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Will Republican Counter Attack Work?

Aired November 21, 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, look who's advertising, too.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The war against terror is a contest of will.

ANNOUNCER: Is President Bush starting to feel the political heat, and are the Republicans sending the right message?

Plus, Robert Novak's memories of November 22, 1963.



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


After letting the Democrats snipe at President Bush all year, the Republican Party finally is returning fire.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Yes, but is it just a partisan attack or a panic attack? We will debate that and lots more after the best little political briefing in television, our "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

With the president falling in the polls, the Republican National Committee is, indeed, running a new ad that includes this whopper about the Democrats.


BUSH: The war against terror is a contest of will, in which perseverance is power.

Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?

It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: Now the attack says we are criticizing the president for abandoning -- in fact we are, in fact, criticizing the president for abandoning the war on terrorism, not for waging it.

Here's the case. He cut and run after Afghanistan before Osama bin Laden was caught or killed. He allowed the Taliban to regroup, gave al Qaeda breathing room and underfunded homeland security.

Why? All so he could attack Iraq, which posed no imminent threat to America and did not have close ties to al Qaeda terrorists.

The president's cut and run strategy on terrorism is not working. We can ask the people of Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Indonesia, all places where terrorists have struck while we've been bogged down in Mr. Bush's debacle in Baghdad.

NOVAK: Paul, that's an ingenious little turn you just did there, and I admire you for it. But it's not going to work.

I would say one of the dumbest things Democrats can do is to attack President Bush for being soft on terrorism, for not going after the terrorists. That just doesn't pass the smell test. I don't think you really think that any sensible Democratic presidential candidate will use that approach.

BEGALA: I wouldn't use the word like "soft," because it's not fair to the president. He's been distracted, and wrongly, by this war in Iraq, which is not about terrorism. So...

NOVAK: A question haunts retired General Wesley Clark's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Retired General Hugh Shelton, the former Army chief of staff, has said that Clark was relieved as NATO supreme commander in 1999 because of, quote, "integrity and character issues," end quote. Then General Shelton refused to elaborate.

What did he mean? Here is Clark's answer last night on CBS's David Letterman show.


GEN. WESLEY CLARK (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a smear. That's all it is. And it doesn't have anything to do with the military. It's the kind of stuff of politics.


NOVAK: Politics from old Army Hugh Shelton? Earlier yesterday, Clark said Shelton's remark was a smear because he couldn't refute it.

But General, why is it that so few of your comrades, almost none in the Army, have come to your defense? BEGALA: Well, let me name two. General Shelton was a great general, and I was honored to serve with him when I worked for President Clinton. And I worked with General Clark.

Here's two generals who praised General Clark's service in the Army: General Alexander Haig, who went on to become President Reagan's secretary of state, and General Colin Powell, who went on to become our current secretary of state. Pretty good endorsements from two pretty good generals for Wesley Clark.

NOVAK: General Powell was not very happy about General Clark's performance on CNN as an adviser.

Why did he say what he said, that this was politics on the part of Hugh Shelton?

BEGALA: You'll have to ask him, but he's opposing him politically.

Well, British Prime Minister Tony Blair took our president to a British pub today. But the British press and tens of thousands of Britons haven't been drinking the old Bush Kool-aid.

Check out this exchange from yesterday's press conference.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do they hate you in such numbers?

BUSH: I don't know that they do. All I know is that people in Baghdad, for example, weren't allowed to do this up until recent history.


BEGALA: Oh, Mr. President? The "American Prospect" and the Center for American Progress's daily "Progress Report" tell us that the head of the American occupation in Iraq is censoring the Iraqi media network.

He's clamped down on independent media. He's closed newspapers, radio and television stations. And the Reuters news service reported that U.S. troops actually bound and gagged an Iraqi citizen for speaking out against occupation forces.

I guess President Bush believes we have to limit Iraqis' freedom in order to establish it.

NOVAK: You know, it's really interesting that you are taking the side of the people who are killing our troops there and saying that we shouldn't suppress these insurrection areas. I don't think you really mean that, Paul.

Don't go too far in your fanatical hatred of George W. Bush, because you're saying things you don't believe.

BEGALA: I love President Bush. I just don't support his policies, Bob.

NOVAK: The energy bill may be dead.

After the Senate fell two votes short, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle took the floor to mourn what a good bill has been ruined because House majority leader Tom DeLay insisted on a provision killing lawsuits against alleged damage to water supplies by the MTBE fuel additive produced by chemical and oil manufacturers.

Senator Daschle implied that the bill was terrific except for that. In fact, it is a pork-filled monstrosity. Daschle likes it because of a fat ethanol subsidy. The corruption is bipartisan, bicameral and pervasive.

Thanks for John McCain blowing the whistle on Democrats and Republicans.

BEGALA: Here's one of the rare moments I think you're exactly right. I share a bipartisan outrage here. That bill, constructed by Republicans, and for Republicans, was filled with giveaways to the oil and gas industry. The last people who need a break in life is oil and gas industry.

NOVAK: Why...

BEGALA: American citizens...

NOVAK: It's giveaways for all kinds of people. And why did Tom Daschle vote for it? Whey did he say it's a terrific bill if you can just get that one provision out? You've got to be fair, Paul. He's as bad as the Republicans.

BEGALA: Well, I'd rather help corn farmers, frankly. Because they're good guys. The big oil companies...

NOVAK: Because they vote Democrat.

BEGALA: No, I like farmers.

As we mentioned a moment ago, the Republican Party is rolling out their first campaign ad in support of President Bush this weekend. Is somebody getting a little worried at the RNC?

We'll talk about the president and how some of his issues are faring on Capitol Hill this week with two senators, Charles Schumer of New York and Kit Bond of Missouri, in a moment.

And later, 40 years after President Kennedy is assassinated, we will look back at hour our nation's capitol coped with the crisis.


NOVAK: While Congress is trying to finish up work for this year, the Republican Party is focusing on next year and the campaign to reelect President Bush. In the CROSSFIRE, from Capitol Hill to talk about it, Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri and Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York.

BEGALA: Gentlemen, thank you both very much for joining us.

Senator Bond, your party is today now running a new ad that includes the following charge, and I'm reading straight from your party's ad, "Some are now" -- some Democrats, that is "are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists."

Can you name me a single Democrat who doesn't want the president to attack terrorists?

SEN. KIT BOND (R), MISSOURI: Well, all we hear are attacks on the president, Paul. That seems to be the overriding theme. The Democratic candidates, the wannabes who are running for president attack the president throughout, for all of his policies.

We haven't heard any positive proposals from them, and that's why the American people are beginning to wonder where the positive proposals are. They attack and attack, and continue to attack.

BEGALA: I'm sorry to cut you off. It's a legitimate point, and we should have a debate on that. But the question -- the allegation your party is making, and you're not personally responsible, but I'm going to ask you to try to be accountable for your party -- is that we're attacking the president for attacking terrorists.

I ask you again, have you ever heard one of your colleagues attack our president, saying that he shouldn't be attacking terrorists, or is this maybe a bit of a fib from the RNC?

BOND: That's -- I mean, that's the continuing theme that we get, even in the intelligence committee, which is supposed to be bipartisan, nonpartisan. A memo surfaced in which the Democratic side said that their effort was to expose the president, to lay out all the bad things that he was doing.

This was part of the strategy that has not been denied. It has not been disavowed by the Democratic staff and/or Democratic members of the intelligence committee. No clearer evidence I have seen, than that that they are attacking the president on his attacks on terrorists.

NOVAK: Senator Schumer, very soon in the Senate, you're likely to be having the final version of the Medicare bill, which for the first time will create a new entitlement for senior citizens to pay their prescription drugs.

Are you going out of pure political spite and nastiness vote against this benefit for seniors?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well, I haven't yet committed how I'm voting. We were just given the huge bill yesterday at 3. I knew the general provisions, but you know the devil is in the detail.

There are things I like in the bill; there are things I don't like in the bill. What do I like in the bill? I like having a new benefit for senior citizens, and for low-income senior citizens, it does a very good job.

I also like the generic drug provision, which will lower the cost of drugs to everyone, which myself and senator Judd Gregg, a Republican of New Hampshire, offered in the Senate. And they kept that in and prevented the pharmaceutical industry from eating it out -- you know, eating it apart.

What I don't like in the bill are a number of different things. The average middle class recipient will not do that well. And I do worry about all of those who now have benefits, better benefits than this program, who will be thrown off and may not get a benefit. That is -- or get much worse a benefit. That worries me.

And I particularly don't like -- I think it was far too friendly to the pharmaceutical industries in many ways. and I'll just give you one.

The Medicare system is not allowed to bargain with the pharmaceutical industry to lower the price of drugs. The HMOs can, the Medicare can't. Now, Medicare could say if we buy ten million Lipitors, we want to pay less, and they would have bargaining power to do that. That costs the federal government $40 billion.

I don't know why they put that in. That is sort of hard to swallow.

BEGALA: Senator, let me bring -- I'm sorry Senator Schumer. Let me bring Senator Bond in on that point.

Someone who does know he supports the bill and strongly, is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, perhaps America's foremost opponent of Medicare. He famously said he wanted the financing of Medicare to wither on the vine.

Here's what he said in the "Washington Post."

BOND: But wait a minute. He wanted HCFA.

BEGALA: HCFA is the Health Care Financing Agency. It's how we finance Medicare. It's how we finance Medicare, and that's what I said.

BOND: Let's be correct. That's all.

BEGALA: Here's what the speaker says, "Every" -- This is what Newt says. "Every conservative member of Congress should vote for this Medicare bill. It is the most important reorganization of our nation's health care system since the original Medicare Bill of 1965."

Now is Newt Gingrich now the party's chief strategist on Medicare again, Senator Bond? BOND: No, but I think he's a very thoughtful voice. I've read what he has said in the paper. And he said, No. 1, we do provide prescription drugs for the first time for people on Medicare. They're particularly good benefits for the very low-income seniors and for seniors with high drug costs. And those are the people who are really suffering the most.

He also points out that there's means testing. And a lot of people have been worried about providing generous benefits for seniors who may have incomes over $80,000 a year. They don't need it. We don't want taxpayers who are making less than half that having to subsidize their rates.

And finally, he said by bringing in an option for private coverage, it provides some means of giving wider choices to seniors. And we've found out that choices in our competitive economy usually wind up getting better quality at lower prices.

So these are points he has raised in the articles I've read that suggest that this Medicare bill is a significant step in the right direction.

NOVAK: Senator Schumer...

BOND: One that -- none of us would have written as it is, if we wrote it by ourselves, but a great compromise.

NOVAK: Senator Schumer, as a leading member of the judiciary committee, you have been in the forefront as a relentless foe of any judge, judicial appointment by the president, that you don't agree with. And you've driven one of his best-qualified appointments, Miguel Estrada, out of the picture by refusing to even give him a vote in the Senate.

And the "Wall Street Journal" last week came up with some memos to senators, Senator Durbin, some memos to Senator Durbin, saying who really is behind this. I want to just read this.

"They" -- meaning the special interests -- "identified Miguel Estrada as especially dangerous because he has a minimal paper trail, he's Latino and the White House seems to be grooming him for Supreme Court appointment. They want to hold Estrada off as long as possible."

You were just doing the bidding of these special interest groups weren't you?

SCHUMER: Well, Bob, that's as bogus an argument as comes down the pike. There are groups on the conservative side that push for the judges, groups on the liberal side that don't. That's Washington.

And somehow the conservatives are very angry when the liberal groups push for what they want, but are patting the conservative groups -- not you, but you're just figurative here.

Are patting the conservative groups on the back when they influence themselves.

We have fought, and we have successful opposed six now of 174 judges. That's what the Founding Fathers wanted us to do, Bob, not to rubberstamp every presidential proposal.

The ones we have gone against are either way out of the mainstream, that's five of them. Or Miguel Estrada, the fellow you mentioned, refused to answer the most obvious questions. What's your view of the First Amendment and how expansive it should be?

NOVAK: Senator, we've got to take a break.

And when we come back, we'll ask Senator Schumer what he thinks about a potential challenge from America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on new attacks against coalition forces in Iraq.


BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come faster than special interest lobbyists flocking around a Bush energy bill.

In the CROSSFIRE from Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

NOVAK: Senator Schumer, the Marist College poll shows that Rudy Giuliani 51 percent, Chuck Schumer 45 percent. Do you lie awake nights praying that Rudy Giuliani won't run against you next year?

SCHUMER: No, I just do my job as senator, and I look forward. And it seems to work out when you pay attention to your job, not look over your shoulder at your opponents.

BEGALA: Senator Bond, let me ask you about the energy bill. John McCain, respected Republican, your colleague and friend, called it a turkey stuffed with special interest tax breaks. Why did you vote for that turkey?

BOND: Well, I wish the Democrats would let us bring it to the floor for a vote. But it provides one million jobs; it deals with the problems we have in energy.

We haven't had an energy policy for decades. And as a result, all of us are going to get killed with high prices. This brings in renewable fuel so we'll be getting fuel from Iowa and Missouri, rather than Saudi Arabia.

And that is a good bargain, not only for farmers, but for consumers and producers who use petroleum and other energy.

NOVAK: Senator Schumer, you have not yet endorsed any one of the fine nine candidates running for the Democratic presidential nomination. Is that because you don't think any of them come up to your standard? SCHUMER: No, you know, I think the primaries are a crucible. You know, it's like a steel furnace, and it burns hot. And some candidates break in there and others of them come out tempered and stronger. I'm waiting to see how, actually as we go through the primaries, the candidates react.

BEGALA: Senator Bond, Wolf Blitzer is reporting that al Qaeda may be planning new attacks on America. Given that, was your party and our president wise to invest a trillion dollars of our money in tax breaks, mostly for the rich, and only $44 billion in homeland security?

BOND: That's an absolute slanted question, Paul, that only a partisan Democrat would come up with.

BEGALA: Thank you.

BOND: Our economy is starting to grow. We need to get the economy growing. We've put money in the hands of small businesses who are creating jobs. We're getting out of the recession that began in 2000 and was made worse by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

BEGALA: Senator Kit Bond, Republican from Missouri, thank you for joining us. Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York. Two of the Senate's finest, Thank you for both very much for taking time on a Friday afternoon.

Well, this weekend does mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. So just ahead, we'll look back at Washington, D.C., in the hours and days following JFK's death.

And we want to know from our audience, how old do you think President Kennedy would be if he had lived? Would he be 78, 86, or 89 years old? Stay with us. We'll give you the answer after this.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Before the break, we asked our audience, how old would President John F. Kennedy be if he had not been gunned down 40 years ago this weekend?

The answer -- and it's a very smart audience. They all got -- 90 percent knew he'd be 86 years old. A highly educated audience here at George Washington University.

Now, Tomorrow is, of course, November 22. That will be 40 years to the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas. Nearly 58 percent of Americans weren't even born when it happened.

One person who vividly remembers that day is our own co-host, Bob Novak.

Bob, what was happening in Washington that day?

NOVAK: Well, I was having lunch with my late partner, Roy Evans, and a man named Dennis M. Kitchell (ph), who was the chairman of the Goldwater campaign for president. We're having lunch in the hotel in Washington and we came out into a taxicab and heard the news on the cab.

And Tony Smith, who was Goldwater's press secretary, was also -- what he said, "My God, I'll bet one of the Birchers did it." John Birch Society was the right wing. They were scared to death.

Everybody was so shocked, Paul. It was -- the city was absolutely paralyzed. And people just couldn't cope with it. They all had a feeling, which was all too true, that things would never quite be the same in the country.

But I have a lot of memories of all the people coming into Washington just to pass the closed casket in the capital. People who would -- he was not even that popular a president in life, but the shock to the national dignity of this was so -- so immense that people really mourned it.

I remember particularly Charles De Gaulle and Haile Sellassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, walking down the street. It was a surreal experience.

BEGALA: Bob, one of the best reporters, and here's why. You're still reporting perfectly on things that happened 40 years ago.

From the left, I am 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.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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