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Interview With Ralph Nader, Donald Palmisano; Interview With Congressmen J.D. Hayworth, Bernie Sanders

Aired March 4, 2003 - 19:00   ET



On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala.

On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker.


Fixing what ails healthcare.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are too many frivolous lawsuits against good doctors and the patients are paying the price.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, Ralph Nader and the AMA's president-elect debate where a cap on jury awards will really ease the system's pain and suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was sent home with a broken neck because of doctor power and doctor protocol. Patients care meant nothing.

ANNOUNCER: How much longer should Saddam Hussein have and how much longer will it take the president to line up support for a war?

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We cannot be a bully in the world's school yard and expect cooperation, friendship and support from the rest of the world.



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


Tonight, who do you trust to operate on health care in America? the incoming president of the AMA or Ralph Nader?

We're also going to check the long-term prognosis for Iraq's recovery once Saddam Hussein is out of the way. But first, a dose of our favorite daily prescription, the "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress today how important the capture of terrorist leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was. The Shaikh is, he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a severe blow to al Qaeda. He was second only to Osama bin Laden on the FBI's most wanted terrorist list and the attorney general described Mohammed as a senior terrorist leader.

But the senators did not seem all that impressed, worrying whether the government's arresting too many people. Guess what -- guess where the American people are in this debate?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST: I have said, this arrest is an enormous victory for the people who said the United States should work with allies. It was the Pakistanis who arrested him, with the help of the American CIA and FBI. God bless them all.

My fear is that the president's rush to war in Iraq is going to rupture exactly the kind of working relationship we need to arrest these bastards around the world.

Well, when you have the senators worried about some body getting arrested and they're overlooking the importance of this, it's a shame.

BEGALA: Well, I don't think they were doing that.

Well, President Bush today unveiled his plan to herd America's seniors into corporate-run HMOs. Mr. Bush promises a full prescription drug benefit to seniors. All they have to do is leave traditional Medicare, give up their right to choose their own doctor and sign up for a corporate HMO.

Seniors who insist on staying in Medicare as we know it will be punished by getting a prescription drug plan with -- and I'm not making this up -- a $4, 000 deductible. Some choice.

Of course, there is another choice. We could choose to get rid of Mr. Bush and the Republicans, elect a Democratic president and Congress and defend Medicare that protect America's seniors.

NOVAK: Paul, thank you for your nightly Democratic commercial.

Just for the sake of being a truce (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the people -- the seniors will have a choice on this plan and I know that you like the present Medicare system because it's patron saint is Josef Stalin, who set prices all over the place and this will bring in a little free market principle into the Medicare system.

BEGALA: The president who proposed Medicare was John F. Kennedy. That's who proposed Medicare and it worked great. It's a brilliant idea and it worked great.

NOVAK: He had no idea how it was going to go. Do you think Democrats have got their house in order after taking a pasting from the Republicans last November? No way, according to a front page story in today's "Washington Post" by reporter Jim Vandhide.

One problem: Democrats are not as unified as CROSSFIRE's left wing hosts in attacking President Bush's conduct in the war on terrorism. House Democrats, including their leaders, are divided over whether to double Bush spending on prescription drugs while demanding fiscal responsibility, and one look at those nine presidential candidates gives Democrats that sinking feeling.

BEGALA: I'll tell you what's sinking is our president's poll numbers. I saw that story today in the "Washington Post" and it was wrong. I've been on Capitol Hill. I've met with Democrats there.

Look at Senator Kennedy today, giving a speech at the United Methodist Church, taking our president to task. I think the Democrats are doing a good job.

NOVAK: Do I understand that your analysis of the Democratic Party is more objective than a "Washington Post" reporter?

BEGALA: Absolutely. That "Post" is the most pro-Bush big newspaper in the country. Believe me. They're so biased.

Well, Arizona Republican John McCain caused quite a stir in the 2000 election, when he gave a speech decrying the stranglehold that right wing preachers like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have on his party, the GOP. Of course, the rightwing preachers paid Senator McCain back by strangling his campaign, thus proving McCain's point, actually, that the true party bosses of the GOP are Boss Falwell, Boss Robertson and the rest.

So, John McCain actually has some real credibility when he calls on Democrats to disavow the Reverend Al Sharpton. So how about it, my fellow Democrats? Who's going to be the first Democrat running for president to stand up and say that our party should not be led by a man with the record of recklessness of Reverend Al Sharpton.

NOVAK: You know, it may seem strange for you to attack a fellow Democrat, but all the Democratic establishment is attacking Sharpton because he is getting over 20 percent and the number is going up in the African-American vote. You don't want the African-Americans to get out off the plantation and not vote for the candidates that you pick.

You just deny them the right to pick their own candidate.

BEGALA: That's nonsense. I am a Democrat and I have the right to speak about candidates in my own party. I love Al Sharpton coming on CROSSFIRE. I hope he continues to come on CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: You were every mean to him last time.

BEGALA: I was not. I was fair. I was tough... NOVAK: Ohhhh....

BEGALA: ...and I don't believe people on the right...

NOVAK: You were vicious.

BEGALA: ...should be giving him a pass. You're trying to promote him. You're his campaign manager.

NOVAK: That's very nice of you to tell me that.

The best school bill choice ever seemed to be nearing final passage in the Utah legislature. It would provide a state income tax credit of over $2,000 per child for private school tuition. It had been passed by an overwhelming vote in the state Senate, but the powerful school teachers' unions cracked the whip and the House today removed the proposal from a massive education reform bill -- in effect, killing the proposal for this year.

Governor Mike Levin has threatened to veto the bill if it passed and he's a Republican, though a Republican with a reputation for high taxes. Even in Republican conservative Utah, the educationists' lobby rules, the people lose.

BEGALA: You know, school vouchers is one of the great frauds ever tried to been perpetrated by the Republican party and here's why.

In Utah, that bill would have given $2,000 -- $2,000 -- first off, it would have stolen from the public schools $2,000. Do you know what the elite private academy that President Bush cost -- $25,000 a year.

So they're holding out this gift that somehow you can have the kind of education that our president has. It's a fraud.

NOVAK: Why do you want to deny poor African-American kids the right to go to a private school, a parochial school.

BEGALA: Why do you want to deny them a high quality public school so that all of us can go to good schools?

NOVAK: Well, of course the public schools are so rotten.

BEGALA: I love the public schools. I'm a product of the public schools.

NOVAK: I can tell.

BEGALA: Well, and our president's the product of an elite private academy. I can tell that.

Well, Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, a Democrat, has only been in office for a couple of months, but he's already facing his first character test. The former prosecutor, Governor Rendell, has said that he has seen no evidence in the past that the way to death penalty is applied is unfair or unjust. Until today, a blue ribbon commission today recommended a temporary freeze on executions in Pennsylvania until the impact of race in death sentences can be studied. Other studies have found racial injustice in the application of the death penalty, and as many as 100 innocent men, 100 innocent men, have been sent to death row, nearly killed for crimes they did not commit.

So how about it Governor Rendell? A temporary time out to protect the innocent from execution? Sounds like simple justice to me.

NOVAK: That figure of 100 is bogus. It's not at all true. And I'll tell you something, Paul, that is the laziest gimmick by the left wing to try to stop the death penalty from being perpetrated.

The American people want capitol punishment. They have a lot of it in Texas, your state, and it is popular there and it's the people who kill other people maliciously deserve to be executed.

BEGALA: Oh, but the state can kill other people? I don't think so.

We interviewed Ray Krone, on this show, the 100th man -- innocent man released from death row and I think he makes a powerful case that we should protect the innocent.

NOVAK: President Bush says America's doctors should be able to work without trial lawyers looking over their shoulders.

In a minute, we'll ask Ralph Nader and the AMA's president-elect whether they have any better ideas.

Later, we'll ask a couple of Congressmen if we've reached the endgame with Saddam Hussein.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. President Bush today renewed his call for a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damages from the victims of medical malpractice. Ironically down in North Carolina today was also the day funeral services were held for 17-year-old Jesica Santillan, the brave young woman who got the wrong heart and lungs in a botched transplant operation last month.

Is her family's pain and suffering only worth $250,000? Here to debate medical malpractice reform are consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Dr. Donald Palmisano, the president-elect of the American Medical Association.


NOVAK: Ralph Nader, there are states in crisis that keep adding to the list by the AMA where doctors are going out of business because they can't afford the medical malpractice rates. We'll just run a scroll of some of the states. They're big states. Florida, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas. This is a real crisis that lawyers have perpetrated on America, isn't it?

RALPH NADER, CONSUMER ADVOCATE: Another one of your leading questions. This is a medical malpractice crisis. Over 80,000 Americans, 220 every day die from medical negligence, hundred of thousands are injured.

And the insurance companies which had relatively steady rates on doctors for about 10 years have found its investment income, its interest income, the stock market collapse down. And so they're jacking up the rates on a few key specialties like obstetricians and neurosurgeons.

But if you take the entire amount of premiums, Bob, that's paid by doctors in this country to malpractice insurers and divide it evenly, they'd be paying less than $9,000 each. That's one-third of what they pay a receptionist.

NOVAK: That runs against the fact that so many of them are just leaving their practice because they can't afford it.

You know, Ralph, you and I often agree on some things and one thing I think we agree on is the dirty effect of money and politics. Can you say that the lawyers, the trial lawyers who appoint millions and millions of dollars into Democratic coffers in order to keep this, do you believe that this is healthy...

NADER: Well, as much as they've poured into those coffers, it's much less than what the doctors, the malpractice insurers, the hospital chains and the HMOs and the nursing home chains have poured into members of Congress' coffers.

This is first and foremost, Bob, a question of equity. Are we going to allow severely injured people who have found a lung taken out that's the wrong lung or a double mastectomy that wasn't indicated that was inflicted on a woman in the Midwest, or that organ transplant that was incompatible on that 17-year-old teenager in North Carolina. Are we going to say to these and so many others, you can't have your full day in court? The Congress is going to handcuff the judges and juries in the United States at the state court level?

I haven't yet met one senator or representative who's for this bill who has demonstrated that the jurors in their home state and the judges in their home state are incompetent, unwilling or unable to perform justice in these medical malpractice cases. And I've never heard one person say that the insurance executives who make $250,000 a week, every week without any pain and suffering, no one is saying cap those.


BEGALA: Dr. Palmisano, first thank you for being here.

DR. DONALD PALMISANO, PRESIDENT-ELECT, AMA: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

BEGALA: There was a hear on Capitol Hill today. And, I want to ask you to respond to one of the witnesses, John McCormick testified today. He's the father of a little girl, 13-month-old girl, who he said today died because of medical malpractice. He said that the hospital ignored abnormal CO2 levels in her blood. Said that the attending physician had slept through several pages. She died awaiting surgery. Listen to what Mr. McCormick said and I'll ask you to respond.


JOHN MCCORMICK, FATHER OF MALPRACTICE VICTIM: Mr. President, from father to father, my family's pain and suffering are not frivolous.


BEGALA: Isn't he right? Isn't our president wrong to be -- did he win the Lottery? You know, Mr. Bush -- President Bush says these guys have won the litigation Lottery. Does that look like a Lottery winner to you, holding a picture of his dead baby?

PALMISANO: Well, the current medical liability system is affecting patients in that they can't get access to care. The American Medical Association works very hard to make safety a priority in the medical care system. That's why we founded the National Patient Safety Foundation.

The current system doesn't measure negligence. It measures disability. And what we're finding now is that the emergency rooms are closing, trauma centers are closing, pregnant women can't find a doctor to deliver the baby, a boy knocked unconscious has to be transported to another state.

Another witness today told of what happened to her husband because there were no longer neurosurgeons available in the community. The patient had to be airavacked and by that time it was too late to prevent the brain damage.

BEGALA: Those are important points, I don't doubt.


BEGALA: But I wonder if you can respond to Mr. McCormick's point. Who are you, who's our president to tell him that his suffering is only worth $250,000 for the loss of a child?

PALMISANO: Well, what has to be done here is balance. What we need is a system that's fair to everyone, a system that keeps the physicians in practice and allows patients to have access to physicians in their hour of need.

And the system in California that's in the bill, in Congress now, HR-5, that's a system that has worked. It brought stability to California and obstetricians in California will pay 55, 57, $60,000 in Los Angeles and in South Florida in Miami, they'll pay $210,000...

(CROSSTALK) NADER: Because in California they have regulated the insurance company premium levels. And in Florida, they've been very weak on it. And in some states, for example, there are doctors that are -- you know, there are 45 payouts in ten years and they're not disciplined by the state medical board.

I mean, you've got 5 percent of the doctors accounting for over 55 percent of the payoffs, Paul. In other words a small percentage of doctors that are bad, incompetent, indifferent, whatever. They're not performing properly and the AMA is not cracking down, is not supporting expansion to state licensing...


PALMISANO: I want to respond to that. The National Practitioner Data Bank is the source of the information and it was brought up today.

First of all, the Government Accounting Office criticized the methodology used. It lists multiple claims against one physician when actually it's really one claim, different insurers pay on the same physician and it's counted as one claim. It doesn't mention whether they are obstetricians, neurosurgeons or emergency medicine. It doesn't list that.

Right now in South Florida, in South Florida, the latest poll shows that every neurosurgeon has been sued. The average number of suits against a neurosurgeon is five in South Florida. Now are these bad doctors? We'll have no doctors, we'll have no neurosurgeons, no obstetricians...

NOVAK: We've got to take a break.

NADER: Maybe they are bad doctors.

NOVAK: We have to take a break. We'll continue this debate in just a minute. And also, we'll ask Ralph Nader about his plans for another presidential run.

Later, a couple of Congressmen debate whether it's time to give up on a new U.N. resolution and just go after Iraq.


NOVAK: Welcome back. Both the AMA and the Bush administration released reports this week saying out of control trial lawyers are driving doctors out of their practices all across the country. President Bush points this way today, even the most frivolous of lawsuits cost money, premiums go up and either way, the patient pays. We're debating malpractice reform with consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and AMA President-Elect Dr. Ronald Palmisano.

BEGALA: Dr. Palmisano, again, thanks for staying with us through the break. Let me set aside the hypocrisy of a man who became president because of a lawsuit trying to eliminate everybody else's lawsuits, but instead focus on his own experience. He was the governor of my state of Texas, where there are a whole lot of doctors. It turns out that he didn't do any kind of a job policing your profession at all when he was the governor of Texas. Here's what the "Dallas Morning News" reported recently: "The Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, the agency that pledges to protect the public has granted second and third chances to surgeons who are thrown out of hospitals because they botched operations. It has forgiven physicians who overlook cancerous tumors, who maimed infants or whose mistakes left women sterilized. It has refused in the last five years to revoke the license of a single doctor for committing medical errors. Thousands more may have been ignored over the last decade."

That is the Bush record in policing surgeons, why should we trust him now?

PALMISANO: Well, first off...

BEGALA: Physicians generally, not just surgeons, forgive me.

PALMISANO: Sure. What we need to do is to make sure that state boards, number one, have adequate funding. The AMA supports that. If there are any bad doctors we want them removed from the practice of medicine. But it's also...


BEGALA: ... bad doctors?

PALMISANO: Well, it's also unfair to make a judgment without knowing all of the facts of the case. Because someone pays money in a case, the insurance company may pay money because they're afraid there's is going to be a giant award in this case because of this broken liability system. Troy Brennan (ph) of Harvard said there's no correlation with negligence, only with disability. So let's look at all of the facts, but give everybody due process here in America before we criticize.

NADER: Actually, Troy Brennan, the same doctor at Harvard Public School of Health said the issue is not to fuel lawsuits, it's too many. Less than 10 percent of the victims of medical malpractice, and we're talking about horrific injuries here, even file a claim. Even file a claim. And the entire pay-out to all of the victims that get a little money, not the 90 percent who never file a claim, amounts to less than what we spend on dog food. On dog food. It's about $5.4 billion is the pay-out. That's a fraction of physician income. It's a fraction of the health care expense of 1.4 trillion.

PALMISANO: What we have to do is look at all the facts and have balance here. That's what the people in Congress have to do. They have to make sure that whatever they decide keeps doctors in practice and patients having access to care.

NADER: Doctors are going...

PALMISANO: But let me - but let me - wait...

NADER: Doctors are leaving practice because of insurance premium, right? Is that right? They don't abandon their patients, except for the high premiums of a few specialties?

PALMISANO: Because of the premiums. But first of all let me...

NADER: Why don't you crack down on the insurance companies?

PALMISANO: No. Let's talk about the facts. Let's talk about the facts.

NADER: That's the fact.

PALMISANO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) percent of the doctors are insured by physician-owned insurance companies, the medical side. I was just in Oklahoma, they own this insurance company. They are trying to do their very best. It's a company not for profit. What happens here is that more money is being paid out than comes in. And as far as the investment income, A.M. Bests (ph) show that in the past five years, the investment income has been stable at around 5 percent. Brown Brothers Harriman said that investments did not precipitate the current crisis.


NADER: ... payoffs have been stable, adjusted for inflation, National Practitioners Databank (ph). Why do you want that to be secret? All of the information about bad doctors in the National Practitioner bank, you, the AMA wants to keep it secret from other doctors and other patients around the country who want to know whether their doctor is on that list.

NOVAK: Well, let's look at what the president is actually proposing for people who have been harmed by a bad doctor. Let's listen to what he said to the AMA today.


BUSH: If harmed by a doc, they ought to be able to recover their economic costs, economic losses. They should be able to recover non- economic damages as well. But for the sake of the system, non- economic damages should be capped at $250,000.


NOVAK: What in the world is wrong with that? Tell me what's wrong with that?

NADER: What's wrong? Tell someone who had a double mastectomy, tell an infant who's brain-damaged and has no economic loss that for the rest of their lives they're going to get dribbled out $250,000 for their entire life expectancy? Wait a minute. The head of AIG a few years ago was making $250,000 every week.

NOVAK: Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money, though. Not for you, but for most people it's a lot of money.


NADER: These executives, why don't you tell...

PALMISANO: In California - wait, Mr. Nader. In California...

NADER: Why don't you cap insurance...

BEGALA: Mr. Palmisano, go ahead.

PALMISANO: Give me a moment, please.

NADER: Go ahead, go ahead.

PALMISANO: In California where they have this law, it caps the non-economics, the ones you can't quantify. There are awards in 10 million, 20 million, $30 million in California for economic. So all medicals, all rehabilitation, care services in the home, lost wages...

NOVAK: No, no, no. I've got to ask Mr. Nader, we are almost out of time. Doug Friedman (ph), who ran Jesse Ventura's campaign for governor four years ago, says he wants you to run for president again. I know you're saying it's much too early to run for president. But one simple question, Ralph, will you consider another run for president?

NADER: Much too early to consider. I am concerned about Donald Zook (ph), who's head of a medical malpractice insurance company, a big one in the West, saying that his insurance company executive colleagues should not blame the tort injury system. He said that your problem of jacking up these insurance rates is self-inflicted. Here's an insurance company executive who is saying that.

PALMISANO: Well, Mr. Zook is one executive you are quoting. What we need to do is look at all of the people who don't have doctors...

NADER: Hey, let's get some agreement. Should we get some agreement?


NADER: Do you want to really crack down on the bad doctors?

PALMISANO: We want to crack down on the attorneys who file frivolous suits.

NADER: Fine. Fine.

PALMISANO: Seventy percent of the cases filed are told there's no payment. What kind of peer review is that?

NADER: Wait. Wait. Do you want to crack down on the bad doctors? You're in AMA.

PALMISANO: We definitely want to crack down on bad doctors. But...

(CROSSTALK) NADER: Do you want to control insurance rates?

PALMISANO: We want the free market to dictate what is done.

BEGALA: The free market actually dictates we have got to sell some commercials here on CNN or we're all out of...

PALMISANO: Thanks. Privilege to be here.

BEGALA: Particularly Dr. Palmisano, it is Mardi Gras, you're from New Orleans, thank you for sharing...


PALMISANO: ... it's a great city.

BEGALA: Ralph Nader, great consumer advocate.



BEGALA: Don't run for president. Don't run for president. Keep doing your work, Ralph.

Thank you, Doctor.

Well, American troop strength in the Persian Gulf is nearing 300,000 strong, and President Bush says - is said to, rather, be considering giving a speech or a news conference to tell us what's coming next. As if we didn't already know.

Well, coming next on our program, we will ask two congressman if our country is ready for another war in the Gulf.

Later, I will explain why one of the most dramatic comebacks of this year's college basketball seasons was the setting for our "Picture of the Day." You don't want to miss it.



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

The Bush administration is set to ask the U.N. Security Council next week for its blessing for a war against Iraq unless adoption of the resolution looks so hopeless that the White House decides to withdraw it. Regardless, Pentagon officials say the start of the war is so close that Washington is close to giving Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a final ultimatum in advising international non-combatants to leave Baghdad.

With us tonight to debate these turns of events are Congressman Bernie Sanders, Independentent from Vermont, and Congressman J.D. Hayworth, Republican from Arizona.


BEGALA: Congressman, good to see you, sir. Gentlemen, thank you both for coming down from Capitol Hill here to Foggy Bottom.

As we have all with great interest focused on Iraq, there's another crisis brewing in North Korea that I want to ask you about quickly. Of course North Korean jets intercepted a U.S. reconnaissance plane that was in international airspace, a rather hostile act by a communist government, I think we would agree. The other day, the deputy secretary of state under President Bush, Richard Armitage, Navy Seal and remarkable man, was testifying on Capitol Hill about North Korea, and this is what he said.

"Armitage praised President Bill Clinton's 1994 deal with North Korea for preventing earlier bomb-making by the North, and he endorsed 'a bilateral discussion' with the country under a 'multilateral umbrella' of sort." -- Armitgage's words. "Mr. Armitage's testimony led to a meeting at the White House at which Mr. Bush directed Secretary of State Colin Powell and other officials to ban all public discussions of one-one-one talks with the North. 'We are at the point,' said one official involved in that internal debate, 'where nothing is happening and no one knows how we will respond when the bomb-making starts."

Why is our president telling Dick Armitage that we shouldn't have direct negotiations with North Korea?

REP. J.D. HAYWORTH (R), ARIZONA: Well, first of all, I have a lot of respect for Dick Armitage, but I have a lot more respect for our commander in chief. And I think it's important that we try to speak with one voice. This is a difficult situation, Paul, and I'm a bit astounded that the unspoken implication seems to be, as we're dealing with Iraq, people seem to say, well, why don't we have a war with North Korea? Now I want to make sure on the record you don't want to see a war with North Korea.

BEGALA: I want to have talks with North Korea. I want to have talks, as Secretary Armitage has suggested.

HAYWORTH: Well, let's understand this, because I think my senior senator, John McCain, made the point, as others have, where is China in this situation? The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) missiles the North Koreans utilized, technology that I believe at least in some way was developed in China. Why don't folks in that sphere of the world get together and work together? I think multilateral talks are good, but I don't think we ought to have unilateral talks.

NOVAK: Congressman Sanders, as we come closer to war -- and I think you'll agree we are about to go to war...

REP. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Well, I certainly hope not, but the president may push us in that direction.

NOVAK: Democrats of your ilk... SANDERS: I'm not an Democrat; I'm an independent.

NOVAK: But you have an ilk.

SANDERS: I have an ilk? A left ilk or a right?

NOVAK: ... are most critical of the United States. Senator Ted Kennedy said we're going around with a chip on our shoulder, and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, had a reply today. And let's listen to it. I thought we were going to listen.

SANDERS: I thought it was a profound statement.

BEGALA: Senator Roberts is shy.


SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: ... Saddam Hussein, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and the al Qaeda, and all the other people that are causing us problems, not to mention Kim Jong Il of North Korea. That's not President Bush.


NOVAK: What do you think of that?

SANDERS: Well, I think you have a very irrational and unstable leadership in North Korea; very frightening people. I think Saddam Hussein is a war criminal and a mass murderer. But I think what we should be also concerned about is that, all over this world, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, people are saying, what is the United States doing? Why is the United States prepared to go to war in defiance of public opinion throughout the world, public opinion in the United States, in defiance of the United Nations, when we can disarm Saddam Hussein without killing tens and tens of thousands of people?


BEGALA: In fact, our president has been sending a good deal of time in his first two years building a relationship with the president of Russia, a very important country, good for President Bush. In fact, he's given him a nickname. "Pootie-Poot" he calls him, according to news accounts.

Here's, in fact, after he met with him, what President Bush said about Russian President Putin. And then I want to ask you what Putin is doing to us now. Here's our president.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... looked the man in the eye, I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.


BEGALA: Isn't it a failure of leadership for this man -- it was on July 16, 2001.

NOVAK: That's what I thought.

BEGALA: This man, who is our president, peered into his soul and formed this bond with "Pootie-Poot," is now going to veto Bush's resolution. That's a failure of leadership on Bush's part. He can't even bring "Pootie-Poot" along, right?

HAYWORTH: Your former boss was with his pal, Boris Yeltsin, and laughing up roariously onstage. Look, leaders try to establish a rapport. That's really beside the point. And I think you guys have it -- with an old Texas expression -- bass ackward here.

The bottom line is: the onus is not on President Bush, the onus is on Vladimir Putin for pulling what we would expect, trying to get the United States off balance. And the blame is not President Bush's, Bernie, it's Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Baghdad, who has murdered millions of people.


NOVAK: Bernie Sanders, you put out a press release last week that absolutely baffled me, and I'm so glad that you're here.

SANDERS: You were reading my Web site: OK.

NOVAK: Yes. Now let me just read what you said. You said, "One of the reasons that the people of the U.S. and the rest of the world hold different positions on the necessity of war at this time is how events surrounding Iraq are being presented by the worldwide media. It's unfortunate that Americans, who want a more balanced view of the current situation, are going to have to go beyond our borders to find it."


NOVAK: Are you saying -- don't worry about those left wingers out there.

SANDERS: I think you have a lot of smart young people out there.

NOVAK: That's what the problem is of the country. But isn't it a fact that with cable around the clock the American people have access to all kinds of information...

SANDERS: Yes, but the problem is all of that access is owned by a handful of multinational corporations.


SANDERS: Bob, this is a huge issue, and we should come back and really discuss it at length. But what you are seeing now is a smaller and smaller number of large conglomerates, multinational conglomerates owned by people like Rupert Murdoch.

I'll give you an example. Fox Television: Rupert Murdoch has 175 editors around the world. Amazingly, all 175 agree with Rupert Murdoch on the war. What a shock.

NOVAK: Are you saying CNN does not give a balanced view of the war?

SANDERS: I would say if you compare -- interestingly enough, there are two CNN's. There's a European CNN and there's an American CNN.

NOVAK: No, no, no, the regular CNN.

BEGALA: This CNN is going to a commercial right now. You congressmen, please hang on for just a minute. When we come back, we'll ask these congressmen if America is ready to win the peace after we win Mr. Bush's war in Iraq.

And later, in our "Fireback" segment, one of our viewers alerts us to a new axis that we all ought to worry about. You are watching CROSSFIRE on CNN, which is the most trusted name in news.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Over in Iraq, arms inspectors are discovering and destroying missiles. Spy planes are searching for more banned arms, and Iraqi scientists are being interviewed by U.N. weapons inspectors. But here in Washington, President Bush says it's all a hoax, and many believe he has already made up his mind to go to war.

Back with us to talk about it, two Congressmen: J.D. Hayworth, the Republican from Arizona, and Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont.

NOVAK: Congressman Sanders, you're opposed to this war. I'm not crazy about it myself. But I want to ask you a question. When the guns begin to fire, when the American men and women are in harm's way and may be dying, is that now the time for you and your allies to shut up and support the troops?


SANDERS: Well it's not -- are you suggesting that when tens and thousands of Iraqi women and children are killed, and when young men and women in this country are unnecessarily put at harm's risk, what should we do? The answer is, these are my neighbors from Vermont and obviously we're going to support them. And obviously we're going to pray that there's fewer casualties...

NOVAK: Are you going to demonstrate against them in the streets?

SANDERS: No, I don't demonstrate against anybody during a war. But let's be clear. The president almost unilaterally is putting us in this position against world opinion. NOVAK: Didn't the Congress support it? I thought you voted for it.

SANDERS: I did not vote for it.

NOVAK: I mean the Congress. The majority rules.

SANDERS: Yes. The Congress gave him authority, but the American people disagreed with the decision.

NOVAK: Not according to the polls.

SANDERS: Not the polls that I have seen.

BEGALA: Congressman Hayworth, back to a comment. And I know that you meant it and I agreed with it. You said, "This is Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Baghdad." I'm curious, would that have accurately described him in 1988?

HAYWORTH: Oh, yes. I think it does. I think it has described him, especially since he's taken basically a one-man rule over with the Baath Party in 1979.

BEGALA: I agree. Therefore, wasn't Dick Cheney, as the CEO of Halliburton, wrong to be selling oilfield equipment to the butcher of Baghdad in 1988?

HAYWORTH: I don't know about any oil equipment going to Saddam Hussein. What I do know in the here and now is...

BEGALA: I can tell you about it if you like.

HAYWORTH: That's fine. And I know you'd love to cloud the issue.

BEGALA: That's an important issue to me.

HAYWORTH: No, it's so important -- you know this -- and I know it's fun and we love doing partisan Punch & Judy, but is there ever a time when we stand up even if we respectfully disagree with the commander in chief and those who would wage war? Dissent is fine, but these cheap shots, I don't know anything about Halliburton.

BEGALA: He had $73 million worth of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to sell oilfield equipment to Saddam Hussein.


HAYWORTH: What I do know is Saddam Hussein has butchered over a million of his own citizens. And to somehow try to play partisan parlor games may be cute, but we are dealing with a clear and present danger.

BEGALA: Would you have treated him as a customer, the way Dick Cheney did?

HAYWORTH: I don't even know about that.

BEGALA: Would you have sold oilfield equipment to him?


SANDERS: Furthermore, the United States supported him in the war against Iran.

HAYWORTH: Yes. Hello? Iran had hostages. Seventy-nine Americans were held hostage.

SANDERS: Hello? Hello? We're talking...


SANDERS: What we're talking about is the unpredictable nature of war and what could happen in this war. For example -- wait a second -- in Iran, the reason that you had Ayatollah Khomeini in power is he overthrew the Shah. You who put the Shah in power? The United States of America.

HAYWORTH: Oh the evil United States.

SANDERS: But the point is...

NOVAK: I want to get to that point. But the problem with Khomeini was that the guy who he overthrew was put in power by the United States. I can't quite figure that out.

SANDERS: We overthrew (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and put the Shah of Iran in power. Everybody knows that. The CIA did that.

NOVAK: But I mean you're attacking the CIA for putting him in, when it was -- the problem was Khomeini.

SANDERS: No, the point I made, Khomeini came about because we put a brutal dictator, the Shah of Iran, in power. The point that I am making is you cannot...

HAYWORTH: The point you're making is blame America first.

SANDERS: No I'm not.

HAYWORTH: That's what you're doing.

SANDERS: You're talking about blowback. You don't know what happens when the most powerful nation on Earth invades and occupies a Muslim nation and kills tens of thousands of people.

HAYWORTH: We know what happens.

BEGALA: Congressman Sanders (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, thank you very much. Congressman J.D. Hayworth, a Republican from Arizona, thank you both very much.

We will come back to this debate, believe me. One of our viewers, though, thinks there's a sure fire way to get that al Qaeda ring leader to talk. We'll let him fire back in a little bit.

But next, out of all of the pictures from this weekend's nail biter between J.D. Hayworth's alma mater of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) state, and Bob Novak's beloved University of Maryland, only one photo is dramatic enough or politically charged enough to be the CROSSFIRE "Picture of the Day." You do not want to miss this.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. A little bit early maybe for the NCAA playoffs or even for college basketball conference tournaments. But with my beloved Texas Longhorns now ranked fourth in the country, March madness is at hand.

Fans of defending national champion Maryland, though, had quite a scare on Sunday. With a mere 8:51 left in the game, the Terps trailed NC State by 11 points. But after an unbelievable comeback, and with 1.5 seconds left on the clock, senior guard Drew Nicholas (ph) sank a three pointer and won the game and set the Maryland faithful into ecstasy, including one Terp who isn't afraid to come out of his shell, Maryland's most loyal fan, CROSSFIRE's own Bob Novak, our "Picture of the Day."

Bob, congratulations.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, the people -- the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here said they didn't know I could ever be positive about anything. It takes basketball.

BEGALA: I've never seen you so happy except with your grandchildren. That's a great picture. Congratulations. It looks like a lot of fun.

NOAK: Thank you. Next on "Fireback," one of Paul Begala's liberal friends tosses out a rhetorical air ball on the subject of malpractice reform.


NOVAK: Time now for "Fireback." Our first e-mail from Jim Green of San Francisco. "No physical torture is required to get Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to squeal. All the U.S. government has to do is strap this jerk in a chair and force him to watch a continuous loop of Paul Begala on CROSSFIRE. I guarantee the interrogators will know within 24 hours not only the whereabouts of bin Laden, but also whether he wears boxers or briefs."

Jim, best idea of the week.


BEGALA: I am willing to serve my country. I'd be honored to do it. OK, good point. Thank you, Jim.

Dale Adams of Franklin, Ohio writes, "President Bush labeled Iraq, North Korea and Iran an 'axis of evil.' Given his administration's handling of the economy and its inability to gain support for military action against these same countries, one could call his administration an 'axis of incompetence."

NOVAK: Dale is a former president speechwriter. OK. Richard Lucia, a junior of Willingsboro, New Jersey, says, "If somebody doesn't take control of these outrageous lawsuits, there won't be any good doctors left to practice medicine." Richard, you've got that right.

BEGALA: No, Richard's got it completely wrong. It's insurance companies who are ripping off the good doctors because they lost money in the stock market.

NOVAK: That's the line.

BEGALA: Let's see. Michael Sheridan of Kalamazoo, Michigan, writes, "If there isn't a limit to the damage a doctor's mistake can cause, why should there be a limit on the compensation the patient should receive?" Good question, Michael.

NOVAK: See, what you don't realize is, for ordinary people, which seems to be a long time ago, $250,000 is a lot of money.

BEGALA: Not for the kind of pain and suffering that these people go through. And it's just wrong.

NOVAK: A question from the lady.

KATE COCINEFFER: Hi. I'm Kate Cocineffer (ph) from Santa Barbara, California. And I'm wondering how you propose to contain health care costs if you don't approve of malpractice caps and HMOs.

NOVAK: That's a good question for Paul.

BEGALA: You have to insure everybody, that's how. That's the best way to control costs. Because, right now, everybody gets health care, but we get it in the stupidest way imaginable. People without health insurance go to emergency rooms, spend $500, when they could have spent $50 at a regular office visit. That's what's driving it.

You want to control costs, insure everybody. That's what we need.

NOVAK: That was the Clinton plan. That was the Clinton plan and the people turned it down.

BEGALA: They did, but they were wrong.

NOVAK: Question?

CHRISTA DEMORE: Hi. I'm Christa Demore (ph) from Monrovia, Maryland. And I'm curious, how can Democrats claim that President Bush is ignoring the war on terror if al Qaeda's second key operative was just caught?

NOVAK: And it also proves you can even chew gum and walk at the same time. Doesn't it show that?

BEGALA: He cannot eat a pretzel and watch a football became at the same time. So I'm still doubtful of -- no, here's why. This is a serious point and you deserve a serious answer.

The way we caught that guy was by coordinating with our allies. We now have a foreign policy in Iraq that is putting enormous strain on those allies. The same weekend they arrested the guy, we had...


NOVAK: We had no part in it.

BEGALA: No, it was a joint effort by Pakistan. Why do we want to sever that relationship with this idiotic war in Iraq?

NOVAK: We're not severing it -- question.

BEN CHARLTON: Hi. I'm Ben Charlton (ph) from East Lansing, Michigan. I was -- if we wait for U.N. approval for action in Iraq, don't we sacrifice some of our national sovereignty?

NOVAK: Well, where are all of the conservative questions? We never have conservatives in the audience. There's no question. I think even Paul would agree with me. The question of whether we go to war or not is strictly a national question. It's not a United Nations question.

BEGALA: That is correct. The president has got all of the legal authorities he needs. I just pray to god he doesn't use it. We need to go to the U.N. because we want to build coalitions so we have support around the world and so that we don't have to carry the burden ourselves. But legally he has no obligation to go back to the U.N.

From the left I am Paul Begala. Goodnight for CROSSFIRE.

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


With Congressmen J.D. Hayworth, Bernie Sanders>

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