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Interview With Grover Norquist, Vic Kamber

Aired June 24, 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, Democrats on the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want this country back again.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We need a president who is president for all Americans. Nobody left out. Nobody left behind.

ANNOUNCER: But should they leave out the attacks on each other?

AL SHARPTON, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: We have two many elephants running around with donkey jackets on.

ANNOUNCER: And is the opposition just too strong?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm getting loosened up. I'm getting ready.



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


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. The Democratic presidential candidates have shifted into attack mode. In a little bit we'll debate whether they're doing political damage to anyone but themselves. But before we go on the attack, here comes the best little political briefing in television: our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

What's Howard Dean up to today? He just can't wait for Iowa and New Hampshire next winter. He's all geared up to win a primary election today. Well, sort of a primary election that is., a left-wing advocacy group formed in 1998 to impose the impeachment of Bill Clinton, is holding its primary election on the Internet today, expecting 1.4 million voters. Former Vermont Governor Dean, who loves to campaign on the Internet, is favored to win. The winner will get the endorsement of I wonder what first prize is?

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: You know you say they're left wing. was right about the impeachment. The American people didn't want it. They helped lead that charge.

They were right about Mr. Bush's unjustified war in Iraq. They're going to be right about replacing George W. Bush. I think they're a very effective group and they have come from the real grassroots of America.

NOVAK: Well, read my lips, friend. They're left wing and so are you.

BEGALA: No, no, no. They're main stream.

NOVAK: They're about as main stream as you are.

BEGALA: No, I think this is the future. Moving the campaigns to the Internet is where people can gather, they can exchange ideas.

NOVAK: Isn't that silly having a primary election on the Internet with all those left wing nerds voting?

BEGALA: No, I think it's a great idea. I love it.

Well, President Bush met at Camp David today with the general who runs Pakistan. The general -- OK, I can't remember his name. But I'm not the only one who can't remember the general's name. Remember this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember the president of Taiwan?

BUSH: Yes, Ali.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the general who is charge of Pakistan?

BUSH: Is this a 50 questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. It's four questions of four leaders in four hot spots.

BUSH: The new Pakistani has just been elected. Not elected. This guy took over office. He appears he's going to bring stability to the country, and I think that's good news for the...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name him?

BUSH: I can't name the general.


BUSH: General.


BEGALA: Well, that should remind the smug Republicans who are attacking Howard Dean after Governor Dean flubbed some questions on "Meet the Press" Sunday. But the most knowledgeable candidate doesn't always become president. Apparently the one best able to win a Supreme Court case does.

NOVAK: You know, Paul, it is really stupid when journalists play the 20 questions game. You know, who is the financial minister of Belarus and questions like that. But as a matter of fact, it isn't the Republicans who have been criticizing Governor Dean for not knowing the facts. I have heard all the criticism from the Democrats saying, oh, my lord, are we going to get stuck with this guy as the nominee?

BEGALA: It was you yesterday who attacked him on it, Bob. You're not a Democrat and you attacked him.

NOVAK: Senator Bob Graham's big asset as a Democratic presidential candidate is supposedly that he's from the key state of Florida. But a new poll shows President Bush defeating Senator Graham in Florida by 13 points.

And the other Democratic hopefuls experience the same trouble at home. In Missouri, Congressman Richard Gephardt loses to Bush by 14 points. In North Carolina, Senator John Edwards loses to him by 18 points. In Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman loses by five points, and in Massachusetts, Senator John Kerry loses by nine points.

What about Hillary? In New York, Senator Clinton loses to the president by three points. So much for favorite sons or favorite daughters.

BEGALA: Hey, nothing could make me happier as someone who wants to see Bush defeated than to hear the right with that kind of arrogance, that kind of hubris a year and a half before an election with three million Americans out of work who had jobs when Bill Clinton was president, with 50 Americans killed in Iraq since the day Bush landed on the aircraft carrier, for the arrogance of the Bush team to be saying, oh, we're unbeatable.

I love it, because it's sure proof that they're going to lose. That's what I heard from the last guy named Bush. And look what happened to him.


NOVAK: I'll tell you something. When Senator Kerry can't even win in a poll in Massachusetts -- do you know McGovern carried Massachusetts.

BEGALA: Well, an investigation by the "Knight Ridder" newspaper chain concludes that the Republican governor of Idaho, Dirk Kempthorne, "has cut his state's environmental budget three times and sharply reduced enforcement of environmental regulations." "During Kempthornes' four and a half year tenure as governor," the paper continues, "Idaho's pristine air has gotten dirtier, more rivers have been polluted, few polluters have been inspected and more toxins have contaminated the air, water and land." Governor Kempthorne is President Bush's leading candidate to take over the Environmental Protection Agency.

Perhaps Mr. Bush would also like to ask, oh, say Ken Lay to run the Securities and Exchange commission, or how about Michael Jackson to run the White House child care center? It would make about as much sense.

NOVAK: Well you know, Paul, Governor Kempthorne would be a substantial improvement over the previous EPA director, who was kind of a liberal Republican, former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman. But I want to give you a little reality check. We who believe in the private enterprise think Kempthorne is too liberal, and we would like to see our president name somebody who is less soft on the environment.

BEGALA: So like James Watt was not available? I mean, come on, Bob. We like to breathe, we like to drink water.

NOVAK: I can give you a long list of it. But Kempthhorne, believe me, is considered by our people as much too liberal.

BEGALA: Bush has been really bad on the environment, and it will hurt him in election.


BEGALA: Well, President Bush's greatest vulnerability may not be the environment, though. It may be his arrogant sense of invulnerability. Coming up next, we will debate whether it is wise for Mr. Bush to be at fat-cat fundraisers while our troops are dying in Iraq and whether any of the Democrats have the guts to call him on it. Stay with us.


NOVAK: Welcome back. The nine Democratic presidential candidates are so starved for attention they're attacking just about anything that moves. Sometimes it's President Bush, more often it's each other. Can anybody here play this game?

In the CROSSFIRE today, Democratic consultant Vic Kamber; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform -- Paul.

BEGALA: Thank you both for joining us. Grover, you're a savvy observer of the scene. Clearly, Mr. Bush today is way out ahead and clearly that doesn't matter because we're a year and a half away. And so I think strategists look for vulnerabilities that haven't yet arised.

Our president, one of his great strengths in the polls is that he's seen as a strong leader on national security and he's seen as a straight talker. What happens if people start to believe, for example, that we already know that he told us that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium in Africa and we know that's false? He told us they had close ties with al Qaeda; we now know that's false.

He told us that the International Atomic Energy Agency said he was close to having nuclear weapons. We know now that's false. The last time in 2000 he ran as a straight talker. Is his slogan for 2004 "I never lied at least about sex?"

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: Well, I think the argument is going to be did the president do the right thing in liberating Iraq? And as more and more Americans see the bodies that are being unearthed in Iraq, the determination that the Iraqi dictator was somebody that needed to be moved on and that we can give Iraq something along the lines of more freedom...

BEGALA: It doesn't matter if he misled us? It's OK for the straight talker to give us double talk about war?

NORQUIST: If the Democrats want to attack the president on being too strong in Afghanistan and Iraq, they can. It's just not a Democratic strength to run on foreign policy along these lines.

VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC CONSULTANT: Grover, wait a second. There is a difference between running on foreign policy if -- and I hope it's not true -- and I say that and I say it, Bob, because I don't want to hear you talk about it. If the president lied to the American public with full knowledge he was lying and we went to war over it, that man deserves to not only be defeated but impeached and thrown out of office.


NOVAK: You're joining Bob Graham, John Kerry, the little governor of Vermont.

KAMBER: I'm delighted to be in that company, Bob.

NOVAK: All these people who don't have anything else to talk about so they attack the president of the United States. And they've been attacking him for, what, a couple weeks?

Now I just want to show you the latest poll just taken by ABC News-"Washington Post" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) disapprove of the president. Sixty-eight percent approve; disapprove 29 percent. That's pretty close to a tie. It isn't working, is it?

KAMBER: Bob, we know the president is popular, no one disputes that. You'd be a fool to say...

NOVAK: I said it's not working.

KAMBER: What's not working?

NOVAK: All these attacks on him. KAMBER: The only people looking at this whole issue of the presidential race are 50, 60, 100,000 Americans. The public isn't engaged yet. Once there's a nominee, there will be an engaged public. And if I come back to say that the president has lied to American public, whoever that Democratic nominee will be will take on the president and I think beat him.

BEGALA: Because the issue is credibility as a politician. Again, one of then Governor Bush's great strengths is he wasn't seen as a politician. Doesn't he look awfully political when we've now lost 50 men in Iraq killed since the day he landed on that aircraft carrier and said mission accomplished? And while those 50 men are dying he's running around to fat-cat Republican fundraisers. Doesn't that make him look like another politician?

NORQUIST: Well, first of all, every Democrat is out doing campaign fundraising as well.

BEGALA: They're not the commander in chief, Grover. And they're not landing on aircraft carriers.

NOVAK: Let him answer the question.

NORQUIST: And secondly, the point that we're trying to send to the terrorists around the world is we're not going to let you dictate how we operate ourselves. We're running a presidential campaign. It is wise and good and just and a good idea for the Democrats to be out campaigning, as it is for the president. And we shouldn't let terrorists decide that the president has to spend all day hunkered down in the White House or something along those lines.

KAMBER: You're right, he shouldn't. But he should at least solve the problem. He claimed that we have a war on terrorism; he has not done anything on the war on terrorism.

He went to war with another country. No, I think Osama bin Laden is still living some place in some cave. We haven't gotten him. We took down a dictatorship in Iraq where there was a bad man, no question about it, but not a man we knew had...

NORQUIST: Afghanistan, which was housing the Taliban...

KAMBER: Is still now housing some Taliban. And it looks like Afghanistan has fallen back into the hands of the old leadership.

NOVAK: Mr. Kamber, I would like to ask you what you think of your fellow Democrats, because it's just that they don't have anything positive to say. They not only attack the president, they attack each other.

Senator Kerry attacks Senator Graham. Governor Dean attacks Senator Kerry. Senator Edwards attacks all the rest of them. Do you think that's a good strategy?

KAMBER: Bob, you and I know that politics is politics. They're running against each other. They're trying to show the differences. The same thing that the Republicans did last time.

Lamar Alexander attacked George Bush. George Bush attacked Alan Keyes. Alan Keyes attacked this one.

What's the difference? You're running; you want the nomination.

Do I like it? Would I like all nine of those Democrats to say George Bush is the only enemy and they all say the same thing? We've got to differentiate between the nine.

NOVAK: Do you think they're showing a good image for America...

KAMBER: I don't think it matters.

NOVAK: ... when they get out there...

KAMBER: They're trying to distinguish themselves.

NOVAK: It doesn't matter what they look like.

KAMBER: It matters what they say and what they believe in, Bob. And as long as they say what they believe in and they fight for what they believe in, the best person will win the nomination.


BEGALA: Well, in fact, Grover, there is still a little problem that President Bush has on the right. He has embraced Teddy Kennedy's entitlement plan for senior citizens to get prescription drugs. Is it because he suddenly had a change of heart and became a liberal? Or maybe is he just another crass, phony politician?

NORQUIST: No. The Republicans for four or five years have been saying they want to get a prescription drug benefit. They'd also like to see reform so that Medicare doesn't crash and burn in 10 or 20 years, which is the same reason we need to reform Social Security.

BEGALA: So Bush signing on with Teddy Kennedy's prescription drug plan is a good thing?

NORQUIST: Well, the Republicans in the House and the Senate...

BEGALA: Teddy Kennedy.

NORQUIST: ... and the president has asked for reform...

BEGALA: Teddy Kennedy.

NORQUIEST: ... as well as -- Teddy Kennedy isn't wrong on everything, just most things.

NOVAK: But you're a shrewd political strategist, Mr. Kamber. Haven't you just lost your big issue? You have been pounding the Republicans in campaign after campaign. No prescription drugs, no prescription drugs.

I may not like it, but they're going to sign prescription drug. You've lost that issue, haven't you?

KAMBER: If George Bush takes the Democratic platform and signs every bill, I would even vote for George Bush. Prescription drugs is one issue. I want to reform this economy, I want to deal with the infrastructure.

I want to deal with Medicare and Medicaid. There is a whole bunch of things George Bush hasn't touch.

NOVAK: Do you remember when Clinton signed the welfare reform bill?


NOVAK: This is the same thing, isn't it?

KAMBER: No. That is not what got Bill Clinton re-elected, let me assure you -- the reform bill.

BEGALA: Hold that thought. Vic Kamber, Grover Norquist, hang on just a second. We're going to take a quick break.

When we come back Wolf Blitzer will have all the headlines for you. And then it will be time for Rapidfire here, where there are two kind of guests, the quick and the dead.

Later, in our Fireback segment, one of our viewers explains why he is thinking about Homer Simpson in 2004. Stay with us.


BEGALA: Time now for quickest question-and-answer session in politics. We call it Rapidfire. And we are talking about the already heating up presidential campaign with Grover Norquist. He is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. And Democratic consultant Vic Kamber.

NOVAK: Mr. Kamber, if the election were held today, who today would be the strongest Democratic candidate?

KAMBER: Probably John Kerry.


BEGALA: Mr. Norquist, which Democrat do you fear the most?

NORQUIST: I'd like to see Dean or Al Sharpton...

BEGALA: Who do you fear the most, was the question?

NORQUIST: Oh dear. Kerry, I guess.

NOVAK: A big Kerry day. Do you think there will be more candidates? Will Wes Clark or Joe Biden get in the race?

KAMBER: I would guess one of the two might. And probably Wesley Clark. Joe Biden I think will look at it in September and probably decide it's too late.

BEGALA: Wes Clark will be here tomorrow night and we'll ask him in person. Grover, was the American economy stronger under President Clinton or President Bush?

NORQUIST: President Bush now because it's moving up. Under Clinton it was collapsing when he left office.

BEGALA: Really?

NOVAK: Would you advise Democratic candidates to follow the course of Dean and Gephardt and come out for a tax increase?

KAMBER: No, I would absolutely not. I think that they should look at whatever the needs are. It may be some form of increases on some taxes, but I have not seen where Gephardt has called for a flat tax increase, and I haven't seen where Dean has called for a flat tax increase. They have talked about tax increases on some items.

BEGALA: Grover, you and many conservatives support a trillion dollars in tax cuts and $40 billion for homeland security. Are you crazy?

NORQUIST: No. I think we need to continue to reign in taxes, and particularly on savings and investments so everybody can save for their retirement without the government pick their pocket.


NOVAK: Some of the liberals say that Teddy Kennedy made a mistake in signing on to the Bush drug prescription bill. Vic Kamber, did he make a mistake?

KAMBER: Probably not for Ted Kennedy. For some of the Democrats I think...

NOVAK: For the party?

KAMBER: I think some Democrats feel it doesn't go far enough, it doesn't solve the problems. And that Kennedy, out of desire to make a prescription drug plan, signed on. But I think some Democrats would like more.

BEGALA: Grover, we've lost 3,055,000 jobs since George Bush took the oath of office. If that's not a failed economic policy, what is?

NORQUIST: Well, I think the president has called for more significant tax cuts than the Democrats in Congress allowed him to have. We need to speed them up and we need to make them permanent.

NOVAK: OK. Thank you very much, Mr. Kamber, Grover Norquist. Appreciate it.

It is time for today's ask the audience question. Who will hold the first 2004 presidential contest? On your studio audience voting device, press one if you think it's New Hampshire. Press two if you think it's Iowa. And press three if you think the first presidential contest of 2004 is right here in Washington, D.C. We'll give you the answer and see how you do after the break.

And in Fireback, one of our viewers reveal her choice for president in that silly, presidential primary. You just won't believe who she supported. Here's a hint: he's from Texas.


NOVAK: OK. We asked the audience, which is going to be the first 2004 primary? Forty-two percent of you said New Hampshire, 34 percent said Iowa, 24 percent Washington, D.C. Actually, New Hampshire is third, Iowa is second. The first primary is right here in Washington. Seventy-six percent of you were dead wrong.

BEGALA: Well now, in defense of these people, the Democratic National Committee is not going to recognize the D.C. primary.

NOVAK: It's still the first primary.

BEGALA: It doesn't have any binding influence.

NOVAK: I'll bind you.

BEGALA: That might be fun.

Well, our e-mail bag was full this week with a lot of interesting e-mails. Patsy Vaughn of Crossville, Tennessee writes "Paul, as a moveon member" -- that is, having their little primary online -- "my vote today was 'other.' And you are my other. Very few have the knowledge of government, the heart, the brain and the guts to get this country back on track. You have more than enough qualifications to run and win the presidency."

Patsy, you need a hobby. Thank you.

NOVAK: What is the relationship with you and Patsy?

BEGALA: Thank you, Patsy. That was nice.

NOVAK: The next is from Lanny Riechert of Derby, Kansas. "I hate it when I find that I agree with Bob Novak. But with regard to affirmative action, I agree with both him and Martin Luther King, Jr., who said 'I have a dream that one day a man will be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character."

Lanny, it's not too bad agreeing with me.


BEGALA: Or, as George W. Bush who said, by the content of his daddy's trust fund, which is how he got into Yale and Harvard on affirmative action for the rich.

Dave in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania writes "I can't wait for the debates. Is George Bush really going to run on his record? 'During my term as president America lost three million jobs. I turned a $3 billion surplus into a $4 billion deficit. I cut funding for poverty- ridden children to give it to my rich bodies. Vote for me in 2004."

Well, Dave's got the message.

NOVAK: I'll tell you the people who voted for W. didn't lose their jobs. And that's the majority of people in America.

Tony Van Pelt ph) of Bedford, Indiana, "Since we Democrats will join in force against Bush, we will unite behind whoever takes on Bush, don't be fooled. We are one again thanks to Bush and we are mad. I would vote for Homer Simpson before Bush."

In fact, Tony, I think Homer Simpson is a good Democratic candidate for president.

BEGALA: I love Homer. Go Homer -- yes, sir?

NOVAK: OK. Question in the audience.

BILL: Hi. My name is Bill (ph) from St. Vincent College in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Pennsylvania. My question for you is, if weapons of mass destruction are found, are the Democrats out of the race?

BEGALA: No. The president didn't just say they're somewhere there. He said there as an imminent, immediate threat. We have to attack him, unprovoked, right away, because he has these bombs ready to launch on us. And that was clearly false.

NOVAK: It's our worst nightmare, Mr. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Go ahead.

BEGALA: No, he didn't tell us the truth.

NOVAK: Go ahead, please.

TELIA: Hi. My name is Telia (ph). I am from Locust, New Jersey. I wanted to ask if you think the pool of voters is representative of the Democratic pool of voters?

NOVAK: I think it is representative of the nutballs of America.

BEGALA: Oh, no. As I said before, they were right about impeachment. The right wing crackpots tried to impeach our wonderful president. We fought him off.

The American people hated it. Moveon was right then; I think they're right now. God bless them.

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

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


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