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109th Congress in Session

Aired January 4, 2005 - 16:30   ET


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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the meeting of the 109th Congress of the United States, the House will be in order.

ANNOUNCER: In the CROSSFIRE, Congress is back and the road ahead is filled with challenges. No. 1 on the priority list, tsunami relief.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: We can't just vote for money or think it's going to be over with in a week or a month. It's going to take months and months and years in this relief recovery and reconstruction.

ANNOUNCER: Also ahead, the battle over Social Security and the debate over the future role of the U.S. in Iraq. Will this new Republican Congress be an ally or an obstacle for President Bush?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm ready to work to you. And there's no doubt in my mind we can accomplish big things for our country.



ANNOUNCER: Live from the Georgia Washington University, James Carville and Tucker Carlson.



The 109th session of the U.S. Congress convened for the first time today, and already sparks are flying over President Bush's plans for Social Security. Yet another contentious issue of course is the war in Iraq, but aid to tsunami victims in South Asia is the unexpected top priority right now.

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST: The Republicans may be in charge, but that doesn't mean Congress will give the president a free ride. They might again. But, first, we begin, as always, with the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Oh, my goodness, it was going to be a grand adventure and it wasn't going to cost anything. Remember Paul Wolfowitz on March 27, 2003? He said -- and I quote -- "There's a lot of money to pay for Iraq reconstruction. It doesn't have to be U.S. taxpayer money." Well, even a bit more candid was the USAID administrator Andrew Natsios, who actually had the courage to put a price tag on it. He said Iraq would cost $1.7 billion.

Well, the Bush administration turned out to be slightly off, so far, to the tune of $198.3 billion, this according to Republican congressional sources, as reported in today's "USA Today." Just to put that in perspective, let's say someone tried to sell you a house and said it cost $100,000 and it ended up costing $10 million instead. What the heck, you're just trying to be a green eyeshade person.

CARLSON: Wait a second, James. As far as I understand, ever since 9/11, liberals have said we need to pump more money into the Islamic world. They attacked us. We need to pay them off to keep them from doing it again.

I would think you would be completely in favor of spending $200 billion to make the Muslim world like us. What's wrong with that?

CARVILLE: We're spending $200 billion in Iraq. We were told we wouldn't have to spend anything. It would be this grand democracy there.


CARVILLE: We were told -- this was well after 9/11. This had nothing to do with 9/11.



CARLSON: Why is it not a good thing? I think you would be excited.

CARVILLE: It has nothing to do with 9/11. They were saying it was going to be $1.7 billion. Wolfowitz said we're going to make money over there. It would be a regular cash register.



CARLSON: I thought by definition you were into pouring money down rat holes.

CARVILLE: That's it, man.

(APPLAUSE) CARLSON: Well, it's the first week of January after a presidential election. And do you know what that means? That's right. The race to the White House 2008 has already begun.

At least, it has for those with nothing else to do. First on that list is John Edwards, who not only lost the presidency in November, but also his day job in the U.S. Senate. So, according to today's "Hotline," rather than take a vacation, like a normal person, Edwards is running for president yet again. He's been making calls to New Hampshire state senators, sending Christmas cards to political activists.

In February, he will be in Manchester speaking to the state's Democratic Party. A seat can cost you 100 bucks. But for $500, you can meet the man himself. As of this afternoon -- and we checked -- the Web site was still advising visitors to buy tickets now, underlined -- quote -- "before the holiday rush."

You get the sense that the demand outstrips the supply. Of course, if you're willing to wait two years and you live in New Hampshire, you can have John Edwards himself over to dinner at your house for free and watch him lose again up close.


CARVILLE: Well, actually, just to set the record straight, he didn't lose his Senate seat. He didn't run for reelection.


CARLSON: I didn't say he was defeated.

CARVILLE: Ladies and gentlemen, a news flash. A politician has gone to speak to a fund-raising dinner New Hampshire. OK. Fine.

CARLSON: But why -- he's not from there. He's not from New Hampshire, James.

CARVILLE: Because he wants to run for president. So what?

CARLSON: But it's January of 2005.

CARVILLE: John Edwards ran for president before.


CARVILLE: Look, this is America.


CARVILLE: What do you want, to limit the time that you can campaign?

CARLSON: No, I don't. Don't you think he should do something constructive with his life? Come on.

CARVILLE: He's doing a lot constructive for his life. I'll tell you what. He's made a lot of money for his clients.

CARLSON: He's sued a lot of people.

CARVILLE: How many times have I been called a demagogue or willing to say anything to win an election or falsely accusing the Republicans of things they have no intention of doing? What Democrat hasn't been accused of saying the Republicans are going to cut Social Security benefits, knowing they're going to do no such thing?

Or, as one former Republican politician put it, there you go again. I used to feel so terrible about being a demagogue, unjustly and unfairly attacking Republicans for having for any designs whatsoever on cutting Social Security benefits on hardworking Americans. And I'll just choose to ignore the story in this morning's "Washington Post" which says -- quote -- "The Bush administration has signaled that it will propose changing the formula that sets initial Social Security benefit levels, cutting promised benefits nearly a third in the coming decades, according to several Republicans close to the White House."

Gee, I know Bush would never cut anybody's Social Security benefits. He's a Christian, compassionate. And I apologize for saying any such thing.


CARLSON: Yes. I agree that he's less Christian for wanting to bring Social Security benefits in line with reality. And, in fact, it's not cutting benefits, as you know, to index them to inflation, James.


CARLSON: So what is your...


CARLSON: What is your plan?

CARVILLE: Yes, I tell you what may plan is, is, we don't have a crisis in Social Security. Don't have a crisis.


CARVILLE: First, plan one, quit lying.

CARLSON: All right.

Well, former CROSSFIRE co-host Michael Kinsley once famously described Al Gore as -- quote -- "an old person's idea of a young person," which is another way of saying dorky, awkward and desperately anxious to be cool. It was an accurate description and it was one of the main reasons Gore lost four years ago.

Almost no one could imagine wanting to hang out with him. It's also the main reason Gore's fledging cable television network, called Indy TV, probably doomed to fail. According to this morning's "Washington Post," Gore's producers are now batting around concepts for new shows. Among them, a program called "That's F'ed Up," where ordinary citizens will be invited to complain on camera on about things they don't like.

The assumption apparently is that whining will make for good ratings. And yet maybe saddest of all is a show called "State of the Union," where participants will be asked to pretend to give a speech to a joint session of Congress, just like the State of the Union address, except not real. Yes, that's Al Gore's idea of what young people want to watch on television. Don't turn that dial and don't invest in the network.

CARVILLE: So, in other words, we have a television network that's trying to think of ideas for new and better programming. Gee, you never do that at CNN.

CARLSON: Oh, come on, James!


CARVILLE: A politician is giving a speech to a fund-raiser and a television network is trying to think of new innovative programing.



CARVILLE: You know what? Ladies and gentlemen, you miss anything if you're not here at 4:30 listening to Tucker Carlson.

CARLSON: The notion...


CARVILLE: This is news. This is news.

CARLSON: The notion that Al Gore has his finger on the beating pulse of America...

CARVILLE: Politician gives speech. Network tries to think of new programming. And, boy, you ain't going to get that on any other network, I promise you.


CARVILLE: From other any other person than tit-tat Tucker....


CARLSON: Thank you, James. This, by the way, is the last day James and I are on television together. I want you to know that I'm enjoying every moment of it.

Well, Congress is back and there are plenty of political hurdles to tackle, Social Security reform, a war in Iraq among many of them. We'll be debating each of them when we return, but topping the list, finding the dollars to pay for relief efforts in 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.



CARVILLE: The Republican-dominated 109th session of Congress is under way and it didn't take long for the war of words to erupt over Social Security. Another hot issue, the war in Iraq. The Defense Department announced today that the number of American service members wounded in Iraq is now more than 110,000. But the top priority is providing aid to tsunami victims in South Asia.

Joining us on Capitol Hill to discuss these issues and more are Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and his Republican counterpart, Congressman Peter King of New York.



CARLSON: Congressman Emanuel, thank a lot for joining us.

So, 9/11 happened. The United States is attacked by Muslim extremists. Ever since then, liberals have argued we need to send more money, more aid to the Muslim world to keep them from doing it again. You heard the exact same argument in the wake of the tsunami last week. The United States needs to send more money because a lot of the victims were Muslims. They'll hate us unless we send more money.

You've heard no criticism, however, from liberals of the Arab world, from Arab countries, Muslim countries that have been incredibly stingy in the amounts they have pledged to tsunami victims. Why is that?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: Well, I don't know about you, Tucker. I haven't heard criticism from anybody.

I think, first of all, let me say this. We finally stepped up and showed the world the type of generosity and heart we have in this country and the leadership we're going to show that, when you're in pain and you are suffering, we're going to help you, especially from a national disaster, as we've seen. And I commend the president.

And I think you and I think Peter would agree with this. You're going to have bipartisan support out of both houses and both chambers to get moving on our aid. And I think the world will see the generosity of every American and America as a united.


EMANUEL: Second is, I would say this. Before you want to be critical of liberals saying that we haven't criticized the Arab world, the Arab world has to step up and they better step up. And I think this is where we start listing the numbers. Everybody will be shamed into performance.

CARLSON: Well, Congressman, I'm a little surprised when you just said -- and maybe I misheard you -- that we're finally showing the world our generosity.

We, I think, we saved the world in World War II. We helped rebuild Europe. We have been, since that time, 60 years, the largest donor in the world. Why is it only now you think the rest of the world is seeing how generous we are?

EMANUEL: Well, Tucker, I think on the -- look, I'm being complimentary of the president. But if you want to -- I think the first days, when we were talking about $15 million, I think that was not the best of America. And I think $350 million and the naval and all the type of military support and infrastructure and every individual American, that is America's best foot forward. And I'm glad the president and every American individually is leading on this.

CARVILLE: Congressman, certainly Congressman Emanuel -- we want to be as helpful as we can be. We've given I think like $600 billion for a drug benefit. We've got another $200 billion now we're into Iraq. There's another $100 billion appropriate coming there. We have $2 trillion coming up for transition costs in Social Security. We have $350 million I think justifiably going to aid to tsunami victims.

Are there some other things that we can think of to spend some more money on while we've got this going? Can't we pony up somewhere else on something?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: James, I don't know really where you're coming from.

The fact is, we're at war. And whether you support the war or not, we have to support our troops who are there. As far as the tsunami, this is a terrible international calamity. The United States, as always, is stepping forward. And I really want to tell you, Rahm and I are on the same page on this. This is too important to make partisan politics out of it.

The American people will do what has to be done, the way we've always done. I think it's important that we do stand together and that we do show the world the tremendous leadership we have. And I really commend President Clinton yesterday for standing with President Bush. And I would have said the same thing if John Kerry or Al Gore were the president.

In times like this, it's really important for Americans to come together.

CARVILLE: I guess what I'm saying here -- and, certainly, everybody -- and I'm glad to see President Clinton and President Bush are doing this. And I'm all for (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

How much money are we willing to spend in Iraq, say, on this? We were told it was going to cost -- I pointed out -- $1.7 billion. It's now $200 billion. Are you willing to go to, say, $600 billion?

KING: Let me just say, I am willing to spend what has to be spent until the mission is completed, because the cost of failure is far more than whatever money we spend. We can agree or disagree about whether or not we should have gone there. I think we should have.

But the fact is, we are there now. And for the United States to pull out too soon will only bring about a greater calamity in the future, costing more money, costing more American lives. I think it's important that we have a forward vision and get the job done, James.

CARLSON: Now, Congressman Emanuel, again, from the beginning of this tsunami disaster, the argument has been, really from both sides, mostly from Democrats. Some Republicans, though, have argued that America's public relations, that the way people see America depends on how much money we give.

Now, as James just pointed out, we are spending $200 billion in Iraq, not just for weapons, but to rebuild the country, to bring democracy from the country. We're getting almost nothing out of it. It's essentially aid. And yet we're not beloved by the Iraqi people, nor by the Arab people generally, nor by Muslims around the world. In other words, where is the evidence that spending money on other people in other countries makes them like us?

EMANUEL: Well, Tucker, how about this? Let's take the opposite theory and see if, like, what if during the tsunami we spent nothing? How do you think America would be perceived? So I think that, you know, if you want to inverse that, No. 1.

No. 2 is, let me say this, is, I believe America and Americans are actually respected around the world. People want to, you know, use our consumer goods. They think of our culture and identify with it. We have, I think, one of the most important things from our diplomatic and international front. We have over the last four years lost our standing.

And it's not just spending money. You're right. It's how you spend it, where you spend it, how you are a member of the community. And it's all those things. I do think, at least in this situation, spending the money to help people who are literally on -- who have had their lives washed away is the right -- is a gesture that you understand you are part of the international community and family.


EMANUEL: And if you didn't want to do it, you could try the opposite and see if you get a better result. I think you would know what would happen, Tucker.

BUCHANAN: But hold on. Actually, actually, no, I don't, because I can think of a number of countries. I'll just start with one, say, Switzerland, not a great international donor. Switzerland does not spend a lot of money helping citizens of other countries. People don't hate Switzerland.


CARLSON: Wait. Hold on. Hold on a second.


EMANUEL: Tucker, the United States -- in all due respect, in all due respect to your insights on foreign policy, the United States does not want to be measured against Switzerland on being the leader of the world.

CARLSON: My point, Congressman, my point, Congressman, is a very simple one.


EMANUEL: I appreciate your insights on foreign policy.

CARLSON: Hold on. You have not responded to my essential question.

EMANUEL: That's the goal here.

CARLSON: And it is, where is the evidence -- where is the evidence for the assumption you seem to have that spending money makes us more popular? There's no evidence to support that, yet you seem to make your decisions based on it.

EMANUEL: No, what I just said is, in this case, our resources and our leadership are essential.

And America, if we were absent from that, would set ourselves farther back. And I think Peter and I think others would normally be, regardless of party or philosophic point, that part of our leadership is people understand that we have skin in the game as an international community.

This is a human tragedy at a level nobody has seen in over 100 years. And we have to show the leadership we have both from a cultural, economic, military, and moral level. And when you're doing all that, America's best foot is forward and its leadership is taken for granted -- is taken and respected for what we can do.

CARVILLE: Congressman, I love you to disagree with my -- suppose that we don't get any goodwill for this, but we help tens of millions of wretched people who have been devastated by this. Isn't there just some benefit here to helping people? Hopefully, we'll get some credit for doing this, but don't you -- I think we could all agree that these people are suffering horribly over there and in need of some kind of aid.

KING: James, without being overly simplistic, the fact is, if you do the right thing, it usually brings about good results. And the fact is, this is the right thing to do.

As Rahm said, we're talking about showing leadership. We're talking about doing the right thing. I think, in the long run, it's definitely going to help us in the Muslim world. The fact is, it's still the right thing to do. And I would just prefer to do it. This is not a situation where we -- as human beings, we can afford to step back. And as politicians and diplomats, we can't afford to step back.


CARVILLE: Let me make a point here to Tucker.

EMANUEL: One thing, though, on this point is that, if we do the right thing, all the politics will take care of itself. This is a case of do the right thing.


CARLSON: That's simply not true, though, Congressman. Doing the right thing does not always bring about the desired political benefit, as you know. That's just not true.

EMANUEL: On this one, I would bet.

KING: Maybe it will in this case.


CARVILLE: Let me go back here to something I think that my colleague did say that made some sense is, it does seem like that we could put some pressure on these wealthy Arab oil nations that have gazillions of dollars in revenue, not in lieu of what we're doing. But the Saudis, you know, the Kuwaitis or the United Arab Emirates or something like that, it looks like they could sure get a little skin in this game, too.

And they are their fellow Muslims that -- a lot of people that have been devastated by this. Of course, a lot are Hindus, but a lot of them are Muslims, too. And it looks like we could put some -- don't you think they out to get in here, too?

EMANUEL: Yes. I think every day we should list what countries around the world are doing. And I think this is a case where -- not only quiet diplomacy, but public diplomacy. And I think shame would be a good factor. I have no problem with that.

CARLSON: All right, we're going to -- on that note...

KING: James, I agree with that completely. The fact is, we should put pressure on all the Arab countries and all the countries of the world, especially the Arab countries. They have a particular obligation. And so far, they have not lived up to it.

CARLSON: Amen. Good for you. I like that.

We're going to take a quick break. Next, in "Rapid Fire," we'll ask why John Kerry doesn't give his money, all the leftover funds he has from his losing campaign, to the tsunami relief effort. If he cared, he would.

And would the U.S. able to hand a disaster the size of Asia's tsunamis if they were to strike here? Wolf Blitzer has some answers just ahead.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, with the tsunami death count topping 155,000, U.S. Marines land in Sri Lanka to distribute badly- needed emergency supplies.

It may be unlikely, but if a tsunami were to strike the United States, America might not be prepared. We'll tell you why.

And a heartbreaking story from Thailand. Some of the children who survived the tsunami may have fallen prey to sex traffickers.

All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."

Now back to CROSSFIRE.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Time now for "Rapid Fire," where our questions come even faster as Democrats can blame the president for the tsunami in South Asia.

We're talking with Democrat Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois and with him Republican Congressman Peter King of New York.

CARVILLE: Hey, Congressman King, everybody admits that the transition cost are going to be $2 trillion for the president's Social Security plan. Do you or any fellow of your Republicans have any concerns that this addition to the deficit could cause interest rates to go up or further sink into the dollar against the yen or the euro?

KING: Yes, sure, that has to be a concern. The idea has to be to make the point and hopefully prove the point that that investment now is worth making, and over the course of the next 10, 15, 20 years, that will more than pay itself. That $2 or $3 trillion will pay itself off.

Now, whether or not that argument can be made, I don't know. Rahm and I have been discussing it. This is something that has to really be debated. I hope we can reach out and get bipartisan support.

CARLSON: Congressman Emanuel, John Kerry has something like, I think, more than $20 million left in his campaign treasury after his losing bid. He apparently wants to waste that money on yet another losing bid for president four years from now. Wouldn't it be more compassionate to send that money to tsunami victims? And will you suggest that to him and push him to do the right thing and do that?

EMANUEL: Well, first of all, Tucker, if I'm not mistaken, I think he asked his donors to support the USO. And, you know, John Kerry didn't listen to my advice in the campaign on what I think he should do. And after the election...

CARLSON: I'm not talking about his donors. I'm talking about him, his money.


CARLSON: Why shouldn't he give his money...


EMANUEL: So, he should do it. Well, why don't you -- listen, before you leave CNN, why don't you invite him on and ask him that question?

CARLSON: We're trying. He won't come.

CARVILLE: Congressman King, reports have it that there have been tens of millions of dollars being spent on inaugural parties, champagne, caviar, wining and dining, tens of thousands of dollars.


CARVILLE: Do you think it would be a good idea if they just gave that money to the tsunami victims and just called all of these highfalutin parties off?

KING: No, I think the president, in a bipartisan way, is trying to raise and do whatever we can to help the tsunami victims. I think a celebration of democracy is worth the expense. We are the greatest democracy in the world. I think, no matter who the president is, it's important to celebrate that moment.



CARVILLE: Thank you, sir.

CARLSON: Congressman Pete King of New York, Congressman Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, two of our favorite guests, thank you very much.



CARVILLE: Thank you.

KING: Good luck, Tucker. CARLSON: Thank you.

Next, you won't believe which former president is being targeted by a left-wing animal rights group and who deserves it.


CARLSON: Welcome back.

Once again, former President Jimmy Carter is in hot water over his fishing exploits. You may recall his bout with a so-called killer rabbit while fishing in Georgia some years ago during a stint in the White House. Now the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is under attack from the left-wing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA.

The animal rights group is urging President Carter to give up the sport of fishing on grounds that it is inconsistent with his humanitarian efforts. In a letter, PETA asks him to -- quote -- "grant fish peace by leaving them in the water where they belong, because, after all, fish have feelings."


CARVILLE: Where are you going to get your essential omega-3 oils from?

From the left, James Carville. That's it for CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow, Wednesday, for yet more CROSSFIRE.

Fish don't have feelings. Have a great night.

Stay tuned for Wolf Blitzer. See you then.



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