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CNN CROSSFIRE

Bush's Carrier Landing Creates Political Turbulence

Aired May 7, 2003 - 16:30   ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE.

On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala.

On the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, the president's carrier landing creates political turbulence.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I am loathed to think of an aircraft carrier being used as an advertising backdrop for a presidential political slogan.

ANNOUNCER: Was this presidential showboating?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: This president is proud to have visited the Abraham Lincoln, to have flown on to it to say thank you in person to those who defend our country.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, keeping Dick Cheney on the ticket and his old company in Iraq.

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Live, from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

This afternoon we're taking off on President Bush's use of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln for political showboating.

But first let's catapult into the best political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

The United States Army has admitted that the no-bid, $7 billion contract awarded to Halliburton Corporation in Iraq was far more extensive than the Bush administration previously revealed. The Halliburton contract covers not only extinguishing oil well fires in Iraq but also potentially the operation and distribution of Iraqi oil. Vice President Dick Cheney still receives up to $1 million a year from Halliburton in deferred compensation from his tenure as CEO.

Cheney told today's "Dallas Morning News" that he will remain on the ticket with President Bush for the 2004 campaign. And why not? Why bother returning to the private sector when you can bring corporate compensation with you right into the White House?

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN CO-HOST: I think -- I think you're on to something here, Paul, I have to admit. Dick Cheney is in it for the money. He's vice president for the profit he can make from a company he no longer work for. I mean, this is -- this is actually moving into the grassy knoll territory of crackpot theories.

BEGALA: Why doesn't he level with us? Why doesn't the White House tell us what they gave Halliburton, how much of a contract they got, and what this was supposedly was for. Just level with us.

CARLSON: No. No. But you just read...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: You just read they got a contract to help clean up the oil well fires.

BEGALA: And how much else?

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Actually, there aren't that many companies -- this may be news -- in the world that can handle --

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ....that you know that specialize in A, putting out oil files and B, distributing oil.

BEGALA: Everybody can distribute oil. That's what Exxon does and Shell and Mobil and BP.

CARLSON: To say it's a conspiracy.

BEGALA: No, it's a rip-off.

CARLSON: A remarkable story by Sam Dealy in this morning's Hill newspaper may prove devastating for the John Edwards for president campaign. An analysis of fund-raising records show the former personal injury lawyer from North Carolina has received suspiciously large amounts of cash from low-level law firm employees, some of whom are registered Republicans with no history of political activism.

The Justice Department is already investigating allegations that Edwards took money last month from law firm employees in Arkansas who expect to be reimbursed for their donations which is, of course, a highly illegal practice. Is the John Edwards campaign now facing its own version of the Buddhist temple scandal? We will keep you posted.

BEGALA: Well, I'm sure you know this, but this is how the laws work. It is the donors who have to comply with the laws. Not -- every campaign cannot possibly screen -- not even Governor Bush who raises millions dollars. I'm sure some of that fell through the cracks. I don't blame Bush for that. I don't blame Edwards for this. I'm not for Edwards or any Democrat. I'm for all of them But I think it's highly suspicious when the Justice Department, if they did a few weeks ago, starts leaking -- that, well, we're investigating --

CARLSON: Actually -- I'll tell you -- actually, it wasn't the Justice Department didn't leak it. It was "The Washington Post" that interviewed an employee of that law firm in Little Rock who said, Actually I'm giving this money and I expect to get it back from my boss.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: If that's true that's a problem for that employee, not for the candidate...

CARLSON: But that's exactly right.

BEGALA: ...to whom she gave money.

CARLSON: But this new story shows that low-level -- I mean $30,000 a year employees -- who Republicans are giving the maximum to a candidate nobody has ever heard of? Come on.

BEGALA: But that's not Edwards' fault.

CARLSON: We'll see.

BEGALA: We shall see.

Jonathan Alter of "Newsweek" magazine -- he's the reporter who, along "The Washington Monthly"'s Josh Green outed Bill Bennett as a degenerate gambler -- tells "The Washington Post"'s reliable source today that documents prove that Bennett is not telling the truth when he says he only gambled three or four times a year. A reliable source today also tells us that the holy roller turned high roller has been offered a new job; executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

The group's leader -- and I am not making this up -- says Bennett could do for gambling what Betty Ford did for alcohol addiction. Bennett will take the job provided they relocate the headquarters to the Whale Room at the Bellagio Casino. So good news for Bill. He landed on his feet.

CARLSON: Fort of all, to call him a degenerate gambler is a bit over the top.

Second, what happened to this whole idea that what people do in their private lives is their business? I mean, this guy didn't even lie under oath and you're calling him a degenerate.

BEGALA: It's not his private life. It's his public life. He's made a living off of preaching his morality to everybody else and lecturing us that we're immoral because some like to listen to dirty lyrics or some happen to be born gay or some people actually voted for Bill Clinton and he lectures us for that while he's blowing millions of dollars of his family's money at the casino. He's a hypocrite.

CARLSON: If you're against that kind of lecturing, why are you lecturing Bill Bennett?

BEGALA: I'm not. I'm just pointing out that he's a hypocrite and I'm welcoming him back to the fore and welcoming him to his new job.

CARLSON: To the fellow hypocrites, I guess.

BEGALA: No. I don't ever claim to be more moral than Bill Bennett. He claims to be more moral than you.

CARLSON: OK.

There -- speaking of some one who claims to be more moral, there is more evidence today that Americans simply can't bear to hear another word from thankfully former President Bill Clinton. Earlier this year, Clinton signed a stunningly lucrative contract with CBS News to do a debate segment on "60 Minutes" with retired Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole.

Less than two months in, Clinton has bombed badly. Ratings stink. Public interest is nill. You've probably never seen it and good for you. CBS executives tell "USA Today" they're likely to cancel the segment after a few more weeks.

It turns out that when he's not embarrassing himself or pardoning criminals, Clinton just isn't that interesting.

BEGALA: Gee, or when he's not creating 23 million new jobs, setting in place the strongest economy in American history.

The fault here, of course, lies not with Bill Clinton or Bob Dole, who's also a very distinguished public servant, but with CBS "60 Minutes" the old crank to runs it, who actually attacked CROSSFIRE. Hey, guess what Don Hewitt? Twenty-one years later, CROSSFIRE is still here and your Clinton-Dole thing is already in the can.

CARLSON: Well I tend to agree with you.

BEGALA: If you want to see good debate, tune into CROSSFIRE.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: I tend to agree it was badly produced, but if you listen to what Clinton says, most of the things...

BEGALA: You can learn something if you listen to Clinton.

CARLSON: are very sort of conventional NPR, just sort of nothing at all. He's not a very interesting thinker is the problem. That's true. BEGALA: Well, I'm glad -- Tucker, I'm glad that you're willing to pass judgment on the morality of public people in gambling and now Clinton's intellect.

CARLSON: Paul, I'm making an aesthetic judgment and he's just not that interesting.

BEGALA: Well, I'm glad you don't find him interesting. Why do you fixate on him in such a healthy way?

CARLSON: I'm not.

BEGALA: Anyway, coming up next, why President Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier of the USS Lincoln may not have been quite as smooth as the White House expected. That will be our debate. It's coming up next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

In lieu of contributing new ideas, fresh candidates or constructive solutions to America's problems, the Democratic Party is instead out to sea, literally.

Unable to match last week's pictures of President Bush's visit to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, members of the Democratic Party have decided instead to whine about those pictures. Bush, say Democrats was somehow out of line when he thanked members of the military for their sacrifices in the war against Iraq.

Have Democrats gone crazy or do they have a point? That's out debate this afternoon. In the CROSSFIRE, New Jersey Congressman Robert Menendez who's the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I do have to tell you (UNINTELLIGIBLE) used to do this a living that was about as good as it gets in terms of a photo op. It was wonderful. What I have a problem with is that apparently the White House misled us. Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman told the country that the reason the president had to land on that carrier in a jet with a tailhook is because it was too far out to sea to land the chopper safely. Well, it was 39 miles out to sea, according to press accounts. I flew with President Clinton on a helicopter. We landed 70 miles out there. Why did the White House mislead us?

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Well I don't think the White House did mislead us, Paul. So they actually...

BEGALA: But they don't know where their boats are? He's commander in chief. PENCE: And I won't admit to you, I traveled with the speaker of the House a week before this and went to the USS Truman in the Mediterranean, did a tailhook landing with Speaker Dennis Hastert on the flight deck of the USS Truman. So the sights and sounds of what the president experienced are still ringing in my ears, as well as the briefings that we got.

These ships are very dependent on weather and the ability to move around in the sea. As Ari Fleischer said, the White House thought that, and frankly the Navy thought that aircraft carrier was going to be a couple hundred miles out to sea. They made better time overall because of weather, came close in.

And frankly the president landed in that aircraft on the flight deck because he wanted to experience that. He wanted to identify as commander in chief with the men and women who were the heroes of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and I for one thought it was just terrific.

CARLSON: Congressman Menendez, I feel sorry for the Democratic Party, as I often do, but never more so than now. The war, which most Democrats opposed has been a success, the president who most Democrats really don't care for is riding high. You hated seeing the picture of him in the aircraft carrier and I understand why. But does it make political sense to wine about something like this?

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well we need less top gun and more fiscal responsibility. We need a president who's focused on the economy and people's unemployment levels. And while he was making his tailhook landing, another 48,000 Americans were left unemployed at the end of April. Now that's the type of important issue that the president needs to be dealing with.

And I have to be honest with you. You know, we all know about photo ops. But, you know, the custom made flight suit, $200. Keeping that ship, slowing it down so he could have this special landing, about $800,000 to $1 million...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: ... in terms of the fuel necessary to keep it going. But...

CARLSON: I think your facts are incorrect. According to the Navy...

(CROSSTALK)

I want to correct that. The Navy said that did not happen.

MENENDEZ: What is shameless is the delaying the return of 4,000 sailors from the longest deployment in 30 years to their families. That is what's shameless...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: What did you say to new dads who've never seen their new babies who risked their lives it was delayed a day so they could be props in President Bush's photo op? What's your answer for that?

PENCE: Well let me tell you something. My information from the Navy and the White House, I think Ari Fleischer addressed this very recently, there was absolutely, Bob, with all due respect, there was no delay in the schedules...

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: ... of the Abraham Lincoln into port. When the date and the time the families were given was honored.

And look, and here's the issue. The issue, and we can disagree on this. And I, for one, come from a district where there's been enormous loss of jobs. I have a tremendous burden for the issues that you're raising, Bob. And we hope to do something about that with tax relief this week.

But I think the real issue here is, what was the appropriate venue? Was it to go in amidst the troops to identify as commander in chief with the people who risk life and limb, some of whom paid the ultimate price to win Operation Iraqi Freedom, or...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: This wasn't about the troops, it was about Bush. Just be honest here. It was about...

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: ... to have a bunch of politicians stand up and carp and wave like we do...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: There are plenty of opportunity to be with troops. We're all for the troops. But hiding behind the troops for a million dollar taxpayer funded public relations stunt is not. That does not create...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: ... does not create a responsive cord with the 8.8 million Americans...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... as Mr. Pence has just said, the Navy and the White House have both said that what you said is factually wrong. The Navy...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: ... how long does it take to keep a ship going -- steaming? And they said $800,000 to a million dollars. And...

(CROSSTALK) MENENDEZ: ... "Boston Globe" had it. The president's own spokesperson said, well, he could have gone out there in helicopter. He chose not to.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: ... acutely aware of waste, fraud and abuse.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: And my question to you is Congressman Henry Waxman, really one of the most appalling publicity hounds in the Congress, I mean that as a compliment, is starting an investigation into this which will waste untold thousands of taxpayer dollars. And are you on this? You on top of this right now?

MENENDEZ: Tucker, Tucker.

CARLSON: Congressman.

(LAUGHTER)

MENENDEZ: My colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle constantly are pointing out to billions of dollars they say exist in the federal government in waste, fraud and abuse.

Now they've had eight years of a majority to be able to root out the waste, fraud and abuse. Well, if, in fact, that ship was slowed down, if, in fact, it cost a million dollars for the president to do his top gun stunt, if it delayed those 4,000 sailors from the longest deployment in 30 years to return to their families, to me that's that's...

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: Paul, Bob raises the right issue. Was it a waste? Let me tell you something. When I was with the speaker of the House amidst the 5,500 men and women aboard the USS Truman a week earlier...

BEGALA: How many networks cameras did you bring with you to promote yourself? Zero.

PENCE: There were no network cameras there. The speaker of the House...

(CROSSTALK)

PENCE: Let me tell you something. Those young people, and they're humbling to be around. You've been around them. Bob, you've been around them. These young people filled the deck to meet Speaker of the House Hastert, just the way they filled the deck to meet the president. If it cost $1 million, Bob, if it cost $2 million to celebrate them and what they did in Operation Iraqi Freedom...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... without making ads. Will the president use this for ads for the Republican Party or for his campaign?

PENCE: I can't say. I certainly hope...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: I'd rather celebrate them by restoring the veterans benefit cut that they're returning back that this administration has in their budget. That is the way in which you celebrate...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Then why have Democrats wasted an entire news cycle whining about a picture? And where are your solutions to bringing back veterans benefits, etc?

MENENDEZ: Our solutions are on the table. We have voted for returning veterans benefits. Our package for a stimulus takes care of real Americans, people who are unemployed. And we're not out there going ahead and not providing solutions to those 8.8 million Americans, to the 350,000 who at the end of this month have no unemployment compensation (UNINTELLIGIBLE), to the 48,000 who...

CARLSON: I'm going to have to interrupt the litany of numbers...

(CROSSTALK)

MENENDEZ: That's what we need the president focusing on.

CARLSON: But instead we're talking about aircraft carriers.

Next, the quickest question and answer session in politics. We call it "Rapidfire."

Later in "Fireback," on e of our viewers saves the Democrats time and money by picking the most obvious candidate for president. We think you know who he is. We'll tell you in moment. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Store your tray table in the full and up locked position.

It's now time for "Rapid Fire," where questions are tighter than a presidential jumpsuit and the answers ought to be short enough to land on an aircraft carrier.

We're talking with Republican Congressman Mike Pence from Indiana, and New Jersey Democrat, Robert Menendez, he's the chairman of the House democratic caucus

CARLSON: Congressman Menendez, former President Bill Clinton landed twice on aircraft carriers in 1993 and 1996 wasting tons of money in the process, but producing good pictures, did you complain when he did? MENENDEZ: The fact of the matter is nowhere near did it cost $1 million and it wasn't the same circumstances and it wasn't the purposes that President Bush did.

BEGALA: Congressman Pence, the difference is president Clinton did not delay anybody's greetings with their family or nor did he film a campaign commercial. If Bush films a campaign commercial will the Republican party reimburse the taxpayers who paid for this thing?

PENCE: Paul, I'm not aware of any plans or if they had film crew aside, but let me tell you something...

BEGALA: But If they do shouldn't pay us back.

PENCE: I want to be clear I never would have criticized President Clinton the time you accompanied him to an aircraft carrier. And I think the commander and chief being among the troops at the end of a successful victory is exactly where we want him to be.

CARLSON: Senator Byrd of West Virginia, attack the president in one of his (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the senate floor. Over his long career in the Senate how much money do you think Senator Byrd of wasted giving these long (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MENENDEZ: How could you ask me that in a democracy?

The fact of the matter is the Senate is a place, as is the House for a debate.

CARLSON: And money wasted.

MENENDEZ: Senator Byrd has the right to debate.

BEGALA: When you flew to the Mediterranean, on to the Harry S. Truman, you saw those heroic sailors, did you wear one of these foney- baloney Tom Cruise jump suits like Bush so you could pretend to be a real fighter jock.

PENCE: Paul, if they offered me one and if I could fit in, I would have put it on in a heartbeat.

BEGALA: You didn't it, because you didn't need it.

CARLSON: Congressman Menendez, as you know Congressman Waxman is starting an investigation, how many Democrats has he investigated during his time in Congress?

MENENDEZ: I have no idea.

CARLSON: Probably zero, I bet.

MENENDEZ: I think what he goes after is issues. Regardless of who is behind those issues. And I think if you look at Henry Waxman's history, he's done many during Democratic administrations, as well as Republican.

CARLSON: Well, that is a whole other show.

That we are unfortunately going to have to say for the time.

Thank you very much Congressman Menendez, Congressman Pence.

Thank you both very, much we appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: One of our viewers has noticed our bell sometimes fails to cut off debate. He suggests an alternative. Next in "Fireback" it's truly cruel and distasteful, therefore, you won't want to miss it. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time for "Fireback."

Our e-mail bag has been filled with response to the president's landing on that aircraft carrier.

Betsy Warner in Arlington, Virginia writes, "After Watching our president speak aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, I was wondering if there has been any news to as when Bush will officially christen the ship the USS Showboat?"

Well, that would be an incident (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for Bush or the USS AWOL, since he didn't show up for a good bit of his National Guard duty.

CARLSON: Keep running on that, Paul, that will work.

Richard Moller of Kingston, Ontario, a foreign country to the north writes, "OK, time to get rid of that bell. I realize that you have to keep things moving because of the cut in time, but please find a less annoying way of doing it. Maybe electric shocks to your host who filibuster."

Richard, I'm sort of for that.

BEGALA: Electric shock?

CARLSON: Didn't they used to have that in the back seats of cabs in Paris?

BEGALA: You could actually shock the cabby?

CARLSON: Yes -- No, no, the cabby could shock you. It's France, it only goes one way.

BEGALA: OK, Joe in north Hollywood, California writes, in about the controversy about Bill Bennett and his gambling addiction. "At least we know what Bill Bennett did with his tax cut. Cha-ching!! Boing!! Insert Coin!!" I like an e-mail with sound effects. CARLSON: I do too. Cha-ching, boing, an unused word.

All right, next up is Tim from Saint Louis, Missouri. He writes, "Tucker I agree with you that Al Sharpton should be given the Democratic nod for the 2004 election. I also think that Paul Begala and James Carville should support him because Sharpton represents everything that their party stands for."

You know, Tim, I can't think of a single issue on which -- on which Al Sharpton diverges from the National Republican Party.

BEGALA: See, Al Sharpton doesn't represent -- he never won an election for a Democratic in any primary. Rick Santorum the number three Republican in the Senate with his homophobic right wing crackpot views comparing gay people to incest. He's the embodiment of the Republican party.

CARLSON: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Paul, be honest, please. Aren't the Democrats...

BEGALA: You be honest to, tell me your name and your home town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tico Perez (ph) from Orlando, Florida.

BEGALA: Perez, welcome to Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Paul. And be honest, isn't the problem that the Democrats are just jealous, that they need something to attack about the event at the aircraft carrier because it looks so genuine and perhaps the president looked like a such leader because he in fact is one?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I don't speak for anybody else. I sure was jealous. It was a beautiful photo op. But you know, they should not have mislead us. They should tell the truth about what they are doing and why they should say, you know what, it's a taxpayer funded commercial and we got to refund you. They've got enough money, RNC has got hundreds of millions. They should pay us for their propaganda.

CARLSON: It's not all about campaign, he is the commander in chief, sorry you didn't care for it.

BEGALA: He is the commander in chief, Chief Justice Rehnquist says so.

From the left, I am Paul Begala.

CARLSON: And from the right, I am Tucker Carlson.

Joins us again tomorrow for another addition of CROSSFIRE.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com




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