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CNN CROSSFIRE

Wesley Clark Set to Announce Decision

Aired September 16, 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: And then there were 10?

RET. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, U.S. ARMY: I think you are going to see more change in the race after tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: Wesley Clark has made up his mind. Are there any doubts?

CLARK: I made a decision yesterday. And we're going to announce it tomorrow.

ANNOUNCER: Plus, the very interesting mess out in California -- today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

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

(APPLAUSE)

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

They say a hurricane may be headed our way. But for the time being, we are going to focus on a couple of political storms, the one out in California and the one Wesley Clark aims to stir up in the Democratic race for president.

But first, our own squall line, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Senator John Edwards has been running for president for a long time, but he finally got around to officially announcing his candidacy today in North Carolina. Actually, he announced last night on "The Daily Show," which might have been appropriate, since his campaign has become something of a joke. It's strange that he announced from North Carolina, since he has abandoned his home state to run for president, not showing up for Senate votes and announcing he won't run for reelection as a senator.

But don't count out John Edwards. The latest national poll of Democrats shows him tied for sixth place, with 5 percent of the vote. He's still ahead of Al Sharpton.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, first, I love "The Daily Show." And I think it's great that politicians go on it. It's a smart and funny show. And John Edwards is a smart, handsome, charismatic guy from the South. Reminds me of somebody I worked for a while back called Bill Clinton.

And I love when the right wing attacks these guys, because it means that you fear them.

NOVAK: I kind of like John Edwards. I sure don't fear him. But I know this, that if he had taken advice from Paul Begala, he would not have screwed up his candidacy as badly as he did.

BEGALA: Well, I appreciate that.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No, I think he's a serious candidate. He's got a real strategy for this. He believes it will be a late-breaking race. And I think

(CROSSTALK)

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: Very late.

BEGALA: Good luck to him. We will welcome him on CROSSFIRE, now that you have done "The Daily Show," Senator Edwards.

Well, Vincent Cannistraro is a former counterterrorism specialist. He blasts Vice President Dick Cheney in today's "Boston Globe," saying Cheney's -- quote -- "willingness to use speculation and conjecture as facts in public presentations is appalling. It's outstanding." He was speaking, of course, about...

NOVAK: Astounding.

BEGALA: Astounding. Excuse me.

He was speaking, of course, of Vice President Cheney's interview on "Meet the Press," where the vice president said the geographic base of the 9/11 hijackers was Iraq. In truth, it was Afghanistan. Cheney said that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence officers. But the CIA says there's no evidence of any such meeting ever taking place. Cheney also told Tim Russert that Iraq trained al Qaeda in chemical and billion warfare.

But intelligence specialists told "The Boston Globe" -- quote -- "They have never confirmed that the training took place or identified where it could have taken place" -- unquote. Next time Mr. Cheney goes on "Meet the Press," he ought to first meet the truth.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Speaking of the truth, Paul, I like to be a one-man truth squad, like you. Tim Russert asked the vice president whether or not there was any connection of al Qaeda with Saddam Hussein. He said -- and I quote -- "We don't know." He didn't say Iraq was the base.

For that meeting, he said that was what the Czech official said. They did say there was such a meeting. And he said, we have never been able to determine it, in terms of confirming it or disowning it. We just don't know.

Why don't you tell the truth?

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: I did tell the truth. They have disowned it. The CIA says it never took place. He misled us. He misled us.

NOVAK: He said, we don't know.

The voters of Seattle today decide whether they want to tax themselves a dime on every cup of espresso-type coffee, including latte, which is all the rage in Seattle. The money is supposed to raise up to $3.5 million a year for preschool and day care programs, for poor kids only, of course. Those programs are popular with the numerous Seattle liberals who just love latte. What a dilemma, to pick between latte and poor kids.

Now, personally, I am addicted to strong, black coffee and never touch latte. Seattle's voters could vote no today or vote yes and switch to real coffee, but then they wouldn't be liberals, would they?

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Look, I love this. If the people in Seattle want to do more and tax themselves on coffee, I think that is terrific. But it's also tragic.

The reason they're forced to do this is because our president, in his zeal to give tax cuts to the rich, has kicked 300,000 poor kids out of Head Start, 6.5 million kids off the child tax credit. He is a disgrace and he ought to be replaced.

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: I was wondering, Paul, how you could turn the latte tax into an attack on George Bush. You did. You did.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: And I continue to do so. I am not the only one that is criticizing our president, though. Congressman Jack Murtha, he's a man who saw combat as a Marine in Vietnam and was a leading Democrat in Congress who supported President Bush's resolution on the use of force in Iraq. But before the war, Murtha urged Mr. Bush to involve other nations, to clean about the cost and the number of troops that would required. And he warned that a war in Iraq could sidetrack the more important war against terrorists.

Now that all of his worst fears have been confirmed, Congressman Murtha is angry. Joined by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Murtha today blistered the Bush administration's failed Iraq policy and demanded that the president fired who ever messed it up.

Mr. President, when you loose Jack Murtha, you have lost middle America.

NOVAK: I agree with you. Jack Murtha is a good guy. But he has really taken leave of his senses when he says to the president, I want you to fire somebody who screwed Iraq. Who, Congressman Murtha?

Well, I don't know who you should fire. Just fire somebody. Maybe the cook, maybe somebody who drives your car. He didn't say who.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: Well, I think we should all fire Mr. Bush in 14 months. Then we will be done with it.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Well, coming up, former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark says we can expect a marked change in the presidential race tomorrow. In minute, we will debate what will happen if the general gets in the race.

And later; California, where the federal appeals court issued a decision that likely will pump Gray Davis up.

Stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Retired General Wesley Clark met with his friends and political advisers in Little Rock today. They discussed his decision about whether to run for president. Now, General Clark isn't telling the rest of us that decision until tomorrow. But when cornered by reporters, a smiling General Clark said -- quote -- "Let's put it this way. It's going to be a very interesting announcement" -- unquote. On Capitol Hill to discuss what the general might bring to the presidential race, New York Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee; and California Republican Congressman David Dreier, the chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee.

Gentlemen, thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, I hear -- and it's very hard for me to believe this -- but that you are going to support the general for president of the United States? Do you think what this country needs as president is a political general who couldn't get his fourth star the regular way and had President Bill Clinton intervene for him to save him from being kicked out of the Army?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: You know, you are the only guy that I really know that has the nerve to challenge a Silver Star, Purple Heart general that fought for this great country and democracy in Vietnam, that served us so well not in make-believe combat outfits, but, I mean, in real combat. So you take your cheap shot. But other politicians, they do it at their own risk.

REP. DAVID DREIER (D), CALIFORNIA: Bob Novak and the other nine candidates who are running against Wesley Clark will be all joined together, I'm sure, on that one.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Charlie, just, if you could address what I say. Did you know that he was not going to get his fourth star; they were going to get him out of the Army, and he lobbied Bill Clinton to intervene for him? Did you know that?

RANGEL: Holy mackerel. No. My God.

I thought that gossip builds up before -- when a guy becomes a candidate. But if this is what we are talking about, he couldn't get the fifth star and so therefore he challenges this president, let me tell you one thing, Bob Novak. There are so many reasons why this president has to be challenged. This great country of ours is not at war for the immediate future, but for the far distant future, for my kids and my grandkids.

I don't believe we should have gotten involved in it, but we are in it. And I need some type of a road map to find out how the hell we're going to get out of it.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I am sorry to cut you off, Congressman Rangel, but let me bring Congressman Dreier into this.

General Clark was on CNN on Friday morning, gave an interview to "AMERICAN MORNING." And they asked him about who of those nine candidates you mentioned a moment ago should worry most about his candidacy. And here's what General Clark said. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLARK: I think, if I were to enter the race, the person that would be most troubled is the president, because I'm a military person. I have got ideas on national security and strategy. And I think it's pretty clear that they are very concerned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now, I happen to know that my friend Bob Novak is the most plugged-in journalist into the Bush White House. The fact that he started today's program with an attack on General Clark suggests that your right-wing hit machine is already going after General Clark, aren't you?

DREIER: Well, not at all.

I will tell you, it's fascinating, Paul, to see that there are nine candidates out there, and the Democratic Party is obviously desperately looking for another candidate, making a big No. 10. This is a very interesting thing.

Charlie never answered your question as to whether or not he is actually endorsing General Clark in his quest.

RANGEL: I wasn't asked.

DREIER: Well, I thought Novak was sort of hinting at that, Charlie.

RANGEL: Well, he's hinting. But you ask me a question and I will give you an answer.

DREIER: Are you endorsing him?

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL: When he announces, you can bet your life I'm going to be with him.

DREIER: OK. So there it is.

RANGEL: All right.

DREIER: So Charlie has just endorsed General Clark right here on CROSSFIRE, fellows. I will tell you that...

BEGALA: Congressman Dreier, if you will endorse the kind of negative attack that we saw on John McCain, another war hero, when President, the Governor Bush was running against him in 2000. Are we going to see the same sort of viciousness against General Clark that we saw against Senator McCain?

DREIER: Not at all. I don't think that -- we've got to see who is nominated by the Democratic Party. And you know what? That kind of vitriolic, vicious attack may come from those other nine Democrats, along with Bob Novak.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: All right, let me give you more vitriol, Congressman Rangel.

When General Clark was on this program a few weeks ago, I asked him whether he would sign the partial-birth abortion bill if he was president. He said: I don't know whether I would sign that bill or not. He said: I'm not into the detail on it. Then I asked him, would give a tax increase above the Bush level for everybody in America that makes over $100,000 a year? He said, well, I have to look at the exact thing. I just don't know.

He doesn't know anything except how to march, does he?

(LAUGHTER)

RANGEL: Well, let me say this. If you were to ask the president of the United States, the great former governor of Texas, as to where he is on domestic program, he has not a clue.

DREIER: He answered all those

(APPLAUSE)

RANGEL: You can ask him about prescription drugs. You can ask him about Leave No Child Behind.

DREIER: He's for them. He signed the bill, Charlie. And he's for prescription drugs.

RANGEL: Hold the point. You can ask him where we're going to get the money to pay for the war, to pay -- I'll tell you one thing.

(CROSSTALK)

DREIER: ... the economy. And that's what he's working on.

RANGEL: Take it easy.

DREIER: I'm answering the questions for you.

RANGEL: I just got back.

DREIER: We're glad to have you back.

RANGEL: Let me tell you something.

If, indeed, we are going to forfeit America's future on education and health care and decent housing and jobs for everybody because of this unconscionable commitment that we have to a war with no road map, the terrorists would have won.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Charlie, it doesn't bother you that he doesn't know the issues? It doesn't bother you at all?

RANGEL: Are you supporting Schwarzenegger in California or what? What are you talking -- who are you talking about?

NOVAK: I don't endorse anybody.

RANGEL: We are talking about a guy that has served his country, that has lived in the United States, that knows the issues.

And, first of all, he's not a candidate. When he becomes a candidate, then, of course, take the free shots at him. My concern is this. My concern is that...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: All right, we got -- we have got to take a break.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: We've got to take a break.

DREIER: The best thing that Wesley Clark has got going for him is Charlie Rangel.

NOVAK: No, no, no, no, no, no.

A quick programming note before the break. Be sure to watch Judy Woodruff's interview with who? General Wesley Clark at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "PAULA ZAHN NOW."

The general may not be officially running yet, but he's going to let our audience -- we are going to let our audience vote on it anyhow. Take out your voting devices and tell us, will Wesley Clark win the Democratic nomination? Press one for, yes, General Clark will be the party's nominee. Press or two for, no, somebody else will win the nomination. And we will have the results in a few minutes.

After a quick break, Wolf Blitzer will have the news headlines, including the latest on Hurricane Isabel.

Then, our guests will discuss the recall election and the mess in California.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Welcome back. The ultra-liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the full court has decided to get into the California recall business. That could slow down efforts to appeal yesterday's decision by an all-Democratic three-judge panel of the same court which said California can't do the recall with punch-card voting machines. Is this an effort by Democratic judges to save a Democratic governor?

Still in the CROSSFIRE, from Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York and Republican Congressman David Dreier of California.

BEGALA: Congressman Dreier, first, thank you for staying with us through the break.

Second, the court yesterday didn't cancel the election. It just said, hold it in March. Let me actually read to you part of why they ruled.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: They said, "The choice between holding a hurried, constitutionally infirm election and one held a short time later that insures voters that the rudimentary requirements of equal treatment and fundamental fairness are satisfied is clear."

Isn't the problem that conservatives have is that the 9th Circuit is now simply applying the travesty of Bush vs. Gore in a way that you don't like? Congressman Dreier?

DREIER: Oh, I'm sorry. I was just talking to Charlie here. I'm sorry. We didn't have any audio here.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: All right.

What I said was, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, of course, put the election off until March. They did so because they were following the Supreme Court in Bush vs. Gore.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Now how can you complain about it, when they are simply following the rigged decision that put Bush in office?

DREIER: Paul, this happens to be the greatest insult to minority voters that we've seen in a heck of long time by a court.

I have three Mexican-Americans who work in my office. They are being told by this court that they are not intelligent enough to deal with ballots that the world understands after what we went through in the year 2000. And to me, it's absolutely preposterous. This thing is going ahead. And all the candidates are campaigning right now as if it is going ahead; 1.6 million Californians signed that recall petition. And they are angry at this kind of judicial activism. And I believe that it will go ahead. And I hope very much that the 11-judge panel does in fact allow the election to go ahead. I happen to believe the Supreme Court would be the best one body to step in and allow it. The Constitution of California, Paul, says that, within 80 days of certification of the recall petitions, the election is required to be held. That's the answer to me.

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL: I am so moved, though, by David's protection of minorities, specifically.

DREIER: I always have been. You know I always have been.

RANGEL: But the Republican Party, in a more general way, to reach out and to be concerned about the sensitivity of minorities in California.

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL: Where were you in Florida, when I really needed your help?

DREIER: Doing the exact same thing. Doing the exact same thing.

NOVAK: Mr. Rangel, I want to read you something else the 9th Circuit said. They said: "This is a critical time in our nation's history, when we're attempting to persuade the people of other nations of the value of free and open elections. A short postponement will accomplish those aims and reinforce our national commitment to democracy."

You're a lawyer, Congressman. That isn't a legal decision. That's a political stump speech by three left-wing activists, isn't it?

RANGEL: Well, I really am less critical of the courts than you appear to be when the decisions don't go the way you like to see them.

But I do know one thing, that if we are trying to preach democracy to the free world, California is not the place to start. I mean, it's really an embarrassment to Democrats and Republicans.

DREIER: The greatest state in the Union.

RANGEL: Well, if you were organized, you would be a threat to our national security.

(CROSSTALK)

RANGEL: When you consider who they have running for governor, the circus that's taking place. And I think...

DREIER: The Democratic governor and the lieutenant governor are the ones who created the problem, Charlie. RANGEL: No matter who wins...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: That will be the last word.

Congressman David Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee, Congressman Charlie Rangel, the leading Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee -- they're going to take it.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Thank you both, two of the smartest, funniest, best guys on Capitol Hill. Thank you both very much, gentlemen. We've got to go.

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: In just a minute, a few of our viewers will fire back their thoughts about the California recall mess. Oddly enough, they didn't use punch cards to tell us what they thought. Also, we will also find out how many people in our studio audience think Wesley Clark will get my party's nomination for the presidency.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: OK, the results of our question to the audience: Will Wes Clark be the Democratic nominee? The Republicans say, no, 79 to 21. But that's interesting, 51 yes Democrats, 49 no. That's a lot of strength among the Democrats, isn't it, Paul?

BEGALA: For a guy who hasn't even announced, actually. It's a lot of strength. He's only been a Democrat for about a week, so that's not bad. Half the party thinks he can win -- in this audience, anyway.

Well, Tim in Fresno, California, writes about the recall: "What goes around comes around for California's Republicans. Live by the chad, die by the chad."

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Did you write that for "K Street," Paul?

BEGALA: I did not, but it expresses my views fine.

NOVAK: A letter from Los Angeles, Allen Eaton: "So the California recall is temporarily on hold due to the punch card issue. I have already voted by absentee ballot. Guess what? The absentee ballot I was given was a punch card ballot."

Allen, the point is, Republicans are intelligent enough to be able to use the punch card. Democrats are too dumb to.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: No, Republicans are intelligent enough to use the Supreme Court to rig an election. You watch. The Supreme Court will say, no, no, that only counted when we were trying to put our boy Bush in office. You watch. They'll say, that doesn't count for anybody else.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good afternoon. My name is Jeff Long (ph). I'm a student at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.

And my question this afternoon is, when Wesley Clark enters the presidential race tomorrow, which of the candidates, the current candidates, will it hurt and which will it help?

NOVAK: All right, I'll give you an answer there. I think it's going to hurt Dean. I think he comes right out of Dean's hide. And the polls already show it as Democrats who want something new.

BEGALA: I think it hurts George W. Bush, because he's clueless.

NOVAK: Oh, come on.

BEGALA: He's got this endless occupation in the military in Iraq. And now we have a four-star general who can get us out of it. I think it hurts Bush.

NOVAK: Question.

BEGALA: Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gabriel (ph) from Bellmore, New York.

My question, Mr. Begala, following your acting debut on "K Street," is the next logical move to the California governor race?

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: No, that's the beginning and end of my acting career. "K Street" was a lot of fun. And I thank George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh for having me on, but...

NOVAK: We are trying to get Paul Begala to run against Tom DeLay in Texas.

BEGALA: There you go. That I might do. That sounds like fun.

NOVAK: We think it will be a hell of a race.

BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala, still here on CROSSFIRE. NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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