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Deadline for California Recall Nears

Aired August 8, 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: Lights, camera, recall.


ANNOUNCER: Would you vote for him if you lived in California?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Intelligence, physical power and mental power is the answer to everything.

ANNOUNCER: Was this week a political disaster for Governor Davis or what he needs to beat the recall?

GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: I trust they will make the right decision.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The direction in which our nation is being led now is deeply troubling to me.

ANNOUNCER: What's Al Gore up to?




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


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

Arnold Schwarzenegger made the rounds of the morning talk shows today. But he offered little more than reruns of his old movie lines and banal generalities. In a little bit, we'll debate whether Arnold has a plan to revive California's economy or just to revive his flagging movie career. But first, the best political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush today mourned the death of yet another brave American soldier who was killed in Iraq, even as "The Washington Post" revealed more details about the Bush administration's strategy to mislead us into supporting the war. Not only was the false claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa in the president's State of the Union address; the Bush administration repeated the claim in documents, speeches and interviews for months after the CIA had concluded it was false and after the CIA had demanded that it be dropped from a presidential speech.

A spokesman for Bush called it -- quote -- "strategic coordination" -- unquote. I call it something else: fibbing, falsehoods, fabrications, deceit, dishonesty, duplicitous, in other words, business as usual for George W. Bush.


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: You know, Paul, the was -- that was very good alliteration. But, as a matter of fact, British intelligence still claims that it has evidence that Iraq tried to buy uranium from countries in Africa. Sometimes -- you may not believe this -- British intelligence is right and the CIA is wrong. The point is, I don't know the truth on this, and neither do you.

BEGALA: Well, the president should say, then: I don't believe my own intelligence either experts. I believe a foreign country's.

But even the president has said that it was false. Even he acknowledged it. But now we know that, for months, they tried to spread something that our own best people told us wasn't true.


NOVAK: You don't know whether it's true or not, and I don't.

Is it enough for a political party to bash the opposition's -- the opposition party's leader? Not usually. And nonstop Bush bashing doesn't seem to be doing the trick for today's Democrats. A nationwide poll by the Pew Research Center shows only 38 percent of Democrats think their party is doing well in its traditional missions, protecting minorities, aiding the needy, representing working Americans.

Now, that's down nine points from 47 percent two years ago. Pollster Andrew Kohut explained, Democratic voters don't feel the party leaders are talking about the things the party stands for and quote -- "Could it be that nonstop denigration of President Bush is just self-indulgence?"

BEGALA: Well, Bob, I know you're very concerned about the Democrats. You want them to do well. And we appreciate your advice.

(LAUGHTER) BEGALA: But that same Pew poll that you cite shows that President Bush's approval rating is down to 53 percent, about the same point it was before 9/11. So, you know, people are the going the message that Bush misleads us at every time and that's why he's paying the price at the polls today.

NOVAK: You changed the subject. And I'm not worried about the Democrats. They can take care -- they are big enough to take care of themselves. But I am a reporter.


NOVAK: And I think it's very interesting that they don't think the Democrats are acting like Democrats.

BEGALA: Well, the Bechtel group is one of the largest engineering and construction firms in the world. But it has dropped out of the bidding for a contract to rebuild the Iraqi oil industry because, according to today's "New York Times," -- quote -- "Competitors have begun to conclude that the bidding process favors the one company already working in Iraq, Halliburton" -- unquote."

Halliburton, of course, has vast experience in Iraq. Not only does Vice President Cheney's old firm already enjoy a no-bid contract to begin the repairs in Iraq; Halliburton also did millions of dollars of work with Saddam Hussein back when Cheney was Halliburton's CEO. So, how did Halliburton go from supplying Saddam to rebuilding post- Saddam Iraq? Just lucky, I guess.



NOVAK: Well, let me give you two facts of life, Paul. One fact of life is that Mr. Cheney has absolutely no financial contact with Halliburton anymore, sold all his stock. He has no financial stake in the company.

No. 2, Halliburton is the only company -- and this is in the "New York Times" story you quote -- it's the only company capable of getting this project going of restoring the Iraqi oil industry for the people of Iraq by the end of the year.

BEGALA: It's false on both accounts. Dick Cheney still gets up to $1 million a year from Halliburton in post compensation, in a severance agreement that he cut before he went on the ticket with Mr. Bush.


BEGALA: And second, Bechtel, Schlumberger and plenty of other big companies could compete for this, but they don't think it's fair.

NOVAK: That's not wrong -- that's not right. As a matter of fact, they can't do it as well as Halliburton. Senator John Kerry says he has won the so-called health primary for Democratic candidates. But who awarded his health plan the blue ribbon? Kerry says it was a bipartisan group of policy experts. But a report by "Washington Post" reporter Ceci Connolly said, that's just no so. The 10 experts cited by Kerry say they did not and could not label one plan the best. They call Kerry's statements misleading, wrong, patently untrue.

So who awarded John Kerry the gold medal? It turns out to be John Kerry himself. Not a bad idea. This year, I think I'll award myself the Pulitzer Prize.



BEGALA: Now, what John Kerry did, though, is, he just took what the experts said. They added them up, who won in the most categories. It was a perfectly legitimate thing to do. And, by the way, we're now what, 2 1/2 years into the Bush presidency. We've lost -- about two more million families have lost their health care, so we can know where George W. Bush stands on this, too.


BEGALA: He's got to plan to increase health care coverage, and Kerry does.


NOVAK: Would you like a client of yours do that, to misrepresent a nonpartisan expert to say, "I won"? Would you let


BEGALA: Well, I wouldn't misrepresent nuclear bombs and chemical weapons and biological weapons and 9/11 and everything else that Bush has misled us about.



NOVAK: Answer the question.

BEGALA: Come on. He just added up what the experts said. I think it's fair.

NOVAK: All right.

President Bush today joked that he wouldn't want to arm-wrestle Arnold Schwarzenegger. And the president adds, "I think he'd be a good governor." In a minute, we'll debate that view.

And later: Al Gore's one-day return to the political spotlight. Do the Democrats really want Al back? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


NOVAK: There's one day left for governor wanna-bes to get papers to get on to California's recall ballot. Arnold Schwarzenegger stole the whole show when he jumped into the race this week. Now, this may not be the political campaign of the century, but it sure beats anything else that's happening this year.

In the CROSSFIRE today: Democratic strategist, former congressman from California, Tony Coelho, along with Republican consultant, former White House aide, Ed Rogers.


BEGALA: All right, guys, let's get right to it, two of the smartest guys in the business, and one of the most entertaining weeks we've had in American politics in a long time.

Let me show you, Ed, Arnold Schwarzenegger on the issues.


BEGALA: Let's take a look.


SCHWARZENEGGER: We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore.


SCHWARZENEGGER: I can promise you that, when I go to Sacramento, I will pump up Sacramento.

That is a message that is from California all the way to the East Coast to all the politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, to say to them, do your job for the people and do it well, or, otherwise, you are out. Hasta la vista, baby.



BEGALA: That's a world record for retread movie lines, and some of them not even his own. Doesn't the fact that he doesn't have a plan for, say, the deficit prove that this is really just about ego and not about real solutions for problems?

ROGERS: I sense jealousy from the Democrat side of the table.



ROGERS: That there's some Conan envy going on here.


ROGERS: Hey, it's great that he's in the race.

BEGALA: If he was your client, you would have him prepped on issues, Ed.

ROGERS: It's day one on the campaign. He had a masterful launch by any standard. So far so good for the Schwarzenegger campaign. As the campaign unfolds, he's going to be talking about issues. He's going to challenged by the media. Those things are going to come out. He has done perfectly so far.

NOVAK: Tony Coelho, there's still a few hours left before the deadline.



NOVAK: Do you need -- do you think there's -- honestly, there's any real chance of keeping Gray Davis in office, or do you need a real candidate, do you need a Dianne Feinstein, to get into the race against Arnold?

COELHO: I believe Dianne. She's not running. And I'd also agree that, in the last 48 hours, Davis is dead.

NOVAK: So how do you stop Arnold from getting elected?

COELHO: Well, I think the issue now is, do we want somebody as a governor who really doesn't know anything about the state or anything about the issues? Do you just want that type of an abrupt change? And we'll see whether or not in the next couple months he can articulate any particular change.

NOVAK: What's the alternative, Bustamante?

COELHO: Well, you don't like Cruz Bustamante? Is there some problem? He is lieutenant governor.


ROGERS: Yes, there's a problem. He's been in the state government.


COELHO: And you know what? And you know what? He hasn't been in the state government, because Gray Davis wouldn't let him be part of the problem.


COELHO: And he is a solution to the issue. But you also have an attorney general. You also have the insurance commissioner. You have other people as alternatives. And that's what's going to take place. We'll see.

ROGERS: Good luck.

COELHO: Right now, the focus is on Arnold. And we'll see how well Arnold does.

BEGALA: In fact, Ed, let's keep the focus on Arnold for a minute. I've been criticizing him because I do think he's had an insubstantial launch. Instead of movie lines, he should have had solutions to problems.

But I give him a lot of credit, because he spoke out his mind on one of the critical issues of our country. And he took on his party. Back in 1999, he gave an interview to "George" magazine, my old magazine I used to work for, and he said this about impeachment, about the right-wing lynch mob that tried to impeach our president, he said: "We spent a year wasting time because there was a human failure. I was ashamed to call myself a Republican during that period."

Are you going to join Arnold and repudiate that dark period in your party's history?

ROGERS: Well, I don't know the context of any one interview.

But having said that, by all accounts -- and today, he said he's a conservative. He's a conservative Republican. That's what he said today. I respect that and I applaud that. I hope he has a social policy that has broad enough for California. One size does not fit all. And I think, over the course of the campaign, he's going to be the kind of person that can unify California, Democrats, Republicans, and independents.


ROGERS: I don't know about this interview.

BEGALA: Was he right about impeachment?

NOVAK: Tony...


ROGERS: That's a problem, though, that you can't get over.


BEGALA: Arnold said she was ashamed, Ed.

NOVAK: Senator, Senator -- Congressman Coelho...


NOVAK: Senator Feinstein used this approach in attacking Arnold Schwarzenegger yesterday.

Let's listen to Dianne.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Gun-toting, muscley actor is not necessarily one that is successful in this particular arena.


NOVAK: Do you think it's successful for a 60-year-old woman to be attacking a gun-toting, muscley actor? Is that the right approach?




NOVAK: I admit your candor -- I admire your candor.

COELHO: I do not think that's the right approach at all.

I think the issue has to be whether or not he can run this state. This state is in serious trouble. The Republicans keep talking about it. Is this candidate the right candidate to run this state, to bring it out of its trouble? I don't think so. We'll find out over the next few weeks.

BEGALA: OK. Keep your seats because we're going to have another segment talking about


BEGALA: ... issues for a minute.

But, first, I want to ask our audience this. You all in our studio audience, pretend for just a minute that you live in California. In fact, many of you do. We asked you before the show began. So take out those little voting devices we gave you when you came in and answer this question: If you were voting in California, would you vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger to be your governor? Press one for, yes, you would vote for Arnold. Press two for, no, there's way that you'd want Arnold to be your governor.

We'll have the results for all of our audience, at home and in the studio, in a little bit.

But before that, we're going to ask our guests about another topic: Al Gore's criticism of President Bush. And will the Democrats follow Al Gore's lead?

Stay with us.





BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf, for those headlines.

Vice President -- former Vice President Al Gore yesterday accused President Bush and his administration of using what he called a propaganda machine to mislead the public. The man who got a half-a- million more votes than George W. Bush also said he's proud that the Democratic Party has a field of strong presidential candidates committed to honor and integrity.

We're going to talk about the 2004 presidential race with our guests, Republican consultant Ed Rogers and Democratic strategist Tony Coelho.

NOVAK: Mr. Coelho, the only reason anybody paid any attention to that speech was the question of whether Al Gore would change his mind and run, in a situation where nobody's very happy with the Democratic field.

Now, you were one of his campaign managers in 2000. Why don't you go to Al Gore and say, please, for the sake of your party and the country, please, Mr. Al, why won't you run? Or don't you want him to run?

COELHO: Well, he can do whatever he wants to do.

But I think, basically, that that speech was an excellent speech. I think that he has the right to take on Mr. Bush, more than anybody else in the Democratic Party, because he did win the last election.

NOVAK: Nonresponsive to my question.


COELHO: And he did win.

And, secondly, I think that he is extremely credible to go after the issue of whether or not Mr. Bush has been telling us the truth. And he hasn't been telling us the truth.

NOVAK: Do you want to him to -- do you think he ought to run for president?

BEGALA: Absolutely.


BEGALA: Let me bring Ed Rogers in.


BEGALA: The issue that Al Gore raised is one that I think maybe other Democrats have kind of been pussy-footing around. He went right at George W. Bush on credibility. And I think that's what -- I think every Democrat ought to read that speech. I think it ought to be the blueprint for the rest of their campaigns. And here's why.

Just last -- about two weeks ago, "TIME" and CNN, for the Gallup Organization, did a survey of the American people and asked them a very simple question: Is George W. Bush a leader you can trust? Fifty-one percent, the majority of Americans, say, no, we can no longer trust George W. Bush. Isn't this his Achilles heel, that Mr. Bush came into office promising us straight talk and he's giving us double-talk?

ROGERS: No Democrat from the Clinton administration, starting with Al Gore, can lecture this president about truth or integrity in office.



BEGALA: Clinton lied about sex. And Bush is misleading us about a war.

ROGERS: The Clinton administration...

BEGALA: Whoa, whoa, wait a minute.

ROGERS: The Clinton administration was a string of lies on any number of topics, including under oath. This speech was more of the same from al Gore.

BEGALA: Oh. Oh. Oh. So, because the only thing Bush hasn't lied about is sex, that's OK?


BEGALA: He misled us about a war. He misled us about the economy. Gore laid it all out in the speech, Ed.

ROGERS: Al Gore has earned his right to speak out on public policy issues. Instead of having a serious, thoughtful, Lee Hamilton, statesman moment, it was sort of campaign pabulum, more of the same. He proved himself once again to be the world's -- America's most typical politician.


NOVAK: Tony Coelho, I want to give you a little sample of this wonderful...

COELHO: Why don't you give me an opportunity just to say something here? Because I think what was said here is absolutely, totally wrong.

ROGERS: Please.

COELHO: What you have is, you have a president that lied to the American people. You have...

ROGERS: No, you don't. No, you don't.

COELHO: Let me finish. I let you finish.


ROGERS: Go ahead.

COELHO: And I think that, basically, what you have, you have parents all over this country whose kids came back in coffins as a result of it.


COELHO: You have thousands of people, thousands of people, who have been maimed as a result of it.

When you sit back and you want to compare what happened in the previous administration and this administration, give me a break.


NOVAK: Where was Al the last six months, when all this was going on, this debate was going on? He was silent. Where was he the last six months, when this debate was going on?

COELHO: He was wherever he wanted to be. But I am...


COELHO: I am -- I am sick and tired of everybody trying to say that Mr. Clinton is the liar, and, my God, everybody else is innocent compared. This is a legitimate question, whether or not we have been misled. And we have been.



NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Thank you. That was the last word.

Mr. Coelho, Mr. Rogers, thank you.


NOVAK: In just a minute, we'll find out how Arnold Schwarzenegger would do if everyone in our audience was from California, God forbid.

And in "Fireback," find out why Paul Begala's gotten himself in trouble with -- would you believe, animal rights activists?




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Let's see how Arnold did in his first poll. We polled our studio audience, asked them, do they think Arnold be a good governor. Would you vote for him? Look at this, Bob. Almost all the Republicans say yes. Almost all the Democrats say no. Already, Arnold is a polarizing figure.


NOVAK: That's very good.

OK, "Fireback" from the audience. And Murphy of Orlando, Florida, says: "If Arnold is qualified to run California, then Judge Judy is qualified for the Supreme Court."


NOVAK: Well, you're being sarcastic, Mr. Murphy. But, as a matter of fact, I like Judge Judy for the Supreme Court.


NOVAK: She's an experienced judge. She's a conservative. She's a hell of a lot better than the two women judges on the Supreme Court right now.

BEGALA: Judge Judy is an enormous pain in the neck. I like Judge Wapner, if you're going to have a People's Court judge. I miss Wapner. He's doing animal cases now.

Jim Lodwick of Savannah, Georgia, writes to Mr. Novak: "Bob, explain something to me, if you'd please. California is in debt about $38 billion and you say Governor Davis is doing a terrible job. Now President Bush has squandered almost $1 trillion and you say he's doing a terrific job. I don't get it."


NOVAK: Well, want me to explain it?

BEGALA: Please do.


NOVAK: President Bush cuts taxes, which is good. Governor Davis increases taxes, which is bad.


NOVAK: That's the difference.

Peggy Ford, Jerry's -- what is that, Jerry's daughter? BEGALA: May be.

From North Brunswick, New Jersey, says: "Please tell Paul Begala that the animal rights activists may be after him for keeping on beating that dead horse that Gore won the election. Does he not know the law that electoral votes are what counts? Give up, Paul. You sound possessed."

Peggy, I love you.



BEGALA: No. Let me explain to Peggy, yes, electoral votes counts. Al Gore won the popular vote and the Electoral College. It took Chief Justice Rehnquist to steal it from him. He won Florida by thousands and thousands of votes, Peggy Ford.


BEGALA: He also won your state of New Jersey, by the way.

Charles Semones of Decatur, Illinois, writes: "After seeing Al Gore's speech, as the only Democrat who will really challenge and stand up to Bush, how can we, the Democratic Party, not demand that he be drafted for president?"

NOVAK: I have to repeat what I said last time. You repeat yourself a lot, so I'll repeat mine.

BEGALA: Please do.

NOVAK: I said that Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a robot. Al Gore is a robot.


NOVAK: First question.

BEGALA: That was a powerful speech, though. Every Democrat should read that speech.

NOVAK: First question, please.

BEGALA: Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello, I'm Serena Patel (ph) from Davis, California.

Mr. Begala, besides championing after-school programs, what has Arnold done, what is his proven political experience that establishes him as a viable gubernatorial candidate for our state?

NOVAK: He's the Terminator? Are you kidding?


NOVAK: Don't you understand politics? All politics is termination.


NOVAK: Next question.

BEGALA: No, if I may, since she addressed the question to me, I'm more interested...

NOVAK: Oh, did she? I'm sorry.


BEGALA: I think his past -- I don't think we should attack him for being a movie star. I don't like his movies much, but what the heck. I would criticize him for not having any solutions to the problems. See, he got into this race for his own ego.

NOVAK: Let's get another question in.

BEGALA: He didn't have a bunch of ideas and then say, how can I act this them? He went on television this morning on CNN and said, I don't have any ideas for the budget.

NOVAK: Go ahead. Come on.

BEGALA: Give me a break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Michael Branem (ph) from Sheridan, Wyoming.

And my question is, if the Democrats lose the California governorship, which is arguably one of the most important ones in the country, what effect is that going to have on the 2004 presidential election?

NOVAK: About zero. That isn't what is going to do it. I would say that the White House would prefer to have Gray Davis to stick around -- to kick around, rather than a Republican anyway.

BEGALA: I think Bob's right.

Yes, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Cibin Delfine (ph).

I'm a concerned Republican from California. My question is for Mr. Novak. Do you really believe that a Republican governor will have a chance at turning around the economic climate in California?

NOVAK: If he cuts taxes he will. Cutting taxes improves everything. It brings back your hair. It gives you health and vigor. It does it all.


BEGALA: That's the conservative philosophy, and it's nuts.


BEGALA: That's what's happened in America. Look what it's done for us here.


BEGALA: From the left, I'm 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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