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Congress Wages Warfare Over Iraq

Aired October 17, 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: political warfare over Iraq.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Until the administration genuinely changes course, I cannot in good conscience vote to fund a failed policy.

ANNOUNCER: Should the U.S. just give away all those billions of dollars or should at least some of it be paid back?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is nobody in Iraq that can sign a note and say, we'll borrow $10 billion and pay you back.




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


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

A couple of hours ago, the U.S. House of Representatives approved President Bush's request for $87 billion of your money for Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the Senate is expected to pass a slightly different version of that bill today. Should Iraq have to pay some of that money back? That is the question we'll debate and many more right after the best political briefing in television, the CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Four more Americans were killed in two separate attacks in Iraq today. And the general in charge of finding Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden has declared that the war on terrorism is -- quote -- "a spiritual battle" -- unquote -- against Satan, who -- quote -- "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus" -- unquote.

Now, General Jerry Boykin also declared -- quote -- "George Bush was not elected by a majority of the voters in the United States. He was appointed by God" -- unquote.


BEGALA: Now, you should know I was talking to God today and he wanted me to tell you, he wants all his children to stop killing each other, especially in his name. The lord also wanted me to remind everyone that Mr. Bush was, in fact, appointed by the Supreme Court, not him.



ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Now, where you got that information, Paul, is from "The Los Angeles Times," which had done a big investigative report on General Boykin. They had tried to do one on governor-elect Schwarzenegger.

But any officer of the United States Army who is Christian, tries to teach Christian values to the troops is certainly a bad guy, in the opinion of the liberal media.

BEGALA: No, first off, "The Los Angeles Times" and NBC News' Lisa Myers, a serious investigative journalist, tracked this guy down. And these are statements completely at odds to what our president has said. It makes this into a religious conflict, the worst thing we can do.


BEGALA: And, by the way, he ought to spend his time finding Osama bin Laden, not Satan.



NOVAK: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stuck it to the administration that replaced hers. The Bush foreign policy, she said, -- quote -- "is not good for America, not good for the world" -- end quote. It's her right to speak her mind. The problem is where she said it, in Paris, world capital of anti-Americanism and over, God forbid, French radio.

What ever happened to the old maxim that politics stops at the water's edge, especially for a secretary of state? Henry Kissinger knew better. George Shultz knew better. Jim Baker knew better. I know and like Madeleine Albright. And she knows better. But she's so partisan that she just couldn't resist a little Paul Begala-style Bush-bashing.


BEGALA: Bob, this is nuts. First off, everybody should read Madeleine Albright's wonderful new auto biography, "Madam Secretary." It is a great book. But the notion that secretaries of state don't have a right to participate in politics, Jim Baker was there knocking on the door of the Supreme Court trying to steal the election for George Bush. He happened to win that case. But she certainly has a right to speak her mind. This is not Cuba, Bob. I never thought conservatives would admire Fidel Castro's tactic so much.

NOVAK: You -- once again, you didn't listen to what I said.

What I said is, the tradition in this country -- I know your ilk doesn't like tradition very much -- but when a secretary of state goes beyond the lines of this country, they do not criticize their own country. Wait until they get home to do it.


BEGALA: She's a great patriotic.

Well, the Anti-Defamation League describes the Council of Conservative Citizens as -- quote -- "a racist political group" -- unquote. So why does the CCC's Web site feature a photo of former Republican National Committee Chairman and Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour at a CCC-sponsored barbecue?

On that same Web page is a picture of Ernst Zundel, the author of a book entitled "The Hitler We Loved and Why." Now, Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott's connection to this group was the subject of hundreds of news stories back in 1998. And yet, Haley Barbour now says he doesn't know anything about the council.

Now, Haley Barbour saying he never heard of the racist CCC is about as believable to me as Arnold Schwarzenegger saying he never heard of Hooters.



NOVAK: You know, I could have predicted, as the night follows day, that, with the election coming up in November for governor of Mississippi and Haley Barbour actually running ahead of the incumbent Democratic governor, that there would be a smear job on Haley. That's the way the Democrats play politics.

I knew it was going to come. I'm so glad I was here for it, because I like to see the imaginative things to try to turn Haley Barbour into a racist.


BEGALA: Haley Barbour appears on a racist Web site. Today, he said he would not ask that racist group to take his name off. People should know about it.

(BELL RINGING) NOVAK: The Democrats are shooting themselves in the feet by coming over as gun-haters. That judgment comes not from the National Rifle Association, not from the Gun Owners of America, not even from a right-wing newspaper columnist like me.

It's Bill Clinton's old outfit, the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC says the party's anti-gun image has cost Democrats dearly in the last two elections and figures to cost them again in 2004. So what to do? The answer from former Clinton pollster Mark Penn, try to fool the people. Use the term gun safety instead of gun control.

That's just what's wrong with the Democrats, thinking the people are stupid enough to believe that the party of Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer really wants to protect gun owners.


BEGALA: Well, Bob, I'm not sure if you are, but I'm a gun owner. I'm a hunter. And I'm not a felon. And so, under all of Bill Clinton's gun controls, I can still own guns and go hunting. It's the criminals who can't get them. That's as it should be.

Now, politically, being for gun control didn't hurt Arnold Schwarzenegger, did it?

NOVAK: Well, you know, I live in the District of Columbia. And they break the Second Amendment of the Constitution, because I can't own a gun. Did you know that? That's against the law in the District of Columbia?

BEGALA: You don't even have a criminal record, though.

NOVAK: Would you like to join with me in challenging that in court?

BEGALA: No, I don't live in D.C. I don't care what D.C.'s laws are, Bob. You choose to live there.


BEGALA: But that's not the Bill Clinton laws.

NOVAK: Coming up: President Bush loses a partisan skirmish in the U.S. Senate. But the political war over Iraq is hardly over. Two congressmen step into the CROSSFIRE next.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

The House of Representatives this afternoon voted to pass President Bush's request for $87 billion of your money to fund ongoing U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, the vote was a solid win for the president, 303-125. The Senate is working on a different version of the bill. And a final vote there is expected soon. But earlier, in a major defeat for the president, senators voted to convert about $10 billion of reconstruction money from outright grants to loans.

Stepping into the CROSSFIRE to debate all this, Maryland Democratic Congressman Al Wynn and Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Cantor.

Gentlemen, thank you both.


NOVAK: Congressman Wynn, on October 9, 2002, just about a year ago, on the floor of the House of Representatives, the representative of the 4th District of Maryland -- that's you -- said the following -- quote -- "Make no mistake. The threat posed by Saddam Hussein ultimately threatens world peace and stability. It is for this reason that we must consider the resolution before us today, allowing the president to take unilateral military action to disarm Iraq in the interest of long-term peace."

Now, Mr. Wynn, how could you vote for that -- and we have a war going on, a lot of havoc -- and then, today, you vote against keeping our troops there and helping to reconstruct Iraq? How in good conscience can you be that hypocritical.

REP. ALBERT WYNN (D), MARYLAND: First, good research.

Second, the problem is, we acted on bad intelligence. If the intelligence were correct, my vote would have been correct. Unfortunately, the intelligence was horrendous. And I regret that. Nonetheless, we did the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Today, this is a bad bill. The president is very clever -- not wise, but clever. He mixed the military aid with the reconstruction aid. That's the only reason it passed. I support the military aid, because I support our troops. The reconstruction aid is an ill- conceived package.

NOVAK: So you don't -- you don't want to reconstruct Iraq? You want to have it in the state it is as a result of our action and the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? Just leave it the way it is?

WYNN: First, I'd like an accounting for what happened to the money we already gave the president. We didn't even get the Kevlar vests, but yet the president is back asking for more money.

NOVAK: Answer my question.

WYNN: I am.

NOVAK: Do you want to leave it -- do you want to leave it in a state of chaos, so that the terrorists can go there? WYNN: Well, first, I want an accounting. Second -- first, I want an accounting. Second, this ought to be a loan. The Senate knows it. Everybody knows it. The Republicans would have voted for a loan, but the president twisted arms.

Clearly, Iraq has the resources. That's what Defense Secretary Wolfowitz said: Oh, don't worry about reconstruction. We have lots of money in Iraq because they have all these oil reserves.

Well, let's use those oil reserves and not the American taxpayers' dollars.


BEGALA: In fact, Congressman Cantor, let me read you precisely what Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz said, exactly what Mr. Wynn was saying.

Here's what Paul Wolfowitz, under oath, before the Congress of the United States said about who was going to have to pay for Iraq's reconstruction. He said: "And on a rough recollection, oil revenues of that country could bring between $50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon."

Now, we know from "The New York Times" that, at the time he made this testimony, he had a report on his desk that said Iraq's oil revenues would be nothing of the kind. What sort of punishment should a man face for knowingly misleading the Congress of the United States?

REP. ERIC CANTOR (R), VIRGINIA: You know, Paul, I can't speak for Mr. Wolfowitz and don't know the facts -- or the facts he had at hand. I'm sure he didn't intentionally mislead anybody.

The fact of the matter is, we did not go into Iraq for their oil reserves. And the whole issue of the loans vs. the grants, I think, is testament to the fact that the Congress has now endorsed the president and his method and his mission in Iraq, because our voting yesterday on the issue, that we were going to stand by this president and grant the money to Iraq, says that we are committed to the mission there. We are committed to a peaceful Iraq.

And it does send the message that we aren't there for oil. We're there to get Iraq up and going. We don't have time to sit around and let the population in Iraq languish. We've got to get on with the show. We've got to get in and out of Iraq.

BEGALA: Excuse me.



CANTOR: And we have got to make sure that we make sure Iraq is peaceful, so it never becomes a snake pit for terrorists. BEGALA: With all due respect, I really don't want to interrupt you. I want to let you make your point. But it was a point wholly irrelevant to the question I asked.

The question I asked, sir, was, the Bush administration misled you and your colleagues and all of our fellow Americans before this war. They promised us that Iraq could pay for this, when they knew or should have known they couldn't.


BEGALA: What sanctions should they face for misleading us, sir?

CANTOR: Paul, Paul, there was no misleading going on.


CANTOR: And I'd like to my good friend Al Wynn.


BEGALA: ... bucks, which they don't have.

CANTOR: Al Wynn -- the fact of the matter is, the oil revenues are currently being used to support the administration of the Iraqi government. There are -- we are maybe at one-third of the oil production of postwar Iraq right now.


NOVAK: Go ahead, Mr. Wynn.


WYNN: Look, the oil revenues will come back on line. And when they do, that money ought to come back to the United States. That's the point we're making. There's no reason for the country with the world's second largest oil reserves to use taxpayers' money for reconstruction. I support reconstruction. It ought to be a loan.

Seven Republican senators came across the line and said they agreed with the concept.


NOVAK: Mr. Wynn, I want to keep this simple. You, along with the majority of your colleagues, voted against supplying our troops in the field in harm's way in Iraq. I'd like to read you a couple -- what a couple people say. Don't pay attention to an old right-winger like me.

Let's talk about Senator Joe Lieberman, your party's vice presidential candidate. He said: "We have 135,000 troops over there. We have to give them every dollar in support and get them home in peace." Richard Gephardt, running for president also, he's your leader -- used to be your leader in the House: "I think we've got to send the right signal to our troops in the field. We've got to send the right signal to people in Iraq who both don't want us to succeed and do want us to succeed."

Mr. -- how can you sleep at night, voting against that, when the leaders of your own party think you should have done it?

WYNN: Well, I'm supporting presidential nominee John Edwards. So he agrees with my point of view that the money ought to be in a loan and the American people ought not be saddled with all of that, all those problems.

The fact of the matter is, we support the troops. If the president had bifurcated, separated this bill, we would have passed $65 billion for the troops, probably unanimously.

NOVAK: You voted against the troops, didn't you?

WYNN: No, I did not vote against the troops. I voted against the president. The president's ham-fisted approach to foreign policy is just unacceptable. It's time someone said, enough is enough.



BEGALA: And I'm not just blowing smoke. You're one of the rising stars of the Republican Party in Congress. I have to say, one of your colleagues, a rising star in the Democratic Party, a freshman, a Democrat, Rahm Emanuel, my old colleague, when we both worked for President Clinton in the White House, voted with you in full support of this package.

But on the floor of the House, he sent a very serious message to the president, along with vote in his support of the president. Here's what Congressman Emanuel had to say.


REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: I'll supply the troops with the resources they need. My hope is that the president and the administration will finally supply a policy the nation deserves, because the absence of a policy has never been measured up to the valor and patriotism of our troops.


BEGALA: Congressman Cantor, doesn't Congressman Emanuel make a powerful warning to the president, that he ought to come to Congress with a plan to win this occupation and bring our guys home?

CANTOR: It is, I think, absurd to say that this president doesn't have a plan. The American people...

BEGALA: Really? Where is it?

CANTOR: The American people are behind the president. The president took the lead post-9/11 and said...

BEGALA: What's his plan?

CANTOR: ... we're going to have a national security strategy that, at its center, says rejection of terrorism, no matter where it exists. Going into Iraq is part of the war against terrorism. We have got to make sure that that country never, ever becomes a haven.



NOVAK: Mr. Wynn, I want to get this one thing into you. Some presidential candidates in your party voted for it. Some voted against it. But Wesley Clark, you know, General Clark, let's -- well, how did he stand on this issue? One of his aides, an old Clinton aide named Matt Bennett, said -- let me read you what he said.

He said: "He," Clark, "isn't privy to things that members of Congress are when considering to vote." In other words, General Clark doesn't know enough how to vote. Does he know enough to be president?

WYNN: Well, as I said, I'm supporting Senator Edwards.



NOVAK: What do you think about it? I'm asking you a question.

WYNN: I'm surprised that General Clark would say that. I think he should have an opinion on it. He doesn't have a vote, but he ought to have an opinion. But I want to go back to something Eric said about what the American people think.

Every single poll, Eric, has said, the American people disapprove of this reconstruction package, every single poll. The American people are saying, look, we want prescription drug coverage. We want money for public schools. We want road construction. We don't want to just give this money to the Iraqis.


NOVAK: Next, on "Rapid Fire," we'll ask our guests if it's time to bring the troops home.

And right after a quick break, Wolf Blitzer will have the latest on the box cutters and other suspicious items found aboard a couple of airliners.




NOVAK: The U.S. Senate is now voting on the bill for aid to Iraq. We'll let you know what happens.

In the meantime, it's "Rapid Fire," where we ask our guests to convert their answers from paragraphs into one or two teeny little sentences. In the CROSSFIRE, Maryland Democratic Congressman Al Wynn and Virginia Republican Congressman Eric Cantor.

BEGALA: Congress Cantor, you voted for billions of dollars of aid to the Iraqi economy, children's hospitals and schools, electrical grids and job training. Why not just give them tax cuts for the rich and be done with it?


CANTOR: Well...

BEGALA: I thought that was the Republican economic plan.

CANTOR: Well, Paul, unfortunately, they have no rich over there yet. And what we're trying to do is get the economy back on the ground. We're trying to get our troops home safely.

And the quicker that country comes back, the quicker and safer our troops are going to be and the more likely they'll be to come home.


NOVAK: Joining you in voting against the bill, Congressman, was a presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich. And Congressman Kucinich says we should take all the troops home right now. Good idea or bad idea?

WYNN: Bad idea. We've got to stay. We need to support the troops. We just need to do it in a sensible way. That's what's lacking, a sensible foreign policy and a sensible postwar plan.

BEGALA: Congressman, your colleagues in the Senate right now are voting. And one of your colleagues in the House, George Nethercutt, is planning to run for the Senate.

He said this, this week: "The story of what we've done in the postwar period is remarkable. It's a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day." Do you agree?

CANTOR: Well, I don't think anyone can minimize the loss of even a single life. And I know all of us share the grief and send our thoughts and prayers out to the victims and their families. We have a larger mission. We have a large mission in Iraq. And that is to bring the Iraqi people into the light of day, into democracy.

NOVAK: All right. All right.

Congressman Wynn, Saddam Hussein, we don't know where he is, but he's not in Baghdad running the government. Is Iraq better off or worse off today than it was when Saddam Hussein was in control?


WYNN: I think it's better off. I think we're just doing a bad job of bringing the light, as my colleague said, to Iraq. We could do a much better job. We should have done a much better job. We were too arrogant in saying we were going to be conquering heroes, instead of focusing on what we needed to do to rebuild Iraq.


BEGALA: Congressman Albert Wynn, Democrat from Maryland, thank you very much.

Congressman Eric Cantor, Republican from Virginia, thank you both very much.


BEGALA: Now, you and your fellow taxpayers, my fellow Americans, are going to be shelling out $87 billion more of your money, in addition to the $60 billion you've already spent on Iraq. But, if it makes you feel any better, one country has pledged a whopping $300 million. It's kind of like pitching in a nickel while you're paying the mortgage on a new house. So who is the big-spending ally. Is it Australia, France or Spain? We'll have the answer for you after the break.

And then, in "Fireback," one of our viewers has a way for our president to get into the game at the World Series.

Stay tuned and find out.



NOVAK: Welcome back.

Well, this audience is smart, but not too smart. We asked them how -- who -- what country was giving three -- promising $300 million for Iraq; 32 percent said Australia; 19 percent said France; 49 percent said Spain. Spain is the correct answer, but half of these people were wrong.


NOVAK: That's right. I always look at the negative part of things.


BEGALA: I don't.


BEGALA: I don't mean to be ungrateful, but $300 million, while we're spending $140 billion is not exactly very important.

NOVAK: So much for the Spanish. Go ahead.

BEGALA: Gary Hinton of Pioneer, California, writes: "The reason that President Bush wants the U.S. taxpayer to foot the bill for Iraqi reconstruction is obvious to me. If Iraq or the U.N. paid for it, Halliburton would not be getting the contract."



NOVAK: Are you writing Gary Hinton's stuff for him?

BEGALA: No, but he makes a good point.


Zoila -- Zoila Peters -- I love that name -- of Santa Barbara, California, says: "The Democrats offer nothing but just bashing the president. People can see through it."

Zoila, you're exactly right. They better come out with something positive or they're going to be in big trouble.


BEGALA: That's not true. They've offered a good alternative. It's called get rid of the president and get somebody competent in there.

By the way, I'm told by our producers that the Senate has just now voted to approve that package. So now they'll go to a conference and figure out whether this loan provision stays in. So the Senate has passed the president's request for $87 billion in aid for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Winkelmann in Romeoville, Illinois, writes: "Look for President Bush to come running out of the losing side's bullpen as the World Series winner take the final game. He'll be the one in the fresh new uniform whooping and hollering, "Mission accomplished."



NOVAK: You know what? Romeoville is right next to Joliet, where I'm from. And we always thought that people from Romeoville were about one taco short of a combination late, so...

BEGALA: He makes a good point, though. NOVAK: Ed Hostilo of Columbus, Georgia, said: "I've been on this Earth for 48 years and I have never seen a poor man create a job yet. Shame on these Democrats for widening the rift between the rich and the poor. It's always easier to solve problems after the fact, but where were these great Democrats when things were at their worst?"


BEGALA: Ed Hostilo, of course, is completely full of beans. It's average middle-class people and poor people who create the jobs, when we spend money. Rich investors don't create jobs. We do.

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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