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Can Rumsfeld Weather Political Storm?

Aired May 13, 2004 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, James Carville and Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson.

In the CROSSFIRE: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a surprise visit to American troops in Iraq. His mission, boost morale and get a firsthand look at the infamous prison where prisoner abuse is being investigated. Can Secretary Rumsfeld and the Bush administration weather this latest political storm?


ANNOUNCER: And it's interactive Thursday. Log on to and interact with us.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, James Carville and Robert Novak.



Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went to Iraq today to greet the troops and discuss prison conditions following intensified Democratic attempts to make political hay out of the Iraq prison abuse scandal.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: We'll debate Rumsfeld and the Bush administration's handling of all this. If you've got a computer handy, you can part of it all. Today, we're launching CROSSFIRE interactive services. Just go on to

But, first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Today, the king of all chicken hawks, Paul D. Wolfowitz, testified on Capitol Hill. He's asking for another $25 billion of your money for operations in Iraq. This is the same Paul Wolfowitz that, when he was told last year that at least 200,000 troops would be needed to occupy Iraq, called that number -- quote -- "wildly off the mark" and fired the guy who said it. This is the same Paul Wolfowitz who said last March -- quote -- "We treat our prisoners extremely well. We feed them. We take care of them and they're very safe with us." This is the same Paul Wolfowitz that General Myers accused of misleading the military brass about how American troops would be welcomed in Iraq. This is the same Paul Wolfowitz that said last week that effort to rebuild Iraq was going faster and better than most Americans realized.

Here's what I say. When Paul Wolfowitz comes to Capitol Hill begging, we don't give him a dime or Don Rumsfeld until George Bush puts someone in charge at the Pentagon who are capable of getting something right.


NOVAK: You know, James, I know you have been moody and crazy left-wing -- this is the first time that I knew you as an old Marine to be unpatriotic.


NOVAK: Let me finish my sentence -- of saying that we're going to cut off the funding of our troops in the field. You can't mean what you said.



CARVILLE: I'm saying if we put somebody that knows what they're doing. Here's a man that said things are going well in Iraq. He needs a CAT scan. He needs a CAT scan. Something is wrong with his brain.


NOVAK: Ralph Nader is enjoying a little triumph so peculiar that it really makes politics interesting. The Reform Party has endorsed Nader for president, yes, the same party that ran Ross Perot in 1996 and Pat Buchanan in 2000. What do left-winger Nader and right-winger Buchanan have in common?

Neither cares about what Ross Perot advocated when he formed the Reform Party. It's just a way to get on the ballot. Ralph has been spurned by the Green Party and has not gotten on any state ballot as an independent yet. The Reform Party already has ballot positions in seven states, including Florida. Advice to Democrats, stop begging Nader not to run. He's in the footsteps of Perot and Buchanan.

CARVILLE: Well, there's something else I read in the paper today, that in Florida you have to hold a convention in order to be on the ballot. And what they held was -- what passed -- they're trying to say passed as a convention, they had a conference call.


NOVAK: They usually have it in a phone booth, but with technology now, they're using a telephone.


NOVAK: They had like a thing, call a AT&T conference operator or


NOVAK: But what do you think? Do you think that Democrats ought to stop going out and, please don't run, Ralph? He's running. He's got the Reform nomination.

CARVILLE: He's running. I don't think he ought to run but if he runs, he runs.


CARVILLE: It's America. You have a right to make a fool of yourself. He's doing it.



CARVILLE: Recent polls have shown that female voters favor John Kerry by large margins over George W. Bush. So the Bush folks are doing what they do every time they face a problem. They are rolling out a new slogan.

Yesterday, the Bush-Cheney campaign kicked off a project called W. Stands For Women. Maybe they're hoping women don't remember that the first George Bush did after becoming the president, his first -- was reinstate the global gag rule, or that three months into his term, he shut down the White House Office For Women's Initiative, or that he made John Ashcroft his attorney general, or that he's done nothing to control the rising cost of health care, create jobs, or make America safer.

George W. Bush may want folks to think the W. stands for women. Unfortunately, for him, most women are smart enough to realize that on the issues that matter to them, the W. stands for wrong.


NOVAK: Let's me tell you this, that that is not a new slogan, James. The W. Stands For Women is an old slogan. And I'm going to tell you something you may not know, that not all women are for abortion.


NOVAK: There are women out there who think it is wrong.

CARVILLE: How many women are for rising health care costs? How many women -- how many women are for doing nothing about all the problems they face? How many women are for a policy in Iraq that you've got untrained people running prisons? (CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: How many women are for a policy in Iraq that started the war


NOVAK: Stop ranting. I've just told you that all women are not for abortion...

CARVILLE: I understand.

NOVAK: ... just because you love abortion.

CARVILLE: I don't -- not me.


NOVAK: Hillary Rodham Clinton...


NOVAK: ... is the kind of politician who keeps her cards shielded. But in her current home state of New York this week, Senator Clinton was unusually communicative.

In a radio interview, she said, yes, she will seek a second term in the Senate in 2006. And, no, she will not be John Kerry's vice presidential running mate. "I'm not interested," she said. But then she started talking about something that does interest her. "It is time," she said, "for a woman president." OK, Hillary, are you talking about yourself? "I'm not thinking about that right now," she said. "All I'm thinking about is electing John Kerry."

Oh, Hillary, you were so honest until then.


CARVILLE: I don't know what -- she's running for reelection. That's not a big surprise. She's supporting John Kerry.

NOVAK: First time she announced it.


CARVILLE: That's not -- it's not a big -- I'm going to fall out of my chair. Senator Clinton is going to run for reelection for the Senate in New York.


NOVAK: The point is -- the point is, she is running for president.


CARVILLE: I'm dazed by


NOVAK: How does -- does his neck come off? Does it swivel off?

CARVILLE: Hillary is an ambitious woman. Oh.


NOVAK: Are you going to go to work for her in 2008?

CARVILLE: I will do anything in the world.


NOVAK: That's what I'm afraid of.

CARVILLE: For Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York. She's one of -- the greatest woman I know. She's the greatest human being that ever lived.


NOVAK: It's a surprise visit meant to rally the troops. What impact will a trip to Iraq have on efforts to solve the problems there? That's just one of the questions likely to come up as we debate.

And if you're taking part in our CROSSFIRE interactive Thursday, let us know what you think. We'll show your comments later.


ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala, Carlson and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.


CARVILLE: The day after several House and Senate lawmakers saw more photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today visited Iraq to get a briefing on the prison condition. Rumsfeld called the prison abuse photos a body blow, but not a fatal one.

In the CROSSFIRE to talk about the scandal and Rumsfeld's trip, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York joins us from Capitol Hill, along with Republican Congressman Vito Fossella, also of the great state of New York.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, last week, I thought you were just kidding around when you said that you were going to bring impeachment proceedings against Don Rumsfeld. Then you went on the floor and said you were going to file them. Now, you know, fun is fun. But are you really going to file impeachment proceedings against Don Rumsfeld to really make a mockery out of the whole process?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: You know, Bob, I really thought you kept up with congressional proceedings. I filed those articles last Thursday. And I did it for America. I did it for the Congress. I did it for the troops that are over there.

I'm glad that Don Rumsfeld has gone over there to apologize for not cutting this cancer out before the press revealed it. But if, in fact, he had this on his desk, he didn't tell the president, deliberately withheld it from the Congress, I really think that this is dereliction of duty.

NOVAK: You know, one of your colleagues, a man I think you probably have a high regard for, Congressman Tom DeLay, the majority of the House of Representatives, the other day said that people who are against the war are using this, that is the problem with the prisoner abuse, to their political ends.

Isn't this -- we can be among friends, Charlie. We can say that you're just using that when you file impeachment proceedings just as a political gamble, isn't it? It's not really serious.

RANGEL: It bothers me when people like Tom DeLay, who never even served in the Boy Scouts, can be critical of those people during a time of war don't exercise their responsibility of oversight.

You know, we're playing war with other people's children. And we have a responsibility, whether we're right or wrong, to speak out for our constituents and for America. And for him to infer that we're unpatriotic and we're political, you know, it was the president who said he was the war president. He didn't say he was the jobs president, the health president, the education president.

He says he's the war president. If you're critical of how he's mishandling this situation or even how we got involved in the first place, then you're unpatriotic. That's a lot of garbage.

CARVILLE: Congressman, I want to show you...


CARVILLE: I want to show you a picture taken a year ago after the Iraq war, Secretary Rumsfeld at the height of his arrogance. And there he is. Today, he's a beaten, hollow, defeated old man trying to beg for his job.



CARVILLE: Don't you think the most charitable thing we can do is give the guy two weeks and let him make a graceful exit and have Charlie just withstand these articles of impeachment and just let the man just go and quit sitting there begging to stay on the job that he's completely botched?


REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R), NEW YORK: For the record, I didn't serve in the Boy Scouts either, so -- but I have an opinion nevertheless.

And, fortunately, we have the American people who are weighing both the good and bad, evaluating what's happening in Iraq. And I think they are putting all of this in perspective. They know we have a mission. They know we have men and women on the ground in Iraq who are liberating millions and securing our peace. They also know that the prison abuse scandal will be dealt with and should be dealt with swiftly.

I think that was part of the reason Secretary Rumsfeld traveled to the prison today to underscore what America is all about. And when there is scandal, when there is an injustice, we take care of it. That's something the Iraqi people have failed to enjoy during the reign of Saddam Hussein. So I support Secretary Rumsfeld. I support what the president is doing. We are in this war. We must win this war. It's good for America. It's good for the Iraqi people and it's good for all those who want freedom and peace and liberty around the world.


CARVILLE: Congressman, let me show you a new -- a new CBS News poll. And the question was asked, is Iraq worth the loss of American lives? Now 29 percent say yes to that; 64 say no. Why do you think that support for this war has dropped so precipitously of late? And what can you as a war supporter do to reassure people that things are going to start going better?


FOSSELLA: Oh, I'm sorry. I can't


NOVAK: That was you.

FOSSELLA: I'm sorry about that.

FOSSELLA: I think -- frankly, again, I think the American people understand what's going on. I believe, while we will have our ups and downs in this battle, there are going to be good and bad times, whether it's Korea or World War II or Vietnam.

At the end of the day, we have total faith and commitment in what our troops can do. And they are bringing about justice. They are bringing an end to a regime of a dictator that oppressed and tortured his own people, and they're building a country. It is going to take time. Nobody says it's not going to take time. So I have full faith in what they're doing. I have full faith in the mission.

And if we stand united behind their effort, we will prevail. We're in this war to win it, not just because we have nothing better to do, but we believe in the security and the safety of the American people and those who love freedom around the world. And we're going to get them before they have an opportunity to get us.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, I want to return to this lynch mob, which I regret to see you part of, going after Don Rumsfeld.

And on Tuesday on CROSSFIRE, one of your colleagues, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Harold Ford of Tennessee, a young, very bright congressman, said something. And I'd like to you listen carefully to what your junior colleague said.


REP. HAROLD FORD (D), TENNESSEE: No, I'm not part of the chorus calling on him to resign, but I do think, as these next few weeks move -- we move forward in the next few weeks, we may learn some things that not only may question his credibility and integrity, but may prohibit him or prevent him from doing his job well.


NOVAK: Now, isn't that a more mature, seasoned outlook than yours, Charlie?

RANGEL: No, because...


NOVAK: He's saying, let's see what the evidence is. Let's


RANGEL: Oh, come on. Stick with me, Bob. I was asking for this guy's resignation before he screwed up on this investigation.

I really believe that any secretary of defense that says he doesn't know whether we're winning or losing the war, that he doesn't know whether we're creating more terrorists than we're killing, anyone that says it's a slog, anyone who can have our reservists stretched out there for 13 months, anyone who thinks that we had won the war and then find out we have 750 people killed, 4,000 wounded and just to bring freedom to Iraq and they don't seem like they want it, he should have quit before he fouled this up.


No, let me show you another member of the lynch mob, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who supported this war, Mr. Tom Friedman, one of the most respected people. This is what he had to say, Congressman Fossella.

Let me read it to you: "Why did the President praise Mr. Rumsfeld rather than fire him? Because Karl Rove says to hold the conservative base, you must always appear to be strong, decisive and loyal. It is more important that the President appear to be true to his team than that America appear to be true to its principles. Here's the new Rummy Defense: I am accountable, but the little guys were responsible. I was just giving orders." Why do you think that respected people like Tom Friedman, who joined you in supporting this war, are now calling for the secretary of defense to be fired?

FOSSELLA: Well, that's his right.

But, again, at the end of this all, whether it's because of the prison abuse scandal, I think we should all remember that this came to light as a result of an internal Army investigation that ultimately worked its way up the chain of command, and it's going to be dealt with. And those who committed atrocities or crimes will be prosecuted. As we speak, there are court-martial proceedings under way.

And that's what this country is all about. And I think, on balance, we have to keep what happened there in perspective. I trust what the president is doing is in the best interests of our country. I do not think for one moment they will compromise what's in our national security. I believe he thinks that Secretary Rumsfeld is in the middle of a war.

And the last thing we should be doing now, just for some unfettered reason, is to dismiss him. It would be a grave mistake not just for our country, but especially our military.


FOSSELLA: So, those who call for his resignation, that's the beauty of America. You can do so. I happen to believe him. And I would suggest as well that two-thirds of the American people, if not more, support keeping Secretary Rumsfeld as well.

NOVAK: We're going to take a break, gentlemen.

And next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask our guests if Robert McNamara should have been impeached during the Vietnam War.

Later, if you're taking part in CROSSFIRE interactive Thursdays, we may show your comment on the air, and then, again, we may not.

And right after the break, who killed Nicholas Berg? Wolf Blitzer has the latest on what the CIA says.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gets a firsthand look at the Abu Ghraib prison during a surprise visit to Iraq.

New prisoner abuse reports are coming out, this time involving Afghanistan.

And the unanswered questions about Nick Berg's time in Iraq. More details are beginning to emerge right now. Those stories, much more, just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARVILLE: Time for "Rapid Fire," where we serve up the questions as fast as Donald Rumsfeld can slip away from the heat in Washington with a surprise visit to Iraq.


CARVILLE: In the CROSSFIRE, from Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel in New York and Republican Congressman Vito Fossella, also of the great state of New York.

NOVAK: Congressman Rangel, even the critics of Donald Rumsfeld will say that Robert McNamara during the Vietnam War was probably a worse secretary of defense. I don't remember you asking for his impeachment. Did you?

RANGEL: I don't think I was in the Congress during that time.


RANGEL: But I would let you know Secretary of War William Belknap was impeached in 1876. And if I thought about it then, I would have probably raise it then.

But the truth of the matter is, we were hoodwinked in getting involved in this war in the first place, as Rumsfeld and Cheney and Wolfowitz already decided that they were going to strike Iraq long before 9/11. And nine out of 10 Americans really believe that the reason we're going after Iraq and Saddam Hussein was because of 9/11.

So he should have been impeached for misleading the American people and getting us involved in this war in the first place.


CARVILLE: Congressman Fossella, would you give President Bush a letter grade, like A, B, C, D, on the way that the occupation has been conducted and his plan that he's put into place? How well do you think this is working? Give him a letter grade.



RANGEL: Oh, boy.


CARVILLE: So you think -- let me just give you a follow-up. So you think everything is going just really well there and we don't need to make any changes? Is that correct. FOSSELLA: I think, on balance, he's doing the best job he possibly can under the circumstances. And, at the end of this process, we're going to look back not just in a few months, but a few years...



FOSSELLA: ... and understand that this is great for the American people. So, yes, I give him an A.

NOVAK: Congressman Fossella, thank you very much. Congressman Rangel, thank you so much.

RANGEL: Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: James and I have had our turn. What do you have to say about the situation in Iraq? We'll share your comments from CROSSFIRE interactive next.



NOVAK: It's time for "Fireback."

Today, we have comments from those who have been taking part in CROSSFIRE's interactive Thursday.

From California, I don't know this guy's name: "The media should report the positive aspects of the war with Iraq. CNN should lead the way." I think that's a pretty good idea.

CARVILLE: That's right.


CARVILLE: And give me something to report.

NOVAK: Well...


NOVAK: Go ahead.

CARVILLE: "I wonder if Rumsfeld had any Skull & Bones trick played on him when he was in Abu Ghraib" -- John Smyrna, Tennessee.


CARVILLE: Well, I think that poor Rumsfeld, he is just a hollowed-out, pathetic old man. That's all he is.


NOVAK: Tom says...

CARVILLE: I kind of feel sorry for him.

NOVAK: Tom from California says: "I like when James is quiet. That's my favorite CROSSFIRE moment."



NOVAK: But it's just too seldom. It's too seldom.

CARVILLE: That's one thing you right-wingers hate, is when anybody makes sense, huh?

"The prisoner abuse scandal has raised serious doubts on who really is in charge of America" -- David, Hamilton, Ontario.

David, I've got news for you. Nobody is in charge of this joint with this crowd in here.



CARVILLE: All right.

NOVAK: I want to thank -- I want to -- go ahead.

CARVILLE: From the left, I'm James Carville.

NOVAK: You are.


NOVAK: And from the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.

And thanks to our interactive participants. It was really thrilling.



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