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The Politics of Relief

Aired December 30, 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 politics of relief. Is the Bush administration doing enough to reach out to the Muslim world in Asia with a bold relief plan? Are Democrats playing politics with relief in order to attack the Bush administration's Iraq policy? As human suffering ripples from Asia throughout the world, the political debate over how to respond heats up.



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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

The staggering human toll from last weekend's tsunamis continues to grow. So do questions about whether President Bush was personally engaged enough in the relief efforts. We will -- expect to hear, that is, from a White House spokesman shortly. When that briefing begins, we will take it to you live.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, at least one Republican senator is calling for a special emissary to the region, perhaps even Vice President Cheney. And one Democratic senator is calling on President Bush to spend unused money from the Iraqi reconstruction effort.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: That shows the mind of a very partisan Democratic politician. Harp on Iraq whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

The South Asia disaster is historic, and our response should absolutely rise above anyone's political agenda. With that said, here is the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The U.S. government is under fire for not giving enough money for tsunami relief, for being stingy in pledging only $35 million so far. Critics forget that much more is on the way. But what they really omit is the incredible private generosity that is impossible to fully calculate at this time. There's $35 million alone from the Pfizer pharmaceutical company. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $3 million. And has raised more than $3.5 million.

Many corporations have contributed $100,000 each. And ordinary Americans have contributed $18 million to the American Red Cross and many more millions to other charitable organizations. How dare they call Americans stingy?

BEGALA: Oh, Americans are not stingy. You're right. But our government has been so far. There's a huge difference between the American people, who, as you put out, through some wonderful institutions, are giving a pile of money, and our government.

Let me add one more, Catholic Relief Services, which helps folks in this disaster situation. In the course of a whole year, they usually raise $1 million on the Internet. They have raised $2 million since the tsunami struck alone. And I really congratulate Catholic Relief Services...


NOVAK: Let me tell you about how silly this is, Paul, about saying the American government is stingy. We are going to be giving so much more money than anybody, it won't even be funny.


BEGALA: And we will debate that in a minute with a couple of pretty good congressmen out here.

But with the headlines so dominated by that heartbreaking news from Asia, it's been a little difficult to focus on the daily death and destruction in Iraq. But American troops have no choice but to focus on it. And so will we. Insurgents in Baghdad lured police into a house and then set off an explosion that killed 28 people. Then four police stations in Baghdad were attacked.

Meanwhile, in Mosul, an American soldier was killed by a suicide bomber. When American troops responded, they were hit with a second suicide car bomber; 15 American troops were injured. And, in the Sunni Triangle outside Baghdad, 26 Iraqi National Guardsmen and police were killed in a series of attacks.

And outside of Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, 13 Iraqi police officers were shot execution-style. And yet, President Bush continues to insist that his policy in Iraq is bringing progress. As another year of Mr. Bush's endless occupation comes to a close, I just don't know how much more of his idea of progress we can take.

NOVAK: Paul, I wonder -- in your rundown of events in Iraq, you omitted that yesterday 25 insurgents in one incident were killed; 25 insurgents were killed in Baghdad. Now, do you think you are serving any good cause when you give a one-sided rendition of the news, only the bad news, never say, yes, there is progress being made?

(BELL RINGING) BEGALA: I don't owe those insurgents anything. I owe those soldiers credit and honor when they serve our country. And to hell with the insurgents. I will always honor our troops.


NOVAK: Well, that's a clever -- that's a clever out. But I think you are making a big mistake.


NOVAK: The obvious problem with the Democratic Party is failure to win support in the so-called red states, especially the South.

So now we have somebody named Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, with the answer, just look to the West, implicitly giving up on the South. What's more, Mr. Rosenberg would look West with increasingly liberal policies in the belief that Westerners are concerned most about air quality, clean water, and available outdoor space for recreation and hunting.

Now, Mr. Rosenberg is running for Democratic national chairman and he seems to be the answer to the suicidal impulses of many Democrats. National chairman Simon Rosenberg will help guarantee continued Republican control of all branches of government.

BEGALA: I like Simon Rosenberg. But, if he said that, you're right and he is wrong. Democrats should not, cannot write off the South. My old boss Bill Clinton carried Arkansas and Tennessee and Georgia and Louisiana and Florida, five Southern states, all of which went red now. If we have the right candidate, the right message, the right strategy, we'll win back plenty of states in the South.

NOVAK: But Mr. Rosenberg, when he thinks that there's a bunch of garden club people out West that are going to go into the Democratic Party, he is really kidding himself.


BEGALA: Well, he makes a good point. There is what they call the hook and bullet crowd, guys like me, who are from the West, like to hunt and fish and don't like Mr. Bush polluting our environment, so that we're not going to be able to hunt and fish and take our kids hunting and fishing. I think that's a good issue for Democrats.

NOVAK: Paul, would you be national chairman?


BEGALA: No, never. You have to hang out with rich people too much. If I liked rich people, I would become a Republican.



BEGALA: But, Bob, you're a rich person who I like.

We are expecting a briefing from the White House press office in just a moment. But, until then, we are going to continue with this latest news on President Bush.

And his plans to privatize part of Social Security would require of course as much as 33 percent of all the money currently going into Social Security and diverting it into private Wall Street stocks. Reporters say stocks get a better rate of return. Stanley Loge (ph), an MIT grad who paid into Social Security for 45 years, has gone back and actually done the math.

It turns out, if he put the same money in the Dow Jones that he put in Social Security, he would have almost $6,000 less today. So, Social Security is not only safer. It's a better investment. And, on top of that, it provides life insurance, survivors' benefits, disability insurance. Wall Street stocks don't private provide any of that.


BEGALA: But private accounts do provide one benefit that good old Social Security never will, hundreds of billions in fees to Wall Street sharpies, who give million in contributions to President Bush.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, in all due respect, of the many things you have said, that is the about craziest I have ever heard, that this 1 percent return, 1-2 percent return on Social Security beats the stock market.

I'm a Social Security recipient. I know what kind of return I've gotten on my money. And I also know the kind of return I have gotten on the stock. There's been no 20-year period in the United States when you have not had a 10 percent return on stocks.


NOVAK: I think -- I think you Democrats are just so afraid of ordinary Americans having stocks and bonds, because they are liable to become Republicans.



BEGALA: Well, we'll debate this plenty in the year to come, Bob.

But tonight's topic -- this afternoon's topic, that is -- is the politics of relief. Has Mr. Bush's response to the Asian disaster been a propaganda coup for Osama bin Laden?

And, later, why does Senator Hillary Clinton's New Year's Eve schedule sound like anything but a holiday?

Stay with us.


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.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

It's only been a few days since the tsunami disaster in South Asia, but already senators in both parties are urging President Bush to do more.

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, Representative Tom Davis. He is a Republican from Virginia. And Democratic Congressman Albert Wynn of Maryland.


BEGALA: Good to see you, gentlemen.

NOVAK: Mr. Wynn, welcome. Senator -- Senator Leahy of Vermont, I can always count on to be as partisan as possible, as is humanly possible, in which he -- now he's saying they should take the money for reconstruction in Iraq and turn it over to this, as if this money for years into the future, it's all fungible and mixed up together. I have more respect for you than I do for Senator Leahy. You certainly don't think that's a good idea, do you?

REP. ALBERT WYNN (D), MARYLAND: Well, the main issue, is we have got to get more money over to the people in that region. And I think we shouldn't take that issue off the table, that is, unused Iraq money.

But I think we can put more money towards the cause. I think we will. Congress will do this. I talked to a leading Republican today. We are going to take up the issues. Democrat are going to be in the forefront of calling for more and a very generous supplemental to aid the people in Iraq -- I mean, excuse me -- aid the people in the region of the world that has suffered from the tsunami. So I think we will step up.

NOVAK: Congressman, I want to give you a little quiz, if I could. We are going to give you a blind quote, put it up on the board: "I commend President Bush and Secretary of State Powell for their leadership in working with other nations to help coordinate the most effective possible response in the coming days, weeks and months to this monumental tragedy."

Who said that?

WYNN: I have no idea.

NOVAK: Let's see who said it. Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Now, do you agree with Senator Kennedy that they have done a good job?

WYNN: I think they're moving in the right direction.

NOVAK: Well, good.

WYNN: I think I do agree with Senator Kennedy.

The thing is, I don't think Democrats are going to fall into the trap of, you know, blaming America or nitpicking on this issue. We, I think Republicans of goodwill all believe we need to do more than the $35 million that's been talked about.

NOVAK: We will. We will.

WYNN: I think we will.

BEGALA: Well, that's a good point.

Let me mention one of those Republicans of goodwill, you, for example, Congressman Davis, but also one of your colleagues over on the Senate side, Sam Brownback, a Republican senator from Kansas, a true compassionate conservative. He said that the United States should send a very high-level emissary, perhaps even Dick Cheney, to show the flag, literally, to show the face of compassion of the American people. Do you think it's a good idea for the president to send a high-level emissary to that region?

REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: I think at the proper time it is.

I think, right now, you are in the way. You are going to take away resources, but, over time, this is a great opportunity for the United States to gain prestige in parts of the world that I think have not given us our due. It's just too good an opportunity.

BEGALA: It is. It is that, but it's also an opportunity for the other side. And that is, when President Bush was reading a storybook to children after being told that America was under attack on 9/11, bin Laden used that in his propaganda. Are you concerned...


DAVIS: Michael Moore -- Michael Moore used it, too.


NOVAK: Paul Begala used it.

BEGALA: I used it every day. It was disgraceful. He was not doing his job. We don't want to get into that right now, Congressman.

Are you worried that President Bush chopping wood and taking long walks on his ranch while 100,000 people die will be used by the terrorists as their propaganda against us?


DAVIS: No, not at all.

And I think you're going to see unprecedented amounts of U.S. aid in this. We already have fleets of ships over there with desalination on board, getting water, needed medical supplies. I think, in the end, the United States, as we always do, is going to step up and be the leader.


NOVAK: Congressman Wynn, were you one of those who was time watching on President Bush, whether he was chopping wood or -- what else does he do? Walking with his wife instead of coming back to Washington, did that bother you at all?

WYNN: Well, frankly, no. He's been chopping wood a lot during his administration.



DAVIS: He did chop -- he chopped the limb right out from under John Kerry.



NOVAK: Abraham Lincoln used to do that, too, didn't he?


BEGALA: Abraham Lincoln was a little more engaged in the Civil War than George Bush is during his....


WYNN: I think the point is the president needs to come forward. This is a golden opportunity, first of all, to do the right thing, politics aside, but, secondly also to show the world that Americans do care, that Americans are compassionate, to put a different face on America from what people have been seeing as result of the Iraq war.

NOVAK: You know, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, was asked today -- he came back from vacation. They said, Mr. Secretary general, why in the world weren't you working? Why were you on vacation? Here is what he said.


KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: We live in a world where you can operate from wherever you are. You know the world we live in now. You don't have to be physically here to be dealing with the leaders and the governments I've been dealing with.


NOVAK: I think that was a good answer. It was a good answer for President Bush. Why are the Democrats -- explain the politics. Why are the Democrats all over President Bush and not criticizing Kofi Annan for not being on the job?

WYNN: Well, first of all, I don't think the Democrats are -- quote -- "all over President Bush."


WYNN: I think that we are saying we want to do more, because Democrats are very compassionate and we have humanitarian instincts. I'm not satisfied with Kofi Annan's response.

But the major point is, America has to step forward. That's what I'm concerned about. And I think America will. And I think Democrats will be very aggressive in pressing for this.

BEGALA: Let me pick up this point. I'm a great supporter of presidential vacations. I really am. I feel the president has a hard time. He's entitled to take time off.

But there ought to be some events that are so important that do call you back, such as being briefed in August of 2001 that bin Laden had a plan to attack America. The president did not cancel his vacation when that happened. Now we have 100,000 dead. He doesn't cancel. What should he -- what is a big enough deal the make George W. Bush cancel a vacation?

DAVIS: I think he's on top of the situation.

BEGALA: Really?

DAVIS: He's being briefed as we speak. Absolutely. He's been on the phone with world leaders. He's called the leaders of the countries in questions, in touch with all the appropriate Cabinet secretaries. You can delegate from anywhere.


BEGALA: So, has Annan made a mistake by canceling his vacation and coming home?

DAVIS: Well, I think he had to, I think, in this case, because they're going to coordinate it. It would look very bad in the eyes of the rest of the world. He wasn't even in country, as you...

NOVAK: You know, Mr. Wynn, the people that are really involved in this, it's not you and it's not Tom Davis. It's people in Sri Lanka. And they are a -- whether they feel the United States has been stingy or laggard or slow or the president ought to get out there and say, I feel your pain, let's look at the Sri Lankan reaction to this.


DEVINDA SUBASINGHE, SRI LANKAN AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES: We are satisfied with the response. I spoke to Deputy Secretary Armitage on Sunday morning and he moved very rapidly to meet our needs in a timely, precise fashion. And that is continuing. And I'm gratified to note, again, the secretary's comments that the U.S. will be with us in this for the long haul.


NOVAK: Sunday morning, that was before anybody even knew how bad this was. You know, I will tell you something. I have been in this town since the beginning of the second Eisenhower term. I wasn't here for Rutherford B. Hayes, but I was here for...


WYNN: I thought you were going to say since the beginning of time.



WYNN: But, anyway, go ahead.

NOVAK: Yes. And I just think it's gotten so partisan, that even an intelligent, decent person like you comes out with these with these reflexive partisan reactions to something that is not a political situation.

WYNN: Where? What are you talking about?

NOVAK: You are being critical. You are saying he's not -- you're saying -- you don't even realize it.

WYNN: I'm saying that the president should do more. I think we all agree that the president should do more. America should do more.


NOVAK: No, I don't agree with that. I don't agree with that.


WYNN: You think $35 million is enough?

NOVAK: That's just the beginning. The first French tranche was $135,000. They are up to $20 million now. You don't give it all out in one thing.

WYNN: I think -- I don't even know if it is a criticism. It's a statement of goals. We need to do more. But I don't think that that's a matter of partisanship. I think that is a matter of our compassionate view.

I think if a Democrat were in the house, we would say we need to do more.

NOVAK: Really? Really?

BEGALA: In fact, one thing we need to do is keep our word.

"The New York Times" wrote about this today. Let me tell you what they said. "Making things worse, we," meaning the American government, "often pledge more money than we actually deliver. Victims of the earthquake in Bam, Iran, a year ago are still living in tents because aid, including ours, has not materialized in the amounts pledged. And back in 2002, Mr. Bush announced his Millennium Challenge account to give African countries development assistance of up to $5 billion a year. But the account has yet to disburse a single dollar."

Doesn't it harm America's standing in the world when our president makes pledges to poor people and then breaks those pledges?

DAVIS: Forty percent of all relief given in the world last year came from the United States.

BEGALA: Right.

DAVIS: We have been the leader. We will be the leader in this case as well. I think throwing money at the problem early on is not what is needed. You need sanitary facilities. You need desalination. We are taking the lead in providing that. I think Senator Leahy's comments show that the election never ends.


NOVAK: Do you think that the U.S. foreign aid has gone up or down under George W. Bush?

WYNN: It's gone up because of the Iraq war. There's no question about that. It's gone up because of Afghanistan.

The point is -- and I'm glad he raised the Millennium accounts, because Bush touted these accounts as, look what we are doing for Africa. Well, basically, it's come down to very little. And so, without taking the focus off the problem in Thailand and Indonesia, I think it is very legitimate to say this administration does not have a great track record when it comes to follow-through.

But I think you are going to see a lot of folks pushing to make sure we have the follow-through in this instance.

DAVIS: Yes, but Congress has a role in those Millennium accounts, too, in terms of funding it through the appropriations process.


DAVIS: The administration can put it in their budget, but if it's not appropriated, they can't spend it.

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

Next, in "Rapid Fire," I'll ask whether all the funds from Congressman Wynn's district in Maryland should go to Southeast Asia.

And just ahead, surviving a train crash in the middle of a tsunami.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, the death toll climbs still higher in the tsunami disaster. It is now above 116,000, with no end to the count in sight.

Hundreds die when the tsunami hit a Sri Lankan passenger train. We will hear from a survivor.

And laser beams pointed at the cockpits of U.S. airliners, why the FBI in investigating.

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

But now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Time for "Rapid Fire." We pose questions faster than Democrats can come up with another bogus charge against George W. Bush.

Our guests today, Representative Albert Wynn, Democrat of Maryland, Republican Tom Davis, congressman from Virginia.

BEGALA: Congressman Davis, you said earlier that, when the time is right, the president should send a high-level envoy. How about sending former Presidents Clinton and Bush? Do you think they would represent our country well?

DAVIS: That could work. I think the president is going to have to make that decision. But this is a tremendous opportunity for the United States to demonstrate compassionate conservatism to the rest of the world.

NOVAK: Mr. Wynn, instead of using unused funds from Iraq to send them to the Indian Ocean, to South Asia, how about unused funds for the 4th Congressional District in Maryland represented by Al Wynn and sending them to Southeast Asia? Would you, as a compassionate Democrat, approve of that?

WYNN: Well, if they'll agree to send funds from Texas and the congressional districts out of Texas to Southeast Asia, I would be happy to agree to it.

NOVAK: Well, that's good. Thank you.


BEGALA: When Hurricane Mitch struck Central America in 1998, the Congress, your colleagues, voted $988 million worth of aid to Central America. Do you think this aid package will wind up topping $1 billion?

DAVIS: It could. Again, we are leading the rest of the world. Everybody has to join in. But there are going to be huge infrastructure costs here. Right now, we are just talking about immediate disaster relief.

BEGALA: But your colleagues will write the check in Congress?

DAVIS: I think we are going to step up to the plate for whatever it is after everybody has sat down at the table.

NOVAK: Albert Wynn, do you agree with the little bureaucrats at the U.N. that we ought to take the money from the developed parts of the world, where we have good economies and worked hard, and give it to the unsuccessful parts of the world just as a gift?

WYNN: Well, I think it should be part of a foreign aid policy. I think we would do ourselves a lot of good if we would show that kind of compassionate face to some Third World countries, particularly Third World countries with significant Muslim populations that are suffering. I think it makes great strategic sense to provide aid to areas where we can win friends. We've been talking about winning the hearts and minds. We haven't exactly done that. I think foreign aid is a vehicle of which we could use to do it.


BEGALA: Congressman, didn't you find it slightly ironic yesterday that the president said he wanted to lead an international coalition for relief...


BEGALA: ... after he so desperately failed in leading a coalition in Iraq?

DAVIS: Well, look at the countries that have stepped up to the plate here. I mean, Spain has led the way initially, but a lot of our allies that didn't join us in Iraq are ready to get together on this. And I think we can...


NOVAK: That will be the last word.

Congressman Tom Davis, thank you.

Congressman Albert Wynn, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK) NOVAK: Does Hillary Clinton ever stop running for office? We'll tell you how the New York senator is spending her New Year's Eve weekend just ahead.


BEGALA: Well, singer James Brown is known as the hardest working man in show business, but is Hillary Rodham Clinton the hardest working person in the Senate?

The senator from New York has opted for a working holiday this New Year's Eve. She will attend the annual Renaissance weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, tonight, attending workshops on topics like the war against terrorism and the dawn of bio-information, whatever that is.

She'll be back in New York at work tomorrow. And earlier today, Senator Clinton joined representatives of the New York Yankees to announce a special gift to Army Specialist Robert Loria, who lost his arm in Iraq. Because Senator Clinton had intervened, the Army gave Specialist Loria back pay that they had denied him, which gave Specialist Loria a pretty happy new year at home with his family.

NOVAK: You know, I have got to think you have a better sense of values than your old boss Hillary Clinton, because, instead of messing around with a bunch of crazy liberals at Renaissance weekend, you are going to the Rose Bowl to see your Texas Longhorns get beat by the Michigan Wolverines.


BEGALA: No. Texas is going to win. You'll see.


BEGALA: The Texas Longhorns are going to win.

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

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

"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.



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