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Bush's Tsunami Relief Plan

Aired December 29, 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: Critics question President Bush's leadership in the wake of Asia's overwhelming tsunami disaster. Mr. Bush answered back today with a pledge of U.S. support.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important for the world to know that our government is focused and will continue to respond and help those who suffer.

ANNOUNCER: With suffering bound to get worse before it gets better, what is the U.S.' role as global relief efforts mobilize on a grand scale?



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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, and welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Three days after devastating tsunamis hit South Asia, President Bush finally came out today to talk about his plans to respond to this unimaginable disaster. Mr. Bush's spokesman said the president's been getting regular briefings on the crisis in between long walks, chopping wood and riding his bicycle on his ranch.

Critics say the image of a disengaged, callous American president plays right into the hands of Osama bin Laden and his terrorists.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Unlike Bill Clinton, George W. Bush doesn't jump in front of the TV cameras every time there is a disaster large or small to tell the victims he feels their pain.


NOVAK: That did not mean that he and the U.S. were not ahead of the rest of the world in trying to help.

And that's where we begin the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

President Bush today responded to the outrageous United Nations bureaucrat who called the U.S. stingy in helping the Indian Ocean tsunami victims and in helping disasters in general. That person said the president was misguided and ill-informed. In 2004, Bush explained, 40 percent of all relief aid in the world came from the U.S. government. American-supplied disaster relief amounted to $2.4 billion. The U.S. so far has committed $35 million for tsunami relief, and much more is on the way.

But Bush bashers at home, and away, don't let one of the great tragedies in world history stand in the way of what they love best, tearing down the president of the United States.

BEGALA: Well, Bob, a week before this disaster struck -- it was actually the day after Christmas -- "The New York Times" reported that the Bush administration had told Christian relief groups, including Save the children and Catholic Relief Services, that our government was going to welsh on at least $100 million of aid that we had promised to the poor people of the world. Isn't that an outrage? Doesn't that bother you, when our president breaks his word to the poorest people in the whole wide world?

NOVAK: Doesn't it bother to get -- to be on his back all the time? He's been reelected and you're just after him all the time.



NOVAK: We're talking about $2.4 billion.

BEGALA: This is nothing, a drop in the bucket.

Well, "The Washington Post"'s Mike Allen today reports that House Speaker Dennis Hastert is leaning towards sacking House Ethics Committee Chairman Joel Hefley of Colorado. Hastert is likely to replace Hefley with Lamar Smith of Texas. Could that be because Tom DeLay, also of Texas, has been cited by the House Ethics Committee more than any current member of Congress?

Could it be that Smith, a reliable DeLay toady, is a little softy on scummy conduct than Mr. Hefley is?


BEGALA: Mr. Hastert has proven himself to be little more than a butler for Tom DeLay. And now he's serving the ethically challenged GOP boss a nice pliable ethics cop.

Mr. Delay, meanwhile, continues to lead House Republicans, even though these of his associates are under indictment in Texas. And rumor has it that Mr. Delay could one day join in the dock. Are these the values and morality you red staters voted for?

(APPLAUSE) NOVAK: You know -- you know a lot of -- about Democrats, Paul, but you really -- if you will pardon me saying so, you display your ignorance about Republican politics, because one thing, Hastert is not Tom DeLay's toady. He is an independent figure, has his own way of doing things.

And, as far as Hefley is concerned, he's from Colorado, you know.


NOVAK: And he -- he -- if you know that, he was -- he was very bitter that he was aced out by DeLay out of a committee chairmanship. He was getting back at him with these trumped-up charges in the Ethics Committee. Now he suffers for it. That's the way politics works.

BEGALA: No. That's the way DeLay works.

NOVAK: Remember the old Japanese soldier who held out for 30 years on a Pacific island because he could not realize World War II was over and he had lost? Well, today's counterparts are John Kerry supporters.



NOVAK: On a icy vigil in front of Democratic presidential nominee's Boston mansion. They want Senator Kerry to oppose congressional approval of Electoral College results that result in the reelection of George W. Bush. The protesters think the result was fixed.

And they're not bothered by facts such as the official recount in Ohio yesterday showing a clear Bush victory in that key state. What does Senator Kerry think of these lunatics? He was nowhere to be seen. Probably off windsurfing in a sunnier climate.


BEGALA: Well, I will tell you this. I don't -- I think you make a good point. I don't like people who want their person to be installed as president, even though getting fewer votes. That's what happened when Bush got in there in 2000.


BEGALA: I don't want to see John Kerry become president the same way. I'm being consistent.

But, as for windsurfing, I don't know. I know this. He's not off chopping wood and taking long walks with his wife while the world is looking for leadership in the face of a natural disaster.


(APPLAUSE) BEGALA: So I think John Kerry would be...

NOVAK: I knew you would get around -- I knew you would get around to bashing on that little exchange.


NOVAK: But -- go ahead.

BEGALA: Well, as the Republican governor of deep blue California, Arnold Schwarzenegger is a rock star of the first order. His brand of Republicanism is centrist and sensible. He is to the left of Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid on abortion. He is to the left of Howard Dean on gun control. And he's to the left of most Republicans on the issue of gay rights.

Perhaps that's where the Reverend Lou Sheldon, head of the right- wing Traditional Values Coalition, blasts Arnold today in an op-ed column in "The L.A. Times." I just have to say, I find it fascinating that the morality mavens are not attacking right-wing Republicans caught up in sex, drugs or gambling scandals, like, say, oh, Bernard Kerik, Jack Ryan, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett.

Instead, they're attacking Arnold Schwarzenegger for the sin of believing that gay Americans are created equal. And that's what I call bright red hypocrisy.


NOVAK: Let me say something about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

There's a lot of things I disagree with him on. But he's a tax cutter. He's against -- he's for cutting the capital gains tax. He's for cutting government spending. And anybody who believes in those things is OK with me.

BEGALA: Well, there you go.


BEGALA: You have a broader tent, at least, than these morality mavens. I don't support Schwarzenegger in his economic agenda, but he's a compelling figure.

NOVAK: You don't support...

BEGALA: He's a rock star in your party.


NOVAK: You don't support anybody who supports capitalism.




BEGALA: Oh, no.

Well, days after the tsunami hit, some have been asking, where's our president? Well, today, he held a press conference. Earlier than that, he was on the phone from his ranch, where, of course, there's still an awful lot of brush to clear.

Just ahead, we will debate the president's leadership and America's role in the relief efforts.

And if you want to see President Bush's inaugural, we will tell you why it's very important to be nice to John Kerry. Stay with us and you'll learn.


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.



NOVAK: The devastation in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand remains too massive to even measure. President Bush has been under fire for not responding quickly enough or generously enough. Do the politics never end, even in the face of one of the world's worst catastrophes ever?

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE, former Republican National Committee Chairman, former Governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore, and Democrat Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia.


BEGALA: Good to see you both.


BEGALA: Governor, just to set the timetable, this horrible disaster struck on Sunday. The president is on vacation. I strongly support presidential vacations. He has got a hard job. He should have a right to unwind.

This struck on Sunday. On Monday, we began to get the real reports of the death toll. And, on Tuesday, yesterday, the death toll rose to over 50,000. Now, here, according to the White House spokesman, is what the president did yesterday, two days into this disaster. He had his morning intelligence briefing. Good for him. He had a special briefing on the tsunami, so he would be up to speed on that.

He had a call with the Iraqi president, but he didn't make any public expression of condolence or sympathy on behalf of the American people, because he was too busy doing this, clearing brush, biking, exercising, taking long walks with the first lady, thinking about his second term -- that should take a long time -- and preparing for visits from friends.

Now, isn't this an embarrassment to America?

GILMORE: I just think all this just...


GILMORE: No, no, I wouldn't applaud that. I mean, this is just silly, frankly.

Yesterday, the complexity and the difficulty and the horror of this thing became clear. Today, the president is on camera talking about it. He has made the case very strongly about -- you know, about the American response. You know what, Paul? I get tired after a while of people constantly downing America.


BEGALA: I'm not downing America.


BEGALA: He is downing America by giving...

GILMORE: No, no. No, no. Wait a minute.


BEGALA: Wait. Let me ask you a question. You're an expert on terrorism. What do you think bin Laden will do with the image of a callous American president in the face of a disaster afflicting a whole lot of Muslim people?

GILMORE: Not at all.


BEGALA: What do you think? Don't you think that is a propaganda coup for the terrorists?

GILMORE: When you consider that the United States in 2004 put in $2.4 billion of aid worldwide, 40 percent of all the aid offered anywhere in the world, I think the American people can stand up and be proud of the fact that we stand up for people around the world.



BEGALA: ... American people.

NOVAK: All right. Eleanor Holmes Norton, I just -- you know, Paul hasn't realized the election is over., George W. Bush will never be able to run for president again. You can -- it really is -- don't you think it's unseemly, this pounding on the president, to say whatever he does that somehow his timing was wrong; he did the right thing too late or the wrong thing too early? Don't you think it's time to get off his back?

ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON, D.C. DELEGATE: Well, Bob, you are absolutely right. The election is over. And we're stuck with George Bush.

And it's time for him to stand up and act like a president of the United States, when you have a natural disaster like this, and particularly when you're supposed to be the compassionate president? The way to retrieve some of your personal standing and the standing of the United States in the world community is at least to get up and say, we're sorry. We're going to do all we can.

And when you let three or four days go by in silence, you're not acting like a president.


NOVAK: Well, first place, the first time anybody knew what this was, was on Monday. We didn't what it was. You just said you didn't know what it was on Sunday, didn't know what it was on Monday. So it's just -- it isn't three or four days. It's two days.

And I think waiting is OK. But I want -- I want to show you what the president said today about the little twerp at the United Nations who said the United States is stingy. A Norwegian said the United States was stingy after we saved them Hitler's tyranny.



NOVAK: Let's -- let's listen to what the president said.


BUSH: I felt like the person who made that statement was very misguided and ill-informed. The -- take, for example, in the year 2004, our government provided a $2.4 billion in food and cash and humanitarian relief to cover the disasters for last year.


NOVAK: And this little Norwegian was saying that we ought to increase our taxes to pay more for the Third World. Do you agree with that?

NORTON: We don't have to increase taxes, but we don't have to be at the bottom of the OECD countries in foreign assistance.

(CROSSTALK) NORTON: What the president didn't tell us...


NORTON: At the bottom of the OECD countries. And that's what this little Norwegian was trying to draw to the attention of the world, that the rich countries, as they have gotten richer, have given less.

Now, he explained himself when he was called on it. It's a fair point. And it's a point that merits a public debate. After he called us on it -- the families over there ought to be very glad, because the president threw $20 million on the table after he got embarrassed about the paltry amount we had just given.



Now, Governor, let me raise an issue that I raised on this broadcast a week ago, before the disaster of America and our president, rather, our president welshing on America's obligations to help the poor. This is a story that was in "The New York Times" last week. "With the budget deficit growing and President Bush promising to reduce spending, the administration has told representatives of several charities it was unable to honor some earlier promises. The cutbacks, estimated by some charities to add up to $100 million, come at a time when the number of hungry in the world is rising for the first time in years. As a result, Save Our Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or limited programs intended to help the poor feed themselves."

Now, what would Jesus do? Would he welsh on $100 million?


GILMORE: You know...

BEGALA: What would he do, Governor?

GILMORE: Here's my answer.

BEGALA: Would he lie to Christian groups like this?

GILMORE: A president has to look at entire big picture of the obligations that the United States has both domestically and foreign. We have education commitments. We have infrastructure commitments. We have humanitarian commitments around the world. Frankly, an awful lot is loaded on the taxpayer of the United States.

Taxes are already too high in the United States without any question. We're already funding so many things and so many projects. To reach out with this kind of generosity worldwide is why America is looked to as the beacon of liberty and freedom in the world. And, second of all...


BEGALA: So you think it's good for America's image in the world, when we're trying to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, for our president, who loves to tell us about his deep Christian faith, which I believe is profound, to welsh on $100 million to Christian charities, like Save the Children and Catholic Relief? Just let me be clear that that's your position. That's a good thing to do?

GILMORE: I think that it's important remember to all the obligations we have, No. 1, and, No. 2, to provide the leadership to get other countries also working with us to make their fair share of the contribution to humanitarian assistance, and that's what the president has done.


GILMORE: That's what he's done with Australia and that's what he's done with other countries as well.

NOVAK: Ms. Norton, to listen to the left-wing media and the left-wing members of Congress, you would think that we've been cutting foreign aid.

I want to show you what the -- you know, sometimes, I would have thought we had cut foreign aid. I would kind of in favor of that. But I want to show you what the USAID administrator, Andrew Natsios, said today.


ANDREW NATSIOS, USAID ADMINISTRATOR: The latest statistics show we're 40 percent of the total of all humanitarian relief from governments in the world. And the president actually has increased that while he's been president. There's been a 140 percent increase in our foreign aid budget since I've been here.


NOVAK: As a member of Congress, did you know that?

NORTON: I certainly did.

I recognized that we have increased our foreign assistance. After all, we've had things like Somalia -- I mean, like the Sudan. We've had -- we've come forward, as we should have. But I also recognize that the way in which you judge what you should give ought to be what you have.

Otherwise, it's like saying, if Bill Gates gives $200 and a $30,000-a-year truck driver gives $100, then they're equally generous. We're real rich. We ought to be giving a lot more.


NOVAK: So, you think -- you think it is the obligation -- it's very interesting. I always love -- I always love to get this insight into your thinking.

You're my congresswoman, and I'd really like to know what you're thinking. Do you think that it is the obligation of the United States to take its wealth and transfer it to the Third World? Is that what you're saying?

NORTON: I certainly think it's the obligation of the United States to share its wealth with the Third World in a time of the most horrible disaster in memory. Yes, I do think so.


BEGALA: And, Governor, in fact, the dollar amount that our government, not private citizens, charitable and religious groups, our government has pledged is $35 million, with an M., $35 million in the face of this enormous catastrophe. That is -- I looked it up -- the amount of money Dick Cheney earned in one day in August 2000, when he sold his stock options from Halliburton. Do you really think we can do better than one day pay for Dick Cheney?


GILMORE: Well, I think it was everything that the agency had, everything that they had.

And we have already put enormous sums of money out. We've done foreign aid. We have private citizens who are opening their hearts and their pocketbooks. We have -- great expenditures have been made. And, finally, for this particular catastrophe, which we all admit is a catastrophe of historic proportions, we gave everything we had.


BEGALA: So, $35 million is everything we have? We're spending $40 million on an inaugural party for the president and we're going to spend 35 on this...



BEGALA: That's right.


NOVAK: Ms. Norton, do you want to bet that, before we're done, it's going to be vastly more than $35 million? You know that, don't you?

NORTON: Well, if we keep putting pressure on the president of the United States, maybe so.



NOVAK: It will be there.

GILMORE: Well, I think we have got to think about the working people of this country as well at the same time that we're making our proportional distributions and contributions to carry on all of our obligations, both domestically and foreign.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to have to take a break.

And next, in "Rapid Fire," I'll ask whether the president owes more to the people of Southeast Asia than he does to the residents of Florida.

And just ahead, how does the Asian tsunami tragedy compare to other disasters in history?

And be sure to watch tonight's tsunami disaster special on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Find out about the children of the storm and the many orphans this tragedy has created.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jeanne Meserve, reporting from Washington.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the tsunami death toll rises above 80,000, stories of death and of survival. Aftershocks hit the Indian-controlled Andaman and Nicobar Islands. We'll talk with India's ambassador to the United States.

And a look at the relief effort, why it will be much more challenging than previous disaster operations.

All those stories much and more are just minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

But now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Jeanne.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where we hope we move a little faster than President Bush can set down his chain saw and show respect for the loss of life in Asia.


BEGALA: Our guests today, Governor Jim Gilmore, former governor of the great state of Virginia, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and the honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the Democratic delegate from the District of Columbia to Congress.

NOVAK: Ms. Norton, do you think that the United States government is obliged to spend a lot more money on the devastated people of the Indian Ocean than the victims of the Florida hurricanes?

NORTON: Bob, I'm sure we should always take care of home first, but compassion shouldn't stop at the water's edge for a compassionate conservative.


BEGALA: Governor, in fact, President Bush went to Florida. Nobody says he should go to Asia. But he was quick on the spot when Hurricane Charley and the others hit. We only lost 17 souls to Hurricane Charley. Do you think President Bush would have moved faster if Sir Lanka had some electoral votes?


GILMORE: Oh, my gosh. This -- this is quick, too.

The president has come forward. He has made a strong, decisive statement. They've given all the money the that Agency of International Development has got that is available. And, quite frankly, he pointed out the truth, which is that the American people are supporting 40 percent of the humanitarian money spent worldwide this past year, and that's frankly well within the traditions of this country, all through the Cold War and beyond.

NOVAK: Ms. Norton, let me give the other side of what I'm saying. Don't you think the president of the United States owes a lot more to -- a lot more to the people of Florida than to some foreigners?

NORTON: Those...


NORTON: The people of Florida will always get what they deserve. They'll get it even if they don't vote for President Bush. But I hope that our country will always recognize its obligation to the world at large. Let's start with the president of the United States.


BEGALA: Governor, Osama bin Laden used the fact that President Bush was reading a story about goats to children while we were attacked on 9/11 in his propaganda. Do you think he will use the image of the president ignoring these deaths in his propaganda?

GILMORE: I don't think he will be able to, Paul, because we're coming forward strongly. We're saying the right things. And, mostly, we're putting forward not only money, but leadership with other countries, like India and Australia and other really forward-looking countries that are going to join with us and do even more things.


GILMORE: And I don't think it's necessarily a matter of obligation. I think it's a matter of the goodwill of the American people.


BEGALA: Governor Jim Gilmore, thanks for joining us.


BEGALA: Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democratic delegate from the District of Columbia in Congress, thank you both for that.

Next, we will tell you why, if you really want to get one of the toughest tickets in Washington and you're a Republican, better start sucking up to the Democrats.

Stay with us and learn how.




NOVAK: If you really want a ticket to President Bush's swearing- in ceremony next month, ask a Democrat. In fact, ask Senator John Kerry. He still has plenty of the hard-to-get tickets to see President Bush take the oath of office for a second time. U.S. senators get 400 each. House members gets 200. Those held by Republicans are going fast.

But the former Democratic presidential candidate has gotten requests for only about half of his allotment. But would any self- respecting Republican go to the inauguration on John Kerry's ticket?



BEGALA: I don't know. This is a new experience for President Bush. He's never actually won a presidential election before.



BEGALA: So, we'll see -- we'll see how he enjoys it. But I wish him well. And I hope Republicans enjoy themselves. It's a great American celebration. And I'm sure Senator Kerry will be very generous with his tickets.

From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

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

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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