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CNN CROSSFIRE

Democrats Blast Condoleezza Rice

Aired January 25, 2005 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: debate right now in the Senate, as Democrats use Condoleezza Rice's confirmation to blast President Bush over the war in Iraq.

The cost of the war is about to go up, way up. Sources say the Bush administration will ask for another $80 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And a pass-over for "The Passion of Christ," no best picture Oscar nod for Mel Gibson's controversial box office hit. Is it because Hollywood is too liberal?

Today on CROSSFIRE.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. Debate has actually broken out on the floor of the United States Senate. Democrats are finally showing some guts, calling America's policy in Iraq a catastrophic failure and asking why one of the architects of that catastrophe, Condoleezza Rice, should be named secretary of state.

Oh, and President Bush wants another $80 billion of your money for his excellent adventure in Iraq.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: The Democrats who are now acting so outraged are the very same ones who supported the war, until they decided an anti-war stand was the best way to take back the White House. Of course, the voters showed them just how wrong they were about that.

Now the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

The latest fit thrown by Senate Democrats is over the revelation of military intelligence units actually reporting directly to the secretary of defense. Some outrage. It comes as the Senate goes on for nine hours attacking secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice because she supports President Bush's foreign policy.

And Senate Democrats are throwing up obstacles and roadblocks against the president's nominees for HHS secretary and attorney general. Democratic Whip Richard Durbin declared, "The honeymoon is over" -- end quote. What honeymoon, Senator? The Democrats have reacted to yet another rejection at the election polls last November by trying to make life as miserable as possible for the reelected Republican president. Do they really think those tactics will work?

BEGALA: Well, I think it's important for Democrats to pitch a fit, when we learn, if "The Washington Post" report over the weekend is true, that the Pentagon is running a secret, clandestine or covert spy unit without congressional authorization, without congressional appropriation, without Congress even knowing.

My goodness, we're supposed to be a nation of laws, not of men. If Donald Rumsfeld wants a secret spy agency, he ought to come to we the people in Congress and get approval for it.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: So I think it's great that Democrats are pitching a fit.

NOVAK: Let me tell you what it was. It was agents in the field, with the knowledge of the CIA, the approval of the CIA. You know, that sort of stuff is supposed to be secret.

BEGALA: But not of the Congress. Anyway, we -- we should do that later in the program.

Well, the Bush administration announced today that the federal budget deficit will be $368 billion this year, and that's not including the $80 billion in additional spending President Bush is requesting to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all, Mr. Bush has spent or is spending nearly $300 billion of your money on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, it's fair to ask, what have we gotten for all that money?

Well, we crushed the Taliban in Afghanistan, which was great and important. We disrupted al Qaeda in that country, also great. But then Mr. Bush got diverted from Afghanistan into Iraq, where there was no major al Qaeda presence, there were no weapons of mass destruction, no threat to America. And so, Afghanistan now is chaotic, with Taliban-like thugs and drug kingpins gaining strength. And Iraq is worse.

Six more American soldiers have died there today. And the Army says 120,000 U.S. troops will remain there at least through 2006. Mission accomplished, indeed.

NOVAK: Let me just correct you, Paul, that the Army didn't say they would remain there. They gave high levels and low levels on what -- how much it will be. I don't believe you'll have that many troops there in 2006. BEGALA: You think there will be more?

(BELL RINGING)

NOVAK: And, as a matter of fact, it's an absolute myth that the war in Iraq has impeded against the operation in Afghanistan. Never been stated by anybody in the military. And you show me one guy in the military who says that and I'll say I'm wrong.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: This afternoon, President George W. Bush met with 24 prominent African-Americans, 14 members of the clergy and 10 leaders in business and nonprofit agencies. Tomorrow, the president meets with the Congressional Black Caucus, 43 members, Democrats all.

It's good for the Republican president to sit down with the black lawmakers, though I'll doubt he'll make much progress with them. But today's meeting with black nonpoliticians may be another matter. The black reverend clergy are particularly attracted to the Bush faith- based aid programs. That terrifies Democratic politicians.

Where would the Democrats be if they're not picking up around 90 percent of the black vote? What if black voters started moving off the Democratic plantation?

BEGALA: Well, it's good the president is talking, but talk is cheap. Here's what the U.S. Commission on Civil rights says about President Bush. He -- quote -- "has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words" -- unquote -- on the subject of civil rights.

He opposes hate crimes legislation. He opposes affirmative action. He hasn't done anything about voting rights, as people in Florida and Ohio get cheated out of their right to vote. So I think there's a lot to talk about on civil rights.

NOVAK: Paul, isn't that lame-duck commission that has now been moved out? These were people named by Clinton and people like that to the commission. Those people are...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I'm sure Bush has cleaned them all out by now. Anybody who speaks out on civil rights, Bush is going to move them out of them. I'm sure.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Thank goodness. I would hope so.

BEGALA: Well, anyway, despite temperatures in the teens, thousands of anti-abortion protesters gathered here in Washington, D.C., yesterday. President Bush, however, couldn't be bothered to attend. He literally phoned in from the toasty warm luxury of Camp David. Well, I've got some troubling news for the pro-lifers. You've been used. You've been had. George W. Bush doesn't need your votes anymore, so he'd like you very much to take your middle-class clothes and your non-Ivy League degrees, get in your minivans and go back to your red states.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: My goodness, Mr. President, these people don't even have trust funds, for crying out loud. No wonder you don't want to hang out with them.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: But, on Saturday, George W. Bush braved a blizzard to spend some quality time this weekend with people he actually does care about, fat cats and plutocrats at the exclusive Alfalfa Club Dinner.

In his phone call to the abortion protesters, Mr. Bush said -- and I quote -- "The essence of civilization is this: The strong have a duty to protect the weak." Indeed, Mr. President. But the strong apparently are a lot more fun to party with.

NOVAK: You know, the president of the Alfalfa Club is a Democrat.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... know that.

NOVAK: Former Senator John Breaux of Tennessee.

BEGALA: Louisiana.

NOVAK: You know, there's a Vernon Jordan party for Alfalfa Club members always put out every year? So, those are your Democrat pals, Paul. So don't demagogue about it.

(BELL RINGING)

BEGALA: They're wealthy plutocrats, all. But Bush would rather be with them. He has used these people on abortion and other issues. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

NOVAK: All right.

Senate -- Senate Democrats are still playing games with Condoleezza's nomination -- Condoleezza Rice's nomination for secretary of state. Just ahead, will this political gamesmanship just turn even more voters against the Democrats?

And when they announced the nominees for the best picture Academy Award, the title that wasn't named sparks a passionate response.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Senate Democrats are actually taking their job seriously, raising tough questions about the mess the president and his foreign policy team have made of Iraq as they debate the president's nomination of Dr. Condoleezza Rice to be America's secretary of state. But Republicans seem to think having the majority means never having to answer tough questions. Well, they will answer them here, as will the Democrats.

In the CROSSFIRE, Texas Republican Congressman John Carter and Florida Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

It's good to see you both.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Mr. Meek, the Democrats seem to not understand what the function of the secretary of the state is. And so, I thought I'd help you out and have Mitch McConnell, who is the majority whip of the Senate, explain it to you. Just listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: It is the role of president to set foreign policy. It's the role of the secretary of state to execute it. The president has chosen her because he values her opinion. But all foreign policy decisions ultimately rest with the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, isn't that exactly correct? I mean, I don't understand what the opposition is. Isn't Senator McConnell correct on that?

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Well, there's been a lot said and a lot has been done in this administration. And Secretary Rice was a part of those decisions being made. And I think that's the big question right now. Will she lead in a way that she should lead as secretary of state and not just agree with the president and administration as it relates to many of the foreign policy questions?

NOVAK: Well, I don't think you understand how this government works, with all due respect.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Do you expect the president to put in Howard Dean or some guy like that who doesn't agree with them? Isn't he going to name a secretary of state who agrees with his policies? MEEK: Well, the good thing about it is that Colin Powell agreed with quite a bit. Secretary Powell agreed with quite a bit of the administration policies.

NOVAK: All of them.

MEEK: But he did question the president and other members of the Cabinet as it relates to foreign policy questions that may very well damage the U.S. image. And it was nothing for Colin Powell to stand up and voice his opinion on many issues.

NOVAK: When did he ever do that? Tell me when he did that. If you can show it to me, I'll apologize to you. You show me where he got up and said, I don't agree with the president.

MEEK: Well, I mean, in Iraq. In Iraq. The question is, you break it...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He never said that. He went to the United Nations.

MEEK: Well, he went to the United Nations and he did regret some of those comments at those United Nations.

NOVAK: What did he say that he regretted?

(CROSSTALK)

MEEK: And bad intelligence that he was given.

BEGALA: He also went to Bob Woodward. And about every other page of Mr. Woodward's book, we have Secretary Powell talking about his disagreements.

But let me -- first, let me welcome you to the CROSSFIRE, Congressman Carter.

REP. JOHN CARTER (R), TEXAS: Well, thank you.

BEGALA: Good to see a fellow Texan here.

Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts today I think brought this issue closer into focus, frankly, better than Senator McConnell, who we just saw from.

Here's Senator Kennedy talking about specifically why Dr. Rice is a poor choice for this important job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Dr. Rice was a key member of the national security team that developed and justified the rationale for war. And it has been a catastrophic failure, a continuing quagmire. In these circumstances, she should not be promoted to secretary of state. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BEGALA: I think that's a good point. The president personally put Dr. Rice in charge of Iraq policy after the statue was toppled, after our military did their job. He put their Dr. Rice in charge. Can you tell me a single thing she has done since she has been in charge of Iraq policy that has merited promotion?

CARTER: Well, first, Mr. Kennedy's premise is wrong. It's not a quagmire and it's not a failed policy.

BEGALA: Oh, it's just great.

CARTER: We are -- we are, we just got back from over there.

BEGALA: We've been greeted as liberators.

CARTER: And we're doing a great job. And we're doing what we always do when we win wars. We're winning the peace.

BEGALA: So, tell me, particularly -- OK, let me give you a few examples. The American government was -- told the American people that we would be greeted as liberators. We were told it would cost about $1 billion to $2 billion. It's already now going to $300 billion.

But you don't think that -- we have had the Abu Ghraib scandal. You don't think that there have been -- that this thing has been a disaster on Dr. Rice's watch and it should be on her head?

CARTER: What's the goal? The goal...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: You tell me. The goal is to protect America. They were never a threat to America.

NOVAK: Why don't you let me him answer?

BEGALA: He asked me a question.

CARTER: The goal is to win the war on terror. That's what the goal is.

And we have taken the war to the enemy. We are fighting on their soil. We are winning the war. And when we were over there, we talked to the troops in the field. We talked to the commanders in the field and we talked to the political people over there. Sure, we got tough struggling and we've had some tough stuff. But right now, we're going to have an election. We're going to move forward.

We are having -- our joint units are getting very operational with the Iraqi military. And, ultimately, we're going to solve this problem. And the problem is fighting terror.

BEGALA: So, things are great. That's the Republican line. CARTER: That's what we're there for.

NOVAK: Mr. Meek, Joe Lieberman, I think you're aware of, he was your party's vice presidential nominee in the year 2000, and I think a very widely respected figure.

I'd like to show you something he said in the Senate debate on Dr. Rice today. Let's listen to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: President Bush in his inaugural address and Dr. Rice in her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week have set down some basic principles which will guide our foreign and defense policy. They are based on values and hopes that have defined America, freedom, opportunity, faith and community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Do you dispute that, Mr. Meek?

MEEK: Well, I mean, the senator is entitled to his opinion, but I'll tell you that the National Intelligence Council said that Iraq has taken the place of Afghanistan of being the new breeding ground for terrorism.

And the real issue now, who's counting 20,000 insurgents in Iraq? We're going to have a parliament that is going to be elected in a few minutes. And they may very well say, we want the U.S. out of Iraq. And we don't have the troops that need to be trained at this particular time. So, I know that we mean well. The troops are working well. We all support the troops. The question is, do we support the decisions that the administration has made thus far and especially the decisions that they're going to make now and now post- election without the accountability measures in place?

BEGALA: Congressman, let me ask you about that. If this new parliament says America should leave, should we?

CARTER: If -- it's my understanding this new parliament's purpose is to write a constitution and elect a permanent parliament.

BEGALA: But what if they say get out?

CARTER: At the point in time we have a permanent government over there and they say, get out, I think that's something we would have to look seriously at getting out, if we acknowledge it is the permanent government and is functioning.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Our troops are there until the Iraqis tell us to leave, not until the Americans?

CARTER: No. BEGALA: Don't our troops work for the president of the United States, not for some goofball in Iraq?

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER: Well, why don't you let -- you asked me the question. If they asked us to leave, would we have to consider leaving? I think we would have to consider leaving.

Now, you turned it around. Yes, we do get to make our own decisions. And it would be a very big mistake to do, as many people are calling for in this town right now, to set a timetable, because a desperate enemy on the verge of defeat will hold on until the timetable is met.

BEGALA: OK, Congressman, hold your seat just a minute. President Bush is asking for more than 80 -- for $80 billion, rather, more in additional funding for the effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, but some on Capitol Hill say we also need more troops in addition to more money. We'll ask our guests about that when CROSSFIRE returns.

And then, can your future airline flights be protected from terrorists' missiles? Wolf Blitzer will have answers in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Coming up at the top of the hour, another pre-election assassination in Iraq, and there's new video of an American hostage. We'll show it to you.

Top Democrats criticizing Condoleezza Rice in a Senate debate. So, we'll talk to one Democrat who supports Rice, Senator Dianne Feinstein.

And is there any way to protect commercial airliners from shoulder-fired missiles? We'll have the results of a disturbing study.

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

Now back to CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE and our debate over the Democrats' delay in the Senate and the latest request to pay for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Still with us are House Armed Services Committee member, Florida Democrat Kendrick Meek, and John Carter, Republican congressman from the great state of Texas.

BEGALA: Congressman Carter, one of the problems Democrats have with Dr. Rice is that she doesn't always tell the truth. This came out in the hearings.

Senator Boxer showed her these two statements. Here's one. July 30, 2003, Dr. Rice said this: "It was a case that said he's trying" -- he being Saddam -- "to acquire -- to reconstitute. He's trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said he was going to be -- it was going to be in the next year."

Oh? President Bush himself did say that. Here's -- Senator Boxer showed this to Dr. Rice. "If the Iraqi regime," President Bush said, "is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."

How do you square those two statements?

CARTER: She said nobody said it and then you discovered that he said that.

BEGALA: That President Bush, in fact, said it, who was the person that she was advising as national security adviser.

CARTER: Well, the only way you square it is that she just didn't catch it.

BEGALA: I wish she would have said that. You have been a judge. If she would have just said that, instead of arguing with Senator Boxer and saying, you're impugning my integrity...

CARTER: I think the argument with Senator Boxer was, Senator Boxer was, to her face, calling her a liar.

BEGALA: I am, too.

CARTER: You're from Texas.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I am, too. I think she doesn't tell the truth, sir.

CARTER: That will get you in trouble. That will get you in a lot of trouble.

(CROSSTALK)

(APPLAUSE)

BEGALA: I believe she doesn't tell the truth. It breaks my heart to say it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARTER: I disagree. You know, she has in some of the heaviest weight circles in this -- under three presidents, and she has proven her mettle.

NOVAK: Mr. Meek, I want to ask you a question I've been asking a lot of Democrats across this table, and they never give me an answer. But I've got confidence you're going to give me a good answer.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: And that is, if you were calling the signals today -- I'm not talking about what happened last week or last month or last year -- what right now would you do differently from what the president of the United States is doing?

MEEK: Make sure that the Iraqi troops are trained, so that our men and women can come home sooner.

NOVAK: Isn't that what he's doing?

(CROSSTALK)

MEEK: Well, let me just say this. The issue about the training, there's a big question. Even when we were in Iraq, we couldn't get a straight answer from how many are trained, because that's going to be the key.

Two steps have to take place, one, Iraqi elections that are taking place on Sunday.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEK: Two, the training of Iraqi security forces. That's fuzzy math. That goes from 4,000 trained to maybe 200,000 trained.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I asked you what you would do differently. You think that the U.S. forces, that you know better how to train the troops than they do?

MEEK: I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is...

NOVAK: Well, what would you do differently?

MEEK: ... that I want to make sure that they are trained.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: What would you do to make sure? What do you do differently than they're doing?

MEEK: Make sure that we bring a bigger coalition in to make sure that we train these troops faster and quicker, so that we can get our men and women back.

NOVAK: You flunked the test. You flunked the test.

MEEK: Let me just say this. No, you don't want to know the answer.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: No, you flunked the test.

(CROSSTALK)

MEEK: ... $80 billion we're going to ask to continue this on, on to '06.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me put you to the test as a fiscal conservative. That $80 billion, what in your district, pork for the farmers in your district, are you willing to give up, so that those troops can have the material that they need?

CARTER: How do you know I got pork for my district?

BEGALA: Because I've been in your district, man. It's full of farmers who are getting nothing but federal dole. Shouldn't we cut back federal subsidies so our fighting men have the equipment they need?

CARTER: That's Democrat pork.

Seriously...

BEGALA: So you would cut the farm subsidy for your farmers?

CARTER: I take the -- I don't know that it...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: OK.

CARTER: I take the position that that $80 billion, we need.

BEGALA: I agree with that.

NOVAK: That's the last word.

Thank you, Congressman Carter. Congressman Meek, thank you for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Hollywood turns thumbs down on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ." Can the entertainment industry really be that out of touch with middle America?

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

NOVAK: Nominations for the Academy Awards were announced today. Is it possible real politics and Hollywood politics are involved in what movies were considered for the so-called best picture Oscar? Many people of faith were deeply moved by the message in Mel Gibson's hit "The Passion of the Christ." And while the movie got screen nominations for cinematography, makeup and music, it was passed over for best picture consideration.

That might not be too surprising, since many of Hollywood lefties just don't like Gibson's faith. But liberals did love Michael Moore's last propaganda film, his attack on the Bush family, "Fahrenheit 9/11." Well, it didn't get a best picture nomination either. And Moore can't get another best documentary Oscar for this one, because he didn't submit it in that category. Hollywood just takes care of its own.

BEGALA: Well, that's a good point.

Both of these filmmakers, Mel Gibson with his film, Michael Moore with his, inspired us. They challenged us. They angered us. They motivated us. And for both of them to be passed over I think shows you're right. Hollywood takes care of their own. Both of these guys took on the system in Hollywood. They took on the establishment.

And I saw both movies. I suspect you think I liked one and didn't like the other. You would be right. But I think people should see both of them. They're important films. And they both should have been nominated.

NOVAK: Well, I saw "The Passion of the Christ." I thought it was a very moving thing. I don't -- I don't go to left-wing propaganda films, so I didn't see that.

BEGALA: So you just judge it without seeing it.

NOVAK: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: That's fine.

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.

(APPLAUSE)

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