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President Bush Taps Two Former Presidents For Tsunami Relief Effort

Aired January 3, 2005 - 16:30   ET


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

In the CROSSFIRE: With two former presidents by his side, President Bush steps up his public efforts to help the victims of South Asia's tsunami.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've come together to express our country's sympathy for the victims of a great tragedy. We're here to ask our fellow citizens to join in a broad humanitarian relief effort.

ANNOUNCER: Mr. Bush's father, along with Former President Bill Clinton, have been put in charge of a nationwide charitable fund- raising effort. The president's brother Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in the region to show their support. Will these moves be enough to regain the political high ground?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the Georgia Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.


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

I feel your pain, that's the message President Bush is eager to send to the Asian world, which is still reeling as the death toll from the tsunami disaster nears 155,000. To lead America's army of compassion, our president has turned to two former presidents, his remarkable father and none other than the comeback kid.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Well, it's hard to quarrel with that, so I won't. Instead, we begin with the best political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Members of Congress came back to Washington this week after a long and we hope restful Christmas break. Among those returning to town, John Kerry, the junior senator from Massachusetts, who, at one point, students of American history may recall, once ran unsuccessfully for president. Well, the average American may have forgotten about John Kerry, but in his own mind, his political future is undimmed, this according to a fascinating account in "Newsweek" by Evan Thomas. According to the magazine, Kerry sounds very much like he plans to run for president again in 2008. He's kept his mailing list of donors. Some of his advisers are already plotting against Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucuses three years from now.

Most telling of all, Kerry's foreign policy team still meets -- quote -- "on the assumption that it could be reconstituted in 2008." That's what Kerry thinks, anyway. But, as one member of the team told the magazine -- quote -- "It's mostly sitting around some lawyer's office and asking each other if we've heard about jobs." The candidate is always the last to know. That's sad. Keep that in mind next time you're tempted to dislike John Kerry.

BEGALA: You know, I think, if he wants to run again, God bless him. Good luck to him. He will need a strategy and a message.



BEGALA: Two things his campaign did not have this last time around. He's a good man. I think he would be a fine president. I really do. And I hope he does run again, but I hope he learned a lot from the experience he went through.


BEGALA: Because, as I said, he'd be a great president.

CARLSON: I don't mean to be mean to John Kerry. I feel sorry for him. But imagine running for president without a message. I mean, what does that tell you about him? It's like, oops, sorry, forgot the message? That's kind of sad.


BEGALA: I think that's why he lost.


BEGALA: Well, President Bush today visited the embassies of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Thailand, personally carrying the condolences of the American people to countries that were hit hardest by the tsunami.

Our president has made five statements in the last six days on the disaster after his aides had mocked public expressions of empathy. And, today, President Bush turned to his two former predecessors, his father, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, to lead an effort to raise funds for the victims of the tsunami, a great idea, brilliant, really? I wonder where he got the inspiration?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BEGALA: How about sending former Presidents Clinton and Bush? Do you think they would represent our country well?


BEGALA: Well, it's good to know the current president is still watching CROSSFIRE. I know he's a big fan of the show. But...



BEGALA: But, on a more serious note, Mr. President, I hope you know all Americans are really very proud of how fully engaged and empathetic our president is acting. Perhaps a little late, but we're proud of him today.

CARLSON: You know, I want to thank you, because there was something about the idea that bothered me. And I couldn't quite put it into words. I just couldn't articulate.


CARLSON: It was inchoate, floating around. I just -- I was -- I felt agitated.


BEGALA: So you were watching last week. You were up in New York hosting Aaron Brown's big-shot news show.


CARLSON: I watched you every day. And I thought, you know, there's something about it I don't like.


BEGALA: ... faintly dumb, the idea, but then, there, again, the president embraced it.


CARLSON: Yes. I mean, the idea that, you know, it's up to the United States to fix all the world's problems I guess bothers me. We can debate that...


CARLSON: Well, almost any opinion poll shows that Americans believe illegal immigration, specifically illegal immigration from Mexico, is one of our country's biggest problems. People think that and they think it because it's true.

But illegal immigration is also a great thing for the government of Mexico, which can afford to provide even fewer services in the expectation that the U.S. will take up the slack, as we do. So, it's not much of a surprise, though it is offensive, that the Mexican government is now officially encouraging illegal immigration into this country.

Mexico's Foreign Ministry now distributes a book entitled "The Guide For Mexican Migrant." It's a how-to guide for entering the U.S. illegally. It offers tips for river crossings -- not making this up -- such as -- quote -- "Thick clothing increases your weight when wet and this makes it difficult to swim or float." For those coming across the desert, the guide suggests walking -- quote -- "during times when the heat is not as intense" and says immigrants should follow power lines or train tracks if they get lost.

In other words, to boil it down, the government of Mexico is now officially and actively working against American interests. Let's hope someone in the Bush administration brings this up the next time they meet with representatives of that government.

BEGALA: But, no, I think the Mexican government is trying to save lives. And good for them.

CARLSON: Oh, come on, Paul.



BEGALA: People die every year trying to cross that border. Look...

CARLSON: Then why don't they close the border?

BEGALA: As Phil Gramm, who was a senator from my state of Texas, used to say, he used to say, you would have to shoot me from crossing the border to feed my family.



BEGALA: And Phil Gramm, a Republican, was right.

CARLSON: But you know that what you just said is totally untrue. You know...


BEGALA: People die every year crossing that border.

CARLSON: That's totally true.

But, you know, the government of Mexico benefits from illegal immigration here from the money that is sent back, from the medical services provided here and they don't have to provide. You know that that's true, Paul.

BEGALA: Well, we need to do more debates on immigration.

Well, the House of Representatives, sadly, had lost a pair of legends this past weekend. Shirley Chisholm, the first African- American woman ever to serve in the U.S. House, died on Saturday. She was 80 and had suffered several previous strokes. Unbossed and unbought, she proclaimed herself. And that she was. Chisholm fought for women's rights, civil rights and against the Vietnam War.

Also on Saturday, Bob Matsui died. He suffered from a rare stem cell disorder which few of his colleagues even knew he had. He was the Democrat's leader on the issue of Social Security. A third- generation American, Matsui was shipped off to an internment camp before he was even 1-year-old, along with 120,000 other souls. And despite that treatment, though, Bob Matsui grew up to be a great American patriot serving his country with honor for 26 years in the House, where he helped create the Children's Health Insurance Program, among many other accomplishments.

Bob Matsui, one of the most decent men in politics, was 63. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Chisholm family, as well as with Doris Matsui and her wonderful family. God bless them all.

CARLSON: Amen. You're not going to hear me say one bad word about either one of them, nor about anybody else who has died. And good for you for doing obits. The world needs to recognize people when they die, I think, even if I don't agree with their politics.


BEGALA: And Bob Matsui, by the way, also for California, did enormous work on flood control for his region around the Sacramento area, which is the sort of thing congressmen don't really get noticed for or remembered for. But I hope Bob is remembered fondly by everybody who worked with him.

CARLSON: All right.

Well, President Bush has called in former presidents and members of his own family to help the victims of Asia's tsunami. Will this make Democrats less likely to blame the tsunamis on President Bush? That's the debate we'll have in just a moment.

And then, we'll tell you about a couple of Hollywood heavyweights who have weighed in, in a big way to help the victims in Southeast Asia.

We'll be right back.



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. (APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Last week's critics, including your humble host, were accusing President George W. Bush of shortchanging relief efforts and bad- mouthing public displays of sympathy. Now, perhaps heeding those critics, Mr. Bush is full-blown consoler-in-chief mode, increasing America's monetary commitment from $35 million to $350 million, as well as sending his secretary of state and his Brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, to the region and enlisting his father and former President Bill Clinton to spearhead an impressive campaign to raise private donations.

Is President Bush's about-face all about saving face?

Here to debate that and more, we're joined by Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida and Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey.

Governor, good to see you again.



CARLSON: Mr. Pallone, thanks a lot. Thanks a lot for joining us.

As I do almost every Monday, I was reading your press releases. And I'm actually going to save this one in a file that I keep of profound and comic overreactions to the news. Here you are suggesting, not just simply suggesting, but demanding that the United States pay for a tsunami warning system in the Atlantic Ocean to warn Asian nations about tsunamis that might be hitting them. You say there is -- quote -- "no excuse" for us not to do this.

So many questions follow. Here's the most obvious one. A lot of rich countries in the area. Why do we have to pay for this?

REP. FRANK PALLONE (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, I think we should pay for it for both the Atlantic, as well as the Indian Ocean, or at least contribute in a major way, because we should have a global system for tsunamis. It actually doesn't cost very much.

We estimate, for the Atlantic, it's about maybe $5 million, for the Indian Ocean, maybe another $15 million. So it wouldn't cost much. And if you had a worldwide system, which was actually recommended by President Bush's U.S. Ocean Commission about three or four months ago, it makes sense for the whole world. The U.S. doesn't have to pay for the whole thing, but it wouldn't cost that much and we certainly could afford it.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second. Isn't there a principle here? Leaving aside the budgetary questions, there are a lot of -- there's a budget shortfall, as you know. We have a got a couple wars going on we're trying to pay for, in addition to a lot of other things we'd like to do at home.

But there are a lot of rich countries in the region. A number of countries that were hit are, in fact, very rich countries, Thailand, for instance, India. They probably have the cash.

PALLONE: Well, I'm not suggesting...

CARLSON: Why -- as a matter of principle, how are you going to tell your constituents why they could pony up money they could use to send their kids to summer camp, but, no, they have to protect Thailand?

PALLONE: Well, I think it makes sense to have it. And I think, if the U.S. ended up paying for the whole thing, I certainly wouldn't have a problem with it, because I think it helps us, too, to have this worldwide system.

But there's no problem getting other countries to share the burden. I'm not opposed to that. But the amount of money is really rather minuscule when you think about the amount of money that we spend on other things. So, if you're talking $20 million or $30 million to have a worldwide system that we had to pay for, I think, in the long run, it would help us as well, because we have interests all over the world, military interests, economic interests, whatever.

BEGALA: Congressman, well, good to see you again. Happy new year.


BEGALA: Today, it's really difficult even for a Bush critic to kick about what the president is doing as of today.

Your governor, Jeb Bush, vast experience with disasters, we remember from the 2000 election, is in the region, president's personal emissary, a fine choice. Our secretary of state is there, now two former presidents. And today the president, I think wisely and wonderfully, went to the embassies of the affected countries and signed public books expressing condolences on behalf of us all.

But it was just last week that his aides, clearly reflecting the president's views, I believe, were mocking that sort of expression. And here's what they said to "The Washington Post." Many Bush aides believe President Clinton, his predecessor, was too quick to head for the cameras and hold forth on tragedies with his trademark empathy -- quote -- "'Actions speak louder than words,' a top Bush aide said, describing the president's view of his appropriate role."

Why do you suppose the president has flip-flopped now and using words as well as actions?

FOLEY: I don't think he's flip-flopped.

BEGALA: Really?

FOLEY: I will tell you, as a Floridian, we had four hurricanes. BEGALA: Right.

FOLEY: He was in Punta Gorda three days after the hurricane. He was accused of being there too quickly, too politically.

BEGALA: So, the difference is, Sri Lanka doesn't have any electoral votes.


FOLEY: No, I sense that people are...


FOLEY: No, this time, it's about gotcha. It's not about doing the right thin. He was trying to assess the situation. I don't agree with their aides.

I think President Clinton is empathetic, as he demonstrated today. And I believe George Bush is as well. We shouldn't be totalling up whether we're a generous nation by the money we send. It should be our collective response. And I think, in this instance, America shines brighter than any other nation.

BEGALA: I do agree we need both. And so I guess you agree with me the president was wise to reject the counsel, then, of aides who said that it's simply about just money and actions, not public expressions, the way that now the governor of Florida is doing, the president is doing, and his...


FOLEY: When he came to Florida and hugged people who had lost their home, it showed a tremendous sense of compassion.


FOLEY: It was genuine. The people there on the ground, Democrats and Republicans, looked at President Bush in a whole different light. They saw a man that cared about their community. He's doing the same thing now for the region and I think he's demonstrating an important presidential attribute, which is caring for humanity, not about scorecards, not about how quick you respond.



BEGALA: So you're right and his aides are wrong. I agree with that.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Pallone, you heard Democrats say last week that because of the president's profound insensitivity, we might become unpopular in the Muslim world. They loved us until Bush didn't cry on television last week. Let's take a quick look, because I think it's interesting and instructive, to the response from the Muslim world to the devastation in these heavily Muslim countries. I want to put up a list of the pledges from significant Muslim countries. Iran pledged $627,000. I know people in cable television who make more than that.

Saudi Arabia, $10 million. That's like an afternoon shopping in Paris for a member the Saudi royal family. Qatar, $10 million, UAE 2.6, Kuwait, $2 million, Libya, $2 million, Turkey, $1.25 million.

It's embarrassing, but it's also interesting. What does that tell you?

PALLONE: Well, I'm not going to comment on the stinginess of Muslim countries. But I do...

CARLSON: Why not?

PALLONE: Well, because I'm not particularly fond of some of the countries that you put up there, frankly.

But I would say this, and that is I think that the president did wait too long. I mean, President Bush waited for three days before he even made a public announcement. And the initial amount of money he pledged was very stingy, I thought, compared to what was really needed.

But, I mean, as Paul said, now he's certainly out there saying he wants to provide whatever public assistance is necessary.

CARLSON: But wait a second.

PALLONE: And I think he's doing a good job now.


PALLONE: But the initial reaction was definitely not much.

CARLSON: OK, but there was a very specific critique, a very specific critique, by the usual no-nothings. And it was that, again, the Muslim world will resent us because of our lack of compassion, because we didn't pony up enough money.

PALLONE: Well, I don't think we should see it that way. I think we should see it that...


CARLSON: That's a ludicrous critique, isn't it? Disown your fellow Democrats.


PALLONE: As far as these Muslim countries are concerned, I mean, I'm surprised that some of them are putting up any money, to be honest. But the bottom line is that we shouldn't look at this as a Muslim, Christian, Hindu thing. This is aid that we have to provide, regardless of that. And I think the more that the U.S. does, the more goodwill we show, the more it shows that we're not looking at things based on whether the country is Muslim or whatever. And that's how I would look at it.


BEGALA: Well, let me take it from the other side, because I think the point that Tucker thinks is silly I think is actually very wise. It's a smart point.

And that is this. The very stinginess of them -- and they are stingy, in my view -- of the Muslim nations who are rich and not ponying up creates an opportunity for America, doesn't it, does it not? And let me take one of these critic and actually let him speak in his own words, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, a senior member of the U.S. Senate.

Here's what he had to say: "Here's the political opportunity that exists with the response to the tragedy, to reach out to the Muslim world and let them know that our humanitarian instincts are across the board, that the whole world is our concern, not just the non-Muslim world, and that we view the Muslim world as an essential part of the whole world community, and that we're going to seek to lead that community toward a safer, more secure world."

Isn't there an enormous opportunity here for America to show its true generosity to people who we are trying -- whose hearts and minds we're trying to win?

FOLEY: Well, I think we're showing it. We're demonstrating it. And it does help.

But we didn't figure out to help Haiti because they're African- Americans. We did it because they're people. And we care about those people. It's very difficult when we sit there and quantify, oh, we're going to do this as a gesture to the Muslims. I think it's about our place in the world.

And I think Carl Levin is right. If it does help reconstruct some of the damage done by Iraq, then all the better. But, right now, there's 150,000 people dead. I don't think they're thinking of Muslim, Jewish or Christianity. They're thinking about relief.

BEGALA: Right. But isn't it important, though, that the United States -- we did. We spent -- you all spent $988 million of our money to help Central America in 19 -- in -- just a few years ago, when they were devastated, almost $1 billion.

Isn't it important to go to a part of the world, though, that, unlike Central America, is not particularly friendly to us and to show that? Don't you think that that -- that that is a real opportunity? And, by the way, it wouldn't kill me if, at some proper point, our president pointed out that Osama bin Laden sits on a vast fortune and hasn't given a plug nickel to any of these people who are suffering, many of whom are Muslims.


FOLEY: Amen.

BEGALA: And the truth is, America is much better to the Muslim world than bin Laden and his allies, right?


FOLEY: And I think that Tucker's point, when you put a scorecard together, it's embarrassing to see fellow Muslims ignoring the plight of fellow Muslims.

So I think there's a lot that can be achieved here. The most important, though, is restoring as best we can the quality of life of those nations, proper burials, cleaning up the debris. There's a lot of work ahead of us. And that's why I hate when we sit there and say, oh, he was late announcing from Crawford, Texas, his sorrow.

Want I want him to do as president is enunciate where we're going from here and how we're going to fix the problem.

CARLSON: Now, Mr. Pallone, quickly, there's an assumption in this case, as in every other, among liberals that, if government doesn't do it, it won't get done.

And yet, in the first four days, the American Red Cross collected $29 million in aid for tsunami victims.


CARLSON: Pfizer sent it looks like $35 million, I think from your home state, Coca-Cola $10 million, Exxon $5 million, Citigroup $3 million. I could go on down the list from American industry ponying up tons of dough and ordinary Americans doing the same.

Don't you think you ought to rethink the assumption that, if the federal government is not stepping in, no one will?

PALLONE: I think it has to be both. As you mentioned, already, I believe, more Americans have donated -- they've donated more than the $350 million the president has actually proposed. And that will continue.

I mean, the outpouring from my district, in my district, there are a lot of Indian-Americans, Sri Lankan Americans, South Asians of every country there, actually. And the outpouring has been unbelievable, the amount of money. But I think you need both. And we should continue. As was said before, the bottom line is...


PALLONE: ... this is going to go on for a number of years. You're talking about housing. You're talking about all kinds of assistance beyond the initial humanitarian assistance. CARLSON: So the Saudis have a big job to do on...


PALLONE: Yes, well, don't expect much.

CARLSON: All right, we're going to take a quick break.

Next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask, why was Jimmy Carter missing today? Where is former President Carter? And just ahead, what is the U.S. military doing to respond to the tsunami disaster? Wolf Blitzer will have that story.

We'll be right back.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, we're monitoring new developments in the tsunami disaster. The Pentagon is sending ships, planes and troops to help with the relief efforts. We'll talk with former Defense Secretary William Cohen about the military and political implications.

Sometimes, the hardest part of living through a disaster is surviving guilt. We'll find out how one New York man is trying to cope.

And disaster relief efforts in Indonesia. Even the elephants are helping out.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on a special edition of "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": "The Tsunami Disaster."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: Welcome back.

It's time or "Rapid Fire," where the questions come almost as fast as U.S. aid dollars are headed to the relief effort, but with no delay.

We're talking with Congressman Frank Pallone. He's a Democrat from New Jersey. And also Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida.

BEGALA: Congressman Foley, Sandra Bullock, the actress, has given $1 million cash of her own money. Now, that's Hollywood setting a good example. Why doesn't a wealthy Republican like, say, Dick Cheney match that and put up $1 million? He's got more money than Sandra Bullock.


FOLEY: He's probably waiting for his blockbuster release. I'm not sure. He may give generously himself. I'm certain he will.

CARLSON: Mr. Pallone, I was going to ask you about Jimmy Carter and where he's been. But, in the commercial break, Mr. Foley brought up a point that was so brilliant, I have to throw it to you.

John Kerry has something like $24 million left over in his campaign, not his. He's hoarding it for getting defeated again in 2008.



CARLSON: If he's a man of compassion, why doesn't he give this money to tsunami victims?

PALLONE: Well, I think he could some of it. It's a good idea.

CARLSON: How about all of it? How about all of it?

PALLONE: You'll have to ask him about all of it, but I think it would be nice if he made a donation, sure.

BEGALA: He's unlikely to come on the show.


BEGALA: He'll be back on. He used to come on a lot.

Charlie Cook, the respected independent political analyst, said this recently: "The pattern we tend to see is, the administration quite often ends up doing the right thing, even though their initial judgments and first reactions are often wrong and short-sighted." Do you agree?

FOLEY: Well, I think we can all make mistakes. I believe timing is everything in this business. But if you're a little off time, you're criticized.

Again, I keep going to the fact that what he's doing now should be viewed as the gesture of America, not whether we rang the bell at the right time. We will always get it wrong if it's about hitting a target, like golf or tennis. This is human emotion. This requires people to think a little bit.


FOLEY: Was the president in Crawford saying, I don't want to intrude; I don't want to get up to the microphone and sound like I'm the only one in the world that cares?

If we were late, then U.N. is delayed, because Kofi Annan didn't get up for four days.



BEGALA: That will have to be the last word.

CARLSON: Good point, though.

BEGALA: Congressman Mark Foley, Republican from Florida, good to see you again.

FOLEY: Thanks. Thanks.

BEGALA: Congressman Frank Pallone, Democrat from New Jersey.


BEGALA: Thank you both for a civil discussion.

Well, some of Hollywood's biggest stars are digging in to join relief efforts in the regions devastated by the tsunamis. We'll show you who they are right after the break.


BEGALA: Well, some Hollywood heavyweights are pitching in to help the relief efforts in tsunami-stricken Southern Asia, elephants, that is. They gained their fame as actors in Oliver Stone's movie "Alexander." They're being put to work in Indonesia and Thailand removing debris in devastated areas that are to remote to be reached by heavy equipment.

So, there's some Hollywood...


BEGALA: ... right there.

CARLSON: Well, at least they're doing something useful.

BEGALA: They are.

And, by the way, I can't let this day go by without congratulating the Texas Longhorns.


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