here's what "The New York Times" poll today shows. Let me put this up on the screen.

Fifty-eight percent of us think President Bush's policies favor the rich. Sixty-four percent of us think big business has too much influence on our president. And 56 percent of us think that lowering the deficit is a better way to improve the economy than cutting taxes. Isn't Daschle right and Bush wrong?

CHARLIE BLACK, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Well, you know, it's hard to tell about polls, Paul. There are a couple of other polls out this week. And this one you might be familiar with. It's conducted by the Democracy Corps, your sidekick James Carville, along with Stan Greenberg.

And their poll, a Democratic poll, found a 63 to 22 margin that say the tax cuts are better than increased government spending to improve the economy. At the same time, in the Wall Street Journal" poll, by about 20 points people favored the president's economic program. So what Senator Daschle did was argue about how much tax cut we should have.

The president's got a bolder tax cut plan, but Senator Daschle also proposed new spending. The U.S. Senate just spent the last two weeks beating back Democratic efforts to add more spending to last year's appropriations. So the voters don't believe more spending is going to solve the economic problem. NOVAK: Let me put up and listen to something else that Senator Daschle said. Let's just listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: You can't ask young men and women to go to war to give up their lives and then tell every millionaire in this country they get an $89,000 tax break.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now that is really playing the class struggle and demagoguery. What in the world does trying to reduce the overpayment -- can I ask the question? Then you can answer it.

JOHN PODESTA, FMR. CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF: I saw Reverend Sharpton earlier. I thought he was pretty effective at this sort of answering the question before the...

NOVAK: I know Reverend Sharpton, and you're no Reverend Sharpton. I'll tell you that.

(APPLAUSE)

PODESTA: Thank you, Bob. I'll accept that as a compliment.

NOVAK: Thank you. I tell you this, when you say that the people who have been successes in this world, that they're not taxed through their eyes, and that has something to do with asking young men and women to go to war, that's demagoguery, isn't it?

PODESTA: Oh, come on. He's talking about millionaires and he's talking about shared sacrifice. We're in a war, the spending that he talked about -- that Charlie talked about here -- was to beef up homeland security and meet the promise that the president made to adequately fund the education bill that the president touted so much in the last year.

And I think when the American people are thinking about those priorities, they're pretty squarely on the side of the Democrats. You know, I think the number that is -- that sticks, and I think Charlie can't disagree with, is that 50 percent of the American people now think -- disapprove of the way the president is handling the economy, and that's a bad number. It's dropped significantly since -- from where he was a year ago, and I think he's in trouble on that.

BEGALA: And he's in trouble not only on the home front, but abroad, Charlie. Again, this is a "New York Times" poll, and this does track what (ph) every public poll. They asked the American people, "Should the United States use force or diplomacy in Iraq?" By more than two to one, 63 to 31, they prefer diplomacy. God help me, I hope I'm wrong, but I think our president is hell bent on a war in Iraq.

BLACK: Well who were the 31 percent who would rather go to war than try to... BEGALA: Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, the whole crowd, man.

(APPLAUSE)

BLACK : What are we doing about this? We have gone to the U.N., we've given him another chance to show that he has disarmed or that he will disarm. It doesn't look like he's doing it. We're going to have a coalition of allies to go in there and disarm him if he won't. And the American people are going to be fully in favor of that.

Once again, just to select my friend James here out of the democracy poll, 66 to 28 Americans say the U.S. would be morally justified in sending troops to Iraq. So it depends on how you ask these questions.

NOVAK: Exactly. Now I want you to listen carefully, please, Mr. Podesta. I'm going to read you two of your brilliant presidential candidate statements on Iraq. The first one is by John Kerry, the Senator from Massachusetts.

He said, "I believe leaving this man, Saddam Hussein, unfettered with nuclear weapons is unacceptable." Unacceptable. Then we have Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. He says, "Bush never made a case for war against Iraq, yet he asks our children and grandchildren to die in Iraq for a mission he has not defined."

What is the voice of the Democratic Party? John Kerry, who says go after him, or Howard dean, who says Bush hasn't made his case? Which is it?

PODESTA: Well, I think that's what these primaries are about, and we're going to see who has more support. And I think can you add to the mix people like Dick Gephardt and John Edwards and others.

NOVAK: Who's right (UNINTELLIGIBLE), in your opinion?

PODESTA: I think John Kerry is right in my opinion. But I think that the question that John Kerry put before the American people also yesterday was, is the president going to continue to do what he did last fall, which is to rally the nation and rally the world by laying the case out affirmatively to the people, to the American people, and to our allies and keep that coalition together? Because I'll tell you something, the day after any action starts in Iraq, I think that our American forces can handle that, but there's going to be a long period where we're going to have to sit there. And if we're there with no allies, that's a bad place to be.

NOVAK: Just quickly, your candidate Tom Daschle bailed out. You were going to run his campaign. Who is your candidate going to be now?

PODESTA: Well I'm waiting to see. Maybe I'll go out and spend some time in Iowa and listen to all the candidates.

BEGALA: Stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to show you what my favorite Senator, Hillary Rodham Clinton, had to say about President Bush and his broken promises on homeland security.

And our "Fireback" segment. One of our viewers has come up with the perfect running mate for Al Sharpton, and he's sitting at this table.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. My hero, also known as Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, today called the nation's homeland security efforts a myth and proposed remedies to beef up resources. "We're not supporting our first responder," she said. "And our approach to securing our nation is haphazard at best."

In the CROSSFIRE, Republican consultant Charlie Black and President Clinton's former chief of staff, John Podesta.

NOVAK: John Podesta, I want to -- before we talk about Senator Clinton, I want to talk about a Democrat who is even better known than Senator Clinton, and that's Jerry Springer. I'm sure you never miss his shows in the afternoons. But he's had a great statement. He's thinking of running for governor of Ohio.

Here's his statement. We'll put it up there. He said that -- for senator of Ohio, I'm sorry. "There are pluses and minuses. The plus is that I'm known by everybody. The minus is that I'm known by everybody."

Now he has got a ton of money. The Democratic Party in Ohio is in bad shape. Howard Metzenbaum used his own money to get elected to the Senate. Wouldn't he be a terrific senatorial candidate?

PODESTA: Well, you know he's run in one before. I think he was the mayor of Cincinnati. But I don't think I'm going to get on a bus and go out and go door to door for the guy.

NOVAK: In this audience, how many of you would like to see Jerry Springer run for the Senate? See? He's got a lot of support there.

BEGALA: Charlie, I'll tell you what, compared to what we see in the United States Senate, the "Jerry Springer" show looks like "Leave it to Beaver."

NOVAK: And Jerry Springer, let me just say he's going to be on this show a week from tonight.

BEGALA: He will. That's great. I can't wait to see him.

NOVAK: Regrettably I won't be here.

BEGALA: But he -- actually, I think Republicans ought to worry. Because his show, you know the elites don't like. But it has an appeal to those Reagan Democrats that you helped pull out of my party and give to President Reagan that gave him majority. Aren't you (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? BLACK: Well I think he can win a vote for entertainment, but they don't want that same guy who does all those controversial things to represent them in the U.S. Senate. I'm not too worried about that. I hope he is the nominee against Senator Voinovich.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACK: He can probably beat most anybody anyhow.

BEGALA: My favorite -- Voinovich is a fine guy, I'm sure. But my favorite senator, I mentioned before, she gave a speech today in New York. She talked about President Bush and, frankly, broken promises to the first responders, those heroic firefighters and cops in her state of New York. Here's what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The truth is we are not prepared. We are not supporting our first responders, and our approach to securing our nation is haphazard at best. We have relied on a myth of homeland security. A myth written in rhetoric, inadequate resources, and a new bureaucracy, instead of relying on good old fashioned American ingenuity, might and muscle.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: I'll tell you "Congressional Quarterly" says that the $3.5 billion our president promised them was -- and I'm quoting them -- "a double entry bookkeeping with no net increase in the amount of federal funding." How could our president go there, stand on that pile of rubble, put his arm around a firefighter, and then betray them like that?

BLACK: I don't know the details of exactly what she's talking about, but let me tell you this, any delay on getting better organized on homeland security is largely due to the Democrats stall of the legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security in the Senate for months and months and months and only passed it recently. Last year's appropriations, including the appropriation for homeland security, was stalled in the Senate by the Democrats. Until this very week, it's still not done because it's got to go to the conference with the House.

Let me one more time refer to my old reliable survey here. Mr. Carville and Mr. Greenberg found in their Democracy Corps poll that the voters prefer Republicans to Democrats to handle homeland security by 39 percent. James ought to call his old friend, Mrs. Clinton, and tell her to get off the case and change subjects.

NOVAK: John Podesta, let me ask you a question about Senator Clinton. There's a lot of talk I hear around town that she is very close to John Edwards, senator from North Carolina. I think he's a credible candidate for president. How about an Edwards and Hillary ticket? Is that what America can look forward to in 2004?

PODESTA: I think Hillary is do, A, a great job in the Senate, and aiming at running for reelection in 2006. And I think that's her game plan and that's what she'll do. And she'll be successful at it.

NOVAK: She's going to deprive me the pleasure of having her as the national candidate?

PODESTA: I think that, who knows, someday you might have that pleasure . And I think she'd be a great national candidate. But right now she's running for reelection in New York.

NOVAK: Now next Monday we have a guest on in this show, Gary Hart -- remember Gary Hart -- who's thinking of running for president again. Time wounds all heals -- I mean heals all wounds -- I beg your pardon. And is he a credible candidate?

PODESTA: Well, we'll have to see. I'll tell you one thing. I think that if Gary runs and gets the nomination, if there's a debate, George Bush won't be able to turn to him and say, "Where's the beef?"

BEGALA: Charlie, let me ask you, then, about Gary Hart. He wrote a report with Warren Rudman for a commission that was jointly sponsored by President Clinton and then speaker Gingrich, a Republican-Democrat deal. Two of them came together and wrote the best, most prescient report on homeland security. And frankly, it gathered dust on President Bush's shelf. Isn't he your worst nightmare in many ways, because he can point out the failings of President Bush on homeland security and terrorism?

BLACK: Well, any plans for homeland security were gathering dust on President Clinton's desk for many years. But, let me say, Gary Hart is...

NOVAK: I'm sorry. We have breaking news. I want to thank you very much, John Podesta. I want to thank you, Charlie Black.

Just ahead: breaking news out of Denver. We'll have details of a plane collision. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Two small planes have collided in mid air over a residential neighborhood near Denver. No word yet on casualties. You're looking at live pictures from our CNN affiliate KCNC in Denver. We will keep you updated on this story as it develops and as we learn more. Again, two small planes have collided in mid air near a residential neighborhood near Denver. CNN will follow the story and bring you all the details on it as they become available.

But now here on CROSSFIRE, it is time for our "Fireback" segment, where we look at the viewer response and e-mails. Our first e-mail from Dennis Kaiser (ph), Loveland, Ohio, writes, "Bob, you certainly become unglued when Paul criticizes Bush. My advice: get over it. Actually, there is so much that could be criticized that even Paul can't hit all of the areas."

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Well, you know, I'll tell you, I grew up in a different world than you did. And we had to have a little modicum of respect for the president as a person, even if we didn't agree with him in those days.

Now, Paul, the next question is from Jerry Lafeber (ph) of Ann Arbor, Michigan, who says, "Again, Paul, you have offended this liberal Democrat, who is very happy to have Al Sharpton running for president. Al Sharpton does a great service to the Democratic Party by opening up issues that most are afraid to discuss."

You know, I think it would be a great choice for America if in November of 2004 George W. Bush versus Al Sharpton. Wouldn't that be a great campaign?

BEGALA: No, I think -- I love Al Sharpton coming on our show. He is a wonderful guest, I'm always grateful to have him on our program. But if he want to run for president, he's going to have to answer tough questions. Viewers can decide for themselves whether he did tonight.

Richard Egan (ph) in Sandy Hook, Connecticut writes, "I think the Sharpton-Novak ticket is a winner. One would advocate welfare for the poor, the other welfare for the rich." I love that idea.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: I decline the nomination.

All right. Our last e-mail is from Charlie Friedenberg (ph) of Yarmouthport, Massachusetts, who said, "Listening to Robert Novak, I wonder if Sir Robert is aware that Calvin Coolidge is dead. But then reality sets in and I realize that he must know. He's wearing Cal's old suits."

Well Charlie, you're trying to be sarcastic, but you're correct, because Calvin Coolidge lives in my heart . And this is one of his old suits I have on.

BEGALA: It's a beautiful suit, too. It's a fine suit.

NOVAK: Question from the audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. My name is Thomas Kraus (ph) from Salt Lake City. And I was wondering who you think is going to win the Super Bowl?

NOVAK: Well I think Oakland is going to win the Super Bowl, because they've got a lot of old guys, and I like old guys.

BEGALA: Tampa Bay. They're tougher on defense.

Yes, sir. Tell us your name and your question or comment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Tom Page (ph). I'm from Wichita, Kansas. My question is for Paul. Are there any parts of President Bush's tax cut proposals that you support? BEGALA: Yes, actually. He's got a few smaller things that would help small business and would help middle-income people. But the price of that little bit is $600 billion, 70 percent of it that goes to the top five percent. We could do away with that and give the money to middle-income folks, who actually spend it and stimulate the economy. It would do more good for the economy, less damage for the deficit.

NOVAK: That's an incorrect statistic. As a matter of fact, the top five percent will pay more taxes under this plan than they do today.

BEGALA: Bush want to soak the rich -- question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chris Tag (ph) from Arlington, Virginia. With the inclusion of Al Sharpton and the possible addition of Carol Moseley-Braun, it seems the Democratic Party is more fractured than before. Is this a preview of possible drumming the Democrats will get in '04.

NOVAK: Well let me tell you this. This may disappoint you. I think '04 should be a tough election. This country is evenly divided. The Democrats can be counted on to screw themselves up, but Carol Moseley-Braun is a sinister force. She's a stalking horse put in there by conspirators like Paul Begala to prevent Al Sharpton from being nominated.

BEGALA: This is not left wing conspiracy. No, the Democrats have come back together. Even the president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, said it's going to be a close election. He's right.

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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