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CNN CROSSFIRE

Interviews With Arianna Huffington, Jerry Brown

Aired August 12, 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 already had the job. She wants it next. They both weigh in on the California recall.

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

(APPLAUSE)

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Today we hear from one of the very few people in the United States who is not running for governor of California, that would be former Governor Jerry Brown, as well as someone who is running, columnist Arianna Huffington. But before going West, we go national and we bring you the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE Political Alert.

The seven or so Democratic presidential candidates met last night for their 400th or so televised debate. This one sponsored by something called the Sheet Metal Workers International Association -- and we're not making up that last part. The exchange was ably moderated by CROSSFIRE alum Bill Press, but little news emerged from it.

Doomed candidate Joe Lieberman said he was for the war in Iraq, while doomed candidate Howard Dean said he was against it. Semi- plausible candidate, John Kerry, meanwhile, stood firm in the tradition of Bill Clinton by taking both positions simultaneously. Yes, Kerry confirmed he had voted for the war in Iraq, but, no, he did not support the war in Iraq.

Confused? Just remember, and Kerry will definitely help you remember, he is a war hero. So everything is all right.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well he is a war hero.

CARLSON: I think it's marvelous he's a war hero, but he tells the fact every 20 minutes.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Also, the Sheet Metal Workers is an important union. They actually work for a living, unlike people like me and you, who just run our mouths. I think they're entitled to respect. And also, I think it's good that candidates, in my part, actually, give their positions on the issues, unlike Arnold in California, who is just hiding behind his name (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CARLSON: I agree with you, but it's just a parody of interest group politics. They have to meet with every single tiny little group. The sheet metal work is going to be the confectioners' union next. Every interest group has their hooks in the Democratic candidates and it's sad.

BEGALA: That's a valid point. Now did you say the same thing when George Bush went to Bob Jones University, one of the most right wing places in America?

CARLSON: I didn't defend that.

BEGALA: Well, fair enough.

Well, Fox News is suing comedian and best-selling author Al Franken. Mr. Franken's upcoming book is called "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right." Fox is not suing Franken for calling them liars. Truth, after all, is a defense.

Instead, Fox is suing over Franken's use of the phrase "fair and balanced". See, Fox trademarked that phrase in 1995 as a slogan for its alleged news network.

Now I don't get the whole controversy. Franken is, after all, a comedian. And the notion that Fox is fair and balanced is a joke. So what's the problem?

CARLSON: Actually, it's great for Al Franken. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on. His book was number seven on Amazon and climbing. I can't imagine anyone would be buying it without this kind of publicity.

And so Fox is abetting his book sales. And you've got to wonder if that was their intent. Maybe Franken and Fox are in a league together.

BEGALA: It's a left wing-right wing conspiracy?

CARLSON: Yes. It's a conspiracy of commerce, Paul. Talk to Ralph Nader. He can explain it to you.

BEGALA: I am definitely looking forward to it. But I have to go buy it now to pump up the sales a little bit more, just to anger Fox News just that much more.

CARLSON: Are you really going to promote that book on our show? BEGALA: I just did it and I'll do it again.

CARLSON: Don't strain yourself, Paul, please.

Liberals aren't that bad. They're fantastic at macrame. They have a real appreciation for modern dance. You wouldn't even want to think about going to an aroma therapist who didn't vote for Al Gore. Liberals can be good people. Just don't under any circumstances let them be in charge of anything.

The latest evidence comes from Denver, Colorado, where the city council has added a measure to this fall's ballot that would require the city to do more to reduce stress. That's right; not do more to pick up the trash or fix the rods or solve crimes, but reduce stress, as in bong hits and hot tubs.

Actually, Jeff Pequin (ph), the Denver man who gathered the 2,463 necessary signatures, says he would like to see the city play soothing music in public places, as well as provide tastier school lunches. Stress reduction: again, nice people. Shouldn't be in charge.

BEGALA: Well, Mr. Pequin (ph) is actually going to be on "AMERICAN MORNING" tomorrow. He can defend himself. And I'm interested in how you defend a not very nice person, George W. Bush. He's been in charge of the economy. How does that do?

And then in charge in the occupation of Iraq. Not going very well. He's been in charge of the environment. How is that?

CARLSON: Maybe we need more soothing music in public places.

BEGALA: No, maybe we need a competent president. That's what we need.

Well, speaking of our president, a toy manufacturer is selling an action figure of President George W. Bush all dressed up as a fighting pilot. You remember from that famous landing on the Abraham Lincoln, when Mr. Bush stood under a banner declaring falsely mission accomplished.

Well, the Hong Kong toy manufacture says the Bush doll is very lifelike. And, in fact, it is. Like its real-life model, the doll did not show up for national guard duty, did not get as many votes as Al Gore, has no economic plan, and didn't tell the truth about the war in Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: So, first of all, you're promoting Al Franken's book. And now you're shilling for some plastic doll made in Hong Kong. We need an immediate investigation into your contracts. I bet you're...

BEGALA: I'm (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the communist Hong Kong.

CARLSON: No, but when you come on tomorrow and you say, oh, my back hurts, that's why I use Novocain brand back ointment. BEGALA: No, the difference is, with this doll, you know you can actually pull the strong. With Bush, of course, it's just big oil that pulls the strings. And so it's a totally different thing.

CARLSON: That is so -- I must say, that is such like -- that is perfect like 1930s Rockwell (UNINTELLIGIBLE) propaganda.

BEGALA: In a minute, we will head West to California for the very 21st Century free-for-all going on out there. We'll ask columnist Arianna Huffington how her campaign for governor is going.

And then the mayor of Oakland, Jerry Brown, also the former governor of his state, will tell us whether his fellow Californians are as appalled as I am by the whole spectacle of this recall. You may be surprised at what he has to say. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON: Welcome back.

The endlessly amusing, not to mention simply endless, list of candidates for governor in California's recall election does not merely contain Republicans and democrats and Gary Coleman. Among the Independents is columnist Arianna Huffington, who joins us now from Los Angeles.

Welcome, Arianna.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON (I), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Thank you, Tucker.

BEGALA: Arianna, it's great to see you again. Congratulations on entering the campaign. I think you're a breath of fresh air. But you know not everybody is as enthusiastic about your candidacy.

I want to show you a tape of a powerful California politician who once served in the Congress who was asked about you on "INSIDE POLITICS". Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HUFFINGTON, EX-HUSBAND OF ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: This state has so many problems right now they really are looking for a leader who can motivate people and work with Democrats, Republicans and Independents. And that's the main reason I'm backing Arnold Schwarzenegger.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BEGALA: Of course, Arianna, that's your ex-husband. He's not even supporting you in this. So what gives?

HUFFINGTON: Well, a lot of women have identified with this, let me tell you. He's getting me a lot of women's votes. A lot of divorced women's votes are coming my way, and that's all I'm going to say. My private life, Arnold Schwarzenegger's private life, everybody's private life should be off limits when it comes to this election. I'm just sick and tired of all this diversion.

BEGALA: Well, good for you. I respect that.

CARLSON: Well, one thing that is not a diversion or part of your private life is your political history. You were quoted the other day in "The Washington Post" -- this is an exact quote -- "This recall is led by an embittered cult of right-wing radicals." Now, you were -- and I don't know if most California voters know this -- but a ringleader in that embittered right-wing cult; for many years a close personal friend of Newt Gingrich. I wonder having a history that's so far to the mainstream of California politics as a right-winger, how you expect to get votes from Californians who are moderate.

HUFFINGTON: Wow, a radical right-winger?

CARLSON: No, but Arianna, not that there's anything wrong with that.

HUFFINGTON: Hold on. All my life I have been pro-choice, pro- gun control, pro-gay rights. The shift in my views has been very specific about the role of government. During my public (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I believe that you could really solve the major social problems we are facing through the private sector.

I was the original compassionate conservative. Then I saw the error of my ways. And, unlike the fanatic in the Republican Congress and in the White House, I actually changed my mind when I saw the error of my ways. And I'm very proud of it.

CARLSON: Yes, but don't you think -- if people were to dig up -- and it would be pretty easy -- tape of you with your arm around Newt Gingrich, saying this man is a visionary, and that was your position, don't you think it would hurt you?

HUFFINGTON: Not at all. I think people absolutely understand when you have new evidence and you change your mind. That is completely acceptable.

What should be unacceptable is what is happening at the moment in Washington, where you have the Republican Congress passing tax cuts, hoping they're going to create jobs. And even though they keep failing, they keep passing more tax cuts. That's the definition of insanity, to keep doing the same thing again and again, expecting different results.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: God bless you. I'm with you, Arianna. But let me ask you, though. You mentioned that you're pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control. Well, so is Arnold Schwarzenegger. So where do you disagree with him?

HUFFINGTON: Well, because Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Bush Republican. He is going to back the Bush economic policies all the way. He is for the tax cuts. He has Pete Wilson, for heaven's sake, cheering his campaign committee.

I mean, how insensitive can you be? The man who introduced Proposition 187 about illegal immigration into California and the man who is despised by Latinos, the very people Schwarzenegger needs. So there is some kind of disconnect between the moderate image and the reality. Incidentally, Schwarzenegger himself was in favor of 187.

BEGALA: But now did you support Proposition 187? Because I know that your husband did when he was in the Congress. He was running for the Senate.

HUFFINGTON: Yes, my ex-husband did. I voted against it.

CARLSON: Arianna, "The Washington Post" had a report yesterday that said when Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up with his wife at the registrar's office in California to enter his name into the recall election that you showed up at exactly the same time hoping to piggy back on the publicity he was receiving and pushed your way -- that's the exact wording of the story -- pushed your way into the shot so you would be in the picture.

A, is that true? B, if it is, isn't that sort of embarrassing?

HUFFINGTON: Actually, it is fantastic. I got 45 minutes with the media. I did a press availability, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) availability, and spoke about the issues about what I believed in, about why I'm running, while Schwarzenegger just smiled and moved on.

You know, that's the fundamental difference between us. And that's why I want to urge you guys to call for debate. This is the way to really find out who has the ideas and who has the vision to be the governor of California.

And five of the seven credible candidates have already agreed to debate anywhere, any time. So the two you have to convince, Cruz Bustamante and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And then you can come out to L.A. and hold the debate.

BEGALA: Hey, that's a deal, Arianna. CROSSFIRE will host the debate. We'll give the top candidates, and we'll let CNN help us decide who. But you're certainly one of them. If we host a debate, will you appear on it and debate your opponents on the record?

HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. Anywhere, any time, baby.

CARLSON: Well then, Arianna, don't you think in order to have a debate Gary Coleman will have to be there? I want to hear you say that Gary Coleman is not a credible candidate and why.

HUFFINGTON: I want Gary Coleman on my lap during the debate. OK?

BEGALA: Well, don't we all. But... HUFFINGTON: Tucker, hold on for a second. Before you go any further, I really want all your viewers to go to ariannaforgov.com. Today we raised $100,000, and we want to keep raising money, raising volunteers. Our campaign is being driven through the Internet, and I want to urge all of your viewers to go to ariannaforgov.com. And if they are not registered to vote in California, to register there.

CARLSON: And what's that e-mail address again, Arianna?

BEGALA: Arianaforgov.com. Arianna Huffington, columnist and candidate for governor of California, thank you for making time to join us.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

BEGALA: We look forward to the debate.

HUFFINGTON: Thank you.

BEGALA: Well, Arianna is going to have to wait until October 7th to see what her fellow Californians think about her message. But we figured we would have our own little primary right now.

So audience members take out those voting devices we gave you when you arrived and tell us, if you lived in California, would you vote for Arianna Huffington after what you just heard? Press one for yes, Governor Huffington sounds great for me. Press two for no, that Arianna is not your candidate.

We'll have the answers for everybody in just a little bit. But first, Wolf Blitzer will give us all the headlines and then we will ask former California Governor Jerry Brown to give us his unique perspective on the recall. And some of what he says may shock some of my fellow Democrats. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: And as the son of the legendary California governor, Edmond Pat Brown, and a legend in his own right during two terms in the governor's office and several runs for the presidency, Jerry Brown has seen plenty of oddball and hardball political moments come from a variety of right-wing kooks. But does the recall mess really top them all?

Jerry Brown joins us from Oakland, California, where he's currently serving his second term as that fine city's mayor. Mr. Mayor, great to see you again.

(APPLAUSE)

JERRY BROWN (D), OAKLAND COUNTY MAYOR: Well, I saw some pretty hardball tactics from the Clinton campaign, as well...

BEGALA: Yes, you did.

BROWN: ... in the '02 Democratic primary. I guess we'll pass over those today.

BEGALA: It was a lot of fun. I was happy...

CARLSON: Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for calling that to our attention. I was a little bit disappointed, and many Californians were disappointed, I think, not to see your name on the ballot. This means that Gary Coleman will get more votes than you in this election. Why didn't you run?

BROWN: I didn't run because I've got my hands full right here in Oakland trying to clean up a lot of problems that the state capital creates, like sending hundreds of felons on to our streets every week instead of creating a prison system that actually gets people prepared to live a straight life instead of training them in post-graduate criminality. So that's a big issue that I hope all these candidates will discuss, this horrific prison system that Supreme Court Justice Kennedy just condemned last Sunday, in which is not in any way deterring or preventing crime but actually exacerbating it by keeping all these criminals together and letting them plot out what their next capers will be as soon as they're let go, which happens to about 100,000 every year.

BEGALA: Well, Mr. Mayor, let me ask you about the recall itself. Another former governor, not of your state, but of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura, himself a friend of Arnold Schwarzenegger, had something to say about the recall the other day. Here's what he said on "The Today Show."

"I made it very clear that this recall is ridiculous. And I'm not a Democrat, as you know, I'm an Independent. But Governor Gray Davis has not committed an act of malfeasance, he hasn't committed a felony. He should be allowed to serve his term."

What's your views on the recall? Do you agree with Jesse Ventura?

BROWN: Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. He should be allowed to serve his term. But, at the same time, of course, since 1911, the people have reserved to themselves the power of recall. That is the power of the people.

Now, it was -- it's tainted to the extent that it was put on principally by this Republican congressman. He bought most of the signatures. Nevertheless, here it is, everybody is in it. So now is an opportunity to debate the issues.

Gray Davis has to come forward, lay out his case, which I think, as the dust settles, it will stand up very strongly against a lot of these people who have just jumped in thinking because, hey, here I am, vote for me. Well, there's a little more to it than that.

There's a real crisis in Sacramento, and most of the decisions involve very tough tradeoffs where you irritate one group or another. And I think now in this 60-day recall period, I want to hear what these people are going to say that would convince -- you know, why should we vote for them when we have somebody already who is there? Lots of problems, but how would somebody else avoid the problems that we now see?

CARLSON: Yesterday, Mr. Mayor, there was a debate among many of the Democratic presidential candidates to a person they denounced this recall, making the point that the people of California are too stupid, too frivolous, too uninformed to be allowed to choose a new governor democratically. That's a pretty arrogant position, isn't it?

BROWN: It sure is. You can't get much more arrogant than saying the people are stupider than you, a candidate. Particularly, I have to say something here now. If these surveys are correct, a heck of a lot more people are going to go vote in this recall than voted in the last governor election. So you explain that one.

BEGALA: Well, let me ask you to draw on your political expertise as a veteran politician. Should Arnold Schwarzenegger be out there taking more specific stance, debating his opponents, answering questions from the press, or should he just hope that over a short campaign he can ride his celebrity and hide from the issues and become the governor that way? Which is a better strategy for Arnold?

BROWN: No, because he is going to have to do something when he gets there. You know he doesn't have to tell us 100 things, but he ought to be able to take some positions on four or five key things like taxes, like crime, like business regulation, the environment. That's four things.

Somehow once a week this guy ought to lay out something specific with real bite in it. And then let him -- you know, he's got this courage, he's the terminator. If he is, then let him say stuff that will lose him votes but will be honest about where he's going. Let him do that. I don't know if he will, most politicians shy back from that.

CARLSON: Well, we don't have a ton of time left, Mr. Mayor, and this is a very complicated answer, but boil it down for us. You've been around California politics. Gray Davis is about as unpopular as any person in human history has ever been.

BROWN: Well, not as unpopular as Harry Truman or my father, Pat Brown, at one time.

CARLSON: Well, that may be so. He's pretty much hated by everybody. Why?

BROWN: Why? Well, you know, there's a story in ancient Greece about a guy named Aristides the Just. And as they were exiling this guy, he stood there and said, "Why are you voting to exile me?" And the guy said, "I'm just tired of hearing the name Aristides the Just."

That happens when you're in this business. It's called overexposure, too many controversies, lots of enemies. Don't count Gray Davis out yet. He has a real mountain to climb, but this is such a chaotic, unprecedented arena, I think we ought to wait a few more weeks before we write any epithets or obituaries.

CARLSON: I think that sounds like wise advice. Former California Governor Jerry Brown, now mayor of Oakland, California, thanks very much for joining us, Mr. Brown. We appreciate it.

BROWN: Thank you.

BEGALA: Thanks a lot.

CARLSON: In just a moment, we'll reveal one of the members of our audience would in fact elect Arianna Huffington governor of California. And in "Fireback", a Canadian weighs in on the California recall, giving it a little international perspective. We'll be right back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for "Fireback". But first, remember we did that poll among our audience members whether they would vote for Arianna Huffington if they lived in California. Here's what they said.

She gets 42 percent among the Democrats, which is terrific, but loses 90 percent of the Republican vote and loses 58 percent of the Democrats. She has a high hill to climb, particularly among her former party members in the Republican Party. Apparently her change of heart has cost her some votes on the right.

CARLSON: Yes -- 90 percent? That's pretty high disapproval rating even for Gray Davis.

OK. First up in "Fireback", Joe Otavnik Jr. from Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a foreign country, writes: "Some may muse over the quality and number of people running in California. Don't complain. In Canada for the past 41 years we've had one choice: a Frenchman from Quebec."

He makes the point, Paul, and something I think about a lot, no matter how bad it is, it's always worse in Canada.

BEGALA: Look, I...

CARLSON: That's why John Candy came here.

BEGALA: Where was -- Ryan Mulrooney (ph) doesn't sound French.

CARLSON: Yes, I don't know.

BEGALA: I don't know. I don't know my Canadian history, but it seems to me Ryan Mulrooney (ph) was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in the '80s. It doesn't sound very French to me, Mulrooney (ph).

Johnny Hardwick of Venice, California, who has a right to speak out on this, says, "So what business experience does Arnold bring to the California recall battle? Well, he started the restaurant chain, Planet Hollywood, and left the company in bankruptcy. Is this what we can expect from him as governor of California?" Well, you know, George Bush had three oil companies he ran into bankruptcy, and look what happened to him. So who knows...

(APPLAUSE)

CARLSON: If Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes governor of California, I predict the burgers will be mediocre and expensive.

Yes, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, my name is Osa Frederickson (ph) from Stanford, California. I was wondering, is the recall effort the beginning of a larger trend? Will we see similar initiatives in other states?

CARLSON: Well, it's sort of a trend in California coming to fruition, as you know being from California. I mean, there is this weird populous democratic strain in the proposition system. I mean, this is just -- you can imagine this happening in California.

BEGALA: Well, the right wing kooks, of course, started this recall within a week after Gray Davis was re-elected. If, god forbid, he's booted out, I bet you the liberals will start their recall the next day as well -- yes ma'am?

CARLSON: Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Olivia Viddia (ph) from Fresno, California. Tucker, as the country with the least vacation of any first world country, what's wrong with Denver Democrats spending money to relieve stress?

CARLSON: Well, I don't know. I mean, piping music into public places? Why don't they fix the roads and pick up the trash and make it safe to wander around downtown? That would reduce stress.

BEGALA: Well, I was in Denver, recently. You can wander anywhere. A little music wouldn't hurt.

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

CARLSON: From the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow for yet more CROSSFIRE.

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




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