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Interview With White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett; 'Promises, Promises'

Aired September 22, 2004 - 07:31   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. It's 7:31 here in New York City.
The Kerry campaign says President Bush has no urgency and no credibility when it comes to Iraq. Is that country in the right direction now or the wrong direction? We'll talk to the White House communications director, Dan Bartlett, in a moment on that. Jamie Rubin was our guest on the Kerry side 30 minutes ago. We'll get to that in a second.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Also, our series on election year issues continues this morning. This morning: How much money will it take for each candidate to deliver on his big campaign promises? And what will that cost you in taxes? We'll talk about that in a moment with Kelly Wallace.

HEMMER: Billions and trillions, huh?

COLLINS: Yes, exactly. Kelly Wallace is here now as well doing the "Now in the News" segment for us.

Good morning once again -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again, Heidi. Good morning, Bill. Good morning, everyone.

President Bush is meeting this morning with a key U.S. ally in the war on terror. Within 15 minutes the president will join Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. The two are expected to discuss the hunt for al Qaeda and Pakistan's peace talks with rival, India.

A Texas grand jury has indicted three officers of a political action committee founded by House majority leader Tom DeLay. The three man -- three men, excuse me, stand accused of illegally soliciting more than $400,000 in corporate contributions. DeLay says he has no knowledge of any wrongdoing and accuses Democrats of running a partisan investigation.

More fallout from the "60 Minutes" report questioning President Bush's National Guard service. According to a report in today's "New York Times," CBS is saying that producer Mary Mapes is responsible for putting a top aide to Senator John Kerry in touch with a source on the flawed story. CBS says that violated network policy. It is not clear what actions will be taken against Mapes. And folks in parts of Utah and Colorado -- get this -- are digging out from snow on the first day of fall. A surprise storm dumped almost 17 inches of snow on leaves that haven't even changed color yet for fall. The National Weather Service says an early September snowfall is considered unusual, but not unheard of in these areas.

Heidi and Bill, let the skiing begin.

COLLINS: Oh, yes.

HEMMER: Going back to Colorado?

COLLINS: In a heartbeat. Like, I'm thinking maybe tomorrow.

WALLACE: Yes, right.

HEMMER: Thank you, Kelly.


HEMMER: They face off for the first presidential debate next week, but the two candidates now are taking their best long-distance shots at each other on the topic of Iraq.

More on the White House perspective now. From the Front Lawn, Communications Director Dan Bartlett is my guest now.

Dan, good morning. Welcome back here.


HEMMER: Jamie Rubin, the Kerry counterpart to you, in the last hour -- or last half-hour, rather, said the White House has no urgency on the issue of Iraq and no credibility. How do you defend yourself against those charges?

BARLETT: Well, it's amazing somebody lecturing about credibility when they have a candidate of their own in John Kerry who has taken at last count about 10 different positions on Iraq. They seem to think that they can be against the war when the headlines are bad and be for the war when the headlines are good.

What the American people are looking for is a president who is consistent, is principled, is there during the tough times as well as the good. And that's what we're seeing.

And President Bush knows better than anyone about the urgency of the mission in Iraq right now. That's why he is doing everything he can as president to make sure the strategy is implemented.

And a good example of that is when our troops in harm's way needed the dollars that they needed for body armor, for ammunition and those things, and an $87 billion funding package he put to Congress, it was John Kerry who obviously didn't see the urgency in that and voted against it.

So, we're more than happy to have a debate about the issues of Iraq, particularly, though, as President Bush is in New York today and talking with members of the United Nations, as well as other key allies in the war on terror, is that we have a critical opportunity here to support the new Iraqi government and follow through on our strategy.

And it's very clear, we're going to train Iraqi security forces to take on the terrorists. We're going to have elections in January. We're going to have a political process so the Iraqi people for the first time in decades have a representative government. We're going to go forward with reconstruction funding. That's where his focus is.

He's optimistic because he's been talking to the commanders on the ground. He's been working with the leaders of a new Iraq. They have confidence in the future of Iraq. And it's every right for our Democratic opponent to have a pessimistic outlook.

But the bottom line is that we have made it a long way in a short period of time. And now is not the time to turn back just because we're in difficult times. And make no mistake, there is tough violence going on. It's heart-wrenching to all of us to hear the news about a fellow citizen being killed over there and these hostages. It's terrible. It really is gut-wrenching for the president to hear that.

But the bottom line is that we're facing a very evil enemy in Iraq and the broader war on terror. And it's important that we stay steadfast and committed to the actions we are taking.

HEMMER: Dan, Senator Kerry would not say they're talking out of pessimism; they are talking out of reality. And he hit back hard at your message at the U.N. yesterday. Here is Senator Kerry now.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iraq is in crisis, and the president needs to live in the world of reality, not in a world of fantasy spin. At the United Nations today, the president failed to level with the world's leaders. Moments after Kofi Annan, the secretary-general, talked about the difficulties in Iraq, the president of the United States stood before a stony-faced body and barely talked about the realities at all of Iraq.


HEMMER: "A world of fantasy spin," Dan.

BARLETT: Well, the reality is he's commander-in-chief. He's the guy on the phone every day with the commanders on the ground. He's the guy who is meeting with Prime Minister Allawi, the new leader of Iraq. He's not getting his news from the front pages of "The New York Times" like John Kerry. He is getting his news directly from the commanders on the ground. Look, he knows better than anybody the difficulties we're facing in Iraq. He's the one who hugs the widows and consoles the families of those who have sacrificed for this very great cause. He knows better than anyone what we're going through.

He also has the type of leadership skills that are necessary in tough times to make sure we prevail in the end. And that's a critical difference in this campaign. Senator Kerry has been all over the lot on the issue of Iraq. As I said earlier, when the headlines are good, he seems to be for the war. When the headlines are bad, he's against it.

There is not a weather vane on top of the White House. You can't just put your finger in the air to decide where you stand on this issue. President Bush has been principled. He's been committed to this. We have a strategy.

HEMMER: All right.

BARLETT: Even when times are tough, we're going to see it through.

HEMMER: And we will hear much more on this a week from tomorrow in Florida...


HEMMER: ... when the two men square off. Dan Bartlett at the White House, thanks for your time there.

BARLETT: You're welcome.

HEMMER: Heidi.

COLLINS: As we've been telling you this week, one of the biggest complaints of voters during a presidential election is that they don't hear enough about the issues. And so today, we continue our series, "Promises, Promises," five days, five different issues.

Our focus today: taxes and spending. The economy is tied now for No. 1 as the top issue on voters' minds, according to our recent CNN, "USA Today" and Gallup Poll.

So once again, here is national correspondent Kelly Wallace now.

So, this is no surprise. I mean, we've been talking about it for a long time. Everybody wants to know where the economy sits.

WALLACE: Everyone does. And what we like to do is sort of focus on questions. So, our question today: What would each candidate promise to do when it comes to the multibillion-dollar federal budget deficit? And what does each candidate promise to do when it comes to your wallet?


WALLACE (voice over): First, the big picture -- the big deficit picture that is.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can say to you that the deficit will be cut in half over the next five years.

WALLACE: Senator Kerry says he can accomplish that in four.

KERRY: We believe it's time for Washington to live within a budget just like you do.

WALLACE: But cutting in half a federal budget deficit, expected to reach a record $422 billion this year, translates into a case of simple arithmetic. To keep all their campaign promises, the candidates need to cut spending, raise your taxes, or both.

BUSH: And we've got to keep your taxes low.

WALLACE: The president promises to make permanent across-the- board tax cuts set to expire in 2010, but that would mean $1 trillion in lost government revenue. He also proposes allowing younger workers to invest social security payroll taxes in the stock market, but that could cost 2 trillion over the next 10 years, according to independent experts.

So, the president's wish list adds up to about 3 trillion over the next decade, and that doesn't include spending for the war in Iraq, homeland security, education and everything else.

So, how will President Bush bring down the deficit? He promises to restrain the growth in spending and make cuts to offset spending increases.

KERRY: We're going to cut taxes for the middle class.

WALLACE: Senator Kerry, for his part, promises to lower taxes on 98 percent of Americans, says he would raise taxes only on the wealthiest 2 percent, who make more than $200,000 per year. This would bring in $860 billion over 10 years, his campaign says. He promises to use that money to pay for new programs: 200 billion for education, 650 billion for health care. But other experts say his health care plan will cost much more. His wish list, like Mr. Bush's, does not include spending for the war, homeland security and everything else.

So, how would the senator cut down the deficit? He promises to impose spending caps and offset spending increases with mandatory spending cuts or tax increases.

Now the bottom line. The assessment from independent analysts that both candidates' promises would likely increase the deficit, not reduce it.


But the message from both campaigns, if you factor in what both candidates say they will do to try and grow the economy and what both candidates say they will try do to keep spending in check, they say they can keep their promises and cut that deficit in half.

COLLINS: So, even though we know the economy is No. 1 to most voters, maybe the word, "economy," means different things to different voters -- some for jobs, some it means the stock market, some taxes, and some the budget deficit.

WALLACE: Yes, because it's very interesting. Look at the weekend "New York Times"/CBS News Poll when people were asked: What is the issue most important to you? Budget deficit on the bottom.


WALLACE: People really aren't thinking about that. They are thinking about the economy, jobs. What will each candidate do to grow jobs and taxes? What will they do when it comes to my pocketbook? But the big deficit is not really a factor on people's minds.

COLLINS: Yes. All right. Well, it makes sense, Kelly. Thank you.

WALLACE: And tomorrow...

COLLINS: Yes, tomorrow.

WALLACE: ... we'll do jobs. How timely it will be. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at jobs and what each candidate is promising to do to create jobs in the U.S. and cut down on job losses. And, again, whether they can turn those promises into reality.

COLLINS: Excellent. A lot of people are going to be wondering about that one for sure. Kelly, thanks so much.

HEMMER: Could these guys do a weather forecast? No chance.

WALLACE: No chance that they engage in that.


COLLINS: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, Martha Stewart can drop any plans she might have for the next few months. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business" on that.

HEMMER: Also in a moment, the force is with us on now on DVD, but that is not good enough for a lot of "Star Wars" fans, they say. We'll explain that in "90-Second Pop" still to come this hour.


HEMMER: All right. Welcome back everyone.

Martha Stewart is heading to prison in the next few weeks. We know that now. The deadline is almost set. That and a market preview with Andy Serwer this morning "Minding Your Business."

Nice to see you.


HEMMER: But first with some breaking news.

SERWER: Yes. Just crossing the tape this morning, Bill, very surprising here to some probably. Interstate Bakeries, the maker of Twinkies and Wonder Bread, is declaring bankruptcy this morning. They make a whole bunch of stuff here, Dolly Madison, Sunbeam bread. They have gone bankrupt. They had accounting problems; also, you know, the whole low-carb diet thing has really hit them hard. And this is the largest baker in the United States based out of Kansas City, 57 bakeries, 33,000 employees.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Are they going out of business, Andy?

SERWER: No, they're going to stay in business, but they're going to...

CAFFERTY: Because I like their Twinkies.

SERWER: I bet you do.


SERWER: We're going to look for some and get you some later.

CAFFERTY: I like those.

SERWER: But they are -- you know, they're under the protection of bankruptcy code. But we'll be watching this one.

Let's also talk about Martha Stewart, though, Bill, because a federal judge has ordered her to report to prison in less than three weeks' time. No word yet on whether she is going to be going to prison in Danbury, Connecticut, a minimum-security prison there, or Coleman, Florida. She wants Danbury so her 90-year-old mother can visit. And I love this. She says, of course, that while she is away she will miss her dogs, cats, canaries, horses and chickens. And I'm sure they'll miss her, too.

COLLINS: She'll miss her chickens.


CAFFERTY: They should send her to Marion, Illinois, where they sent John Gotti.

SERWER: That's a tougher place, though, isn't it, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

SERWER: It's very tough. That's the bad place.

HEMMER: Markets were good yesterday based on the Fed.

SERWER: Yes. That's right. The Fed did raise rates, Bill. But they made the statement that we were all waiting for and watching for. They said that the economy appears to have regained some traction. And you can see stocks here responding in kind.

This morning, though, stock futures are weaker, and I think oil and other situations like that are hurting that.

HEMMER: Thank you, Drew.

SERWER: You're welcome.

HEMMER: Next hour with more.

SERWER: We'll get some Twinkies later on, OK?

COLLINS: Yes, we're looking forward to that for sure. We're going to check in with Jack now with the "Question of the Day," once again the CBS documents.

CAFFERTY: Yes. The scandal, Heidi, may in the end wind up hurting the Kerry campaign more than the Bush campaign. Joe Lockhart, who is a high-ranking member of the Kerry organization, was all over the news yesterday, including here on this very program, explaining that, yes, he did talk to Bill Burkett, the guy responsible for giving those phony documents to CBS -- a conversation, by the way, that was arrange by soon-to-be ex-CBS producer Mary Mapes, I bet you.

SERWER: Well...

CAFFERTY: I just bet you.

SERWER: Well...

CAFFERTY: Well what?

SERWER: Well, you don't know that yet.

CAFFERTY: I said, 'I bet you." Bet you.


CAFFERTY: But Lockhart insists that he and Burkett did not discuss the documents in question. Sure. One thing is for sure, though. There is a lot of damage out there to go around. And it may be in the end that the Kerry campaign has the most to lose.

The question we're asking is: Has the CBS scandal damaged Kerry's campaign?

Ric in Louisiana says: "According to you, it has. As long as you keep it before the public, which is what the Republicans want you to do, it will never go away."

Loretta in Bismarck, North Dakota writes this: "I certainly hope not, and it shouldn't. This reeks of another Bush ploy to throw the heat onto someone other than himself. It wouldn't be the first time he's done it. When a candidate doesn't have a record to stand on, they start throwing mud."

And Herb in Calgary writes: "In light of the Dan Rather report on President Bush's service record, I think I would 'Rather' watch some other network."


CAFFERTY: "Well, at least the 'BS' in CBS is correct."


HEMMER: Herb was working on that one for a couple of days.

SERWER: Yes. Well done, all right.

COLLINS: All right, Jack, thanks so much.

And another one of your favorites is in the news this morning. Britney Spears says it's her prerogative to do what she wants to do. But it looks like her parents still had a say in her latest trip down the aisle. "90-Second Pop" is straight ahead here on AMERICAN MORNING.


COLLINS: Oh, I love them. Anyway, it's "90-Second Pop" for a Wednesday with the pop players this morning. Andy Borowitz, the man, the myth, the author of "The Big Book of Shockers." That was a good one, huh? Sarah Bernard, contributing editor for "New York" magazine.


COLLINS: Yes. You'll get some snap for your entrance here for you. And author of "Soul City," Toure.

Thanks so much for being here, you guys.


COLLINS: Toure let's start with you. Britney Spears, OK, what is she worth, like, $100 million?

TOURE: Something like that.

COLLINS: First said that she wanted no prenuptial agreement with Kevin. Now she is saying, hmm, maybe I should.


COLLINS: What's up with this?

TOURE: Well, I'm very relieved that she has got a prenup, because I was trying to imagine the behind-the-music 10 years from now.

COLLINS: Yes, what went wrong? TOURE: It would have been ugly.


TOURE: It's still going to be good. But the biggest thing we've learned from this, or at least I've learned from this, is that growing up in public does strange things for you. Right? Like, Macaulay Culkin just got arrested.


TOURE: Michael Jackson. We haven't heard from Liz Taylor in a while, but she's going to come back around soon. I mean, this is just bizarre. This is not about image. This is just something going on. She's looking for something in her personal life. Hopefully she'll go back to the studio. She hasn't had a good single in a long time.

BERNARD: That's very true.

TOURE: So, it's time to think about the career, honey. You got married. Move on.

COLLINS: What happened with the music anyway?

BERNARD: Well, and her next single is going to be "My Prerogative," right?

TOURE: "My Prerogative."

BERNARD: The Bobby Brown song. So, I don't know.

BOROWITZ: I actually got an original copy of the prenup faxed to me from a Kinko's. And it's got some amazing stuff in it. According to it, she gets to keep the bottle opener, which is I guess a big deal.


BERNARD: Oh, that's valuable.

BOROWITZ: So, she didn't want to lose that.

COLLINS: OK, I'm so glad that you got that.

BOROWITZ: I did. And I think it's real.

COLLINS: all right...

BERNARD: I think in L.A. that there should be a law that if you are 22 and you have a bank account of over 100 million, it should just be, like, a law, prenups for everyone, yes.

COLLINS: We'll see. All right, Andy, let's talk about this painful issue this morning, "Star Wars."

BOROWITZ: "Star Wars?"

COLLINS: We're reminded that the very first one is 27-years-old.


COLLINS: But now...

BOROWITZ: I wasn't around for that.

COLLINS: Yes, well...

BOROWITZ: But I understand it was very exciting.

COLLINS: Neither was I, of course. But...

BERNARD: None of us were.

COLLINS: The trilogy is coming out now on DVD.


COLLINS: Some people are really fired up about it.


COLLINS: Some people are very upset. What's the scoop?

BOROWITZ: Right. Well, I mean, I think most of us are pretty excited. There is such a hunger...

COLLINS: Why would you be upset?

BOROWITZ: Well, they've made some changes. They made some changes.


BOROWITZ: Actually, this is kind of a scoop. But I guess they digitally-removed Chewbacca and replaced him with Donald Trump, which is creating a lot of friction.

BERNARD: Same color of hair. It's OK.

BOROWITZ: Some people say they don't notice anything, that's it's seamless. But a lot of purists are upset by that.


BERNARD: I think as long as they have Princess Leia in her metal bikini, then...

TOURE: Right.

BERNARD: ... then no one is going to remember that.

(CROSSTALK) TOURE: Right, right.

BERNARD: Don't you think?

TOURE: Right.

BERNARD: Maybe they're going to linger on that scene a little longer.

TOURE: Of course.

COLLINS: All right, Sarah, let's talk about another one of the shows that is kicking off tonight, "The Bachelor."

BERNARD: I know. I'm very excited.

COLLINS: Big changes there as well, two bachelors vying for the title, I guess...


COLLINS: ... with 25 women. Are these changes going to go over well, or do they need something?

BERNARD: Well, they...

COLLINS: Because this reality TV thing is kind of, you know, getting old.

BERNARD: Absolutely. I mean, this is bachelor No. 6, believe it or not. So, they really needed to change it up. And the way they had decided to do it was to have two guys start from the beginning, and the women are actually going to pick which guy they want better.

Now, one of them is a real estate broker. He's kind of the more traditional guy, who decided that, you know, maybe now I'm 40, it would be time to get married. The other guy is a professional fisherman, who is actually divorced.

And now, I have a prediction here. I think that...


BERNARD: Toure is laughing. I don't know if he likes that. I think that, you know, usually you'd probably pick the real estate guy. He's never been married before. I think they're going to go with the divorced guy, because at least it shows, you know, someone wanted him once. That's my philosophy.

COLLINS: Well, Bob, he was divorced, wasn't he? Bachelor Bob.

BERNARD: Was he divorced?

BOROWITZ: Later in the season they're going to have a third bachelor, which is Kevin Federline.

BERNARD: He's going to need to go back down the aisle right away.

TOURE: The most important relationship going on in television right now is happening on VH1 on the surreal like, Brigette Neilsen is dating Flavor Flav. This is the ultimate...

BERNARD: That can't happen.

TOURE: ... crazy black man and the ultimate Nordic goddess or ex-goddess now. This is a big moment in race relations. It is just crazy when you see these two together. And she towers over him.


TOURE: Oh, this is huge.

BOROWITZ: Does he still have the clock? I thought that was such a...

COLLINS: On that note, a very profound note, thank you, Toure, and thanks, Andy and Sarah, as well, you guys.

Bill -- back over to you.

HEMMER: Flavor Flav. Thank you, Toure.

In a moment here, the race is heating up. We know that. Forty- one days and counting now for the battle for the 2004. That means a bit of a departure for the routine for the Kerry-Edwards camp. We'll get a live report on that at the top of the hour here as AMERICAN MORNING rolls on.


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