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Gearing up for V.P. Debate: Stem Cell Research, Taxes, WMDs

Aired October 4, 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, the race for the White House appears to be a dead heat as the candidates concentrate on your money and your health. President Bush heads to the heartland to sign his fourth tax cut in four years.

GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today with my signature, federal law will extend vital tax relief for millions of American families add momentum to our growing economy.

ANNOUNCER: John Kerry enlisted support of a TV star to push his plan to expand stem cell research.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The hard truth is that when it comes to stem cell research, this president is making the wrong choice.

ANNOUNCER: All of this as the candidates vice presidents gear up for their own face off. Today on CROSSFIRE.

Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala, and sitting in on the right, G. Gordon Liddy.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hey, gang, welcome to CROSSFIRE. With 29 days to go, it's a brand new race for the presidency.

John Kerry's spanking of President George W. Bush in Thursday's debate has lead to a rather dramatic turn around. Most polls in which Kerry had been trailing now show him pulling even or even passing the president.

The Bush/Cheney team hopes to regain the momentum based on the charm, good looks and charisma of Dick Cheney.

It is a special show today. And so we've got a special guest host sitting in for the rapidly recovering Bob Novak, who will be back soon, talk radio show host G. Gordon Liddy from


BEGALA: Thank you for joining us in the CROSSFIRE here.

Let us get started with the best political briefing in television, the "CROSSFIRE Political Alert."

LIDDY: If you're going into battle, you've got to bring the right ammunition. President Bush did that today in the heart of the battleground to sign the fourth tax cut of his presidency.

John Kerry whines about tax cuts and says too much is going the rich. But this package holds onto three middle class tax breaks and puts money back into the pockets of 54 million Americans.

One thing to keep in mind, in past tax cuts, even ones signed by Democrat John F. Kennedy, led to net increases in the money in the U.S. Treasury.

So the government makes money and the president says people can spend their own money better than the government can. So why not let them keep it?

BEGALA: Well, my question is why not let the poor people keep it? Mr. Bush today, in signing that tax cut, he did some good things, actually, for which he should get credit.

But he put $14 billion and gave it to corporations, which may or may not need it. I don't know. But he took away from the poorest Americans. People making $10,750 a year lose their child tax credit under Mr. Bush.

Now, what kind of justice is that to take from the poorest children and give to big corporations?

LIDDY: Your candidate voted against child tax credits eight times. He voted against them.

BEGALA: We continue the debate when our guest comes out.

More proof has emerged that the Bush/Cheney administration misled our country into war in Iraq. "The New York Times" has revealed that the White House had been briefed that aluminum tubes in Iraq were the wrong kind for enriching uranium.

But even after that briefing, Vice President Cheney cited the tubes as, quote, "irrefutable evidence, unquote, of Saddam's nuclear program."

Condoleezza Rice went further. She told the tubes, quote, "are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," unquote.

And President Bush himself cited those tubes in his nationally televised address encouraging support for his invasion of Iraq. Mr. Bush said that, even though the government's best nuclear experts had already told his White House that these tubes were not suited for bomb making.

Perhaps in tomorrow's debate Vice President Cheney will tell us why he and our president looked us in the eye and told us a flat out fib.

Why do you think they did that?

LIDDY: Well, because first of all, those tubes are like sheet steel in an auto plant. Now, you can't say that sheet steel in an auto plant is part of an automobile yet. The tubes were raw material. They had to be cut down.

"The New York Times" yesterday showed what they would have to look like after they had been cut down and various things put on them.

BEGALA: But the best experts have told the president they weren't suited for nuclear enrichment, and then he said they were.

LIDDY: OK. Listen, I just got back from SOAR. That's the Special Operations Association Reunion in Las Vegas. And I had the chance to hear for myself that a lot of folks in our military not only stand behind the president, they are furious with Kerry.

These views are backed up by an e-mail survey that was done by the "Army Times." The paper found that the U.S. military personnel support President Bush by a four to one margin. More than 4,000 full and part-time troops took part, 73 percent saying they would vote for the president.

It's bad time for John Kerry, who's been trying to court men and women in uniform. Many of the ones who answered the survey said that they were turned off by Kerry's smearing of those comrades that he left behind as war criminals.

Reminds me of a banner that I spotted at the SOAR convention: "We're not Fonda Kerry."

BEGALA: I'm sure it was a fun convention. But let me point out a couple of things. First of all, it was not a scientific survey. "Army Times" says that they sent out 40,000 emails. Ninety percent of the people didn't respond at all. So it wasn't scientifically valid.

But I'm a little curious as to why, when the military supports our president, as they evidently do, why the president doesn't support our military? Why he tried to cut the combat pay, cut the family separation credit? He's got this back-door draft of the Guard and Reserve. I wish he'd show them more support.

Well, Fox News reported after his triumphal debate that John Kerry told supporters on Friday, quote, "Didn't my nails and cuticles look great? What a good debate!"

Fox went on to report that Senator Kerry gushed, quote, "It's about the Supreme Court. Women should like me. I do manicures."

And Fox also quoted Kerry as saying of Mr. Bush, quote, "I'm a metrosexual. He's a cowboy."

Trouble is, John Kerry never said any of those things. Fox made them up. But, while right-wingers are calling for Dan Rather's head, no one is demanding that Fox fire Carl Cameron, the journalist who wrote the phony Kerry quotes as a joke that just got taken a little too far.

Nor, may I say, should they. Carl Cameron is an excellent journalist. He just made a mistake. Dan Rather's an excellent journalist. He made a mistake, too. Both men owned up to it. They quickly apologized for their mistakes, which is a lot more than I can say that George W. Bush ever did.

LIDDY: All right. But Cameron -- Fox didn't public it. Fox put it on a website, and it was meant as joke. Dan Rather did not mean as a joke using bogus documents that he was told by his own researchers were bogus.

BEGALA: At least Cameron owned up to it, and Rather owned up to it. I'm waiting for our president to own up to his own mistakes. But we'll have more on that, as well, in a moment.

John Kerry has caught or passed the president in the latest polls. The battle's tight, but team Kerry believes that their man is gaining momentum. We'll put the campaign in the CROSSFIRE, coming up next.

And then my buddy James Carville has made the ultimate big-time, almost as big as CROSSFIRE. And we'll show you what happened when "Saturday Night Live" got a hold of Mr. Carville.

Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

After almost two years, scores of primaries, two conventions, hundreds of millions of dollars, in ads, thousands of speeches, a single 90-minute debate may have had the most dramatic effect on the campaign, as John Kerry's campaign is claiming new momentum.

Of course, big mo can come; big mo can go. And Republicans are counting on Cheney mania to put them back in the lead.

All of a sudden, tomorrow's V.P. debate actually matters.

Today in the CROSSFIRE, Terry Holt. He is the senior adviser to the Republican National Committee, and Harold Wolfson, senior communications adviser to the Democratic National Committee.

Guys, good to see you.



BEGALA: Howard, Senator Kerry has cruelly led Alzheimer's sufferers to believe that embryonic stem cell research offers some hope for them when Ronald McKay, who's the chief researcher for the National Institute of Health, says that's a fairy tale.

Why would he do that?

WOLFSON: I think your beef is really with Nancy Reagan, who stood with people like Michael J. Fox and so many researchers and scientists who believe that we need to have this ban overturned. And John Kerry will do that. He's going to put sound...

LIDDY: There's no ban. There's no ban.

WOLFSON: Unfortunately, the Bush policy has prevented so many people from doing this research. Scientists have had to go abroad. That's not the right way to do it. We -- we are going to have to put science ahead of ideology.

LIDDY: It's perfectly legal in the United States to do this research. There is no ban.

WOLFSON: The fact is that the Bush ban has prevented so many scientists from doing research.

LIDDY: There isn't any ban.

WOLFSON: We are going to encourage the good sound science so that we can find cures for things like Alzheimer's and cancer and diabetes.

Is Nancy Reagan wrong?

LIDDY: You will never...

WOLFSON: Is Nancy Reagan wrong?

LIDDY: You will never find it for Alzheimer's.

WOLFSON: So Nancy Reagan's wrong?

LIDDY: Yes, of course she's wrong.

BEGALA: Terry, let me...

WOLFSON: Are you going to say that, too, Terry?

BEGALA: I'd like to welcome you back to the program.

Michael J. Fox today, the actor who also has Parkinson's Disease, talked about this -- this very matter, this debate that Gordon and Howard were just engaging in, whether there is a ban or not.

The president did promise to allow some research to go forward, but Mr. Fox said today there was a bit of a bait and switch. Here's how Michael J. Fox explained how there actually is a backdoor ban. Here's Michael.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: He decided to -- to allow it to go forward but he's so restricted the stem cell lines available to us that it was kind of like he gave us a car and no gas and congratulated himself for giving us the car.


BEGALA: Isn't it deeply, deeply cynical and deceptive and dishonest for our president to do that?

HOLT: Well, frankly, to -- to use Michael J. Fox and his disease in their political campaign is cynical, at the height of cynical.

BEGALA: He's a citizen of the -- well, I don't know. I suppose he's a citizen of the United States, isn't he? He doesn't have free speech rights?

HOLT: These -- these folks -- we need to have a very informed debate about the science of stem cell research. Adult stem cell research is going forward. The president -- this is the first president in history who's approved federal funding for stem cell research.

It does show promise, but so does adult stem cell research. Science overall under this president has increased by a large amount.

BEGALA: Are there...

HOLT: And we are going to get to the heart of these diseases, and we're going to solve them. And it's not going to be because of politics like that.

BEGALA: Are there...

HOLT: It's because of the substance of the president.

BEGALA: This is a simple factual question. Are there portions, types of embryonic stem cell research that the president would not allow?

HOLT: According to the federal funding guidelines that he set forth, yes.

BEGALA: So he would block some research into stem cells?

HOLT: But all over America and all over the world...

BEGALA: There is a ban, at least on some embryonic stem cell research.

HOLT: The number of lines that he allowed under the circumstances that he did. But remember he also gave a very reasoned position, because we cannot just throw the sanctity of life away for research. We -- we need to use the research, and we need to go forward to the sanctity of human life.

WOLFSON: The sanctity of life dictates that we allow this research.

HOLT: Howard, you've been lying about the stem cell debate for a long time. And the fact of the matter is this is the first president to allow federal funding of stem cell research. Bill Clinton didn't do it.

WOLFSON: Your argument is with Nancy Reagan...

HOLT: Bill Clinton didn't do it, and George W. Bush did.

WOLFSON: ... and researchers trying to find the cure for diseases.

LIDDY: We're never going to agree, and that's OK. We'll agree to disagree.

But I want to ask Howard, look, Senator Kerry wants to raise the marginal income tax rates on persons making $200,000 or more a year. They already pay 41.3 percent of all income taxes. Is that fair?

WOLFSON: Look, George Bush gave a very large tax cut to the wealthiest people in this country. At the same time, we went to war. We have enormous unmet needs. We have the largest deficit in our history as a result.

John Kerry is saying we're going to give a tax cut to the middle class, but we're going to ask the wealthiest to pay their fair share. They've done very well under this president.

LIDDY: Their fair share is already 41.3 percent. How far do you want to kill the golden goose?

WOLFSON: Golden goose, where's the golden goose?

LIDDY: These are the guys -- these are the guys who create jobs. These are the guys who employ other people and you want to take away...

WOLFSON: We've lost -- we've lost more jobs under this president than any president except Herbert Hoover.

LIDDY: No, no, no. That depends on which set of data you're using. If you go to Senate data that they use for calculating unemployment, not only has there not been a loss of jobs, because it includes agricultural and self-employed, there's been a net increase of two million 50 thousand.

WOLFSON: That's not the states I'm looking at. That's not the stats that most people in this country are looking at.

LIDDY: It's the stats we use in calculating the unemployment rate.

BEGALA: Let me come -- We'll come back to this tax question in a minute. But I want to shift over to Iraq, because it was really a stunning front page "New York Times" story. I referred to it earlier in the program, and I want to ask you -- well, I want to ask you to defend the indefensible.

Here's what "The New York Times" reported. "Aluminum tubes that had been cited by the Bush administration as evidence of an Iraqi nuclear program 'were only really suited for nuclear weapons,' Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, explained on CNN on September 8, 2002.

"But almost a year before, Ms. Rice's staff had been told that the government's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted the tubes were for nuclear weapons. The experts at the Energy Department believed the tubes were likely intended for small artillery rockets."

Why didn't the president level with us?

HOLT: You act as if the tubes were the only reason we went to war in Iraq.

BEGALA: One tangible reason.

HOLT: It is certainly not.

BEGALA: But you are willing to acknowledge that he cited the tubes, right?

HOLT: Saddam Hussein had built a practical turnkey of weapons of mass destruction....

BEGALA: Weapons of mass destruction.

HOLT: ... a typical turnkey operation of someone who could turn it on in the blink of an eye. He'd already gassed his own people. He'd already invaded his neighbors. He was launching SCUD missiles at Israel. He was harboring terrorists.

BEGALA: All that happened 10 years or 15 years before that.

How much more do you need to know before you realize that Saddam Hussein was a loaded gun waiting to be shot at this country?

BEGALA: With what?

LIDDY: But I want to jump in here, because this is saying that, well, gee, you know, there was no connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

There's other people involved in the terrorism business than al Qaeda. Abu Nidal was -- they had a camp that barracks 600 terrorists at a time, 40 buildings, all kinds of equipment to train terrorists.

I know that because my son, Lt. Col. Ray Liddy, United States Marine Corps, his outfit, the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines, found that camp.

WOLFSON: We can argue about this. Everything the administration has said about this has been wrong. They told us there were weapons of mass destruction. There are no weapons of mass destruction. Dick Cheney, who is going to be debating tomorrow night, said we'd be greeted as liberators. He can defend that comment tomorrow night.

They said there are ties between Iraq and al Qaeda; 9-11 Commission said there weren't.

LIDDY: My son was greeted like a liberator.

HOLT: There are women that can take the children to the doctor today and the children that can go to school agree...

BEGALA: You can't take children to the doctor in America, Terry.

HOLT: ... that we were liberators of that country.

BEGALA: Let me ask you. Here's -- look, you two are never going to agree. Gordon and I are never going to agree.

But let's look at what the American people say. A new "USA Today"/CNN/Gallup poll asked this question: "Did President Bush mislead the public for political reasons?" The majority of Americans say yes. Fifty percent to 47 they say yes, our president misled us for political reasons.

Now politically, isn't that disastrous for this guy?

HOLT: Well, $90 million of attack ads leveled at the president, hundreds of millions more in these 501 -- 527 ads.

BEGALA: It's not -- so it's not the fibs, it's the ads?

HOLT: We're talking about the grand lie of the Democratic Party, the liberal left who didn't even want to go into Afghanistan to defend this country after September 11.

WOLFSON: Who didn't? Who didn't? Who didn't? John Kerry certainly did.

BEGALA: Every single member of the House and Senate save one did.


BEGALA: That's not the Democratic Party.

LIDDY: The same polls said that the American people believe the stronger president would be Bush by 54 percent to 34 percent.

BEGALA: That will be the last word of this segment. Keep your seats. We'll take a quick break. And next, we'll have our "Rapid Fire" segment, where the questions come a whole lot faster than Dick Cheney can bring himself to say the word Halliburton.

And right after the break Wolf Blitzer will have the latest for us on what's happening right now atop Mount St. Helens. Stay with us. Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, another eruption at Mount St. Helens in Washington state. Why scientists are now worried about what may happen next.

SpaceshipOne claims the $10 million X Prize. We'll tell you how they did it.

And a funny thing happened on the way to the White House. Why television comedians are playing a bigger role in the political process this time.

All those stories and much more coming up only minutes away on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where the questions come faster than President Bush can say France, France, France.

In the CROSSFIRE, RNC senior adviser Terry Holt and DNC senior communications adviser Howard Wolfson.


LIDDY: Howard, why is it OK for President Clinton to give a big no-bid contract to Halliburton for Bosnia-Herzegovina, but it's bad for President Bush to give a big no-bid contract for Halliburton for Iraq?

WOLFSON: I don't think President Clinton's vice president was getting $2 million from Halliburton at the time the no-bid contract went out.

BEGALA: Terry -- Terry, let me ask you about Halliburton. On White the vice president's official bio, very impressive man. But one thing he doesn't mention is the word Halliburton, his job before he became vice president. Why is he so ashamed of that company that he ran?

HOLT: He's not at all ashamed of it. This is a company that puts people into harm's way every day to feed soldiers and to make life a little bit more normal in the war zone.

And you know, you guys have been on Halliburton for years. When is it going to stick? Get off it.

WOLFSON: November 3, dude.

HOLT: Let's go back to the issues that matter. WOLFSON: November 3.

HOLT: The issues that matter and the experience of Dick Cheney obviously -- obviously matters.

LIDDY: Howard, you've got Senator Kerry saying that he honors the Second Amendment. But he only speaks of the right to keep arms, not of the right to bear arms, as in right to carry. Why is that?

WOLFSON: The fact is that Senator Kerry is going to allow hunters to keep their guns. He's been a hunter his whole life. Hunters keep.

LIDDY: Hunters.

WOLFSON: Hunters use and keep. Kerry -- hunters don't have anything to worry about with Senator Kerry in the White House.

BEGALA: Terry, we're almost out of time. Why did Vice President Cheney sitting in this debate tomorrow night?

HOLT: Well, this is the debate format that happened in 2000. It gives everybody a chance to listen to the substance of the issues.

You know, Mr. Style -- you know, Edwards this is his zero hour. This is why he was picked. He's a great debater. He's a trial lawyer. Let's see what happens.

BEGALA: We sure will.

Terry Holt, from the Republican Party, thank you very much.

Howard Wolfson from the Democratic, thank you both very much.

Gordon and I will be back in a minute. But first, think about this, Ben Affleck bald? You're not going to want to miss Affleck's unique tribute to the remarkable genius that is James Carville. You'll say it right after this. Stay with us.


BEGALA: Welcome back.

You know, if you were up late on Saturday night, you might have thought we'd moved the time of CROSSFIRE to late on Saturday.

But no. That was not our own James Carville on "Saturday Night Live." It was actor and CROSSFIRE fave Ben Affleck poking a little fun at what James might want to tell John Kerry.


SETH MEYERS, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE" ACTOR: So tell us, James, are you here to congratulate me on my debate performance, or is your visit serendipitous?

BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: Serendipitous? John, you use too many words. Don't get too excited.

Now, you beat George Bush in a talking contest. That's like Wilt Chamberlain playing basketball against Stephen Hawking and beating him by two points. The man can't talk, John.


BEGALA: Magnificent. You know, if he put a mustache on, I think Ben Affleck could play you, Gordon.

LIDDY: He probably could. He probably good.

BEGALA: That was wonderful.

From the left, I'm Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE. Tomorrow, though, we will be live from Cleveland, site of the vice presidential debate.

LIDDY: And from the right I'm G. Gordon Liddy. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.


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