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Democrats Fire Salvo at President Bush

Aired September 19, 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: One of the Democrats' big guns opens up on the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It's the wrong war at the wrong time.

ANNOUNCER: One of the Democrats' big guns opens up on the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Is this the right time to pick a political war?

KENNEDY: A decision was made in Texas in August and then announced in September.

ANNOUNCER: Plus: rethinking strategies and tactics, now that the general is in the race -- today on CROSSFIRE.


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


Yes, we are back, having weathered the enormous, uninvited and unwelcome gust of hot air that has terrified the United States of America. But enough about Senator Kennedy's latest comments. We also survived Hurricane Isabel. Official Washington may be shut down, but not the best political alert in television.

Here comes our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

A federal appeals court has announced that it will reconsider the postponement of the October 7 California recall election. The judges will meet again on Monday to decide whether democracy is a good idea and voters ought to be allowed to choose their governor. The announcement was met by confusion from Democrats, who have lost track of what their position is on the subject. A few years ago, you'll remember, Democrats declared it was wrong, undemocratic, immoral, to go to court to stop an election.

Well, that was before they did it themselves. Now that deeply- held principle has been revised. From here on out, going to court to stop an election is only wrong when doing so challenges the political power of Democrats. In all other cases, it's a moral imperative. Got that? Write it down.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Well, Tucker, every night, I raise Bush vs. Gore. And you still haven't learned the lesson.

What happened in Bush against Gore is, they stopped the counting of votes, not the election, the counting of votes.


CARLSON: I love this! I love this!

BEGALA: Because -- because the Republicans only want to counts the votes of the rich, of the elite, of their pals. Democrats want everybody to vote.



CARLSON: Maybe nine college students believe that. But in real life...


CARLSON: Paul, Paul, come on.

BEGALA: Well, the liberals in California want to move it to March, when more people will vote and the machines will work.

CARLSON: They're stopping an election by using the courts. I'm against the election, but I don't pretend to be a populist. Democrats do. And there's no way to justify stopping a purely democratic exercise, this election.


BEGALA: They are only applying Bush vs. Gore. So they're forced it on their own petard.

Well, the no-bid sweetheart contract given to the Halliburton company -- that is the firm once led by Vice President Dick Cheney -- was valued earlier this month at $705 million. But last week, it was raised to $948 million. And today, we learned from "The Wall Street Journal" it is now $1.25 billion. Now, that's a growth rate of 32 percent per week.

At that the rate, according to the math -- I had to call my wife to do this for me -- in just two weeks at that growth rate, Halliburton will consume the entire federal budget.


BEGALA: Well, a group called American Family Voices this week began airing a new advertisement on the controversy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: It's become a national joke, but it's not funny. Billions of tax dollars are going directly to Halliburton through sweetheart no-bid government contracts.


BEGALA: The ad concludes by asking Americans if they'd rather take care of the troops or take care of Halliburton. I think we know which side Mr. Bush is on.

CARLSON: That's so stupid. I can barely even respond.

BEGALA: Why not put the contract up for bid? Why not put it up for bid?


CARLSON: Paul, look, the implication that we went to war to benefit Dick Cheney's old company is so


BEGALA: I don't believe we went to war for that. I never said that.

CARLSON: Do you know what Halliburton is doing in Iraq?

BEGALA: You know what they're doing is, they're ripping us off, because there was a no-bid contract. They should compete fair and square. And that's the capitalist system.


CARLSON: I'm not going to try to outshout you.

BEGALA: Why not compete for the contract?


BEGALA: For liberals, there is nothing scarier than the thought of the federal government closing down. After all, who would tell people what to do and then force them at gunpoint to do it? Well, that nightmare has come to pass.

In preparations for Hurricane Isabel yesterday, tens of thousands of federal workers locked up, went home and took a four-day paid vacation. The result? Well, traffic problems in Washington were solved immediately. But that was about it. Anarchy did not break out. Many Americans even enjoyed the brief respite from being bossed around by federal bureaucrats. It turns out that adults are actually pretty good at running their own lives, even without detailed federal instructions. Imagine that.

Enjoy the freedom while it lasts. The bureaucrats come back on Monday and we will all become pumpkins again. It must be -- it's difficult -- the impulse to tell other people what to do is at the heart of contemporary liberalism. And it must drive you insane that there's nobody around with a gun to tell Americans what to do.

BEGALA: It's John Ashcroft who wants to tell people what to do.


BEGALA: It's George Bush who tells people who we can even fall in love with. It's the Republicans who are trying to control our lives. Democrats just want to control corporate power, so that they don't put arsenic in the water and so that they can't pollute our air.


CARLSON: Paul, you're back to your sloganeering again. Is it Republicans who are telling you, put out that cigarette, put down that beer?


BEGALA: Name me one federal bureaucracy George Bush wants to close.


CARLSON: George Bush is actually not enough of a libertarian for me. That's not why I'm a reflexive



BEGALA: That, you're not.

Well, one of the prime rationales that the Bush administration gave us for invading Iraq was the threat of smallpox.

As recently as this past Sunday, Vice President Cheney on "Meet the Press" again claimed that Saddam had biological labs capable of making smallpox. But, citing senior military officers involved in the search for evidence of smallpox, the Associated Press now reports the following, quoting the AP -- quote -- "Top American scientists assigned to the weapons hunt in Iraq found no evidence Saddam Hussein's regime was making or stockpiling smallpox."

In fact, AP continues -- I'm continuing to quote them directly -- "A three-month search by Team Pox turned up only signs to the contrary: disabled equipment that had been rendered harmless by U.N. inspectors, Iraqi inspectors and a laboratory thought to be back in use that was covered in cobwebs."

President Bush was unavailable for comment. It seems his pants were on fire.


CARLSON: Are you implying that the president lied when he said that Iraq may be making smallpox?

BEGALA: He didn't say may. He said -- and I quote -- "Iraq possesses..."


BEGALA: Let me quote the president directly: "Iraq possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons." That was a fib. That was a falsehood. It was a fabrication. It was deceitful. It was deceptive. It was dishonest.

CARLSON: Paul, stop your shouting for a second.

BEGALA: It was duplicitous. It was untruthful.

CARLSON: Whatever. I give up.


BEGALA: I try not to use the word lie because it's disrespectful to our president.

CARLSON: No, I'm not going to be shouted down. I'm trying to ask you a simple question. You're not going to answer it.

BEGALA: You ask me. I answered.

Well, from Senator Ted Kennedy voicing his opinions on Iraq to the general in the race for president, to the California recall, we will catch up with all the political stories you may have missed while Hurricane Isabel blew through.

Stay with us.




BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Two explosions shook Baghdad after dark told, No casualties reported. The blasts underscore Senator Edward M. Kennedy's complaint that our service men and women are, in his words, "effectively in a shooting gallery" -- unquote -- because the Bush administration's Iraq policy is, in his mind -- quote -- "adrift" -- unquote.

In the CROSSFIRE to debate all of this week's political news, conservative Bay Buchanan. She's president of the American Cause; and Democratic strategist Vic Kamber.

Thank you both for coming in.



CARLSON: Now, Vic, I've been trying to get an answer to this question all day. And I'm glad you're here, because I think you can help.

I remember a couple of years ago -- I was just talking to Paul about this, in fact, on the air -- that Democrats came out of the recount after the 2000 election saying it's wrong to stop the democratic process by going to the courts. And now we see...

They said it's wrong.

CARLSON: It's wrong to use the courts to squelch the democratic process. I think the was the line. Now we see the Democrats in California going to the courts to stop a democratic election. So is it wrong only when it hurts Democrats?


VIC KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: First of all, I think it was the ACLU that went to the courts, not the Democrat Party.

CARLSON: Well, they're the same thing.

KAMBER: No. And not Democrats or the Democratic Party.

Secondly, the whole process of this recall, don't talk about democracy in the same breath with the recall. There's no democracy here. Four months...

CARLSON: In an election, there's no democracy?

KAMBER: Four months after an election, before the governor could even burp wrong, they're signing petitions to kick him out of office. And it's a minority of people who put a petition to have an election, and you call that democracy?

It's the hypocrites of Republicans who can't take a loss when they lose an election to say, we lost and let's get on with life. They want to rerun the election.


BEGALA: Bay, let me send it back to you now.

Speaking of hypocrites, the man who apparently is the new leader of California's Republicans is a man who's for abortion rights and for gun control and for gay rights. But he's not for debates. Aren't you a little embarrassed that the he-man Republican out there is acting like a girlie man when it's time to debate?

(LAUGHTER) BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: I assume you're talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

BEGALA: Arnold Schwarzenegger is his name.

BUCHANAN: I think that, if he wins, clearly, he'll become the leader of the Republican Party. He's certainly not the leader of the party right now.

There's a real split out there. There's a candidate, Tom McClintock, who is first class, just first class, been in the party a long time, and doing a fine job in this race. But I think the key here is...

BEGALA: Let me press that. I don't know him, but he has conservative principles on all of those issues I just mentioned. Why don't Republicans support him, then, if they're supposed to be the conservative party? Why are they supporting Schwarzenegger?

BUCHANAN: Well, there's clearly a split, and has always been, in California. The conservatives have always had a difficult time, Republican conservatives.

The moderate part of the wing of the party is much stronger than the conservatives. And that's what's playing out. You have got 25 percent going to Schwarzenegger and 18 percent going to McClintock right now. But I think the real key -- and I think your point is a good one. I think that all the candidates should debate. And I think Schwarzenegger should debate. And the questions shouldn't be given to him in advance. I think that would be a healthy exercise before somebody votes for someone, is to actually see how he responds when he is thrown questions that he is given some idea as to what they are, but not...

KAMBER: And, hopefully, there will be a debate in February, right before the March election.


CARLSON: I am always amused -- I know you must be, too -- when Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts gives the rest us a moral lecture.



CARLSON: And he did yesterday, when he said -- explained that he, like a lot of Democrats, has gone completely insane and is blaming the war in Iraq on a conspiracy -- he almost said that -- made in Texas.

But I'm just going to quote the last part. He said that the war was undertaken because -- quote -- "It was going to be good politically for Republicans. This whole thing was a fraud." A, do you really believe that? And, B, does that mean that Saddam Hussein didn't try to kill an American president, that he wasn't a threat to his neighbors? What exactly does that mean? That sounds crazy to me.

KAMBER: Well, let's talk about why we went to war. We told we were going to war for weapons of mass destruction. We haven't found them yet. We were told we were going to war because there was some relationship between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Nothing of that has been proven. If anything, in both those cases, we've heard Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld recently get on television to say, those aren't facts that we know at all.

We don't know why we went to war. If you think


CARLSON: Ted Kennedy says we went to war for political reasons.

KAMBER: Well, and that's the only thing that makes any sense, because nothing else makes sense right now.

CARLSON: Do you believe that?

KAMBER: Absolutely.

I think George Bush went to war because he's a cowboy who thought that's the thing to do to appease his father and the guy who tried to get his father.


BUCHANAN: The president laid out his reasoning to go to war in his State of the Union and a number of times. But in the State of the Union, he really presented the whole picture to the American people.

That night, as Americans watched, the polls went up 20 percent in favor of this war. He explained to me -- and I didn't believe that the war was -- there was an imminent need, the threat was imminent. But he explained that he did, that the information that came to him -- and he outlined it -- that he believed there was an imminent threat.

And as our commander in chief, it was incumbent upon him to then take action. He did. That was a courageous move.


KAMBER: Let's assume it's true for a moment.

BUCHANAN: It absolutely was true.

KAMBER: If you believe that and it's true, then we should fire those people that sent that message to him.

(CROSSTALK) KAMBER: Maybe he believed it. But today the proof is, it was not an imminent threat. And those people who suggested it, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney -- I don't care who they are -- should be out of office.


BUCHANAN: Then it is time for responsible -- I believe that, if there are individuals in the administration who deliberately put forward information to the president that misled or deliberately exaggerated the situation, there should be an investigation. They should be prosecuted. That's what I believe.


BUCHANAN: But responsible senators wouldn't make up answers. They would say, let's have an investigation.

KAMBER: And the Republicans would kill it.


BEGALA: ... trying to have an investigation on this for quite some time.

Let me tell you one person who apparently has said something false. His name is Dick Cheney. He's our vice president. Just a few days ago, he was on "Meet the Press With Tim Russert." And he said, this is what would happen if he were successful this Iraq. Here is our vice president.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who had us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11.


BEGALA: So we attacked Baghdad to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11.

Now, the president was asked about this. And here's what he said.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've had no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with September the 11th.



BEGALA: For once, I believe George Bush. Why is Dick Cheney out there? Dick Cheney is a very smart man. He must know at least as much as President Bush, right? Why is he misleading us on Tim Russert's show?

BUCHANAN: I didn't see the whole interview, but it seems to me what I just saw there can be explained quite simply.

The president -- and I read this before we went to war -- that there was no tie between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. There just is not a tie there. However, there is some relationship that some of the al Qaeda members have had with Saddam Hussein, not necessarily related to 9/11.

KAMBER: And to Saudi Arabia and to Yemen and...


BUCHANAN: Absolutely.


BEGALA: Cheney said, as his nose grew, was, that was the heart, the geographic base of the people that attacked us on 9/11. That's a sin.


BUCHANAN: The people that are coming into the country to fight us are coming from other lands to come there and fight us. And al Qaeda has sent out tapes that say go to Iraq and fight the Americans.

If he is suggesting that, if we can get ahold of things there now, we can really undermine all the terrorists' efforts, that I believe is accurate.


CARLSON: Vic, I just want to get to a happier subject. And that's the destruction of the Democratic Party.



CARLSON: There's a new poll, the Quinnipiac poll. You know Quinnipiac, a pretty good poll, not perfect, but pretty good.

The latest one asked Democratic primary voters who you favor as a candidate. Hillary Clinton comes in at 45 percent. The next closest is Howard Dean at 9 percent. Edward's down at 4. It gets pretty depressing from there. What does it mean that the top person, by 30 points, almost 40 points, is not even in the race?

KAMBER: Well, it means two things: one, that she is the best known name and she is the superstar of the party. She's not running for president. No. 2 -- and "Newsweek" had polls. "TIME" has had polls. Five, six out of 10 Americans haven't focused on the race, can't even name a Democratic nominee. It has nothing to do with what you'd like to think, that they're not making it. It has to do with, we're not focused on it. We're focused -- look at your own show.

For the last two days, all we've talked about, which we should have, is the hurricane, because that is the news today.


KAMBER: Not a presidential primary; 200,000 Americans are focused on the presidential primary.

CARLSON: Every Democratic primary voter knows who Howard Dean is, though. Come on.

KAMBER: That's not true. Six out of 10 don't, according to the polls, of Democrats, don't know, can't name one of the nine, or now 10, candidates for president.

CARLSON: Should people like that be voting in the first place?


KAMBER: Of course.


KAMBER: That's who elected our president, I'm sorry to say.



CARLSON: Well, we'll discuss that in just a minute.

There's a lot more political ground to cover, including a general who is in the debate, then out, then in. We'll give you an update on where he is.

When we come back, we're going to give our guests the "Rapid Fire" treatment. It starts right after a quick break. And then Wolf Blitzer will be here with the news headlines, including the latest on Hurricane Isabel.

We'll be right back.





CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It is time for the fastest question-and-answer session in political television. We call it "Rapid fire." Our guests are Democratic strategist Vic Kamber and also conservative strategist Bay Buchanan. She is president of the American Cause.

BEGALA: Bay, General Wesley Clark has been a candidate I think for about 48 hours. And, already, the right wing is foaming at the mouth. I heard lard butt Limbaugh the other day. He's a radio host, I think. His blood pressure went up like 50 points. Why is the right so afraid of General Clark?

BUCHANAN: I don't know why they would be the least bit afraid of him. He's got to get through a Democratic primary. And I don't see how he does it.

The man has toyed with the idea of running for president for nine months. And he comes out, announces, and he says, I don't have any specific plans for the economy. I don't know. He may think he is going to win on his looks, in which case, he'll be a front-runner overnight. But other than that.


BEGALA: Gray Davis of California has been pandering for years, really, to illegal aliens. Now he's pandering to space aliens. I want you to listen to what he said: "My vision is to make the most diverse state on Earth. We have people from every planet on Earth in this state. We have the sons and daughters of people from every planet."

Is he going to get the Martian vote?


BUCHANAN: I think he was talking about Schwarzenegger.


BEGALA: Every planet. Can he do it?



KAMBER: Well, my hope is -- my hope is, he not only gets every planet, he gets the Democrats and he wins and beats the recall.

CARLSON: Oh, good luck.

BEGALA: I'll tell you what they no longer have, though, Bay, is Planet Hollywood, because Arnold Schwarzenegger was such a poor businessman, he ran that one into the ground. Is he going to do the same thing to the California economy?

BUCHANAN: Well, listen, if he wins, he'll do a very good job as governor. I have no question in my mind that he'll bring in some really sharp people to run that place. and he knows what needs to be done. It's pretty clear.

But I think he has a tough run ahead of him. Schwarzenegger is flat. And he needs to do something to turn things around. He's not going to do that on the debate, as we talked about.

CARLSON: General Clark seems like a serious, nice guy, announces for president, but, at first, refuses to give up a paid speech in Texas, says he can't go to the debate because he has to take a fee for this speech. I'm not beating up on paid speaking, obviously, but it shows a sort of lack of seriousness, doesn't it, that at first, he was going to take the paid speech, even though he was running for president?

KAMBER: I don't know why you're so concerned. He's going to be at the debate. He is going to probably do a very good job at the debate. He is new at this. It is late in the period. I'm concerned about whether he can make it down that path to be in that first tier, but he's going to be at the debate. And we'll see what happens.


BUCHANAN: What is his strategy? How does he win Iowa or New Hampshire? Why would anybody leave a Gephardt or a Kerry or a Dean to go vote for this fellow, who has no political experience?


BEGALA: That is going to be the last word.

Bay Buchanan, the leader of American Cause, Vic Kamber, Democratic strategist, thank you both very much for coming in.


BEGALA: It was a fun debate.

And now we have got a trivia question for you guys. Can you guess, speaking of Wesley Clark, the general now running for president, can you guess which American president since General Dwight David Eisenhower left office served the longest in the U.S. military? Press one here in the audience if you think it was John F. Kennedy, who is the hero of PT-109. Press two if you think it was Annapolis grad Jimmy Carter. Press three if you think George Herbert Walker Bush, who was a teenage Naval pilot in World War II, served the longest stint in the military in the post-Eisenhower era.

We'll have the answer for you when we come back. Stay with us.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's time now to give you the answer to our trivia question. Right before the break, we asked which president since Eisenhower, who, of course, was a big-time general, served the longest in the military? Was it John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush? Well, here are the results of hour our audience voted. Let's see.

There they are. Well, 12 percent thought Kennedy; 57 percent thought Carter; 31 percent thought Bush Sr. Well, gang, you were right. Jimmy Carter served seven years in the United States Navy.


BEGALA: He was a protege of a legendary Admiral Hyman Rickover, who was the father of the nuclear Navy.


CARLSON: No correlation between service and foreign policy.


CARLSON: All right.

Jason Molic (ph) from Brooklyn, New York, writes: "I'm surprised Democrats have not yet blamed Bush's party for somehow causing the hurricane."

Or Halliburton. You'll hear it. Halliburton caused the hurricane.

BEGALA: Oh, if they can find a way to make a buck off it, I'm sure Halliburton will be involved.

Well, Rick in California writes: "Why in the world do reporters need to stand out in the rain and wind up to their knees in water to report there's a storm and flooding?"


CARLSON: For fun, Rick. Come on!

BEGALA: It's way fun. No, but, also, we had some very courageous reporters out there.


BEGALA: Those are not two of the courageous reporters.

CARLSON: No. Those are wet reporters, though.

Yes, sir, a question?

BEGALA: Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Jonathan (ph) from Brookline, Massachusetts. Just wondering if General Clark is the real political hurricane bearing down on President Bush.

CARLSON: Well, he's the political hurricane bearing down on the other nine. Can you imagine if you're one of those guys and you're sort of a serious person and this guy comes from nowhere, not even sure he's Democrat, and comes to just sort of eclipse you? It must be painful.

BEGALA: All of my friends at the Bush White House have their knickers in a knot right now, their panties in a wad. They're scared to death of General Clark. I love seeing it happen. Keep trembling, Mr. President.


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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson.

Join us again next time -- that would be Monday -- for another edition of CROSSFIRE.


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