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CNN CROSSFIRE

Campaign Central

Aired August 26, 2004 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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

In the CROSSFIRE: John McCain jumps into the middle of the swift boat ad controversy. We'll look at why both sides might want to watch out.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's not enough money to tax the rich to pay for all his promises. If he gets elected, he's going to tax you. But the good news is, we're not going to let him get elected.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: President Bush is off the ranch and back on the campaign trail, where John Kerry is still on the attack.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America deserves a discussion like we're having today, which I'm prepared to have with this president every single week from now until the election.

ANNOUNCER: Politics is no walk in the park, but CNN's Election Express is spending the day in Central Park.

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: live from New York City, James Carville and Robert Novak.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE, coming to you from Central Park in beautiful New York for the up-and-coming Bush fest. We're going to be coming to you from the Big Apple throughout the Republican Convention next week. It is going to be a big show that we can only hope will be the beginning of the end of the Bush era.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: The Democrats had their moment in Boston, and the best they could do was John Kerry? It won't be hard for the Republicans to do better at Madison Square Garden next week.

We consider that after the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert." To listen to most political experts on television, it would seem that George W. Bush's candidacy was at death's door. Why then does a "Los Angeles Times" poll show the president ahead of John Kerry for the first time? Why does the new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll show a three-point Bush lead? That's not all the bad news for Democrats out of Gallup polls. Voters prefer Bush fighting terrorism and the war in Iraq, consider him a better manager of government, view him as more honest and trustworthy, admire him more, and by 20 percentage points view him as a stronger and more decisive leader than Kerry.

The Gallup people think the controversy over Kerry's war record is hurting him badly. And so do I.

CARVILLE: Bob, how much of an improvement was that for the president over the last Gallup poll?

NOVAK: Nothing.

CARVILLE: Nothing. Oh, I see.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: But in between, we had the Democratic Convention, where they were supposed to get a big bump.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: That was a post-convention poll. Bob, you have got to get your facts right.

You ever wonder why Bush's allies are pushing these idiotic Kerry Vietnam attack ads? Well, if you were too stupid to know before, you certainly know how. Today, we find out just how devastating this administration's policies are to the American people. The Census Bureau issued a report that said, in the year 2003, that's right, two years after these fools had been in office, the number of Americans in poverty rose by 1.3 million.

And those living without health insurance soared by 1.4 million. And saddest of all, 800,000 more children are living in poverty. Why do they lie about John Kerry's record 34 years ago? Simple. They can't tell the truth about theirs today.

NOVAK: You know, James, I don't have to be politically correct. So I can tell you, these figures are phony on poverty.

CARVILLE: They are? Really?

NOVAK: This country is a really prosperous country. Most of the people who don't have life insurance -- I mean health insurance -- don't want to pay for it. And I will tell you what, saying dumb and stupid and crazy doesn't win elections.

CARVILLE: That's what they are.

But you know what, Bob? This is the Census Bureau, which is headed up by an appointee of President Bush. If you say that the Bush administration is incompetent when you say the Census Bureau is incompetent, this is the figures of Bush administration, Bob. You see?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: This is what they are.

NOVAK: You can't turn a good economy into a bad economy by using figures.

CARVILLE: You sure can. Your own Census Bureau, the Bush administration.

NOVAK: John McCain is the pet Republican of Democrats. But, believe me, he is nobody's pet. He clearly does not like the TV ads criticizing John Kerry's war record, but he is really furious that Kerry, without asking McCain's his permission, used his 2000 criticism of George W. Bush in Kerry campaign ads.

What's more, McCain is suggesting that Kerry has brought the examination of his war record on himself by stressing his combat in Vietnam. The Kerry campaign today withdrew the ad containing McCain's unauthorized image. Democrats who were ridiculous enough to contemplate a Kerry-McCain ticket should get real. John McCain is for George W. Bush. He will campaign with him. And he remains, as he often says, a proud Republican. To deny that is a sign of Democratic desperation.

(LAUGHTER)

CARVILLE: You know what, Bob? I'm so glad that and John McCain, campaign finance reform Republican, I'm so glad that you agree with McCain they ought to stop all this stupidity and get to the real issues.

If you want to know how screwy this administration is, ask yourself this question. Why does Ben Ginsberg, a lawyer for the Bush campaign, resign when he did nothing wrong and "Ronald T. Dumbs-feld" gets to keep his job when he has done everything wrong? His own commission accused him of incompetence by failing to put enough troops on the ground as his commanders wanted. He sent out confusing orders regarding interrogation techniques. It's a sad commentary when people like Dumbs-feld and his Pentagon colleagues, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, get to keep their jobs, while millions of Americans lose theirs.

NOVAK: You know, James, I'm proud of you that you're right on cue. Kerry calls for Rumsfeld's resignation.

CARVILLE: Right.

NOVAK: And you're echoing him.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: No, I've been calling for it. I've been calling for months. Kerry came around to my point of view.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'll tell you something else, James.

CARVILLE: He came around to my point of view.

NOVAK: When you call him Dumbs-feld...

CARVILLE: He is Dumbs-feld. He's dumb.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It's juvenile, infantile.

CARVILLE: No, it's not.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: And it degrades you to do it.

CARVILLE: No, it doesn't degrade me at all.

NOVAK: It degrades you

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Dumbs-feld and Wolfowitz are the most incompetent

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... we've had.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Read the report and tell me he's not dumb. Read the report and tell me he's not dumb.

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: You have got all these left-wingers here to clap that you bring along with you.

CARVILLE: I'm not -- I'm telling you the report shows that this administration has been incompetent in the pursuit of this war. If these people had a shred of decency...

NOVAK: Can I get a word in?

CARVILLE: ... he would resign.

NOVAK: I'll tell you something. As your friend, I would tell you, don't call him Dumbs-feld.

CARVILLE: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: It makes you look like a fool.

CARVILLE: Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld.

NOVAK: A fool. A fool.

CARVILLE: Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld. Dumbs-feld.

NOVAK: John McCain is called to arms in the fight against attack ads. The senator who led the charge for election reform is joining President Bush to fight the so-called 527 ads. Will John Kerry step up and denounce his own side's smear campaign against the president? Don't hold your breathe.

And later, James and I promise to get carried away by the charms of Central Park.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARVILLE: We're back and enjoying the great outdoors in New York's Central Park.

It won't be long before the city that never sleeps will be crawling with Republicans of all shapes, sizes and genders, nearly 5,000 delegates. President Bush is back on the campaign trail, where John Kerry has been all along going strong. And there is the small matter of that nagging swift boat controversy.

Our guests in the CROSSFIRE today are Democratic Representative Gregory Meeks of New York and Representative Scott Garrett, Republican of the great state of New Jersey.

NOVAK: Congressman Meeks, let me bring up the Gallup poll, CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll. More interesting I think than the fact that Bush is ahead by a few points is that who's the more strong and decisive leader, Bush, 54 percent, Kerry 34 percent. That's not even close. But what's really interesting, after you people and Carville has been denouncing him as a liar, who's more honest and trustworthy? Bush 44 percent, Kerry 39 percent. What's the trouble?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS (D), NEW YORK: There's no trouble at all.

In fact, if you look at the most important figure, after four years of George Bush, his approval rating can't get past 47 percent. Why? Because the majority of the country understands that he has no policies and no successes and that they don't approve of George W. Bush. That's the key factor.

And so you hear all this nonsense. And you go through some of these battleground states, you'll see who's really winning in those states. So the key to this whole thing is, George Bush, after 4 1/2, four -- four failed years, has not done anything to move the country in the right direction. We're worse off than we were before George Bush and we continue to go steadily downhill. And most of the American people agree.

NOVAK: Congressman, I let you make your full doom and gloom speech, but I'd you to answer this. Isn't it a fact, looking it as a political realist, that this swift boat controversy has really hurt him in the polls on whether they believe him, trustworthiness, a strong leader? This is really cutting away at his credibility, isn't it?

MEEKS: Not at all.

And you know, sooner or later, you can run but you can't hide from the truth. The truth rises to the top. And, clearly, if you look at of the Naval records and all of the facts, and if you look at the truth -- and the American people are not dumb. Ultimately, they will look at the truth and listen to the people that were on the boat with John Kerry. They will look at the Naval records, because they can find his. They can't find some other records, but they can find John Kerry's and what he stands for.

The American people will understand who is a true leader and who has courage, because in this administration I've not seen courage, whether you are talking about the four years as president or, if you want to examine someone's life throughout all 20 years, let's look at George Bush and what he's done prior in his record of his lifetime as compared to John Kerry.

CARVILLE: Let's talk a little bit about courage, because we're here for your convention, the Republican Convention. President Bush will be addressing the Republican Convention, as he tells us that we're a nation on war, in fact, not one war, two wars, the war on terrorism and the war of his choosing in Iraq.

And I know that you, like Mr. Novak, believe that the president is a man of great courage, fortitude, a truth-teller.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Tell us, Thursday night, when the President Bush speaks, what sacrifices will he ask us as a nation to offer up at this time when American men and women are in harm's way being shot at and under fire? Tell what us the sacrifices that he's going to ask us to make.

REP. SCOTT GARRETT (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, I think you're absolutely right when you say he's a man of courage, he's a man of truth. And it goes to the issue

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Right. I don't say that. I say you say that. And I'm asking to say it.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: And I think the recent polls show that the people that he's a man of truth. (CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: And the congressman raises the question as far as where the records are. Well, that's the same questions that the Republicans have been asking for a long time. Where are the record of Senator Kerry's?

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: To be fair, I asked you what sacrifices

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Let him answer the question.

CARVILLE: He hasn't answered it.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: I believe I am answering your question, that the public is looking at both candidates out there and they're looking to ask the very question, which one of them will do the best and which one of has already done the best for America?

CARVILLE: So you think you have answered my question, which is what sacrifice is this president going to call for? Look in the camera and say I have answered Mr. Carville's question. I've talked about the sacrifices that the president will call for.

GARRETT: The president is asking all Americans to stand up for this country, just as he has been a leader for this country and has led us through not only the war of terror. He also led us in the war of Afghanistan, where we're seeing an election about to coming through in that country.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: He has led us in this country in the war in Iraq, where we have now freedom in Iraq, where you never had before. And he has led us through this time of 9/11.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Congressman Meeks, you made the statement we should listen to the people who were on the boats with Senator Kerry, Lieutenant Kerry. What would you say if I told you I talked to somebody who was on a boat with him who says his story is totally bogus, that his first Purple Heart was phony, and that his account is no good, a guy who was on the boat with him? What would you think if I told you that?

CARVILLE: What was that man's name?

MEEKS: Yes.

(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: What was his name?

MEEKS: Yes. That's what I first would ask you. What was his name? Who is he?

NOVAK: Well, I asked the question.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: He's not giving us his name.

MEEKS: I would think that -- because what is going on, you need to know who it is, because you have got to judge their credibility by who they are and what their background is. That's No. 1.

First, you have got to judge a person by credibility, because we know that you can panic -- some people are -- I understand that some people are upset with John Kerry, even some of his Vietnam veterans, because of what John Kerry said and what he did when he came back home.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He lied about

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Who was the man that told you that, Bob? What's the man's name?

NOVAK: Well, I think you what, Mr. Meeks. I think you're a bright young fellow. And I want to give you some advice, if I could. Don't be so sure when you say nobody on the boat is going to be against him.

MEEKS: Give me his name.

NOVAK: This will come out in time.

MEEKS: And then we can talk about the motivation -- and the motivation of folks.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Come by tomorrow and I might give you his name.

MEEKS: John Kerry is clearly a man of courage.

NOVAK: Let me add -- I am going to give you another thing. Senator McCain, who is -- as I said, is the pet Republican of the Democrats -- I like John McCain very much, always have. He said: "I don't think there's any doubt that Senator Kerry made this" -- that is, his war record -- "a very big part of the campaign, of his campaign, and therefore legitimized this issue."

That's a point, isn't it? MEEKS: Well, let me ask a question. Does George Bush listen to Senator McCain?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I'm asking you a question.

MEEKS: You're using John McCain all the time. I want to know if he -- and I agree with you.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEKS: I want to know, does George Bush take the advice of McCain?

NOVAK: I want you to answer the question.

MEEKS: Does he take the advice of McCain?

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: You won't answer it.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEKS: If he did, he would withdraw and denounce those ads that are going out.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Let me go back after you, so told, answered my question and you told us all the sacrifices that President Bush was going to ask us because we're at war. Let me give you chance to show his courage again, because you and your party and your president have racked up record deficits when you inherited a $5.6 trillion surplus.

So tell us the courageous things that the president is going to talk about Thursday night to get this deficit under control, so we can know what a great man of courage he is.

GARRETT: You know, I had the opportunity to serve on the Budget Committee. And it's always interesting to see the Democrats come down to the floor and attack the Republicans for the deficit that we have at this point in time.

And it's always the Democrats who are putting forth the bills that would raise the deficit even further. They presented a bigger budget as far as the Medicare bill that was going to raise the budget even further there. Through our committee, they put over $800 billion increases in spending that they would have.

So the question I always ask the Democrats is, well, if you were in power now, where would the deficit be? It would be close to $1 trillion higher than where it is now.

(CROSSTALK) GARRETT: So we're fortunate, we're fortunate, indeed, to be able to have a budget that we had coming out as we are and one that would look for the long term to get a balanced budget.

CARVILLE: But, to be honest, Congressman, President Bush is in power now. And you are in power. So I'm just asking you a simple question that you refuse to answer.

GARRETT: I'm answering the question.

CARVILLE: What is the president going to do? What is he going to stand up Thursday night and say, this is what I'm going to do about the deficit? What is No. 1? What is No. 2 and what is No. 3? It can't be any simpler than that.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: The very simple is, the president is going to ask of the American public that we stay the course on economic policies that we put in place from the beginning of last year.

If you recall where we stood when we sat here about -- when were in New York City about a year and half ago, the economy of this country was in the doldrums. We were looking at a GDP around 2.2 percent. Unemployment was going up considerably. You had manufacturing was in the doldrums. Housing starts was in the doldrums.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: But the Republican Party in Congress, under the president's leadership...

CARVILLE: You didn't read the census report today, did you? You missed it.

GARRETT: The census report?

CARVILLE: Yes, you missed it. You missed it. You missed it. I'm sorry. I'll give it to you.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: The census report is basically telling us what we already new. Those are old numbers.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Congressman Meeks, you and I are not communicating. And I want you to do me a favor. Just please do me a favor. I'm asking you a question. And you can tell me you agree with Senator McCain or you don't agree with him. You can say he's all wet or he's right. But what's -- but don't change the subject.

What I'm asking you, is Senator McCain right when he says that John Kerry opened up his war record when he emphasized his record at the convention in Boston? Is that right or wrong?

MEEKS: You know, when you run for a president, whoever's running for president, your whole entire record is open, whether you're at the convention or not. And John Kerry stands by the fact that he is -- there's no disputing the fact that John Kerry was a great officer in the United States Navy, that John Kerry was a hero in the United States Navy.

NOVAK: So we can discuss that?

MEEKS: There's no question.

NOVAK: We can discuss it?

MEEKS: We can discuss that.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Well, I'm glad, because Carville says we can't discuss it. We can only discuss the things that Carville wants to discuss.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I never said you couldn't discuss it.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEKS: Just like I would love to discuss George Bush's distinguished record in the military.

NOVAK: We have.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: What you call old news is 2003. Now, I don't know. Maybe I'm an old man, but I thought 2003 was pretty recent. That's like eight months ago.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: But I don't know it comes as a surprise to you or any of the Democrats as well to show that the unemployment numbers were at that at that point.

CARVILLE: I'm not asking about employment. I'm talking about the number of -- 800,000 more children living in poverty. I'm talking about no income growth and a decline in incomes of 2.6 percent. Do you realize this president is going to be the first president in modern history to never create a single job?

NOVAK: Well, that's a lie. That's not true.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: That's not true.

CARVILLE: Net increase. He's lost more than he's created.

GARRETT: We're creating around 180,000 new jobs a month.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: In the year 2000, the last part of his term, the past administration's terms, you were gaining, what? I think the numbers were going down, around 60,000 new jobs a month.

It's due to the policy, the economic growth package that we passed at the beginning of last year, that the economy is turning around. It's because of Republicans' initiative. And it's because of President Bush's

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I thought you all created 32,000 jobs.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Excuse me. I apologize.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: It's the liberal media telling me that. OK.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: We're going to take a break.

And when we return, our guests will face the "Rapid Fire." Can Iraq's most powerful Shiite religious leader bring an end to violence in Najaf? Wolf Blitzer has the latest right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr announce an agreement to end the fighting in Najaf. Will this agree really work? Troubling new government reports on poverty and health care, will they hurt President Bush's reelection chances?

And 13 years after his rape trial, William Kennedy Smith faces new sex allegations.

Those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE..

CARVILLE: Time now for "Rapid Fire" Central Park style, where we hammer out the questions faster than a New York cabbie drives up Broadway. Our guests are Representative Gregory Meeks, Democrat from New York, and Democratic (sic) Representative Scott Garrett from the great state of New Jersey.

NOVAK: Congressman Meeks, can we say now that the selection of John Edwards as vice president has been a failure because he hasn't infused any new life into the campaign?

MEEKS: No, he's been a complete success. Can you see the energy and upbeat of John Kerry? He's what America wants and looks for in a politician.

NOVAK: I said John Edwards.

MEEKS: John Edwards. Well, John Edwards, again, his enthusiasm is the great. This is the greatest a ticket that America could have. There's no question about it. And they're going to be a great president and vice president.

CARVILLE: Congressman, do you have the Kerry-Cheney position that we should not have this constitutional amendment on gay marriage or do you have the Bush-Falwell position that we should? Which one is your position, Kerry Cheney or the Bush-Falwell?

GARRETT: No, I have the Bush-American people on this.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: The Bush-Falwell. So you're with the Bush-Falwell

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: The Bush-American people.

CARVILLE: I got you. OK.

CARVILLE: Congressman, the African-American people don't like gay marriage, particularly the clergy. Do you think that a majority of African-Americans would like a constitutional amendment on this?

MEEKS: I think that they would leave it up to the states. I think, if you talk to them, they talk about states rights, because it's the right thing to do and let the individual states determine.

CARVILLE: Which number are you more proud of economically, the fact that we have 45 million people uninsured, which is up, or the fact that we have 800,000 more children living in poverty under this administration? Which one as a Republican gives you the greatest sense of pride?

GARRETT: I am proud of the fact that the percentage of uninsured has gone down since the Clinton administration. There was a height of 1998 of uninsured as far as health insurance of

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: It's actually gone up from 15.2. It's gone -- it's actually gone up.

(CROSSTALK)

GARRETT: No, it was more during the Clinton administration as a percentage.

NOVAK: Do you think that Harold Ickes, who runs these huge soft- money 527 funds, should resign from the Democratic National Committee as an at-large member so he's obeying the law of the land?

MEEKS: He's obeying the law. There's no collusion between the campaigns, so therefore, you don't see anyone standing down, as you do in the Bush campaign, where obviously there's people, attorneys and others, who have been advising the swift boat, in violation of the law and that's why they have to step down.

CARVILLE: Congressman, do you know who's signed the law making these 527s?

GARRETT: Yes, I do.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Who was it?

GARRETT: Well, that was the same president who is out there trying to defend freedoms of speech and allow the people who to be able to have their opinions heard not be shut down, nor be charged with criminal offenses.

(BELL RINGING)

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: All right, gentlemen, we've got to go. Thank you very much for being with us.

Up next, James and I am are going to do a little horsing around. Stay tuned. You will not believe it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Contrary to appearances, this is not a one-horse network. We're at Central Park today -- tomorrow, on the banks of the Hudson in little old New York.

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

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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