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Gingrich For President?

Aired January 10, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is looking and sounding a lot like a candidate again. He is attacking President Bush's policy in Iraq and he's planning trips to Iowa and New Hampshire. Is Newt Gingrich really thinking about running for president?

And one congressman says President Bush should call off his inauguration parties. We'll ask him why.



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


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. He led the Republican Party to a landslide in 1994, storming the Congress, but within four years, the man who had made history was himself history. Now controversial former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is considering a run for the White House. All I can say is run, Newt, run.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: We'll debate the possibility of, hold your breath, Newt Gingrich for president? And we'll also discuss why Democrats who can't get over the fact that their candidate lost the election now want to rain on President Bush's inauguration.

All that's coming up, but first, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Being CBS means never having to say you're sorry or say you're wrong. An independent investigation of a phony "60 Minutes Wednesday" story about President Bush's military service was released today after weeks of CBS dithering. The network fired four of its executives, but what about CBS News' President Andrew Heyward? He's staying. What about anchor Dan Rather, who vouched for the phony documents? Still a "60 Minutes" correspondent. What about a formal retraction of George W. Bush ducking National Guard service? CBS doesn't want to go that far. The best part, the report claims no anti-Bush bias by the network. I would hate to see how they would treat the president if they were biased.

BEGALA: Well, Bob, forgive me. I haven't seen all the coverage. Is this the Dick Thornburgh report, the former Republican attorney general? I think it's...

NOVAK: You didn't listen to me, as you never do. I just say it is time -- I think they were very soft on their firings and they should have a retraction of the story. That's what I'm saying.

BEGALA: I think they did retract the story. But, more importantly, they did fire people and held them accountable. Why haven't we fired Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz?



BEGALA: And all the people who failed us on the war?

Well, anyway the new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll has precious little good news for President Bush. The president's job approval rating is just 52 percent, only a microscopic improvement over the 51 percent of the vote he earned in November's election. By contrast, President Bill Clinton got 49.2 percent of the vote in November of 1996, but by January of '97, his approval had soared to 62 percent.

So, what has made President Bush swoon instead of zoom? Well, the polls suggest the majority of Americans disapprove of how Mr. Bush is handling such issues as the situation in Iraq and Social Security and health care and immigration. And a whopping two-thirds of all Americans disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of the federal budget deficit.

Now, President Bush deserves credit for a masterful campaign. But with the election over, it is plain that Bush fatigue has already set in. So, I hope his supporters have a heck of a party at the inaugural ball, because the hangover has already started.


NOVAK: You know, Paul, you may have missed it, but we have had an election on all those issues. And the president won. He won decisively.

And, as far as Bill Clinton having 62 percent after he started, after it was learned that he was messing around with an intern, that dropped. And I'll tell another thing, the truth is, that is, he didn't have a war to fight.


BEGALA: It went up to 70 after the Lewinsky thing. So maybe Bush needs a girlfriend. I don't know. But...


NOVAK: In case you had any doubts there was lots of corruption in the United Nations' Iraq oil-for-food program, the U.N. own's audit showed widespread mismanagement, as millions of dollars were squandered. The self-serving U.N. spokesman claimed that these self- audits show that the U.N. is capable of policing itself.

But investigators from five separate U.S. congressional committees say the audits actually provide additional evidence of malfeasance in the U.N. What's more, the independent investigating commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker says the U.N. auditors did not adequately monitor the aid effort. And this is the organization that we're supposed to rely on to administer and distribute tsunami relief.

BEGALA: I think you make good points about the oil-for-food program, but I think that Paul Volcker, a highly respected American who used to chair the Federal Reserve, as you say, shows that the U.N. is policing itself, that this is a, it seems to me, a credible self- analysis, Bob. I just disagree with your conclusion. The fundamental fact is, oil-for-food looks like it was mismanaged. But also they're...

NOVAK: You didn't read where he said that the audits were inadequate?

BEGALA: That the audits themselves. But now he is part -- he's doing this on behalf of the U.N. That's who the U.N. turned to, to police themselves.

NOVAK: The audits -- you ought to bone yourself up on these stories, Paul, because they had separate audits.


NOVAK: And then they go to the commission. He said the audits were inadequate.

BEGALA: I understand. But that's self -- well, anyway, we'll get to that on another show.

Two American soldiers, tragically, were killed and four wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq today. Another soldier and Marine were killed Sunday in unrelated attacks in Iraq. Support for Mr. Bush's war in Iraq is definitely waning here at home. The right-wing's favorite filmmaker, Mel Gibson, is so both bothered by Mr. Bush's war that he offered this praise for the anti-Bush anti-war film "Fahrenheit 9/11."


MEL GIBSON, DIRECTOR: I didn't need to see his film to ask the question, is, what the hell are we doing in Iraq, you know? Because I just don't understand it. No one has bothered to explain to me in a reasonable manner that I can understand and accept why we're there or why we went there, why we're still there.


BEGALA: Well, Mr. President, care to answer Mr. Gibson's question? What the hell are we doing in Iraq?


NOVAK: You know, Paul, let me ask you a question that I don't quite understand. About two or three nights a week that I'm on the program with you, you quote somebody saying we ought to get out of Iraq, we shouldn't be there. But your position is, we should stay there. So, why are you always quoting people who disagree with you?

BEGALA: He didn't say we should get out. He said, what the hell are we doing there? I want to hear the president tell us what the hell we're doing there and what is our strategy for victory.



BEGALA: That's what I want to know. I think we have a right to know that.

NOVAK: Let me explain to you, he is implying we should get out of there. You don't understand that?

BEGALA: He's not implying anything. He said the president -- he's implying the president has not led our country effectively, and he's right about that. So good for Mel Gibson agreeing with Michael Moore.


BEGALA: A rare moment in popular culture.

Well, Newt Gingrich is planning on visiting Iowa and New Hampshire soon, not exactly balmy climates in the dead of winter. So, is the man who wrote the Contract With America thinking about launching a presidential bid? Well, I, for one, certainly hope so, it may be a surprise to learn. We'll debate Newt Gingrich's political future just ahead.

And then later, should President Bush cancel his inaugural parties in light of the casualties in Iraq? We'll talk with one congressman who thinks that is exactly what the president should do.

Stay with us.




NOVAK: A new book from former Speaker of the House of Representative Newt Gingrich is prompting speculation about a possible presidential run in 2008, speculation Gingrich is doing nothing to discourage. But does the former Georgia Republican congressman really have his eye on the Oval Office or is he just trying to sell books?

Joining us are Democratic strategist Julian Epstein and Republican strategist, former Congressman Randy Tate.

BEGALA: It's good to see you again.



RANDY TATE (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: It's good to be back.

BEGALA: Randy, you'll be surprised to learn -- first off, I can't wait to read the book. It just came out, I haven't yet. But Newt Gingrich is a fresh thinker. He's an original thinker. I believe that you and your colleagues would never have taken over the Congress but for Newt. I think he's a brilliant political strategist.

And he says some interesting things in the book that our staff has excerpted for me. Let me read you one about the war in Iraq. He writes in his book -- again, it's called "Winning the Future" -- "We have consistently underestimated how hard rebuilding in Iraq will be and how long the job will take. I have seen no evidence that we know how to defeat the insurgents who fight in Iraq. We still lack the necessary intelligence, communications efforts, and Iraqi military and police units to beat the insurgents."

He sounds like me. He sounds like Michael Moore. He sounds like a critic of the president and the war. And good for him. Is that the way he is going to run for president?

TATE: Look, I think a debate on what has gone well and what has not gone well in this war is a healthy thing.

Newt Gingrich is someone advocated continuing the war on terror and going after Saddam Hussein. So, I think he has some credibility in bringing these issues up. But I think the one thing that Newt can agree on is the fact that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power. The torture rooms and the rape rooms are gone. And on the 30th of January, there is going to be an election in Iraq, where 275 Iraqis, 25 percent or more will be women, will be deciding the fate and the future of that country.

And so we can go and the do the would-have, could-have, should- haves in a cozy studio here at CNN.

BEGALA: And in Newt's book.

TATE: And in Newt's book.

Look, he's -- look, Newt's a big boy and he can defend his positions, but, at the end of the day, Newt was also someone that believed that we should go to this war. I think he has built the credibility to be able to raise issues. And I -- but he also understands that the big goal in this -- and there's speed bumps along the way -- the big goal in this is to free the Iraqi people and we're heading in that direction, I think he would agree.


NOVAK: Julian Epstein, there's a real sarcasm in my colleague, Mr. Begala's remarks, that he wants him to run, because he thinks he'd be a lousy candidate.


NOVAK: But I want to quote from you that eminent political philosopher and observer Bill Clinton. In his book "My Life," page 631, he said, "Gingrich had proven to be a better politician than I was." He's a pretty good -- I mean, that's a pretty good assessment. Are you sure that's such a good idea for the Democrats to have Gingrich running?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think President Clinton is particularly charitable. He would even say some nice things about you, Bob, if you gave him a chance.


NOVAK: He hasn't yet.

EPSTEIN: But I think it's kind of like -- I think it's kind of like a couple of retired boxers paying each other their proper respects.

Look, I would tend to agree with Paul, but for when Mr. Gingrich was in the minority and he was a very effective bomb-thrower from the trenches of the minority. Very few people have done as much for the Democratic Party as has Newt Gingrich. We owe much of the reelection in '96, Bill Clinton's reelection, to Newt Gingrich and certainly in '98, during the impeachment hoopla and what was widely perceived as the overreaches of the Gingrich Congress. We picked up...


NOVAK: It's been 10 years of Republican control.

EPSTEIN: We picked -- well, as I said, he did a good job getting the Republicans there. But when he got there, the public didn't care too much either for him or the policies that he was promoting. The Contract With America failed.

The -- he tried to cut Medicare benefits, a whole host. His favorability ratings when he got out of Congress was, what, in the upper 30s, if we're lucky?

TATE: I have to respectfully disagree. You were there. I was there during that time. Nine out of 10 items in the Contract With America passed the House of Representatives. Six out of 10 were signed into law by Bill Clinton.

EPSTEIN: That's what we call fuzzy math.


TATE: Regardless, these are issues that passed. The Republicans have maintained a majority for 10 years. In 1994, they had 17 governors. Now they have a majority of governorships. They control Congress. They have raised numbers.

So it's hard to make the arguments.

EPSTEIN: Well...


TATE: We're standing on the shoulders not just of Newt Gingrich, but putting forward a public policy.

I think if Newt Gingrich has done anything, as Paul said, he's a visionary. He laid out -- he laid out a game plan in 1994. He's laying out a new one in this book of where the Republicans need to go. And the Democrats are struggling with putting forward a positive agenda. Newt Gingrich is laying one out. And there may be good things in there. They may be some things I disagree with. But he's laying something out.

EPSTEIN: Well, I'll contribute to his campaign, gladly.

BEGALA: Randy, one of the critiques that Newt from the minority had of the majority Democrats, who had been office in for decades, was -- and I'm quoting him here -- I don't have it in front of me -- he said, the Democrats have been corrupt in the Lord Acton sense. Lord Acton famously said, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Well, Republicans today in Washington have the closest thing to absolute power that you can have. They control the House. They control the Senate. They control the White House. They surely control the Supreme Court. And one of your colleagues in that remarkable class in 1995 that came to Congress, Zach Wamp from Tennessee, a real reformer, said this the other day to "The Boston Globe."

"The first thing we were asked to do in Congress back in 1995, when you come here, was to raise the ethical standards. And the first thing this new class 10 years later is being asked to do was to lower the standards." Doesn't that suggest that the ethical standards under Republicans have become as bad or worse than they ever were when the Democrats ran it?

TATE: Well, I think with any party, long-term control can lead to absolute power. It can lead to corruption. I think the Republicans and particularly those new members need to hold the leadership and be vigilant in making sure that they don't fall to the same and succumb to the same temptation that a majority of 40 years of Democratic rule had. And I think you will see that the leadership did step back away from making some of those changes. Tom DeLay advocated stepping back from some of those changes. And I think Congress did the right thing.

EPSTEIN: After they got a lot of egg on their face.


TATE: Yes, you know what? A lot of times, after all the other things are exhausted, you do the right thing.



EPSTEIN: But let's be honest about it. They didn't step back from the ethics because they wanted to. They did it because they had to.

TATE: Yes, but at the end of the day, I think we have got to quit sort of the attack politics that were going on, using the Ethics Committee attacking both parties. I think that got out of -- far out of control.

NOVAK: Julian Epstein, let's get away from politics for one second.


NOVAK: And I want to give you a quote out of the book by Newt Gingrich, in case you got the idea that he's turned into some dove because of what Paul said.


NOVAK: He said -- he wrote: "Our liberal national security elites believe that we should defend America only within the framework of an ineffective United Nations and the approval of a skeptical Europe."

Isn't that the problem with the Democrats and, in fact, John Kerry, that the American people just don't want to turn over control of our foreign policy and our military policy to the U.N. and Europe?

EPSTEIN: I think Democrats have to do a better job saying that the single greatest threat to the country right now is Islamic fascism. And I think that Democrats have to do a better job saying that they will bow to nobody in taking -- and give nobody veto power in defending this country.

But when it comes to whether or not we ought to use the apparatuses of the international alliances, Chuck Hagel, Senator McCain, now even Brent Scowcroft last week were speaking about the need to use NATO forces, the need to use a more -- a stronger and -- and -- and United Nations apparatus. The note -- if we had done that from the beginning, I think we would have far fewer problems today. NOVAK: Julian Epstein, that's the last word.

Thank you very much, Randy Tate.


NOVAK: One Democratic congressman says President Bush should cancel his inaugural galas. Is Representative Anthony Weiner just being a partisan party pooper? We'll ask him next.

And right after the break, Wolf Blitzer has the latest on how California is dealing with destructive storms.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, amazing pictures from Banda Aceh, Indonesia. They paint a grim, unforgettable picture of how the tsunami horror unfolded.

More brutal weather hits California. We'll show you a man who barely escaped with his life.

And new developments in the controversy over that CBS News report on President Bush's National Guard service. We'll talk it all over with a frequent critic of the network, former CBS correspondent Bernard Goldberg.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

BEGALA: Thank you, Wolf. We look forward to your report.

Here at CROSSFIRE, some congressional critics are saying it's unseemly for Republicans to be partying in diamonds and furs at the Bush inaugural while our troops in Iraq don't have enough body armor.

One of those critics is Congressman Anthony Weiner. He is a Democrat from New York. He joins us now.

Congressman Weiner, good to see you again, sir.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: How are you doing?


NOVAK: Congressman, there are parties going on all over the country on mayors being inaugurated, governors being inaugurated. But I don't know if you ever get out, but go out on the weekend some time and see all the Americans living it up. Are we supposed to go into an austerity state because of the war?

WEINER: No, but I do think that our government, our -- that Washington, that the president himself, should reflect the sobriety of the times. We now have lost over 1,300 men and women in Iraq. Scores more are injured, what is going on in the tsunami overseas. I just think that these are sober times. And just as Woodrow Wilson and FDR thought it was inappropriate to party during these times, I do so, too.

With the money that we're raising in Washington from private businesses and corporations, we really could be doing a lot more things that I think are much more worthy of this great country.

BEGALA: Congressman, I probably agree with you on 99 percent of the issues, but I'm not with you on this one. And let me answer your Woodrow Wilson and FDR with Abraham Lincoln, who was inaugurated his second time as president in 1865. Obviously, the worst of the Civil War had been over, but we were still fighting that bloody war.

And he had a full inaugural, a parade, an open house at the White House where he shook 6,000 hands. Now, if it's good enough for Lincoln, isn't it good enough for Bush?

WEINER: Well, first, we're talking about the inaugural ball -- balls. By all means, do I think the inaugural ceremony should go on. Obviously, we need to swear in the president again and I see nothing wrong with that.

The question is, is this a time that the images emerging from Washington should be people in black tie and tails drinking champagne from flutes, when we have soldiers in the field who are going to be eating breakfast out of a plastic pouch, who are going to get shot at by those they're trying to protect, and probably don't have the body armor that they need?

It's simply a matter of kind of taking a temperature of what the times are. You know, we in Washington are frequently accused of not really having a good sense for the sobriety of the moments around us. And I think this is a clear case that the president and his team are not really sensing just what a serious time there is.

We have 150,000 troops, over 50 percent of which are soon going to be reservists, who left their families, who went over to Iraq to do our duty. And I really believe that the way you show respect for them is not essentially partying while they're gone.


NOVAK: Congressman, the Citizens Against Government Waste have compiled information that, in your district, the congressional district in New York, New York 9th, over the last four years, earmarked spending -- that is spending where there's no request by the administration, no authorization, no hearings -- it's just put in. It's usually called pork-barrel spending.

The spending in your district that I'm sure you're responsible for is $1,972,750, almost $2 million. Just to be consistent, why don't we say that, instead of having earmarked spending, Anthony Weiner ought to give that money to the boys in Iraq? (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

WEINER: Well, in fact, those two things are very close related. As you know, Bob, I represent the city of New York, which is a target for terror. That money should be much -- we should get a much higher amount of money, actually, to protect or ports, to protect our airports.

I represent a district that is bordered by two airports. Homeland security needs have been very, very high. We in the city of New York have been shortchanged incredibly on homeland security funding. And it's even more outrageous that, rather than raising $40 million for galas, maybe we should raise some money to make cities like New York safer, so that we can pay the police overtime that we have run up since September 11.


BEGALA: Congressman Anthony Weiner, that will have to be the last word. My guess is, you have lost your invitation to one of those inaugural balls. But thank you for joining us in the CROSSFIRE, Congressman.

WEINER: It's my pleasure, gentlemen.

BEGALA: And just ahead, my old buddy James Carville tells the world how to win and shares at least one example where winning isn't always the best outcome.

Stay with us to learn why.


BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

CROSSFIRE co-host James Carville shares some secrets for success in the latest issue of "Men's Journal."

Interviewed for an article entitled "How to Win at Everything," James has this to say about family feuding -- quote -- "Winning an argument with your wife is like winning the war in Iraq. Once you win, you're in even more trouble."



BEGALA: James, of course, is married to former Bush and Cheney aide and former CROSSFIRE co-host on the right Mary Matalin.

The one thing I guess I need to ask James is, after 15 years of marriage for me, I still have never won an argument with my wife.

Bob, I have no idea what it feels like.

NOVAK: I don't have that problem, because my wife is always right.

BEGALA: There you go.


BEGALA: Well, Diane always gets the last two words in all of our fights. And they are yes, dear. It's always what I say to her at the end.

Well, 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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