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Bush Files Reelection Paperwork; Who Sicked Homeland Security Department on AWOL Texas Democrats?

Aired May 16, 2003 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left: James Carville and Paul Begala. On the right: Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE, look who's running again. Were there ever any doubts? Speaking of doubts, are there anything but for any of the Democrats?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It certainly seems from here that the emerging Democratic theme is to snipe at each other.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, who sicked the Department of Homeland Security on those AWOL Texas Democrats? Today on CROSSFIRE.

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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. An auspicious day. Not only is Tucker Carlson 34 today, the 2004 presidential campaign is also officially underway.

CROSSFIRE, of course, is committed to covering every minute of both Tucker's 35th year and the race for the White House. Let's start with politics and our political briefing: the CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

President George W. Bush today instructed aides to file papers formally beginning his candidacy for reelection. This is no surprise that Mr. Bush wants to remain as president. He only works three and a half days a week, he's got a new Homeland Security Department that spies on opponents, he wastes millions of taxpayer dollars playing dress up fighter jock. You just know the president's thinking, you know, gee, if National Guard duty had been this much fun, I might actually have shown up.


So Mr. Bush, though, of course, can be expected to run on his record. That record, of course, would be, oh, say ruining the economy, blowing the surplus, running up a record deficit, increasing unemployment, leaving millions of Americans without health insurance, not to mention leaving Afghanistan and Iraq in chaos. So it's a fine record, Tucker. Let the campaign begin.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: So I'm a little bit confused, Paul. How do you feel about President George W. Bush? You know, it's interesting.

BEGALA: I love him.

CARLSON: I've said this before and I say this more with affection than with reproach. But I watched the same thing happen to conservatives during the Clinton years. He was so personally unappealing, so annoying and dishonest, that some of us drove ourselves crazy disliking him. I'm proud to say that I disliked him but I never drove myself crazy.

I think democrats are in the process of the same problem right now. You haven't gotten anywhere beating up on George Bush the man. I don't think it's going to carry you across the finish line.

BEGALA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about George Bush the man. They were about his record, which sucks. As a man, he's actually a nice guy. He used to be a friend of mine. Maybe when we throw him out of office, he'll be a friend of mine again. But while he's president ruining my country, I don't support his policies.


CARLSON: Ruining your country? All right.

Here as a quick political quiz. Who made the following observations about the Democrats now running for president? Many are members of the "Mondale-McGovern wing" which is defined, "principally by weakness abroad and elitist interest group liberalism here at home." One of those liberals, Congressman dick Gephardt, has proposed a health care plan that is absurdly expensive, but that's not surprising, since "every primary season unleashes this pander (ph) virus."

So who said that? If you guessed the right wing conspiracy, you are wrong. Those words came from a memo released yesterday by the Democratic Leadership Council, a group long affiliated with Bill Clinton. In other words, it won't be possible to blame that accurate critique on Tom DeLay. So how will Democrats respond to it, Paul Begala?

BEGALA: They will respond to the spirited primary. That's what elections are about.

I just saw in our opening a clip of Ari Fleischer saying all the Democrats are doing is sniping at each other. It's called having ideas, putting them out in the battlefield of ideas and having it out. That's what elections are all about. And, actually, in our party, we have a rule where the guy who gets the most votes wins, which is something that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: I agree with you that sniping takes place in primaries. Sniping is what you did to President George Bush. But to say -- to call members of your own party people whose defining characteristics are weakness abroad, that's a big, big deal. That's a very, very heavy charge. How do you respond?

BEGALA: It is a heavy charge. But I think the party needs to sort it out and fight it out. That's what primaries are for.

Well the Texas patriots who fled the state capital returned to Austin today in triumph. Tom DeLay's partisan power play to steal congressional seats seems to be dead. But one very scary issue remains. The Bush administration's Department of Homeland Security was used to track down the wayward politicians.

Senator Joe Lieberman, who sponsored the law creating the agency, is outraged. He has called for an investigation over how, why and by whom the anti-terror agency was used for political espionage. Instead of spying on terrorists, apparently Mr. Bush's feds are spying on Democrats. That makes George W. Bush the greatest threat to civil liberties since J. Edgar Hoover hung up his brassiere.

CARLSON: That's actually gross. Well, first of all, as a Democrat, it's hard (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you're criticizing J. Edgar Hoover for wearing a brassiere. But most of what you said is totally inaccurate.

There is no evidence at all that the federal government called anybody at the Department of Homeland Security. Apparently somebody in Texas -- it's not even clear who -- asked a company under contract with the Department of Homeland security to track some airplane. That's wrong, but it's very different from saying that the Bush administration is spying on Democrats.

BEGALA: The federal government -- the Homeland Security is the federal government. It's part of President Bush's executive branch of government. They were spying on Democrats. We need to get to the bottom of it.

CARLSON: That's not true. They apparently...

BEGALA: They tracked down Pete Laney's (ph) plane, the leader of the House Democrats.

CARLSON: You're wrong. You're flat wrong.

BEGALA: They failed, but they tried to track it down.

CARLSON: That's just simply not true.

BEGALA: It's absolutely true. It's 100 percent factual.

CARLSON: It seems like just yesterday -- back to happier topics -- that Barbara Walters at ABC was interviewing the world's most famous intern, Monica Lewinsky. Well get ready for an attack of deja vu. Next month, Walters will grill the other major figure of that bygone era, Hillary Clinton.

Senator Clinton, one of the few elected officials in the world who does not generally do interviews, agreed to submit to the grilling because she has no choice. Her hew book, "Living History" won an $8 million advance from here publisher, who apparently had been drinking.

With no possibility of earning the money back through book sales, Mrs. Clinton is forced to go on television. The lesson here: sometimes it takes a book advance. And I am very, very glad we're going to finally hear from the senator from New York.

BEGALA: You know she earned -- of course I happened to have the same publisher as Hillary. He's a cold-hearted capitalist who's only trying to make money. That's his job...

CARLSON: She'll never make $8 million on that book.

BEGALA: Didn't you already bet that you'd eat your tie and probably your shoes if she does?

CARLSON: Yes. And, literally, I will pay for your dinner for a month if she makes $8 million.

BEGALA: I eat a lot, Tucker.

CARLSON: You can't eat enough. She's not going to make $8 million.

BEGALA: She's going to sell a whole lot of books. She will make that advance and more back.

CARLSON: What sort of person would buy Hillary Clinton's...


BEGALA: Let's ask the audience. Who here would buy Hillary's book? Off to a pretty good start right here.

CARLSON: So that's four copies right here. But it's going to take a lot more than four copies to make $8 million back. It's not possible.

BEGALA: Tucker, do you perhaps have a book coming out? You're worried about the competition?

CARLSON: I do. I got only half of what Hillary got. So I'm a little bit annoyed.

As we've noted, the lineup for next year's presidential election is now official. Next, we'll debate whether the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Later, what do Rolling Stones tickets have in common with a boat dock? Not much, but actually there is a political connection. We'll explain it to you. Stay tuned.


BEGALA: Let's talk politics here on CROSSFIRE. John Kerry today unveiled a health care proposal that Senator Kerry says will cut costs and cover virtually every American. Many of his Democratic rivals have proposed plans of their own, and seven of the nine Democratic presidential candidates are expecting to be in Des Moines, Iowa tomorrow for a two-and-a-half hour town hall meeting.

Meanwhile, the Bush-Cheney team today filed papers showing that they want to win their first election to the White House in 2004. It would be a change.

In the CROSSFIRE to talk presidential politics, Republican strategist Terry Holt and Democratic consultant Kiki McLean.


CARLSON: Kiki, thanks for joining us. I want to get back to this DLC memo, the Democratic Leadership Council. A pretty mainstream group in which your friend, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, was a driving force.


CARLSON: Well amen. I'm sure you heard the critique of many of the people running for president from the DLC. They are members of the McGovern-Mondale wing defined principally by "weakness abroad and elitist interest group liberalism at home."

That is a deep critique and it calls into question the basic tenets, the underpinnings of a certain part of the Democratic Party. Can a candidate who represents that wing win?

MCLEAN: I am shocked. I am shocked, Tucker, that you, in fact, would maybe misrepresent something that that memo had said. Not really. What you said was that that's their critique of most of the Democrats running this year.

CARLSON: No, I didn't say most. I said some.

MCLEAN: What that memo from the Democratic Leadership Council was really about, and what former President Clinton had to say in some conversations with DLC Democrats, was about what a winning Democrat needs to be in 2004.

CARLSON: Kiki, please. This is an attack on specific -- it says, "When activists like Dean called the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- it's a specific attack on a specific candidate.

MCLEAN: No it wasn't an attack. It was a statement to Governor Dean, for whom they have a great deal of respect. His record as a governor is a great one.

CARLSON: I can tell.

MCLEAN: But, as a presidential candidate, that he, in fact, is being exclusionary. That he is the one maybe drawing the line saying you had to be against the war in Iraq when, in fact, we have very strong Democrats who supported the actions taken in Iraq (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


BEGALA: You support Joe Lieberman.

MCLEAN: I support Joe Lieberman. And as a Democrat in my own right, I supported the actions that we took in Iraq. I think the diplomacy was a drag and I supported the actions because I thought we had to take them.

BEGALA: Well let me bring Terry Holt into this, though, Kiki.

MCLEAN: And as a Democrat, I think Governor Dean is wrong to do that and I think it's legitimate for other Democrats to engage in the debate.

BEGALA: I'm sorry, Kiki. I want to bring Terry into this. Let me switch now to your party's certain nominee, President Bush, who last night won a huge political victory. First, congratulations to the Republicans.

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Actually, two last night. He passed his AIDS initiative last night.

BEGALA: Not as politically difficult. Good for him. But on the tax cut, an important win for the president.

I wonder, though, what now does he do if it doesn't work? He's now personally responsible for the deficit, unemployment...

HOLT: Well, it's going to work.

BEGALA: No, I'm sure you believe it will. But if it doesn't, isn't it true -- let's just stipulate -- that President Bush now is fully accountable for the American economy going into this reelection.

HOLT: Well he's always been engaged in the economy. And let's look a at what this tax bill will do. It will give about $1,000 to even low middle income families. I can't imagine people thinking $1,000...

BEGALA: Well we can discuss that, but I want to get to the politics...

HOLT: ... isn't a good idea.


BEGALA: He is now accountable for the economy, right? He's not going to blame Clinton or bin Laden or Santa Claus or whoever else he blames?

HOLT: Every president holds some responsibility for getting the economy moving again. But while everybody was playing politics and, frankly, knives coming out at the DLC yesterday, the president was arguing for more jobs and more economic growth. And last night scored a big victory on that. And as long as he is focused on the economy and he's taking care of business on the national security side, he's going to be in pretty good shape.

BEGALA: But if it doesn't generate more jobs, which he promised 1.4 million...

HOLT: Well, you know there's been a recession, there's been a war. You know he inherited a lot of important...

MCLEAN: Terry, you can't say you had a big victory and then condition it on all the things that you won't be responsible for. If you're the president of the United States and...

HOLT: It's a $12 trillion economy.

MCLEAN: That's right, and he's they guy in charge. He gets the blame and he gets the credit.

HOLT: Absolutely.

MCLEAN: So if he gets to fly out on the aircraft carrier and have a pretty picture, he gets the blame when it doesn't work.

HOLT: You guys love that picture.

CARLSON: You do. And I think most people do.


CARLSON: Kiki, I want to hit you with one of the saddest, maybe the saddest poll I've seen in a long time. It's from CBS News and "The New York Times." And it asked this past week "Can you name anybody who is running for president as a Democrat?" Sixty-six percent of Americans couldn't name a single Democratic candidate for president.

MCLEAN: That's OK.

CARLSON: But I want you to listen to this. Among Democrats, only 10 percent could name Joe Lieberman, who apparently has run before on the national ticket.

MCLEAN: That's OK.

BEGALA: He won, didn't he?

CARLSON: And fewer Democrats could name John Kerry than Republicans could. Fewer Democrats -- what, Democrats are not paying attention? What? Tell me. Spin it for me.

MCLEAN: First of all, I'm going to guess that it was probably a bad sample, because he got more votes than George Bush did. So we know more people know who he is. So that's number one, OK?

Number two, early in the process. You know you spend your life -- because you do have a job, Tucker. You wake up in the morning, you pay attention.

Most people in America are trying to raise their kids, hold down their jobs. A lot of them are trying to find a job because they don't have one.

CARLSON: So they can't remember his name?

MCLEAN: They're busy enough that they're not engaged in politics the way you and I are, and that's why we have a campaign process so that we have the opportunity to raise information, bring it to the public, make sure that candidates get to put their positions out and hopefully invite people to participate in the process.

HOLT: And most new polls also tell you that people are dreading this season coming up with nine candidates, all out after each other. But most people after 2000 would just as soon go the president's way, which is nice, quiet, structural set up.


HOLT: We're going to have a great campaign. It's going to be a very close campaign.

BEGALA: He's going to have an enormous problem on this front, I think. And that is, on this issue out of Texas today. There's a story that the Department of Homeland Security was used to spy on Democrats. Joe Lieberman, Kiki's boss, has called for -- and you know what, they were thoroughly investigated by special counsel.

Let's have a special counsel for this as well, Terry. Terry Holt is calling for a special counsel to investigate the politicization of the Department of Homeland Security? Are you? Are you supporting an investigation of that?

HOLT: I have no idea what the story is.

BEGALA: Shouldn't it have the same investigation?

HOLT: It seems to me that you're picking it a little bit of this and that. And you've got to go a long way to get...


BEGALA: No, no, no. I want to know if you would advise President Bush and Tom DeLay to cooperate with an investigation of whether they had a role in politicizing homeland security.

HOLT: I don't know the facts, but it seems to me...

BEGALA: Should they cooperate?

CARLSON: Now, Kiki, notice so much of the criticism aimed at the White House is of the most small and boring kind, like this.

MCLEAN: I don't know, I think two million lost jobs isn't small, Tucker. I don't know. I think that's pretty big (UNINTELLIGIBLE). CARLSON: OK. You want to talk big issues? I want to talk the single biggest political issue there is going into this campaign, and that is, who protects the public better from terrorism? Every poll ever that I've seen on the subject has the same result. Here's the latest.

MCLEAN: The president opposed the creation of the Homeland Security Agency for five months or the Democrats who proposed it? I don't know, which one do you think?

CARLSON: If I could just ask my question, perhaps you could attempt to answer it. Fifty-eight percent say the Republicans are better at protecting them from terrorism, 18 percent say Democrats. That's 40 points. You've got to close that gap; you can't win. Isn't that right?

MCLEAN: I think you've got to make sure that people understand who is not funding homeland security right now, and that's George W. Bush. Who opposed creating the Homeland Security Agency? And that was George W. Bush. Who actually proposed it to begin with? Joe Lieberman, the father of homeland security.

And, in fact, what this president is doing to governors and their budgets to provide homeland security to first responders at the grassroots level in our towns, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, is an absolute shame.

CARLSON: Is the public too dumb to figure this out? Is that why 40 percent is the spread?

MCLEAN: Well, you might think they're dumb. I think they're busy trying to live life every day, Tucker. And I think that's why we all have an obligation as Republicans and Democrats to get into the debate.

You know I love that you want to cite polls, but I've got news for you. I think Saddam Hussein had 100 percent name I.D. I don't think it worked out so good for him. So I'll live with the low poll number for a little while, OK?

CARLSON: OK. When we come back I'll try to figure out what that means. And we will be right back.

And when we do come back, we will have a look at the headlines. And then, it's "Rapid Fire," the quickest question-and-answer session in television.

Later, another bizarre combination. Fishing rods and elephant statues, they have something in common. We'll tell you what it is. We'll be right back.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time for "Rapid Fire." The shorter the answers, the more questions we get to ask. We're talking presidential politics with Democratic consultant Kiki McLean and Republican strategist Terry Holt.

BEGALA: Terry Holt, will the economy be an asset or liability for President Bush in the election?

HOLT: It will be an asset. He's had a clear plan, he's communicated it from the beginning. I think people give him credit for trying his best, even if it's not the best economy at the time of the election.

CARLSON: Kiki, is Al Sharpton fit to be president?

MCLEAN: Al Sharpton is fit to be in the Democratic debate. And it will be up to the voters to decide if he's fit to be president. I've already told you, I'm voting for Joe Lieberman.

BEGALA: Who will President Bush blame if his economic plan doesn't work this time?

HOLT: Well, obviously, you can blame Osama bin Laden, you can blame the war on terrorism. You can blame the fact that he inherited a recession, that the people's confidence in this economy after the war on terrorism began is certainly a factor in people's behavior at this point.

CARLSON: Kiki, isn't John Kerry making a huge mistake picking a fight with someone as insignificant as Howard Dean, politically?

MCLEAN: I don't think Howard Dean is insignificant. I think a former governor who balanced a budget all the way through two terms is a significant candidate. And I think it's up to John Kerry to decide what his campaign strategy is. And that's what the whole campaign is going to be about for the next nine months.

BEGALA: Terry, should there be an independent investigation of allegations that the Homeland Security Department spied on Democrats?

HOLT: I would say no. I'm not a lawyer and don't no the details of the thing, but come on, you're picking on a tiny thing. Let's find out more about it before we start calling in the lawyers.

CARLSON: Kiki, I'll confess, I'm very surprised that Joe Lieberman, who I think is an impressive candidate, isn't taken more seriously by people Washington. Are you surprised that nobody seems to take him very seriously?

MCLEAN: I think people take him very seriously. I just don't know what crowd of people you're hanging out with, Tucker.

BEGALA: Terry, we're almost out of time. How many debates will George Bush agree to in the general election?

HOLT: One or two or three.

BEGALA: Terry Holt, Republican strategist, thank you very much. Kiki McLean, my old pal and a Democratic strategist, a terrific debate. (APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well one of your viewers has a vision of the future under President Bush. We'll let him fire back in just a minute.

And next, the perfect gifts for a couple of multimillionaires. And I don't mean Tucker and me. Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Well, what do you give to a couple of millionaires who live in government housing and use multibillion dollar aircraft carriers as their personal play things?

Well, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have given us a helpful clue. Their federal disclosure reports came out and shows that President Bush, who lists his net worth at up to $21.9 million, was given by his friends such gifts as a boat and a dock for his ranch in Texas, a cowboy hat, and a signed edition of a great American novel "To Kill a Mockingbird."

Vice President Cheney, disclosing assets of up to $86.4 million, received two excellent sage (ph) fly fishing rods -- I salute his taste in fly rods -- as well as fishing reels, a sculpture of a rainbow trout and other gifts. But perhaps the biggest gift of all was the one Mr. Cheney gave himself. By casting the tie-breaking vote on last night's tax cut, our vice president effectively gave himself a gift of $107,000. I guess he said thank me very much, right?

CARLSON: You know what the problem with actually reporting all the gifts that you receive is it makes it much harder when you leave the White House to walk off with all the silverware and claim that someone gave it to you.

BEGALA: Well you know that was a false story.


CARLSON: No, I know that.


BEGALA: Don't you think it's vulgar for a man who is worth $86 million, much of it off of government contracts, to then vote himself a tax cut?

CARLSON: Well you know what was the most interesting part of the whole disclosure form was that the Bush daughters each received tickets to a Rolling Stones concert from their secret service agents. I thought that was so, you know, telling and sweet.

BEGALA: They are great kids and I will never criticize them. God bless them.

And I actually think that both Bush and Cheney have wonderful friends, because they give them good -- they're fishermen, they got cool gifts. God bless them.


BEGALA: I like that stuff. I just don't like his stupid tax cut. I've got to pay for that.

CARLSON: And now to "Fireback." Tim Anderson of Lenexa, Kansas writes "The French, champions of contrariness prior to Iraq, are now complaining they are being unfairly criticized. This points to the futility of the U.S. boycott of French products."

And indeed, it does, Tim, and it calls for the final solution. That is, of course, invasion.

BEGALA: All-out war, yes. Liberate the French. That's exactly right. Absolutely.

Tom in San Clemente, California, the western White House under Nixon, writes "Thanks to Dubya there will be billions of dollars to prop up the economy. Everyone will have access to health care, taxes will be eliminated and oil will flow at a reasonable price. It will just all be in Iraq."

Well, good point, Tom. Can't have everything.

CARLSON: Phil Marcus of Columbia, Maryland writes "Tucker, as a liberal Democrat I do not often agree with what you say. Still, your comments on the nanny state and its efforts to control whether people wear seatbelts in their own cars were right on."

Phil, you could not be too liberal if you agree with that. You sound like you have the seed of common sense within you. Let it grow, Phil. Let it flower.

BEGALA: No, it sounds like the seed of self-destructive (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If you don't wear your seatbelt, I have to pay your bills for your brain damage after your car accident.

CARLSON: You want to tell other people what to do. That's a part of liberalism.

BEGALA: No, I just don't want you flying through a windshield and me having to pay the bill.

CARLSON: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Greg (ph) from Columbia, Maryland, as well. How much of a chance does a truly liberal, say, Howard Dean candidate, have at winning the Democrat nomination? It seems as though moderates define the major Democrat figures through and through, from Clinton to the present.

CARLSON: Well that's simply because Democrats realize that a liberal -- a serious liberal like Dean is not going to be elected president. But I think he's got a pretty good chance -- not Dean specifically, but a liberal of winning the nomination. It's a liberal party.

BEGALA: It's actually not a liberal party. My party has not -- I actually did this for a living for 19 years. The Democratic Party has not nominated the more liberal candidate in the race in 20 years.

CARLSON: Oh, I absolutely agree.

BEGALA: Not since 1984. The Democratic Party is more moderate and mainstream party. I don't want to pick sides. I want Howard Dean to come on the show; I want all these guys to come on the show. But it is a much more moderate party than it was 20 years ago.

CARLSON: But Al Sharpton does represent the rank and file Democrat.

BEGALA: No he doesn't. Even in the most Democratic city in America he lost. The question is, does Rick Santorum represent the rank and file homophobic right wing, gay-bashing, gay-hating Republicans? The answer is, yes, because they picked him to be their leader.

CARLSON: There's actually not one thing that Al Sharpton believes that wouldn't past muster with the average Democrat.

BEGALA: It's everything that he believes.

CARLSON: You've got to be kidding.

BEGALA: It's Rick Santorum who represents the Republican Party in their hateful homophobia. From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


Security Department on AWOL Texas Democrats?>

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