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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interview Tony Coelho, Bob Walker

Aired June 17, 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, he's off and running.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud to be your president. Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: Do any of his challengers have a chance or is Bush unbeatable?

Plus, wimps of the world unite. A Kennedy wants to help you fight bullies. Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Well, now that he's blown President Clinton's huge budget surplus on tax cuts for the rich, President Bush tonight is going to ask some of his rich friends to give back part of their windfall to his re-election campaign. I guess what goes around really does come around.

We will debate the president's role as politician in chief with two top former congressman, two of the smartest political minds in town. But first, the smartest political briefing in town, or television, the CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

According to a report issued by the Democrats and the House Appropriations Committee, our commander in chief is attacking his own troops. Specifically, their housing, their tax cuts, their health care, veterans' benefits and even their kids' schools.

Mr. Bush's budgets cuts almost $1 billion for military housing; $172 million from aid to military schools; and $14.6 billion with a "B" from veterans' benefits, removing 173,000 Americans from the VA health system. Fortunately, Mr. Bush is not cutting his favorite item in the budget, the funds that pay for his neat uniforms when he gets to pay dress-up fighter jock and land on aircraft carriers. So he's saving the important things in the budget, even if our veterans are getting screwed.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Paul, first of all, there's no such thing as military schools in this country.

BEGALA: It's called impact (ph) aid.

CARLSON: And it was a program from which the Clinton administration wanted to cut $100 million. But the point is that this is a political opportunity the Democrats are trying to seize.

John Kerry this week said it's a test of Bush's patriotism (UNINTELLIGIBLE) these budget numbers. In fact, the military has the highest retention rate that it has ever had.

BEGALA: Because the current economy sucks, Tucker. There's nothing else for these guys to do. He should not be -- he should not be asking so much from our military and then giving them so little in (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

They deserve their tax cuts; they deserve their health benefits. They deserve decent housing and they deserve a president who doesn't fib to them. That's what they deserve.

CARLSON: Democrat Howard Dean knows a minor presidential candidate when he sees one. Recently, the former Vermont governor has been claiming he is the only major candidate in the field who has appointed state judges.

This week, a reporter asked Dean if he misspoke. After all, Senator Bob Graham also appointed judges when he was the governor of Florida, a somewhat larger state than Vermont. Dean replied "Bob Graham is a wonderful, decent human being, but at this time he is in the single digits in all the states and therefore not one of the top- tier candidates."

In fact, a recent CNN-"USA Today" Gallup poll has Bob Graham at four percent. That's one point behind guess who? That's right, Howard Dean, who himself is still trailing leading Democratic candidate and American folk hero Al Sharpton.

Sharpton, for his part, had no comment on the controversy. Unlike Dean and Graham, he is busy winning his party's nomination.

BEGALA: I'll tell you what, both Howard Dean and Graham have chosen judges as governors. And I will stack them up against the types of judges Bush has picked. Some have been fine, but in the main, Bush has looked at two groups, the Cromagnons and the Neanderthals. And he goes back and forth...

CARLSON: Look, whatever. That...

BEGALA: But no, they're a bunch of knuckle-dragging, right wing...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: That's one of the dumber talking points ever, so I'll just skip right past it. Let me just say that Howard Dean, however, is starting to have an Al Gore problem. Remember he said a couple of months ago that when he was in the Senate recently he voted for or against the president's Iraq war. He's never been in Congress.

BEGALA: He can pick a judge a lot better than George W. Bush.

A new report on the labor market was issued today by Manpower Incorporated. It concludes that under President Bush the United States faces -- and I quote -- "the weakest job outlook in 12 years." Twelve years. What was happening 12 years ago, guys? Oh, yes, the last Bush presidency.

As author Al Franken has noted, six and a half years of economic policies under the two presidents named George Bush have yet to create a single solitary private sector job. A spokesman for the Bush family, though, said if only they can rig the next three or four presidential elections we will finally live to see the day that every single American is unemployed. So see they have a strategy, we just have to give them time.

CARLSON: Paul, I've been keeping track. And the last time you did this political alert you described Al Franklin as "humorous Al Franken." Now he's author Al Franken. Next time he's going to be Nobel prize-winning economist Al Franken.

BEGALA: He is an author. He's a best-selling author, Tucker.

CARLSON: Oh, I'm not beating up on Al Franken.

BEGALA: And I hope when your book comes out it's a best seller too. But the truth is Bush has put millions of people out of work, and that's what the election ought to be about.

CARLSON: But that is so -- I mean that doesn't register with people. That is so dumb. That's such a bumper sticker.

Look, the point is that at the end you revealed that you still haven't gotten over his election. You are not seeking my advice; you're seeking intensive therapy and counseling.

BEGALA: See I have a job, but 3,053,000 Americans don't. They had jobs under President Clinton, they don't under President Bush. That is a serious thing and I take it seriously.

CARLSON: It's Bush's fault. He just doesn't like people.

Now that she's been stomped in an election, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, believes she can identify with the downtrodden. Of course, she can't. Hence her new job, president of a National Organization for Prevention of Bullies. Called "Operation Respect," the program will attempt to stamp out dodgeball, horse play and in general, political incorrectness among America's school-aged children. Mrs. Townsend is now squarely against meanness. She'd certainly disapprove, for instance, if suggesting that one's political opponent might somehow be responsible for the D.C.-area sniper shootings. That would be mean and also unfair. She realizes that now, and it's nice to see that Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has grown since losing her last campaign for governor. I'm glad.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Of course, what Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is calling for is called character education in our schools. It's a good thing. It's something many principled people on the right want as well as progressives. It would be a very good thing. And for you to be attacking her personally...

CARLSON: By the way, I'm not attacking...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: By the way, the guy who won the race, the guy who became the governor of Maryland, the guy who beat her, became the governor of Maryland, his big crusade is to put slot machines in Maryland...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The point is that I doubt America needs a bunch more liberals running around telling little kids they can't play dodgeball, because their...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The people who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the Columbine saw bullying behind a lot of aspects.

CARLSON: That's actually not true.

BEGALA: Actually, it is true.

CARLSON: Less than a year and a half until George W. Bush's reelection, and the Democratic Party has yet to pick its sacrificial lamb. Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley Braun, Howard Dean. There are so many choices. Campaign 2004, is it a foregone conclusion? We'll debate that in just a minute. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Bush does a little fund-raising here in Washington tonight. The campaign-stated goal, $200 million. The ultimate total may be even higher, possibly much higher. By contrast the man the polls call -- they do in fact call him the Democratic front runner, Senator Joe Lieberman had less than $2 million on hand at the end of the last reporting period. American folk hero, Al Sharpton raised only $114,000.

Will this even be a race?

Here to debate it, Democratic strategist and former California Congressman Tony Coelho, former Pennsylvania Congressman Bob Walker joins him.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

We'll get right to it, because I think you're two of the smartest people in town.

President Bush, Bob, is going need every penny of that money and I am not one who will attack him for raising money, because he's got a big problem. Seems to me the heart of his appeal was that he positioned himself as a straight shooter against Tony Coelho's candidate and my friend Al Gore. Today, before the fundraiser he campaigned at a job training center, do you know that he's trying to cut $60 million from that exact same job training program that he is praising today, he is cutting in his budget.

Is this a credibility problem for Bush as a politician?

BOB WALKER, FMR. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I think the American people are saying over and over again that they like this president's leadership. They do trust him. And in large part it's because they know he follows through on the things he says. The fact is that you can beef a program and want them to operate more efficiently.

BEGALA: You can praise them and cut them at the same time.

WALKER: Yes. Because the fact is...

BEGALA: Would that be a hypocrite?

WALKER: No. I often was in favor of programs that I thought could be operate more efficiently and effectively. And I think that is probably these the mark of a politician that is really trying to bring about change. We have a lot present technologies in this country at the present time that allows us to do things vastly better than we have been able to do them in the past. And I think the president is on record in saying that his administration wants to move in that direction. That's good government.

TONY COELHO, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That was one of the best things I've heard.

CARLSON: I also think it's true. But Tony, here is a question I'm interested in hearing your answer. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, one of the very candidates who I think can credibly challenge the president on national security. And he is also according to people like Paul Begala, the legitimate vice president even as we speak. Given that, he has raised only $3 million as to the last period, $1.8 million in cash on hand.

Democrats clearly aren't supporting him at least with money, why?

COELHO: I don't know and I don't care. I think the issue is basically, are we going to be able as Democrats to raise enough money for our candidate to run a credible race against George Bush in November of '04? The answer is yes. We never have as much money as Republicans and never will. That isn't the issue. You Republicans need a lot more money than we need to run for presidential campaigns. That's the issue.

CARLSON: Leaving that aside. If Democrats are going to continue to whine and they have, that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman did, indeed, win the last presidential eelection...

COELHO: We did.

CARLSON: OK, you are even saying that. Then why aren't more people supporting the guy who is in their mind the legitimate vice president?

COELHO: Maybe they like Dick Gephardt. Maybe they like John Kerry.

What's wrong with that?

They have a choice. They have an interesting choice of candidates. They do not have to make up their mind until the primaries of next year. For you to harp on one individual is kind of interesting.

CARLSON: Not harping.

COELHO: They really have a choice of candidates. It's wonderful. Sort of like people had a choice to go for Gary Bauer in 2000. That would have been an interest choice too.

BEGALA: Boy, did they. Let me, Bob, come to the presidents other, I think, great political strength and that is national security. And he goes to the country repeated with the willingness to politicize national security, that I find shameless. He has scheduled his convention for the week of September 11 in New York City sort of to maximize the political campaign from the pain that we all felt. Here is the problem, one of the top national security aides, counter terrorism aides, has resigned and publicly explained why. Rand Beers who served Reagan, Bush one, Clinton and Bush two, the last four presidents as national security.

This what he says, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terrorism. They're making us less secure, not more secure. As an insider, I saw the things that weren't being done. And the longer I sat and watched, the more concerned I became, until I got up and walked out."

WALKER: He worked for all those people and happened to be a Democrat. And now evidently has now a political agenda, that he is going pursue the Democratic candidates and so. He's entitled to his opinion.

BEGALA: When Bush's own security aide say is not serious about the war on terrorism, isn't a risk for Bush to be politicizing his role as commander-in-chief.

WALKER: Again, I don't think there are very many people that don't believe the president of the United States is not serious about the war on terrorism.

BEGALA: This guy is inside.

WALKER: He's a Democrat who was inside and is now coming out and making political statements. The fact is that you can measure whether or not President Bush is serious about terrorism based on the things that are going on. The fact is the Department of Homeland Security is being stood up, it's beginning to work, it's finding a way in which we can fight domestic terrorism and the president has conducted a worldwide campaign against terrorism. I don't think there is anybody in America that doesn't believes this president is serious about...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: Tony, you may have not seen this. This is from the Night ritter yesterday. This is a veteran political strategist quoted, "A lot of us are basically sick of Bill Clinton, we want him to get lost, but we can't speak out because he is still a good fund- raiser. Now there is Hillary drudging up things we would rather forget and all this evidence of Bill's duplicity. We have enough problems with the middle class voters who think the Democrats lack good morals and values and this new stuff just makes it worst.

It raises the question, who is, who is the leader of the Democratic party? I'm interested to know.

COELHO: I find it fascinating that you just can't get off the Clinton kick.

CARLSON: This is a Democrat, Tony, not me.

No, no, no.

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: Let me answer your question. I'm fascinated by it. But the interesting thing is what you have in the American system is you have a Democratic leader in the Senate, a Democratic leader in the House and a Democratic leader in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that's who is running the party. That's what you're supposed to have. That is what happens every four years.

(CROSSTALK)

COELHO: I'll tell you what happens. At the Democratic convention the process says, we appoint somebody as our Democratic leader. We vote them in and they become our spokesman of the Democratic -- that will happen, Tucker. I'll tell you what, this race for president is going to be a very tough one, a very tight one and you'll need every one of those $250 million in order to win election.

BEGALA: Bob Walker, are the Republicans too cocky, are they too arrogant?

WALKER: I don't think we're cocky or arrogant at all. Clearly we understand particularly if the economy doesn't come around and that would make for a tough campaign. I will also tell you if the economy does come around and it seems to be moving back up as a result of some of the new confidence that it has because of the Bush economic program, then I think it will be very difficult for the Democrat to beat George Bush. But I don't think there is a cocky attitude at all. One reason we're out doing what we need to raise the money and put together the organization is because we recognize you're going to have to have a grass roots campaign, you are going to have a strong media campaign and you're going to have to have a very, very strong policy campaign with the American people. And we are prepared to do that.

BEGALA: All right. Keep your seat, Tony, hold your thought. We're going to come back in just a minute. When we do, Wolf Blitzer will have all headlines, including the latest on an American soldier who was shot today be a sniper in Iraq.

Then "Rapidfire" where the questions come faster than any other place in American Politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now for "Rapid Fire," the fastest Q&A session in television. President Bush is for some of us unbearable, but some conservatives find him unbeatable. Is this arrogance, ignorance or just confidence? Our guests, former Congressman Bob Walker of Pennsylvania and Democratic strategist Tony Coelho.

CARLSON: Tony, all the polls, every one, show Hillary Clinton beating the announced candidates for president. This shows what a pathetic field it is, doesn't it?

COELHO: No. This happens every four years, Tucker. I mean, I don't know where you've been. And once we pick our nominee...

CARLSON: Locked alone in my room.

COELHO: Yes. Once we pick -- and you'll be crying soon, by the way. And once we pick our nominee, it will be a close election, and hang on, baby.

BEGALA: Bob Walker, what is Mr. Bush's greatest vulnerability?

WALKER: I think probably the economy. I mean, if the economy doesn't come back and you still have people out there who are concerned about whether or not they're going to keep their job, that will certainly be a factor in the campaign. Other than that, I think that he is going to be very strong.

CARLSON: Now, tell me, when Al Sharpton speaks at the Democratic convention in Boston, in 2004, will he be speaking for the Democratic Party?

COELHO: Are you hung up on Al Sharpton?

CARLSON: Yes, I am. Please try to answer my question. Will...

COELHO: This you've asked me every time I've been on the show.

CARLSON: Because you never answer it, and I'm giving you a chance. Will he?

COELHO: Will he what?

CARLSON: Speak for the party.

COELHO: Speak? He'll speak for himself, if he speaks.

BEGALA: Bob, will we see the sort of politics of personal destruction that was used against John McCain when Bush ran against him in the primaries?

WALKER: Well, I don't think you're going to see the politics of personal destruction practiced as much this year. I hope not, anyway. One of the ways that we ought to get past the way in which politics has been practiced is to end personal destruction. It would help if we would also end it as a part of the nomination process on Capitol Hill.

CARLSON: We're almost out of time, but tell me, which Democrat do you think would do best against President Bush?

COELHO: Anyone.

CARLSON: Carol Moseley Braun?

COELHO: Anyone.

CARLSON: So you mean, Dennis Kucinich?

COELHO: Anyone.

CARLSON: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: We're almost out of time. President is raising $20 million tonight. Name me one time he's ever stood up against the corporate interest.

WALKER: Well, I'm not certain that I can name a particular time, but I am going to be there with him tonight while he's raising $20 million.

BEGALA: All right. Bob Walker, Tony Coelho, you're our favorite guests, thank you both very much.

CARLSON: It's time to ask the audience tonight's big $20 million question. The Bush fund-raiser. What will the donors be served in return for their donations? Members of our student audience, pull out your electronic voting devices. Press one for caviar and lobster; press two if you think they're serving grilled chicken; press three if you think the owners will get hamburgers and weenies. We'll have the results and reveal them, and the actual menu, in just a minute.

And then in "Fireback" we hear from yet another member of the fashion police. We dismiss him cruelly. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Time now to report in on how our audience voted. We actually asked them a bit of a trivia question: What will they be serving for $2,000 dinner with the president tonight. Thirty-one percent guessed caviar and lobster; 41 percent guessed grilled chicken, and only 28 percent decided hamburgers and hot dogs.

CARLSON: But the real answer is three, hamburgers and hot dogs.

BEGALA: Because if they believed in providing decent meals to people, they would be Democrats. They wouldn't be Republicans.

CARLSON: Really? Have you been a Democratic fund-raiser?

BEGALA: Absolutely.

CARLSON: It's like tang and velveeta. It's depressing.

BEGALA: Here's our first "Fireback" from Bruce Shoultes from Huntsville, Alabama. "The reelection campaign for Bush is a misnomer. Shouldn't this be his election campaign, or his re-appointment campaign."

Good point.

CARLSON: You know, I hurt inside when I hear that.

Next up, Leon from Duluth, Minnesota writes -- "Tucker, I've only seen you wear your pink pants twice. I wish you would wear them more often." Thanks, Leon. "I'm sure they inspire many a neocon. I'm sure that after the 2004 Bush defeat, the Republican Party may want to wave them in defeat." You know, for a Democrat to criticize pink pants that much, not that there's anything wrong with that. Yes, sir, question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, I'm Ethan from (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Tennessee. I am here with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and I was just wondering, this might be a question better for Paul. There's a lot of different Democrats running, obviously. And I kind of think that they might have a problem finding a consistent message. Do you think a shift to the left would energize the party more, or do you think being a little more centrist in this election will sway more Republican or, you know, moderate voters?

BEGALA: Well, Governor Ethan (ph), that is a great question. First, congratulations on being your youth governor. I don't think we need to go left or right. I think we need to get tougher. We need to fight President Bush. He is a tough politician himself. We need to be tough too. That's the prescription.

CARLSON: Getting tougher means going left.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now. Have a great night.

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