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Bush on the Road; Clinton Under the Knife

Aired March 10, 2005 - 16:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Terry Holt.

In the CROSSFIRE: Former President Clinton undergoes follow-up surgery. We'll tell you how he's doing.

Social Security Southern style. President Bush takes his retirement road show below the Mason Dixon Line.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a safety net for retirees. There's a hole in the safety net for a younger generation coming up. And that's why I've asked Congress to discuss the issue. I guess it's just my nature.

ANNOUNCER: Will the Deep South buy his pitch?

And Congress wants to hear from baseball players about possible steroid use in the Major Leagues. Is this political grandstanding or a necessary probe of the American pastime?



ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Terry Holt.


PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Hello, everybody. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I am Paul Begala. Bob Novak is on assignment. Well, OK, no, he's actually at the ACC basketball tournament, where he is mourning the loss of his beloved Maryland Terrapins, who fell to Clemson this afternoon 84-72.

Sorry about that, Bob.

But good enough to sit in for Mr. Novak on the right, Republican consultant, former Bush campaign spokesman Terry Holt. Terry...

TERRY HOLT, GUEST CO-HOST: Well, I have always wanted to play your evil twin. So, this is great.


BEGALA: Well, thanks for doing this.

HOLT: All right.

BEGALA: Appreciate that. And we're talking today about President Bush. He hit the road again today, selling his Social Security privatization plan in Kentucky and Alabama. He will be in Tennessee and Louisiana tomorrow. His predecessor, on the other hand, is not going anywhere for a few days. Former President Bill Clinton underwent chest surgery again this morning.

CNN senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now live from New York Presbyterian Hospital with an update on the former president's condition.

Sanjay, how is he?


He's doing very well. Everything went as expected. About four hours, the operation lasted from, 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Very minimal blood loss. Talked to the surgeons a little earlier. They said everything went fine. The only hiccup was, they actually had to open the chest, as opposed to using what they call a thoracoscope.

Here's how they put it.


DR. JOSHUA SONETT, OPERATING SURGEON: What we did is enter the chest cavity with a small videoscope, look in, remove the fluid. At that time we saw it was clear there was a large, thick rind, a rind that was thick enough that would take significant dissection, open dissection, to remove it, safely. Something that could not be handled with a videoscope.


GUPTA: And let me just explain this a little bit to you, because I think it's an important point here.

If you think about the scar tissue, the best way to really think about it is almost like an orange peel, an orange peel sort of enveloping the lower left lobe, in this case, of his lung. It was causing so much compression, that lung just couldn't expand anymore. That's why he was having difficulty breathing and that's why he was having some discomfort. Both those problems now relieved as a result of this operation.

So doing well -- Paul and Terry.

HOLT: Well, Sanjay, this sounds a little bit more complicated than we thought. What kind of recovery time are we looking at here?

GUPTA: You know, they still say three to 10 days in the hospital. My guess is, probably early next week, we're going to hear that he went home. You will remember, he -- he stayed in the hospital only four days after his bypass operation. That was a pretty quick recovery. I imagine he will have a quick one here as well. As far as getting back on the golf course, a lot of people asking about that, that actually might take a little longer, just because, when you are golfing, you actually do put a lot of stretch on some of those same muscles that had to be cut today to do the operation.

But I imagine we'll see him up, walking around, back to business within a couple of weeks -- back to you guys.

BEGALA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you. I'm glad you're on the case. You can cut on me any day. Sanjay Gupta, thanks a lot, friend.

Time now here at CROSSFIRE for the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."

Believe it or not, the Bush administration is prepared to recognize and legitimize the terrorist group Hezbollah as part of the Lebanese government. One Bush administration official admits to "The New York Times" that Hezbollah is in the same league as al Qaeda, but that Mr. Bush is going to recognize them anyway. Hezbollah terrorists murdered 241 Marines while they slept in Beirut, a lot more Americans killed in one morning than Saddam Hussein killed in 20 years.

And now our president is recognizing these animals as legitimate? I think it is just another sign of an incoherent foreign policy on the part of President Bush. But he's in Masked Avenger mode. Mr. Bush threatens evildoers everywhere, except in China or Saudi Arabia or North Korea. Now, inexplicably, he's sided with the hated French in treating Hezbollah terrorists like Thomas Jefferson. Spare me the rah-rah speeches about how you're tough on terrorists, Mr. President. We need a real leader, not a cheerleader.


HOLT: Well, and it's been the president's leadership that has led to elections in Iraq, in Iraq -- in Afghanistan. Egypt is moving toward elections. Lebanon is obviously on the move.

You know, Hezbollah's main enemy in this is not the president of the United States or America.


BEGALA: He should be. He should be their enemy because they are...


HOLT: Hezbollah's real enemy is democracy in the region.

BEGALA: We should be fighting them, not sucking up to them. Shame on George Bush.

(APPLAUSE) HOLT: The Democratic national chairman, Howard Dean, speaks tonight by phone hookup to 15,000 members of MoveOn-dot organization. You might remember them. They're the group that posted Internet ads comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler in the last election.

MoveOn and Howard Dean's Democratic National Committee teaming up for the 2006 election, with MoveOn sponsoring more than 14,000 House parties, this has got to be music to the ears of Michael Moore and the loony left, but I guess all this -- all this free love between Dean and MoveOn must strike a pretty sour chord with Democrats, who would like to win a few elections.

BEGALA: Oh, I think MoveOn does great thing. They're energizing the base. Howard Dean, that's part of our party.


BEGALA: Good for them.

By the way, MoveOn was right about this war in Iraq. They said Saddam Hussein wasn't a threat. He wasn't. They said he didn't have weapons. He didn't. MoveOn had better intelligence than George W. Bush.

HOLT: All that said...


BEGALA: They were right about this war.


HOLT: The Democratic Party relied on this organization to get out the vote, and they failed miserably. I think they probably better go back to maybe making fictional movies about foreign leaders.

BEGALA: See, I disagree. I think one of the great strengths of your campaign with President Bush is that they had grassroots supporters.

HOLT: Getting out the vote.

BEGALA: That got out the vote.

HOLT: Getting out the vote. Absolutely.

BEGALA: These are grassroots supporters. These are not people that we're paying.


HOLT: ... Democratic Party in the last election.

BEGALA: Democrats -- I think Democrats made a mistake in paying people to get out the vote.

HOLT: I would bet Hillary Clinton doesn't like this alliance.

BEGALA: I think -- I think -- well, we'll let her speak for herself.


BEGALA: Hopefully, she'll be in the CROSSFIRE soon enough.

Well, support for President Bush's plan to privatize part of Social Security dropping like a rock in a well. Mr. Bush is nothing, if not a fighter. Next, we will debate his plan and whether it has a chance of being passed in this Congress.

And, speaking of Congress, we'll talk to a member of Congress whose committee has subpoenaed several big-name Major League Baseball players about possible steroid abuse.

Stay with us.

ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.



BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Over a two-day period, President Bush travels to Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana to sell his Social Security privatization plan. Now, what do those states have in common? They're all red. They all voted for George W. Bush in the last election. So, is the fact that President Bush is forced to sell his plan even in Republican strongholds a sign that he's in trouble?

Joining us today in the CROSSFIRE, Stephen Moore, "National Review" contributing editor and the founder of Free Enterprise Fund, which is an organization backing personal retirement accounts, and former Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut. She now serves as president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

Good to see you both.



HOLT: Welcome, Ms. Kennelly.


HOLT: Let me start with a question about the Democratic Party. It seems to be campaigning against the word crisis, refuses to propose a Social Security fix. But it was President Bill Clinton when you were in Congress, I believe, that suggested that all the achievements that we would have are threatened by the "looming crisis of Social Security," in quotes. Was President Clinton wrong when he said that?

KENNELLY: You're looking at a woman that has wonderful credentials on what was a crisis. I was in the Congress in 1983 when there was a crisis. We didn't know if the checks could go out for the rest of the year.

What we have now is a long-term gap way out. We have more money coming in for the last 20 years and more money until 2018. We should solve the future problem of Social Security.

HOLT: Well, if that's the case, then, then, then...

KENNELLY: President Clinton had a surplus. He wanted to pay down the debt. And he knew exactly what he was doing. And i wish he was there right now.



HOLT: So, he was correct in calling it a crisis?


KENNELLY: No, it was not a crisis.

BEGALA: In fact, the best thing that we could do to help Social Security, we would pay down the federal debt -- the federal deficit, rather, the annual deficit, which is robbing Social Security. That's what Bill Clinton did. It's the best thing. It extended the life of the Social Security trust fund without tax increases or benefit cuts.

STEPHEN MOORE, PRESIDENT, CLUB FOR GROWTH: Well, I was interested in what Barbara Kennelly said about 1983, because the tragedy of when we -- quote -- "fixed Social Security" is, imagine, Terry, if we had actually moved towards the personal accounts in 1983.

Do you know what the Dow Jones was in 1983? It was 1000. Today, it is at 10000. If we had -- if we do this over the next 20 years, you're going to see Americans with personal accounts that tap into the power of compound interest. This is the way to solve the problem, is give people control of their own money. Why is it Democrats are opposed to that?



BEGALA: That's at least an honest argument for privatizing Social Security.

(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: OK? As we say in Texas, that dog don't hunt.

MOORE: How so?

BEGALA: Our president has been trying to pitch it for 25 years and he's failed and he's failing again today. Here is George W. Bush back when he first ran for Congress in 1978.

He said: "Social Security is bankrupt." Oh? "The Congress should consider a program which would guarantee payment to every person now owed benefits with the event eventual aim of making the program voluntary." George W. Bush opposed Social Security then. He opposes it now. You at least have the courage to say so. Why doesn't he?


MOORE: Paul, the key word there is voluntary, because every Republican...


MOORE: No, no, no.


BEGALA: We think every American should get it.

MOORE: No, no, no, no. Every Republican plan that says let's have personal accounts says, lets people -- let people do it voluntarily.


MOORE: Now, Barbara Kennelly says, we don't want people to have...


KENNELLY: It's as voluntary as a shotgun wedding.


KENNELLY: It's not voluntary.

MOORE: You say you don't want to have people have choice.


MOORE: I thought -- Barbara, I thought you were pro-choice. Give people choice.


KENNELLY: No. I have read the pieces of legislation. As I said, it was as involuntary as a shotgun wedding. (CROSSTALK)

HOLT: With respect...

KENNELLY: Because, whether you go into the personal accounts or you don't, you still get the cuts in the guaranteed benefit. Absolutely.


MOORE: Well, you will get more...


HOLT: Let me scope this out a little bit, because -- because there is a more fundamental problem going on with the Democratic Party. And that is, according to Stanley Greenberg and James Carville, two respected pollsters, they say that the party lacks a direction, lacks conviction and lacks values.

Given that this is the big debate, aren't you in danger of losing even more political viability if you don't come to the table and propose something on Social Security to fix retirement security for all Americans?

KENNELLY: I've been involved with this question for the last three or four years completely. And the whole problem is that privatization holds hostage the whole question about solvency. Get private accounts.

HOLT: But why? Giving people more of their money back, allowing them the chance to get rich, what is so wrong with that?

KENNELLY: Well, you know what it does? Privatization dismantles Social Security.

Now, look, these young people out in this audience, they don't have to...


HOLT: It gives them a better deal.

KENNELLY: They don't think they're ever going to get old, like I am.

HOLT: Give them a chance. Give them a chance.

KENNELLY: If they get old, they're going to think they're going to be lucky. And I am worrying about them. I have four children, nine grandchildren.

And I know that my generation understands the accidents and vicissitude of life. So, I think I have to be here to protect retirement security for Americans.


MOORE: The problem with that is, most young people are in favor of this.


BEGALA: Most congressmen aren't, and that's where the votes are on Capitol Hill.

Let me read you some comments from members of the Congress who are going to actually vote on this. "I cannot support any plan to allow workers to place any portion of their Social Security taxes in risky investments, especially those that depend on the stock market to appreciate in value," Jo Anne Emerson, a Republican of Missouri.

"I can't see establishing private accounts using Social Security funds. I want the benefits to be assured for our senior citizens, so they're not jerked around," Virgil Goode, a Republican from Virginia.

"The government should not invest Social Security funds in the stock market. Social Security has always been a safety net," Heather Wilson, a Republican.


BEGALA: So, why has George Bush failed so miserably is selling his plan to his own party?


MOORE: But you go back to the mid-1990s. The president you worked for, Bill Clinton, said he was very open-minded to the idea of creating personal accounts.


BEGALA: Why has George Bush failed in selling this to his party?

HOLT: Patrick Daniel Moynihan, the godfather of Social Security, said we ought to have a plan that gives the person who lives in the penthouse suite the same kind of opportunity that the...


BEGALA: In Espanol. Porque el presidente failo on Social Security with his own people?


BEGALA: ... the question.


MOORE: Because he's not selling it right.

BEGALA: What should he being doing? MOORE: It's not about -- it's not about, you know, whether enough money is going into the system. It's about giving every young American under the age of 25 their own account, so they control their own money. After all, Paul, they earn the money. Why shouldn't they be able to keep it?



BEGALA: ... the question is, why is he failing? He says that every day. He said -- as we speak, he's in Alabama.


MOORE: He has got to change his direction. Talk about ownership, ownership and control and choice.



HOLT: But the president has at least had the courage to go out and propose something that in just a few years ago was called the third rail of American politics.


HOLT: And I wonder, with the president now leading, why don't the Democrats come forward with a positive proposal, rather than shooting from the bushes. I want to know, why aren't they more out there with something that really works?


KENNELLY: A couple of months ago, I was terribly worried about this. I thought the president was just going to ram it through. And what has happened, thank God for the media, is they uncovered the secret.

MOORE: It always comes to your side on an issue.

KENNELLY: They uncovered the secret that this is not about solvency. This is about private accounts. This is being on your own with no safety net. And so that is out there.

I will tell you, once the president agrees with Paul that this is not flying, that he will take personal accounts off the table. You will see so many suggestions. Every legislator will have a plan of their own. Let me...


HOLT: ... going to be held hostage by the president's proposal?


HOLT: I think that you should have a little bit more courage than that.

KENNELLY: He's only the president. Exactly.

HOLT: Political courage is leadership.

KENNELLY: No, no, no.

BEGALA: Barbara Kennelly from the National Committee to Protect Social Security and Medicare, thank you very much.

KENNELLY: Thank you.

BEGALA: Stephen Moore from the Free Enterprise Fund, thanks a lot of for a good debate.



BEGALA: We'll have many more sessions on Social Security, I promise you.

And, when we come back, we'll talk to a congressman who is throwing subpoenas at Major League Baseball players.

And, right after the break, Wolf Blitzer fills us in on why Michael Jackson came to court in his pajama pants. Wolf himself will be wearing his pajama pants right after this.


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

Coming up at the top of the hour, a surprise and very weird development at the Michael Jackson trial. The defendant shows up late wearing pajamas, saying he had been hospitalized for a back problem.

A funeral turns into a massacre in Iraq. A suicide bomber kills at least 47 people.

And a troubling new report about aviation security.

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 at the top of the hour.

Here at CROSSFIRE, The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed some of the biggest names in baseball, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Curt Schilling, and Jose Canseco, who openly admits that he used steroids. Players have said they are going to resist the subpoenas.

Joining us in the CROSSFIRE to talk about it, Representative Chris Shays. He's a Republican congressman from Connecticut and a senior member of that Government Reform Committee.

Congressman, good it see you.


HOLT: Mr. Shays, let me ask first, you have some real heavy hitters on the schedule. Promises to be a lot of TV cameras there. But they may not show.

What does the government do, what does Congress do if these players refuse to appear before the committee?

SHAYS: Well, whenever we have subpoenaed someone, they showed up. And they showed up because it's Congress doing its job, investigating. In this case, we're investigating drug use and drug use used in an institution that is exempt from many laws.

BEGALA: Well, I, for one, am glad you're doing this, Congressman. It's a bipartisan effort on your committee. And I salute you and the chairman, Tom Davis of Virginia.

One are I do hope you'll get into is not simply the players' culpability, although they should be held to account. I'm glad you're subpoenaing them, but the owners as well. Let me read you "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"'s coverage of Jose Canseco's explosive book, "Juiced."

They write: "In his upcoming book Jose Canseco said he introduced Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Juan Gonzalez to steroids after being traded to the Texas Rangers in 1992. Canseco said George W. Bush, the Rangers' managing partner at the time, must have known about the drugs."

Will you put Mr. Canseco under oath about that, so we know for sure whether he's just lying in his book?

SHAYS: Well, we're going to be asking him a lot of questions. I'm particularly interested to know if these players feel any obligation to the young kids that are now starting to use these drugs. And we're going to have parents come before us who've lost children because they took steroids and believe that the suicides resulted from the taking of the steroids.

HOLT: Congressman Shays, what does the government do? You find out these guys did use it, what is the appropriate federal law? Do you get involved in the sports business? How do you -- how do you stop this?

SHAYS: I honestly don't know. But what I know is, I'm starting from the basis that this is about drugs, about controlled substances, about players who -- who a lot of young kids worship and a lot of adults admire. And I want to know if the players feel any obligation to the kids and whether some of them that might have experimented with drugs have regrets and could publicly state to our young folks the dangers of going in that direction.

But, you know, I think you're right. The owners have obligations. We'd like to know if this policy is going to work. And we don't know if there is a role for the federal government in terms of law, but there is clearly a law for the federal government to understand what's happening.

BEGALA: Well, Congressman, I'm sorry to belabor the point, but, candidly, you didn't answer my question. Mr. Canseco alleges in his book,, where he's not under oath.

SHAYS: I know that.


BEGALA: He alleges that the president of the United States knew about his drug use.

SHAYS: And it's the same reason...

BEGALA: I want to know if you going to ask him that under oath, so that we'll know. If it's a false charge, the president has a right to have his name cleared when Mr. Canseco is under oath.


SHAYS: I'm going to look at Canseco's book and take parts of it and decide whether I ask those questions.

I told you the questions that I was going to ask. What we don't want it do is, we don't want this to be about Barry Bonds. We don't want it to be about whether records stand or not, because I frankly could care less. What we want to understand is about drug use in baseball and the impact on kids.

BEGALA: Why not call Barry Bonds, sir?

SHAYS: Because then it's just about his record and he becomes the only issue. And the issue -- it becomes more an issue of cheating and a record than what we would like it to be. And it's an issue, for us, about drugs and its impact on kids.

BEGALA: Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, stay after them on that steroid. I'm glad you're doing it, Congressman. Thank you coming on the CROSSFIRE.

When we come back, "American Idol" comes to Capitol Hill. We'll tell you all about it when CROSSFIRE returns.



BEGALA: And finally on CROSSFIRE, I have often said politics is just show business for ugly people. And today, showbiz and politics combined, perhaps even collided, on Capitol Hill.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi met with a couple of former contestants from "American Idol," Diana DeGarmo and John Stevens. I've never heard of them either. But Ms. Pelosi was nice enough to meet with them. She did not, however, break out in song. She leaves that to GOP crooners like Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.


BEGALA: Instead, the contestants lobbied the Democratic leader on behalf of music education in schools. That's a perfectly nice cause, Terry.

HOLT: Well, I mean, I think teaching kids about music is a bit like teaching kids to swim or teaching Paul Begala about liberalism. It used to be that the loyal opposition came up with proposals like that for Social Security. Maybe some of those folks talked about needing a personal retirement account.

BEGALA: About Social Security. Well, they need something, though I haven't seen the show, I have to say. But I have seen John Ashcroft singing. And -- now, that would be torture under anybody's definition, I think.

No, he's a fine singer. And we can't wait for him to come sing for us here on CROSSFIRE.

HOLT: That's right. Keep trying.

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

HOLT: And from the right, I'm Terry Holt. Thank you.



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